5 B1G players returning from injury poised for a big season
There’s really no good way to put it. And when those injuries involve key players, the (metaphorical) pain only intensifies.
Just like any other year, there were several injuries that B1G teams had to deal with. Some of the brightest stars were sidelined for a good portion of the year during the 2019 campaign, leaving us to wonder “what could have been?” if they remained healthy.
The good news? Some of the players who were hindered by injuries a year ago will be returning for the 2020 season. Which five have the potential to have a big year this fall? Here’s the list:
5. Isaiah Bowser, Northwestern
Two years ago, Bowser was the leading rusher on a Northwestern team that won its first B1G West division title and reached the B1G Championship Game. He churned out 866 yards and six touchdowns on 197 touches in 2018 thanks to a fearless, hard-nosed running style.
Bowser’s sophomore campaign was riddled with injuries from the opening game against Stanford. His absence from the field was just part of the problem during a dreadful 3-9 season for the Wildcats. The running back appeared in just five games, amassing 204 yards on 59 carries and did not play in Northwestern’s final five games.
While he may not be the most fleet-footed running back to touch the football, Bowser’s strength is a huge asset to Northwestern’s ground attack. He’s able to power through tackles and has just enough elusiveness to make defenders miss on occasion. When Bowser is at full strength he’s more than capable of taking on a high number of carries and wearing down the defense.
4. Jonathan Cooper, Ohio State
Continuing Ohio State’s tradition of fielding one of the best defensive lines in the B1G won’t solely depend on Cooper’s play in 2020, but he’ll likely play a key role. With Chase Young and DaVon Hamilton no longer anchoring the front, Cooper has the opportunity to bounce back in a huge way.
In 2018, Cooper was a solid contributor for the Buckeyes. He totaled 25 tackles with 6.5 stops for loss and 2.5 sacks. Cooper has proven to be a problem for opposing offenses in the past, but his production has been overshadowed by the likes of Young and Nick Bosa.
Cooper may not be as disruptive as Young or Bosa were during their careers at Ohio State, but being the most experienced guy on the field should pay off for the fifth-year senior. And as long as Larry Johnson is still coaching the defensive line in Columbus, Cooper as a great opportunity to improve his stock for the 2021 NFL Draft.
3. Michael Penix Jr., Indiana
If there was an under-the-radar candidate to lead the B1G in passing this season, Penix might be the prime candidate. We saw how talented the Indiana quarterback was a season ago despite battling lingering injury problems throughout the season.
Penix didn’t miss as much time as some of the other names on this list. He appeared in seven games for the Hoosiers and helped the team reach the 8-win mark, throwing for 1,394 yards and 10 touchdowns while completing just under 69 percent of his passes. Penix was the perfect fit in Kalen DeBoer’s offense.
The Hoosiers might be welcoming in a new offensive coordinator but the scheme will be very similar. That plays to Penix’s strengths. Not only is he able to hit open targets consistently, Penix can stretch the field for Indiana in a way that really opens up the offense. Don’t be surprised if the IU QB is putting up big passing numbers this season.
2. Jeshaun Jones, Maryland
Maryland really missed Jones’ versatility last season. Yes, the Terrapins were still able to depend on Anthony McFarland and Javone Leake, but having another speedy player on the field would’ve certainly helped Mike Locksley in his first season.
Jones didn’t put up huge numbers as a freshman, but showcased his ability to do anything on the field. He accounted for a rushing, passing and receiving touchdown in his first collegiate game against Texas. Anyone capable of doing that in one contest is a nightmare for defenses.
Jones finished his freshman year with 288 receiving yards and five touchdown catches, as well as 173 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. And with McFarland and Leake both departing, the role Jones will play for the Terrapins will intensify. He’ll likely be all over the field in Locksley’s offense.
1. Rondale Moore, Purdue
Few walk right into the B1G and produce the kind of numbers Rondale Moore did as a true freshman in 2018. He led the conference in receiving that year with 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns on 114 catches. He also piled up 2,215 all-purpose yards and accounted for two rushing scores.
Moore was on pace to put up similar numbers last fall before suffering a season-ending injury in the B1G opener against Minnesota. While Purdue’s passing numbers were still solid, it just didn’t have quite the versatility it had the year before.
There’s no doubt that Moore is the most versatile player in the B1G. Not only is he a talented receiver, he can have an impact in the rushing attack and in the return game. He’s a threat to score a touchdown every time he touches the football. After playing in just four games during the 2019 season, Moore will undoubtedly be hungry to prove he’s still one of the most-talented players in college football.