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’re 10 players deep, with 15 to go on the countdown. Let’s just hop right back in to the Top 25 players list as the season grows closer and closer.
No. 10. — Akrum Wadley, RB (Iowa)
2016 Season Stats: 1,081 yards, 10 TD’s, 6.4 ypc; 36 receptions, 315 yards, 3 TD’s
Best Game: 23 carries, 115 yards; 5 receptions, 52 yards, 1 TD
Patience has certainly paid off for the now-senior running back for the Hawkeyes. Wadley showed flashes of brilliance early in his career, but he had to share the spotlight with others. That included fellow 1,000-yard back LeShaun Daniels last season.
Wadley comes in to 2017 as the lone featured back for the first time in his career and it could be a very interesting season ahead. He also come back as one of just three returning running backs to crack double digits in rushing touchdowns last season. If Iowa is going to weather the changes at quarterback in 2017, it will do so on the back and legs of Wadley. If history tells us anything, he’s likely up to the challenge.
No. 9. — Clayton Thorson, QB (Northwestern)
2016 Season Stats: 3,128 yards, 58.6 comp. %, 22 TD’s, 9 INT’s
Best Game: at MSU – 27-35 passing, 281 yards, 3 TD’s, 1 INT
Few quarterbacks came in to 2016 as a bigger question mark than Clayton Thorson did entering his sophomore season. After becoming one of just four quarterbacks to top 3,000 yards passing in 2016, the questions have turned in to just how good can Thorson really be. Well, considering he went from mistake-prone and INT-prone to one of the coolest passers in the league, it is safe to say he is high up on our list heading in to 2017.
This season, it may be a case of Thorson also needed to add a bit more to the ground game. He picked up just 98 yards on 97 carries last season. That was following a promising start to his career with his feet. Northwestern doesn’t need him to be J.T. Barrett on the ground, but expanding that part of his game to go with the established passing attack could give Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats plenty of ammo on offense.
No. 8 — Rashan Gary, DE (Michigan)
2016 Season Stats: 24 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 6 QB hurries
Best Game: vs. UCF – 6 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack
Michigan snapped up the No. 1 player in the 2016 recruiting rankings, so expectations were high for Gary. He rose to the occasion and got himself in to the mix on a loaded and deep Wolverines defensive line. He showed power off the edge and a capability to be very disruptive at the line of scrimmage. Gary’s game is far from perfect, but if he works at the rate he did in 2016, look for him to be one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten when 2017 is all said and done.
His length, athleticism and strength at his age are just incredible. Will he be able to live up to the hype and the increased attention on and off the field in 2017? That’s his real challenge.
No. 7. — J.T. Barrett, QB (Ohio State)
2016 Season Stats: 61.5 comp. %, 2,555 yards, 24 TD’s, 7 INT’s; 845 yards, 9 TD’s rushing
Best Game: vs. Nebraska – 65.1 comp. %, 290 yards, 4TD’s passing; 39 yards rushing
It is hard to believe that one…J.T. Barrett is still in college football, and two…that is hasn’t won a Heisman Trophy yet. We’re pretty sure if you asked 2014 versions of ourselves if that was possible we would’ve told you you were nuts. But, we are blessed with one final season from Barrett in the OSU colors.
Some of those same 2014 folks would be surprised to see him this low on the list. There’s no doubt that the talent is there, but his passing numbers have steadily declined and somehow Barrett has actually become a less accurate passer over time. Still, he’s arguably the most dangerous dual-threat quarterback in the league and one of the best on-field leaders as well. His intangibles and ability to literally will a team to victory can’t be overlooked and that’s why he’s in our top 10.
No. 6. — Tegray Scales, LB (Indiana)
2016 Season Stats: 126 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 FF, 2 PBU, 4 QB Hurries
Best Game: vs. Penn State – 9 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1 sack
No player benefited more from a coaching change in 2016 than Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales did. Tom Allen’s unique 4-2-5 system actually made Scales the focal point of the defense and he delivered in a big way. The stats are certainly impressive, but it is the how it all happened that makes him one of the most intriguing players to watch this upcoming season.
Don’t be surprised to see his name mentioned with some of the best in the country at linebacker. He simply makes plays and does it wherever and however asked to by the coaching staff. A sign of his quality? Two his best games came in losses to Penn State and Northwestern, where Scales did everything he could to will his team to victory but just couldn’t get the offensive help needed. He’ll have more parts around him this season and that should make things really fun to watch.