Big Ten's Top Ten Players
Non-conference wraps up this week, save for a late season match between Northwestern and Notre Dame. The season's old enough to take stock of some of the earliest curve balls (Indiana's defense, Rutgers, Wes Lunt) and question marks (how OSU would look without Miller, how MSU would look against Oregon). So, let's revisit a valuable and classic list - the top ten players.
1. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers
Gordon happens to be good friends with Ameer Abdullah. It's an interesting subtext for two players who are two of the best at their position in the same division. "Melvin, he's a great guy. We're not really rivals," Ameer said this off-season. "Even in game week, we text all the time. We might trash talk here and there, just friendly trash talk. We're really good friends. We just want to prove, on a national standpoint, that we're good running backs, and not just in the Big Ten."
This season has so far played out like last - Gordon passes the eye test with flying colors and amazing stats, but somehow Abdullah scraps out a few more yards. A year ago, Abdullah won the Big Ten rushing title with 1,690. This year, he again leads the conference and is on pace for over 2,000. In part, it's because Pelini leans on Abdullah so much, while Gordon has been injured. Luckily for Gordon, the eye test means a lot, so he still takes home top honors. A few more games like what he had against Bowling Green (258 yards, 5 touchdowns) would also do the trick.
2. Brandon Scherff, Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa's had big problems in their running game thanks to a lot of penetration into the backfield that blows up runs even from behind. Still, Scherff has been every bit the NFL talent he was expected to be, routinely ploughing defensive linemen downfield whenever called upon. He is the #1 reason Iowa has attempted 7 fourth downs - one of the higher numbers in the country - and converted 6, an elite success rate.
3. Randy Gregory, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Gregory also hasn't had many opportunities to show what he's capable of, but in his last game back, he was a force on the edge against Miami with a forced fumble, two sacks, seven tackles and two QB hurries. That he did it against Ereck Flowers - one of the better tackles in the country - is even more impressive. And that's before considering how much Miami's playcalling was designed to take Gregory out of the game. The growth he's shown in run defense is just a cherry on top.
4. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska Cornhuskers
His game this week against Miami (313 yards) put him first in Nebraska's history in all-purpose yards. He is on pace for 2,031 rush yards, 374 kickoff return yards, and 351 receiving yards - all told, 2,756. It's a small list of players who can get 2,750 yards without being a quarterback.
5. Tevin Coleman, Indiana Hoosiers
Coleman is a terrific blend of size and speed. Physically, he's more imposing than Gordon or Abdullah, but you rarely see him use it in the old-fashioned, road-grading sense - instead, his strength helps him stay upright when defenders have a chance to bring him down, and he's always, always trying to get around a defender, and he has the burst to do so more often than not.
He also makes it a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators to defend Indiana, because Kevin Wilson uses so many wide receivers and opens up the field. Coleman is probably the hardest guy in the country to stop in a spread offense, between his speed and his ability to stay upright through arm tackles. Putting a defense in nickel, then running him straight ahead, is usually a touchdown if he gets past the line quickly.
6. Connor Cook, Michigan State Spartans
Cook has definitely been the most impressive quarterback in the conference. Granted, Christian Hackenberg is averaging over 300 yards a game - but he has more picks than touchdowns and has also taken 10 sacks. Wes Lunt has put up 300 yards a game, but only one of those (Western Kentucky) was actually a 300-yard game. He is also in part the product of a terrific coordinator. Cook, meanwhile, leads the conference with 10.8 yards per throw and a 189.1 passer rating. He also has almost 70% completions and 7 touchdowns to 2 picks. Dantonio hasn't used him often (other than Oregon, he is averaging under 10 throws a game), but he'll be a great weapon when he does.
7. Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State Spartans
If there's someone in green making a bone-jarring hit, it is probably Kurtis Drummond. He has kept the tang and bite in Michigan State's run defense, and the fact that he has only 9 tackles in four games speaks to how much teams try to avoid him. Though a loss to a possible Heisman winner still hurts, the fact remains that they held Mariota to a 60.7% completion rate while he has otherwise completed 54-68 (79.4%) of his passes.
8. Devin Funchess, Michigan Wolverines
Funchess, physically, is up there with anyone on this list. His effort and concentration have sometimes been lacking, and it's those little things that separate players at the upper level. On the one hand - he's basically unguardable. On the other, those little things can come back to haunt most players, even those as talented as Funchess. His 95 yards a game currently rank fifth in the Big Ten.
9. David Cobb, Minnesota Gophers
Cobb has been the engine that makes Jerry Kill's offense go. For all the talk of Minnesota's ground and pound, it's been Cobb, more than the line, that has done that. He's probably not as superlative as the runners ahead of him on this, but then again, putting up almost 6.0 yards a carry when every defense is engineered to stop the run is pretty irreproachable. Kill is very lucky to have him.
10. Eric Murray, Minnesota Gophers
This was a toss-up. Murray gets the nod because of his status as probably the best corner in the Big Ten, but any of these names could have made this list: Wes Lunt, Jeremy Langford, Jake Ryan, Christian Hackenberg, Taiwan Jones, Tanner McEvoy.... it's too early to separate some of the remainder, and that's something a deeper season will solve.
Still, there's also no denying the absence of quarterbacks (usually, this list is primed for a heavy dose of QBs) and the amazing mine of talent at RB. Langford has yet to break out, and the same could be said for his teammate, Shilique Calhoun. It's definitely something to watch for as the season rolls on.
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Le'Veon Bell's scamper was the longest run every allowed by the Panthers. Also, this last week's Philadelphia-Washington matchup pitted two former Michigan State QBs in Kirk Cousins and Nick Foles.
Stat of the week: Through four games, Arkansas is averaging 160 passing yards and 324 rushing yards. Their backup running back, Jonathan Williams, is averaging almost 100 yards a game.