Big Ten Football: Which Team Has the Best Offensive Weapons?
The college football season is just a month away, which means that it is about that time to begin breaking everything down, trying to find out which teams have the edge.
The Big Ten Conference in particular has a lot of offensive weapons. The quarterback play may not be the greatest in the world, but there are many Heisman candidates that you should keep an eye on this year, such as Denard Robinson of Michigan, Rex Burkhead of Nebraska and Montee Ball of Wisconsin.
But which Big Ten teams have the best offensive weapons heading into the 2012 season?
Here are the rankings for each position on the offensive side of the ball.
The Big Ten has more dual-threat quarterbacks than any other conference in the country. It may not be the prettiest to watch at times, but there are many quarterbacks that run the offense extremely effective.
1. Denard Robinson, Michigan - Robinson may not be the best passer in the world, but he is one of the most electrifying players in the country, and has led the Wolverines in passing yards and rushing yards the last two seasons. During the offseason, he has been working on his mechanics, which should make him more accurate with the football in 2012.
2. Braxton Miller, Ohio State - As a freshman last season, Miller threw for over 1,000 yards, did a good job of taking care of the football, and rushed for over 700 yards. Keep in mind he was thrown into a horrible situation, and had limited weapons on the offensive side of the ball. Now with Urban Meyer being the head coach, Miller should grow by leaps and bounds his sophomore season.
3. James Vandenberg, Iowa - Vandenberg had his first chance as a starter last season and surely made the most of it. He finished with over 3,000 passing yards and 25 passing touchdowns, while limiting his interceptions to just seven, despite throwing the ball over 400 times. He threw for over 250 yards a total of five times last season, and should be even better with a year under his belt.
4. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska - Martinez only topped 200 passing yards last season once. Make no mistake about it, he is not a great quarterback whatsoever, but he is one of the better athletes at any position, and finds a way to make things happen. He has over 1,800 rushing yards the last two seasons and helped led the Cornhuskers to a surprising 9-4 record their first year in the Big Ten.
5. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota - Gray finally got his chance to play his junior season and gives the Golden Gophers something to be excited about heading into 2012. He finished the 2011 season with 1,400 passing yards, 966 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. He is a big body at 6'4", 245 pounds, and should help Minnesota improve on last year's three wins.
The running back position is much better for the Big Ten Conference; after all, this is the conference that is known as the physical and tough group of teams. These squads aren't flashy at all, as they want to run the ball down your throat and wear down the opposing defense. Here are the top five running backs in the Big Ten.
1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin - When you rush for over 1,900 yards and scored 39 touchdowns, I think you deserve this title. Ball could have been a nice pick in last year’s NFL draft, but decided to come back because he believes he has more to prove. If he comes anywhere close to last year’s production, he will be the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner.
2. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska - Burkhead averaged nearly five yards per touch last season and topped 1,300 rushing yards, while scoring 17 touchdowns. He is a bigger back, who rarely goes down on initial contact. With Martinez and Burkhead leading the way for this offense, Nebraska has a solid 1-2 punch.
3. Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State - Bell is one of the biggest backs in the country at 6'2", 238 pounds. He is also one of the backs who may not receive enough credit in this conference. In the last two seasons, he has racked up over 1,500 rushing yards and scored 21 total touchdowns. With the Michigan State offense losing a lot of production, Bell will receive more carries than he ever has in his career. Expect a huge year from him.
4. Silas Redd, Penn State - It isn't quite known if Redd will still be a member of Penn State after meeting with USC earlier this week. As of right now, he is the best weapon the Nittany Lions have on the offensive side of the ball. He rushed for over 1,200 yards, scored seven touchdowns, and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Whichever team he ends up playing for, Redd is a valuable asset on the offensive side of the ball and a true workhorse.
5. Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan - Toussaint really made his impact felt last season, topping 1,000 rushing yards and scoring 10 touchdowns. The Wolverines were undefeated last season in the five games he cleared 100 rushing yards. With another offensive weapon for Michigan, this team can truly take that next step. The problem is that Toussaint was arrested for a DUI, and has been suspended from the team indefinitely.
There aren't many wide receivers in this conference that receive a lot of national attention, but a lot of that has to do with sub-par quarterback play. The potential at this position is deep, and could surprise you in 2012. Here are some of the better wideouts this conference has to offer.
1. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin - The Badgers will certainly miss Nick Toon, but Abbrederis isn't a bad receiver to help lead this team. He is a big target at 6'2", who caught 55 passes last season and is also a factor on special teams. Now that he is the No. 1 option, expect even bigger things from the junior.
2. Kenny Bell, Nebraska - While defenses pay most of its attention to Burkhead, Bell isn't too shabby himself. In his first year of playing time, he caught 32 passes for 461 yards and scored four touchdowns. Bell is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, who even rushed for 100 yards on only three carries.
3. Keenan Davis, Iowa - The Hawkeyes lose a gem in Marvin McNutt, but Davis is capable of filling in those shoes. He is a big body at 6'3", 215 pounds, who took a big step in 2011, hauling in 50 passes for 713 yards and four touchdowns. With a true passing quarterback throwing him the ball, Davis is in for a huge 2012 season.
4. Roy Roundtree, Michigan - Roy Roundtree has had a hot and cold season at Michigan. We saw this guy catch 72 passes in the 2010 season, but in 2011, he only had 19 receptions. We know what this guy is capable of, as four of those receptions last year were over 30 yards. With the Wolverines not having many options at this position, it is important that Roundtree steps up in 2012.
5. Justin Brown, Penn State - Browns numbers would likely be through the roof if he actually had a quarterback throwing him the football. Still, he caught 35 passes for over 500 yards last season and two touchdowns. He has a great combination of size and speed at 6'3", 215 pounds.
Like I said before, the Big Ten is a conference that loves to pound the football, so the offensive line obviously has to be strong up front. These units don't receive much of the credit, but they are the reason these offenses are effective. Here are the top five units heading into 2012.
1. Wisconsin - The Badgers lost two huge pieces to this unit, but let's be serious, this is Wisconsin we are talking about. This program is known for putting together one of the best offensive lines in the country every season, and we expect nothing different from Bret Bielema and his staff. Led by Travis Frederick and Ricky Wagner, this should once again be a solid unit.
2. Michigan State - Mark Dantonio may have concerns with the rest of his offense, but should feel extremely good about his offensive line. He returns a total of six players that started at least one game last season, which gives him great depth with this unit led by fifth-year senior Chris McDonald.
3. Michigan - The Wolverines may not be as deep as the Spartans, but they do have some solid pieces to work with. Tackle, Taylor Lewan, was named to the Big Ten watch list during media days, while Michigan also has experience with three-year starter Patrick Omameh and senior Ricky Barnum helping out as well. The center position remains a question mark, but this is a group Brady Hoke should feel confident about.
4. Ohio State - The Buckeyes lost several players on the offensive line, but does have experience with Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall returning. It is still unknown how Reid Fragel, a converted tight end, will do at right tackle; however, I'm sure Urban Meyer and company will figure everything out in fall camp.
5. Purdue - The Boilermakers have an experienced offensive line with juniors Trevor Foy and Justin Kitchens leading the way. They also have a senior in the middle in Rick Schmeig, who should help improve last season’s efforts. This was a unit that was banged up last year, but in returning three starters, I see one of the better offensive lines in the conference.
I know that Wisconsin does not have a true answer at the quarterback position quite yet, but they do have one of the top running backs in the country in Montee Ball. They also have a top notch offensive line that is always a force to be reckoned with. James White as a backup running back isn't too shabby either, considering he has rushed for over 1,700 yards and scored 20 touchdowns in just two seasons. Then you add wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, and you have yourself a solid unit.
If transfer quarterback, Danny O'Brien can get his act together and pick up the offense quick enough, this will be a team that will have a great opportunity to defend its 2012 Big Ten Championship title.
Wisconsin - 15 points
Michigan - 11 points
Nebraska - 10 points
Michigan State - Seven points
Ohio State - Six points
Iowa - Six points
Penn State - Three points
Minnesota - One point
Purdue - One point
Northwestern - N/A
Illinois - N/A
Indiana - N/A