Sean Merriman, web editor, August 21, 2015


College football is fast approaching. Can you smell it in the air?

The Big Ten is loaded with talented individuals, from Ezekiel Elliott at Ohio State to Connor Cook at Michigan State, to name a couple.

But, where were these Big Ten stars born, and are they the best players from their respective home state?

This got me thinking: Who are the best Big Ten players of all time born in each state?

To find the answers, I put my research cap on and began mapping out a list of Big Ten greats and where they were born. I began by creating a list of my top Big Ten players of all time, and then began filling in the blanks, state-by-state. Some, of course, were more difficult than others to find.

Keep in mind, this list is based on college careers, and not what these players did in the NFL.

With that said, here is my list of the top Big Ten football players born in every state.

Note: I used all current 14 Big Ten schools in my selection process. There are certain examples of players who might have played at a Big Ten school that was not part of the conference during their playing days.

Alabama: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska. One of the top running backs in the Big Ten over the past decade, Abdullah finished his Nebraska career with 4,588 rushing yards, which ranks second in school history. He is the only player in school history to post three straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, and is the program's all-purpose yards leader.

Alaska: Zackary Bowman, DB, Nebraska. In two seasons at Nebraska, Bowman totaled 56 tackles, 20 pass breakups and three interceptions. He started nine games and was named a captain during his senior season in 2007.

Arizona: Darnell Autry, RB, Northwestern. Considered by many to be one of the top players in Northwestern history, Autry finished his three-year college career with 3,793 rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns. In his sophomore campaign, he helped lead the Wildcats to a Big Ten title and a spot in the 1996 Rose Bowl. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting that season after ranking in the top 5 nationally in rushing yards, rushing yards per attempt and rushing touchdowns.

Arkansas: Lawrence Phillips, RB, Nebraska. One of the most talented backs in Nebraska history, Phillips' career was plagued by off-the-field troubles. After rushing for an eye-popping 1,722 yards in his second season, which is a Nebraska sophomore record, Phillips ran into trouble as a junior and was suspended for more than half of the season. Still, he finished his career with 3,102 career rushing yards and 30 touchdowns, while leading the Huskers to back-to-back national titles in 1994 and '95.

California: Brett Basanez, QB, Northwestern. He holds nearly every passing record in Northwestern football history, including career passing completions (913), yards (10,580), touchdowns (44) and wins by a starting quarterback (22). He also ranks 13th on the NCAA's all-time list for total offense with 11,576 yards.

Colorado: Joe Germaine, QB, Ohio State. After playing one season at Scottsdale Community College, Germaine transferred to Ohio State and helped lead the Buckeyes to a combined 32-5 record over a three-year span. In 1996 and 1997, he split time at QB, before taking over the full-time starting role in 1998 and being named Big Ten Most Valuable Player. He finished his career with 6,370 passing yards and 56 touchdowns, which included a Rose Bowl victory over Arizona State in 1997.

Connecticut: Kory Sheets, RB, Purdue. Sheets enjoyed a standout four-year career at Purdue, where he totaled 3,341 rushing yards and 48 rushing touchdowns. He trails only Mike Alstott when it comes to career rushing yards at Purdue. But the most impressive stat is that Sheets led the Boilermakers in touchdowns in all four years.

Delaware: Dallas Marvil, T, Northwestern. Marvil was a consensus All-American at Northwestern in 1931. He helped lead the Wildcats to back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1930 and 1931.

Florida: Tommie Frazier, QB, Nebraska. Considered to be one of the greatest dual-threat quarterbacks in college football history, Frazier rewrote the Nebraska record books during his time in Lincoln, totaling 5,476 yards of offense and 79 touchdowns. He led the Huskers to back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995, while being named the most valuable player in both championship games.

Georgia: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. The former Michigan State All-American cornerback won the Thorpe Award in 2013 as the nation's best defensive back. He finished his career at MSU with 104 tackles and 10 interceptions. More importantly, the Spartans posted a combined 42-12 record during his four seasons in East Lansing.

Hawaii: Dominic Raiola, C, Nebraska. One of the top centers in college football during the 90's, Raiola played three seasons at Nebraska. He was a two-time all-conference selection and a consensus All-American in 2000. He won the Rimington Award that season, which is given to the best center in college football.

Idaho: Craig Kirtland, DB, Minnesota. Kirkland played safety for the Gophers in the mid 70's. There were no career stats available for him.

Illinois: Dick Butkus, LB, Illinois. Considered to be one of  the most feared tacklers of all time, Butkus starred for the Illini from 1962-1964. He was a two-time All-American (1963, 1964) and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in '64. He finished his college career with 374 tackles.

Indiana: Tom Harmon, QB/RB/P/K/PR/KR, Michigan. Regarded as one of the best athletes in Big Ten history, Harmon played six different positions during his time at Michigan. In his three seasons, Harmon rushed for 2,134 yards, scored 33 rushing touchdowns, and threw 16 touchdown passes. He was a two-time All-American (1939-40) and became Michigan's first Heisman Trophy winner (1940).

Iowa: Nile Kinnick, RB, Iowa. Kinnick played at Iowa from 1937-1939, winning the 1939 Heisman Trophy. Also playing quarterback and kicker that season, Kinnick was involved in 16 of the 19 touchdowns (11 passing, 5 rushing) Iowa scored. The University of Iowa renamed its football stadium Kinnick Stadium in his honor in 1972.

Kansas: Ron Kramer, TE, Michigan. Known as one of the greatest players in Michigan football history, Kramer was a star in Ann Arbor from 1954-1956. He was a consensus All-American in 1955 and 1956. Kramer ranked among the conference leaders in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns on his way to finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting in his third season at Michigan.

Kentucky: E.J. Henderson, LB, Maryland. This guy rewrote the Maryland record books during his time in College Park.  Henderson starred for the Terps from 1999 to 2002, where he was  twice named an All-American in 2001 and 2002. As a senior, in 2002, he was the recipient of the Chuck Bednarik Award and Butkus Award, recognizing him as the best college defensive player and best college linebacker in the nation. To this day, Henderson still holds the NCAA record for most solo tackles in a season with 135 in 2002.

Louisiana: Anthony Thomas, RB, Michigan. Michigan is known as a powerhouse when it comes to producing great running backs, and Thomas is one of the best to play in Ann Arbor. During his four-year career, Thomas ranked first in rushing touchdowns (56) and third in rushing yards (4,472).  He also ranks second in school history in rushing yards in a single season with 1,733 yards in 2000.

Maine: William Greenlaw, RB, Nebraska. Greenlaw was a standout halfback for the Huskers from 1954 to 1956. A member of the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame, Greenlaw rushed for 1,164 yards during his three year college career.

Maryland: Larry Johnson, RB, Penn State: This guy enjoyed a standout four-year career at Penn State, capped by one of the best senior seasons by a running back in Big Ten history. Johnson rushed for 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns in his final season, earning him a third-place finish in the 2002 Heisman Trophy voting. His 2,087 rushing yards were the most by any player in the nation that season.

Massachusetts: Walt Kowalczyk, DB/FB, Michigan State. Kowalczyk played at Michigan State for two years in 1956 and 1957. He placed third in the Heisman Trophy voting in '57 after rushing for 545 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games.

Michigan: Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan. Considered one of the best wide receivers in Big Ten history, Edwards played at Michigan from 2001-2004 and became the first receiver in the Big Ten to record three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. During his senior season (2004), Edwards led the Big Ten in catches (97), receiving yards (1.330), and receiving touchdowns (14) en route to being named a consensus All-American and the winner of the Fred Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the most outstanding receiver in college football.

Minnesota: Bruce Smith, RB, Minnesota. One of the top players in Minnesota football history, Smith led the Gophers to back-to-back national championships in 1940 and 1941. He became Minnesota's first Heisman Trophy winner in school history in 1941.

Mississippi: Correll Buckhalter, RB, Nebraska. Buckhalter totaled 11 100-plus yard games in his career en route to rushing for 2,522 yards, which ranks eighth in Nebraska history. He also scored 28 touchdowns in his four seasons.

Missouri: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin. One of the most underrated players in college football history, Ball set the NCAA Division I/FBS record for most career rushing touchdowns (77) and the NCAA Division I/FBS record for most career total touchdowns (83). He was an All-American in both 2011 and 2012, as well as the Doak Walker winner in his senior season, which is awarded to the best running back in college football.

Montana: Travis Dorsch, P/K, Purdue. Dorsch was one of the best kickers in Big Ten history, playing at Purdue from 1998-2001. He became the first athlete in Big Ten history to be named as a first-team all-conference selection at both a punter and a kicker. He led the Big Ten in both field goals made (22) and yards per punt (48.1) in his senior season, which led to him being named the Ray Guy winner, which is awarded to the nation's top punter.

Nebraska: Johnny Rodgers, RB/WR, Nebraska. Rodgers was a two-time All-American at Nebraska and the winner of the 1972 Heisman Trophy. One of the most versatile player in college football history, playing running back and wide receiver, as well as returning punts. In three seasons, Rodgers totaled 5,586 all-purpose yards, which led to him being voted as Nebraska's "Player of the Century."

Nevada: Blake Ezor, RB, Michigan State. Ezor rushed for 3,749 and 34 touchdowns in his career and was known as one of the toughest backs at MSU during the George Perlas era. He rushed for 1,496 yards in 1998, which was then the most by an MSU running back not named Lorenzo White. He followed that up with a 1,299 yard and 19 touchdown performance in his senior season.

New Hampshire: Frank Knox, RB, Illinois. A standout offensive lineman for the Fighting Illini back in the 30's, Knox went on to play for the Detroit Lions in 1935.

New Jersey: Mike Rozier, RB, Nebraska. One of the greatest running backs in college football history, Rozier became the Huskers' second Heisman Trophy winner in 1983, when he rushed for a school-record 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns. In all, Rozier totaled 4,996 yards and 51 touchdowns during his three years in Lincoln.

New Mexico: Alan Branch, DT, Michigan. A menace to opposing quarterbacks during his time at Michigan, Branch totaled 57 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and nine sacks in 35 career games. He anchored one of the best defensive units in the Big Ten and was named All-Big Ten and an All-American in 2006.

New York: Shane Conlan, LB, Penn State. A two-time All-American and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Conlan is the standard for a school known by many as "Linebacker U." He was the leader of Penn State's 1986 national championship team, leading the Nittany Lions in tackles with 79.

North Carolina: Tripp Welborne, DB, Michigan. After starting his career at wide receiver, Welborne made the move to safety in his sophomore season and thrived over the next three years. He recorded 227 tackles, eight interceptions, eight pass breakups and two fumble recoveries in three seasons, while being named a two-time consensus All-American.

North Dakota: Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota. Known as one of the best centers in Big Ten football history, Eslinger starred for the Gophers from 2002 to 2005. He was an All-Big Ten selection three times (2003, 2004, 2005) and a two-time All-American (2004, 2005). He was awarded the Outland Trophy in his senior season, which is given to the best to college football's best interior lineman, as well as the Rimington Trophy, which goes to the top center in college football.

Ohio: Archie Griffin, RB, Ohio State. The only two-time Heisman Trophy recipient, Griffin rushed for 5,589 yards and 26 touchdowns in four seasons at Ohio State. Griffin led the Buckeyes to four Big Ten titles and became the first player ever to start in four consecutive Rose Bowls.

Oklahoma: Chuck Long, QB, Iowa. Long rewrote the record books during his time at Iowa. He holds school records for most passing yards, completions and touchdowns in a season and a career. A four-year starter at Iowa, Long totaled 9,671 passing yards and 70 touchdowns in his senior season en route to being named the Big Ten Player of the Year, a consensus All-American and finishing runner-up to Bo Jackson for the Heisman Trophy.

Oregon: Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska. One of the most dominant interior defensive linemen in college football history, Suh recorded 215 tackles and 24 sacks. In his senior year, Suh was named the Associated Press College Football Player of the Year, and won the Bill Willis Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award, Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy, while being recognized as a unanimous first-team All-American. He also finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting that year.

Pennsylvania: Red Grange, RB, Illinois. Nicknamed "The Galloping Ghost," Grange is thought of by many to be the greatest college football player of all time. In fact, Grange took the top spot on the Big Ten Network's Big Ten Icons series. In his 20-game college career, Grange rushed for 3,362 yards, caught 14 passes for 253 yards and completed 40 passes for 575 yards. He was named an All-American three times and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Rhode Island: Mezo Cooper, DB, Rutgers. Cooper played defensive back at Rutgers from 2011 to 2013.

South Carolina: George Webster, LB/DB, Michigan State. Named the No. 1 player in Michigan State football history by the Lansing State Journal's Graham Couch, Webster was a two-time consensus All-American at MSU, where he played from 1964 to 1966. During his junior and senior seasons, the Spartans were 19-1-1, which included two Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl appearance and a share of the national championship in both years.

South Dakota: Chad Greenway, LB, Iowa. Greenway totaled 416 tackles and 19 sacks during his time in Iowa City. In 2005, Greenway registered 156 tackles, which ranked third in the nation, on his way to garnering All-America honors for the second consecutive season.

Tennessee: George Taliaferro, QB/RB, Indiana. A quarterback and running back, Taliaferro was a three-time All-American from 1945-48. He led the Hoosiers to the school's only undefeated Big Ten championship in 1945. Taliaferro is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Texas: Drew Brees, QB, Purdue. Brees played at Purdue from 1997 to 2000, leaving as one of the most established quarterbacks in Big Ten history. To this day, Brees remains the Big Ten record-holder in nearly every passing category, including completions (1,026), passing yards (11,792), touchdowns (90), total yards (12,692) and total touchdowns (104). He was a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year winner, as well as the Maxwell Award recipient in 2000, which goes to the best college football player in the nation.

Utah: Glen Magnuson, OL, Northwestern. Magnuson played on the Wildcats' offensive line back in the early 1920's. He went on to play one season in the NFL.

Vermont: Steve Wisniewski, OL, Penn State. Wisniewski was a two-time All-American (1987, 1988) and big contributor on the Nittany Lions' 1986 national championship team.

Virginia: Plaxico Burress, WR, Michigan State. A dominant, big-play wide receiver, Burress played two seasons at Michigan State, totaling 131 catches for 2,155 yards and 20 touchdowns, including 12 scoring grabs in 1999.

Washington: Taylor Stubblefield, WR, Purdue. One of the best pass-catchers in Big Ten history, Stubblefield holds the conference record for most catches in a career (325). He caught at least 73 passes in all four seasons, including an 89-catch, 16-touchdown season in 2004 en route to being named a consensus All-American. He also ranks third in Big Ten history with 3,629 receiving yards.

West Virginia: Curt Warner, RB, Penn State. Warner was a two-time All-American at Penn State, leading the Nittany Lions in rushing in three straight seasons (1980, 1981, 1982). Warner set multiple rushing records during his time at PSU, including 3,398 career rushing yards, which was later broken by Evan Royster in 2010.

Wisconsin: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin. Gordon enjoyed an incredible four years at Wisconsin, from 2011 to 2014, totaling 4,915 yards and 45 touchdowns in 45 career games. Gordon's 2,587 yards rushing as senior are the second-most in a single season, trailing only Barry Sanders. To top it all off, he finished runner-up in the 2014 Heisman Trophy voting.

Wyoming: Donald Westbrook, WR/RB, Nebraska. Westbrook was a member of the Huskers undefeated national championship team in 1971, and he totaled 1,168 yards and 11 touchdowns in three years at Nebraska.