Photo by Paul Bellinger
Nebraska Football

Projecting the 2018 All-Big Ten First Team

August 23, 2018
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The preseason AP All-American teams came out this week and there's some serious Big Ten flavor in them. So, it got me thinking, what will the All-Big Ten first team look like once the 2018 season wraps up? We don't get any kind of preseason power rankings from the conference itself so let's project a little bit.

This will be first team guys only and remember, the season hasn't started yet. These are projections. So absolutely save this and come back in December and tell me how wrong these all are.

Offense:

Quarterback: Trace McSorley, Penn State

This almost feels boring as McSorley has already been tabbed one of the best players in the country by Athlon and a preseason Second Team AP All-American, but oh well. There are justifiable concerns over what the junior quarterback will look like without his offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead (now the head coach at Mississippi State) and do-it-all school legend Saquon Barkley (whose leg muscles are now impressing the New York Giants) but McSorley has tools and a track record. He piloted the country's sixth-best passing attack by S&P+ last season, had the 11th-best passing success rate in the country, led the conference in passing yards per game and is the leading returning touchdown thrower and quarterback rating-er. Plus, who else takes the top spot from him? Iowa's Nathan Stanley?

Running Back: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

You'll see a lot of Wisconsin on this list. Just prepare for that. Taylor leads off because his position comes first, not because he's the best talent on their team. (Even though he is.) Only two guys ran for more yards last year than Taylor: San Diego State's Rashaad Penny, now graduated, and Stanford's Bryce Love. Taylor rumbled to 1,977 yards, 13 touchdowns and a 6.6 yards-per-carry average on the fourth-most carries in the country. As a freshman. He topped 200 yards rushing thrice. 

Running Back: J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State

Dobbins had 100 fewer carries than Taylor and only 500 fewer yards because he was a home-run-hitter every time he touched the ball. No one in the Big Ten had more 20-plus-yard carries than Dobbins' 16 and only one guy had more 30-plus-yard carries. Barkley had 11; Dobbins had 10. He also only fumbled it once. Powered by Dobbins, Ohio State's rushing attack ranked first in success rate and second in S&P+. The Buckeyes are replacing a quarterback and a center, so maybe Dobbins efficiency takes a decline. If so, he'll need to up the scoring. Seven touchdowns is pretty light for a guy with the numbers he had. 

Paul Bellinger

All-Purpose: J.D. Spielman, Nebraska

As a redshirt freshman, Spielman played on the same field as a guy who broke a program record for single-season receiving yardage and Spielman still managed to rank fifth in the Big Ten in yards himself. Fifty-five catches for 830 yards was a historic season in its own right for the first-year player. It's likely the receptions come down as the Huskers move towards a more balanced offensive attack than last season (90th in standard downs run rate in '17, 116th in passing downs run rate) but Spielman is expected to take a larger role in the rushing attack under new head coach Scott Frost as well as continue his role as a return man. Last season, Spielman was third in the conference in average return yardage on kickoffs. 

Wide Receiver: Juwan Johnson, Penn State

McSorley has to throw the ball to someone, right? Stud tight end Mike Gesicki is gone, Barkley is gone and McSorley's top target last season, DaeSean Hamilton, is gone. That leaves Johnson, who averaged six targets a game last year with a 68.4 percent catch and a 59.5 success rate. Johnson averaged exactly 13 yards a catch last year and should step into the Nittany Lions' "big play threat" role this season. If his quarterback builds off of 2017, Johnson should have a standout season.

Aaron Babcock

Wide Receiver: Stanley Morgan Jr., Nebraska 

Morgan is the most talented receiver in the Big Ten in 2018 and that's not really up for debate. Last season he led the conference in yards per game, was second in touchdowns and third in yards-per-catch amongst guys that averaged at least three catches a game. Take away the dropped balls, and Morgan would have become the Huskers' first-ever 1,000-yard wideout a season ago. His catch rate was at 56 percent and he still finished just 14 yards short. Nebraska has as dynamic a weapon as it could hope for in Frost's first year running the show. The senior should have another impressive season.

Tight End: Noah Fant, Iowa

It would be blasphemy to look at Fant, a preseason First Team AP All-American, and say, "Nah, there's a better tight end than you in the Big Ten." Fant is Iowa's clear-cut big-play threat in the passing game with 11 touchdowns on 30 receptions and a 16.5 yards-per-catch average last season. Under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, Iowa was much more aggressive in the passing game and that figures to continue into 2018. 

Offensive Line: Beau Benzschawel (OG), Wisconsin; Michael Jordan (OG), Ohio State; David Edwards (OT), Wisconsin; Michael Deiter (OT), Wisconsin; Tyler Biadasz (C), Wisconsin

The Badgers have perhaps the best offensive line in college football. They will be well-represented.

Defense:

Defensive Lineman: Nick Bosa, Ohio State

Bosa had 16 tackles for loss, 10 run stuffs, 8.5 sacks, two pass break-ups and a forced fumble last year. Offenses had a success rate of 11 percent when Boas was involved in the play. Bosa was not the primary starter last year. Bosa will be the primary starter this year. Good grief, man.

Defensive Lineman: Kenny Willekes, Michigan State

Hello and welcome to the Kenny Willekes Bandwagon. It's nice to meet you. A third-team All-Big Ten selection a season ago, the then-sophomore tied for sixth in the conference in tackles for loss (14.5) and tied for seventh in sacks (seven). Reports out of East Lansing suggest last year's breakout star has gotten even better and this here writer is suggesting he'll turn into a dominant pass-rushing, run-stuffing threat in 2018. He had 14 run stuffs a season ago and a 23.3 percent success rate.

Defensive Lineman: Rashan Gary, Michigan

As a sophomore, he had 16 run stuffs, 12 tackles for loss and six sacks en route to a first-team All-Big Ten selection. He'll be back there again.

Defensive Lineman:  Chase Winovich, Michigan

Winovich led the conference in tackles for loss (18.5) and finished tied for third in sacks (eight) last season. He was a second-team All-Big Ten selection and that feels like a robbery. In his final year in Ann Arbor, he won't be taking any steps back. This is another easy pick.

Linebacker: T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin

No linebacker group in the country was better at creating havoc than Wisconsin last season. Not one. Edwards led the group with 17 run stuffs (team-high), 11 tackles for loss (second on the team), seven pass break-ups and four picks (team-high). He earned All-Big Ten First Team status and then came back for his senior season. 

Linebacker: Paddy Fisher, Northwestern

I'm still not sold Paddy Fisher isn't Pat Fitzgerald's son in disguise. As a freshmanFitzgerald whoops, Fisher led the team in tackles 89, run stuffs (18) and forced fumbles (four). That was as a freshman. The ceiling for the kid is definitely higher than the roof, especially with three more seasons to learn under his dad.

Linebacker: Devin Bush, Michigan

Bush led the Wolverines in tackles a season ago. His sack numbers aren't absurd (five) and his tackles-for-loss numbers won't make you double-take (9.5) but Bush did everything. He had 18 run stuffs and eight pass break-ups. Michigan had one of the best defenses in the country a season ago and that doesn't figure to change. Bush was a first-team All-Big Ten selection, too; that doesn't figure to change either.

Cornerback: Lavert Hill, Michigan

Hill earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as a first-year starter last year. In 2017, he had 24 tackles (five for loss), seven pass break-ups, six runs stuffs and two picks. Per PFF College, he was targeted 36 times last season and didn't yield a single touchdown. Yikes. 

Cornerback: Amani Oruwariye, Penn State

Honestly just didn't want to put another Michigan defender. Because it should probably be Michigan's David Long. Shrug. Oruwariye was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season with 23.5 tackles, eight pass break-ups and four picks, though.

Safety: D'Cota Dixon, Wisconsin

As a junior, Dixon had 44.5 tackles from his safety spot, five run stuffs, three pass break-ups, 1.5 sacks, an interception and a forced fumble. In short, he did a lot. He's solid in coverage and one of the better run-supporting safeties in the league. Oh, and he also earned All-Big Ten First Team honors a year ago.

Safety: David Dowell, Michigan State

Dowell had five picks last season to lead the Spartans from his safety spot, the most by a Spartan in a single year since 2001. He also had four pass break-ups and 42 tackles. Senior Khari Willis figures to factor more into run support than Dowell, which is fine. That leaves the 6-foot-1 defensive back to roam the secondary. 

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