With the college football season right around the corner and all Big Ten teams having started camp over the weekend, I decided to introduce you to the top 10 key big ten players heading into 2014. I put this list together not by who is the best athletes in the Big Ten but by who means the most to their teams for the chance at a Big Ten Title. Let’s start with number 10 and work are way to the number one key player heading into 2014 for the Big Ten.
#10 Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan
Michigan’s best offensive weapon on offense is Devin Funchess. He will be the go to guy for quarterback Devin Gardner and should see plenty of special attention come award season. He is my top rated tight end in the Big Ten if not the nation due to his ability to catch the ball and run routes better than most wide receivers.
#9 Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
Coming off knee surgery that forced him to miss half the season in 2013, Stefon Diggs will make his presence known with Big Ten Secondary’s. If Diggs can stay healthy and come back at the level everyone is expecting, he will be one of the best receivers in the nation. Maryland will need Diggs to make an impact right away as they enter their first year in the Big Ten conference that is loaded with talent this season.
#8 Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State
The third Michigan State player in my top 10 this year is Kurtis Drummond. A big play-maker and 2013 All-Big Ten selection, he has the ability to keep Michigan States Defense as good as it was last year. Drummond will be on many watch list for the Jim Thorpe award in 2014 as well as All-American honors. Drummond had 91 tackles, four interceptions and a forced fumble in 2013 and there is no one doubting he can go over 100 tackles and five plus interceptions in 2014.
#7 Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Penn State has a future All-American quarterbacking from them now in Christian Hackenberg. He had an impressive freshman season throwing for 2,955 yards, 20 passing touchdowns, 4 rushing touchdowns and only 10 interceptions. He has a lot of questions coming into his sophomore season as he is playing with all new play-makers on the outsides and has one returning offensive lineman in Donovan Smith. Penn State’s season will go as far as Hackenberg can take them. There isn’t a quarterback in the Big Ten that is as critical to his teams’ success as Hackenberg is to Penn States.
#6 Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State
If Connor Cook starts 2014 just like he finished 2013, he could put himself into the Heisman talk. Cook ended 2013 by winning the Big Ten Title game and the Rose Bowl, as well as earning the game MVP in both. Cook returns for his Junior season with a bunch of other returning starters on the Michigan St. offense. If this offense is as good as their defense, you could see Michigan St. in the first ever College Football Playoff. We will have a better understanding of just how great Cook is after week two against Oregon.
#5 Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Nebraska has always been a team known for having good defenses, this year they can be known for having a good offense. The Big Ten’s leading rusher in 2013, Ameer Abdullah, giving no injuries could surpass the 2,000 yard mark. He ran for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns a year ago and this year the offense is set to be improved from what it was last year. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has another year of experience which will take some pressure off Abdullah.
#4 Brandon Schreff, OT, Iowa
At six-foot-five, 315 pounds, Brandon Scherff is the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten if not the country. He is the 2013 All-Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and Iowa’s 2013 team MVP. If the Heisman voters would take a look at an offensive tackle instead of just quarterbacks and running backs, Scherff would be a good candidate. He is another Big Ten player that many thought would for go his senior season, instead he decided to return for his senior year. Keep a close eye on this kid, he could be the number one draft pick in 2015.
#3 Melvin Gordon
With a very talented offensive line in 2014, Melvin Gordon could be in for a career year. He ran for over 1,600 yards last season with 12 touchdowns and had to share time with James White. Well White is gone now and the show is all Gordon’s! Wisconsin has some holes to fix in their passing game which could hurt Gordon’s value. If they can get that figured out, Gordon can lead the Badgers to win the Big Ten’s West Division. Gordon stands a real good chance to get named the top running back in the Big Ten in 2014, along with possible All-American votes.
#2 Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Once again Ohio State has a Heisman contender playing for them in 2014 in Braxton Miller. The Senior quarterback is no stranger to putting up huge numbers and filling out a stat sheet. He has went over 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in his earlier two seasons, and collecting 64 combined touchdowns. During those two years he won the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award twice. Ohio State will be a very good football team this year if their defense can come together. Another 2000/1000 season from miller and a championship could make him an all time great at Ohio State.
#1 Shilique Calhoun, DL, Michigan State
Coming in at number one is an explosive pass rusher and a quarterback’s worst nightmare. The 2013 Big Ten defensive lineman of the year and second team All-American, Shilique Calhoun, is looking to make an even bigger impact this season for Michigan State. Last year Calhoun had seven and a half sacks with three defensive touchdowns. Many thought he would leave after last season for the NFL but he decided to come back and help what could be the top rated defense in the nation this year. Calhoun ranks number four in the ESPN.com Top 100 CFB Players rankings. There is no doubt in my mind that he will be one of the top defensive lineman in the country this year and give Michigan State a good chance at winning the Big Ten Championship.