10 B1G offensive names to know for 2021
Is it April yet?
By then, we’ll know full well what spring football looks like as COVID-19 rages on. Which means we’ll have a better glimpse into what the fall of 2021 will bring.
It sure seems like a long way off. Hopefully, you’re catching your breath. Ohio State’s valiant College Football Playoff effort seems like a long time ago.
Time is a strange thing. But what’s tried and true is “list season,” which fits into the few gaps that remain in college football’s annual solar-calendar churn.
Which brings us back to spring ball. Under normal circumstances, at least, it’s a time when players at battleground positions have a chance to rise up the depth chart.
While winter conditioning continues, we took a buzz around the Big Ten and found 10 potential breakout guys. You may have heard of ’em, but they aren’t quite in the “returning stars” category.
But keep an eye out for these 10 playmakers when next season finally gets here.
Zavier Betts, WR, Nebraska
With the shakeup in coach Scott Frost’s offensive lineup (receiver Wan’Dale Robinson transferred and quarterback Luke McCaffrey entered the transfer portal) Betts is suddenly looking like a possible No. 1 wideout in Lincoln. He has amazing speed for a guy who’s 6-2 and lanky. Could he be the downfield threat the Huskers have been missing the past couple of seasons?
Mike Epstein, RB, Illinois
When you watch some of his down-the-sideline highlights, it’s not that hard to imagine Epstein becoming one of those “thank goodness he stuck around” guys early in the Bret Bielema era. The All-B1G honorable mention recipient ranked 11th in the league in yards per carry (5.32) last season.
John Chenal, FB, Wisconsin
They still have something called a fullback? Of course they do. This is Madison. Old Reliable Mason Stokke is off to the NFL, but Chenal is the heir apparent in the Badgers’ downhill attack. Chenal has been a capable backup and special teams player, and don’t be surprised if you see him score on a short run during a pivotal moment in 2021.
Cam Wiley, RB, Minnesota
Turns out they do hand off to someone other than 2020 B1G running back of the year Mohamed Ibrahim in Minneapolis — especially during a full, 12-game slate. Assuming we’re treated to one of those, Wiley is the next guy behind Ibrahim. The freshman from Las Vegas tied for 3rd in the conference with 6.17 yards per tote last year.
Anthony Russo, QB, Michigan State
Rocky Lombardi’s transfer means a new guy under center for Sparty — and that might be a good thing after Michigan State ranked 115th nationally in scoring and 109th in total offense per game last season. Russo comes in from Temple after setting several records for the Owls. He’ll have to compete with Payton Thorne for the starting job.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
Even with Chris Olave returning for another season, the Buckeyes will be looking to spread the ball around while breaking in a new quarterback. Enter Smith-Njigba, who caught 10 passes in 2020. The 5-star prospect from Texas is an absolute freak athlete.
Bo Melton, WR, Rutgers
Melton tends to fly under the radar simply by virtue of the school for which he plays. But the Scarlet Knights’ best offensive player in 2020 is the real deal. If you were asked to name the B1G’s top 10 receivers last year, would you include Milton in your response? He checks in at No. 8 with 47 catches for 638 yards.
Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa
LaPorta quietly led the Hawkeyes with 27 catches last season. Given the way Kirk Ferentz and his staff have developed tight ends in recent years, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see LaPorta morph into the next T.J. Hockenson or someone to that effect.
Parker Washington, WR, Penn State
Washington has a chance to go down in history as one of the best ones to put on the navy and white. He displayed why with 9 catches against Michigan in 2020, a school single-game record for a freshman.
Donovan Edwards, RB, Michigan
Perhaps more than anything, the Wolverines and embattled coach Jim Harbaugh just need a spark. Any kind of spark. Could a true freshman running back provide it? 247Sports ranks the 5-11, 190-pounder from Michigan as the No. 3 running back in this year’s class. We’ve seen true freshmen of that caliber make an immediate impact before.