The Big Ten returns this year as one of college football’s premier conferences. It’s stock full of some of the most talented players in the country, not to mention future NFL stars.
Last season saw the likes of Desmond King, Jabrill Peppers, and Malik Hooker – just to name a few – dominate the Big Ten and become faces of the sport.
As the 2017 season inches closer, we attempted to make sense of all the talent the conference has to offer.
You’ll probably disagree with at least a couple picks (or their placement), but here are our top 10 players in the Big Ten.
No. 1: Saquon Barkley
The best player in the conference is undoubtedly Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Coming off of a season that saw him explode for 1,898 total yards and 22 touchdowns, Barkley is back as the leader of the upstart Nittany Lions.
He played like a #1 draft pick RT Saquon Barkley out here just playing with the USC defense pic.twitter.com/K4hDcq9FwH— THUNDA (@mbgxxx) January 3, 2017
With a potential first-round pick again lining up in the backfield, Penn State remains firmly in the hunt for another Big Ten title.
No. 2: J.T. Barrett
Ohio State’s most valuable player and longtime starter, J.T. Barrett returns as the face of the Buckeyes. He’s 26-4 under center and is primed to cap off his historic career with what might be his best season to date.
The Scarlet and Gray go as Barrett goes, which could spell great things for OSU this year.
No. 3: Trace McSorley
The second Nittany Lion on this list, quarterback Trace McSorley has become a household name in college football. He’s the best pure passer in the Big Ten and proved as much last season, throwing for 3,614 yards and 29 touchdowns with just eight interceptions.
What’s more, McSorley scored big wins over Minnesota, OSU, and conference title runner-up Wisconsin. Look for him to build off his breakout year with another strong outing as a junior.
No. 4: Josey Jewell
He doesn’t get much praise nationally, but Iowa’s Josey Jewell has been as good as a defender as you’ll find in the conference. Jewell led the Hawkeyes with 124 tackles and could top those numbers with a productive 2017 season. Expect more acclaim to head his way this year.
No. 5: Justin Jackson
If Barkley is the best running back in the Big Ten, then a close second resides at Northwestern.
Justin Jackson has more than 900 carries to his name and continued his collegiate dominance in 2016 with 1,743 total yards and 15 touchdowns.
A fourth-straight 1,000-yard campaign is a near certainty at this point.
No. 6: Tegray Scales
Like Jewell, Tegray Scales gets little in the way attention. The conference leader in both total tackles (125) and tackles for loss (24), Scales broke out for the Hoosiers in 2016 and cemented his status as an elite linebacker in the Big Ten.
Few can match Scales production and motor, which will be on full display when Indiana hosts OSU opening week under the lights.
No. 7: Jerome Baker
After enjoying a stellar breakout season, Jerome Baker is back for more as not only a junior, but as one of the Buckeyes top defenders. He finished second on the team in tackles (83) and flashed the potential to be something really special come Week One.
No. 8: Mike Weber
The latest in a long line of productive Buckeye tailbacks, Mike Weber is set to be the stand-alone workhorse for the team in 2017. That means big numbers for Weber, who became just the third OSU freshman back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark last season.
With four returning offensive linemen and a retooled passing game, Weber should feast on the Big Ten.
No. 9: Mike Gesicki
Along with McSorley, tight end Mike Gesicki is another guy that came out of nowhere only to become a key contributor on the defending conference champs.
He was as sure-handed as they come and set school records for tight end receptions (48) and receiving yards (679). Plan on more of the same from Gesicki this year.
No. 10: Tyquan Lewis
The 2017 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year is looking to go out on top as a senior after recording eight sacks and three forced fumbles last season. Having already proven to be more than a product of Joey Bosa’s success, Tyquan Lewis can put his stamp on the Buckeyes hallowed program.
Honorable Mention: Nick Westbrook (WR, Indiana) Rodney Smith (RB, Minnesota), Rashan Gary (DL, Michigan), Maurice Hurst (DL, Michigan), Sam Hubbard (DL, OSU), Billy Price (OL, OSU), Akrum Wadley (RB, Iowa), Troy Fumagalli (TE, Wisconsin), T.J. Edwards (LB, Wisconsin), LJ Scott (RB, Michigan State)