Nebraska Football Coach Scott Frost on the Sidelines
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

The Talent v. Development Debate Applied to the 2019 All-Big Ten Teams

December 05, 2019

The All-Big Ten teams came out Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ohio State was featured heavily. Michigan was in there often, so was Minnesota, and so was Penn State. 

Nebraska wasn’t. 

The logical conclusion would be, “Duh, they went 5-7.” Northwestern, at 3-9, had a first-team selection, though. And Purdue, at 4-8, also had a first-team selection. 

The next talking point that pops up this time of year is focused around how much talent each team has amassed. A reader on Twitter, in response to the news Nebraska didn’t have a single offensive player selected by the league’s coaches or media for any of the three teams, said “Yeah, we saw 12 games of that.” Fair. The Husker offense ended the season 74th in yards per play and tied for 72nd in points per play. Not great. But the All-Big Ten teams don’t necessarily reflect pure talent. At least, not directly. 

If anything, they seem a testament to development. 

Now, Ohio State, what with its unbeaten record and insane production on the trail, had five of the eight former 5-star kids that were selected for teams and three of those dudes were first-team selections and two of those dudes (Chase Young and Justin Fields) won the league’s Defensive and Offensive Player of the Year awards, respectively. Top-end talent matters when competing at the level Ohio State is competing at. 

But only eight 5-stars total helped to make up both the offense and the defense for three full teams in a league that currently has more top-50 squads by ESPN’s FPI than any other conference not named the SEC. (The third-team defense counted a fifth defensive lineman, so that group had 12 selections instead of 11.)

I was curious what the actual breakdown was on each of the three teams when it came to former high school star rankings.

So, here’s the breakdown:

First Team selections

  • 5-star recruits (5 total): DL AJ Epenesa, DL Chase Young, LB Micah Parsons, DB Jeff Okudah, and QB Justin Fields 
  • 4-star recruits (7 total): DL Yetur Gross-Matos, DB Lavert Hill, DB Jordan Fuller, RB J.K. Dobbins, WR Rashod Bateman, OL Ben Bredeson, and OL Tristan Wirfs
  • 3-star recruits (10 total): DL Joe Gaziano, LB Malik Harrison, LB Zack Baun, DB Antoine Winfield Jr., RB Jonathan Taylor, WR Tyler Johnson, OL Tyler Bizdasz, OL Jonah Jackson, OL Jon Runyan, and TE Brycen Hopkins

Second Team selections

  • 5-star recruits (one total): OL Wyatt Davis
  • 4-star recruits (seven total): DL Carter Coughlin, DB Lamar Jackson, WR KJ Hamler, OL Cesar Ruiz, OL Steven Gonzalez, OL Thayer Munford, and TE Pat Freiermuth 
  • 3-star recruits (12 total): DL Kwity Paye, DL Shaka Toney, LB Khaleke Hudson, LB Josh Uche, LB Chris Orr, DB Geno Stone, DB Damon Arnette, QB Tanner Morgan, RB Stevie Scott III, RB Rodney Smith, WR Whop Philyor, and OL Branden Bowen 
  • 2-star recruits or lower (two total): DL Kenny Willekes (unranked) and DB Antoine Brooks (2-star)

Third Team selections

  • 5-star recruits (two total): DB Shaun Wade, QB Shea Patterson
  • 4-star recruits (nine total): DL Carlo Kemp, DL Raequan Williams, LB Cam Brown, DB Ambry Thomas, RB Master Teague, WR David Bell, OL Josh Myers, OL Michael Owenu, and TE Luke Farrell
  • 3-star recruits (12 total): DL Khalil Davis, DL DaVon Hamilton, DL Robert Windsor, LB Dele Harding, LB Paddy Fisher, DB Sydney Brown, DB Michael Ojemudia, RB Reggie Corbin, WR Chris Olave, OL Blaise Andries, OL Alex Palczewski, OL Alaric Jackson

In total, 67 different players earned All-Big Ten status on offense and defense on either of the three teams. Of those 67, 36 of them came out of high school ranked as a 3-star prospect or lower. That’s more than half, for the math-allergic crowd.

There were twice as many former 3-star players on the first-team offense and defense as there were 5-star players. And there were more 3-star guys on both the second- and third-teams than there were 5- and 4-star players combined. 

The positional breakdown is interesting:

  • First Team front seven: three 5-stars, one 4-star, three 3-stars
  • First Team defensive backs: one 5-star, two 4-stars, one 3-star
  • First Team offensive linemen: no 5-stars, two 4-stars, two 3-stars
  • First Team skill players: no 5-stars, two 4-stars, three 3-stars
  • Second Team front seven: no 5-stars, one 4-star, five 3-stars, one unranked
  • Second Team defensive backs: no 5-stars, one 4-star, two 3-stars, one 2-star
  • Second Team offensive linemen: one 5-star, three 4-stars, one 3-star
  • Second Team skill players: no 5-stars, two 4-stars, three 3-stars
  • Third Team front seven: no 5-stars, three 4-stars, five 3-stars
  • Third Team defensive backs: one 5-star, one 4-star, two 3-stars
  • Third Team offensive line: no 5-stars, two 4-stars, three 3-stars
  • Third Team skill players: no 5-stars, three 4-stars, two 3-stars

Nebraska had two players among the 67 selected. 

Both of them came on defense, meaning for the first time since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska didn’t have a single offensive player among the 33 picked for any of the three all-conference teams. It’s been a full five years since the Huskers had a first-team All-Big Ten player and, as clearly shown above, the barrier to entry in that category isn’t convincing 5-star prospects out on the trail to come play for you. 

*Star rankings come from the 247 composite
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