The top 10 players B1G teams will match up against in bowl games
When you have four teams in New Year’s Six bowls, you’re going to see some elite talent. It’s inevitable.
The B1G will square off with some of the nation’s best players this bowl season. There are All-Americans galore in those matchups, and there are some elite foes outside of those matchups.
Here are the 10 best players the B1G will see this bowl season:
10. Quadree Henderson, Pittsburgh WR/KR/PR
A first-team All-America return specialist, Henderson can change a game in an instant. He led the country in average kick return and punt return yardage. Northwestern’s 104th-ranked kick return defense and 100th-ranked punt return defense could be in trouble in New York.
9. Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson CB
If any B1G fans were flipping between the B1G Championship and the ACC Championship, they probably saw Tankersley make a key play. He had two interceptions to help Clemson lock up a College Football Playoff spot. The senior All-American had an opposing QB rating of 42.2 (Pro Football Focus), which should be plenty to get J.T. Barrett’s attention.
8. Cody O’Connell, Washington State OG
The leader of Washington State’s offensive line, the Outland Trophy finalist was a force in his first year as a starter. The 6-8, 354-pound junior somehow only got honorable mention All-Conference but was nearly a consensus first-team All-American. He was a big reason the Cougars finished 14th in FBS in scoring offense in 2016. He’ll be a major test for Minnesota’s young defensive line.
7. DeMarcus Walker, Florida State DL
If there’s one guy that the Michigan offensive line has to account for at all times, it’s Walker. The senior defensive end is a blur rushing off the edge. The ACC Defensive Player of the Year racked up multiple sacks in four of his last six games, which gave him a tie for the FBS lead (15). The Seminole defense had its struggles in 2016, but Walker certainly wasn’t the reason for them.
6. Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh OG
Johnson was dominant in the ground game and in the passing game for Pitt. The first-team All-American helped Pitt rack up 2,757 rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns. With Johnson leading the way, Pitt only allowed nine sacks all year. Pat Fitzgerald will have plenty of scheming to do to confuse Johnson and that Panthers front.
5. Derek Barnett, Tennessee DL
Few can change the game as a defensive lineman like Barnett. He recorded 18 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception for a lackluster Tennessee defense. After a slow start, Barnett had sacks in eight of his final nine games, which tied him with Reggie White for the Tennessee career lead. If Nebraska thought Jaleel Johnson was a load, Barnett will present even more problems, especially of Tommy Armstrong Jr. is still hobbled.
4. Corey Davis, Western Michigan WR
Ignore the conference Davis plays in. The All-American can play against anyone, anywhere. In his three games against B1G teams the last two years, he averaged 107 yards. The FBS leader in receiving touchdowns (18) also set the FBS record for career receiving yards. Penn State dominated Wisconsin downfield with big, physical receivers. Davis has all the ability to do just that.
3. Dalvin Cook, Florida State RB
You could easily make a case for Cook to be No. 1 or No. 2 on this list. The All-American tailback had better years than fellow preseason Heisman Trophy candidates Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. He racked up an absurd 2,046 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns. If not for a slow start to the season, he would’ve been in New York. Instead, he’ll try to boost his draft stock against a Michigan defense that was tied for fifth in FBS in fewest rushing touchdowns allowed.
2. Adoree Jackson, USC CB/KR/PR
Call him “West Coast Jabrill Peppers” if you want. Jackson, like Peppers, is just good at football. The Jim Thorpe Award winner is a lockdown corner, an explosive return specialist and even an offensive weapon when USC decides to shake things up. Brent Pry, Joe Moorhead and James Franklin will all have to game plan to contain Jackson, who performed as well as arguably any player in the country in the final two months.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB
To be clear, Watson did not have the best year of the players on this list. He shouldn’t have won the Davey O’Brien Award for throwing 15 interceptions in a season. But in terms of matchups, no individual is tougher to prepare for than Watson. He can make all the throws with his arm, he can keep plays alive with his legs and he’s as battle-tested as any quarterback in the country. If you wish to doubt Watson, go flip on the national title game from last season and watch what he did to an Alabama defense that had NFL players at every position. This is Ohio State’s toughest individual matchup since Marcus Mariota. Repeating that success will be much easier said than done.