The Sports Xchange

The Sports Xchange: Big Ten newcomers to watch

The Sports Xchange polled its college football correspondents in the Big Ten to identify the top newcomers in the conference.

One player who could be a star from the opening snap is Illinois wide receiver Geronimo Allison.

He is one of six junior college players brought in this year in an attempt to jump-start the Illini. Allison is already listed as a starter. At 6-foot-4, he is tall and rangy and a big target that quarterbacks love. The Floridian had 69 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns last season for Iowa Western and was a second-team Junior College All-American.

Allison's play in preseason camp has caught the attention of offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.

The other Big Ten newcomers to watch:

TE Mike Gesicki, Penn State: The true freshman from New Jersey didn't take long to wow teammates with his leaping ability and athletic catches when he arrived on campus this summer, and the injury to Adam Breneman could mean more time for him in the tight end rotation. Gesicki never played his new position in high school and could see as much time at wide receiver as he does at tight end in his first year but it's hard to imagine he won't be on the field -- and targeted with a few passes -- sooner than later.

DT Malik McDowell, Michigan State: The five-star recruit can play both end and tackle but will get his first shot at nose tackle for the Spartans. At 6-foot-6 and 286 pounds, he has the size and strength to play inside but also possess plenty of speed and quickness. His recruiting process was an eventful one, but now that McDowell is on campus, the Spartans are expecting an immediate impact.

Tom Hruby, Northwestern: A 32-year-old married father of three, a full-time Northwestern student and, oh yeah, he's a U.S. Navy SEAL, Hriby is trying to make the team as a walk-on. "He's a man's man," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. An instructor at nearby Great Lakes Naval Air Station, Hubry hopes to contribute on special teams. "I don't feel like where I'm at today is some outstanding or amazing thing," Hruby told the Sun-Times. "It's just more of a challenging route ... the way I kind of think about finding and accepting and trying to take on these challenges that most people would probably say are impossible, one, or very unlikely or just plain dumb."

LB RaeKwon McMillan, Ohio State: McMillan was one of two freshmen to practice with the veterans during the first day of fall camp. A highly regarded recruit from Georgia, McMillan enrolled at Ohio State last winter and impressed coach Urban Meyer, who said MacMillan and freshmen wide receiver Johnny Dixon acted like "pros" and "so we let them practice with the grown men." McMillan began preseason practice as the No. 2 middle linebacker, but he's expected to push senior Curtis Grant for playing time.

S Kieron Williams, Nebraska: A true freshman, Williams was originally committed to Air Force under assistant coach Charlton Warren, who then was hired as defensive backs coach at Nebraska. He brought Williams with him, and it's a move that could pay dividends for a secondary that's already seen attrition in fall camp. The 6-foot, 185-pound Williams has been flying to the ball and exuding confidence at safety, where he could see snaps after the season-long suspension of LeRoy Alexander.

WR Derrick Willies, Iowa: The redshirt freshman is the player mentioned most often this spring and summer as an up-and-comer. He has excellent size (6-4) and good speed. "Willies is one of those young guys who I think is going to surprise some people this year," Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said. "He's put a lot of work into his game and if he keeps it up, he's going to be there making plays." Willies created a buzz in April when he had a 42-yard touchdown reception and a 52-yard catch-and-run in the spring game in Kinnick Stadium.

LT Derwin Gray, Maryland: The 2013 non-qualifier prepped a year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy and steps in now as the Terps best hope to add some more athleticism and raw talent at the troublesome left tackle spot. The 6-5, 300-pound Gray was tabbed the No. 1 recruit out of Washington, D.C., by ESPN in 2013, and was No. 2 according to Rivals. Another true freshman, Damian Prince, could also push up front but neither has found their way to the top of the depth chart. Yet.

DB Jabrill Peppers, Michigan: He comes to Ann Arbor accompanied by more hype than any recruit in recent years, and his work in camp has Peppers pushing to start as the nickel back, with a larger role likely just around the corner. Michigan has worked Peppers returning punts, and head coach Brady Hoke has not ruled out having Peppers make situational appearances on offense for the Wolverines. If Peppers is the dynamic play-maker that many expect him to be, Michigan will find many ways to utilize those skills.

DB Craig James, Minnesota: The true freshman was a late addition to the recruiting class and could turn out to be a good find for the coaching staff. James chose the Gophers over Iowa, Indiana, Iowa State, Missouri and Syracuse. He got some time with the first-team defense in fall camp. "Craig James is a hell of a player," coach Jerry Kill said in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I can tell you that right now. He's different. He's a difference maker "

C Michael Deiter, Wisconsin: Enrolling early at Wisconsin, the true freshman is already making waves in the first weeks of practice. Deiter was one of the standouts in spring practice, and continued that momentum into the fall. Starting center Dan Voltz has been hampered by an injury that opened the door for Deiter, who already has taken snaps with the first-team offense.

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