Last month we featured "5 Players Ready To Breakout In the SEC". Now it's time to look at five guys from the Big Ten that are ready to bust out into the spotlight.
Marcus Coker, RB, Iowa
Coker had his coming out party in the Insight Bowl, when he ran for 219 yards and 2 TDs in a 27-24 Iowa win. He's poised for big things in 2011. After overcoming a collarbone injury early in the fall, Coker emerged as Iowa's starter by the end of the season and racked up and looked good doing it: he ran for 129 yards against Indiana, 90 against Minnesota, and was Iowa's most effective runner against Ohio State, bruising them for 70 yards and a timely touchdown. And then the Insight Bowl happened.
Coker enters 2011 as the unquestioned starter on a team that features an experienced offensive line (three starters return, plus two other players who have started multiple games in the past), an inexperienced quarterback, and an offensive philosophy that loves to pound the rock. If he can stay healthy (always a major concern with Iowa RBs), Coker could definitely run for 1200 yards and 10-12 TDs and be the top running back in the Big Ten.
Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
Scheelhaase was thrown into the fire from the get-go last season and emerged as a solid starter: 1825 yards, 17/8 TD/INT, plus 868 yards rushing and 8 TD on the ground. Another year of molding from Illinois OC Paul Petrino should help Scheelhaase become an even more prolific passer, especially with Illinois possibly being more reliant on him with last year's other offensive star, Mikel LeShoure (1697 yards, 17 TD), off to the NFL. Of course, there's always the chance that Scheelhaase could level out or even regress in his sophomore campaign, especially without LeShoure to shoulder some of the offensive load -- he wouldn't be the first Illinois player to come up short under Zook. Still, he has the talent to excel and, with a coach like Petrino in place, possibly the coaching to overcome the usual Illinois backslide.
Silas Redd, RB, Penn State
Redd saw limited action as a change-of-pace back paired with senior starter (and Penn State's all-time leading rusher) Evan Royster, but he was still effective: 437 yards and a pair of TDs on 77 carries. Now Royster's gone and Redd should have an opportunity to be "the man" at running back; he presents a different skill-set than Royster had (Royster was more of a grinder and a punishing runner, while Redd is far more explosive and speedy), but he should still be able to give Penn State a reliable rushing option. If the Penn State offensive line exceeds expectations, Redd could even be the top running back in the league.
Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
Allen started to emerge as one of the best cover corners in the Big Ten last year: he had three interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and four pass break-ups, but stats don't really tell the story of his effectiveness: as is the case with any good cornerback, teams simply stopped throwing Allen's way as much. He's not quite a "shutdown corner" yet -- but he's getting there and he'll be making Big Ten quarterbacks nervous this fall.
Roy Roundtree, WR, Michigan
Roundtree was the third leading receiver in the league last year (72 catches, 935 yards, 7 TD) and now he's in a more pro-style offense that could emphasize the downfield passing game even more. Roundtree could be a big beneficiary of that offensive change -- although questions will linger about QB Denard Robinson's ability to maximize his skills (as well as those of the other Michigan skill players) in this new offense. Still, Roundtree looks like the most reliable receiver at Michigan and the new offensive coordinator (Al Borges) directed an offense a year ago (at San Diego State) that featured two receivers (Vincent Brown and DeMarco Simpson) who both had more than 1200 yards receiving. So there should be plenty of opportunities for Roundtree to perform.
This article was contributed by Ross. You can follow him on Twitter @RossWB