The Sports Xchange: Big Ten breakout players
The Sports Xchange
The Sports Xchange: Big Ten breakout players
Such is the hope in Columbus, where Big Ten Player of the Year frontrunner Braxton Miller re-injured his right shoulder, paving the way for untested redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett to grab the reins of Urban Meyer's offense.
No pressure, kid. This finely tuned machine enters the 2014 opener Aug. 30 against Navy with a No. 5 national ranking and national championship aspirations.
While Barrett is classified as a dual-threat quarterback -- he was No. 3 in the nation coming out of high school in 2013 -- arm strength isn't his greatest asset, but offensive coordinator Tom Herman said that is no concern.
"He makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that," Herman said of Barrett. "You don't have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I'm very pleased with his continuing growth."
Here are the other breakout players to watch in the Big Ten:
DT Darius Hamilton, Rutgers: Still just a junior, the 6-4, 260-pound Hamilton should fit right in in the Big Ten. He's a captain now and his coach is counting heavily on his continued improvement.
WR DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State: The former four-star recruit had to redshirt last season while recovering from a wrist injury that had bothered him during his final year of high school. He maintained his conditioning and added strength last season and has impressed teammates with his route-running and hands since the spring. The Nittany Lions will need a playmaker following the offseason departure of four wide receivers, including second-round draft pick Allen Robinson, and Hamilton is in line to claim one of the starting wide receiver spots.
CB Sojourn Shelton, Wisconsin: Despite leading the Badgers in interceptions as a true freshman, Shelton wants to top last season's goals and take his game another step. After becoming the first true freshman starter at cornerback since Scott Starks in 2001, Shelton wants to top last season's four interceptions and seven pass-breakups. At 5-foot-9, Shelton gained nearly eight pounds to become better in press man-to-man coverage.
"I didn't meet a lot of my personal goals that I wanted to meet as far as me getting better," Shelton said. "Not to be too hard on myself. I am satisfied, as a freshman, it is kind of nice, but I just want to continue to improve. I want to have the same goals going into next season, and I want to accomplish those goals. They're pretty big goals."
WLB Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Maryland: A remarkable combination of size, speed and athleticism, Cudjoe-Virgil was coming into his own last year when he went down with an upper body injury. He showed a penchant for the big play with 3.5 sacks and then an acrobatic interception in the West Virginia game last year. Cudjoe-Virgil is at the weakside linebacker slot where he has free reign to attack the backfield and create havoc in former NFL defensive coordinator Brian Stewart's 3-4 scheme. Coaches love his "passion" for the game.
DE Chris Wormley, Michigan: A knee injury kept Wormley off the field his first year in Ann Arbor, but the time appears right for this freakish athlete to shake things up in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder was a multi-sport standout in high school, and he uses his athleticism to create all kinds of problems in the pass rushing attack. Look for Wormley to be a fixture in the defensive lineup by the time the Big Ten season gets rolling.
DT Maliek Collins, Nebraska: Let's not yet compare Collins to Ndamukong Suh, but it's not a stretch to say the 6-foot-2, 300-pound sophomore could be Nebraska's most imposing defensive tackle since Suh, a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2009. Collins played as a true freshman, blossomed in the weight room in the offseason and was impressive throughout spring practices. He's got a nice blend of speed and power that allows him to not only hold up on the inside, but play on the outside in obvious passing situations.
WR Nick Stoner, Indiana: Someone has to catch the passes no longer intended for Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes, and Stoner figures it might as well be him. A two-sport athlete at IU, Stoner redshirted this spring in track and field, beefing up to give his senior season his best shot. He showed big-play ability last year, averaging 18.8 yards on his 12 catches, including a 44-yarder for a touchdown.
DT Carl Davis, Iowa: The Iowa senior grew up in a Michigan fan in Detroit, but the Wolverines weren't interested and Davis would up at Iowa. In his first two seasons, Davis played behind some future NFL defensive linemen and battled injuries, but now he's ready to take off. Has flashed signs of his ability last year with 42 tackles, including eight against Michigan.
QB Wes Lunt, Illinois: The sophomore sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State. An Illinois native, Lunt was a highly regarded recruit coming out of high school. He won the starting job for the Cowboys as a freshman before suffering a knee injury and losing his spot. Lunt decided to leave and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy restricted Lunt from transferring to 37 schools before he wound up at Illinois. Since Lunt arrived in Champaign, he has impressed Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit with his arm. "He has one of the prettiest motions I've seen in a long time," Cubit said. Lunt had yet to win the job in fall camp in an open competition with Riley O'Toole and Aaron Bailey, but coach Tim Beckman said he plans to settle on a quarterback soon and Lunt is likely the guy. He has big shoes to fill replacing longtime starter Nathan Scheelhaase.
RB Dontre Wilson, Ohio State: As a freshman last year, Wilson displayed dynamic speed and big-play capability with 983 all-purpose yards, but he was limited to contributing as a hybrid back and returner. After going through the offseason strength program, Wilson is ready to make more of an impact as a runner and receiver, especially with Braxton Miller out of the mix.
"Last year, he was a hybrid guy that really wasn't great at anything," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He had potential, but couldn't block at the level we expected him to. Was not quite strong enough to run inside like you need that hybrid guy to do. Was simply an outside running player. He's gained the weight. He's much stronger. He's much more prepared for this level of football."
S Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern: A fifth-year senior safety, looks for a big season as the unquestioned leader in the secondary. Tied for ninth on Northwestern's all-time list with eight interceptions, he had 73 tackles and four picks last year on the way to honorable mention all-Big Ten selection. "He's taken all the young guys under his wing and really shown them how to study tape, how to work out, how to think and operate and tick like a Big Ten defensive back, and just show them all the ropes," Fitzgerald said.
CB Trae Waynes, Michigan State: After being thrust into a starting role in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2012, Waynes was the full-time starter opposite Darqueze Dennard in 2013. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors while intercepting three passes and starting all 14 games. Now the junior's name is all over the preseason watch lists and he is primed to become the next great defensive player to come out of Michigan State.
WR Donovahn Jones, Minnesota: He came to campus as a quarterback, but was moved to wide receiver as a freshman. The transition took some time, but the coaches are optimistic Jones, who is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, will contribute this season. He made 10 catches for 157 yards and had 16 carries for 73 yards last season.