It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.
So far, we have unveiled the first ten players for the 2017 season. We now continue our annual countdown of the best the Big Ten has to offer according to our staff.
No. 15 — L.J. Scott, RB (Michigan State)
2016 Season Stats: 994 yards rushing on 184 carries (5.4 ypc), 6 TDs rushing, 147 yards receiving, 1 TD
Best Game: vs. Ohio State (160 yards on 19 rushes (6.1 ypc), 1 TD, 2 REC for 76 yards, 1TD)
Everyone associated with Michigan State has been waiting for a breakout year from Scott. The 6-1, 231 lb. junior shunned the likes of Ohio State, Penn State, and Alabama to play for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans. He’s shown flashes of his potential, coming to play against his home school Ohio State and almost willing his team to a huge upset. However, the team needs more consistency from him.
Scott uses his blend of size and speed to run between the tackles and then break away once in the second level. He can also catch passes out of the backfield when called upon, and has shown an ability to be clutch at times.
He was voted third team All-Big Ten last year, and is listed on the Maxwell and Doak Walker award watch-lists in the preseason. Look for him to have a break-out year in 2017, and for the Spartans to rebound from a miserable 2016 campaign.
No. 14 — Wilton Speight, QB (Michigan)
2016 Season Stats: 2,538 passing yards, 204 for 331 (61.6%), 18 TDs, 7 INTs, 1 TD rushing
Best Game: vs. Maryland (362 yards passing on 19 for 24 (79.2%), 2 TDS passing, 1 TD rushing)
Speight didn’t wow anyone with his numbers last year, but that’s not what the coaching staff asked him to do. He fits the definition of steady game manager, but he is more than that, and needs to be more than that this year.
No. 3 has the size at 6-6, 243 lbs. to see over defenders, and has the arm to stand tall in the pocket and make almost any throw in the book. He is your prototypical NFL pocket passer and a perfect fit for what Jim Harbaugh likes to do on offense. He may even wear khakis on his off days.
For his efforts last year, Speight earned third team All-Big Ten, and was a semi-finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award that goes to the nation’s best quarterback.
For 2017, he is on the Davey O’Brien and Maxwell Award watch lists — that is, if he starts. According to Harbaugh, he is tied for No. 1 on the depth chart (if any of you believe that).
Wilton Speight is "tied for first" in Michigan QB battle. What's next? https://t.co/nMmOxpsIug
— Bill Bender (@BillBender92) July 26, 2017
No. 13 — Rodney Smith, RB (Minnesota)
2016 Season Stats: 1,158 yards rushing on 240 carries (4.8 ypc), 16 TDs, 23 REC for 188 yards, 8 kickoff returns for 263 yards and 1 TD
Best Game: vs. Purdue (153 yards on 24 rushes (6.4 ypc), 3 TDs, 2 rec. for 10 yards)
Minnesota may have a two-headed monster at running back with Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, but it’s Smith that can strike quickly and leave defenders grasping at air. He did a little bit of everything for the Gophers last year, and with Brooks sidelined at times because of injury, he was the main option on the offense.
Smith has enough strength to run between the tackles, but what sets him apart is his explosiveness in the open field. He’s a little more shifty than Brooks, and he’s the one defensive coordinators game plan against when trying to contain the Gopher offense. He put up over 1,000 yards last year, and he’s ready to do even more in 2017.
He was third team All-Big Ten last year and is on the Doak Walker Award watch-list to start the 2017 season.
No. 12 — Nick Bosa, DE (Ohio State)
2016 Season Stats: played in 13 games, tallied 29 tackles, 5.0 sacks, and 7.0 TFLs
Best Game: vs. Rutgers (4 tackles, 1 sack)
Bosa came to Ohio State as a consensus five-star recruit and a ton of hype. Part of that is because of his older brother’s accomplishments, and part of it is because he is that much of a beast. While he didn’t get as much playing time as a freshman because of an injury suffered his senior year of high school, when he was in there, it was noticeable. The coaching staff began inserting him more and more as the season wore on.
He’s listed as a defensive end, but has also moved down the line during pass rush scenarios to get four speed rushers in the game. He consistently pushes his man into the backfield as a disruptive force, and should be quicker and more powerful a year removed from getting the strength all the way back in his legs.
Maybe he never quite lives up to what his older brother did, but he has all the tools to be that good — and maybe more — if he stays healthy.
He was recognized as a freshman All-American last year, and is listed on watch list for the Bednarik award given annually to the best defensive player in college football.
If you want a breakout superstar defensive performer in 2017, Bosa could be at the top of the list.
No. 11 — Mike Weber, RB (Ohio State)
2016 Season Stats: 1,096 yards rushing on 182 carries (6.0 ypc.), 9 TDs, 23 REC for 91 yards
Best Game: vs. Rutgers (144 yards on 14 carries (10.3 ypc), 1 TD, REC for 3 yards)
There aren’t too many freshman that go for over 1,000 yards in a season at Ohio State. It’s a very short list in fact. You have Robert Smith in 1990, Maurice Clarett in 2002, and now Mr. Weber last year.
Perhaps its because he’s attempting to fill the big shoes of Ezekiel Elliott, but Weber got little publicity for doing something that’s only been done two other times at a place like Ohio State.
At 5-10, 210 lbs., Weber has a low center of gravity that makes him hard to bring down with arm tackles and glancing blows. You have to wrap him up. He may not have the speed of an Elliott, but has enough in the toolbox to break through the second level of defenders.
You can expect his development to continue in his second year of full duty, and you can also expect the coaching staff to trust him with even more carries in 2017. It’s Ohio State, so the tailback will always be an important factor in moving the chains and scoring points.
He was the freshman of the year in the league for 2016, and appears on the 2017 watch lists for both the Maxwell and Doak Walker Awards.
Wilton Speight announces decision to transfer from Michigan
Wilton Speight entered this season as the Michigan Wolverines starting quarterback. He ended the season injured and out of the mix for the starting quarterback position.
Those developments have apparently led to Speight announcing he will be moving on from the program. He announced his decision via Instagram.
Thank you, Michigan. These past 4 years have been nothing short of spectacular. Enrolling in January of 2014 as a kid from Virginia i didn’t know what to expect. Four years later i leave a Michigan Man. The amazing memories with my teammates, playing under the best coaches in America, and enjoying everything that this wonderful university and town have to offer- what a ride. To the fans that stuck with us through thick and thin— thank you. To Coach Hoke for giving a kid with no offers a chance— thank you. To Coach Harbaugh for coming in and making me a better man and a better quarterback. For understanding this decision of mine and always having my back no matter what— thank you. I don’t know where next will be, and I’ll use these next four weeks to figure that out. i’m excited to keep pursuing my dreams in a new jersey, but will forever root for the boys wearing the winged helmet. Go blue!
His parents came away with a really nice message of support for his decision.
By the end of the non-conference season, many fans around the Wolverines program were fed up with Speight’s performance.
It was easy to see why, as he finished non-conference season 42 of 77 (54.5 completion percentage) for 571 yards and just two touchdowns to two interceptions.
Speight was injured just minutes in to the Big Ten opener against Purdue and was never seen in a Wolverines uniform again. He ended up with a fractured back that would keep him out for the rest of the year, but what played out after his departure was also telling for the future.
Things are pretty clear as to how they may go in 2018 at QB for the Wolverines. Along with John O’Korn’s graduation, Speight’s departure leaves Brandon Peters as the only quarterback on the Michigan roster with game experience.
However, Dylan McCaffery was one of the most highly rated pro-style quarterbacks in the country during the 2017 recruiting class and was brought in for a reason.
Peters finished this season 37 of 64 for 486 yards and 4 touchdowns to no interceptions. While he wasn’t asked to take a game over with his arm, Peters also showed an ability to at least make the smart play and be a manager of the game.
It makes for what should be an interesting situation that won’t be really flushed out until likely the start of next season. That’s just the way Jim Harbaugh likes to play things — close to the vest.
Karan Higdon Gives Michigan Run Game Extra Gear
A week after the Michigan Wolverines put up 78 points on Rutgers, the same team returned home and put up a 41-8 victory on the Illinois Fighting Illini.
It was an expected result for a Michigan team with a perfect record on the season.
En route to the win, Michigan racked up a ridiculous 112 unanswered points before Illinois wide receiver Malik Turner made a crazy catch for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
You’re likely to hear all about that crazy stat and the multitude of other crazy stats surrounding the last two weeks of play.
But, there is one crazy stat from Saturday’s game that should worry the rest of the Big Ten. That is running back Karan Higdon’s ridiculous 13.3 yards per carry average.
Chances are few fans, even the hardcore knew of the name Karan Higdon as a legitimate option for the Wolverines run game.
It took just eight carries for Higdon to become the leading rusher against Illinois too. Those eight carries amounted to 106 yards on the day as well.
One day, against a really bad Illinois rushing defense? So what.
But, for Higdon it was a mark of three straight games of action where he set the world on fire.
One month ago against Penn State, he put up 81 yards on nine carries and had two scores in Michigan’s 49-10 victory. After not seeing the field in the tight 14-7 victory over Wisconsin, Higdon returned in a big way in the blowout over Rutgers.
He rushed for a career high 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just 13 carries in the 78-0 win over Rutgers.
Add it all up and he has put up nearly 300 yards and five touchdowns on just 30 carriers. He is also averaging a gaudy 9.8 yards per carry as well.
What has made Higdon so successful out of seemingly nowhere?
Depth at running back seems to be a good place to start, as Higdon is the lightning to all the thunder that is De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac and Chris Evans. Opposing teams are punched in the mouth, and just when the are gassed from that physical pounding, in comes Higdon to burn them.
However, that would also diminish the fact that Higdon is starting to stand out as more than just a secondary option.
We could be seeing the eventual star in the Wolverines backfield, even if he is going to be paired with bigger options like Chris Evans after this year.
Having Higdon hitting home runs out of the backfield is a welcome sight for long-suffering Wolverines fans. It also is a sign that the long-dormant running game is good to go for the foreseeable future.
People keep asking me about Michigan's future … Karan Higdon-Chris Evans gives you a pretty nice future punch, folks.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) October 22, 2016
Who would’ve thunk it would be Karan Higdon being the man giving this team the boost it needs on offense?