While much of the hype surrounding the 2014 college football season seems to be focused on the talent-rich SEC, the release of the preseason All-Big Ten Team suggests that the Big Ten is stacked in its own right.
As revealed by Brent Yarina of BTN.com, one writer from all 14 Big Ten programs submitted votes to assemble a consensus preseason team. Many of the selections were fairly obvious, but others will undoubtedly spark plenty of controversy and conversation.
Not surprisingly, the preseason All-Big Ten Team is rich with players from mainstays such as Ohio State and Michigan State, who both have College Football Playoff aspirations. With so much talent on their respective rosters, they certainly have a fighting chance.
Also, Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com revealed a poll predicting the 2014 Big Ten standings. The poll consisted of 29 Big Ten writers voting on how the East and West Divisions will play out.
Here is a complete look at the preseason All-Big Ten Team and Big Ten standings predictions as selected by the media, as well as further analysis regarding some of the top picks.
|QB||Braxton Miller||Ohio State||13|
|TE||Jeff Heuerman||Ohio State||7|
|C||Jack Allen||Michigan State||10|
|K||Michael Geiger||Michigan State||11|
|DL||Shilique Calhoun||Michigan State||14|
|DL||Michael Bennett||Ohio State||10|
|DL||Joey Bosa||Ohio State||9|
|LB||Chi Chi Ariguzo||Northwestern||10|
|LB||Taiwan Jones||Michigan State||9|
|DB||Kurtis Drummond||Michigan State||14|
|DB||Trae Waynes||Michigan State||7|
|P||Mike Sadler||Michigan State||9|
Breaking Down Top Selections
As a senior and Heisman Trophy candidate, it comes as no surprise that Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is viewed by most as the Big Ten's premier player. Miller is coming off his best collegiate season and he will be the driving force behind the Buckeyes' push toward a Big Ten title and perhaps even a national championship.
Miller enjoyed the best season of his collegiate career last year as he racked up well over 3,000 total yards and accounted for 36 total touchdowns as well. He is the preeminent dual-threat quarterback in college football and keeps opposing defenses guessing on a play-to-play basis.
As good as Miller has been in past years, there is reason to believe that he could be even better in 2014. According to ESPN.com's Brian Bennett, Miller has improved both physically and mentally since the end of the 2013 campaign:
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says QB Braxton Miller is "in the best shape of his life." Said he has really improved mental part of game.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 28, 2014
Perhaps the one concern relating to Miller stems from offseason shoulder surgery, but he seems convinced that all is well and he is poised to be the Buckeyes' go-to guy during the upcoming season, per ESPN.com's Austin Ward:
I feel like it's stronger. Man, everything that was damaged in there has been cleaned out. So even if I didn't have that injury, I feel like everything from before that injury has been cleaned out. I barely had any rust when I came back. With my footwork and everything like that, I had been focused on that throughout the spring. That's all I was doing, going back to work on my footwork, breaking down the defenses, and I watched a lot of film to make sure everything's good. Everything is in place. I'm at the end of my recovery, feeling pretty good and ready for camp. I'm ready to go for real.
That is certainly a promising self-diagnosis as far as Ohio State fans are concerned. Miller's penchant for running leaves him susceptible to injuries, but it is also his greatest strength. As long as he is 100 percent entering the season, though, the Buckeyes have a chance to do something special.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon enjoyed a true breakout season in 2013 and emerged as one of the nation's best runners. Gordon gained over 1,600 yards on the ground, scored 12 times and averaged nearly eight yards per carry. With numbers like that, Heisman candidacy is a real possibility in 2014.
Big things were expected out of Gordon last year after he averaged 10 yards per attempt in 2012. He didn't disappoint, but expectations will be even higher this season. The Badgers are a run-first team and most of their eggs will be placed into the Gordon basket when it comes to moving the ball and putting up points on offense.
Gordon is a big-play threat, but he is also excellent in terms of making sure that he gets the most out of every run. That is apparent based on this incredible stat courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal's Andy Baggot:
Stat of the day for #Badgers TB Melvin Gordon: He has more rushes of 20+ yards in his 30-game career (24) than negative yardage runs (19).— Andy Baggot (@AndyBaggotWSJ) July 28, 2014
The Big Ten has churned out some fantastic running backs over the years and Gordon matches up favorably with pretty much any of them. Wisconsin has a long line of prestige at the tailback position, which is something that Gordon will only bolster during the upcoming season.
Offensive players tend to receive most of the accolades in college football, but it can be argued that no player will have a greater impact on the Big Ten this season than Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun. He really emerged as a sophomore last year to the tune of 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, and it would be shocking if he doesn't match those numbers and then some in 2014.
Calhoun is part of a Spartans defense that was absolutely dominant in 2013. Although Michigan State lost a few key players from that defense to graduation and the NFL, the pieces are still in place for an elite side. Much of that burden will fall on Calhoun, who has already been dubbed the Big Ten's best defensive player, per Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star:
B1G media poll's defensive player of the year? Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun wins with 13 votes. Randy Gregory had 10. #Huskers— Brian Christopherson (@HuskerExtraBC) July 25, 2014
While Calhoun will be a key figure in every Michigan State game this season, he will be particularly important when the Spartans face Ohio State. The winner of that game could very well win the Big Ten East and the Big Ten as a whole. That would also potentially give the winner a chance of representing the conference in the College Football Playoff.
Calhoun is an extremely athletic defensive end who could wreak havoc on Miller in terms of preventing him from getting the edge on running plays. If Calhoun can do that and be a difference-maker in the Spartans' other games as well, then it will be very difficult to unseat him as the likely Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Which is the Big Ten's best team?
The media appears to view the Big Ten East race as a fairly straightforward one with things coming down to the clash between Ohio State and Michigan State. It's a bit more uncertain in the West, though, as Wisconsin and Iowa lead the way, but Nebraska and Northwestern are getting some love as well.
Preseason media predictions are often a good barometer for where teams stand, but a few surprises always seem to emerge over the course of a season. That means some teams picked near the bottom will likely outperform expectations, while a contender or two is bound to disappoint.
With that said, it would be fairly shocking if the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin don't comprise the class of the Big Ten in 2014.
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