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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

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Can Illinois or Indiana’s QB change spark either program?

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We’ve nearly hit the halfway point for some teams in the Big Ten, and that means time for plenty of reflection. Two programs have done plenty of that over the past week, as both Illinois and Indiana have gone in different directions with their starting quarterbacks.

Earlier this week, Illinois announced that Jeff George Jr. would be the starter. It was a move few didn’t see coming given the anemic production of the Illini offense with Chayce Crouch at quarterback.

Indiana wasn’t far behind, as head coach Tom Allen revealed redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey would become the sole quarterback to play going forward. It ended four weeks of a two-quarterback system in place.

Both decisions seems smart on paper, but which one will make the biggest impact on their team?

Case For Peyton Ramsey:

Sometimes you win the job out of necessity and some times you win the job because you’ve outplayed everyone else. For me, the latter is true for Ramsey.

One of the most undertold stories of this season has been Indiana’s struggles in the pass game. Everyone saw them carve up Ohio State’s defense for over a half and assumed all was good. Well, Lagow has been ineffective and Ramsey has added a different dimension to an offense trying to find an identity.

To date, Ramsey has split time with Lagow in four games. He’s completed 60.4 percent of his pass (besting Lagow’s 56.3 mark) for 316 yards (6.6 yards per attempt, compared to 6.4 for Lagow). In just 48 attempts this season, Ramsey has equaled Lagow’s TD number at 4, while throwing just one interception.

Throws like this one to Simmie Cobbs for an 18-yard TD is the spark and kind of performance Ramsey can produce:

With an offensive line in flux, Lagow’s immobility has shown to be a big issue. He’s got the arm, but it really isn’t any good when you are under pressure and can’t move? Lagow’s got minus-30 yards on the season, meanwhile Ramsey is second on the team with 117 yards on 34 carries in his limited time on the field. That’s good production for a team searching to get back to the wild offensive numbers they are used to putting up.

A spark is needed, but so is consistency more than anything. Ramsey provides both and for a Hoosiers team that has a ton of talent around him, this should be the calming influence needed to help this team get to a bowl game.

That’s especially the case when you notice how Allen and his teammates respond to his mentality on and off the field.

“It’s more collective. It was really just this game. It was more of a buildup over time,” Allen said earlier this week, via Indiana’s Scout website. “We love both guys, awesome people. … There’s just a grit to (Ramsey), a toughness to him. He’s got a linebacker mentality to how he works.”

Case for Jeff George Jr.:

Illinois is in the middle of a youth movement on both sides of the

George also isn’t a first time starter. He played starter last season, being inserted in to the toughest of road situations possible — a freshman on the road at Michigan. That experience can be helpful for sure, and something George Jr. brought up in talking to the media this week.

“I’m excited to go out there and try to make something happen and try to get this offense rolling. I think I can do my part,” George Jr. said, via IlliniInquirer. “I feel like I know how tough it is to win a game. We went through some ups and some downs last year and now nothing is new.”

There’s also the fact that it did seem as if his connection with the likes of Malik Turner, Mike Dudek and Co. was better than Crouch’s was.

Look, something had to happen, because with Crouch at QB the Illini offense became as one-dimensional as Minnesota’s offense often was with Mitch Leidner behind center the past two years. It didn’t work well for the Gophers, and with a defense still figuring out who it is for the Illini, that would’ve been disastrous the rest of the way.

This is also a great opportunity to showcase George Jr. against the toughest of competition. He’ll go up against a schedule that includes Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin still to go.

Head coach Love Smith seems to be going with a sink or swim mentality to this team — pushing younger players to the brink to see if they respond or fold. Putting George out there as the starter the rest of the way is more of that, and it may be that the rest of his teammates respond to that idea more than they did with Crouch.

Final Verdict: Peyton Ramsey

This one is easy for me. Ramsey has more weapons to work with in the form of wide receivers like Simmie Cobbs and Luke Timian in the fold. He also has a decent running back in freshman Morgan Elison, who is averaging 5.8 yards per carry and has 310 yards in four games so far this season.

As for Jeff George Jr.? Sure, he’s got the same freshman running back with potential as Indiana does, but he’s not set up for success like Ramsey is. Mike Dudek is a weapon and Malik Turner can be good…but Turner has also been inconsistent to say the least.

George also has a bigger body of work, and that body of work suggests a pretty average quarterback at best. He’s completing just 43.1 percent of his passes for 681 yards and five touchdowns to seven interceptions in five games played in his career.

Call me crazy, but those numbers don’t inspire me.

Let’s see who can play better, but if there’s someone who has already shown the ability to succeed under pressure, that has been Ramsey. I’ll take his numbers, situation and moxie over George any day of the week.

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talking10 Power Poll: Surprises galore in Week 1 poll

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We’re back…after a long offseason, the staff is finally back to watching football, crunching numbers and giving you our opinions on all things Big Ten football.

It also means our weekly staff Power Poll is back as well.

This season we’ve got five staff members voting every week. That includes the following names:

Andy Coppens@AndyOnFootball

Phil Harrison@PhilHarrisonCFB

Philip Rossmann-Reich – @RiseNU

Dave Fitzgerald@BuckeyeFitzy

Zach Worthington@Worthyton

Normally the opening week of the season provides little in the way of knowledge, but that certainly wasn’t the case in 2017. Dare we say the first week of action for the Big Ten was highly entertaining?

You can say that, and we did over at the #B1GRewind Show.

But, how did all of that excitement shake out when it came time to vote? Let’s take a look at the official poll for Week 1:

Let’s just say things were a bit wackier than usual, huh?

Takeaways:

  • Only three teams lost this week, yet it was a winner, Illinois, coming up dead last and it wasn’t even close. The Illini’s unimpressive three-point win was also our winner for “Disappointment of the Week” on the #B1GRewind show…so perhaps their last place finish in the power poll this week was really warranted. It also appears that hanging tough with ranked teams meant a lot to our voters.
  • While the rest of the college football world is in love with Ohio State…our staff is much more in love with the Nittany Lions…well not “much more” but they won out with three first place votes and OSU falling outside the top two in one voters mind.
  • It appears there is going to be an interesting battle for the middle of the pack over the next few weeks. Michigan State was No. 7 in this poll, but had just a three-point lead on No. 10 Nebraska. Let’s just say the next few weeks should shake out the middle a bit more.
  • Speaking of close fights…the battle between Michigan and Wisconsin for the third spot should be an interesting one indeed. Can Wisconsin’s offense keep up the high-scoring and keep UW ahead or will Michigan’s exciting youth movement grow up fast enough to challenge for the top of the East division and thus our poll as well?
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Indiana Hoosiers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Preview: Welcome to the Big Ten in Week 1

The 2017 season kicks off with a Big Ten matchup for the first time in years. Join us as we preview the Buckeyes vs. Hoosiers.

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J.T. Barrett, Ohio STate Buckeyes

When: Thurs., Aug. 31; 8pm ET
Where: Bloomington, Ind.; Memorial Stadium (52,929)
TV: ESPN
All-Time Series: Ohio State leads 72-12-5
Last Meeting: Ohio State win 38-17 (2016)

 

Welcome officially to the 2017 college football season my fellow Big Ten nuts out there. There couldn’t be a more perfect way to start the season than by hitting the ground running with some B1G football, and that is exactly what we get on Thursday night as the Ohio State Buckeyes and Indiana Hoosiers collide in Bloomington, Ind.

This game may not be a marquee matchup, but it is a Big Ten game and there are plenty of storylines all around this one. We’ve got ex-Indiana head coach turned Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson against his old team. We’ve got two quarterbacks with a lot to prove entering their senior seasons and a whole cast of new characters on the Buckeyes sideline.

We’ll start to get answers to a lot of big questions, but let’s kick our preview off with a look at the most burning question entering this game.

1 Burning Question: What offenses will we really see?

Indiana and Ohio State provide plenty of intrigue, you know, with the whole Kevin Wilson as co-OC vs. his old team and all that. But, the biggest question burning in my mind is just what both offenses will actually look like in Week 1.

Will the Hoosiers keep the offense that Wilson laid the foundation for or will we see some wrinkles? What about Wilson’s influence on Urban Meyer’s power-run version of the spread offense. That isn’t exactly Wilson’s cup of tea and it appears that the passing game is going to be critical to success for the Buckeyes in 2017.

So, if you’re watching this game, keep a close on just how different or not these offenses are for the 2016 versions we saw. Whichever one either adjusts best or executes the old version best is likely to come away the winner on Thursday night.

2 Key Stats

21: That is Ohio State’s current winning streak against the Hoosiers. 

Ohio State has beaten up on a lot of teams over the years, but few have been beaten up as bad as the Hoosiers have been. Even with the resurgences of the IU program to respectability, it hasn’t changed the fact that they can’t seem to beat the Buckeyes ever. Indiana’s last win in the series came back in 1988, a 41-7 beat down of the Buckeyes. Why is that relevant to this game? Well, that win also took place in Bloomington, Ind. and a 21-game win streak is long for anyone, including the Buckeyes.

152.2: That was Indiana’s rushing average per game in 2016.

It also happens to be a low-water mark for a program that became one of the Big Ten’s best rushing attacks over the course of the previous three seasons. Last season showed that the depth that was once there had become depleted. Even with 1,000-yard rusher Devine Redding in the mix, the Hoosiers slipped to 11th in the Big Ten in rushing. While the passing attack will always get the big attention, the silent and deadly run game needs to return in Bloomington for the Hoosiers to have success.

 

3 Key Players

Mike Majette, RB (Indiana): Why is a guy you’ve likely never heard of so vital to the cause for the Hoosiers? Well, one of the best-kept secrets to the Hoosiers rise under Kevin Wilson was the ability of the run game. From 2013 to 2015, the Hoosiers ranked no worse that fourth in the Big Ten in rushing offense. Last season saw a dramatic falloff as Jordan Howard left for the NFL draft and the Hoosiers were just 11th in the Big Ten in rushing. Majette played in just eight games, but put up a healthy 4.6 yards per carry in his sophomore season. If the Hoosiers want to win tonight, Majette needs to be a star and right now, that is a big question mark.

J.T. Barrett, QB (Ohio State): If you would’ve told me that we haven’t seen J.T. Barrett win a Heisman Trophy following his freshman season, I would’ve thought you were crazy. Yet, Barrett hasn’t lived up to the potential shown in his first season. Now, we have Barrett working with a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. All the talk this offseason has been how Barrett can improve as a pocket passer and as a true dual-threat quarterback. Will Wilson’s influence on the offense be a spark for Barrett or has he hit a ceiling? With Indiana’s improving defense, he will be tested tonight.

Damon Arnette, CB (Ohio State): Sometimes there is nothing like being thrown in to the deep end of the pool. While Arnette got game action in his freshman season — making 21 tackles and picking off one ball — there’s a difference between being a bit player and “the guy.” Arnette steps in to starters role for the first time and he’ll likely have the biggest test of the season going against quality names like Simmie Cobbs, Nick Westbrook and Donavan Hale. Can he pass this test early on? If not, it could be dangerous news for the Buckeyes hopes in 2017.

B1G Prediction:

The Buckeyes defensive line is scary good, but the rest of the team is a bit suspect in terms of experience heading in to the opener. While there is a ton of potential and recruiting talent, let’s see it on the field. Personally, I believe the OSU defense has a scare put in to them for the first half of the game at the very least. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Hoosiers putting up 17 points in the first half before being shut down after adjustments are made at halftime.

This will be best Memorial Stadium atmosphere ever: Perhaps atmosphere and Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. don’t always go hand-in-hand (unless you’re talking about one of the worst in the Big Ten).

Score: Ohio State 34, Indiana 17 (Listen here for more on the game).

 

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talking10 Pick’Em league has arrived!

Join our staff in a season-long Big Ten predictions challenge! Come on…you know you want to know our picks and beat up on us for bad plays!

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We’ve had fun on the talking10 podcast giving you previews and predictions over the last few seasons. This year we’re turning that up a notch around here.

Yes, you can now play along with us each and every week! Welcome to the talking10 Pick’Em league brought you by Yahoo! Sports.

Each week you’ll hear us make our picks on Wednesday night and filling out our sheets live on the Podcast. You can play alongside all of our staff and shame us as you win or we get to laugh at you as we rise to the top.

This Pick’Em league is free of charge and is for more than just bragging rights. The winner at the end of the season gets a special prize package from us here at talking10. So join up with the following information:

League ID: 3991

Password: Delany17

Finally, please make sure to make your team name your Twitter handle or your first & last name so we have a way to reach out to you once the season is over….if you win!

We dare you to beat us! We double dog dare you!

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