Big Ten Football: 8 Players Who Have Shot Up the Depth Chart in Fall Practice
The perpetual renewal of college football depth charts is well underway around the Big Ten. Many returning starters have their positions secured, while others are using fall practice as a last chance to impress the coaches enough to earn a coveted game-day roster spot.
From incoming freshmen to returning underclassmen, each player has to earn a chance to play on Saturdays, and these players are on the cusp of doing just that.
Impressive performances this fall have attracted the attention of coaches, and these players are now beginning to see their names appear at or near the top of their team's depth chart. With the season fast approaching, the following athletes are poised to take the field come Week 1.
Riley Bullough, RB, Michigan State
With Michigan State's rushing game failing to provide the offensive spark expected in 2012, it shouldn't be much of a surprise to see Mark Dantonio looking to a younger prospect to begin carrying the load for the Spartans.
While it's certainly possible Dantonio is using redshirt freshman Riley Bullough as a warning for returning juniors Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford, Bullough is still maintaining his position as starter, leading us to believe this isn't a motivational stunt by Danotnio.
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
When true freshman Corey Clement first stepped foot on Wisconsin's campus, he was probably resigned to the fact that he was likely looking at the number five spot on a running back depth chart full of talent.
What a difference a few months can make.
Since the start of spring practices, Clement has risen to at least the No. 3 spot with (likely No. 4 RB) Vonte Jackson going down for the entire 2013 season with a reinjured knee and (likely No. 3 RB) Jeff Lewis switching to the defensive backfield this season.
Clement told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he's ready to make an impact if and when he's called upon.
"Any true freshman's dream is to come in and play," Clement said.
First-year Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen has already been singing Clement's praises, particularly when it comes to his grit and football IQ.
Andersen also alluded to plans for Clement come Saturdays this fall.
"He has a purpose," he said. "He's here for a reason."
Adam Breneman, TE, Penn State
Despite the sanctions imposed on Penn State by the NCAA, head coach Bill O'Brien is still managing to attract some top-level talent to Happy Valley. Incoming freshman tight end Adam Breneman was tabled by Rivals.com as the No. 3 tight end prospect in the nation, and this four-star opted to head for State College.
As Penn State's offensive scheme broadens a bit, we can expect to see the tight ends become even more involved in the passing game as the seasons wear on. That's probably part of what attracted Breneman to Penn State.
While the Nittany Lions have plenty of options at tight end in 2013, the early fall contributions from Breneman have been more than enough to give coaches a reason to believe a redshirt season for this freshman may not be necessary.
Jules Williams, DL, Purdue
With Darrell Hazell taking over as head coach in West Lafayette, there's no doubt Purdue will have a different look this fall. For instance, Jules Williams, who didn't even enroll at Purdue to play football, could be a nice surprise for a defensive line that desperately needs to pick up its game in 2013.
The 6'3", 245-pound Williams was found last fall by former head coach Danny Hope's staff playing for Purdue's club rugby team. They invited him to a football practice, where Williams was physically impressive enough to earn a walk-on spot.
Suddenly, this unknown rugby player is impressing the new coaching staff this fall, and he could find himself as high as the top defensive end backup as a pass rush specialist.
Joe Ramstetter, WR, Ohio State
Joe Ramstetter took the less-traveled route to Ohio State's football team: he was a walk-on to a program that prides itself on recruiting top national prospects.
Walking on is one thing. Actually becoming part of the team, dressing for games and getting into the action is quite another. But with fall camp nearing completion, Ramstetter has his first goal under his belt: becoming part of the team.
Since taking over at Ohio State, head coach Urban Meyer has instituted a tradition of giving new players a helmet with a black stripe, instead of Ohio State's official broad scarlet stripe down the middle. In order to "join the ranks," so to speak, players must impress the coaches in camp to the point where Meyer removes the black stripe, replacing it with scarlet.
In 2013, the first player to "lose his stripe" was Joe Ramstetter—quite an accomplishment considering all of the touted talent brought in via the normal recruiting methods.
Ramstetter, a receiver, likely won't have a ton of opportunity to line up on offense this season, unless it's really late in a blowout. But don't be surprised if the special teams unit snatches this impressive freshman up to get him on the field this fall as a returner.
Tyler Ferguson, QB, Penn State
Of all the problems Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien faces, the one he'll probably grumble about least is his quarterback quandary. The kid everyone is talking about is Christian Hackenberg, the true freshman Rivals.com 5-star quarterback from Fork Union, Va.
As the No. 2 overall quarterback recruit taken in the class of 2013, and with Penn State badly needing to replace a solid signal caller like Matt McGloin, everyone expects Hackenberg to be the Nittany Lions' go-to guy this fall.
But with NCAA sanctions taking a larger and larger chunk of Penn State's ability to develop depth, we're curious about O'Brien's thought process when it comes to his next starting quarterback.
If Hackenberg starts in 2013, he'll realistically have just one season—as a senior—to compete for any kind of championship. If he redshirts in 2013, he'll be in a much better position to guide the Nittany Lions back to conference and even national relevance with two seasons to chase down some sort of title.
Which brings us to Tyler Ferguson. Unlike Hackenberg, Ferguson has at least some experience, a JUCO transfer to Penn State as a junior this season from College of the Sequoias (California). Ferguson, despite not receiving the bulk of the national attention, has been leading the quarterback battle, at least in the eyes of O'Brien.
We still think that Hackenberg will start this season, but the fact that we're even talking about Ferguson even slightly leading the battle for the starting job this fall is pretty impressive and speaks to the strength of talent at the top of the Nittany Lions' depth chart.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Another JUCO transfer on our list is Nebraska's Randy Gregory.
Junior college transfers are often hit-or-miss for many programs. While they come at a bargain, often attracted with the minimum of recruiting effort, they have a distinct downside; their eligibility has usually dwindled to two seasons, and how they will perform against FBS-level competition is anyone's guess.
At least Nebraska won't need to worry too much about the latter.
Gregory has added a measure of consistency to Nebraska's pass rush at camp this fall, a trait that was conspicuously absent during most of 2012 in Lincoln.
Dontre Wilson, WR/RB, Ohio State
Even though he wasn't the first newcomer to "lose his stripe" at Ohio State this fall, Dontre Wilson was the second, and he is perhaps most likely candidate to make regular contributions as a freshman this fall.
Wilson, who has earned the praises of Braxton Miller, was called a "great get" by Urban Meyer earlier this fall. And while he failed to become the first freshman to "join the ranks" of the Buckeyes this fall by losing that black stripe, his speed and ball skills might just earn him the privilege of being the first true freshman to see the field at Ohio State at some point in 2013.
Follow @davidrluther on Twitter!