Seven Big Ten football contributors for isportsweb have offered their input for the top five coaches, specialists, defensive players and offensive players throughout the conference. We will release these rankings until we get to revealing our Big Ten power rankings, which we will unveil tomorrow. We have already given you our top coaches, specialists and defensive players throughout the conference. So today we release our top five offensive players in the conference.
Tied 4. Jake Butt, Michigan – Jake Butt might be the best player in his position throughout college football. Hunter Henry of Arkansas beat out Butt for a spot on most All-American teams, but the Michigan tight end was second on those teams and beat Henry on the others. With that national recognition, it’s no surprise that Butt was a first-team All-Big Ten selection and was named the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year. Throughout his career at U of M, Butt has 92 catches for 1,100 yards. A majority of those numbers came last season as he pulled in 51 receptions for 654 yards. His stats probably take a hit with the weapons that are around him, but even with other guys like Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson that can help the Wolverines move the ball, Butt remains one of the most prolific tight ends in college football. While Henry returns as well, don’t be surprised to see Butt unanimously named a first-team All-American.
Tied 4. Dan Feeney, Indiana – Indiana threw the ball more than every other team in the Big Ten with the exception of Purdue and Illinois. Despite the 475 drop-backs by the Hoosiers, Feeney didn’t allow a single sack. In fact, of 2,179 career snaps played, Feeney has only allowed one pass-rusher to get to the quarterback. The first-team All-Big Ten honoree is arguably the best returning offensive lineman in the nation as he named a preseason All-American by a majority of publications. With Jake Reed and Jason Spriggs both moving on, Feeney will unquestionably be the focal point of the Indiana offensive line. With the quality of the skill position players in the Big Ten this season, to see an offensive lineman get a little love on this list should say enough about his ability.
Tied 4. Corey Clement, Wisconsin –Rounding out the three-way tie for fourth on our list is Wisconsin running back Corey Clement. Sure, Clement may not be the best back in the Big Ten, but the number of attempts he will get in the Wisconsin offense and his endurance should help him wear down opposing defenses now that he is healthy. People were expecting Clement to have his breakout season in 2015 with the departure of Melvin Gordon, but needed hernia surgery that halted his takeover of the Wisconsin offense. He was only fourth on the team with 48 carries last season, but still averaged 4.6 yards a pop during his four appearances. Though that number is still rather solid, it is quite a drop-off from his career average of 6.6 yards per carry. Even though he missed most of 2015, a majority of people aren’t expecting him to miss a beat as he is being mentioned on multiple watch lists and made isportsweb’s preseason All-Big Ten team. Though the only game last season where he had a decent performance was against lowly Rutgers, he should return to the form and show people why he is back on the Maxwell and Doak Walker watch lists.
3. Saquon Barkley, Penn State – Last season Saquon Barkley went to Penn State as one of the top running backs in the 2015 recruiting class. He will enter 2016 as one of the top running backs in all of college football. Barkley started for Penn State in six of his 11 games played and broke the school’s freshman rushing record as he tallied 1,076 yards, beating D.J. Dozier’s 33-year old record by 74. That number ranks him 16th in Penn State history for a single-season. Without question he was the best freshman in the Big Ten and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors behind Indiana’s Jordan Howard and Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott. The question about Barkley entering 2016 is whether or not he can improve on his impressive freshman campaign with the potential change in the offense. Former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead will install an offense that will fade from the classic smashmouth style of play often associated with Penn State. Barkley should still have no issue slashing through Big Ten defenses still, as he was operating behind one of the worst offensive lines in the conference last year.
2. Justin Jackson, Northwestern – As a true freshman in 2014, Justin Jackson ran for 1,187 yards on his way to honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. In 2015, Jackson upped that number 1,418 yards and was named as a second-team All-Big Ten selection. Whether or not he can sustain that level of success shouldn’t be a question as quarterback Clayton Thorson should improve after a decent freshman year and take some of the pressure off of Jackson and the running game. Jackson has only played two seasons at Northwestern so far and is already sixth in school history with 2,605 yards. That puts him just 1,281 yards away from the career-rushing record at Northwestern and he should be able to capture it this season barring something unforeseen. Between Jackson, Barkley and Clement, the Big Ten’s elite backs could be the most exciting group in the nation to watch.
1. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State – Was there really any question who the isportsweb writers would select as the best offensive player in the conference? J.T. Barrett split time with Cardale Jones last year, ultimately preventing him from being the first-team All-Big Ten quarterback for the second time in a row. He eventually took over the starting job once again and solidified his spot among the Big Ten’s elite. In conference games, Barrett scored 11 points per game and had a passer rating of 162.9, both Big Ten highs. Had he had the entire season as the starter, Barrett would have likely bumped Connor Cook from his first-team All-Big Ten selection or at least removed C.J. Beathard from the second team. He already has 16 Ohio State records despite a year and a half of starting, as well as two Big Ten marks. With the departure of Ezekiel Elliott and other skill position players on offense, Barrett may need to have his best season yet if he hopes to return Ohio State to the College Football Playoff.