Everyone who plays college football understands that there’s an expectation to perform.

Fall short of doing that and there’s a decent chance the bench will become all too familiar. For some, the pressure to perform spikes from year-to-year. Perhaps an All-American leaves for the NFL, or maybe a disappointing previous season for an individual magnified the team’s issues.

Either way, there were seven B1G players who I felt really needed to have that major bump in 2018:

1. Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan WR

True freshmen receivers usually don’t put up big numbers, even if they’re the top-rated receivers in the class. That’s what Peoples-Jones was entering 2017. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t have a quarterback who could get the ball him and he wasn’t surrounded by veterans.

On top of that, Peoples-Jones didn’t always make life easy on himself. He struggled with drops and his only trip to the end zone came via a punt return. But make no mistake, he’s already a major weapon in the return game:

As a receiver, he didn’t get off the line quick enough and his ability to make plays on the outside wasn’t where it needed to be. Just 22 catches for 277 receiving yards won’t cut it in 2018. Not with this Michigan team.

The good news for Peoples-Jones is that his circumstances improved this offseason. The addition of Shea Patterson — assuming he’s eligible — is huge for a receiver of Peoples-Jones’ talent. Patterson can make a lot of the tougher throws that’ll put Peoples-Jones in position to make plays.

Peoples-Jones should naturally make a big step after getting his first taste of the college game. He still has to improve his route-running and the drops must end if he’s going to live up to that 5-star billing, but with the Wolverines returning nearly all of their receivers, he won’t be the only expected to make a significant year-to-year jump.

2. Nathan Stanley, Iowa QB

I was higher on Stanley than others in 2017. Maybe I just watched that Ohio State game too much. Either way, though, I still thought Stanley lacked consistency in his first season as a starter. His accuracy issues hurt Iowa’s offense at times, and simple overthrows frustrated plenty of Hawkeye fans.

Entering his junior season, Stanley has to play better if Iowa is going to be a legitimate threat to Wisconsin in the B1G West. That’s not to say it was all bad in 2016. A 26-6 touchdown-interception ratio is nothing to scoff at.

But gone are offensive anchors Akrum Wadley and James Daniels. Iowa’s ground game is unproven, which means Stanley will be the one expected to move the chains more often than he did in 2017. Fortunately, he still has the oft-targeted Nick Easley and arguably one of the nation’s top returning tight ends in Noah Fant. As long as Stanley can take it down a notch on some of those touch throws, Iowa’s passing game should see a bump in 2018.

3. L.J. Scott, Michigan State RB

Herein lies the difference between this list and a “breakout candidates” list. Scott is past the point of being a breakout player. We’ve been waiting for him to break out the last two seasons. So enough with that. Let’s just say that he needs to step up in a big way as a senior.

Scott wasn’t ready for the NFL. If he was, surely he would’ve developed into a reliable workhorse back by now. Fumble issues need to be fixed, and if he could continue to develop in the passing game, he’d be a candidate to get even more snaps.

Or, you know, if he always blocked like this:

It’s somewhat amazing that after the talent Scott flashed throughout his career, he has yet to have a 1,000-yard season, and he has yet to amass more than 39 percent of the team’s total carries. Consistency needs to be the name of the game for Scott’s senior season (he never rushed for 65 yards in three consecutive games).

Still, though, it’s hard not to like what Scott has working in his favor. The Spartans return nearly their entire offense, which suggests there’s no excuse for him not to finally become that All-B1G back we’ve been waiting to see.

4. Miles Sanders, Penn State RB

No Saquon Barkley means it’s Sanders’ time to shine. Many Penn State fans probably slept a little easier knowing that the former No. 1 running back recruit in the 2016 class was set to take over for arguably the most electric player in Penn State history.

Still, that won’t be easy.

The vast majority of Sanders’ carries came in Penn State blowouts. He still got his reps in as Penn State’s return man the last couple seasons, but this will be an entirely new challenge as the feature back, especially without Joe Moorhead. The offense figures to stay pretty much the same from a schematic standpoint, and Sanders will benefit from having a veteran like Trace McSorley at quarterback.

Sanders waited patiently for his turn behind Barkley, which many recruits of his caliber wouldn’t have been willing to do. Now is his chance to prove that Barkley wasn’t the only Penn State tailback who could take over a game.

5. Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio State CB

Speaking of former 5-star recruits who have to replace first-round draft picks, Okudah falls into that category with Denzel Ward off to the NFL. Okudah was already dubbed “the next great Buckeye cornerback” after one season in Columbus. The question is how great can Okudah be as a true sophomore.

Last year, he got plenty of action both on special teams (he really developed into a key weapon as a tackler) and as a corner. Okudah gave Buckeye fans a little glimpse of the future when Ward sat the Cotton Bowl. It was mostly a solid showing, but it wasn’t a perfect performance from the true freshman.

Kerry Coombs is no longer with OSU after accepting a position with the Tennessee Titans, but Greg Schiano is still around to mentor the young cornerback.

Can Okudah capitalize on mistakes? Can he stick with a No. 1 wideout? Can he live up to the incredibly high bar set the last few years by Ward, Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley? If Ohio State wants to stay in the national title hunt, Okudah will have to pass those tests with flying colors.

6. Freedom Akinmoladun, Nebraska EDGE

I mean, Mike Riley said before the 2016 season that he expected Akinmoladun to become Nebraska’s premiere pass-rusher. I’ve been putting Akinmoladun on breakout lists for several years.

Like Scott, though, he’s past that point as a senior. It’s now or never.

Say what you want about the failed offense of the Riley era, but the defense was more atrocious. The Huskers had one player with more than 2.5 sacks in 2017. They actually tied with Oregon State for the fewest sacks per game among Power 5 teams. That makes more sense when you consider the fact that Akinmoladun had just one sack and two tackles for loss last year.

Scott Frost knows how important it is to find pass-rushers in a hurry. Akinmoladun is the most experienced of the bunch, which suggests that it’s on him to lead the way. Maybe his third defensive coordinator in as many seasons will finally do the trick.

7. Just any Minnesota quarterback

Goodness, that was hard to watch last year. P.J. Fleck couldn’t have imagined that his passing game would look that horrific in Year 1. Is horrific too harsh? Well, here’s a little perspective. Of all the Power 5 teams who don’t run the triple option, only Rutgers averaged less passing yards per game than Minnesota.


Demry Croft is gone (he transferred to Tennessee State) and Conor Rhoda graduated, which means there’s a three-person competition this offseason. Will No. 1 JUCO dual-threat QB Victor Viramontes win the job? Or will that go to local favorite Seth Green or redshirt freshman Tanner Morgan?

The interesting thing is that all three of those options have at least three years of eligibility left. Whoever wins the job will have a chance to be the quarterback of the present and the future. If the Gophers are truly going to become as elite as Fleck aspires to be, though, Minnesota’s next signal-caller must play like a proven veteran…and preferably not make throws like this.