Big Ten Football: Ranking the Top 30 Players for 2013
The last few years haven’t exactly been the greatest times for the Big Ten.
The Penn State sex abuse scandal, the Ohio State memorabilia scandal, the postseason struggles, plus the team’s declining prospect presence in the NFL draft have diminished the conference's reputation.
The league may be expanding by adding the likes of Rutgers and Maryland to boost its presence on the East Coast. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the conference's current stock—in terms of the national stage—is on a downswing.
2013 is a vital season for the Big Ten. Ohio State is the squad with the most talent and the highest expectations to live up to. However, there’s plenty of other talent spread across the league, which will make things interesting this year.
Here’s a look at the Big Ten’s top 30 players for the 2013 season.
1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Braxton Miller is the type of highly athletic dual-threat quarterback, who was built to excel in Urban Meyer’s shotgun-based spread offense. Last year, during his first year running Meyer’s system, Miller flourished and developed into both a dynamic playmaker and a true offensive leader.
The 6’2’’, 220-pound former blue-chip recruit totaled over 3,300 yards of offense and accounted for 28 touchdowns, as he guided the Ohio State Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 season.
Following that breakout performance, Miller will now enter the 2013 season with some mighty high expectations to live up to. Not only is he one of the top Heisman contenders in the country, the junior signal-caller is also the face of an Ohio State team which is considered to be one of the top national title contenders in college football.
2. Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State
Michigan State’s offense may have been one of the most disappointing and most unproductive units in the Big Ten last season. However, the defense was one of the most dominant units in the country.
The Spartans ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, eighth in rushing defense and ninth in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 16 points and 274 yards per game.
The leader of the super-stingy defense was LB Max Bullough.
Bullough helped keep opposing rushing attacks locked down, as he racked up 111 tackles, including 51 solo stops and 12.5 tackles for loss.
The big, strong, physical and instinctive inside ‘backer will enter the 2013 season as the favorite to win the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award. The 6’3’’, 242-pound senior will yet again be the centerpiece of one of the most intimidating and talented defenses in the country.
3. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
Over the last decade, Ohio State has had 14 defensive backs selected in the NFL draft.
This season, the Buckeyes’ secondary will feature a trio of intriguing prospects—CB Bradley Roby and safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett. It’s clear, however, that Roby is Ohio State’s most talented defensive back and the team’s best overall NFL prospect.
Last year, the gifted young playmaker proved that he has all the skills it takes to develop into an elite cornerback prospect. Roby tied for third in the nation with 17 pass breakups, and he also picked off two passes, racked up 40 solo tackles and scored three touchdowns in three different ways.
If the Buckeyes want to win a national title in 2013, they’re going to need the budding star corner to continue to make those same type of impact plays once again this season.
4. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Since he was widely projected to be a top-20 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Taylor Lewan would leave Ann Arbor after his junior season and turn pro. Instead, though, Lewan gave Michigan fans a late Christmas gift when he announced that he would surprisingly return to school for his senior year.
After overpowering and dominating defensive linemen week in and week out during his three years as a starter, the talented tackle has nothing left to prove on the collegiate level. It’s clear that Lewan is coming back because he wants to win a Big Ten championship.
While it remains to be seen whether he and the Wolverines can ultimately take home a title, it will still be fascinating to see what Lewan can accomplish during his final season.
The massive 6’8’’, 309-pound blindside protector has to be considered one of the top contenders for the prestigious Outland Trophy, and he’s also one of the top overall prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class.
5. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
Few other players in college football were as productive and as valuable to their team as Northwestern's Venric Mark was in 2012.
Mark was one of only 14 players in the country who totaled over 2,000 all-purpose yards. He finished the season ranked ninth in the nation with 2,166 all-purpose yards (1,366 rushing yards, 104 receiving yards and 696 return yards) and 15 total touchdowns.
His breakout performance helped propel the Wildcats to just their second ever double-digit win season.
The 5’8’’, 175-pound senior is a dynamic playmaker who can completely change the complexion of a team. Mark’s the type of player Northwestern needs in order to finally make a move up the ladder and become a legitimate contender in the Big Ten.
6. Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Minnesota hasn't had a player drafted since 2010, but that drought will end next April.
The team's top player, Ra'Shede Hageman, will be one of the most coveted defensive tackle prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class.
The imposing 6'6'', 311-pound specimen possesses rare physical gifts for his immense size. He showed off those superb skills last season, when he totaled six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
Scouts are surely enamored with the former high school tight end's unique skill set. If he puts together a statement season as a senior in 2013, it wouldn't be surprising to see Hageman ultimately end up being a top-15 pick in the 2014 draft.
He's got the size, athleticism and mean demeanor that you look for in an elite tackle prospect.
7. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Bradley Roby may be the best NFL prospect on Ohio State’s defense, but he isn’t the only Buckeye defender who has the potential to be a first-round pick in the 2014 draft. LB Ryan Shazier is another player who scouts will be paying close attention to this fall.
Last year, Shazier put together a sensational sophomore season. He led the team with 115 tackles, including 70 solo stops and 19 tackles for loss, and five sacks.
The speedy 6’2’’, 222-pound junior is a talented former 4-star recruit, who has grown into a dominant defensive force and a key defensive leader during his time in Columbus.
After ranking second in the Big Ten with an average of 9.5 tackles per game in 2012, Shazier will now be one of the top contenders to lead the conference in total tackles in 2013.
8. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Denard Robinson showed so much promise during his three years as a starter at Michigan. Ultimately, however, Robinson failed to reach his full potential and live up to his enormous hype.
Wolverines fans are hoping that Shoelace’s successor, Devin Gardner, can actually become the star Heisman contender that Robinson was forecasted to be.
Considering how good Gardner looked during relief duty late in the 2012 season, it’s obvious that the former All-American recruit from Detroit has the physical ability to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football.
In each of the last three seasons, we’ve seen athletic dual-threat signal-callers such as Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel become some of the biggest breakout stars in the sport. Gardner certainly looks capable of following in their footsteps and becoming one of the biggest breakout stars of the 2013 season.
9. Spencer Long, OG, Nebraska
Last year, Nebraska had the eighth-ranked rushing attack in the country. The Cornhuskers averaged 253 yards on the ground per game and totaled 33 rushing touchdowns.
One of the reasons the run game was so successful and productive in 2012 was the strong play up front by the offensive line, especially OG Spencer Long.
In his second year as a starter, Long took strides toward greatness, ultimately earning second-team All-American honors for his performance.
The 6’4’’, 315-pound senior is a big, physical, tough and tenacious lineman, who excels at moving smaller, weaker defensive lineman around and creating huge holes to run through.
Nebraska has produced nine Outland Trophy winners, the most by any school. Long has a great chance to become the 10th Cornhusker to take home the prestigious award.
10. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Wisconsin lost one of the most productive defensive players in college football, LB Mike Taylor, who ranked second in the Big Ten with 123 tackles last season. Luckily for the Badgers, they have another tackling-machine, LB Chris Borland, who will easily step up and be the new leader of the defense in 2013.
Last year, Borland totaled 104 tackles, including 56 solo stops and 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, six pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
This season, the undersized yet gritty 5’11’’, 248-pound senior will man one of the inside ‘backer spots in Wisconsin’s new-look 3-4 defensive system. It’s a role that Borland should thrive in, since he’s one of the best run-stuffing linebackers in the country.
11. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
Going into the 2012 season, Taylor Martinez had already gained a reputation as one of college football’s most dangerous running quarterbacks after totaling 1,839 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns in his first two seasons. There were, however, some major questions surrounding Martinez’s passing prowess.
Martinez answered those questions by showing drastic improvement as a passer. He completed 62 percent of his passes, averaged 7.8 yards per pass and ranked second in the Big Ten with 23 touchdown passes, while also adding 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns with his legs.
After putting together an impressive junior campaign and leading the Cornhuskers to a Big Ten Legends division title, Martinez has now established himself as one of the premier playmakers in the conference.
12. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
Braxton Miller may be the true star of Ohio State’s backfield, however, RB Carlos Hyde will also play a critical role in the offense's success as well in 2013.
Though he was overshadowed by Miller last season, Hyde was still one of the most productive and efficient backs in the nation. He rushed for 970 yards, averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored 17 total touchdowns.
The solidly built 6’0’’, 242-pound senior may not possess the same type of pure power or offer up the same type of intimidation factor as former Buckeyes standout Beanie Wells. But Hyde is still a big strong runner who gives Ohio State a perfect complement to Miller in the run game.
Hyde should have plenty of room to run wild on opposing defenses once again in 2013, since he’ll have one of the strongest offensive lines in college football opening up holes for him.
13. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Remarkably, Wisconsin has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past eight seasons.
At first glance, it may seem like that streak is in major jeopardy, considering the team has to replace last year’s leading rusher, Montee Ball, a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Ball is one of the greatest players in the program’s history and one of the most productive backs in the history of the sport.
Filling the huge void he leaves in the backfield definitely won’t be easy. But luckily, the Badgers have two talented backs, Melvin Gordon and James White, who have been waiting for the opportunity to prove what they’re capable of.
While White may be the more experienced of the two, Gordon seems to be the more physically gifted and the one who possesses true star potential
Last year, Gordon carried the ball just 62 times. However, the few times he did have the ball in his hands, he looked unstoppable, averaging a remarkable 10 yards per carry.
The explosive 6’1’’, 205-pound sophomore possesses more natural ability than his predecessor Ball. Gordon definitely looks like he has what it takes to be the Badgers’ next ultra-productive back.
14. Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois
Last year, Illinois had one of the weakest defenses in the Big Ten. The Illini ranked 10th in the league in total defense and 11th in scoring defense, allowing an average of 32 points and 387 yards per game.
After losing three NFL draft picks—DE Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence and CB Terry Hawthorne—there doesn’t seem to be much hope for a big defensive improvement in 2013. There is, however, plenty of excitement and optimism surrounding the team’s top defender, LB Jonathan Brown.
Over the last two years, Brown has proven to be one of the most instinctive and destructive defenders in college football. During that time, he’s averaged over seven tackles per game, and he’s totaled 9.5 sacks and 29 tackles for loss.
The 6’1’’, 235-pound senior will once again team with Mason Monheim to give Illinois one of the best linebacker duos in the country in 2013.
15. Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
Kain Colter had to share playing time with fellow quarterback Trevor Siemian last year, but when he was out on the field, he always seemed to be making some sort of an impact.
Colter ranked 11th in the Big Ten with 891 rushing yards, he completed 67 percent of his passes for 872 yards, he caught 16 passes, and he accounted for 20 total touchdowns.
The do-it-all playmaker is a versatile and valuable offensive weapon.
Though he may never be able to routinely threaten defenses with his down-the-field passing ability, Colter is still a dangerous dual-threat signal-caller who can cause headaches for opposing defensive coordinators with his running ability and athleticism.
16. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Last year, Michigan State had one of the strongest secondaries in college football. The Spartans ranked second in the nation, allowing an average of just 5.4 yards per pass attempt, and they ranked fifth in the country, allowing just 10 total passing touchdowns.
CB Darqueze Dennard played an integral role in the secondary’s success. During his two years as a starter, Dennard’s displayed outstanding coverage ability, toughness and ball skills, as he’s totaled 64 solo tackles, six interceptions and 10 pass breakups.
The 5’11’’, 198-pound senior has already established himself as one of the top cover corners in the country. Now, it’s time for Dennard to step up and become a true leader for Michigan State’s stout defense in 2013.
17. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
When Penn State’s top two offensive playmakers, RB Silas Redd and WR Justin Brown, both transferred last offseason, it initially looked to be a crippling blow to the team’s offense.
Luckily, however, the Nittany Lions found a new star playmaker, WR Allen Robinson, who arose from the shadows and shined. After catching just three passes as a freshman in 2011, Robinson looked like a completely different player during his sophomore season. He hauled in 77 passes for over 1,000 yards and caught 11 touchdowns.
The 6’3’’, 201-pound junior is a terrific fit for coach Bill O’Brien’s pro-style passing attack. Tough Robinson may not possess elite speed, he’s got all the other traits you look for in a No. 1 go-to target.
18. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
With Rex Burkhead struggling with injuries through much of the 2012 season, Nebraska was forced to turn to Ameer Abdullah to carry the rushing load.
Abdullah was up to the task of being the team’s new featured back. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 134 all-purpose yards per game and tied for ninth in the league with 11 touchdowns.
Though he’ll have to defer carries to QB Taylor Martinez and fellow back Imani Cross, the athletic and versatile 5’9’’, 190-pound junior will still have plenty of opportunities to do damage to opposing defenses in 2013.
19. Marcus Rush, DE, Michigan State
William Gholston, a former highly touted blue-chip recruit from Detroit, never quite reached his full potential during his three years in East Lansing. Nevertheless, Gholston, who was selected in the fourth round of this year’s NFL draft, was still a key part of the team’s intimidating defensive front seven.
With Gholston gone, DE Marcus Rush will now be asked to step up and become the new leader of the defensive line in 2013.
Rush certainly has the skills to be just as good, if not better, than Gholston was. During his first two seasons, the Cincinnati native has totaled six sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, 14 quarterback hurries and 10 pass breakups.
The 6’2’’, 250-pound junior already has plenty of experience, having started all 27 games of his career. Now, Rush appears poised to have his best performance yet in 2013.
20. Anthony Hitchens, LB, Iowa
Last year, Iowa had one of its worst seasons of coach Kirk Ferentz’s tenure, finishing just 4-8 overall and 2-6 in Big Ten play. There was a lot that was wrong with the Hawkeyes in 2012; one of their few strengths was the linebacker corps.
Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey formed one of the best ‘backer trios in the country. The real standout of the group was clearly Hitchens, who led the Big Ten with 124 total tackles.
The former lightly recruited 2-star recruit from Ohio has surpassed modest expectations and developed into one of the most productive defenders in college football.
With Hitchens, Morris and Kirksey all returning for 2013, Iowa fans will at least have something to get excited about this offseason.
21. C.J. Barnett, S, Ohio State
You won’t find many other safety tandems in college football that can compare to Ohio State’s duo of C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant.
With Barnett and Bryant guarding the deep end of the field last season, the Buckeyes allowed just 6.4 yards per pass attempt and just 15 total passing touchdowns, even though they faced an average of 38 passes per game, which was the most in the conference.
Barnett was limited to just nine games of action, but he ranked second on the team with an average of 6.2 tackles per game.
The 6’1’’, 203-pound senior is one of the top free safety prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class, and he’s one of Ohio State’s most important players.
22. Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern
No other returning defender in the Big Ten brought a quarterback to his knees as many times as Northwestern's Tyler Scott did last season. Not only did Scott tie for first in the conference with nine sacks in 2012, he also totaled 12.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and five pass breakups.
That type of production certainly isn't too shabby for a player who was once a lightly recruited 2-star prospect just a few years ago.
After a breakout campaign in 2012, Scott has now solidified his status as one of the top defensive linemen in the Big Ten. It will be interesting to see just how good he can be during his senior year.
23. Isaiah Lewis, S, Michigan State
CB Darqueze Dennard isn’t the only Michigan State defensive back whom NFL scouts will be paying close attention to this season. Like Dennard, safety Isaiah Lewis also has all the tools to be one of the stellar senior defensive back prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class.
Over the last two years, Lewis has totaled six interceptions and 154 tackles, and he’s been one of the key components of Michigan State’s supremely stout secondary.
The 5’10’’, 210-pound senior is undoubtedly one of the top strong safeties in America.
24. Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan
Michigan’s offense hasn’t exactly relied heavily on tight ends in recent years. Just ask Kevin Koger, the team’s top tight end from 2008 to 2011, who averaged less than two catches per game during his time in Ann Arbor.
It looks like that trend is about to change, however, following the emergence of young TE Devin Funchess in 2012.
As a true freshman, Funchess caught just 15 passes, but he averaged an impressive 15 yards per catch and scored five touchdowns.
The athletic 6’5’’, 228-pound sophomore will be one of new quarterback Devin Gardner’s favorite targets in 2013.
25. Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
Nebraska only threw the ball 27 times per game last season, but that didn’t prevent the team’s top receiver Kenny Bell from making plenty of big plays in the passing game.
Bell reeled in 50 passes for 843 yards and eight touchdowns.Ultimately, he ended the season ranked third in the Big Ten with a 17.2 yards per catch average, and he tied for first in the league with 16 catches of over 20 yards.
The 6’1’’, 185-pound junior is the type of dangerous receiving threat who gives the Cornhuskers’ run-centric offense some much-needed diversity.
26. James White, RB, Wisconsin
Looking back on James White’s career at Wisconsin, you have to wonder what would have happened if the former 3-star recruit from Florida had chosen one of his other scholarship offers from a school such as Boston College, Indiana, Louisville or South Florida.
Instead of sitting in the shadow of Montee Ball for the past three years, White could have been the star featured back at another BCS program, toting the rock much more often than he has in Madison.
Unfortunately for White, Ball may be gone, but the talented senior rusher will now, yet again, have to split carries with Melvin Gordon, who will demand plenty of touches in 2013.
White may ultimately end up deferring the spotlight and giving Gordon the opportunity to shine, just as he did with Ball. Still, there’s no doubt that the highly efficient veteran back will, once again, play a key role in Wisconsin’s overall success this season.
27. Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
Considering Indiana has averaged less than four wins per season since the turn of the millennium, it’s doubtful that many Big Ten fans consider the Hoosiers to be any type of threat in 2013. But you can bet that coaches around the conference know just how scary the team’s offense could be this season.
Indiana’s talent and depth at the offensive skill positions is as good as any other team in the league. RB Stephen Houston, wide receivers Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn and TE Ted Bolser are all dangerous weapons that deserve respect.
The most dynamic playmaker out of that bunch is WR Cody Latimer.
Last year, the 6’3’’, 215-pound junior caught 51 passes, averaged over 15 yards per reception and scored six touchdowns.
Latimer and the Hoosiers will be searching for some real recognition and respect from the rest of the league in 2013.
28. Bruce Gaston, DT, Purdue
Purdue isn’t going to have an easy time replacing disruptive defensive tackle Kawann Short, who was a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Luckily, though, the Boilermakers are bringing back another powerful run-stuffer, DT Bruce Gaston, who should be able to cause plenty of havoc in the trenches.
Now that Short’s gone, Gaston will have the chance to step out of his shadow and show the Big Ten what he’s really made of in 2013.
What's really scary is that the 6'2'', 303-pound senior is even stronger and quicker than his former teammate.
29. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s troubles at the quarterback position really hurt the team’s overall offensive output last year, especially in the passing game. The Badgers went from ranking fourth in the Big Ten in passing offense in 2011 to ranking dead last in the conference in 2012.
The Badgers’ top pass-catcher, Jared Abbrederis, saw his production take a hit due to the team’s signal-caller struggles. Abbrederis still managed to put together another solid campaign, though, catching 49 passes for 837 yards and five touchdowns. His 17 yards per catch average was the fourth-highest in the league.
If Abbrederis can get some more consistent play from the quarterback position, he should be one of the Big Ten’s most productive and reliable receiving weapons.
30. Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State
Following a sepctacular sophomore campaign in 2011, in which he totaled 11 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss, Denicos Allen spent this past season watching as fellow linebacker Max Bullough emerged as the team’s most popular and important defensive player.
Though Allen was forced to take a backseat to Bullough, he still managed to make plenty of key stops. The undersized, yet highly disruptive 5’11’’, 215-pound senior totaled 79 tackles, including 41 solo stops and 10 tackles for loss, and three sacks.
Now that the team’s top pass-rusher, DE William Gholston, has moved on to the NFL, it’s likely that Allen will often be utilized as a blitzing ‘backer off the edge in 2013. That should allow him to really bolster his sack output this season.
Honorable Mention: Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
Over the last two years, Michigan’s Jake Ryan has proven that he is not only one of the top defensive players in the Big Ten. He’s one of the top best up-and-coming players in all of college football.
The Clay Matthews-clone was shaping up to be an All-American candidate and a top contender for the Bednarik Award this year. Sadly, however, a knee injury has jeopardized his status for the upcoming season.
It will be interesting to see if Ryan can play at the level we’ve been accustomed to seeing, that is of course, if he does actually come back in 2013.
One thing’s for sure, Ryan’s rehab will be one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason.
The Next Best 30...
31. Dezmen Southward, S, Wisconsin
32. James Morris, LB, Iowa
33. Damien Proby, LB, Northwestern
34. Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State
35. C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
36. Andrew Norwell, OG, Ohio State
37. Ibraheim Campbell, S, Northwestern
38. Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
39. Mason Monheim, LB, Illinois
40. Jacob Pedersen, TE, Wisconsin
41. Kofi Hughes, WR, Indiana
42. Christian Bryant, S, Ohio State
43. Blake Countess, CB, Michigan
44. Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State
45. Glenn Carson, LB, Penn State
46. Kyle Costigan, OG, Wisconsin
47. Ciante Evans, CB, Nebraska
48. Aaron Burbridge, WR, Michigan State
49. Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue
50. Corey Brown, WR, Ohio State
51. Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State
52. Jack Allen, OG, Michigan State
53. Greg Heban, S, Indiana
54. Brandon Vitabile, OC, Northwestern
55. DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
56. Nick VanHoose, CB, Northwestern
57. Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
58. Zach Zwinak, RB, Penn State
59. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
60. Beau Allen, DT, Wisconsin