Big Ten Football: Ranking the Top 10 Biggest Playmakers
The Big Ten is changing. A conference that used to be dominated by big offensive lines, strong front sevens and pro-style offenses has shifted towards the spread and zone-read offenses while deploying better athletes on defense.
The dual-threat quarterback has become increasingly more popular among Big Ten teams. With these kinds of athletes on the field, we have seen more huge runs, big plays and incredible touchdowns than in the past.
Ahead is a list of the Big Ten's biggest playmakers in 2012.
10. Matt McGloin
Who would've thought at the outset of this season that Penn State would be in second place in the Leaders division and just 1.5 games off of Ohio State at the top?
Not very many people, but Bill O'Brien has worked wonders in Penn State's first full season without the late Joe Paterno, while simultaneously enduring the sanctions imposed upon them by the NCAA for the Sandusky scandal.
The man on the field most responsible for the Nittany Lions' on-the-field success is Matt McGloin. McGloin has been incredibly efficient, completing 62.2 percent of his passes for 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions in eight games.
He is not a big play quarterback, but he is a model of stability in a very unstable football program.
9. Rex Burkhead
If only Rex Burkhead could stay healthy, he would undoubtedly be higher on this list. Nebraska's starting running back is dynamic on all fronts. He displays good speed, above average field-reading ability and possesses great strength at 5'10" and 210 pounds.
An All-Big Ten Selection last season, Burkhead is considered very likely to be drafted in next spring's NFL draft. He rushed for over 1,300 yards last season and has rushed for 8.6 yards-per-carry when healthy this season.
After a win over Michigan this past Saturday (in which Burkhead didn't play), don't be surprised to see Nebraska make a run at the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl. While they are a formidable team with potential, they will only be able to achieve those lofty goals if they can run their star running back out onto the field on game day.
8. Mark Weisman
This is truly one of the better stories in the Big Ten. Mark Weisman sat out all of last season after transferring from Air Force before coming into this season trying to win the No. 2 fullback position out of training camp.
Little did the walk-on, non-scholarship fullback know that injuries would award him the opportunity to start at tail back for the Iowa Hawkeyes, who had a surprisingly strong start to the season and remain in the Legends division hunt.
A big, bruising back, Weisman has rushed for almost six yards-per-carry this season, with eight touchdowns. He even torched the mighty Michigan State Spartans' defense for 116 yards and a touchdown in a double overtime win.
7. Carlos Hyde
Ohio State went into this season with a lot of uncertainty. A new head coach would be at the helm in Urban Meyer and they did not have a starting running back to replace Dan "Boom" Herron.
Enter Carlos Hyde. Hyde does not have the numbers to show his true value (we'll talk about the man who steals his yards and touchdowns later), but he has had a nose for the goal line this season and has been very effective in Urban Meyer's spread option.
He has scored 11 total touchdowns (10 rushing, one receiving) in just seven games, the highlight of which was a 140-yard, four touchdown performance against Nebraska. He gives defenses another option to account for while they already have their hands full trying to stop Ohio State's dynamic quarterback.
6. Venric Mark
The focus going into this season for Northwestern was probably on how Kain Colter would replace Dan Persa on offense and if he could fill the shoes of the dynamic dual-threat quarterback.
However, Colter is now used as a second string running back and a part-time quarterback. The full-time running back job has been grabbed by electric junior Venric Mark.
Mark has to be considered a dark horse for Big Ten offensive player of the year, rushing for over 1,000 yards already and nine touchdowns, while averaging 6.5 yards-per-carry. At this pace, Mark could very well end up being the leading rusher in a conference with Montee Ball, Le'Veon Bell, Braxton Miller and Denard Robinson.
5. Taylor Martinez
Taylor Martinez is the second half (or first half, depending on how you want to look at it) of Nebraska's spread option attack. He is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback who has had Heisman Trophy expectations since his freshman year in Bo Pelini's offense.
Although Martinez failed to live up to the lofty expectations in his freshman and sophomore campaigns, he has finally turned the corner this season. Martinez leads the Big Ten in passer efficiency rating at 158.1 (almost 20 full points higher than his previous career high in a season) and has also rushed for a respectable 461 yards and six touchdowns.
It seems that of his two incredible tools, Martinez is choosing to go with his arm more than his legs, as he continues to develop into one of the nation's most elite players. However, defenses still cannot discount that he can be equally dangerous with both.
4. Denard Robinson
Denard Robinson, the man they call Shoelace—for his untied shoes on game days—is undoubtedly a very polarizing figure in college football. However, his playmaking ability remains.
If Michigan was to put him at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, kick returner or anywhere else, Robinson has the ability to break off a huge run at any given time.
Currently, Robinson sits a mere 305 yards behind former West Virginia quarterback Pat White for the all-time NCAA rushing record for a quarterback. He will need to average 76.25 yards-per-game to get there, a feat very feasible for Robinson.
There will always be questions about Robinson's arm, but it says something when NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. calls Robinson a top-two wide receiver in the upcoming NFL draft based purely on his speed. Considering that Robinson has not played or practiced wide receiver at all for Michigan.
3. Montee Ball
Montee Ball has a very special gift. He broke a record with it last season and is dominating in that category again this season. That gift is scoring touchdowns.
Last year, Ball tied Barry Sanders for the most touchdowns in a single season with 39 (33 rushing, six receiving) and scored 18 in the previous season with limited time, in addition to sharing carries with James White.
This season, his numbers are a little low, but still dominant when compared to other players in the Big Ten. Ball has rushed for 13 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards.
In an astounding four games dating back to last week (not including this past weekend's Michigan State game), Ball rushed for 622 yards and 10 touchdowns. Many players around the country would be happy with those numbers over the course of a season.
Despite his low yards-per-carry average this season, Ball remains one of the nation's top running backs and is not only the all-time Big Ten touchdown leader, but could very well be the all-time FBS touchdown leader. He is five short of the current record with three games left to play.
2. Le'Veon Bell
Le'Veon Bell is an almost unfair athlete at his position. He has size, speed and unnatural leaping abilities to go along with his football intelligence and ability to read the field.
He has made a name for himself in embarrassing defenders who try to cut down at his legs by hurdling them. When he isn't hurdling players, he's using his 6'2", 244-pound frame to bruise smaller defenders and beat them down the field.
Not only is he explosive out of the backfield, but he also has good enough hands to be a factor in the receiving game. Once Bell gets down to the secondary, there are usually not many players who are capable of bringing the big man down.
Bell has rushed for over 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns this season. He is projected to be an early round pick in the upcoming NFL draft.
1. Braxton Miller
After struggling to adjust to the college game as a true freshman, Braxton Miller has put it all together as a sophomore. While he has slowed a bit with his arm of late, it is clear that he has the ability to be an elite passer at the college level.
Think of Miller as Denard Robinson with an arm. In fact, Miller happens to currently be the Big Ten's leading rusher and is only one behind Montee Ball in rushing touchdowns. Six of his nine games have been 100-plus yard rushing games and he has shown a penchant for the big play, breaking off multiple 50-plus yard runs this season.
Miller is not all the way there with his arm yet, but he is completing a decent 56.6 percent of his passes and has thrown 12 touchdowns and only six interceptions. His potential throwing the ball was showcased against the California Golden Bears, where he threw for 249 yards and four touchdowns in a very important 35-28 win at home.
It is safe to say that with all he brings to the field, Miller is the man most responsible for Ohio State's currently undefeated season and is also the Big Ten's biggest playmaker.