Every Big Ten Football Team's Top Freshman to Watch in 2013
With 10 Big Ten teams returning at least 13 starters, most freshmen will have the luxury of being worked gradually into the lineup.
However, for the 12 most talented true and redshirt freshmen, that process figures to be accelerated.
Included in that group are three running backs, two quarterbacks and an offensive lineman in Ann Arbor who has All-Big Ten potential.
Caleb Day, CB, Illinois (True)
Illinois needs to find playmakers if head coach Tim Beckman hopes to save his job. It may take time before Caleb Day contributes, but he is somebody who could make a difference.
Day has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Whether it's picking up a fumble or returning an interception for a touchdown, Day has a game-changer feel to his game. He's also a versatile player who can play cornerback, wide receiver or even wingback.
A losing team can never go wrong with putting the best available players on the field.
Laray Smith, RB, Indiana (True)
After missing the postseason for a fifth straight season, Indiana is another team that could use an elite athlete. Running back Laray Smith is an intriguing talent who could play immediately.
Check out what the coaching staff is saying about Smith in practice, per Zach Osterman of 247Sports:
"Laray, he’s a special talent as far as the speed is concerned. We need to harness that and make it productive in our system," running backs coach Deland McCullough said. "He might get 10 reps a practice, eight reps a practice in team setting, and two of them are 80-yard runs that no one could have made.''
Indiana averaged 130 rushing yards last season. It's safe to assume that Smith will be used often in hopes of improving those numbers.
LeShun Daniels, RB, Iowa (True)
LeShun Daniels looks like he was born to be a running back in the Big Ten.
He has a stocky build at 6'0", 218 pounds and always keeps his legs turning. He almost never goes down on initial contact and invites physical contact on every play. The tougher you play, the harder Daniels seems to run. He's a workhorse running back who could carry the ball 20 times a game and wear down a defense.
Daniels will earn a role as a true freshman and will be productive.
Kyle Kalis, OL, Michigan (Redshirt)
An argument could be made for running back Derrick Green, but he's not even guaranteed to start with Fitzgerald Toussaint still hanging around.
This season, Kalis is projected to start at right guard.
The redshirt freshman is a giant at 6'5", 300 pounds and has a nice combination of power and strength. He plays with aggression and has nice footwork that allows him to quickly get to the second level. Kalis could eventually make the move to tackle later in his career.
Riley Bullough, RB, Michigan State (Redshirt)
Riley Bullough came to Michigan State with the ability to play multiple positions. He could play linebacker, safety or running back. He even played quarterback in high school.
Running back seems to be where the Spartans are going to play the physical player, and he may end winning the starting job. Bullough is huge for the position at 6'2", 220 pounds, but that will fit right into the physical play of Big Ten football. He has good burst and solid straight-line speed that will benefit him at his new position.
Michigan State needs help offensively. Bullough will be there to answer the call.
Mitch Leidner, QB, Minnesota (Redshirt)
Minnesota averaged 169 passing yards last season and will likely continue to roll the dice with Philip Nelson at quarterback. But if the numbers don't improve and the Golden Gophers continue to struggle, Mitch Leidner will get a chance to play.
He's already putting in the work this offseason in hopes of impressing the coaching staff.
Leidner is a big, strong player at 6'4", 230-plus pounds. He throws the ball with plenty of zip and has decent arm strength. He's a deceptively good athlete and can do an OK job of buying time in the pocket.
He may be needed to spark the Minnesota offense.
Avery Moss, DE, Nebraska (Redshirt)
Before redshirting, Avery Moss played in three games last year and picked up four tackles. This season, he'll be an active contributor on the Cornhuskers' defensive line.
Moss is a freakish athlete at 6'2", 270 pounds. He is so athletic that he could have also played basketball. Moss gets off the ball well, is a solid tackler and is effective against the run. He uses his hands well and will disrupt passing lanes with his lengthy frame.
Nebraska's defense will benefit by putting an athletic player such as Moss on the field.
Tyvis Powell, DB, Ohio State (Redshirt)
Tyvis Powell will spend a lot of time playing nickelback for the Buckeyes. In fact, the redshirt player has already gained the trust of his teammates in camp, per
"I feel like Tyvis has it locked up pretty solid,'' senior starting safety Christian Bryant said. "Tyvis has grown tremendously, not only physically but mentally. He's a tall guy, he can defeat blocks, he can make plays on the ball and he's physical also. Right now, I feel like Tyvis has that spot locked up and I'm pretty confident with him on the field.''
Powell has great instincts and closes quickly on the ball. He's a great addition to an Ohio State secondary that was ranked 11th in the Big Ten in pass defense.
Nyeem Wartman, LB, Penn State (Redshirt)
Penn State is known for producing great linebackers, and Nyeem Wartman has a chance to add to that legacy. He's expected to start on the outside and will be critical in helping Penn State build on last season's momentum.
Wartman was going to be a key contributor last season. He played the first two games before suffering a knee injury that sidelined him the rest of the year. He flows to the ball well, covers ground quickly and is a physical tackler.
The Nittany Lions don't have a lot depth at linebacker, so Wartman's presence will be huge.
Danny Etling, QB, Purdue (True)
How about a freshman quarterback starting in the Big Ten?
Purdue's Danny Etling has a great shot, according to Mike Carmin of the Indianapolis Star.
Etling has split reps throughout fall camp with senior Rob Henry. While Etling is behind in experience, he does throw with great touch and makes quick decisions. He is also built well at 6'2", 218 pounds.
Purdue played three quarterbacks last season. The odds are on Etling's side that he will get a chance to make plays as a true freshman.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Northwestern (Redshirt)
Northwestern hit the jackpot when landing defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo. He's a recruit who had offers from nearly every school imaginable, and he's certain to make a big impact this season.
Odenigbo is an elite pass-rusher who gets off the ball quickly and pursues ball-carriers with impressive 4.44 speed in the 40-yard dash. He's solid in run support, tackles well and plays with a high motor. He could play defensive end or make the switch to outside linebacker, depending on how much muscle he's added to his 6'3", 212-pound frame.
The 4-star recruit has the potential to be scary good.
Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin (Redshirt)
Wisconsin has had a top-three defense in the Big Ten the last three seasons. With seven starters returning, that impressive streak is expected to continue.
Linebacker Vince Biegel isn't going to start, but he should see playing time. Biegel does a wonderful job of flowing to the ball, and his downhill speed allows him to be effective against the run and pass. He comes off the edge quickly and can make plays in the backfield that become momentum-changers for a defense.
Don't sleep on the redshirt freshman linebacker.