College football took a massive hit in the wide receiver department after last season, losing plenty of underclassmen to go with the graduating seniors. The Big Ten was not immune from that, but entering 2014 there is plenty to like about the group that comes back. So much so that the Biletnikoff Award watch list included five Big Ten players.
Kenny Bell (Nebraska), Stefon Diggs (Maryland), Devin Funchess (Michigan), Devin Smith (Ohio State) and Shane Wynn (Indiana) all represented the conference on the watch list of 55 receives (tight ends and wide receivers included in the mix).
Bell had 52 receptions for 577 yards and four touchdowns. Diggs ended last season with a broken leg but racked up 34 receptions for 587 yards and three touchdowns in seven games.
Funchess, a tight end last season may have an interesting future ahead of him as a wide receiver under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. He enters 2014 as the leading returning receiver in the conference, averaging 55.7 yards per game while catching 49 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns.
Wynn returns as one of the most dangerous receiving weapons in the conference, hauling in 11 touchdown passes last season to lead all returning receivers. He had 46 receptions for 633 yards behind the likes of Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes.
Perhaps the most interesting name to be included on the list was that of Ohio State’s Devin Smith. Last season, Smith had 44 receptions for 660 yards and eight touchdowns. His average of 15 yards per catch makes him an interesting candidate to break out this season.
It was a bit surprising to see Northwestern’s Jones’ not on the list. Tony Jones is the conference’s leading returning pass catcher, hauling in 55 receptions for 630 yards and four touchdowns. Christian Jones came up just short of his teammate and fellow senior-to-be with 54 receptions for 668 yards and four touchdowns.
Should the rest of the Wildcats offense stay healthy the Jones’ could be in for big years indeed.
The Biletnikoff Award will be announced on Dec. 11 as part of the Home Depot College Football Awards show on ESPN.