On Friday we started our Big Ten college football roundtables as we discussed two quarterbacks who will be filling big shoes. Now it's time to spread the love around to some "under the radar" players around the league.
Joining us in this series of roundtables we have Ross from Black Heart Gold Pants, Andrew from Madtown Badgers and Mike from The Little Brother Blog. Also joining us is college football writer Kevin McGuire. Kevin writes for a ton of sites including The Nittany Lions Den, No 2 Minute Warning, Crystal Ball Run and the College Football Examiner. Get your coats on cause we are fixing to head north for some Big Ten opinions....
QUESTION: Who are some under the radar players to watch out for this year?
Andrew: Offensively I think James White is poised to have a big impact on this season. He lost a little momentum from his freshman year (lead the Badgers in rushing) and didn't live up to expectations. Everyone is focusing on Montee Ball and that's to be expected after last season, but it wouldn't surprise me if both Ball and White went for over 1,000 yards again this year and they also may be more involved in the passing game than in years past.
Defensively I think the player you need to really watch for Pat Muldoon who will be a backup again this season, but he was a consistent player on the line (recording 2 tackles in 6 games) from his defensive end position. I expect him to be a nice change of pace for David Gilbert and as a Junior he could be ready to really break out as a pass rushing force as well.
Kevin McGuire: Illinois had a running back in Donovonn Young that I think could play a key role for the Illini this fall. Young rushed for 451 yards and six touchdowns last season. Nathan Scheelhaase will more than likely once again be the leading rusher for Illinois, but with Young now moving up the depth chart after the team loses Jason Ford and Troy Pollard. Given new head coach Tim Beckman;s desire to run the football at Toledo, I anticipate he will find a way to get the running back involved more and take the pressure off of Scheelhaase, at least a little bit.
Mike: Northwestern wide receiver Tony Jones. The speedy Jones missed 2011 with an injury, but has big play ability and could contribute on special teams. Finally healthy and ready to go, he is a backup on the depth chart for spring ball, but that should change by fall.
Others to watch include: Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones, Nebraska defensive end Eric Martin, Purdue defensive back Frankie Williams and Minnesota cornerback Michael Carter.
Ross: I'm a touch biased as an Iowa fan, but I think C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa TE, is going to have a monster season. He was a top recruit two years ago, but he struggled in his first two years with blocking (he was primarily a pass-catcher in high school) and being consistent in his pass routes. He started to come on at the end of last season, though, and he's garnered glowing praise so far during spring. He's always had the physical skills -- he's 6-7, 265 with great speed, impressive leaping ability, and soft hands -- so if he's able to get the rest of his game in order, he could be a major offensive weapon for the Hawkeyes in 2012.
I think Kain Colter will slide right into the Northwestern QB job and excel, too. Like his predecessor, Dan Persa, did before he took over the starting job, Colter made opposing teams take note with his proficiency at running the ball. His passing is still a work in progress, but Northwestern has made a science out of turning scrappy, undersized, mobile QB prospects into stunningly accurate passers by their junior and senior years, so I wouldn't bet against that happening with Colter, too. And he did lead Northwestern to a big road upset of Nebraska last year, so he's got valuable leadership experience already.
Kevin: Ron Zook was banished from the state of Illinois last year and you know what that means. It means that a new coach gets to play with all the toys that Zook recruited. In this case it's Toledo's Tim Beckman and he will bring a fast tempo unpredictable offense to the Illini. What does this mean? It means keep an eye on their receivers. In Beckman's offense last year, Eric Page had 125 receptions and 10 TDs. Look for rising juniors Darius Millines and Spencer Harris to have a big impact in games and keep opposing defenses on their toes.
Come back tomorrow as we discuss sleeper teams in the Big Ten.
Get more great college football analysis over at College Football Zealots.