Big Ten's Pre-Spring Top 15 Player Rankings for 2015

Joey Bosa tops the Big Ten ranks.

The national perception of the Big Ten shifted at the end of the 2014 season thanks to Ohio State’s national championship and Michigan’s hire of Jim Harbaugh as the program’s new coach. While the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is only going to increase in intensity with Harbaugh going up against Urban Meyer, don’t forget about Michigan State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Spartans return some of the league’s top talent with quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun in 2015. 

 

With spring practice underway, it’s never too early to look ahead at 2015. Here’s a quick (and very early) primer on the Big Ten’s top 15 players for 2015. This list takes into account production so far in career, as well as a slight projection for the upcoming year. Of course, this list is all subject to change later this summer as depth charts and personnel shift during spring practice.

 

Big Ten’s Pre-Spring Top 15 Players for 2015

 

1. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 55 tackles, 21 TFL, 13.5 sacks, 4 FF

 

Bosa was a disruptive force for Ohio State’s defense last season, leading the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss. He should be one of college football’s top defenders in 2015. 

 

2. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 3,214 yards, 24 TDs, 8 INTs

 

Cook will have to find a new go-to receiver with Tony Lippett out of eligibility, but the senior enters 2015 as the top quarterback in the Big Ten. Cook has guided Michigan State to 24 wins (including two huge bowl victories) over the last two years.

 

3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 1,878 yards, 18 TDs, 28 catches, 220 yards

 

Elliott closed out the 2014 season on a tear, rushing for at least 220 yards in each of the final three games to help Ohio State win the national championship. The Missouri native is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman in 2015.

 

4. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 2,977 yards, 12 TDs, 15 INTs

 

Sure, Penn State’s offense struggled in 2014, but let’s not forget Hackenberg threw for 2,955 yards and 20 scores as a true freshman in 2013. With a little more help from his offensive line, Hackenberg – one of the top NFL prospects in the 2016 draft (if he wants to come out early) – should rebound in 2015.

 

5. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 39 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FF

 

Calhoun turned down the NFL for one more season in East Lansing. Over his three-year career with the Spartans, the New Jersey native has accumulated 16.5 sacks and 29 tackles for a loss.

 

6. Anthony Zettel, DT, Penn State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 42 tackles, 17 TFL, 8 sacks, 1 FF

 

Zettel was quietly one of the nation’s most productive defensive linemen last season. He recorded 42 tackles (17 for a loss) and eight sacks in 13 games. Zettel earned Athlon Sports All-America honors after the 2014 campaign.

 

7. Jack Conklin, OT Michigan State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

 

Conklin is a former walk-on that has emerged as one of the nation’s top offensive linemen over the last two years. The Michigan native has started 26 games for the Spartans and earned fourth-team All-American honors by Athlon Sports in 2014.

 

8. Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Sophomore

2014 Stats: 81 tackles, 16.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 2 INT, 3 PBU

 

Lee is one of the nation’s top rising stars on the defensive side of the ball. He recorded 81 tackles last season in his debut, including a standout performance (7 tackles, 2 sacks) in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama.

 

9. Ohio State Quarterbacks

All three Ohio State quarterbacks could individually rank in this space. But for now, let’s just slide a placeholder into the rankings and update prior to fall practice.

 

10. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Decker was the lone returning starter on Ohio State’s offensive line and anchored a group that showed steady improvement over the course of 2014. The Ohio native has started 29 consecutive games entering the 2015 season.

 

11. Jack Allen, C, Michigan State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

 

Allen and teammate Jack Conklin helped anchor a Michigan State offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks last season and paved the way for rushers to average 5.2 yards per carry. Allen enters 2015 with 35 career starts.

 

12. Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 92 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 INT, 6 PBU

 

Bell turned in a breakout season in his first full year as a starter, finishing second on Ohio State’s defense with 92 tackles. His six interceptions tied for first in the Big Ten, which included three picks over the final four games.

 

13. Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB, Minnesota

2015 Year of Eligibility: Senior

2014 Stats: 51 tackles, 2 TFL, 5 INT, 9 PBU, 2 FF

 

Boddy-Calhoun was one of the leaders for a stingy Minnesota secondary last season. The Delaware native led the Golden Gophers by picking off five passes and his 14 defended passes ranked second in the Big Ten.

 

14. Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 45 tackles, 14 TFL, 4.5 sacks

 

Collins isn’t a household name yet, but the Missouri native is poised for a breakout year as the anchor for Nebraska’s defense. In his first full season as a starter in 2014, Collins recorded 45 tackles (14 for a loss) and 4.5 sacks. He has the talent to push for All-American honors in 2015.

 

15. William Likely, CB, Maryland

2015 Year of Eligibility: Junior

2014 Stats: 83 tackles, 4 TFL, 6 INT, 9 PBU

 

Likely was a first-team All-Big Ten selection after a standout 2014 campaign, which featured a big-play effort on defense (six interceptions) and on special teams (two return touchdowns.

 

Other Players to Watch in Spring Practice

 

Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB, Purdue

Bentley emerged as one of Purdue’s defensive leaders as a true freshman, ranking second on the team with 76 tackles.

 

Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin

Biegel was on the cusp of making the top 15. He was one of the Badgers’ top defenders in 2014 after recording 16.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks.

 

Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers

Carroo just missed the top 15 player rankings. How will the senior perform with a new quarterback and play-caller in 2015?

 

Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin

Melvin Gordon will be missed, but Wisconsin is in good shape in the backfield with Clement returning for his junior season. Over the last two years, Clement has rushed for 1,496 yards and 16 scores. He should easily eclipse the 1,000-yard mark with more carries in 2015.

 

Imani Cross, RB, Nebraska

Will Cross replace Ameer Abdullah? Or will the Cornhuskers turn to Adam Taylor or Terrell Newby?

 

Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana

UAB transfer should be a solid replacement for Tevin Coleman.

 

Wes Lunt, QB, Illinois

Has the talent to be one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Can he stay healthy?

 

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State

Primed for a bigger role on Michigan State’s defense after recording 15 tackles and 1.5 sacks as a true freshman in 2014.

 

Drew Ott, DE, Iowa

Earned second-team All-Big Ten honors by the league media in 2014 and will be the leader for a defensive line that must replace both starting tackles this offseason.

 

Paris Palmer, OT, Penn State

Junior college recruit is a key piece in Penn State’s hopes of improving the offensive line in 2015.

 

Jabrill Peppers, CB, Michigan

Five-star recruit was forced to redshirt due to injury after three games in 2013. Should be an impact defender for new coach Jim Harbaugh in 2015.

 

Anthony Walker, LB, Northwestern

Florida native started seven games as a redshirt freshman and impressed by recording 51 tackles and a team-high nine for a loss.

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