Now that summer has nearly hit — it’s finals week at Northwestern — we’re inching closer and closer to football. This post marks the start of our newest series: a look at how each of the Wildcats’ units stands put up against other units in the Big Ten. Next up is the wide receivers.
Last year was a pretty dismal year for the Big Ten's wide receivers. Only one player — Penn State's Allen Robinson — had over 1,000 yards in a league that struggled mightily to pass the ball. This year, the Big Ten's best offenses will still likely be centered around the run — from both the quarterback and running back spots — but with the amount of talent returning, the receivers figure to have a better year, as well, considering the league's top 10 receiving leaders all return from last season.
Teams to Watch (NU Excluded)
Nebraska — A lot of the receivers' success will depend on Taylor Martinez's consistency, but Nebraska has a very solid receiving corps that can make Martinez look good. Kenny Bell is a star and will be an almost unanimous preseason All-Big Ten player, but the Cornhuskers also have a lot of help behind him. Quincy Enunwa is a solid No. 2 receiver and Jamal Turner is great as a No. 3 option.
Indiana — It's still not clear who is going to throw the ball for Indiana, but the Hoosiers have plenty of top options to catch passes. Cody Latimer has the potential to be a first team All-Big Ten player, but he's just one of a trio of solid IU receivers. In fact, IU might have the best receiving group but not have a single All-Big Ten receiver, since the passes will be spread around. Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn all finished in the top ten in the conference in receiving last season and give the Hoosiers a very viable passing attack.
Ohio State — Last year, Urban Meyer called out Ohio State's receiving corps as one of the weakest units on the team. This year, the potential is there, but the Buckeyes still have to prove themselves. Devin Smith and Corey Brown will pace a unit that is looking for a bounce-back season. Like we said, the talent is there, but OSU's receivers now have to prove that they can live up to their potential.
Players to Watch (NU Excluded)
Allen Robinson, Penn State — Robinson was only a sophomore last year when he led the Big Ten in receiving, and while he will undoubtedly be Penn State's leading target once again, he won't be favored to hold onto the Big Ten's receiving crown. The Nittany Lions still haven't settled on a quarterback for next season, and considering that other players around the league — Kenny Bell and Cody Latimer, for example — have established quarterbacks, they'll have an easier time reaching the top of the Big Ten, statistically. Still, Robinson deserves first team All-Big Ten consideration.
Kenny Bell, Nebraska — After showing his potential as a freshman and sophomore, Bell has the potential for a breakout season in 2013 (if you don't consider 2012 a "breakout year," that is). He'll have a veteran quarterback and be the clear No. 1 target on a team that has a lot of receiver talent. Bell should be favored to lead the Big Ten in receiving and will be a potential "early to the NFL" candidate.
Jeremy Gallon, Michigan — Gallon was the Big Ten's fourth-leading receiver last year, which is pretty impressive since he still had to share the star role with Roy Roundtree and had Denard Robinson as his quarterback. New quarterback Devin Gardner isn't exactly a gunslinger, but he figures to be more receiver-friendly than Robinson was. As he moves into the clear No. 1 role, Gallon has the potential for a 1,000-yard and first team All-Big Ten season.
Michigan State — The top four groups of Big Ten receivers have some star power (i.e. Kenny Bell), but they're ranked so high mainly because of their depth. It's tough to pick out one star from the Indiana, Ohio State and Northwestern units, but they all have deep receiving corps with a lot of talent. However, once you get to the middle of the league, there are teams like Penn State (Allen Robinson), Michigan (Jeremy Gallon) and Wisconsin (Jared Abbrederis) that just have one star, but not many proven pieces behind them. That gives a unit like Michigan State the opportunity to step up. The Spartans have a number of capable options, led by sophomore Aaron Burbridge, but must be more consistent than last year. In 2012, the MSU receivers didn't get much help from their quarterback, but they also suffered from way too many drops. Because of the inconsistency, it's tough to predict the Spartans to finish any higher than seventh right now, but with a good amount of talent and a lot of depth returning — Andre Sims, Keith Mumphery, Tony Lippett, Benny Fowler and DeAnthony Arnett, to name a few — there's the potential for them to finish in the top half of the league.
Where Does NU Fit In?
In the preseason last year, Northwestern's receiving corps was celebrated as being the best in the Big Ten. However, the Wildcats disappointed, especially in the early going. They dropped passes and, worse for this offense, struggled to hold blocks on the outside. There was clear improvement as the year went on, especially in the run blocking game, and now NU looks like it will have one of the top wide receiver units in the league once again. There's a lot of depth and lot of different kinds of players. Rashad Lawrence, Christian Jones, Cameron Dickerson and, if he can find his groove, Kyle Prater, will be featured as the Wildcats' big receivers, while Tony Jones will be the featured receiver in the slot. Considering that NU still figures to have a run-based offense in 2013, the receiving numbers won't be as great as they could be. However, the depth of this unit's perimeter blocking and pass catching skills puts it in the top four in the Big Ten.
Way Too Early All-Big Ten Team
First Team — Allen Robinson (Penn State), Jeremy Gallon (Michigan), Kenny Bell (Nebraska)
Second Team — Jared Abbrederis (Wisconsin), Cody Latimer (Indiana), Corey Brown (Ohio State)
Third Team — Quincy Enunwa (Nebraska), Rashad Lawrence (Northwestern), Kofi Hughes (Indiana)
Way Too Early Power Rankings
1. Indiana, 2. Nebraska, 3. Ohio State, 4. Northwestern, 5. Penn State, 6. Michigan, 7. Wisconsin, 8. Michigan State, 9. Iowa, 10. Minnesota, 11. Illinois, 12. Purdue