Big Ten Football: 8 Players Doomed to Underachieve in 2013
Last week we covered the players who are top stars in the Big Ten in an all-conference team for spring football. But for every good side, there is a bad side lurking in the shadows and ready to strike.
In this case, that bad side is players who are doomed to underachieve in 2013. Whether by putting up huge numbers that will be impossible to repeat (and thus setting expectations way too high), or just being stuck in a bad situation, there are good players on almost every team who will certainly achieve less than what fans expect in 2013.
For example, Ryan Shazier of Ohio State almost made the list because his statistics and presence on the field were ridiculous in 2012: 115 tackles, 17 for loss, 5 sacks, 11 pass breakups, 1 interception and 3 forced fumbles. One would figure he simply cannot put up those numbers again, although perhaps he will as the only returning starter in the entire front seven for the Buckeye defense.
However, there is enough uncertainty there to keep Shazier off the list...well that, and my rule to keep only one player from any team on the list. Can't spread the disappointment too thick anywhere in Big Ten country.
So who did make the list of the players doomed to underachieve? Let's start with one of Shazier's teammates.
Jordan Hall, Ohio State RB
Buckeye fans rejoiced when Jordan Hall was granted a medical redshirt for last year after participating in only three games in 2012 before being lost for the season. The excitement is just as high as it was going into Urban Meyer's first year because Hall appears to fit the stereotypical flex or pivot role that players like Percy Harvin succeeded in for Meyer at Florida.
For example: Randy Chambers made some good arguments earlier this month, calling Jordan Hall the breakout star for 2013.
Unfortunately, things are not likely to pan out as well as Buckeye fans hope. Not only is Hall injury-prone, but he is largely unproven as a key contributor after four seasons with a top mark of 405 yards in 2011. After the Buckeye coaching staff figured out how to keep feeding Carlos Hyde the ball late last season, the Buckeyes have all the explosiveness they need between Braxton Miller and Hyde.
Hall will have a nice second senior season, but those expecting the second coming of Percy Harvin are going to be sorely disappointed. Hall will end the season as maybe the fifth best player on his offensive team, and definitely not a key piece of another championship run.
Allen Robinson, Penn State WR
A funny thing happened on the way to doomsday and the football program falling apart in State College: Bill O'Brien took over and installed an actual passing game with a pulse. In fact, thanks to the contributions of young stars Allen Robinson and Kyle Carter, much-beleaguered quarterback Matthew McGloin turned into the next Tom Brady of the college gridiron as Penn State surged to 8-4.
OK, so maybe McGloin was not Tom Brady. But Robinson pulled away from the rest of the conference easily in passing reception yards (1,019) and touchdowns (11). Those numbers will be difficult to match in 2013 for a number of reasons.
First, Penn State will be breaking in an actual new quarterback, and there will be growing pains. In addition, Big Ten teams will know to key in on Robinson and force the new quarterback, whoever it is, to find other options. In addition, look for players like Carter and the receiver recruits brought in the last two years to start making more contributions, thereby taking away from Robinson.
He could very well lead the Big Ten again statistically, but he will not clear everyone else in such a dominant fashion. Thus, 2013 will be seen as an underachieving year for Robinson.
Mark Weisman, Iowa FB
How do our good friends like Adam Jacobi put it? Oh that's right, the AIRBHG, which stands for Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God. It seems no position for any team in college football is as cursed as the position of running back for the Iowa Hawkeyes over the past three seasons.
Things got so bad after Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill were injured that Iowa was forced to turn to a big, old fullback to carry the load as a primary running option. Ironically, the AIRBHG couldn't quite catch up to the big man, as Mark Weisman racked up 815 yards and only two missed games due to injury.
However, now Canzeri and Hill will be back and healthy, Damon Bullock also returns, and the curse appears to be lifted for the moment as no players have been dismissed recently. There's still plenty of time for AIRBHG to strike again, but there will be a lot of targets before Weisman becomes a featured back in 2013.
Too many things have to go wrong, and karma owes the Hawkeyes a lot at this point. Thus, Weisman will go back to contributing more as a fullback in 2013.
Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois QB
I had the pleasure of watching Scheelhaase in one of his first big starts against Ohio State three years ago. Although the wind was whipping that day and Ohio State was struggling, Scheelhaase could not quite make the throws to win the game late once Tressel's Buckeyes asserted their will in the second half.
Still, the future looked bright for this dual-threat quarterback of the future in Illinois. Unfortunately, Scheelhaase has not progressed as much as many had hoped, and his team has fallen to shambles all around him as the Tim Beckman regime picks up the pieces of the Ron Zook nightmare.
His junior season was a nightmare as well, with four touchdowns and eight interceptions to go with a paltry 1,361 passing yards (compared to 2,110 yards in 2011) and 303 rushing yards (624 yards in 2011). So he can only bounce back from here, right?
Illinois is just so terrible that there is nothing Scheelhaase can do to salvage his career with even numbers that would match those of his freshman and sophomore campaigns. He could even get benched if the season begins to tank again, as Beckman will want to plan for the future in an attempt to save his job in a tough marketplace. All that promise we saw in 2010 will go out with a whimper in 2013.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska CB
Jean-Baptiste started five games in 2012 and tried to begin making a mark to ensure a starting position in 2013. While his 24 tackles, nine pass breakups and two interceptions were helpful, those numbers will need to improve dramatically now that Nebraska is forced to replace most of the starters from last year's defense, including star SS Daimion Stafford.
Jean-Baptiste is not even guaranteed a starting spot in his senior season, thanks to other upperclassmen who are returning to the defensive secondary. For a home run hitter who was second on the team in interceptions behind only Stafford, that will lead to a disappointing end of a career for a player who came to Lincoln with so much more potential.
If Nebraska is competitive again for a division title, the defensive backfield will need to carry the Cornhusker defense. That will lead to high expectations for these players like Jean-Baptiste, and these high expectations simply will not be met.
Devin Gardner, Michigan QB
Speaking of players who received a medical redshirt, Devin Gardner also earned another season of eligibility in Ann Arbor this offseason, meaning he will be around for two more years.
Of course, many expect that Gardner will hang onto the starting job while young phenom quarterback Shane Morris gets into game shape as a freshman coming off a senior high school season plagued with mononucleosis. But that was established when Gardner was only going to be around for one more season, so now he will have to look over his shoulder more often, since Morris likely will not sit on the bench for two full seasons.
Gardner led the conference in passing efficiency despite not being a starter until November after Denard Robinson went down in the Nebraska game. Gardner's prowess as a passer made some wonder why he wasn't given another shot to unseat Robinson (or at least be the backup) before Denard's injury.
These circumstances and a much easier schedule in 2013 (compared to 2012) have Wolverine fans thinking Big Ten championship with Gardner at the helm. However, Gardner cannot and will not keep up the efficiency numbers and the touchdowns-per-game rate that he achieved a season ago.
Even with only four starts to a season, you can still set the bar too high, apparently.
James White, Wisconsin RB
James White has been the man behind "the man" the past three seasons in Madison, racking up at least 700 yards in each of his first three seasons. This is outstanding for a backup running back, even by the high standards of the Wisconsin program.
Now that Montee Ball is gone, many expect White to have an explosion of success as the lead back in his final season. On the contrary, White will likely struggle to exceed the output of the past few seasons, and will therefore become a disappointment in Badger Country.
First, there's the problem that Melvin Gordon might just steal the starting job and leave White as second fiddle once more. In addition, Wisconsin will be breaking in some new linemen and a new offensive coaching staff. While Gary Andersen will likely keep Wisconsin a running powerhouse, the offense is bound to take a step back during this first year of adjustments.
In addition, White does not have the same explosiveness and strength that Ball did, which means it will be harder for him to put up ridiculous numbers without learning how to break more big plays. With Wisconsin in a year of transition in many phases, White could easily have another ho-hum year and underachieve for what is expected of Montee Ball's replacement.
Max Bullough, Michigan State
We close the list with Max Bullough, who was indeed left off my list for all-conference in the spring. While that is likely an oversight, his inclusion on this list is not a mistake. Insert grumpy Spartan fan comments in 3...2...1...
Bullough put together 115 tackles in 2012, to go with 12.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. What was more impressive than his numbers was the dominating presence he provided in the middle of a rock-solid defense. Michigan State was stingy and kept itself in every game a season ago, and Bullough was the star of the defensive show.
Now with many talented seniors and juniors leaving the program due to graduation or going pro, the time seems ripe for Bullough to be even more dominating in 2013. However, he will find it difficult to match last year's numbers when he is receiving less help from the players around him, which clearly elevated his play during the 2012 season.
Bullough hopes to go out with a chance at a Big Ten championship, and he will need to carry the load for Mark Dantonio if the Spartans are going to come even close to such a result next year. It just simply does not seem likely for a team rebounding from such a tough season.
Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments below on other players who should have made this list, as I'm sure there are players in Indiana and Minnesota ready to disappoint. Until next time, see you next week.
David is the Featured Columnist for Big Ten football at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @DA_Fitzgerald