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Big Ten's Impact Freshmen To Watch in 2013

Derrick Green

Named after two transcendent freshmen — Minnesota’s Darrell Thompson and Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El — the Thompson-Randle El Big Ten Freshman of the Year award has been given to some seriously talented first-year athletes of late.

Both Wisconsin’s Chris Borland and James White took home back-to-back such awards in 2009-10 surrounded by Buckeye quarterbacks. Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor won the award in 2008 en route to a Big Ten championship and Braxton Miller took home the Thompson-Randle El Trophy two years ago — and is looking for his first (official) Big Ten title this year. Penn State’s Deion Barnes is the reigning Freshman of the Year.

The 2013 season will be no different as a host of big-time playmakers enter the fray with sky-high expectations. And many of these youngsters will play pivotal rolls on championship-caliber teams.

Potential Stars:

Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
There is no doubt he is the most gifted quarterback on the Penn State campus, but Hackenberg needs to prove he can handle a big-time NCAA program before he takes the reins. The delicate balance between gaining experience and ruining confidence must always be considered with true freshman quarterbacks. Hackenberg looks like a huge star in the making and he is in good hands under Bill O’Brien, but fans must expect plenty of growing pains in 2013.

Dontre Wilson, AP, Ohio State
The Percy Harvin comparisons have run rampant during camp, but having filmed this kid last year, I can tell you the comparisons are warranted. Yes, he is 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds and will wear No. 1 in an Urban Meyer offense. But he also can score from anywhere on the field, is adept at catching the ball as well as running it and can be used in the return game. Yup, sounds like Harvin alright. Look for Meyer to get Wilson the ball early and often.

Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
Green’s role in the Brady Hoke pro-style offense is yet to be determined. He could easily play over 230 pounds and that would make him the go-to short-yardage and goal-line back to start. However, he wants to be much more than a complementary piece, and knowing the injury history of the Wolverines backfield, he should be ready to shoulder the load at any point. Picking up the blitz will be the key for Green’s playing time, however.

Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Northwestern
As one of the highest rated recruits to ever sign with Northwestern, Odenigbo is surrounded by a lot of hype. After a redshirt season brought on by a season-ending shoulder injury, fans in Evanston are ready to see what the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder can do fully healthy. He will bring elite athleticism to an outside pass rush that ranked 50th in the nation a year ago in sacks per game.

Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden, OL, Michigan
Kalis was the more high profile recruit and is extremely gifted in his own right, but Taylor Lewan says Braden is “the most physically gifted individual I’ve ever seen.” Kalis and Braden are slotted in as the starting guard tandem and this influx of talent along the line could push Michigan over the top as the Legends Division front-runner.

Dan Voltz, C, Wisconsin
A big-time signing in the 2012 class, Voltz nearly got into the starting lineup a year ago before Bret Bielema decided to redshirt him. The talented guard-turned-pivot is now working under his third offensive line coach in 12 months and is looking to replace a star in Travis Frederick. Gary Andersen will run the ball at Wisconsin and Voltz will be an integral piece for the Badgers O-line.

Riley Bullough, et al, RB, Michigan State
There are some more experienced options on the roster (e.g., Nick Hill) but it could be a freshman committee running the ball in East Lansing this year. Riley Bullough is currently the No. 1 with Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams making a strong push for time. Bullough is 230 pounds, Holmes is 215 and Williams checks in at 220. All three are in their first season on the field and all three bring a physical style that Mark Dantonio craves from his running game.

Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State
There might not be a team in the nation with better starting safeties than Ohio State. And that should explain just how gifted the freshman safety could be. Bell will be used in nickel back situations and will get tons of time in mop-up duty. He flies all over the field and will be the next great Buckeyes safety.

Related: The Top Big Ten Heisman Trophy Candidates

Early Contributors:

Jared Afalava, LB, Nebraska
The redshirt from Utah is fighting his way into the starting lineup this fall.

Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin
Highly-touted in-state prospect who should continue the recent run of excellent linebackers in Madison.

Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Florida native will press for time behind already stacked D-Line.

Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Talented basketball star who is only scratching the surface of his big-time pass-rushing upside.

Demetrious Cox, S, Michigan State
Has the inside track on the nickel back position whenever MSU goes to five defensive backs.

Robert Gregory, RB, Purdue
Redshirt Chicago native should be a nice complementary piece to Akeem Hunt in RB-friendly system.

Austin Johnson, DT, Penn State
Bill O'Brien says this big nose guard has "a great future" in Happy Valley. Look for him to work his way onto the field.

Darius Latham and David Kenney, DL, Indiana
A deep DL class is headlined by these two Indianapolis prospects at tackle and end respectively. Both will play.

Eugene Lewis, WR, Penn State
Scout team star turned some heads last year in practice and will be looked to for support on the outside.

Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Explosive do-everything talent will be used in a lot of ways on offense as a freshman.

Dymonte Thomas, DB, Michigan
Extremely gifted athlete who could play a variety of positions. Could see time as a nickel back.

Nyeem Wartman, LB, Penn State
Mike Hull and Glenn Carson lead the way allowing for Wartman to grow on the job as a potential starter.

Vontrell Williams, DT, Illinois
He is expected to start for a defense that needs big-time help up the middle against the run.

Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan
Massive (6-5, 290) end prospect could press for starting time as a redshirt freshman.

Related: Complete 2013 Big Ten Football Predictions

Key Reserves:
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Adam Breneman, TE, Penn State
Jehu Chesson, WR, Michigan
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin
Berkley Edwards, RB, Minnesota
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Maurice Fleming, CB, Iowa
Ralphael Green, DT, Indiana
Jordan Heiderman, DT, Indiana
Jaleel Johnson, DT, Iowa
Courtney Love, LB, Nebraska
Greg McMullen, DE, Nebraska
Mike Mitchell, LB, Ohio State
Shane Morris, QB, Michigan
Avery Moss, DE, Nebraska
Damion Terry, QB, Michigan State

Related: Athlon Sports' 2013 Big Ten All-Conference Teams

Special Teams:
Michael Geiger, K, Michigan State
Sam Foltz, P, Nebraska