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You’re Nuts: Who is the best returning non-OSU WR in the Big Ten?

Which wide receivers should you be on the lookout for in 2021?

Purdue v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.

In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.

This week’s topic: Who is the best returning non-OSU WR in the Big Ten?

Gene’s Take: David Bell, Purdue

Now, of course we have to preface this by saying that Ohio State has the top two wide receivers in the conference and an army of pass-catchers behind them that would probably be the No. 1 guy at almost every other school in the Big Ten. As we talked about when we did the quarterbacks, the B1G isn’t a pass-heavy conference outside of the team in Columbus, so elite wide receiver talent is sometimes tough to come by. However, one of the few guys at another school who could probably start at Ohio State is none other than Purdue’s David Bell.

Bell has played second-fiddle to Rondale Moore during his time in West Lafayette, but he is a special talent in his own right. Ohio State fans are obviously well-versed in the abilities of Moore, who torched them to the tune of 12 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-20 loss for the Buckeyes back in 2018. Thankfully, Ohio State will not have to face Moore again this season when they finally take on the Boilermakers for the first time since that head-scratching loss, as he is now a member of the Arizona Cardinals. They will, however, have to make sure they don't suffer the same fate at the hands of Bell.

Coming out of high school, Bell was a high four-star wide receiver, ranked as the No. 19 wideout in the 2019 class and the No. 113 prospect overall. As a freshman in 2019, Bell won Big Ten Freshman of the Year for a campaign in which he caught 86 passes for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns. He was selected as a First Team AP Freshman All-American, and earned an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection after playing in all 12 games for the Boilermakers and starting in nine. Bell had six 100-yard performances in his first year on campus, including a 13-catch, 197-yard game against Iowa.

With Moore only playing in three games this past season, Bell really became the focal point of the Purdue offense. Starting all six games for the Boilermakers in 2020, Bell finished the campaign with 625 yards receiving — more than double the next-highest receiver on the roster — with a team-high eight touchdowns. He was a First Team All-Big Ten selection for his work on the field, and an Academic All-Big Ten honoree for his work in the classroom. An all-around phenomenal athlete, Bell features a rare combination of speed and route-running ability at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds that makes him a real tough guard for almost any defense.

If you follow Big Ten football closely, then you have likely already heard of Bell before, but I think this season he has a chance to truly become a household name in the sport. With Aidan O’Connell the leading candidate to return as Purdue’s starting quarterback, they duo will already have that QB-WR connection that is so important in a successful passing offense. The Boilermakers are one of the few teams in the conference who air it out quite a bit, and with Moore off to pursue his NFL career, Bell will now step up as the program’s star receiver.

I don't know if he’ll be able to put up Moore-esque numbers when Ohio State takes on Purude this season — I certainly hope not — but you will definitely want to keep an eye on David Bell in 2021.

Josh’s Take: Ty Fryfogle, Indiana

Gene summed it up well. At a minimum, Ohio State has the two best wide receivers in the Big Ten. They likely have two of the better receivers in the entire country, and a host of other guys waiting for their turn in the Buckeye offense. Brian Hartline has turned the OSU wide receiver room into Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters (shoutout to my Marvel heads). Answering this questions is like choosing the best non-chicken item on the Chick-fil-A menu.

We know the cream of the crop resides in Columbus, but there are other talented pass catchers elsewhere in the conference. David Bell of Purdue is a dynamic playmaker, and kudos to my podcast co-host for his selection. However, in this series, Gene and I are adversaries. My argument against Bell is that he has benefitted from the attention given to Rondale Moore, and plays in a spread offense with unlimited opportunity. Is he any better than generic “WR1” in a Mike Leach system? The answer is yes. David Bell is a stud, and he may indeed be the best of the rest. Rather than argue against Gene, I settled on a name (or two) that has haunted Ohio State in the past, or has the potential to haunt them in the future as an opportunity missed.

Rakim Jarrett could make Gene and I both look silly, so I had to throw his name out quickly. He is a former five-star recruit and sleeper for this category. Ohio State really went after Jarrett hard, hoping to land him in the 2020 class. He chose to stay near his home in Washington D.C., and is now playing alongside a Tagovailoa brother at Maryland. He only had 252 yards receiving as a freshman, but flashed star potential against Penn State (144 yards and 2 TD). Do not be surprised if he breaks out in a big way and reminds Buckeye fans of what could have been.

My top choice for best non-OSU receiver also plays in the Hoosier state, and he is the man who burned their secondary in 2020. Ty Fryfogle nearly broke our brains and our hearts in Bloomington last season. He blew up for 218 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes — on 7 catches! I still get a tight feeling in my chest when the Indiana game comes up. That performance showed what kind of special player Fryfogle is, and I expect him to build upon his breakout season.

Prior to 2020, Fryfogle was not a big name. His best season was his junior campaign in 2019, in which he had 600 yards and three touchdowns. So, like two games against an OSU secondary. It is entirely possible that he’s a late bloomer. I think it is more possible that Indiana did not know what it had in QB Michael Penix Jr., and that his growth will coincide with Indiana success. If the signal caller recovers from a torn ACL suffered late last year, Fryfogle should pick up where he left off when the two played together.

Before Penix Jr. suffered the injury against Maryland, he and Fryfogle had established great chemistry and put together a monster three-game stretch. In consecutive games against Michigan, Michigan St., and Ohio State, the wide receiver totaled 25 catches, 560 yards, and six touchdowns. If you extrapolate those stats over the course of a full season, you end up with some mind-blowing numbers. Those games were certainly outliers, but we’re not looking at one fluke of a performance. Fryfogle truly dominated half of the games he played with his starting quarterback.

Fryfogle will be back for a fifth season with the Hoosiers, and he has improved each year. Even if Penix Jr. is not 100% for the opener, his main target has developed a skillset which should make him a dangerous weapon for any quarterback. Fryfogle averaged 19.5 yards per catch last year, but he is not a one-dimensional burner. He runs great routes, which is a statement Shaun Wade would agree with. He has an ability to high-point jump balls, despite not being the tallest wide receiver. At 6’2”, 210, he plays even bigger. His versatility is what ultimately makes him the pick for me. If Indiana’s starting quarterback is back for most of the season, I believe Ty Fryfogle will become a known playmaker on the national level… And hopefully OSU has a plan to contain him.