As we head towards the start of the college football season, it’s only appropriate we throw our hat in the ring for picking the all-conference players heading in to the year. After all, there is no official prediction from the league’s coaches (looking at you SEC) or even the media.
That said, here is a look at the players you should know and watch heading in to the 2014 season:
1st Team All-Big Ten
QB: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
This may seem a bit controversial, but don’t forget we saw the Penn State quarterback group as the No. 1 in the Big Ten earlier this offseason for a reason. Hackenberg has first-round potential, something the Big Ten hasn’t produced since…Kerry Collins in 1995. Think about that for a moment.
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
Gordon is a prime candidate to lead the nation in rushing now that he isn’t sharing a near 50/50 split in carries anymore. That and he’s likely to become the all-time record holder for yards per carry in a career (8.1 currently). No big deal.
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
One of Gordon’s biggest challenges for the national rushing title is his good friend and fellow West division back. It will be fun to see these two likely duke it out for conference honors all season long.
WR: Shane Wynn, Indiana
Wynn lived in the shadows of two great wide receivers last season, but a look at the film suggests that Wynn was the best of the bunch by a long shot. He was the most complete of those receivers and in 2014 he’ll get plenty of chances to shine in Kevin Wilson’s loaded offense.
WR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland
Diggs suffered a nasty injury late last season, but showed plenty of the promise everyone expected from him as a sophomore. Now fully healthy, Diggs jumps right to the front of the class in his new Big Ten home. Look for him to be a name most defensive backs will never forget.
TE: Tyler Kroft, Rutgers
Another newcomer on this list, Kroft is a major weapon for the Scarlet Knights and with Michigan’s Devin Funchess moving to wide receiver, Kroft takes the mantle as the best pass-catching tight end in the Big Ten.
OT: Brandon Schreff, Iowa
First round tackles grow on trees in the Big Ten West, and Schreff is perhaps the biggest can’t-miss prospect Iowa has had in a long time. Should he stay healthy all season, there’s little doubt he’ll be a finalist for some major awards come season’s end.
OT: Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
On the opposite side of the line, Havenstein is a mirror image of Schreff, just much, much bigger. Havenstein managed to “slim down” to a hefty 330 pounds this offseason and he’s always been athletic as well. He’s as close to a shut down right tackle as the Big Ten has.
OG: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin
Wisconsin puts linemen in to the NFL and Costigan could be the second Badger OL selected in the 2015 NFL draft behind Havenstein. He may be the most athletic of the UW OL starters, and that’s saying something given Dan Voltz playing right next to him.
OG: Zac Epping, Minnesota
How the Badgers let Epping out of the state of Wisconsin I’ll never know. However, what was UW’s loss has been Minnesota’s gain in a big way. Epping has become the face of the Gophers offensive line, and he’s one mean S.O.B. to boot. It doesn’t hurt that he may be the best run blocking guard in the conference too.
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State
Allen is the definition of tough and athletic along the offensive line. He is one of the top draft-eligible prospects as a center coming in to the 2014 season and has 24 career starts along the line (19 of them at center). Allen is simply head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd in experience and production to date.