Heading into the 2011 season the Big Ten has only a couple of “big name” players returning from a season ago at the QB, RB, and WR positions. And that was before Terrelle Pryor left Ohio State. Even without a lot of superstars, there are still a lot of great players returning. Let’s take a loog at the best three Big Ten players at each position heading into the season.
- Denard Robinson (Michigan)
- Dan Persa (Northwestern)
- Kirk Cousins (Michigan State)
Denard Robinson was selected first team Big Ten last season by the media and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year by the coaches and media. Robinson finished the season with 700 more yards of total offense than any other player in the league, helped by his league leading 1702 yards of rushing. He will continue to scare Big Ten coaches this year under new coach Brady Hoke.
Next is Dan Persa, who finished second in the conference in total offense last season at 310 yards per game. Persa was named Big Ten first team by the coaches and second team by the media for his performances. No single player means more to his team then Persa does, as Northwestern found out last season when they lost their final three games after Persa was injured agaisnt Iowa.
Of the top quarterbacks, Kirk Cousins has had the most sucess. Last season Cousins passed for 217 yards per game and completed almost 67% of his passes while leading the Spartans to an 11 win season. This season Cousins will have a strong supporting cast to help him with Keshawn martin and BJ Cunningham returning at WR and Edwin Baker back at RB. If Cousins continues to improve he will be the best pure passer in the league.
- Montee Ball (Wisconsin)
- James White (Wisconsin)
- Edwin Baker (Michigan State)
Taking a look at the top 10 rushers from last season, only four of them are running backs that return in 2011. And one of those four is Ohio State’s Dan Herron who will miss almost half of the season because of suspension. Leading the way for the running backs is Montee Ball. In 2010 Ball rushed for just under 1000 yards and for a league high 18 touchdowns. Ball is a load to bring down at over 230 pounds, which helped him average 155 yards per game over the last five games of the season. Look for Ball to continue where he left off last season.
James White is the small, shifty compliment to Ball. White led the Badgers in rushing last season with 1052 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. White won’t give you the number of carries that Ball will, but he provides plenty of big play opportunity. Last season White scored from outside of the red-zone five times.
Coming in at number three is Edwin Baker. Baker rushed for over 1200 yards last season while being named first team Big Ten by the media. While Baker had great stats last season, he struggled in several games. Against Illinois, Iowa, and Alabama Baker rushed for a total of 58 yards and zero touchdowns. Baker will need to be more consistent throughout the season to be considered one of the top backs in the league this year.
- Marvin McNutt (Iowa)
- Roy Roundtree (Michigan)
- Demarlo Belcher (Indiana)
Marvin McNutt didn’t have as many catches or as many yards as other WRs last year, but his big play ability is what makes him a threat. This is why the coaches named him to the Big Ten second team last season even though his stats were below several other players. The former quarterback averaged over 16 yards a catch to go along with eight touchdowns on 53 receptions in 2010. This year McNutt has one more year of experience as a wide-out and will be the number one receiver for Iowa, look for his stats to make a big jump from last season as he becomes the go-to-man for the Hawkeyes.
Roy Roundtree finished the 2010 season with 72 catches for 935 yards and seven touchdowns. He started the season with several average to good performances, but ended the season red hot. Over the last five games, including the bowl game, Roundtree had 36 catches for 525 yards and five touchdowns. Look for Roundtree to start the season strong this year and become one of the biggest playmakers in the Big Ten.
In third is Indiana’s Demarlo Belcher. Belcher led the Big Ten in receptions last season with 78 catches, but he only had four touchdowns all season. With only one of his touchdowns coming in Big Ten play. Belcher is a proven receiver with over 160 catches in his career, improving his play in the red-zone will elevate his game to another level. At 6-5 and 215 pounds he has the physical tools to get the job done.
The Big Ten doesn’t have many offensive stars that have “been around” for awhile. Look for most of the leagues top players to be in their first or second year as a starter, allowing for a lot of unknown players to become household names by the end of the season.
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