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Monday, July 15, 2013
The Big Ten's best home-run hitters

By Brian Bennett

Tonight is the Home Run Derby, the one Major League All-Star festivity that feels about as long as the baseball season itself. But of course we can't turn away, because there's something captivating about watching those big flies.

There's an equivalent in football as well. A home-run hitter on the gridiron is someone who can score from anywhere on the field. There are a lot of players in the Big Ten who can find the end zone, but there are only a select few who are threats to take it to the house from 60, 70, 80 or more yards away.

Who are the Big Ten's best home-run hitters in 2013? Let's take a look:

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: Not only does the Buckeyes quarterback have a knack for making the big play through the air (see his 72-yard fourth-quarter touchdown throw against Cal last year, or his 40-yard pass to beat Wisconsin in 2011), but he's dynamite on the ground. Miller had an 81-yard touchdown run against Indiana as a freshman and a 72-yard run to the goal line vs. Nebraska last year.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: Martinez rivals Miller in terms of quarterback explosiveness. I never get tired of watching this ridiculous 71-yard touchdown against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. He also had a 92-yarder against UCLA last year

Venric Mark, RB/KR, Northwestern: Mark is like a guy who can hit for power to all fields. He can go all the way as a punt returner (he had touchdown returns of 82 and 75 yards last season), as a tailback (an 80-yard score vs. Nebraska) and even on kickoff returns (he had a 94-yard touchdown as a freshman).

Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin: Gordon didn't get a lot of at-bats ... er, touches last year as a freshman, but he usually made the most of them. He had a 57-yard catch-and-run touchdown vs. Penn State. He torched Nebraska for 216 yards on just nine carries in the Big Ten title game, including a 56- and a 60-yard dash. He figures to be hitting a lot more home runs this year.

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State: Robinson is not just a deep threat, as he's a solid overall receiver, but he can definitely stretch the field. He had a 53-yard score vs. Indiana and a 45-yard touchdown against Navy during his breakout sophomore campaign.

Ameer Abdullah, RB/KR, Nebraska: Abdullah showed off his home-run ability as a freshman on special teams, which included a 100-yard kickoff return score vs. Fresno State and a 66-yard return against Washington. Last year, he had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 45-yard run for a score.

Shane Wynn, WR, Indiana: Wynn is listed at just 5-foot-7, but he can still go yard. He had a 71-yard touchdown catch against Indiana State and a 76-yarder vs. Ohio State last year. He doesn't need much room to turn a short pass into a huge play.

Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan: Like Wynn, Gallon isn't very big -- he's listed at 5-8 -- but he has big-play ability. He has two 71-yard catches during his career, including a touchdown last year vs. Illinois and one against Alabama. His 64-yard catch against Notre Dame two years ago set up the dramatic game-winning play.

Jared Abbrederis, WR/PR, Wisconsin: Injuries and quarterback inconsistency robbed Abbrederis of some of his home-run ability last year, but he remains dangerous as a receiver and a returner. He averaged nearly 16 yards per punt return two years ago, including a 60-yarder and a touchdown, and he had a 74-yard touchdown reception as a freshman.

Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State: Smith needs to become a more consistent every-down receiver, but when he makes a play, it usually is good for a score -- or at least a highlight. A short list of his heroics: that 72-yard touchdown vs. Cal and that 40-yard gamewinner vs Wisconsin in 2011; a 63-yard touchdown at Michigan State and 46-yarder at Indiana that both proved to be game-winners. Smith is averaging nearly 21 yards per catch for his career.

Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue: Our only defender on this list, Allen has the unique ability to find paydirt after sniffing out a turnover. The senior has returned a school record four interceptions for touchdowns in his career, including a 94-yarder vs. Michigan

That's a pretty strong 11-man team of home-run hitters. Which Big Ten player do you think would win a college football version of a Home Run Derby?