Big Ten: Krenwick Sanders

A B1G youth movement at receiver

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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Like many football coaches, Penn State's James Franklin subscribes to the theory that young players can contribute quickly at wide receiver.

"The farther from the ball you are, the better chance you have to get on the field early," Franklin said Tuesday. "That's where it really comes down to skill, speed and quickness."

Franklin is one of several Big Ten coaches who are banking on that adage being true right now. Because as Week 1 rapidly approaches, many league teams are hoping that some true freshmen and other very inexperienced players can make a major impact on their offenses.

That's a byproduct of the Big Ten losing its top seven and nine of its top 10 receivers from 2013. The youth movement is on at that position, and it's happening in earnest at some places.

Penn State is replacing record-breaking receiver Allen Robinson, who left for the NFL after his junior year. Franklin said true freshmen Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin will play this weekend against UCF in Ireland.

"They've done well," Franklin said. "We need those guys to have roles for us, and hopefully that grows as the season goes on. Both of them are big, physical guys, they're mature and they've handled it extremely well. And with our lack of depth at that position, we needed that."

The Nittany Lions are also hoping for contributions down the road from first-year players Daesean Hamilton and De'Andre Thompkins.

Few teams are as green at wideout as Illinois, which will break in several new receivers this weekend against Youngstown State. They include true freshmen Mike Dudek and Malik Turner and junior-college transfers Geronimo Allison and Tyrin Stone-Davis.

"I'm really happy with the guys we have now," head coach Tim Beckman said. "The game experience isn't there for them yet, but I'm really happy with the athleticism, and I'm happy with the way they have learned the game and the offensive system."

Beckman said Martize Barr, who was a junior-college transfer last season, and junior Justin Hardee have done "an outstanding job teaching [the newcomers] how to practice and play. Now, we'll see how that works on Saturday."

Wisconsin's receivers could get the biggest baptism by fire, as they take on LSU on Saturday. True freshman George Rushing will be in the mix, and head coach Gary Andersen said he "has picked up the scheme and consistently made big plays." Freshmen Krenwick Sanders and Natrell Jamerson are vying for playing time as well.

"We're going to be receiver-by-committee," Andersen said. "We're not going to be receiver-by-Jared-Abbrederis."

Hopes are high for the talent on the perimeter at Ohio State. Still, three guys who are expected to play a lot -- Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and Michael Thomas -- have yet to see a down in the FBS. True freshman Freddy Canteen will play early and often for Michigan. Redshirt freshman Derrick Willies turned heads this spring at Iowa.

Indiana has one proven commodity in senior Shane Wynn. True freshmen Dominique Booth, J-Shun Harris and Simmie Cobbs have all worked their way into the rotation for Kevin Wilson, who's always been willing to play newbies. Ricky Jones, who barely played as a redshirt freshman last year, and former walk-on Damon Graham should also be in the Hoosiers' two deep vs. Indiana State.

"Oh, there's going to be some [mistakes]," Wilson said. "You're always concerned about it."

The time to find out if all these young receivers in the league are ready is almost here.
Wide receiver has been a bit of an albatross for the Big Ten, although last season brought a mini renaissance with four 1,000-yard receivers and another (Illinois' Steve Hull) who nearly got there (993 yards). The bad news is all five of those players depart, leaving question marks on the perimeter. There are more certainties at tight end as players such as Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman, Rutgers' Tyler Kroft, Minnesota's Maxx Williams, Northwestern's Dan Vitale and Penn State's trio of Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Adam Breneman all return. Whether you believe Michigan's Devin Funchess is a wide receiver or a tight end, he's back, too. And he's really good.

Our position previews continue with the wide receiver/tight end group.

Best of the best: Maryland

The Big Ten rookies face some challenges in their new conference, but the Terrapins bring a talented and extremely deep group of receivers. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long lead the way as both men return from broken legs that shortened promising 2013 seasons. Levern Jacobs, Nigel King and Amba Etta-Tawo all did nice jobs last season, as each eclipsed 30 receptions. The return of Marcus Leak, who showed the ability to stretch the field in 2012 before missing last season, provides yet another option for senior quarterback C.J. Brown. Wide receiver undoubtedly will be Maryland's strength entering the season, and in terms of depth, no other Big Ten squad comes close. The Terps need a tight end to emerge after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Next up: Michigan State

I considered several teams here -- Nebraska, Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan, Indiana, Penn State, even Iowa -- but few programs are bringing back more than three reliable options in the passing game. Michigan State, a laughingstock at receiver in 2012, bounced back nicely last season as the offense stabilized behind quarterback Connor Cook. The Spartans had six receivers or tight ends finish with 17 or more receptions and six players with multiple touchdown receptions in 2013. Five of those players are back as only wide receiver Bennie Fowler, MSU's leader in receiving yards (622) and receiving touchdowns (6), departs. Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings lead the group after combining for 87 receptions last year. Aaron Burbridge and Keith Mumphery also return along with tight end Josiah Price, who emerged late last fall. DeAnthony Arnett finally could be ready to contribute. Good depth here.

Sleeper: Northwestern

We've been high on this group for years but the production hasn't been there on a consistent basis. A two-quarterback system and a primary signal-caller (Kain Colter) best suited to run the option made it tough for the wide receivers and tight ends to truly blossom. Things should change this year with a single quarterback (Trevor Siemian) and an offense that should have much more of a passing lean. Christian Jones and Tony Jones are both proven receivers whose numbers should climb this fall. Like MSU's Arnett, Prater also could be on the verge of big things several years after transferring in, and Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler fills the all-important slot role. Tight end Dan Vitale has 62 receptions in his first two seasons and could be a star this fall.

Problem for a contender: Wisconsin

The Badgers barely had enough wide receivers to get through practices this spring, but they'll need a significant boost on the perimeter when the season kicks off. Gone are top wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and top tight end Jacob Pedersen, who accounted for 63.7 percent of the team's receiving yards in 2013. Factor in the loss of running back James White (39 receptions for 300 yards last season), and Wisconsin returns only one player, Jordan Fredrick, with 10 or more receptions last season and none with more than 150 receiving yards. The Badgers need a lot of help here: Fredrick and Alex Erickson to develop, Kenzel Doe to build on a good spring, Robert Wheelwright to stay healthy and blossom and several incoming freshmen -- keep an eye on Krenwick Sanders -- to contribute immediately. Veteran Sam Arneson likely steps into the top tight end role.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

October, 28, 2013
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The Big Ten always has plenty of recruiting storylines worthy of following.

From key commitments to intriguing attempts to flip prospects committed elsewhere, here’s what went down in a very busy week on the trail for the conference.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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There was plenty of recruiting action over the weekend for the Big Ten, which means there were some standouts, big offers, new questions and new answers within the conference.

Here is a look at the latest.

Biggest commitment

Tom VanHaaren: Purdue and Illinois both picked up commitments in areas of need this past week. The Boilermakers flipped Western Michigan defensive back commit Tim Cason (Clarkston, Mich./Clarkston), and the Illini landed prep-school offensive lineman Peter Cvijanovic (Great Barrington, Mass./East Coast Prep).

Brad Bournival: Wisconsin picked up what might be one of the biggest sleepers in the 2014 class in wide receiver Krenwick Sanders (Jesup, Ga./Wayne County).

The former Georgia pledge has 17 touchdowns in 29 touches this season and joins a Badgers class that already has three-star wideout Chris Jones (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic).

Biggest offer

VanHaaren: Nebraska offered 2014 offensive lineman Lukayus McNeil (Indianapolis/Decatur Central). The 6-foot-6, 260-pound lineman has been racking up offers as of late, so it’s going to be tough to reel him in. Michigan also offered an up-and-coming prospect in 2015 linebacker Tanner Muse (Belmont, N.C./South Point), who also recently picked up an offer from Northwestern. Both programs see him as an outside linebacker at the next level.

Bournival: ESPN Junior 300 defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) got a chance to go back home when he took an unofficial visit to Wisconsin over the weekend and it came complete with an offer from the Badgers. His father, Reggie, took over as the general manager of the Oakland Raiders in January 2012, forcing the move.

Best performance by a commit/target

VanHaaren: Minnesota commit Dimonic McKinzy (Kansas City, Mo./Wyandotte) was 20 of 38 passing for 369 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also had two rushing touchdowns.

Bournival: Chris James (Niles, Ill./Notre Dame), who is being recruited by many Big Ten teams, had a game to remember. The three-star running back rushed for 253 yards and five touchdowns on 30 carries in a 45-35 win over Marist (Ill.).

Most important visit


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From commitments to big official visit weekends, it's been a busy week of recruiting in the Big Ten.

Conference recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren take a look back at the week that was and look ahead as teams build toward the future.

Boilermakers flip a commitment

Purdue picked up a pledge from safety Timothy Cason II (Clarkston, Mich./Clarkston) this week. Though unranked and a former Western Michigan commit, the Boilermakers were able to flip the switch on the 6-foot, 179-pound Cason and make him the ninth commitment of the 2014 class.


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Big Ten recruiting storylines: Sept. 5 

September, 5, 2013
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This is a huge weekend in the Big Ten recruiting world with some very high-profile visitors invading college campuses around the conference.

Here’s a look at a few programs that will highlight a busy week in this week’s Big Ten storylines.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
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The opening weekend of college football and the beginning of a fall evaluation period means there is plenty to talk about in recruiting. Here is a look at what happened this weekend in Big Ten recruiting:


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Big Ten recruiting storylines: Aug. 22 

August, 22, 2013
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Big Ten fodder is never hard to find, especially in recruiting. Here’s a look at a few programs that highlighted a busy recruiting week:

Cotton getting close

Linebacker Micquell Cotton (O’Fallon, Ill./O’Fallon) has narrowed his list down to Indiana and Iowa State. The three-star back holds offers from both schools as well as Syracuse and Michigan State.

Cotton has visited both already and will take official visits this fall before making a pick.
The Cyclones have some appeal with a solid 2014 class that includes ESPN 300 wide receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale), running back Tommy Mister (Chicago/St. Rita) and a few other good looking commitments.

We’ll see where things stand after he takes his trips.

Iowa adds cornerback

Cornerback Josh Jackson (Corinth, Texas/Lake Dallas) committed to Iowa on Thursday. He confirmed his commitment in a text message.

The 5-foot-11, 175-pound senior becomes Iowa's 13th commit and the unranked defensive back becomes the third player to be taken in the secondary in the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class. He joins cornerback Omar Truitt (Washington, D.C./St. John’s College) and safety Jyaz Jones (Dallas/South Oak). Jackson’s commitment continues the youth movement at Iowa, as six underclassmen will return next season from Iowa’s two-deep chart.

"I think it's going to be great," Jackson said. "With the guys coming in, we'll definitely make a big impact in the Big Ten and for the team."

Defensive end Torey Hendrick (Brooklyn, N.Y./ASA College) hasn’t broken down his top five yet, but the junior college sensation already knows one he’ll take a visit to Iowa.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Hendrick hasn’t set a date, but Iowa City be a destination. Expect Kansas to maybe earn a visit as well.

Hendrick currently has offers from Arizona State, Florida State, Kansas State, North Carolina State and Rutgers to go with Iowa and Kansas.

Lacrosse commit getting looks
Jason Alessi (Birmingham, Mich./Brother Rice) is committed to Michigan for lacrosse, but that might not be the sport he ends up playing in college as he is starting to get noticed for football as well.

Alessi is a 2014 defensive back who already holds football offers from Cornell and Air Force. He has heard from Yale, Harvard and most recently Michigan State.

The 6-foot, 170-pound safety took a visit to East Lansing last week and is now waiting for the Spartans to make a move. The coaching staff told him they want to watch film on his first few games this coming season and then make a decision.

If he has a good start to the season the Spartans might not be the only team to come calling.

Linebacker U looking again
Penn State has opened up its search to replace outside linebacker Jared Wangler (Warren, Mich./De La Salle), who decommitted from the Nittany Lions before pledging to Michigan.

With Syracuse commit Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) already in the mix of candidates, Penn State has offered outside backer Brandon Lee (Indianapolis/Lawrence Central). That means Northwestern has some company in landing the standout as Lee will travel to California on an official visit when the Golden Bears play the Wildcats on Aug. 31. Lee currently has a top five of Cal, Louisville, Northwestern, Oregon and Virginia Tech.

London a wanted man

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