Ten first-year Big Ten players we are excited to see this fall
The Big Ten Conference announced Wednesday a return to football this fall. The season that once seemed lost is now re-energized with the hopes and expectations every new season brings. Among the most anticipated aspects of a new season is seeing highly-touted players make their collegiate debuts. Here are 10 first-year players in the conference we are most excited to see this fall.
MIND OF MIKE: Rejoice! The Big Ten is returning
ALANTE BROWN, Nebraska
It will likely be a young, or at least inexperienced, receiving corps at Nebraska this year, and several of their talented additions from the 2020 class could see the field. While many will hope to see former four-star Zavier Betts, it is more likely that Brown gets significant reps in 2020. A high school quarterback, Brown originally signed with Texas Tech in the 2019 class before opting for the prep school route. He’s earned strong buzz around Lincoln this offseason.
LUKE FORD, Illinois
The top-ranked tight end prospect in 2018, Ford signed with Georgia but transferred after his freshman season to be closer to family members in declining health. Whereas quarterbacks seem to get their transfer waivers rubber-stamped, though, Ford’s waiver request was denied. Twice. So, 2020 will be the former four-star’s first season playing for the Illini, and there is plenty of excitement to see that potential fulfilled after two seasons on the sidelines.
C.J. HANSON, Rutgers
After starting 33 games at center for Rutgers, fifth-year senior Michael Maietti transferred to Missouri for his final collegiate season, putting one of the Scarlet Knights’ most secure positions in limbo. The man tasked with replacing Maietti will be Hanson, a former two-star prospect out of nearby St. John Vianney High School. His play at a crucial position will have a significant impact on the success of Rutgers’ offense this season.
DANIEL JACKSON, Minnesota
One of the Big Ten’s most significant opt-outs was Minnesota wide receiver Rashod Bateman, who is expected to be a first-round pick in next April’s NFL Draft. The loss of Bateman will open up reps at the receiver position, and one player who is expected to assume some of those reps is Jackson. Wide receiver has one of the gentlest learning curves and sees more early contribution than other positions. As the highest-ranked receiver in Minnesota’s 2020 class, Jackson comes in at a good time to see immediate playing time.
RAKIM JARRETT, Maryland
The only five-star to sign with a Big Ten program in 2020 not named Ohio State, Jarrett joins a Maryland offense that has some questions at quarterback. Returning starter Josh Jackson has opted out of playing in the 2020 season, which leaves a quarterback battle between Alabama transfer Taulia Tagovailoa and redshirt freshman Lance Legendre. Whoever runs the Terrapins’ huddle will be happy to have the explosive Jarrett in his receiving corps.
PARIS JOHNSON, Ohio State
Offensive line is a difficult position to contribute early at the Power Five level, but there are few offensive linemen who possess the Johnson's skill set. Heading into the 2020 season, Johnson is in a battle for the starting right tackle spot with third-year sophomore Nick Petit-Frere, another former five-star. Even if he does not earn the starting right tackle role, though, expect Johnson to be the primary back-up at both tackle positions and see plenty of reps throughout the season.
KEANDRE LAMBERT-SMITH, Penn State
There has been strong buzz from State College about several of the Nittany Lions’ young players, but the one who may have the best shot at seeing the field early and often is Lambert-Smith. The former four-star prospect comes into a good situation for early playing time with several of the top receivers from last season, including NFL Draft pick K.J. Hamler, no longer with the program. Lambert-Smith came into the program looking like a college-ready player, and should get his chance this fall.
ANDRE SELDON, Michigan
The announcement last month from Michigan senior starting cornerback Ambry Thomas that he would be skipping the 2020 season and entering the NFL Draft means more playing time for young defensive backs. There are several young players who are candidates to receive increased reps this season, but the most intriguing may be Seldon. What he lacks in height, Seldon has proved time and again he makes up for in competitiveness. If there are reps to be had, Seldon is going to put up a strong fight to earn them.
PETER SKORONSKI, Northwestern
In the best-case scenario, I am sure Northwestern would like to redshirt its prize offensive lineman from the 2020 class, Skoronski. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald may not have that luxury, though, with depth at the position thin and Skoronski being both talented and versatile. Only the second four-star offensive linemen Northwestern has signed in the Rivals era, Skoronski definitely needs to add strength from where we saw him at the All-American Bowl last January if he is going to play this season.
PAYTON THORNE, Michigan State
It is a new era of Michigan State football, and along with first-year head coach Mel Tucker this season will see a new starting quarterback under center for the Spartans. Who that quarterback will be is still uncertain, but Thorne is heavily in the mix. A late addition in Michigan State’s 2019 recruiting class, Thorne earned positive reviews for his football IQ and athleticism during his redshirt season in East Lansing.