Power ranking the top 10 players in the Big Ten after Week 4
The player pool for this exercise is getting thin. A “top player” needs to have some positive effect on his team, right? And doesn’t that eliminate everyone on the Michigan and Penn State rosters? Doesn’t that make longshots of anyone from Michigan State, Illinois, Rutgers or Nebraska?
I’d add Minnesota to the garbage list, too, if not for Mohamed Ibrahim, whose old-school workhorse exploits can’t be denied, even if P.J. Fleck is getting a little bit silly about calling his star running back’s number.
Beyond Ibrahim, players from the wasteland bottom half of the B1G get relegated to honorable mention status.
On the bright side, at least Wisconsin returned to action. The Badgers spread the wealth so much while routing Michigan — the team manager and the trainer had late TDs, didn’t they? — that no one player really stood out. Still, Wisconsin gets a top 10 spot this week. (Look below to see which Badger cracked the list.)
Here’s how it looks after 4 weeks of play:
Honorable mention: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota; Chris Bergin, LB, Northwestern; Chance Campbell, LB, Maryland; Wyatt Davis, OL, Ohio State; Olakunle Fatukasi, LB, Rutgers; Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State; Haskell Garrett, DT, Ohio State; Zander Horvath, RB, Purdue; Graham Mertz, QB, Wisconsin; Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State; Antjuan Simmons, LB, Michigan State.
10. Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
Nixon added another tackle for loss to his league-leading total (7.0) and helped the Hawkeyes’ ever-improving defense shut out Minnesota until the final seconds of Friday night’s 35-7 victory.
9. Taulia Tagovailoa, QB, Maryland
It would have been fun to watch the B1G’s most well-known rookie take on Ohio State. Likely, he would have had some magic moments and some tragic moments while moving up in competition to that extent.
With the COVID-related cancelation, Terrapins fans remain on the high from Tagovailoa’s prior weekend dismantling of Penn State.
Tua’s brother — along with new coach Mike Locksley — is raising hopes in College Park.
8. Ty Fryfogle, WR, Indiana
Fryfogle went off against Michigan State, snaring 11 catches for 200 yards and 2 TDs.
The performance didn’t come out of nowhere. The 6-2, 214-pound senior has gotten better each week, mirroring Michael Penix’s progress while seemingly becoming the QB’s favorite target.
Working with fellow star receiver Whop Philyor, Fryfogle is making the Hoosiers extremely tough to guard.
7. Michael Penix Jr., QB, Indiana
Penix racked up another 320 yards on 25-of-38 passing, and his team is 4-0 after shutting out Michigan State.
So we’ll forgive him the 2 INTs against the Spartans, while also pointing out that Indiana’s vanquished opponents are 3-13 through four weeks of B1G play. Wins over Penn State and Michigan aren’t what they used to be.
We will know a lot more about Penix and the Hoosiers after they face Ohio State on the road in an early game on Saturday.
6. Cole Van Lanen, OL, Wisconsin
The senior left tackle leads the way for a line ranked among the nation’s best year in and year out.
Through two games, Wisconsin has met little resistance while running or passing, thanks to the 6-5, 312-pound Van Lanen and his line mates. The offense racked up 341 rushing yards against Michigan.
Van Lanen’s prospects for postseason awards and the NFL should keep getting better as this season goes on.
5. David Bell, WR, Purdue
Bell and Purdue lose a little luster after coming out on the short end of a battle of unbeatens against Northwestern. Bell was held under 100 yards for the first time this season and dropped to second in the B1G in receiving yards per game.
But make no mistake: He is Purdue’s No. 1 option until Rondale Moore returns, and probably even afterward. QB Aidan O’Connell targeted Bell 20 times in the 27-20 loss to the Wildcats. Credit the NU defense for holding the sophomore to 9 catches for 78 yards.
4. Aidan O’Connell, QB, Purdue
While he couldn’t engineer a fourth-quarter comeback against Northwestern, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. O’Connell put the ball in the air 51 times, completing 28 passes for 263 yards and 2 TDs.
That counts as a bad day for O’Connell, who averages a B1G-leading 305.3 ypg and has 7 TDs against just 2 INTs through 3 games.
3. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
He’s had 3 straight 100-yard receiving games. We’re stating, definitively, that he would have made it 4 if the Buckeyes’ game against Maryland had not been canceled. He now leads the B1G in receiving yards per game, as Purdue’s David Bell has fallen back to second.
2. Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota
At this point it seems everyone in the B1G has received P.J. Fleck’s telegraph: while everyone else in the Minnesota program is busy trying to patch up the Golden Gophers’ leaky boat, Mohamed Ibrahim will keep rowing.
Minnesota’s one-tract game plan: hand to Ibrahim, don’t bother to rinse, repeat. The 5-10, 210-pound junior battering ram added 33 carries and 144 yards to his rushing totals Friday night against Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ stout defense made him work for every inch and kept him out of the end zone for the first time this season.
Given that Ibrahim entered the game leading the country in rushing yards per game (190.3) and still does afterward (178.8), Iowa kinda has to get credit for holding him in check.
On the season, Ibrahim is up to 715 yards at 5.5 per carry, essentially taking one for the team as QB Tanner Morgan struggles and Fleck tries to keep his depleted defense off the field as much as possible.
1. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
He’s one of less than a handful of players in the Heisman race and he’s on pace to obliterate various records for efficiency.
So, no, the fact the Maryland couldn’t play on Saturday doesn’t knock Fields from the top spot on our list.
Repeating from last week: Fields’ completion rate is 86.7 percent. With 11 TDs and no interceptions, he’s making the rest of the B1G look like the MAC.