BTN.com staff, August 14, 2015
The third installment in our four-part Big Ten football preview series asks a beat writer from every school for his/her team's most indispensable player.
See who your school's beat writer selected below:
Wes Lunt, QB. If Illinois is to improve on last season's six wins, it will be because of the Oklahoma State transfer. Health has been an issue in the past. If he gets hurt, the next guy up will be playing for the first time. A scary situation for Tim Beckman and Bill Cubit.
Nate Sudfeld, QB. With a healthy Sudfled in '14, IU probably comes close to that elusive 6th win. Keeping him upright is goal No. 1.
Marshall Koehn, K. You?re not going to get this answer from too many schools and maybe I?m overthinking it (I hate that, BTW, but here we are), but I think the senior kicker is a pretty big deal for the Hawkeyes. First, he hit 12 of 16 field goals last season in his first year as starter. With a relatively new O-line, points are going to matter in a big way for the Hawkeyes. Koehn has shown he can score them. The bonus and what compels me to place Koehn here is the fact that he is in the race to become Iowa?s punter. Points are going to matter. Invisible yards are going to matter. If Koehn wrangles the punter?s job, he?s hugely important.
Will Likely, DB. He's become more of a vocal leader and is the centerpiece of an experienced secondary, not to mention one of the most dangerous returners in all of college football.
Jabrill Peppers, S. If he's really going to play in all three facets of the game, it's tough to imagine anyone mattering more. There are comparable backups at the other positions.
Connor Cook, QB. You could name Jack Conklin or Shilique Calhoun for this spot, but the edge goes to Cook. Everything starts with him on the offense and with question marks at running back and the need for wide receivers to step into bigger roles, Cook has to be at his best.
Mitch Leidner, QB. The Gophers have the depth to survive most injuries, but losing Leidner would throw them for a serious loop.
Tommy Armstrong, QB. NU appears to have capable back-ups, but Armstrong's ability to adapt to Mike Riley's offense is the key to this season. Armstrong doesn't need to be a star, though he could be, but he needs to be consistent playmaker who gets the ball to the right hands. Last thing Riley needs in first year is a quarterback derby.
Justin Jackson, RB. Jackson was by far the best player on offense this year, and with major questions surrounding the quarterback and wide receiver positions, it will likely be more of the same this year. In order to ease in a new quarterback, Northwestern will need a strong running game, and that starts with Jackson, a downhill, one-cut back with terrific patience and vision.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB. It's not like the Buckeyes would be a mediocre team without him, but everyone saw that Elliott was the catalyst during Ohio State's national championship run. No OSU back had ever reached 200 rushing yards in back-to-back games in program history. Elliott went over 200 yards in all three postseason games (Wisconsin, Alabama, Oregon). He finished the season with the second-most rushing yards in a season by an OSU back with 1,878; trailing only Eddie George's 1,927 during his Heisman year of 1995.
Christian Hackenberg, QB. There's a reason the junior is being mentioned among the top picks in the 2016 NFL Draft class and bouncing back from a rough sophomore season should bode well for Penn State. Keeping No. 14 upright is key and should an injury arise Penn State has no quarterbacks with game experience backing him up.
Robert Kugler, C. Although the offensive line has experience, this is one guy the Boilermakers need.
Leonte Carroo, WR. Carroo had the highest yards-per-catch average of any wide receiver in the nation with more than 50 grabs. Even with some depth behind him and a boatload at running backs, Rutgers has no other offensive playmaker in the same category as Carroo, and that?s especially important when breaking in a new quarterback.
Corey Clement, RB. Clement has been waiting patiently behind Melvin Gordon and James White the past two years. He's got plenty of talent and has the potential to be the Badgers' next great back.