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Reflections on the Big Ten player rankings

6/5/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten top 30 player rankings are finally complete, and it's time to take a look back at the rundown during the last few weeks (I feel like I channeled my inner David Stern with how long the series dragged on).

There were two basic parameters for evaluating players -- past performance and future potential. Here's the team-by-team and position-by-position breakdown:

Penn State -- 6
Iowa -- 4
Ohio State -- 3
Minnesota -- 3
Illinois -- 3
Wisconsin -- 2
Michigan State -- 2
Northwestern -- 2
Michigan -- 2
Indiana -- 2
Purdue -- 1

LB -- 6
DE -- 6
QB -- 5
RB -- 3
WR -- 2
S -- 2
CB -- 2
OL -- 2
TE -- 1
DT -- 1

Let's take a look at some of the trends/surprises in the rankings.

FIVE QUARTERBACKS
As much as I've ragged on the quarterback play in the league, many of you were understandably surprised to see five signal callers on the list and two in the top eight. We'll see what happens this fall, but the quarterback position should be much improved. I've heard a lot of good things about Ricky Stanzi from football people around the league. Adam Weber had no offensive line last year and still threw for 2,761 yards. People forget that Juice Williams was probably the Big Ten's offensive MVP for the first half of last fall. Terrelle Pryor should make a major jump this season, and Daryll Clark doesn't get nearly enough credit for what he did as a first-year starter in 2008. Keep in mind that while Penn State imploded for much of the Rose Bowl, Clark had a pretty decent game against the heralded USC defense.

ONLY THREE OHIO STATE PLAYERS
It's rare to see a top 30 list not filled with Buckeyes -- or Michigan Wolverines, for that matter -- but Ohio State lost a lot of star power during the offseason. Running back Chris Wells likely would have topped the rankings had he stayed for his senior year, and linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and left tackle Alex Boone also would have been in the rankings. I fully expect the end-of-season rankings to include more Ohio State players -- Dan Herron, Brandon Saine, Justin Boren, Mike Brewster, Anderson Russell, Ray Small and Dane Sanzenbacher are all possibilities -- but there is still a lot to prove.

ONLY TWO OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
I've heard from several Big Ten traditionalists out there who are shocked that a list of the league's best could include only two offensive linemen. Keep in mind that 30 players isn't that many, and the league returns many more proven players at defensive end, linebacker and even running back. I see a lot of good offensive linemen in this league, but not a ton of great ones right now. Do I expect more than two offensive linemen in the end-of-season rankings? Absolutely. This season provides an excellent opportunity for players like Boren, Brewster, Iowa's Kyle Calloway, Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, Michigan's Stephen Schilling, Penn State's Dennis Landolt, Michigan State's Joel Nitchman and others to cement themselves as elite linemen.

TOP FIVE PLAYERS ALL ON OFFENSE
The Big Ten was hardly an offensive juggernaut last fall, especially next to the Big 12 or Pac-10, so some were surprised to see so many offensive players at the top of the rankings. By almost any measure, the Big Ten has two of the best wide receivers in America in Arrelious Benn and Eric Decker, and those two deserve to be at the top of the list. Clark made very few mistakes last year and led an offense that finished 14th nationally and 11th in scoring. Royster is on the cusp of very big things if he gets the ball more. And Iowa's Bryan Bulaga has legit NFL potential and could be one of the nation's top left tackles this fall.

WHO JUST MISSED THE CUT?
I've heard from many of you wondering why a certain player or two didn't make the rankings. I'll reiterate that 30 players really aren't that many, but here are some guys who just missed the cut and should be in the mix of the end-of-season rundown.

Iowa -- RT Kyle Calloway, DE Adrian Clayborn, LB A.J. Edds
Michigan -- P Zoltan Mesko, LB Obi Ezeh, RT Stephen Schilling
Michigan State -- PK Brett Swenson
Northwestern -- CB Sherrick McManis, S Brendan Smith
Ohio State -- LG Justin Boren, C Mike Brewster, S Anderson Russell, DE Cameron Heyward
Purdue -- DT Mike Neal
Wisconsin -- PK Phillip Welch, LT Gabe Carimi