We’re a month away (at the time of this post) from the start of the 2015 College Football Season. While most fans have checked their schedules several times over, received their tickets in the mail, set up their home theater’s, and caught up on nearly every preseason poll, there are several talented players around the conference you probably haven’t heard of yet (unless they’re on your team) that you also need to familiarize yourself with.
The B1G Conference has the defending National Champions in Ohio State, who may very well have the best collection of individual talent in America. But, the conference as a whole is loaded with guys who will be making a huge impact on college football this fall, and eventually playing for your favorite Sunday team very soon.
While most of the names are on the offensive side of the ball in this day and age where college football continues to look more like Arena Football, than the rugged game many of us grew up with. There are also several key players on the other side who are charged with stopping them. So, here are the players (not playing for the Buckeyes) that you should store their name and jersey number into your memory bank.
Justin Jackson #21, SO, RB, Northwestern. A new season and new number for the Sophomore who ran for 1,187 yards at a 4.8 yard clip in twelve games during his freshman campaign in Evanston. Jackson finished the season eighth in the conference in all-purpose yards as he was also used out of the backfield in the passing game. The Wildcat program has hovered around the middle of the pack in the B1G for several seasons, a big season in 2015 from Jackson could vault them to the top of the pack in the West division.
Connor Cook #18, SR, QB, Michigan State. Aside from Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett in Columbus, Cook could very well be the best at the position in the Conference. In 2014, the two-time 2nd Team All-Big Ten (2013,2014) QB passed for 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns. He needs to improve on his 58 percent completion rating and losing his top target Tony Lippett to graduation won’t help. But, with a 24-3 record at the helm of Sparty, it’s likely he will find a way.
Christian Hackenberg #14, JR, QB, Penn State. Many scouts at the Pro level say he has number one pick talent, but if you look at stats—2,977 yards with 12 touchdowns, 15 interceptions on 56 percent—wouldn’t suggest that, but another year in Head Coach James Franklin’s system should do wonders for his development and confidence. He also has his top target returning, more on him below.
DaeSean Hamilton #5, SO, WR, Penn State. As a freshman in 2014, he lead the Big Ten in receptions and another season of chemistry building with his quarterback Hackenberg should only add to his targets in 2015.
Corey Clemet #6, JR, RB, Wisconsin. The Badgers lost all-time rusher Melvin Gordon to the NFL, and only return two starters on that offensive line that lead him to a historic season in Madison. But, Clemet should benefit from the extras carries he won’t share with Gordon. His 6.5 yards per carry average is second among returning running backs (Elliot 6.9 ypc). Clement rushed for 949 yards on 147 carries and 9 touchdowns in 2014.
Shilique Calhoun #89, SR, DE, Michigan State. The 2013 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of The Year registered 8 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss in 2014 while being the focal point of attention for opposing offenses to stop. His 15.5 sacks in the past three seasons is the third highest total in the B1G, proving he’s stout against the run and pass.
Tommy Armstrong #4, JR, QB, Nebraska. The most athletic of dual threats in the conference not named Braxton Miller or J.T. Barrett. Armstrong passed for 2,695 yards and 22 touchdowns while rushing for 705 yards and another 6 touchdowns. He will be counted on the carry a bigger load in 2015 if the Cornhuskers are going to shake up the conference and bring the program back to National prominence.
Leonte Carroo #4, SR, WR, Rutgers. The 2014 1st Team All-Big Ten (by the media, ESPN.com & BTN.com) standout would’ve been one of the top WR’s drafted by the NFL in 2015, instead he opted to improve his stock at Rutgers while terrorizing the B1G for one more year. He led the Big Ten with 21 receptions for over twenty yards last season while amassing 1,086 total receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 55 catches. His overall numbers may suffer from playing with a first year QB at starter in 2015, but he’s a special talent NFL scouts have eyes on and he will make standout plays.
Adam Breneman #81, SO, TE, Penn State. Returning from missing all of 2015 with a torn ACL. He caught 15 passes for 186 yards as a true freshman. But, the former top 100 national recruit will serve as an added weapon for QB Christian Hackenberg, who will likely need one with his top tight end from 2014 in Jesse James suiting up in West PA for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and top target Sophomore WR DeSean Hamilton drawing double teams and maximum attention from opponents.
Jake Butt #88, JR, Michigan, TE. Butt only caught 21 passes for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2014, but is on the Mackey Award (Nation’s top TE) watch list and figures to play a major role in new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh’s passing attack. “The Khakis” is known for heavily utilizing the TE in his systems in both college and the pros, see Koby Fleener at Stanford and Vernon Davis with the San Francisco 49ers.
Joe Bolden #35, SR, LB, Michigan. The three-year Letterman for the Wolverines is on several preseason awards watch lists. The leading returning tackler for the Wolverines with 102, leads a defense returning five starters. New Defensive Coordinator D.J. Durkin plans to use his linebackers more to create a better pass rush hoping to get #35 in more QBs faces.
De’Vondre Campbell #26, SR, LB, Minnesota. Campbell leads a defense returning seven starters from 2014. His 75 tackles last season, was third on the Gophers and he added 6.5 tackles for loss with 2.5 sacks. At 6’5″, 241 pounds with exceptional speed, he’ll jump off your screens Saturday after Saturday. You’ll see why he’s an attractive future Sunday player.
Darien Harris #45, SR, LB, Michigan State. Harris will benefit from playing with Shilique Calhoun drawing double teams from opposing offensive lines. This will be his first season as the starter right out of the gate. In three seasons he has collected 64 tackles–48 of which game last season–(4 tackles for loss) in 40 games.
Anthony Zettel #98, SR, DT, Penn State. Zettel is the Nittany Lions leading returner in sacks (8) and interceptions (3), one of which was returned for touchdown in that instant classic against the Buckeyes in Happy Valley last season. He also added 17 tackles for loss in his breakout Junior season for a defense that was number one overall in the Big Ten.