College Football Analysis: Indiana, Northwestern, Ohio State, Wisconsin Players to Watch in 2012

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Yesterday we kicked off our Big 10 football Q & A sessions by talking about the teams that could contend with preseason favorites Wisconsin in the Leaders Division and Michigan in the Legends Division. Today we will take a look at some of the unknown players in the league who could become stars this season.

Joining us once again is Joe Beale of Eleven Warriors, Kevin McGuire of the Nittany Lions Den, Eric Cooper of Buckeye House Call, Andrew Coppens of MadTown Badgers, Ryan Aylsworth of Midnight Maize and The Saturday Edge’s own Big 10 football expert, Maggiore.

Question # 2: Name me a few unknown players that could become stars this season

Joe BealeEleven Warriors: Ohio State WR Michael Thomas – The freshman from Fork Union Military Academy enrolled early and made a huge splash in the Spring Game. His size and hands make him a potential go-to guy for Braxton Miller.

Wisconsin QB Danny O’Brien – The Maryland transfer is not unknown to national CFB pundits but most Big Ten fans probably haven’t heard of him. He was the ACC rookie of the year in 2010 but fell into obscurity last season through a combination of ineffectiveness and a season-ending injury in game 9. He will attempt to do what Russell Wilson did for the Badgers last season, leading them to a berth in the B1G championship game.

Northwestern QB Kain Colter: Colter filled in admirably for Dan Persa last season when Persa was out with injury, and the reins of NU’s prolific spread offense are now in Colter’s hands. Last season he completed 67% of his passes for more than 8 yards per attempt and threw only 1 INT in his 82 passes. He’s probably the best CFB QB that you’ve never heard of.

Indiana QB Tre Roberson – Roberson showed a lot of talent and versatility as a freshman last season and should improve dramatically in his 2nd season as a starter. On a team with not a whole lot of talent overall, Roberson will have to carry a big load for them to be successful.

Kevin McGuireNittany Lions Den:  One player I would advise people to keep an eye on is Purdue wide receiver Gary Bush. Last season Bush was fourth on the Boilermakers in receiving yards (310 yards) and tied for the team lead with three touchdown catches as a sophomore.

This year could see his role increase a bit in the passing game following the departure of Justin Siller and the unknown future of the troubled Antavian Edison. That places more importance on a player like Bush, who could quickly become the number one target for Purdue’s offense. Look for quarterback Caleb TerBush and Gary Bush to connect early and often this season.

I look for Bush to finish the season with 700 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Maybe those are not standout stats, but it should be more than enough to get people to recognize Bush around the Big Ten.

Eric CooperBuckeye House Call: I would keep my eyes on the tight ends for both Penn State and Ohio State.

Bill O’Brien is bringing Happy Valley the offense that made Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez the best 1-2 punch of tight ends the NFL has seen in years, maybe ever. If Garry Gilliam and Kevin Haplea can prove they are reliable, they may just be two guys to watch for.

Ohio State doesn’t look too bad in the tight end department either with Jake Stoneburner, Jeff Heuerman, and Nick Vannett all ready to contribute to Urban’s spread attack. Stoneburner is my pick for the Mackey award this season, and he should leave little doubt at who is the best tight end in the Big 10, or the nation, this season.

Andrew CoppensMadTown Badgers: I’d be watching out for Purdue RB Akeem Shavers. Last season in the bowl game that saw him take the vast load of the carries he went for 149 yards (22 carries) and has explosive tendencies. If the Boilermakers are to be true competitors for the division he has to be the star in the making.

The other player to really look out for is Northwestern QB Kain Colter. He’s as dynamic a runner as Denard Robinson is but with a vastly better arm to him. It’ll be his first year as the full-time signal caller and I fully expect him to be a player teams won’t like facing at all in 2012 because he can beat you so many ways.

Ryan AylsworthMidnight Maize: On offense I think Michigan could have a very solid back up running back in Thomas Rawls. He had a great spring game. He is more of an old school Big 10 smash back that could spell Fitz in case of injury (lets hope not) or when they need tough yards.

Taylor Lewan is a well know LT but he could really blow up this season if he dominates the line of scrimmage again. He had his way last year with the Big Ten and could leave after this season to enter the NFL Draft as a very high draft pick. He has Jake Long written all over him.

On defense someone will need to step up on the defensive line for Michigan. That could be freshman Ondre Pipkins who is a 5 star DT who looks like a Vince Woolfork clone. He could find some major minutes on the field if Will Campbell isn’t more consistent.

I also expect big things from Jake Ryan this year at outside linebacker. He just seems to have a knack for being in the right spot at the right time. He has proved to be one of the few good defensive recruits that RichRod brought in.

Maggiore - The Saturday Edge: One player with big shoes to fill that could become a star in 2012 is Michigan State Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell. The pro-style passer will enter his fourth year in East Lansing so he knows the system.  Maxwelll was a highly touted recruit and has 4 starters and 2 others with starting experience returning on the offensive line to protect him.

Watch out for Iowa Senior Wideout Keenan Davis. Davis should improve on last year’s statistics of 50 catches and 713 yards as he should become James Vandenberg’s #1 target. Look for Davis to ease the loss of 1st team all Big Ten performer Marvin McNutt.

Coming off a strong performance in the Little Caesars Bowl, Purdue’s Akeem Shavers is primed for a big season. With Ralph Bolden injured/in trouble, Shavers will be the main ball carrier for the Boilermakers in the fall. Purdue is healthy (for now) at quarterback, so there should be ample chances for the senior tailback to put up some great numbers in 2012.

On the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State Sophomore Ryan Shazier looks to be the next stud in a long line of great Buckeye linebackers. Shazier only started the last 3 games of 2011, but still racked up 57 tackles, 30 of which came in those 3 starts. The speedster also had a game changing punt block in the Buckeyes upset of Wisconsin. Shazier should find himself an all Big Ten player in 2012.

A name that is probably not known outside of Big Ten land is Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell. Campbell had a very good freshman season finishing with 100 tackles and 2 interceptions. The sophomore will lay the wood and will be the leader of a Wildcat secondary that returns no other starters.

Who are some unknown players you believe could have breakout seasons in the Big 10 this year? Please tell us in the comments section below. Thanks – Pez.

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