The Big Ten had only four offenses average 30 points or more last season. Ohio State, Nebraska, Indiana and Northwestern reached that mark and each of those four teams should be among the conference’s best offenses for 2013.
The Hoosiers take the top spot in Athlon’s Big Ten wide receiver/tight end rankings for 2013, as they return their top six pass-catchers from last year. Shane Wynn led the team with 68 receptions in 2012, while Cody Latimer averaged 15.8 yards per catch. Both Wynn and Latimer could be All-Big Ten receivers in 2013.
There’s plenty of talent returning to the Big Ten at receiver for 2013, including Penn State’s Allen Robinson, Nebraska’s Kenny Bell and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon. And if Michigan State can get consistent play from quarterback Andrew Maxwell, the Spartans could jump up on this list by the end of the year.
Kickoff for the 2013 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.
Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2013 - not how it played in 2012.
Big Ten Wide Receiver/Tight End Rankings
After leading the Big Ten in passing offense in 2012, the pieces are in place for the Hoosiers to be even better in 2013. Quarterback Tre Roberson is back from injury, and the receiving corps returns two potential All-Big Ten selections in Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer. Latimer averaged 15.8 yards per reception last year, and Wynn led the team with 68 catches. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson are also back after each caught more than 20 passes in 2012. Tight end Ted Bolser is an Athlon Sports third-team All-Big Ten selection for 2013.
While the Hoosiers take the top spot in this ranking, Nebraska isn’t far behind. The Cornhuskers return their top three wide receivers from last year, including second-team All-Big Ten selection Kenny Bell. He caught 50 passes for 863 yards and eight scores, while averaging 17.3 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa is a physical 6-foot-2 option for quarterback Taylor Martinez, and junior Jamal Turner is always a threat to score with the ball in his hands. There’s not much in the way of proven depth at receiver behind Bell, Enunwa and Turner, so there’s a lot of pressure on freshmen Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore to step up this fall. The Cornhuskers are starting over at tight end with the departure of Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton.
3. Penn State
The Nittany Lions were thin on proven receivers going into last year, but this unit emerged as a strength under the watchful eye of head coach Bill O’Brien and receivers coach Stan Hixon. Allen Robinson was the only Big Ten receiver to record over 1,000 receiving yards, and he led the conference with 77 receptions through 12 games. Robinson’s stats may drop some due to a new quarterback, but the junior should finish 2013 with first-team All-Big Ten honors. Senior Brandon Moseby-Felder, junior Alex Kenney and redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis are expected to flank Robinson as key targets at receiver for Penn State’s quarterback. The Nittany Lions have a deep group of tight ends at their disposal, including returning first-team All-Big Ten selection Kyle Carter, along with true freshman Adam Breneman — the No. 44 recruit in the 2013 Athlon Consensus 100. Carter is the headliner, but sophomore Jesse James (15 receptions) and senior Matt Lehman (24 catches) shouldn’t be overlooked.
4. Ohio State
The Buckeyes need a few more playmakers to emerge, but the receiving corps has made considerable progress over the last two years. Senior Corey Brown led the team with 60 catches for 669 yards and three scores last year. Junior Devin Smith was the unit’s top playmaker, averaging 20.6 yards per catch and turning six of his 30 receptions into scores. Junior Evan Spencer and sophomore Michael Thomas should grab the No. 3 and No. 4 spots in the receiving corps, but freshmen Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall will push for time. Jordan Hall played in only seven contests last year due to injury, but he is expected to play in a similar role to that of Percy Harvin under Urban Meyer at Florida. With Jake Stoneburner out of eligibility, Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will take over at tight end.
The Wolverines lose Roy Roundtree, but this unit could show improvement in 2013. Senior Jeremy Gallon is Devin Gardner’s favorite target after finishing 2012 with 49 receptions for 829 yards and four scores. Gallon averaged 16.9 yards per catch and recorded two 100-yard games over the last three contests. Senior Drew Dileo caught 20 passes in 2012, but sophomore Amara Darboh or freshman Jehu Chesson could surpass him as the No. 2 option. Darboh and Chesson are bigger receivers that will help Michigan’s passing attack inside the red zone. Tight end Devin Funchess is a rising star after catching 15 passes for 234 yards and five scores as a freshman last year.
The Wildcats return four of their top five leading receivers from last season, and this unit is poised to take a step forward in 2013. Christian Jones and Rashad Lawrence return after each caught just over 30 passes last year, with Jones leading the team with 412 yards. Demetrius Fields has expired his eligibility, leaving Tony Jones (11.6 yards per catch in 2012) and junior Kyle Prater with an opportunity to see a few more passes in their direction. Tight end/superback Dan Vitale is an underrated weapon and grabbed 28 passes for 288 yards and two scores last year. The sophomore caught 16 of his passes in two of the final three games, which is a good sign for Northwestern’s passing attack going into 2013. The Wildcats need this group to step up this fall, and there’s plenty of weapons for quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian.
7. Michigan State
Considering running back Le’Veon Bell (35 catches) was Michigan State’s top returning receiver last year, there was concern about how this group would jell with a new quarterback. The Spartans had their share of ups and downs in the passing attack, but the receiving corps performed well considering the struggles of quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Keith Mumphery and Bennie Fowler combined for 83 receptions in 2012, but all eyes were on Aaron Burbridge last year, as he caught 29 passes for 364 yards and two scores as a true freshman. Tight end Dion Sims must be replaced, but the Spartans return their top five receivers from last year.
The Badgers have one of the conference’s top receivers at their disposal in senior Jared Abbrederis. However, there’s not much else in the way of proven talent to flank him on the outside. Abbrederis caught 49 passes for 837 yards and five scores last year and is an Athlon Sports first-team All-Big Ten selection for 2013. The coaching staff would like to see sophomore Jordan Fredrick, junior Kenzel Doe or sophomore Reggie Love step into the No. 2 role to take some of the pressure off of Abbrederis this year. While the Badgers are still looking for a No. 2 option at receiver, there’s plenty of talent at tight end. Jacob Pedersen ranked second on the team with 27 catches for 355 yards and four scores last year. Seniors Brian Wozniak and Brock DeCicco will help to spell Pedersen, as well as contribute in Wisconsin’s two-tight end sets.
The Boilermakers have to replace Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross, but a steady group of options returns for new coach Darrell Hazell. Senior Gary Bush is the team’s top returning receiver after catching 41 passes for 360 yards and seven scores last year. Junior Dolapo Macarthy also is back after catching 28 passes last season, and he is expected to be a bigger part of the passing attack in 2013. Raheem Mostert is a valuable weapon on special teams, but he has yet to record a catch in two seasons at Purdue. Senior Gabe Holmes is expected to start at tight end and could be a bigger factor in the offense under new coordinator John Shoop.
The Hawkeyes’ offense was one of the Big Ten’s biggest disappointments last season. Quarterback James Vandenberg never got on track under first-year coordinator Greg Davis, and Iowa finished 114th nationally in total offense. With another offseason to pickup Davis’ offense, the Hawkeyes should show some improvement. However, there’s a new quarterback taking over, and Keenan Davis has expired his eligibility after catching 47 passes last year. Kevonte Martin-Manley will be the top target for the Hawkeyes, but he needs help from sophomore Tevaun Smith, senior Jordan Cotton and junior Damond Powell. C.J. Fiedorowicz should be one of the Big Ten’s top tight ends after catching 45 passes for 433 yards and a touchdown.
The Fighting Illini ranked 11th in the Big Ten in passing offense last year, so there’s plenty of room to improve. Coach Tim Beckman made a good hire by bringing in former Western Michigan coach Bill Cubit to direct the offense. However, Cubit has very little to work with at receiver. Running back Donovonn Young led the team with just 38 receptions, while receiver Ryan Lankford recorded 37 catches last year. Fellow senior Spencer Harris (21 receptions) needs to have a big season if Illinois’ passing attack is to improve. Junior college recruit Martize Barr is expected to contribute right away, while the coaching staff hopes sophomore Justin Hardee builds off his 17-catch season. Tight end Jon Davis could have a breakout year in the new offense if he can stay healthy.
Behind sophomore quarterback Philip Nelson, the Golden Gophers should continue to make strides on offense this year. The passing attack finished ninth in the Big Ten in 2012 and there’s hope for more improvement, especially if the receiving corps takes a step forward this offseason. No returning Minnesota receiver caught more than 20 passes last season, with Isaac Fruechte leading the team with 19 receptions. Senior Derrick Engel averaged 20.8 yards per catch last year but posted only 18 receptions. Junior Devin Crawford-Tufts, sophomore KJ Maye and freshman Jamel Harbison round out the key contributors. Harbison played in only one game due to injury last year. Tight end Drew Goodger returns after catching 13 passes in 2012. Minnesota desperately needs a player that can stretch the field to emerge this fall.
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