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5 names that could define Big Ten football in 2019

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Yes, we still have a second national signing day to go, but for the vast majority of the Big Ten everything is in place for the upcoming class and for coaching staff’s as well.

That means we have as close to a full picture of what the 2019 offseason will look like as possible.

It also means it’s time to dive in to what this upcoming season could look like. Over the next week we’ll give you some predictions and previews of the Big Ten in 2019.

That starts with the people that make the football world go round — the players. Which names will likely define how this upcoming season plays out? Here are 5 names that have the potential for the biggest impact on things (in no particular order).

Adrian Martinez, QB (Nebraska)

No team in the Big Ten finished hotter than the Nebraska Cornhuskers did, as they went 4-2 after an 0-6 start to the season. A lot of that had to do with the health and ability of true freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez.

He finished last season by throwing for 2,617 yards, ran for 629 and completed 65 percent of his passes in 11 games. Martinez also had 17 touchdowns to 8 interceptions.

It was a strong start to a college career and a good sign that Scott Frost has someone he can trust to help in his rebuild of the Huskers program. How Martinez progresses in 2019 will be a huge story and likely the determining factor between the Huskers competing for a West division title or not.

As the 2019 offseason progresses, Nebraska is going to be a hot pick for the team that can contend at the top of the division along with Wisconsin and Northwestern (defending champs and all). Martinez is a large part of why.

Chris Orr, LB (Wisconsin)

MADISON, WI – SEPTEMBER 01: Wisconsin Badger inside linebacker Chris Orr (54) looks to get past an offensive linemen durning an college football game between the Utah State Aggies and the Wisconsin Badgers on September 1st, 2017, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. Wisconsin defated Utah State 59-10. (Photo by Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Wisconsin has been a virtual factory for linebackers over the last decade. But, they have not lost a pair of middle linebackers the caliber of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly in a while. The good news is that there is a veteran ready to step in as a starter in Chris Orr.

He is no stranger to starting games, having done that prior to injury in the first game of his sophomore season at UW. To date, Orr has racked up

All of that points to a player capable of being productive on the field, but with a younger, more inexperienced group behind him the key will be the leadership and intangibles he can bring to the table in 2019.

Jack Sanborn, Mike Maskalunas and Griffin Grady are all vying for that role next to him, but Orr is the real key to holding the high standard Wisconsin linebackers have held over the past decade. In fact, his play and his leadership are likely to dictate a whole lot of what UW can do defensively in 2019 period.

Chris Evans, RB (Michigan)

ANN ARBOR, MI. – SEPTEMBER 15: Michigan’s Chris Evans in action during the Wolverines’ 45-20 win over Southern Methodist University in a college football gameon September 15, 2018, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, MI. (Photo by Lon Horwedel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Was there a more quiet 1,000-yard running back in the Big Ten this year than Karan Higdon? Well, it won’t matter in 2019 as he is off to the NFL a year early and the next man up to be a featured back is likely Chris Evans.

He got the second-most carries of any Michigan running back with 81 attempts and had a respectable 5.2 yards per carry average as well.

But, there’s a difference between being a change of pace and being the guy. Given Michigan’s want to be multiple in its rushing attack, maybe Evans doesn’t have to be a workhorse, but the Wolverines need an explosive player at running back to really keep teams off balance.

His audition in the Peach Bowl against Florida was not a good one, carrying the ball seven times for just 20 yards in the Wolverines 41-15 loss to the Gators. That won’t cut it and his play may be the difference between contender and pretender as far as U-M’s offense is concerned.

Justin Fields, QB (Ohio State)

ATHENS, GA – NOVEMBER 17: Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Justin Fields (1) scrambles during the Massachusetts Minutemen v Georgia Bulldogs game on November 17, 2018 at Sanford Stadium in Athens, GA. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One transfer in, one transfer out for the Ohio State Buckeyes at quarterback. But, with Dwayne Haskins off to the NFL after just one season at the helm of the Buckeyes offense, 2019 was bound to be a transition year no matter what.

The transfer out of backup Tate Martell signals that new head coach Ryan Day will have a blank slate to work with at quarterback. The big question surrounding the starting job is if Georgia transfer Justin Fields is granted an immediate waiver and thus will be able to join the team in 2019 or not.

So far there is a claim of a use of a racial slur against him by a member of the Bulldogs baseball team, but not much else in terms of specifics to back up his waiver request…at least publicly.

If Fields has his request denied by the NCAA, Day and the OSU coaching staff are likely to have to turn to redshirt freshman Matthew Baldwin. He was the hand-picked replacement by now head coach Ryan Day after Emory Jones de-committed and chose Florida in the 2018 class. He is also coming off a knee surgery and was recently cleared to begin full workouts and practices for the team.

Yes, he has a full season of mental reps and time in the playbook, but there’s a difference between that and physically playing the game as we all know.

All of it points to just how important getting Fields eligible will be. If Fields is able to practice but not start, will he ever get that opportunity in Columbus? What happens if Baldwin has to start and leads the Buckeyes offense in a positive manner? Would Day really just throw Fields back in there?

It’ll be an interesting offseason in Columbus and all the attention will be on Fields and his eligibility.

Hunter Johnson, QB (Northwestern)

CLEMSON, SC – APRIL 14: Hunter Johnson (15) looks to throw a pass during action in the Clemson Spring Football game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on April 14, 2018 in Clemson, SC.. (Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

As you may be aware, transition at quarterback is the biggest offseason storyline in the Big Ten for 2019. Northwestern will be one of those teams and one of the teams facing the biggest transition because Clayton Thorson has been a long-time mainstay in Evanston.

Luckily for them, they have been stashing away another quality quarterback in Clemson transfer Hunter Johnson. In a limited sample size during his freshman season in 2017, Johnson completed 21 of 27 pass attempts (77.8 percent) for 234 yards and two touchdowns.

Johnson isn’t the only quarterback in the mix for Pat Fitzgerald’s team though, as he’ll have competition from Thorson’s backup last year in T.J. Green. But, the smart money is on Johnson to win the starting job and how the offense works with him at the helm is likely to dictate how realistic the chances are for a Northwestern repeat at the top of the division.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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