By: Julian Thomas
It might only be February, but college players and coaches around the country are counting down the days until spring practice. Likewise, football fans are ready to get a head start on the 2020 season on the gridiron.
Heading into spring football, Menace2Sports has compiled a comprehensive list of names that you just have to know in the Big Ten. In a conference loaded with talent, below is a list of bonafide players who are going to be difference makers next season and ultimately have a great chance to play on Sundays. Using ProFootballFocus stats and rankings, we will follow up this list with a few other compilations to get you prepared for what is going to be an exciting off-season.
And since the name of the conference, Big Ten, is a quintessential example of Malapropism (the conference has fourteen teams), here is our list of FOURTEEN impact players in 2020:
1. Justin Fields, Ohio State QB – Justin Fields spearheads this list as he enters the season alongside Trevor Lawrence and Tua Tugaovailoa as one of the three legitimate Heisman candidates. According to ProFootballFocus, Buckeye QB1 was the 2nd ranked quarterback in the nation behind Joe Burrow last year. Fields torched the Big Ten in his first season with the Buckeyes shattering records; however, his final pass of the season sailed into the arms of a Clemson DB crushing Ohio State’s title hopes. Surrounded by top end talent, a motivated Justin Fields will lead what looks to be the most potent offense in the country in 2020.
2. Micah Parsons, Penn State LB – Parsons is an absolute freak anchoring Penn State’s defense. Once regarded as a future Buckeye, Parsons has made a name for himself in Happy Valley. This tackling machine has first round draft pick written all over him. In his madman approach to defense, he makes plays that we haven’t seen since Bobby Boucher led the SCLSU Mud-Dogs to the Bourbon Bowl. PFF ranked Parsons the #1 LB in the nation last season. This is not a drill.
3. Chris Olave, Ohio State WR – Big Play Alert! Olave broke out as a true freshman against Michigan, then followed it up with a huge season as a sophomore. Olave is fast, smooth, and a clutch performer. Alongside Garrett Wilson, Jameson Williams, and a trio of incoming freshmen, Zone 6 2020 might be the most lethal position group in the nation. PFF ranked Olave the 25th WR in the nation as a sophomore.
4. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota WR – According to PFF, Bateman is the number 1 returning wide out in the conference; he almost ROW’d the Gophers all the way to Indianapolis in 2019. It was remarkable to see him playing his best football down the stretch when he was all over the opponents’ defensive plans. His partner in crime Tyler Johnson heads to the draft; however, returning Tanner Morgan at QB, Minnesota will like their chances in the Big Ten West come September.
5. Shaun Wade, CB – Shaun Wade shocked Buckeye insiders when he held a press conference in Jacksonville to announce he was coming back to Ohio State. His ejection in the National Semifinal might have been the pivotal moment in the entire college football season. Wade has been a swiss army knife for the Silver Bullets since his freshman season, always covering the other team’s top target. Can he carry the Ohio State back four that has routinely sent dudes to the NFL like clockwork? Lots of question marks back there other than Wade.
6. Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin LB – Seemingly every year, Wisconsin graduates an overachieving set of defensive players and replaces them with a handful of more of the same. With the departure of studs Chris Orr and Zack Baun, the 2020 Badgers’ defense will be championed by Jack Sanborn. He was actually their best defensive player statistically last year leading them in snaps, tackles as well as adding 3 INTs, an FF and an FR.
7. Pat Freiermuth, Penn State TE – Earning the nickname Pat “Frankenstein”, the Nittany Lions tight end is truly a monster. He has tremendous hands, solid speed, and caught 7 touchdowns last season. The biggest question mark might be the fact that he had 0 TDs in PSU’s last 5 games as they finished 3-2. There is no doubt, NFL scouts will be out to see Freiermuth.
8. Rondale Moore, Purdue WR – Remember when Rondale Moore showed up as a true freshman and incinerated defenses by himself? Slowed by injuries last year, the Purdue offense just wasn’t the same. Can Moore get back to the level he played at two years ago when PFF ranked him tied for 1st among B1G receivers? If so, the Tyreke Hill of college football will be ready to make a huge impact in the Big Ten.
9. – Nico Collins, Michigan WR – Nico Collins at number 9? That’s the former number of DPJ who spurned Michigan for the draft. Many thought Collins would do the same. Did he make the right decision by coming back? He erupted for 6 catches, 165 yards and 3 touchdowns vs Indiana. However, following that performance, he was a non-factor vs Ohio State and Alabama as the Wolverines’ late season woes continued. Ronnie Bell and a few other young slots give OC Josh Gattis another chance to move the Michigan offense forward.
10. Alaric Jackson, Iowa OT – It would not be the Big Ten if a SLOB didn’t make the top player list. Iowa DE AJ Epenesa might have been the most underrated player in the country last season. Now, he looks to be a potential first rounder. Alaric Jackson will anchor Kirk Firentz’ life force, the O-Line. In a division with potential parody, Iowa will be right there with a chance. And Jackson will be their next high draft pick. Btw: who even knew George Kittle went to Iowa?
11. Michael Penix Jr., Indiana QB – What a year for Indiana. After getting utterly annihilated by the Buckeyes, IU turned their season around, won 8 games in the regular season and had an SEC opponent beat in the bowl game before throwing it away in the final minutes. All of this without their starting QB, who was torching defenses prior to his injury; only Tanner Morgan and Justin Fields were grading out better. Surrounded by a decent group of weapons, Penix Jr. could be ready to lead the Hoosiers to another great season.
12. Wan’Dale Robinson, Nebraska WR – Scott Frost enters his third year as Nebraska HC coming off another underwhelming season, albeit they improved from 4-8 year one to 5-7 year two. There is no doubt that the Cornhuskers have some skill as Wan’Dale Robinson can change a football contest quickly. It’s also the third year as a starter for QB Adrian Martinez. I would hope Nebraska has bigger goals in mind than simply going 6-6 and making a bowl game?
13. Brandon Peters, Illinois QB – The surprise team of the year in 2019 in the Big Ten was Illinois. Michigan transfer Brandon Peters played a great season. Although his grades do not jump off the page, he and Lovie Smith have resurrected Illinois football. Peters led the Illini to a benchmark victory over Wisconsin, and earned a bowl berth. Illinois is no longer a cupcake game for Big Ten powers, especially with Peters heading into his final season at the helm.
14. Garrett Wilson, Ohio State QB – It’s honestly crazy to have Garrett Wilson listed as 14th on this list. He has potential to be the best receiver at Ohio State since Michael Thomas. His drop rate was the lowest of all the Buckeye receivers last year and that is just sick. Wilson is a pro playing in college and he’s only a true sophomore.Keep an eye on: Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan, OSU LB Pete Werner, Michigan DB Daxton Hill, PSU RBs Journey Brown and Noah Cain, MSU RB Elijah Collins.