2020 Players to watch in the Big 10
Updated: Aug 4, 2020
Each year, conferences across college football lose great players to the NFL and graduation. This can leave fans wondering who they should pay attention to now. Here are my players to watch in the Big Ten in 2020.
The conference returns 7 of its top 10 passers from 2019. Ohio State star Justin Fields leads the pack as a consensus top 10 NFL prospect. Minnesota's Tanner Morgan has a chance to become a household name with another great season. Jack Coan returns for the runner-up Wisconsin Badgers, as does Sean Clifford for Penn State. Nebraska's Adrian Martinez is a dynamic runner, who could take the next step to stardom with improvement as a passer. Former Indiana signal caller Peyton Ramsey has transferred to Northwester after losing his job to Michael Penix Jr. Ramsey will be in competition for the Wildcats' starting job. Brandon Peters is bakc as the starter at Illinois. All of these players except Martinez and Penix finished in the top 10 for touchdown passes in the conference in 2019.
With J. K. Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor, and Rodney Smith all moving on to the NFL, Michigan State's Elijah Collins is the conference's returning rushing leader. He ran for 988 yards last season as a redshirt freshman. Other top returning rushers include Penn State's Journey Brown, Ohio State's Master Teague, and Indiana's Stevie Scott. Brown should be the lead back for the Nittany Lions after Ricky Slade transferred. Teague will pair with Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon to form one of the best backfield duos in the country. Scott will look to build two impressive years into recognition on the national stage. Nebraska's Dedrick Mills and Rutgers's Isaih Pacheco could surprise as sleepers.
Minnesota had a dynamic passing attack last year. Tyler Johnson is now in the NFL, but Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell return for the Gophers. Purdue's David Bell and Indiana's Whop Philyor also return after finishing in the top 5 in the conference in receiving yards. They may be the best players no one's really heard of outside the conference. Rondale Moore also returns for the Boilermakers. Ohio State lost KJ Hill but will have touchdown machine Chris Olave and promising sophomore Garrett Wilson returning. Wisconsin will rely on Danny Davis and Kendrick Pryor to pick up where they left off after losing Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor. Also watch Michigan's Nico Collins, who lost some of his supporting cast, and Illinois' Josh Imatorbhebhe. Michigan State also has some young, unproven players who could emerge.
Note*- Bateman announced on Aug. 4 that he would be opting out of the 2020 season and entering the 2021 NFL Draft
Penn State's Pat Freiermuth is probably the best returning tight end. He has scored 15 total touchdowns over the past 2 seasons. Trenton Gillison of Michigan State seemed to find his stride toward the end of last year and will look to build on that. Mel Tucker and Jay Johnson's offense likes to use tight ends, so Gillison and the other Spartan tight ends could be in a great position. Wisconsin has a good record of producing tight ends, and Jake Ferguson may be the next one. The way they use him reminds me of how they used Garrett Graham. Indiana's Peyton Hendershot set school records for the position in the passing game last season. Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert give Ohio State a nice duo. Nebraska's Jack Stoll is my sleeper here.
Ohio State returns 3 out of 5 starters from a great offensive line, led by Thayer Munford at left tackle. They also return Wyatt Davis at guard and Josh Myers at center. Michigan's Jalen Mayfiled is considered pone the best tackles in the country by scouts. Minnesota's Daniel Faalele is a mountain of a man and oozes potential. Iowa tackle Alaric Jackson has been on the NFL radar for years. Michigan State has struggled on the o-line, but Kevin Jarvis has been very good over the course of his career. Cole Van Lanen spurned the NFL to return to Wisconsin.
Michigan State loses many of its stars up front but returns DE Jacub Panasiuk and DT Naquan Jones. Panasiuk finished 2nd among defensive ends in pass rushing last season according to Pro Football Focus. Jones has been a productive backup with flashes of star potential and will finally get a chance to start. Michigan returns a good group up front with Carlo Kemp, Kwity Paye, and Aidan Hutchinson. Purdue's Lorenzo Neal has always been a player I liked and thought would be in the NFL already. Chauncey Gholston will try to help Iowa replace A.J. Epenesa. Ohio State has to replace its starters, but 5th year senior Jonathon Cooper should aid that effort. Also watch Penn State's Shaka Toney and P.J. Mustipher and Purdue's George Karlaftis.
There is plenty of talent returning at linebacker in the Big Ten this year. While Northwestern had a bad 2019 season, both Paddy Fisher and Blake Gallagher have been consistent play makers for the Wildcats' defense. Antjuan Simmons broke out last year with 90 tackles and 3.5 sacks for Michigan State. Ohio State lost Malik Harrison to the NFL but returns Baron Browning, Tuf Borland, and Pete Werner. Tyshon Fogg returns to Rutgers after finishing 3rd in the conference in tackles. Purdue's Derrick Barnes is a hybrid LB/DE to watch. He's made at least 60 tackles in each of the last 2 seasons, including 7.5 sacks last year. Micah Parsons at Penn State is an absolute monster and could go in the top 10 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Michigan's Cam McGrone and Wisconsin's Jack Sanborn are also coming off career years.
Shaun Wade is the top returning player in the Big Ten secondary. He probably would;ve been a first round draft pick if he declared this year. Minnesota welcomes back Coney Durr, who defended 11 passes last year. Illinois' Nate Hobbs also defended 11 passes and was honorable mention all conference. Marcelino Ball's best season so far has been his freshman year, but the senior has been a mainstay for Indiana. A rebounding season would be good for him. Xavier Henderson is one of the most underrated safeties. As a sophomore last year, he had 83 tackles and was the most consistent player in the Michigan State secondary. The Spartans are also moving WR Julian Barnett to corner. Barnett was a 4-star, All American corner coming out of high school and should replace Josiah Scott as a starter. Michigan's Ambry Thomas will try to build on a career year.