Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Whether it’s a true freshman playing for the first time, a junior college recruit stepping into the lineup or a player on the roster that’s finally ready to assume a starting job, predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
The Big Ten is home to a handful of intriguing names for 2014, as Ohio State receiver/running back Dontre Wilson could emerge as one of the conference’s top playmakers, while Illinois’ quarterback Wes Lunt could be in for a huge season under coordinator Bill Cubit.
On the defensive side, Nebraska's defensive tackle duo of Vincent Valentine and Maliek Collins are two names to remember. Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel has the difficult task of replacing standout Chris Borland.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2014 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
Big Ten Breakout Players for 2014
Antonio Allen, S, Indiana
Allen was one of Indiana’s top recruits in the 2013 signing class, ranking as the No. 292 recruit in the 247Sports Composite. The Indiana native played in seven games and made one start but suffered a season-ending knee injury against Michigan in early November. Allen finished 2013 with 35 tackles and one fumble recovery. The sophomore is a key piece in Indiana’s rebuilding effort on defense, especially after the Hoosiers allowed 24 passing scores last year. Allen has the speed and talent to be a difference-maker on the back end of Indiana’s defense.
Vonn Bell/Tyvis Powell, S, Ohio State
Ohio State’s defense finished fifth in the Big Ten in points allowed (22.6 per game) and ranked No. 7 in total yards allowed. Those numbers have to improve in 2014 if the Buckeyes want to make the playoff, and the defense will have two new assistant coaches (Larry Johnson Sr. and Chris Ash) leading the way. Top cornerback Bradley Roby left early for the NFL, leaving three new starters in the secondary. However, there’s no shortage of talent ready to emerge, as Bell and Powell are two of the Big Ten’s rising stars at safety. Bell recorded 19 stops and one interception in 14 appearances last year, while Powell recorded 48 tackles and two pass breakups.
Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin
Biegel and fellow linebackers Derek Landisch, Marcus Trotter and Joe Schobert have big shoes to fill in 2014, as the Badgers face a difficult assignment in replacing standout Chris Borland. While Borland will be missed, Wisconsin isn’t in bad shape at linebacker. Trotter and Landisch are seniors, while Biegel is primed for a breakout year. The Wisconsin native redshirted due to injury in 2012 and played in 13 contests with two starts last season. He recorded 25 tackles in 2013 and finished with two sacks. Expect Biegel to become one of the top defenders on Dave Aranda’s defense in 2014.
Wes Brown, RB, Maryland
Maryland’s rushing attack finished No. 10 in the ACC and averaged just 3.3 yards per rush in conference games. The Terrapins return talented backs in Brandon Ross and Albert Reid, but keep an eye on Brown’s performance this fall. He sat out 2013 due to a suspension, but ranked as a four-star recruit in the 2012 247Sports Composite. Brown rushed for 382 yards and two scores as a true freshman and adds speed to the Terrapins’ backfield. A committee approach at running back in College Park seems likely, but Brown will be a key piece of coordinator Mike Locksley’s offense. Another name to remember for the Terrapins: True freshman lineman Damian Prince.