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Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s. 25-21

It is once again that time of year, as we unveil our annual rankings of the Top 25 players in Big Ten Football. For the 3rd year in a row no less.

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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.

The list is compiled by our staff and is a projection of who we think are the best players in the Big Ten.

Let’s just say 2017 will be an interesting year if our polling is any indication. It was an intense battle amongst some 41 total players to receive votes. Only 25 could make the cut, but before we get there we need to kick it off with a look at the five names that just missed out on the Top 25 list.

Here are our Honorable Mention picks for the 2017 season:

  • Jerome Baker, LB (Ohio State)
  • Billy Price, OL (Ohio State)
  • T.J. Edwards, LB (Wisconsin)
  • Simmie Cobbs, WR (Indiana)
  • Sam Hubbard, DE (Ohio State)

That is just how competitive it was to get in to our Top 25 of the poll. So, without further ado, let’s get on with the list. Up first is our group that begins the poll with No’s 25 through 21 and enjoy the eclectic mix of players in our first five spots on the poll.

No. 25 — Tyquan Lewis, DE (Ohio State)

2016 Season Stats: 29 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 3 forced fumbles
Best Game: vs. Indiana (5 tackles, 2.0 tfl’s, 1 sack)

The reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year barely made it on to our countdown. Crazy, huh? But as any coach will tell you, this isn’t so much about last year and a lot more about this year. Lewis is likely to be very productive again this season, but Ohio State is so deep at defensive end, it may be that the snaps won’t be there for him to be as productive on paper.

Lewis is one of the most disruptive edge presences in run defense in the Big Ten. He hasn’t been asked to be a great pass rushing threat to date in his career. Will the Buckeyes unleash him in new defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s scheme? If so, this ranking is likely to change by the end of the season.

No. 24 — Nick Westbrook, WR (Indiana)

2016 Season Stats: 54 receptions, 995 yards, 6 touchdowns
Best Game: vs Wake Forest (6 receptions, 129 yards, 2 touchdowns)

Who is the leading returning receiver in the Big Ten? We’re guessing you didn’t come up with Nick Westbrook right off the top of your head, but he is indeed the No. 1 returning receiver in terms of receptions and yards. He’s also second in returning players with six touchdowns on the year.

All of that is impressive, but imagine what would’ve happened with some consistency from the quarterback position. Westbrook’s ability to be a deep target was taken full advantage of last season, while he also showcased a great ability to win jump balls and stretch defenses thanks to his size. With Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige graduating, Westbrook becomes an even bigger target in the passing game, and it should be an easy 70-receptions, 1,000-yard season in his final year in Bloomington.

No. 23 — Maurice Hurst, DT (Michigan)

2016 Season Stats: 33 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 7 QB hurries
Best Game: vs. Penn State (6 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack)

Michigan losses so much on the defensive side of the football. Lucky for them, they have arguably the most disruptive interior defensive lineman in the Big Ten. Hurst was a menace in opposing backfields last season. It wasn’t just his ability to rush the passer from the middle of the line, but also his ability to smell out plays faster than anyone else that is so impressive.

This season, the cupboard around him is far from bare despite the massive losses from the starting group last year. With the likes of Rashan Gary around, Hurst is likely to still be a disruptive and productive force for the Wolverines. Don’t be surprised to also see his reputation help those around him on the D-Line, with a lot of attention paid to him to free up the rest to attack off the edge.

No. 22 — Rashard Fant , CB (Indiana)

2016 Season Stats: 33 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, 3 INT’s, 1 TD, 17 pass break ups
Best Game: vs. Penn State (3 tackles, 1 INT)

Opposing quarterbacks kept throwing at Rashard Fant in 2016, and most of them found out that wasn’t the smartest idea in the world. It was a breakout season, but the question is if he can do it again for his curtain call at the collegiate level.

Some believed he had the skill and the tape to take off for the NFL after last season, but Fant is back. His combination of size and speed is scary at cornerback, where small and fast rule the day. He’s more than capable of winning battles at the line of scrimmage, but he also wins battles mentally and with his eyes in the backfield more than most. Don’t be surprised to see Fant targeted less this season, but also be productive when targeted.

No. 21 — Godwin Igwebuike, S (Northwestern)

2016 Season Stats: 108 tackles, 6.0 tackles for loss, 2 INT, 7 pass break ups, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
Best Game: vs. Nebraska (15 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble)

Few positions in the Big Ten return as much talent as the safety position. You would be hard-pressed to find a more versatile safety than Northwestern’s Godwin Igwebuike in my opinion. Last season he showed he was equally dangerous covering deep in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage.

Heading in to 2017, Igwebuike may be the best run-stopping defensive back in the Big Ten, while also being dangerous to throw on. Look for teams to have to gameplan around him, and that is the ultimate compliment of quality for a defensive back.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

Buckeyes Football

J.T. Barrett finally gets elusive Big Ten title

J.T. Barrett finally got his Big Ten championship on the field, and he had a big hand it getting the title.

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For all the accolades and awards Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett has one, there are a pair of elusive things on his list. After Saturday night’s 27-21 win over the No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers, one of those things can be crossed off his list — Big Ten champion.

The last time the Buckeyes won the Big Ten title, Barrett was on the sideline on crutches following an injury the week before against Michigan. He played witness to Cardale Jones coming in and whopping up on the Badgers 59-0.

With the ball in his hand, Barrett wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip between his fingers.

Yeah, so I was saying to myself last time I got us to the party but I wasn’t let in,” Barrett said following the Big Ten title win. “So this time there’s opportunity for me to go play in this game, I was going to do whatever it takes to go out there and play with my brothers knowing that it’s my senior year.

“This was one of the reasons why I came back, to play in big-time games like this. With the opportunity to go do that — with the Lord, it was going to be right. With God, everything was going to be all right. That was in my head.

“So with that, just didn’t stress about, didn’t worry about it. Just did what I could as far as rehabbing my knee and reducing the swelling. And I knew, just put it in God’s hands and not worry about anything.”

Barrett had his hand in almost every score of the game, passing for a pair of touchdowns and rushing for a third en route to 21 of the Buckeyes’ 27 points.

He finished the game just 12 of 26 with two interceptions as a passer. But, he also had a pair of big touchdown passes including an 83-yard effort to Terry McLaughlin to get the Buckeyes on the board.

After throwing a pick-six, Barrett came back and tossed a wide receiver screen to Parris Campbell for a 57-yard touchdown.

But, Barrett’s biggest work came on the ground in short-yardage situations. He had 60 yards on 19 carries and put the Buckeyes up by 21-7 with 11:10 to play in the second quarter. His running turned in to big plays late as he was able to push piles and get just enough to keep critical drives alive.

Simply put, Barrett wasn’t going to be denied. Whether it was arthroscopic knee surgery six days ago or on the field against the nation’s No. 1 ranked defense.

The win wasn’t just his first Big Ten championship as a player on the field, it also gave Barrett the most career wins in a Buckeye uniform. OSU’s win in the Big Ten title game was his 37th career win as a starter, breaking the record set by Art Schlichter (1978-1981).

It’s all cause for celebration, at least for now. That’s because everyone’s attention will turn to Sunday morning and the College Football Playoff.

Can Barrett also check the second big thing off his list? You know, a national championship?

That won’t be up to him, but the win on Saturday night certainly will give the College Football Playoff committee something to think about.

There’s little question for the guy who has just one thing left to accomplish as Ohio State’s starting quarterback. Barrett isn’t afraid to do a little lobbying to make that College Football Playoff thing happen either.

“I think our resumé speaks for itself,” said Barrett. “I think — I mean we put ourselves in a good position of being the conference champions. Also the wins we had, the big-time wins and all the other stuff they consider.

“But I don’t know, I think we did what we were supposed to do. And that was today go beat the No. 4 team in the country in Wisconsin and be the Big Ten champs.”

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Big Ten

Ohio State Makes Its Case For A Playoff Appearance – Beats Wisconsin For The Big Ten Championship

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When news broke that J.T. Barrett underwent surgery on Monday after getting injured on the sideline last Saturday in The Game by a cameraman, the first thought was that there’s no way he’s going to play.

Think again.

Barrett somehow, someway got some miracle treatment from the Ohio State training staff and wobbled his way onto the field in Lucas Oil Stadium as the starting quarterback in 2017’s version of the Big Ten Championship Game. After just six days with his date with a surgeon.

His play was understandably as mixed as noodle casserole, but he made just enough plays to will Ohio State to victory over an undefeated and No. 4 ranked Wisconsin Badger team that was looking to hoist the trophy and punch its own ticket to its first ever playoff.

Early on it looked like no contest. Ohio State’s speed on the outside looked to be too much for a stout Wisconsin defense. Both Terry McLaurin and Parris Campbell did some work after the catch with two long touchdown passes of 84 yards and 77 yards.

And it wasn’t just in the passing game either. OSU freshman J.K. Dobbins gashed the top rated Wisconsin defense for 174 yards on just 17 carries (10.2 avg.). It was inevitably a game of big plays for Ohio State as it racked up 449 yards against a defense that normally averages giving up just over 230 per game.

A glaring wart for OSU though has continued to be mistakes. Once again, it almost cost the Buckeyes the game, and more than anything, kept the Badgers in the game. Barrett threw two interceptions — one for a pick six — and Mike Weber lost one on the turf. There were also some costly turnovers that either sustained Wisconsin drives, or hamstrung further scoring for the OSU offense.

It is a story to the season that could make Ohio State look foolish further down the road if it doesn’t find some way to improve the discipline in all areas.

Speaking of the Scarlet and Gray’s next hurdle, the waiting game now begins. Ohio State will undoubtedly be compared to Alabama for the fourth and final spot. It appears for all the world that Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma are locks. USC will scream for inclusion, but it’s unlikely the Trojans will come from outside the Top Ten to have a real shot. That means it all comes down to ‘Bama and Ohio State — two mainstays in the early history of this whole playoff thing.

Ohio State can boast about two wins over top ten teams, and three against top fifteen with Michigan State thrown in there, but my, oh my those ugly losses against Oklahoma at home, and an unranked Iowa team on the road. Neither game was close. On another positive note, the Buckeyes do have a conference championship, something Alabama doesn’t have.

So what about the Tide? Yeah, it has looked dominant for most of the year, but the schedule has been lighter than a grocery bag full of feathers. It’s best win? Yep, it was against a top twenty team LSU. That’s it. There are no other Top 25 wins on the resume now that Fresno State went down, and there isn’t a conference championship to tote into the CFP committee’s room.  But, it does have just one loss, and has the mystique that goes along with being Alabama.

Let the arguing, teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing commence in earnest in Tuscaloosa and Columbus.

But let’s Ohio State enjoy this one for just a night. This is a talented team, and when it’s limiting mistakes and playing to its potential, it can hang with — and beat — anyone in the country.

It might just get yet another shot to show everyone.

 

 

Phil Harrison is a contributor to Talking10.com. He is also the Featured Big Ten Writer for CollegeFootballNews.com. Follow him

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Badgers football

10 things to know about 2017 Big Ten championship game

Get to know the key numbers, stats and players for the Badgers and Buckeyes clash in Indianapolis this Saturday night.

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The two most successful programs in the Big Ten over the past 20 years meet for just the second time in the Big Ten championship this Saturday. Yes, the Wisconsin Badgers and Ohio State Buckeyes tangle with a Big Ten championship and a potential berth in the College Football Playoff on the line.

Wisconsin’s scenario is easy, win and the No. 4 Badgers are in. The only question would be would they move up and go to the Rose Bowl or not?

Ohio State, well a win over the Badgers helps, but they would also need some help from another expected conference champion to lose and have a better resume on paper than some other teams in front of them.

Even though the scenarios are very different, these two coaches are likely to have their charges laser focused on the task at hand. But, how do u separate teams who got to this point in very different ways? There’s no better way than to dive in to the numbers and see what comes out.

Here are the stats, notes and everything else in between that you need to know ahead of the big matchup on Saturday night.

 

1: Ohio State, not Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in rushing offense

While all the attention seems to be on Wisconsin’s star freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, it is the Buckeyes who have been the more dominant team on the ground this season. Ohio State averages 250.3 yards per game on the ground. It helps when you have two running backs that combined for nearly 1,700 yards and a quarterback who put up another 600-plus yards as well.

Ohio State’s own freshman sensation, J.K. Dobbins was second in the Big Ten to Taylor with 1,190 yards and his 7.2 yards per carry average topped the league. So don’t think the Badgers are the only team that can run the ball heading in to Saturday night.

Now that’s not to say the Badgers are slouches on the ground game front either. UW was second in the league with an average of 243.2 yards per game as well. In fact, the two were the only teams in the Big Ten to average over 200 yards per game on the ground in the Big Ten.

2: That’s the number of times the Badgers have trailed in the second half this season

Wisconsin has trailed in the second half just twice (vs. Northwestern and vs. Michigan) for a total of 8:49. The Badgers have not trailed in the fourth quarter of any game. It’s all part of the narrative of the Badgers as a second half team.

The formula has been simple, try to jump out to a lead early or keep the game close early and then continue to pound away until opponents give up. What will be interesting to see is if the Badgers second half dominance can continue. Ohio State actually has given up more points in the second and third quarters (69 each) than in the first or fourth. Those are the two quarters were the Badgers ramp things up — going from 86 points this season in the 1st quarter to 106 in the 2nd, 108 in the 3rd and 118 in the final stanza.

Combine that with a Badgers defense that clamps down over time and you can see how teams falter against the Badgers. Will that scenario continue to play out in Indy?

3: This will be Ohio State’s 3rd Big Ten championship game appearance

OSU has only been eligible for six of the seven Big Ten title games played, and they’ve been able to make it to three of them so far. It’s been a mixed bag for Urban Meyer’s crew though. Michigan State took them down 34-24 in the first meeting, while the next year was the infamous 59-0 beating of the very same school they’ll see across the field from them on Saturday — Wisconsin.

Both sides have downplayed that 2014 game, and rightfully so given it was four years ago and no one of consequence in this game was of consequence on either side of the field in that 2014 game.

Still, this is Ohio State’s chance to get over the .500 mark in Big Ten title games.

4: OSU is fourth in the Big Ten in turnover margin

Turnovers can easily decide big games, and the Buckeyes found that out the hard way in a visit to Kinnick Stadium about a month ago. However, this has been a season of razor-thin margins in terms of turnovers across the Big Ten. Case in point, Ohio State is just +3 on the turnover margin this season and yet they rank 4th in the conference alongside Purdue in that category.

Ohio State has been alright at taking the ball away, forcing 18 turnovers, but they haven’t given up the ball much either, ranking third in the Big Ten with just 15 turnovers given up. With the Badgers defense so prone to pouncing on mistakes and the unknown situation at quarterback for the Buckeyes, look for turnovers to play a key role in this game.

5: That is Ohio State’s rank in sacks coming in to this game

Greg Schiano was supposed to be off for the Tennessee Volunteers head coaching gig by now, but we’ll save that story for another day. His defense has been turning up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season long, resulting in 34.0 sacks and a fifth place finish in the Big Ten. Nick Bosa earned Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year following the regular season, putting up a team-best 6.0 sacks and amassing 12.5 tackles for loss.

Wisconsin’s offensive line isn’t going to be easy to crack though, despite a relatively immobile quarterback. The Badgers finished first in the Big Ten for sacks allowed, with just 17.0 on the year. Getting to Hornibrook is going to be vital, but it won’t be easy.

6: That is the number of 10-win seasons in a row for the Buckeyes

All six of those 10-win seasons in a row have come under the tutelage of Urban Meyer not coincidentally. Meanwhile, the Badgers come in to this game riding a big 10-win season streak of their own, owning four of those seasons in a row. That mark is a school record for Wisconsin, while the Buckeyes’ six-straight is also a school record.

We’re getting these two programs at the best they have ever been, will it mean a good game on the field though?

7: Wisconsin is just seventh in the Big Ten in penalty yards this season

In a game where strength is going on strength, sometimes the weaknesses matter too (if you can find them). One area of weakness for the Badgers this season has been penalties. Wisconsin’s 5.5 penalties per game aren’t a terrible number, but when the Badgers are committing said turnovers, they are costly. UW is giving up over 50 yards per game in penalties. It simply can’t afford to do that against the Buckeyes.

Meanwhile, Ohio State is perhaps the worst offender of the bunch. Not only do the Buckeyes commit 7.4 penalties per game, they also rank last in the Big Ten with those penalties costing 72.1 yards per game.

This is clearly an area to watch on the part of both teams.

8: That’s the number of opponents the Badgers have held to under 100 yards rushing this season

Earlier we noted the matchup between two of the bet rushing offenses in the country. Well, something may have to give for the Buckeyes and Badgers, because Wisconsin features the Big Ten’s best run defense. Not only are the Badgers holding opponents to just 80.5 yards per game on the ground, they have held eight of the 12 opponents faced under the 100-yard mark, including in each of the last four games. That 80.5 yards per game average also tops the country.

If Ohio State struggles to run the ball against the stingiest run defense in the land, can the Buckeyes win? That may be one of the biggest questions in this contest.

9: Jonathan Taylor has gone for over 100 yards in 9 of 12 games this season

There’s a reason Taylor is the Big Ten’s leading running back — consistency. He’s been over 100 yards in 9 of 12 games played this season and has only missed the 100-yard mark twice as a starter after rushing fo 82 yards in his debut behind Bradrick Shaw and Chris James. The other two came in Big Ten play, with one only because of an ankle injury keeping him out after the half. He still put up 73 yards on 12 carries in the win over Illinois.

Taylor only needs 120 yards to break Adrian Peterson’s freshman rushing record, and that would be well below his season average of 150.5. If he breaks it, will it also lead to a Badgers win?

10: Wisconsin has won 10 of 12 games this season by 14 points or more

Plenty of the national narrative surrounding Wisconsin this season has been about the Badgers strength of schedule, or lack there of. Of course there’s some merit to it, as they faced just three teams ranked when or after then played them all season long — Iowa, Michigan and Northwestern. However, the hallmark of a really good team is taking on a supposedly bad schedule and dominating it.

That’s what the Badgers did this season, winning all but two games by two touchdowns or more. I’d call that pretty dominating football.

Then again…nothing has been good enough for most in the national media when it comes to the Wisconsin Badgers.

But, I digress. My point is, this team isn’t the 2017 version of the 2015 Iowa Hawkeyes. Wisconsin is blowing out teams it should beat and winning large against quality teams like Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan. That 2015 Iowa team snuck a perfect regular season by winning 7 of 10 games by 10 points or less…and 4 of those 7 games were by one score or less as well.

I only bring this point up to note that thinking this will be a razor-thin margin one way or the other seems unlikely considering what these two teams have put on the field most of the year. That’s especially the case should it be Wisconsin taking home the win.

Who wins, and how do we see the game playing out?

Tune in to the talking10 Podcast from this week and find out all that information and our exclusive All-Big Ten 1st and 2nd team reveal too.

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Buckeyes Football

Maryland at Ohio State: Is Maryland Ready To Close The Gap?

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When: Sat. Oct. 7; 4:00 pm ET
Where: Columbus, OH; Ohio Stadium (104,944)
TV: Fox
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 3-0
Last Meeting: Ohio State won 62-3 last year
Line: Ohio State (-31)

Join our Andy Coppens as we take an in-depth look at the questions to be answered, key stats to watch and of course the key players as the Maryland Terrapins travel West for a matchup with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Some wonder just where the Terps place is in the Big Ten pecking order…we’ve got the answer…well sorta.

Don’t forget to subscribe and enjoy all our video chatter of all things Big Ten. Buckeyes fans can also support all things talkingBuckeyes by copping this amazing state stripe shirt!

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