Michigan has arrived back in Ann Arbor, meaning spring football is finally and officially done across the Big Ten. College football’s annual rite of passage is also done, and there is plenty of curiosity to go around.
That means it is time to take stock of where things sit heading in to the summer workout sessions and the season ahead. It is also the perfect time to really dive deep in to what we did and didn’t see this spring.
Let’s start with the Big Ten West division, which had two new head coaches and another head coach with his first real spring camp in the books. Minnesota got the P.J. Fleck era under way and Purdue welcomed Jeff Brohm’s high-flying offensive attack to the division. Meanwhile, Illinois’ Love Smith finally got to run a full spring practice without rushing things.
Which teams answered questions, which ones have big-time questions to answer this fall? Let us take a look at every Big Ten West division teams’ biggest question post-spring football.
Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s. 5-1
Our preseason Top 25 players in the Big Ten list comes to its conclusion. Who took the top spot and did anyone surprise inside the top 5?
It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.
We’ve reached the end of the road here and that means some of the best players we’re likely to see in the Big Ten for 2017. Consider these the ones to watch and the ones that will likely have a major impact on what happens to the Big Ten title race.
So who are those players? Let’s find out together.
No. 5. — Troy Fumagalli, TE (Wisconsin)
2016 Season Stats: 47 receptions, 580 yards, 2 TD’s
Best Game: Cotton Bowl vs. Western Michigan – 6 receptions, 83 yards, 1 TD
Fumagalli came in to 2016 as a complete unknown. He opened eyes with a 7-reception, 100-yard day in the opener against LSU. In between he managed to become one of the key components to Wisconsin’s passing game and was easily the favorite target of freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
His monster start was bookended with a huge effort to help the Badgers win the Cotton Bowl over Western Michigan. There are few tight ends with as sure of hands and as important to keeping drives alive as Fumagalli. Perhaps most impressive? Everyone knew to cover him and he’d still make the big play.
No. 4. — Josey Jewell, LB (Iowa)
2016 Season Stats: 124 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 9 pass breakups, 5 QB hurries
Best Game: vs. Northwestern – 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sack
Perhaps no player on this list better embodies the spirit and mentality of his team than Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell. He’s a tough customer and a no-frills player who does his job to a very high level. After racking up 126 tackles his sophomore season, Jewell repeated the effort with 124 last season.
Let’s just say he wasn’t a one-hit wonder, and plenty of opposing running backs found that out the hard way in 2016. In a conference loaded with quality linebackers, Jewell may be the most stable and least talked about of the bunch. He’s also the most productive, and that gets him top billing amongst all defensive players in the B1G.
No. 3. — Trace McSorley, QB (Penn State)
2016 Season Stats: 57.9 comp. %, 3,614 yards, 29 TD’s, 8 INT’s; 365 yards, 7 TD’s rushing
Best Game: vs. Wisconsin (B1G Championship) – 71 comp %, 384 yards, 4 TD’s
One of Penn State’s biggest question marks last season was how the QB situation would unfold with a new coordinator and a QB who had never taken a collegiate snap starting. The answer was that Trace McSorley and coordinator Joe Moorhead were a match made in heaven.
He’s the perfect blend of arm talent, mental toughness and athleticism to run Moorhead’s scheme. Few question if McSorley can lead this team back to a Big Ten title after a surprising title run last season. I mean, he did throw for 3,600 yards and a cool 29 touchdowns to eight interceptions.
No. 2. — Justin Jackson, RB (Northwestern)
2016 Season Stats: 298 carries, 1,524 yards, 5.1 avg., 11 TD’s; 35 receptions, 219 yards
Best Game: vs. Pitt (Pinstripe Bowl) – 32 carries, 224 yards, 3 TD’s
Jackson drew 2 of the 4 first place votes available and the internal debate was a big one between the obvious top choices on this list. Jackson topped the rushing list in the Big Ten last year in both total yards and yards per game.
He’s also rushed for 1,000 yards for three-straight seasons and could be in line to break all sorts of school and conference records this season. All of it while not really having the hype machine turned on much. He’s just not a flashy back, but will kill you with speed and power along with patience.
Picking between Jackson and our No. 1 player on the list may just be a preference on style over production and you can’t go wrong either way.
No. 1. — Saquon Barkley, RB (Penn State)
2016 Season Stats: 272 carries, 1,496 yards, 18 TD’s; 28 receptions, 402 yards, 4 TD’s
Best Game: @ Purdue – 18 carries, 207 yards, 2 TD’s; 3 receptions, 70 yards
It is only fitting that the conference everyone associates with running backs has a running back at the top of the list. Saquon Barkley may not only be the best running back in the B1G, he is likely the best running back in the country.
Again, like Jackson, he received two first place votes in our polling, but received second place nods from the other voters to race out to the lead. Few backs in college football area as difficult to bring down as Barkley is due to his shiftiness and his ability to hurdle defenders on a dime.
He’s as close to a human highlight reel at running back as we have in the modern game, and don’t be surprised to see him in the mix for the Heisman Trophy at the end of the season if he can replicate what happened last season.
Northwestern Wildcats vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Preview, predictions and prognostications
When: 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Madison, WI; Camp Randall (80,321)
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads 57-34-5
Last Meeting: Northwestern win 20-14, in 2014
Line: Wisconsin -9.5
Very quietly both of these teams have had outstanding seasons that would have been good enough to contend for the division and Big Ten title in years past. That was before we all started following the Iowa story that just continues to roll on. As it stands, the best that both teams can hope for is second place in the division barring an Iowa collapse over the next two games.
This one will more than likely be about defense. Wisconsin is leading the country in scoring defense, and Northwestern isn’t that far behind inside the top fifteen themselves. Both teams will try to be balanced, but both teams would rather keep it on the ground, play great defense, and take advantage of scoring opportunities as they come. It should be a good one in Mad-Town.
1 Burning Question: Who’s No. 2?
It’s well chronicled that Iowa can clinch with a win over lowly Purdue Saturday, and even if that doesn’t happen, a victory in Lincoln would also suffice. So, that more or less makes this contest the equivalent of a consolation game in a world soccer tournament. A Wisconsin win would clinch at least second place hands down, while a Northwestern victory would give them the tie-breaker over the Badgers if it should go on and take care of business next week against Illinois.
2 Key Stats:
— 146.6. That’s the amount of yards passing Northwestern averages, and it ranks 119 out of 128 teams. To beat a good Wisconsin team, that needs to be much higher to go against a defense that eats one-dimensional teams for lunch.
— 12.3. It’s the best among FBS schools in points allowed per game. Northwestern’s not bad either, but that total is even better at home (5.0). The Wildcats have to find someway to crack the code and move the ball into the red zone and finish drives with TDs.
3 Key Players:
Joel Stave, Wisconsin QB: It appears as though starting running back Corey Clement will be shelved again, so it’s back to what got the Badgers through the season this far, and that’s much more of a reliance on Stave’s right arm to make plays. Wisconsin will never abandon the running game as long as cheese and brats are a staple of the state, but there will need to be a much more concerted effort to move the chains via air miles.
Clayton Thorson, Northwestern QB: Stave’s counterpart wearing purple is also going to be huge in this game. He hasn’t exactly lit the yard markers on fire with his prowess through the air, but it’s going to be needed against a team that’s rationing points like Wisconsin’s defense is. He doesn’t have to go for 300 yards or anything, but he does have to take advantage of what’s there and make some key third-down throws.
Justin Jackson, Northwestern RB: The best chance the Wildcats have moving the ball is the way that Fred Flintstone drives his cars — running. He’s been the most productive spot on offense, and when purple power is thriving it’s good defense, and a solid running attack. He’s got to be able to get those tough yards to make second and third downs more manageable.
4 Bold Prognostications:
— This game will be higher scoring than you think. Each team has had time to scout the other’s defense by this point, and both have saved some plays and are ready to break the seal when it really matters. You’ll see more first downs, more big plays, and more points than what the papers say heading into it.
— Joel Stave wil go for over 250 yards. Without Corey Clement, the coaching staff is going to give the Wisconsin QB more leash, and with it, he won’t exactly pee on the neighbors bushes. He’s not going to light city of Madison ablaze, but he’ll have a very productive day.
— Justin Jackson will have two TDs running. As noted above, the Wildcats will make more noise moving the ball than you would think. He won’t have a big, big day, but he’ll get close to 100 yards and will finish off two drives inside the red-zone.
— The game will end before any of the others in the 3:30 block. It’s two teams that like to control the clock by running the ball, playing solid defense and take advantage of field position. Because of it, the clock will be running more than most other games. Dinner time will happen sooner in Madison.
5 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Wisconsin 35-10 (78-20 overall; 46-51 ATS)
Dave: Wisconsin 24-10 (81-17 overall; 51-45 ATS)
Greg: Wisconsin 24-20 (74-26 overall; 54-42 ATS)
Matt: Wisconsin 34-24 (79-19 overall; 56-40 ATS)
Phil: Wisconsin 27-20 (33-12 overall; 15-27 ATS) *joined in Week 5
Every Big Ten West team’s biggest recruiting battle before national signing day
It seems like only yesterday that a Big Ten team was hoisting the national championship trophy, but we’re actually inching closer to the biggest day of the offseason — national signing day.
That means recruits are taking last-minute visits, coaches are crisscrossing the country to visit players and offers are going out on a nearly daily basis. To say these next few weeks will be crazy is a bit of an understatement, however the Big Ten is in on some major battles nationally and regionally as we head down the homestretch of the 205 recruiting cycle.
That means every team is putting out maximum effort to get the guys they want to sign to actually sign and fax in national letter of intent on the first Wednesday in February.
It also means that battles are heating up all over the country. Which battles are the Big Ten involved in? Let’s start by looking at the biggest battles for the Big Ten West.