Early Projections: Which Players Could Be Among the Best Around the Big Ten?

By David Wertheim on April 6, 2019 at 8:45 am
Rondale Moore
Thomas J. Russo- USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Day is now the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, and with that, he is tasked with getting the Buckeyes through a tough Big Ten conference which features elite players on almost every team. 

With each team in the Big Ten now facing nine conference foes, Ohio State will need to be familiar with their opponents and (obviously) who their best players are.

Let's take a look at who could be some of the best in the Big Ten this upcoming season.

Rondale Moore, Wide Receiver, Purdue

Ah, yes. Let's start out with a name we all know and love, Rondale Moore.

You may remember Moore, the wide receiver out of Louisville, as the man who gashed the Buckeyes for 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Boilermakers 49-20 upset of Ohio State back in October.

The Buckeyes weren't the only team Moore victimized, however. He ended the season with 114 receptions for 1,258 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also added two rushing touchdowns.

At the conclusion of the season, Moore was given the Paul Hornung award, given to college football's most versatile player. He was also named a first-team All American by both the Associated Press as well as the Football Writers Association of America. In addition, he was named the CBS Sports Freshman of the Year.

The list of accolades for Moore in his freshman season was long, but all were much deserved. He will continue to ravage the Big Ten for (at least) two more years.

Luckily, Ohio State will avoid Moore and Purdue this season, unless the two schools eventually meet in the Big Ten Championship Game. 

Jonathan Taylor, Running Back, Wisconsin

Another player whom you have likely heard of, Taylor steamrolled opposing defenses last year to the tune of 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. 

Taylor had some absolutely incredible efforts, including when he rushed for a whopping 321 yards and three touchdowns against Purdue, and followed that up with a 205 yard, one touchdown performance against Miami (FL) in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Save for a 46-yard outlier against Northwestern, Taylor's second-lowest output of the season was a 101 yard effort against Michigan. He was an absolute monster all year, and will follow it up with (at least) one more campaign in Madison for coach Paul Chryst.

Taylor and the Badgers will visit Ohio State on Oct. 26. It should be fun to watch the Buckeye defense try and stop a man who seemingly cannot be stopped.

Taylor earned the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back for 2018, and was also named a unanimous first-team All American.

A.J. Epenesa, Defensive Lineman, Iowa

This is a name you may not have heard of, despite his lofty five-star ranking coming out of high school.

Epenesa is an Iowa legacy who decided to continue the family tradition by playing for the Hawkeyes. He certainly has not disappointed in the early part of his career.

Epenesa recorded 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles a season ago, and expect those numbers to go up here in 2019.

A matchup nightmare, the 6'5, 277 pound freak was able to also record four pass deflections, in addition to the stats mentioned above. He was named first-team All Big Ten. Expect to hear Epenesa's name mentioned a lot this season. Again, the Buckeyes will avoid him and the Hawkeyes, unless the two schools meet in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Kenny Willekes, Defensive Lineman, Michigan State

This is another name you may have heard of, solely because he terrorized Ohio State when the two schools met last November. 

Willekes torched the Buckeyes for 13 total tackles and a sack, one of his 8.5 on the season, to go with his 37 solo tackles.

The story of Willekes is an interesting one. He was not ranked out of high school, and had just a few Division-II football offers. He chose to walk-on to Michigan State as a linebacker, and clearly made the right choice, because he is set up for NFL success following this season, after choosing to come back to Michigan State for one final campaign.

Following the season, Willekes was named first-team All Big Ten and a second team All-American, as well as the 2018 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Willekes is another name you will certainly hear a lot this season, and the Buckeyes will see the Spartans in Columbus on Oct. 5.

Paddy Fisher, Linebacker, Northwestern

In the mold of Pat Fitzgerald himself, it is fitting that a Northwestern linebacker would be in this article.

Fisher was a monster in the middle for the Wildcats last season as a sophomore, racking up 116 total tackles, including 11 against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Fisher was named First-Team All Big Ten by the coaches following the season, and is poised to have another monster junior year.

There is a lot of talent in the Big Ten this upcoming season. It will be interesting to watch around the conference, as you may very well see these players (and several more) on nationwide All-American lists come the end of the year.

It is an exciting time to be a fan of Big Ten football.

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