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The players who benefit the most from the return of Big Ten football

The return of football could be career-changing for these stars.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you will about the health risks and concerns that will be brought on by the Big Ten’s decision to backtrack on its postponement of the football season, but it’s hard to deny the fact that most student-athletes are happy to be playing.

Sports often becomes a huge part of how an athlete identifies themself, and losing that can be extremely challenging. Now imagine that not only is a large portion of your external happiness tied up in an individual sports season, but that lone season can complete change your career path, your family’s financial status and maybe even your lasting legacy. That’s what some of these players are hoping to get from this abbreviated nine-game stint of Big Ten-only contests followed by potential postseason opportunities.

It’s well documented that 2020’s No. 1 overall pick in the NFL DraftJoe Burrow — would have gone at best on the third day of the draft and maybe have missed his chance in the league entirely if not for his record breaking 2019 season. While Joe Burrows don’t grow on trees (and if so, please give address of said trees to one Pat Fitzgerald), this season’s rise from the ashes is a huge plus for some of the conference’s best athletes.

Let’s see whose benefitting the most from the season’s return:

1. Shaun Wade (CB, Ohio State) and Wyatt Davis (OT, Ohio State)

Why list Wade and Davis here instead of their star quarterback teammate Justin Fields? Simple — the difference in positional value. Wade and Davis are absolute blue chippers, slotted 18th and 17th respectively on The Draft Network’s 2021 Big Board, who are likely destined for many a Sunday football game, but they’re not sure things.

Rumors say that teams who have two players neck-and-neck in their pre-draft evaluations are going to select the guy with the more recent tape. The people in NFL front offices really want to keep their jobs, which makes risk-taking scary, and there’s a not a lot of riskier decisions than drafting someone you haven’t seen on the field in 14 months.

Quarterbacks are different. They mean so much in the sport that those same GMs disregard their risk averse tendencies when they think “the guy” pops up. Fields is going to go in the top seven-ish of the draft no matter what. If anything, the season is pretty dangerous to his future finances, as a blow to the knee is really the only thing that can harm his draft stock.

Meanwhile, the season’s return gives Wade and Davis the chance to move from middle-of-the-pack first-rounders to top-10 guys. The difference between the contract for the 18th overall pick (where Wade is projected) and the 3rd pick (where former Buckeye Jeff Okudah was selected) is about $20 million in total earnings. No wonder his dad was so vocal about the need for a season.

2. Jack Coan (QB, Wisconsin), Brandon Peters (QB, Illinois) and Peyton Ramsey (QB, Northwestern)

Following the Joe Burrow model from earlier, these senior signal callers get their final chance to prove they deserve to get some looks at throwing a pigskin for money. Not to mention, getting one last chance to lead your team to collegiate glory also has to matter.

3. Paddy Fisher (LB/Northwestern)

Coming off his two underclassmen seasons, Fisher seemed like a lock to leave NU early and become a day-two draft pick. Then 2019 happened. Fisher wasn’t bad per se, but he wasn’t the lights out dynamo from seasons past, which severely hurt his draft stock. He’s currently the 243rd on The Draft Network’s Big Board, i.e. a late, seventh round pick.

No 2020 season might have meant no Fisher in the NFL, or that he might have been wise to wait a year with the NCAA granting fall athletes another year of eligibility. The season’s reinstatement doesn’t guarantee anything, but it puts Fisher’s future back in his own hands.

4. Joe Milton (QB/Michigan)

Milton was just named the starter at UM following the transfer of Dylan McCaffrey, meaning in a matter of weeks, his 2020 outlook went from no football at all to eight weeks riding the bench to starting at the winningest program in college football history. Seems important for him that this happened.

5. Rondale Moore (WR, Purdue), Rashod Bateman (WR, Minnesota), Kwity Paye (DE, Michigan), Jaylen Mayfield (OT, Michigan), Aidan Hutchinson (DE, Michigan), Jayson Oweh (DE, Penn State), Pat Freiermuth (TE, Penn State), Chris Olave (WR, Ohio State) and Josh Myers (OG, Ohio State)

These dudes are all projected first or second rounders, some with more hype than others. So why put them behind Wade and Davis?

To me it’s the inevitability that Ohio State is probably going to wipe the field with the rest of the conference just as it did last year. The Buckeyes already dominate the recruiting trails year after year, and to make matters worse, their biggest competition — Penn State — will be without its best player in linebacker Micah Parsons, who has already declared for the NFL Draft.

Add in two relatively easy crossover games for the Buckeyes in Nebraska and Illinois (HAT), and OSU is all but primed to wreak havoc on the B1G. Those butt kickings we’ll witness on national TV will only boost Davis and Wade’s stock whereas these players won’t get that same team success bump or will be slightly overshadowed.

Moore and Bateman had already opted out but may hop back in if they clear all of the NCAA’s hurdles. Still, having one more season to prove their top-tier worth is a net positive for just about all of them.

6. Northwestern’s senior-laden defense

There are nine seniors starting on this unit — nine! While Fisher has the best chance of going pro, getting the chance to play on a squad with this much experience and continuity is something you don’t want to pass up if you’re Samdup Miller, Jake Saunders, Earnest Brown IV, Blake Gallagher, Chris Bergin, J.R. Pace, Travis Whillock and of course, Fisher.

7. Justin Fields (QB, Ohio State)

See number one.

Those who don’t benefit: the fall athletes that don’t play football

It’s obviously very exciting that football may be back, but the NCAA just approved other fall sports championships to be conducted in the spring. Yes, football is the one that brings in the Benjamins, but that doesn’t make those other sports any less important, especially to the student-athletes who sacrifice their time and bodies to play.

The Big Ten has yet to make an announcement on if other fall sports will play some sort of modified, conference-only season like the SEC and ACC are doing. At the very least, give the athletes a reason as to why those sports somehow bring greater health risks to the athletes and the universities.

Whatever you do B1G, just be transparent about it. Thank you.