Big Ten Football: 5 Top Performers from Spring Practice

David Luther@@davidrlutherFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2014

Big Ten Football: 5 Top Performers from Spring Practice

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Spring practices are in the rear-view mirror for the Big Ten, and fans now have to endure the long summer layoff between now and fall camps.  But there's plenty to get excited about over the next few months, especially with these great spring performances from around the conference.

    From Minneapolis, Minnesota, to Piscataway, New Jersey, and Lincoln, Nebraska, to College Park, Maryland, there were plenty of standout performances this spring.  Granted, we're talking about overly glorified scrimmages, but with these standouts, fans have a little bit more insight into what the team's 2014 outlook might be.

    We've put together a brief list of the top five spring performances from across the Big Ten and, in no particular order, have neatly packaged them here for your enjoyment.

Freddy Canteen, WR, Michigan

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Michigan is in need of some surprise impact from unlikely sources, and early enrollee Freddy Canteen might just be such a source.

    Canteen (from Elkton, Maryland) was a 4-star recruit according to 247Sports' composite ratings, but he was listed third among incoming receivers to Michigan, behind Drake Harris (Grand Rapids, Michigan) and Maurice Ways (Beverly Hills, Michigan).  During the spring game, however, it was Canteen raising some eyebrows with his performance.

    Canteen has now created some buzz about Michigan's receiving corps—badly needed after the departure of Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo.  Canteen started with the first-string offense during the spring game and was a frequent target over the course of the afternoon.  His biggest highlight came on a 44-yard reception.

    At 6'1" and 170 pounds, Canteen is also capable of moving between his spring position in the slot to an outside receiver at the drop of a hat.  If Michigan is to have any lasting success in 2014, that kind of versatility—not just from Canteen, but team-wide—will be an important component.

Imani Cross, RB, Nebraska

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    No one ever wants to see a player unable to participate due to injury, but Nebraska fans should take some comfort in knowing that if the worst happens to 2013 Big Ten rushing leader Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross will be ready and more than able to take over the starting duties.

    The junior was nothing short of amazing in the spring game, Cross carried the ball six times, amassed 100 yards and found the end zone twice.

    Add Cross' clear abilities to those of Abdullah and sophomore Terrell Newby, and it's instantly clear that Nebraska will be very, very good at running the football in 2014.

Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

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    Andrew Nelles/Associated Press

    Shilique Calhoun emerged last year as an unexpected defensive standout on a team filled with defensive standouts.  Despite entering his sophomore season as a relative unknown, Calhoun managed to rack up 37 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 18 QB hurries, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception.

    And those three turnovers he snagged?  He scored a touchdown on all three.

    So what can we expect from Calhoun in 2014?  If his spring game performance is any indication, quite a bit.  He got to Connor Cook twice during MSU's spring game—which was an actual game—and was perhaps the defensive star of the contest for Michigan State.

    It's also worth mentioning that sophomore tight end Josiah Price had five catches for an impressive 81 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 27 seconds remaining.  With the lingering questions about the status of Michigan State's graduation-depleted defense, however, it was Calhoun's performance that is probably most reassuring.

Derrick Willies, WR, Iowa

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    It seems as if Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is always in the midst of a rebuilding year.  Each season, the Hawkeyes are just a piece or two away from really competing for a spot atop the conference standings, and each season, Ferentz adds a few more pieces just as a few other pieces graduate.

    But 2014 might be a different story.  With the Big Ten realigning once again, this time (thank God) into the East and West Divisions, Iowa's chances are suddenly improving after spring practices—and there's the fact that other traditional powers out west might actually be rebuilding in 2014.

    One of the true bright spots for Iowa this spring has been redshirt freshman Derrick Willies.  After hauling in five receptions for 142 yards and a touchdown in Iowa's spring game, Hawkeyes fans are starting to buzz about this 6'4" wideout with explosive ability.

    An explosive passing game might be just what the doctor ordered for Iowa.  Rather then relying on the solid but predictable power running game, Iowa now has weapons in every position on offense.  If Willies lives up to expectations next fall and the rest of his teammates can follow suit, a run at the West Division title isn't out of reach for the Hawkeyes.

Brandon Ross, RB, Maryland

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    Steve Helber/Associated Press

    Despite leading Maryland in rushing yards last season with 776, Brandon Ross' sophomore season left something to be desired.  With just four touchdowns and averaging 64.7 yards per game (which somehow led the team), the Terrapins' ground game was completely underwhelming in 2013.

    As Maryland edges ever closer to its Big Ten debut, however, it seems as if the players—not to mention head coach Randy Edsall—have gotten the message: The foundation of success in the Big Ten starts with a solid rushing attack.

    Ross seemed intent not only on solidifying his role as starter this spring but also eager to prove to the rest of his new conference counterparts that Maryland is here to compete.  Ross put together half as many touchdowns in Maryland's spring game as he had all of last season with two scores and 90 yards on just four carries.

    The rest of the primary offensive backfield, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii, combined for 154 rushing yards, further proving that Maryland is gearing up to run right at those staunch Big Ten defenses come the fall.

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