The Replacements: the New Receiving Stars in the Big Ten

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The career of the college football player is tragically short, with most seeing regular playing time for half of their eligibility, if they are lucky. This, of course, means there is a massive turnover of starters almost yearly. For the best teams, this usually doesn’t mean a whole lot, with the next batch of four and five-star recruits ready to jump in and carry on the school legacy. For the rest, it can be a matter of hoping seasoned backups or hotshot freshmen can jump in and fulfill their potential from day 1, or even an unrated recruit showing the recruiters that sometimes, one gets away.

The B1G is rarely known for its high-octane passing attacks, in part because the majority of teams play half the season in frigid weather conditions, hardly conducive to passing. Even so, this year the Big Ten passing attacks seemed less than impressive, with only Indiana (17th), Penn State (35th) and Purdue (55th) in the top half of the rankings. The pass efficiency ratings aren’t much prettier, with Nebraska the highest at 42. With a lot of young receivers who were on board last season gaining valuable experience, the passing attacks should be improved this year, but who are the new potential stars? As always, leave your opinions, objections and abuse in the comments section, or find me on Twitter.

Apr 12, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini wide receiver Mile Osei (8) catches a ball before the spring football game at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports


The Illini are only losing one starter to transfer, Darius Millines(32-319-0), and a couple of little-used TEs from last season, but all that experience coming back doesn’t account for a lot if the offense can’t kick into a higher gear in 2013. Darius Lankford (37-469-5) and Spencer Harris (21-252-2) are returning starters, but Harris may be relegated to reserve duty with former QB Miles Osei and JUCO Martize Barr looking impressive in camp. Osei has decent size and is very quick, while Barr lacks great speed, but he can make the tough catch and turns into a running back once he secures the football. Jon Davis (9-88-1) isn’t much of a blocker, but he could be more of a factor in the passing game this year, as adding some bulk could see him on the field more.


Keep an eye on: Freshman Marchie Murdock – smart guy with great ball skills and enough speed to keep a defense honest. Give him a year to acclimatize.

Nov 10, 2012; Bloomington, IN, USA; Indiana Hoosiers wide receiver Kofi Hughes (13) catches a touchdown pass in the end zone against Wisconsin Badgers defensive back Marcus Cromartie (14) at Memorial Stadium. Wisconsin defeats Indiana 62-14. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports


The Hoosiers look to be in good shape next season with not just the entire starting receiving unit returning, but almost everyone who caught a pass. Cody Latimer (51-805-6), Shane Wynn (68-660-6) and Kofi Hughes (43-639-3) will reprise their starting roles, as will TE Ted Bolser (41-445-3).


Keep an eye on: Freshman Taj Williams – one of IU’s top recruits, he’s lanky, but he has everything you could want in a receiver. Watch out for him to be a star next season.


November 23, 2012; Iowa City, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeye tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (45) stiff arms Nebraska Cornhuskers linebacker Alonzo Whaley at Kinnick Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports


The Hawkeye passing attack was far from impressive last season, and the receivers’ inability to get open was a concern. Has it been remedied? That remains to be seen, but the majority of last season’s unit returns, with the exception of Keenan Davis (47-571-1), one of the better performers. Kevonte Martin-Manley (52-571-2) returns, but the likely replacement for Davis is sophomore Tevaun Smith, who caught just 3 passes (31 yards) last season. Jordan Cotton (12-172-1) is the likely third option, but depth is very thin at wide receiver. Luckily, they have a fine TE in CJ Fiedorowicz, who did the Hawkeyes a huge favor by returning for his senior year. At 6’7 and 245 pounds, he has NFL size, and he caught 45 passes for 433 yards and a TD last season. Y-back Jacob Duzey (3-16-0) should see more of the ball this season as a full-time starter.


Keep an eye on: Sophomore Jacob Hillyer – a star in high school, Hillyer has great size and a lot of the skills required to star at this level too. Now with two years under his belt, he could start to make some noise this year.


Jan 1, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Jeremy Gallon (10) catches a touchdown pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports


Like the passing game in general, the Wolverine receivers were unimpressive for most of last season. Once Devin Gardner took over at QB, that all changed, as Jeremy Gallon (49-829-4) and Roy Roundtree (31-580-3) started to make their presences felt with a more consistent passer at the helm. With Roundtree gone, Gallon will headline again, with plenty of potential ready to step in. Sophomore Amara Darboh wasn’t major star coming out of high school, and has yet to catch a pass in Ann Arbor, but looks to have a starting job sewn up, at least until fall camp. Drew Dileo (20-331-2) was the third-leading receiver last season and should work out of the slot when the Wolverines go three-wide. TE Devin Funchess (15-234-5) flashed some talent last season when starting a few games, but now he’s bigger and will take over the starting role.


Keep an eye on: Darboh – he needed some time to adjust to the FBS level, and now he has. He’s a big target with good ball skills and can pick up decent yards after the catch.


Dec. 29, 2012; Tempe, AZ, USA; Michigan State Spartans wide receiver Aaron Burbridge (16) dives to score a 15 yard touchdown during the second half against the TCU Horned Frogs during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium. Michigan State beat TCU 17-16. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State:

The Spartan passing attack really struggled last season, and neither quarterback nor receivers can escape culpability. However, with everyone, except TE Dion Sims (36-475-2), of note returning, the situation looks rosier with the receivers gaining a year of experience. There are plenty of options to choose from at wide receiver, with Keith Mumphrey (42-515-1), Tony Lippett (36-392-2) and Aaron Burbridge (29-364-2) the likely starters, although senior Bennie Fowler (41-524-4) should see regular action as the old man of the group. Sims was a reliable target last season and may be the tough to replace. More than likely both Andrew Gleichert (1-8-0), the blocker, and Paul Lang (3-8-1), the receiver, will split time, but there will be a dip in production.


Keep an eye on: The passing attack – with a suspect running game, the Spartans need the aerial game to click, and it should.


September 29, 2012; Iowa City, IA, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Derrick Engel (18) is defended by Iowa Hawkeye Greg Castillo (2) in second half at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes beat the Gophers 31-13. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports


With the exception of AJ Barker (30-577-7), the Golden Gopher receivers hardly set the world on fire last season. Of course, Barker quit the team late in the year, and leaves a gaping hole at receiver this year. But there is hope. Senior Derrick Engel (18-375-1) stepped up late and showed some big-play ability in the bowl game. He has the speed to stretch the field. Isaac Fruechte (19-256-2) has the size and ability every team covets, but he has yet to put it all together. Redshirt freshman Jimmy Harbison has looked good in camp and had a fine spring game. Tight end John Rabe (14-143-4) was no deep threat, but he was a solid veteran and will be missed. Lincoln Plsek (3-22-0) saw a little action last season and will battle Drew Goodger (13-115-3), who has great size and blocking ability, for the vacant spot.


Keep an eye on: Maxx Williams – the redshirt freshman TE was one of the top receivers in the spring game, and while he certainly isn’t huge, his receiving skills should see him on the field on passing downs at the very least.


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