Ranking the B1G's top 20 offensive players in 2020
Empty stadiums, fake crowd noise, backyard and driveway tailgates and three months of asking players to act more like hermits than college kids.
Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck might have said it best: “Football in 2020 is going to be really different than what people have seen at times.”
We almost didn’t see it at all. But here we are, with Big Ten football set to open Oct. 23 when Illinois hosts Wisconsin. What follows will be a 9-week gauntlet — no byes, no breaks and certainly no room for error when it comes to COVID-19.
But not everything will be redefined this fall. On offense, especially, there’s a familiar cast of characters — plenty of talent at the skill positions, tons of next-level potential in the trenches, and that team out of Columbus is supposed to be pretty prolific.
We ranked the top 20 offensive players who, as of publishing time, are slated to give it a go in possibly the wackiest B1G season ever witnessed.
20. Peyton Ramsey, QB, Northwestern
Northwestern’s abysmal quarterback play last year necessitated someone new. Enter Ramsey, who heads from one B1G division to the other after throwing for more than 6,500 yards in three seasons with Indiana.
19. Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Nebraska
The Huskers’ electric all-purpose threat is expected to spend more time at his natural slot position as a true sophomore. If Nebraska is able to get its offense going, Robinson will likely be the primary beneficiary.
18. Cole Van Lanen, LT, Wisconsin
Van Lanen is the top offensive lineman at a program that’s built around them. The Badgers find a way to reload up front every single darn year, and Van Lanen is already a proven piece who started 13 of 14 games last year.
17. Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR, Iowa
You might not think of Smith-Marsette when it comes to elite pass-catchers in this year’s B1G. But this guy has the ability to break games wide open and should see more targets — provided he can develop good rapport with new Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras.
16. Whop Philyor, WR, Indiana
He makes the NCAA All-Name Team, too, and don’t be surprised if you hear his moniker repeated on Sundays for a long time. Philyor is the quintessential blend of size, speed and hands, and his 1,000 yards receiving last year speak to it.
15. Blaise Andres, LG, Minnesota
He’s the top performer on a big offensive line that got nastier as the 2019 season progressed. The Gophers’ rise is due in large part to an effective zone run game. On highlights from Minnesota’s stable of running backs last season, it’s not uncommon for one of them to find a cutback lane right on Andres’ side of center.
14. Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State
Master Teague III might have something to say about it, but on paper Sermon seems like the Buckeyes’ better all-around back. What an offseason it’s been for the Oklahoma transfer, too — can you imagine if Ohio State and others hadn’t led the charge to reinstate football ahead of Sermon’s grad transfer year?
13. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
CBS Sports ranks the Iowa center as a potential first-round NFL draft pick. Linderbaum is also Petras’ roommate, so he’ll deserve additional credit if the first-year quarterback’s transition goes smoothly.
12. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
The top wideout on a team with national championship aspirations, Olave found the end zone 12 times last year. He’s already one of Justin Fields’ favorite targets, and Olave says he’s hungrier than ever after the Buckeyes’ College Football Playoff semifinal lost in last season’s Fiesta Bowl.
11. Journey Brown, RB, Penn State
The conference bid adieu to some of its best running backs in memory after last season, including Jonathan Taylor, J.K. Dobbins and Rodney Smith. But Brown is back for his redshirt junior year after averaging almost 7 yards a carry in 2019.
10. Elijah Collins, RB, Michigan State
A player from floundering Michigan State, in this list’s top 10? While new coach Mel Tucker has his work cut out for him, finding a bell cow back in Year 1 is already taken care of. Collins is the conference’s top returning rusher after hitting 988 yards on 222 carries last year.
9. Josh Myers, C, Ohio State
How’d you like to be the guy who makes sure a Heisman favorite gets the ball every play? Myers’ job goes well beyond anchoring the middle of Ryan Day’s O-line, though; he’s considered by many the heart and soul of the offense given his “aggressive, nasty” approach.
8. Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State
The redshirt junior enters his third season as the starter in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions may have the best shot at derailing Ohio State’s Playoff plans. Clifford has the experience, accuracy and level-headedness needed of the quarterback at a program that could be considered a CFP dark horse itself.
7. Tanner Morgan, QB, Minnesota
Can you guess which B1G quarterback had the most yards per attempt in 2019? Justin Fields? Guess again. Clifford? Nope. Morgan averaged over 10 yards every time he dropped back to pass. Think about that. His 178.70 passer rating ranked fourth nationally behind Joe Burrow, Fields and Jalen Hurts.
6. Jalen Mayfield, T, Michigan
The COVID-19 opt-out trend hasn’t been kind to Michigan. But it got some good — make it great — news when Mayfield received a waiver to opt back in after signing with an agent. He’s the bona fide superstar on a roster with plenty of holes to fill. His 6-foot-5, 320-pound frame and uncanny athleticism will certainly help.
5. Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Another opt-back-in guy with a bright NFL future, Freiermuth is a complete tight end who can run routes and catch passes like Noah Fant but blocks like Mayfield or Myers. At 6-5 and 260 pounds, Freiermuth will be a matchup nightmare for most of the defenses on Penn State’s schedule.
4. Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue
Moore’s decision to come back when the B1G restored fall football wasn’t just good for Jeff Brohm and his bunch. It was good for the conference, because Moore — who only appeared in 4 games last year before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury — is just plain fun to watch. Unless he’s torching your team.
3. Wyatt Davis, OG, Ohio State
This is what happens when you recruit at the level Ohio State has for the past decade: you get multiple offensive lineman on a list like this blocking for insane talent under center, in the backfield and on the perimeter. Davis is ranked as the 2021 draft’s No. 2 offensive lineman and is going to make a lot of money pushing NFL defensive linemen around.
2. Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota
Another guy who opted back in. Bateman himself dealt with COVID during the summer, but the projected 1st-round pick is good to go. His star will shine even brighter without his best buddy Tyler Johnson attracting double teams. Bateman’s fast and sure-handed enough to have another remarkable year even as Numero Uno — he’s wearing jersey No. 0 this year, but that’s a different story — in Fleck’s offense.
1. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
No controversy here. Even in a year when the SEC and ACC will have been playing for over a month by the time the B1G kicks off, Fields is as much a Heisman favorite as Ohio State is a Playoff contender.