Players to Watch in the Big Ten in 2022
QBs Connor Bazelak and Jack Tuttle
My money is on Bazelak winning the starting job because he has more experience as a starter and has played better than Tuttle has in his time on the field. Tuttle was forced into duty after an injury knocked Michael Penix Jrt out for most of last season. Unfortunately, he did not impress, but Bazelak--a former SEC Freshman of the Year--can be the guy to re-stabilize the position for the Hoosiers.
WR DJ Matthews
DL JH Tevis
DL James Head Jr
LB Cam Jones
An unsung hero (at least nationally) on this Indiana defense, Jones has been one of the Hoosiers' most consistently productive players over the course of his career. He's been a key player for the past four years and is coming off his best season so far. He has the potential to be an All-Big Ten honoree for the third consecutive season.
CB Tiawan Mullen
S Devon Matthews
P James Evans
QB Talia Tagovailoa
The younger brother of Tua has games where he flashes brilliance and others where he leaves you questioning his play. Yet, he still holds school records for passing yards, completion percentage, single-season touchdown passes, and single-season 300-yard passing games. This season, he will have perhaps the most talented group of weapons he's ever had, and that could lead to him taking the next step.
WR Rakim Jarrett
WR Dontay Demus
Demus is an outstanding receiver with a pro future. He's probably Maryland's best offensive player who doesn't get enough national attention. Entering his fifth season with the Terps, Demus has been named All-Big Ten three times and amassed 1,000 receiving yards without much help. With Jarrett's emergence and the addition of Jacob Copeland via the transfer portal, you should see Demus have a fantastic season as he returns from injury.
WR Jacob Copeland
OL Jaelyn Duncan
Maryland's left tackle is one of the top offensive linemen to watch in the country. Duncan is big and powerful and moves well for his size. He seized the left tackle job in 2020 and is looking to build off back-to-back Big Ten Honorable Mentions. Taulia Tagovailoa's blind side will be well protected.
QBs Cade McNamara & JJ McCarthy
Wolverine fans will all have their opinions on which player should start, and both choices make sense on some level. On the one hand, McNamara was behind center for Michigan's most successful season in 17 years, but on the other hand, there were times McCarthy looked like the better quarterback. Whoever is chosen will be in the spotlight as the Wolverines attempt to defend a Big Ten title.
RBs Blake Corum & Donovan Edwards
WR Ronnie Bell
Bell was supposed to be the top target for Michigan last season but went down with an injury in the season-opener. In his absence, the Wolverines turned to the run game and had a few young receivers step up late. Now that he's back, he assumes the WR 1 role yet again and can make the Michigan passing game more dangerous.
WR Andrel Anthony
WRs Roman WIlson, AJ Henning, & Cornelius Johnson
TE Erick All
All will finish this year as one of the conference's top tight ends. As the Michigan passing game improved throughout the latter stages of last season, All's presence on the field became more crucial. He quickly proved that he was the team's best receiving tight end and should pick up right where he left off now that he's had a full offseason with the starting offense.
OL Olu Oluwatimi
I highlighted Oluwatimi in another article about the Big Ten's top transfers for this season. Basically, you need to know he was already a pro prospect before arriving at Michigan and he solidifies a hole at center for a Michigan offensive line that many expect to be good in 2021.
DL Mazi Smith
CB DJ Turner
S RJ Moten
K Jake Moody
Moody was able to challenge Quinn Nordin as the starting kicker early in his career in Ann Arbor and has turned into one of the more reliable kickers in college football. Last season, he scored the most points of any kicker in a single season in team history and finished 23 for 25 on field goal attempts. A weapon like Moody is hard to find in the kicking game, and he will be an advantage the Wolverines have over most opponents.
QB Payton Thorne
It's difficult for players to remain underrated after setting program records, but Thorne is somehow still an afterthought for many experts. You could make the argument that he has only started for one season and could digress without the element of surprise at his disposal (not to mention Kenneth Walker III). However, Thorne will have a deep backfield and maybe even a deeper group of pass catchers with which to work. Plus, reviews from summer camp have been overwhelmingly positive.
RBs Jarek Broussard & Jalen Berger
These are the main candidates to replace Kenneth Walker III, and they will likely work in tandem. Broussard is a former PAC-12 Offensive Player of the Year with impressive speed and vision, while Berger is more of a bruiser who stole the Wisconsin starting job as a freshman in 2020. They have much to live up to, but MSU knows how to utilize the transfer portal and a committee approach could help the Spartans' offense keep defenses on their toes.
RB Elijah Collins
WR Jayden Reed
Reed is one of the best receivers and most versatile players in the Big Ten. Not only was he the team's top receiver in 2021, but he was a phenomenal return man. He enters this year with the WR1 job and has his name on watch lists for national awards.
WRs Tre Mosley, Germie Bernard, & Keon Coleman
TEs Maliq Carr & Daniel Barker
OL Jarrett Horst
Horst transferred from Arkansas State before last season and stabilized a weak left tackle spot. Immediately, there seemed to be more room for playmakers to run, and Payton Thorne seemed much more comfortable in the pocket. I didn't expect Horst to spend multiple years in East Lansing, but his return is a huge win.
OL Brian Greene
OLs Nick Samac & JD Duplain
DE Khris Bogle
DE Jeff Pietrowski
DTs Jacob Slade & Simeon Barrow
LBs Ben Vansumeren, Jacoby Windmon, & Aaron Brule
All three of these guys are in the running to win the starting role next to Cal Halladay. The Spartans have landed so many players at the linebacker position that starter Quavaris Crouch has entered the transfer portal. As such, this group is extremely deep and competitive and could be set for years to come.
LB Cal Halladay
The Freshman All-American returns to lead the defense. He'll have plenty of help around him from the aforementioned transfers and others, but he's a great player for the Spartans to build around for the next couple of years.
S Xavier Henderson
The veteran has been one of the best safeties in the Big Ten during his career although there are a few too many times he gets beaten in coverage, Still, he is one the smarter, more reliable, and productive players on this team and has a bright future. If he improves this season, he can become one of the top safeties in the country.
S Angelo Gross
LB/S Darius Snow
CB Ameer Speed
Another huge addition via the transfer portal. Speed spent most of last season as a starter for the national champion Georgia Bulldogs. Michigan State had the worst pass defense in the entire country a year ago, so Speed's experience and combination of height and athleticism should bring massive improvement.
CB Ronald WIlliams
The Alabama transfer had a rough start to his first year in East Lansing but played much better late in the season. He was a highly-recruited player and possesses prototypical NFL corner size. So, if he builds on the momentum from last season, he can become a great player. It's all about potential with him, and it couldn't really get worse.
P Bryce Baringer
QB CJ Stroud
Stroud entered college with lofty expectations, but no one could've imagined how well he adjusted in his first season as the starter. If you watched the season-opener against Minnesota, it looked like the stage might be too big for him. But, later in the season, he became one of the top quarterbacks in the country. The Buckeyes ended up with one of the best offenses in America, and Stroud was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. It'll be interesting to see what he can do as an encore before presumably heading to the NFL.
RB TreVeyon Henderson
RB Miyan WIlliams
WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
By now, you've heard the name. Smith-Njigba entered 2021 as the third receiving option behind Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. How did he do? Well, he only hauled in 95 passes and broke the conference's 20-year-old single-season receiving yards record. That catapulted him to the top of the list of receiving prospects for the 2023 NFL Draft. The performances of he and his teammates in the Rose Bowl raised expectations for this passing offense, but the pressure is on as he becomes WR1 in Columbus.
WRs Marvin Harrison Jr & Julian Fleming
These two don't have many reps in college yet, but they both balled out in the Rose Bowl against Utah. That game and the end of last year have expectations sky-high for this offense, and Harrison and Fleming will be key factors in determining just how good the team becomes.
OL Paris Johnson
Johnson displayed the talent that made him a five-star high school prospect in his first season as a starter for the Buckeyes, earning Second Team All-Big Ten honors as a guard. The team plans to move him to tackle this season, but his athleticism should allow him to adjust to the change quickly.
OL Dawand Jones
DE Zach Harrison
Underrated defensive end. The production hasn't quite been there as a pass-rusher, but he has pro potential and is the most experienced defensive lineman on this team. He's a smart player who excels at setting the edge and defending the run. He could have been a mid-round NFL pick in April but opted to return instead.
DL Taron Vincent
LB Steele Chambers
LB Palaie Gaoteote
Gaoteote was an impressive player at USC before joining the Buckeyes and was expected by most to have a big season in 2021. Unfortunately, he ran into issues around his eligibility and barely saw the field. As a result, he only had nine tackles on the season. I'm not sure why more people don't project him to start this year, but I expect him to be an impact player and return to his former self.
LBs Cody SImon & Tommy Eichenberg
CB Denzel Burke
Burke may be the most impressive sophomore on the Ohio State defense. During his freshman campaign, he started all 13 games and collected 36 tackles and 13 pass breakups while being named a Freshman All-American. All that was despite a struggling defense, so it'll be interesting to see how he follows it under a new (and likely improved) defensive scheme.
CB Tanner McCallister
S Ronnie Hickman
K Noah Ruggles
Ruggles is entering his sixth college season overall and second at Ohio State. In 2021, he was named a first-team All-American and a finalist for the Lou Groza Award (nation's best kicker). Not a bad way to debut with a new team. Can he follow it in 2022?
QB Sean Clifford
Clifford has started 33 games for the Nittany Lions and enters his final college season as one of the top quarterbacks in school history. He loses his top receiver in Jahan Dotson, but many expect big years from Parker Washington and others, so Clifford may be in for another big year as well. To me, he hasn't been overly impressive, but his accolades speak for themselves. Clifford has a chance to break even more records and end his Penn State career on a high note.
RB Keyvone Lee
WR Parker Washington
Washington spent 2021 as the sidekick to Jahan Dotson and takes the lead role heading into the 2022 season. In his career, the third-year sophomore already ranks 18th in Penn State history in receptions and 22nd in receiving yards. There is a chance Washington finished his college career as one of the best receivers to play at Penn State if he continues at the same rate.
WR Mitchell Tinsley
Tinsley's name should sound familiar if you took an interest in Western Kentucky's record-breaking offense last season. He was one of Bailey Zappe's top targets and finished the year with 87 catches, 1,402 yards, and 14 touchdowns while being name All-Conference-USA. His presence should make an immediate impact for this passing offense.
WR KeAndre Lambert-Smith
TE Brenton Strange
Strange wasn't a superstar last season but did earn Honorable Mention All-Big Ten. Penn State has a history of developing tight ends, and Starnge has plenty of tools at his disposal. 2022 could be the year he shows his true potential.
DL PJ Mustipher
Mustipher is one of the top defensive tackles in the Big Ten. While he's not a sack guy, he does qa great job of doing the dirty work in the middle and collapsing the offensive line. He's obviously a powerful player, and I think he's quicker than he looks. With others on last year's defense departing, they'll rely on him often as one of the veteran players. I'm excited to watch him play this season.
S Keaton Ellis
S Ji'Ayir Brown
CB Joey Porter Jr
Many think Porter Jr has first-round NFL potential. And why wouldn't they? He's the son of a former star NFL linebacker and fits perfectly at the cornerback position. He's only played two Big Ten seasons and was All-Conference in both. I'd like to see more interceptions but the potential is clearly there.
WR Taj Harris
Here's another player I highlighted in the transfers article, but I believe Harris is worth mentioning again. He missed most of last season with an injury and it clearly affected the Syracuse offense, which had to lean heavily on its running game. In the two prior seasons, Harris was the best player on that offense and one of the best in the ACC. He's an immediate upgrade for Rutgers.
WR Aron Cruickshank
2021 was an impressive year for the Wisconsin transfer despite only playing in seven games. Cruickshank proved to be a dynamic returner and still finished second on the team in all-purpose yards with 743. If he can stay healthy and continue to produce at that clip, he gives the Scarlet Knights another badly needed weapon.
OL WIllie Tyler
OL JD Direnzo
OL Curtis Dunlap Jr
Big things should be expected of Dunlap Jr after spending two years as part of the rotation at Minnesota. In that time , he started 17 games at right guard. Rutgers has plenty of holes to fill on its offensive line, and Dunlap Jr has All-Big Ten potential in the right situation. He'll get every opportunity to prove it this year.
TE Johnny Langan
DL Ifeyani Maijeh
S Avery Young
It's not usually a good thing when your defensive backs are near the top on the team in tackles, but, if that's the case, you better hope one of them is Avery Young., Young started every game last season at safety and amassed 81 tackles. He's versatile enough to play both corner and safety and will lead the back end of the Rutgers defense.
S Chrsitan Izien
P Adam Korsak
Not only was Korsak a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2021, but he's accomplished a rare feat in his career. In each of his four seasons, he has broken the Rutgers season record for average net punting yards, It'll be tougher this year, especially if the offense improves to a respectable level, but Korsak returns as one of college football's best punters.
QB Tommy Devito
The former Syracuse starter has been named the starter by Bret Bielema. Illinois has had some heralded players at the position, but both Brandon Peters and Artur Sitkowski left much to be desired in 2021. Devito is not a huge improvement but has better instincts and athleticism. I still think he's more of a runner than a passer, but he's good enough at both to keep this job for most of the season.
RB Chase Brown
Brown is one of the underrated running backs in the Big Ten, mostly because Illinois has not been a good team overall. He's a two-time All-Conference player who is coming off his first 1,000 yard season, In 2021, he was the fifth-best rusher in the conference and should be on your watch list entering this season.
WR Shawn Miller
TE Luke Ford
The top tight end recruit in the 2018 class became the odd man out at Georgia. He's has to work his way up a crowded depth chart in Champaign but finally gets a chance to show his worth after Daniel Barker transfers to Michigan State.
OL Alex Palczewski
Another impressive veteran offensive lineman who has played both tackle and guard. Palczewski has been a mainstay for the Fighting Illini offense--starting 52 games in his career. He's been All-Big Ten in each season and will be one of the more impressive pro prospects that isn't a household name yet.
DL Calvin Avery
LB Calvin Hart Jr
Hart has struggled with injuries in recent seasons yet may be the best player on the Illinois defense. They have plenty of talent in the secondary, but he makes a big difference in the middle. Hart was a productive player at NC State, and Illinois is hoping he finally shows more of that this season.
S Sydney Brown
QB Spencer Petras
The Iowa passing offense was horrible last season, and Petras finished with just 1880 passing yards and 10 touchdown passes to go with nine interceptions. Nonetheless, the Hawkeyes still made the Big Ten Championship game. If they want a chance to win it, Petras has to be much better.
WR Keagan Johnson
Best receiver on the team, but that's not saying much. Johnson had just 352 yards last season. It's a young group of receivers, but the production needs to improve quickly in 2022. Johnson enters the season as WR1 and has the most potential of the Hawkeye receivers.
WR Nico Ragaini
TE Sam LaPorta
The latest in a long line of Iowa tight ends. LaPorta excels in all phases but may be most important to the passing game in 2022. I thought he could've declared for the NFL and been a solid backup for a pro team, but he chose to return to school. Now, he'll get ahcnce to prove he can be a reliable TE1.
OL Jack Plumb
DL John Waggoner
DL Noah Shannon
LB Jack Campbell
Campbell is one of the best linebackers in the country and the heartbeat of the Iowa defense. He fits the mold of the classic, hard-nosed Iowa linebacker with great instincts and is a little more athletic than those players tend to be. He'll be on watch lists for most defensive awards and should finish among the top tacklers in the conference yet again.
CB Riley Moss
QB Tanner Morgan
This guy's still around? Tanner Morgan is entering his sixth collegiate season and hoping to finally replicate his breakout performance from 2019. In that season, he set many single-season program records, including passing yards and passing touchdowns as the Golden Gophers went 11-2. Since that season, the team has come back down to Earth, and Morgan has not gotten close to the same numbers. Many are picking Minnesota as a sleeper in the West, but that will require Morgan to return to form.
RB Mohamed Ibrahim
One of the best running backs in the conference will be out for blood as he returns from a season-ending injury. Ibrahim proved to be all kinds of trouble for Ohio State last Septemebr, and the injury may have even saved the Buckeyes from an upset. Minnesota was able to piece together a respectable running game in his absence, but Ibrahim makes this offense much more dangerous.
RB Trey Potts
WR Chris Autman-Bell
Autman-Bell was the number-three receiver behind Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman on that 2019 team. The other two have both entered the NFL and Autman-Bell enters his second year as Minneosta's WR1. He's by far the most experienced receiver Minnesota has and has the ability to cause issues for opponents.
WR Dylan Wright
Wright will be the main sidekick trying to take defenders away from Autman-Bell. The Texas A&M transfer only caught 18 passes last season but led the team in yards per catch. The Gophers will expect much more of him this season.
TE Brevyn Spann-Ford
OL John Michael Schmitz
Schmitz is one of the top centers in the country. In a year in which Minnesoat loses a majority of its starting offensive line, his return is crucial. He's obviously built a rapport and some familiarity with Morgan and other skill players over the years, but the center is also the one leading the offensive line with protection calls and reading the defense. That's where a three-year starter and two-time All-Conference player can really make an impact.
OL Quinn Carroll
Big addition for Minnesota from Notre Dame. While he didn't play much for the Irish, Notre Dame tends to have a deep group of offensive linemen and he was a heralded high school recruit. WIth plenty of spots to fill, Carroll should finally crack the starting lineup and show how good he really is.
DE Thomas Rush
LB Mariano Sori-Marin
S Jordan Howden
K Matthew Trickett
QB Casey Thompson
The Texas transfer has been named the starting quarterback form Nebraska. He played well for the Longhorns with 2,422 passing yards and 30 touchdowns and fits great with the Husker offense because he is a better passer than Adrian Martinez with a similar running ability. Scott Frost now has the players he wants, and Thompson is a big key in making that formula a success.
WR Decoldest Crawford
DE Ochaun Mathis
Nebraska hit the transfer portal hard and ended up with one of the top transfer classes in the nation. One of the biggest additions is Mathis. The TCU transfer can play defensive end or outside linebacker and excels in pass defense-- whether it be as a pass rusher or in coverage. There are high expectations for him in his final collegiate season.
WR Omar Manning
WR Trey Palmer
The Huskers struck gold with Samouri Toure as a transfer last season and hope to repeat that success with Trey Palmer. The biggest difference is that Palmer is coming from a highly respected Power Five team in LSU instead of Toure's Montana. As we've seen before, recruiting rankings aren't always accurate, but they do suggest that Palmer has higher potential.
CB Tommi Hill
CB Omar Brown
QB Ryan Hilinski
The former South Carolina quarterback has had to share his time under center at Northwestern. He's shown plenty of flashes throughout his career and should have a firm hold on the starting job based on the current roster. Will he finally put it all together?
RB Cam Porter
RB Evan Hull
Hull had over 1,200 all-purpose yards last season and finished with over 1,000 rushing yards. The performance earned him All-Big Ten Honorable Mention. He's possibly the best offensive skill player Northwestern has and he'll be hungry for more accolades this season.
WR Malik Washington
OT Peter Skoronski
Skoronski is the Wildcats' best pro prospect with projections as high as the first round. He's certainly shown the potential with two consecutive All-Conference selections to start his collegiate career.
LB Bryce Gallagher
CB AJ Hampton
With Brandon Joseph transferring to Notre Dame, Hampton becomes the leader of the Northwestern secondary. The senior has been a key contributor since his freshman year and quietly had one of the best seasons among Big Ten defensive backs in 2021.
QB Aidan O'Connell
The recent inconsistency at quarterback seemed to disappear last season as O'Connell starter nine of 12 games for Purdue. In those games, he threw for almost 3,800 yards and 28 touchdowns and was named an All-Big Ten player. He should be firmly entrenched as the starter entering 2022 and can surprise those who have yet to discover him.
WR TJ Sheffield
David Bell and Milton Wright leave huge absences in the passing game and others will need to step up. Sheffield had a career year in 2021 and should at least enter the starting lineup (if not earn a top-two receiver role).
WR Broc Thompson
Thompson is also a candidate for one of those top-two receiver spots after going off for 217 yards in the Music City Bowl against Tennessee. He's a big-bodied receiver built much like David Bell. So, while he's not going to be a speed burner, he can be the guy with the size advantage who comes up with big catches.
WRs Charlie Jones & Tyrone Tracy
The Iowa transfers could also be big factors here. Jones is an All-Conference return man whose speed can make a difference as a slot receiver. Tracy was a starting receiver at Iowa but is a much more talented player than he displayed last season. I would say Tracy has the best shot of the two to make an impact on offense, but both should see significant time on the field.
TE Payne Durham
DL Branson Deen
LB Jalen Graham
Graham is one of Purdue's best linebackers after finishing 2021 with 64 tackles and two interceptions, He's an athletic linebacker with excellent coverage abilities thanks to his days as a safety. After a career-year, I'm intrigued by his play in this defense.
LB OC Brothers
S Cam Allen
QB Graham Mertz
People talk about Mertz's potential, but that's all it has been so far. Potential. Mertz was impressive during his freshman campaign which came during the shortened 2020 season. He took a step back last season with an increase in interceptions and fewer passing yards per game. It's his third season as the starter, so we should know which player he really is by season's end.
RB Braelon Allen
Allen took over as the starting running back part way through last season and the Badgers may have found their next great, In his freshman season, he finished third in the Big Ten in rushing yards and became just the fourth freshman Wiscosnin running back to top 1,000 yards. Now, teams will start to key in on him, making things more difficult. Still, the Badgers are a run-oriented team with monstrous offensive linemen, so expectations for Allen are astronomical.
WR Chimere Dike
OL Tyler Beach
Beach is one of those monstrous offensive linemen and has been in the rotation since 2018. The senior is coming off back-to-back All-Big Ten selections and can play either tackle spot. Could be one of the next Wiscosnin standouts.
OL Logan Brown
DL Keeanu Benton
Sometimes the best way to be an impact layer is consistency and durability. That describes Benton to a tee. He's started 24 games in his career and has better numbers than you would expect from a nose tackle. 2022 will be an important year for him as becomes the most senior defensive lineman.
LB Nick Herbig
Herbig is the next star outside linebacker for Wisconsin after leading the Badger s with nine sacks a year ago. He excels as a pass-rusher but can also cover and is one of the best tacklers on the team. The Badgers will lean on him as one of their defensive leaders in 2022.
LB CJ Goetz
CB Jay Shaw