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Big Ten non-seniors, freshmen to watch

8/10/2011

It's not all about the seniors in the Big Ten anymore.

The past four winners of the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year have been non-seniors, including sophomores in each of the past two seasons (Michigan QB Denard Robinson and Wisconsin RB John Clay). Two of the first three Big Ten players selected in April's NFL draft were defensive linemen with junior eligibility (Wisconsin's J.J. Watt and Illinois' Corey Liuget).

Wisconsin still touts as a developmental program but has produced the Big Ten Freshman of the Year the past two seasons (RB James White and LB Chris Borland). Other teams consistently produce non-senior stars.

With that in mind, let's take a look at three non-seniors to watch and three impact freshmen.

NON-SENIORS TO WATCH

1. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan, junior, 6 feet. 193: You couldn't take your eyes off of Robinson in 2010, particularly in September, when he was college football's most exciting player. The dynamic Wolverines quarterback now must transition to a new system that likely doesn't fit his skill set quite as well as the spread offense did. Will "Shoelace" reinvent himself or stumble? Find out this fall.

2. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin, junior, 5-11, 210: Although he'll share carries with another underclassman to watch, 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White, Ball might have more Badgers fans buzzing. He was arguably the nation's hottest running back in the second half of last season, recording 777 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in his final five games. Ball, who slimmed down during the offseason to increase his speed, could be Wisconsin's featured ball carrier.

3. Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue, sophomore, 5-9, 176: Some of you might not have noticed Allen last season as Purdue struggled and wasn't relevant in November. Don't make the same mistake this fall, as Allen could be one of the nation's most dynamic defenders. He recorded three interceptions as a freshman, including two pick-sixes, and led the Big Ten with 129 interception return yards. Allen is fast, aggressive and not afraid of being physical with bigger receivers. Keep an eye on him in 2011.

IMPACT FRESHMEN

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State, 6-3, 210: Miller's potential impact became a lot more interesting after Terrelle Pryor left the program June 7. After enrolling early and going through spring ball, Miller now has a chance to compete for the full-time starting position. The talent and athleticism are there, and if Miller shows he can grasp the system and separate himself in camp, he could lead Ohio State's offense Sept. 3 against Akron.

2. Tony Lippett, CB/WR, Michigan State, 6-2, 189: After redshirting in 2010, Lippett had a breakout spring and had coordinators Dan Roushar (offense) and Pat Narduzzi (defense) fighting over his services. Lippett plays cornerback and wide receiver but will start his career on the defensive side. He should get on the field in nickel and/or dime packages and could be a factor on special teams.

3. Jamal Turner, WR, Nebraska, 6-1, 180: Nebraska needs more options at receiver and Turner should work his way into the mix. The early enrollee who soon moved from quarterback to receiver sparkled in the spring game, racking up 228 all-purpose yards. Turner could join Brandon Kinnie as one of Nebraska's top wideouts, and he'll definitely be a factor in the return game.