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Around the Big Ten: Tight Ends

Now that summer has nearly arrived, 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 tight ends.

Conference Overview

The Big Ten is known for its tight ends. At least, it's known for them more than any other conference is. In a league that has the reputation for being old school, tight ends continue to be an important part of the offense of many of the teams. For awhile, it appeared the tight end position was becoming obsolete, but these days, pass-catching tight ends are as valuable as ever in the NFL, and there are a number of top tight ends in the Big Ten.

Teams to Watch (NU Excluded)

Penn State — In just nine games last year, freshman tight end Kyle Carter emerged as one of the top tight ends in the Big Ten, and he'll be on the short list for most All-Big Ten teams. While Carter is certainly a capable player, his numbers could go down a bit due to Penn State's uncertainty at quarterback. Still, he's a very capable player who deserves recognition as one of the best in the league.

Wisconsin —  Wisconsin is one of the Big Ten's old schools teams that is known for having great tight ends, and it could have a first team All-Big Ten player this year in Jacob Pedersen. Pedersen was the Badgers' second-leading receiver last year, and while the possibility for individual awards could be hurt by how little Wisconsin is expected to throw the ball, he's still one of the best tight ends in the Big Ten.

Iowa — Along with Wisconsin, Iowa is the other Big Ten school typically known for its tight ends. In fact, every starting tight end at Iowa from the beginning of the Kirk Ferentz era until 2010 was drafted into the NFL. C.J. Fiedorowicz is the latest in line, and after a mixed first three seasons in Iowa City, he looks ready for a breakout year. At 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, he's a big target who should be one of Iowa's receptions leaders this year

Surprise Unit

Indiana — This shouldn't be a huge surprise, considering how good Indiana's offense has the potential to be, but people tend to underrate the Hoosiers' offense because the defense, and the rest of the team, in general, are always so bad. Bowl eligibility will still be a win for this Indiana team, but the offense — particularly the passing offense — has a chance to be special. The Hoosiers have three capable quarterbacks, one of the Big Ten's best wide receiver groups and a capable tight end. Ted Bolser was the Big Ten's third-leading tight end in terms of passing yards last year, and he'll be a threat to make All-Big Ten lists at the end of the season.

Where Does NU Fit In?

We have Northwestern ranked at No. 6 right now, but the top seven teams are all actually fairly even, and all have players who are capable of finishing near the top of the Big Ten in receiving yards. The biggest question for the Wildcats is whether Dan Vitale can have a breakout season as a sophomore after an impressive showing as a true freshman. Vitale's role increased substantially at the end of the year, and he has the potential to have a Drake Dunsmore-type impact as a sophomore, even among a group of talented receivers. Don't be surprised if Vitale ends up as one of the top Big Ten tight ends this season, but it's tough know where to place him among the league's other talented, more experienced tight ends.

Way Too Early All-Big Ten Team

1. Kyle Carter (Penn State), 2. Jacob Pedersen (Wisconsin), 3. C.J. Fiedorowicz (Iowa), 4. Devin Funchess (Michigan)

Way Too Early Power Rankings

1. Penn State, 2. Wisconsin, 3. Iowa, 4. Michigan, 5. Indiana, 6. Northwestern, 7. Ohio State, 8. Minnesota, 9. Illinois, 10. Purdue. Too Early to Judge — Nebraska, Michigan State.