Every college football team has players most would consider underrated. However, defining underrated players is no easy assignment, as that term varies in meaning between fans and experts. With the 2016 season approaching, Athlon Sports wanted to take a look at some players deserving of more preseason accolades or discussion. In an effort to get to 15 names, we tried to stick to players that had yet to earn all-conference honors in their career. However, a few exceptions were made.
Related: Big Ten Predictions for 2016
The Big Ten has its share of underrated players on both sides of the ball for 2016, including Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs, Ohio State offensive lineman Billy Price, Penn State safety Marcus Allen and Michigan defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow.
The Big Ten's 15 Most Underrated Players for 2016
Marcus Allen, S, Penn State
With the departure of three key starters in the trenches, there’s extra pressure on Penn State’s secondary in 2016. However, the Nittany Lions’ pass defense is prepared for the challenge, as Allen and cornerback Grant Haley anchor a secondary that should be a strength. Allen finished second on the team with 81 tackles (five for a loss) last season and recorded two pass breakups and two forced fumbles. The junior has blossomed into one of the Big Ten’s top defensive backs.
Cethan Carter, TE, Nebraska
Nebraska’s receiving corps could be among the best in the Big Ten this fall, and this unit will only get deeper with the return of De’Mornay Pierson-El from injury, along with Carter’s continued development at tight end. The Louisiana native is coming off his best season in Lincoln, catching 24 passes for 329 yards and two scores in 11 contests. With quarterback Tommy Armstrong expected to take a step forward as a passer in the second year under coordinator Danny Langsdorf, Carter should see more passes in his direction this fall.
Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana
Only three receivers – Cobbs, Aaron Burbridge and Chris Godwin – eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for receivers in the Big Ten last fall. While Burbridge and Godwin both earned a spot on the All-Big Ten team, Cobbs’ 2015 season was largely overlooked. In 13 games, he grabbed 60 passes for 1,035 yards and four scores. Additionally, Cobbs recorded four 100-yard efforts over Indiana’s final seven contests.
Michael Dunn, OT, Maryland
From walk-on to potential All-Big Ten player – that’s the quick way to describe Dunn’s career in College Park. The Maryland native has emerged as a key cog in Maryland’s offensive line after a redshirt season in 2012. Over the last three years, Dunn has started 37 games and earned honorable mention all-conference honors in 2015.
Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan
Just how valuable was Glasgow to Michigan’s run defense in 2015? Here’s a stat to consider: Through the first nine games, the Wolverines did not allow an opponent to rush for more than 145 yards in a single game. However, with Glasgow sidelined due to injury, Michigan surrendered over 300 rushing yards in games against Indiana and Ohio State. Glasgow finished the season with 25 tackles (five for a loss) and one sack, but his impact goes beyond the box score as a key cog on the interior for coordinator Don Brown.
Josh Hicks/Robert Martin, RB, Rutgers
New coordinator Drew Mehringer inherits an offense with uncertainty at quarterback and in the receiving corps, but there’s solid duo leading the way on the ground with Josh Hicks and Robert Martin. This tandem’s production was largely overlooked due to the Scarlet Knights’ four wins in 2015, but Martin and Hicks combined for 1,437 yards and 10 scores. Mehringer is expected to lean heavily on this duo in 2016.
Godwin Igwebuike, S, Northwestern
Igwebuike delivered a standout performance in his first year as a starter, collecting 87 tackles (4.5 for a loss), five passes defended and one forced fumble. While Igwebuike didn’t record an interception last season, he picked off three passes in 11 games in 2014. The junior is poised for his best year with the Wildcats, but he’s already earned a spot as one of the Big Ten’s top safeties.
Jalen Myrick, CB, Minnesota
Minnesota’s secondary was quietly one of the better pass defenses in the Big Ten last season. The Golden Gophers ranked 25th nationally in pass efficiency defense and only allowed seven passing scores in conference play. This unit suffered a few key losses from its 2015 group, but there’s still a solid foundation in place at cornerback with Myrick returning. The Georgia native played in 10 games (with seven starts) and recorded 27 stops (3.5 for a loss), three interceptions and three pass breakups. He should be one of the leaders for Minnesota’s defense this fall.
Billy Price, OL, Ohio State
Considering Ohio State returns only six starters and has several new faces stepping into the starting lineup, it’s not easy to pinpoint a player that is underrated in 2016. However, Price is a good candidate for this award, as the Ohio native has started all 28 games in his career for the Buckeyes. Price earned third-team All-Big Ten honors in 2015, but he could be among the nation’s best at his position this fall.
Josiah Price, TE, Michigan State
With the departure of Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr., the Spartans are looking for a few weapons to emerge in the passing game for new starting quarterback Tyler O’Connor. Coach Mark Dantonio won’t have to look far for answers, as Price is poised to take on an even bigger role in 2016. In 12 appearances last season, he grabbed 23 passes for 267 yards and six scores. And in 2014, Price was even more involved as he caught 26 passes for 374 yards and six touchdowns.
Jake Replogle, DT, Purdue
Lost in Purdue’s struggles in the win column recently has been the development of Replogle into one of the Big Ten’s top defensive linemen. After appearing in seven games as a backup in 2013, Replogle started all 12 games for the Boilermakers in 2014 and finished the year with 10.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks. He took those totals even higher in 2016, as Replogle recorded 60 tackles (14 for a loss), two sacks and two pass breakups.
Sojourn Shelton, CB, Wisconsin
Shelton has quietly anchored one of the cornerback spots for Wisconsin over the last three seasons and is one of the Big Ten’s top defensive backs for 2016. However, a strong argument could be made Shelton deserves more credit for his first three years in Madison. Shelton has defended 25 passes in his career and has also recorded five interceptions. He’s also a key cog in a secondary that finished second nationally against the pass in 2015.
Dawuane Smoot, DL, Illinois
Smoot’s 2015 season might have been one of the most underrated performances by a defender in the Big Ten. In 12 games, Smoot recorded 40 tackles (15 for a loss), eight sacks and three forced fumbles. Despite the standout campaign, Smoot did not earn all-conference honors. However, with new coach Lovie Smith and coordinator Hardy Nickerson calling the shots on defense, it’s a safe bet Smoot takes the next step in his development this fall.
Matt VandeBerg, WR, Iowa
Four of Iowa’s top six statistical receiving options from 2015 have expired their eligibility, but the cupboard isn’t totally bare for quarterback C.J. Beathard. VandeBerg delivered his best season in Iowa City in 2015, catching 65 passes for 703 yards and four scores. He only posted one 100-yard effort (Iowa State) last year but caught at least three passes in 11 of Iowa’s 14 contests.