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Athlon Sports ranks the best Big Ten wide receivers of the BCS Era.
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
The Big Ten wide receiver ranks were highlighted by two Biletnikoff Award winners, numerous All-Americans and a host of records from the Joe Tiller-Drew Brees era at Purdue. Here are the Top 10 Big Ten wide receivers of the BCS Era:
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Braylon Edwards, Michigan (2001-04)
Stats: 252 rec., 3,541 yds, 39 TDs
Not many players have three consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns but that is what the Detroit native did at Michigan. He was uncoverable during his time at Ann Arbor, setting school records in every major receiving category. His 39 career touchdowns remain a Big Ten record. Edwards claimed Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and the Biletnikoff Award as a senior in 2004. The consensus All-American finished 10th in the Heisman voting that season as well.
2. Charles Rogers, Michigan State (2001-02)
Stats: 135 rec., 2,821 yds, 27 TDs, 110 rush, TD, 177 ret. yds, TD
The in-state product from Saginaw played just two seasons for the Spartans but was an All-Big Ten performer both years. He posted back-to-back seasons with at least 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning consensus All-American and Biletnikoff honors in 2002. He set an NCAA record with 13 straight games with a TD catch (since broken) and owns just about every Michigan State receiving record. His 1,470 yards in 2001 trail only one player in Big Ten history…
3. Lee Evans, Wisconsin (1999-2003)
Stats: 175 rec., 3,468 yds, 27 TDs
Despite missing extended time with a torn ACL, Evans is the best wide receiver to play at Wisconsin since Al Toon. His two-year run was as good as any in Big Ten history, posting a league-record 1,545 yards in 2001. He came back after the knee injury and nearly duplicated his numbers with 1,213 yards and 13 TDs in 2003. His 10-catch, 258-yard, 5-TD game against Michigan State might have been the best single performance by any Badger. Evans is one of two B1G players to ever catch five TDs in one game (Omar Douglas) and he is fifth all-time in Big Ten history in receiving yards.
4. David Boston, Ohio State (1996-98)
Stats: 191 rec., 2,855 yds, 34 TDs, 959 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Suspicions of performance enhancers will always hang around Boston's resume so it is difficult to evaluate where he ranks. While on the field at Ohio State, he was dominant. He caught 27 touchdowns over his last two seasons and was the superstar — 85 rec., 1,435 yds, 13 TD — for the '98 team that likely should have played Tennessee for a national championship. His 34 TDs are fourth all-time in league history, he excelled on special teams and was the eighth overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
5. D’Wayne Bates, Northwestern (1995-98)
Stats: 210 rec., 3,370 yds, 26 TDs
From the time he stepped onto Ryan Field, Bates was a playmaker for the Wildcats. He was the leading receiver on the ’95 Rose Bowl team as a true freshman before setting school records for yards (1,196) and touchdowns (12) as a sophomore. After missing all but one game as a junior, Bates returned to break his own receiving records with a huge senior season: 83 receptions and 1,245 yards. In just three years, he also set Northwestern’s career marks for receptions (210), touchdowns (26) and yards (3,370). His 3,370 yards were second all-time when he left Evanston.
6. Allen Robinson, Penn State (2011-13)
Stats: 177 rec., 2,479 yards, 17 TDs
With a fourth full season at Penn State, Robinson would have become one of the greatest wideouts in Big Ten history. His 97 catches in 2013 are tied for fourth in Big Ten history and his 1,432 yards are also good for fourth all-time in league history. And he did all of that with a true freshman quarterback in ’13. He owns basically every major Penn State single-season and career receiving record and consistently made huge plays in huge moments in close games.
7. Plaxico Burress, Michigan State (1998-99)
Stats: 131 rec., 2,155 yds, 20 TDs
Many of Michigan State’s best — Rogers, Burress and Devin Thomas — played only briefly in the Big Ten, yet, their influence is no less felt. The eighth overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft was unstoppable in two seasons in East Lansing. He posted a school-record 65 receptions for 1,013 yards and eight scores in his first year. Then broke his own record with 66 receptions, 1,142 yards and 12 touchdowns in his second year. The massive 6-foot-6, 230-pounder rewrote the MSU record book in just two seasons.
8. James Hardy, Indiana (2005-07)
Stats: 191 rec., 2,740 yds, 36 TDs
Few players have ever been as effective in the red zone as Hardy was for the Hoosiers. He scored at least 10 touchdowns in each of his three seasons, capping his remarkable career with a monster junior season: 79 receptions, 1,125 yards and 16 TDs — which is tied for third-best in Big Ten history. His 36 career TD catches rank third all-time in the Big Ten and he owns all three major school career receiving records. His 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame, much like Burress, was impossible to stop in jump ball situations and after leaving Indiana early, Hardy was selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
9. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin (2010-13)
Stats: 202 rec., 3,140 yds, 23 TDs, 291 rush, 2 TDs, 1,387 ret. yds, TD
From an all-around standpoint, Abbrederis is one of the greatest to ever suit up in the Big Ten. He is one reception from being in the top 10 all-time, is eighth all-time in yards and contributed to UW’s offense in more ways than most wideouts. He was used in the ground game, was an All-American caliber returner and helped lead Wisconsin to three straight Big Ten championships. He played in at least 13 games all four years, finishing with 53 career games to his credit.
10. Eric Decker, Minnesota (2006-09)
Stats: 227 rec., 3,119 yds, 24 TDs, 114 rush, TD
Few players have been as consistent as Decker was at Minnesota and had he not missed nearly half a season as a senior, his career numbers would be among the Big Ten’s best. He started 12 games as a freshman and posted an impressive sophomore line of 68 catches, 909 yards and nine scores. He improved on those numbers as a junior, setting career highs with 84 catches and 1,074 yards. He started 44 of the first 45 games of his career. His 227 catches are sixth all-time and his 3,119 yards are ninth all-time. With five more games as a senior, he could have finished in the top five in both categories.
Just Missed the cut:
11. Marvin McNutt, Iowa (2008-11)
Stats: 170 rec., 2,861 yds, 28 TDs
The speedy big-play target for Kirk Ferentz capped an excellent career with one of the most prolific single-seasons in Big Ten history. He caught 82 passes for 1,315 (seventh-best in league history) and 12 touchdowns. All three of which set or tied Iowa single-season records. No Hawkeye has more career receiving yards than McNutt.
12. Ron Johnson, Minnesota (1998-2001)
Stats: 196 rec., 2,931 yds, 31 TDs
His 31 TD receptions are tied for sixth all-time in Big Ten history. Johnson posted three straight seasons with at least seven touchdowns and caught 115 passes for 1,962 yards and 20 TDs over his final two seasons.
13. Dorien Bryant, Purdue (2004-07)
Stats: 292 rec., 3,548 yds, 21 TDs, 421 rush, 6 TDs, 2,250 ret. yds, 3 TDs
Bryant is No. 2 all-time in receptions with 292 and No. 3 all-time in yards with 3,548. But Bryant was much more versatile than his predecessors. His 6,219 all-purpose yards rank fourth all-time behind Ron Dayne, Archie Griffin and Anthony Thompson.
14. Taylor Stubblefield, Purdue (2001-04)
Stats: 325 rec., 3,629 yds, 21 TDs
Deciphering Joe Tiller's wide receivers is nearly impossible. Stubblefield is No. 1 all-time in the B1G with 325 catches and No. 2 all-time with 3,629 yards. The consensus All-American never had fewer than 73 catches (Fr.) or 789 yards (So.) in any of his four seasons.
15. John Standeford, Purdue (2000-03)
Stats: 266 rec., 3,788 yds, 27 TDs
Standeford is No. 3 all-time in Big Ten history with 266 receptions and No. 1 all-time with 3,788 yards. His final two seasons are one of the top two-year runs by any wideout in league history: 152 rec., 2,457 yards, 17 TDs.
Best of the Rest:
16. Brandon Lloyd, Illinois (1999-02): 155 rec., 2,527 yards, 19 TDs, 328 ret. yds
Talented wideout posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with at least 8 TDs in both.
17. B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State (2008-11): 218 rec., 3,086 yards, 25 TDs
All-time leading MSU receiver is No. 7 all-time in receptions and one of nine to top 1,300 yards in a season.
18. Michael Jenkins, Ohio State (2001-03): 157 rec., 2,746 yards, 16 TDs, Ret. TD
Helped lead OSU to a national title with critical plays and a 1,000-yard season in 2002.
19. Mario Manningham, Michigan (2005-07): 137 rec., 2,310 yds, 27 TDs, 176 rush
Averaged one touchdown catch every 5.1 receptions in just three seasons.
20. Devin Thomas, Michigan State (2006-07): 85 rec., 1,350 yds, 9 TDs, 177 rush, 1,170 ret. yds
His 2,590 all-purpose yards in 2007 are second all-time (Larry Johnson, 2,655) in conference history.
21. Brandon Williams, Wisconsin (2002-05): 202 rec., 2,924 yards, 10 TDs, 2,787 ret. yards, 2 TDs
Versatile do-everything performer is eighth all-time in all-purpose yards. Played 52 games.
22. Courtney Roby, Indiana (2001-04): 170 rec., 2,524 yds, 12 TDs, 207 rush, 2 TDs, 572 ret. yds
Consistent performer for Hooisers before pass-happy offenses took over.
23. Jeremy Gallon, Michigan (2010-13): 173 rec., 2,704 yds, 17 TDs, 991 ret. yards
Owns Big Ten single-game yards record (369) and Michigan season yards record (1,373).
24. A.J. Jenkins, Illinois (2008-11): 167 rec., 2,432 yds, 19 TDs, 773 ret. yds, TD
Monster senior season — 90 rec., 1,276 yards, 8 TDs — made him a first-round draft pick.
25. Chris Daniels, Purdue (1996-99): 170 rec., 1,845 yards, 15 TDs
Owns Big Ten single-game (21) and single-season (121) receptions records.