Sean Merriman, BTN.com web editor, July 13, 2015
Last week, I posted an article on the top 5 defensive trios in the Big Ten. The list consisted of the top DL-LB-DB trio in the conference, and was highlighted by Ohio State.
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Now, it?s time to flip back to the offensive side of the ball and take a look at the top quarterback-wide receiver duos in the Big Ten.
Will Ohio State top the list?
Here is a look at my top QB-WR tandems heading into the 2015 Big Ten football season.
1. Ohio State: QB J.T. Barrett/WR Michael Thomas
Take your pick at quarterback for the Buckeyes this season. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller are all Heisman Trophy hopefuls heading into the 2015 season. For this list, I'm siding with Barrett, who was the top quarterback in the conference last season before Jones took over after an injury and led the Buckeyes to a national championship. Whoever wins the Buckeyes' starting QB job will have the privilege of throwing to Thomas, who caught 54 balls for 799 yards and nine touchdowns last season. With Devin Smith off to the NFL, Thomas should be the Buckeyes? top pass-catching target in 2015. A 70 catch, 1,000 yard, 10 touchdown season could be in line for OSU's top wideout.
2. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg/WR DaeSean Hamilton
This duo rivals Barrett and Thomas for the top spot, but this is a big year for Hackenberg. The junior-to-be was outstanding as a freshman, then slipped up a bit as a sophomore, much of which was due to shaky offensive line play. With a strong junior season, Hackenberg could very-well be a top 5 selection in the 2016 NFL Draft. He's that good, and he has a great wideout to throw the ball to in Hamilton. The Nittany Lions' 6-1 wideout led the Big Ten with 82 receptions as a freshman last year. He is Hackenberg?s go-to guy and should be poised for a huge sophomore season.
3. Michigan State: QB Connor Cook/WR Macgarrett Kings Jr.
The Big Ten is loaded at quarterback this season, and Cook may be the best of the group. He enters his third season as MSU's starting signal-caller and has established himself as one of the top QBs in the nation. Cook is 23-3 record as a starter, including a 16-1 mark against Big Ten opponents, and a 2-0 record in bowl games. He has led the Spartans' to back-to-back top 5 national finishes, which no other QB in the nation can say. With Tony Lippett heading to the NFL, Kings Jr. takes over the role as the Spartans' top wide receiver. He hauled in 29 passes for 404 yards in 2014, and should improve on those numbers this season. Aaron Burbridge and TE Josiah Price should also play a big role in the Spartans? passing attack, with R.J. Shelton serving as a guy who can catch passes and make plays out of the backfield.
4. Illinois: QB Wes Lunt/WR Mikey Dudek
The dynamic duo of Lunt and Dudek could end up being the best of the bunch, but so much is pending on the health of Dudek. The talented sophomore-to-be suffered a torn ACL during practice in early April and is working to return for the 2015 season. Dudek ranked second in the Big Ten with 76 catches for 1,038 yards last season. Lunt had a roller coaster 2014 season where he passed for 1,763 yards and 14 touchdowns, but injuries and ineffectiveness led to him losing his starting job. If both of these guys can come back healthy and return to their old form, Illinois' offense could be really good in the upcoming 2015 season.
5. Rutgers: QB Chris Laviano/WR Leonte Carroo
Laviano is battling LSU transfer Hayden Rettig for the right to replace Gary Nova at quarterback. Both are talented, but Laviano has the edge in experience and looked sharp in the spring game. At wide receiver, the Scarlet Knights are led by one of the top pass catchers not only in the Big Ten, but throughout the entire country. Carroo was one of only two players in the conference to top 55 catches, 1,000 yards and 10 touchdown receptions in 2014. The other was Tony Lippett, who is now playing for the Miami Dolphins. If Rutgers can get solid production from the quarterback position, this offense could put up some big point totals this season.