Conference Preview: Big Ten

Conference Preview: Big Ten

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

We continue our College football conference previews with the Big Ten, where running backs often reign supreme. While the league should churn out another crop of fantasy-worthy assets, there is certainly a shift in the landscape that includes a number of interesting options at quarterback, wide receiver and tight end as well in 2021. Ohio State is the heavy favorite to be the cream of the crop again, sporting an over-under of 11.0 wins on the season, followed by Wisconsin (9.5), Penn State (9.0) and Iowa (8.5). You can see more on that in this article from Nick Grays from mid-July.

We have some other conference previews already out, so please give them a look as well:

All-Big Ten Fantasy Team (2021 Position Rank)

Note: Rankings listed are for half-point PPR to best encompass both PPR and standard formats

First Team

QB: Michael Penix, Indiana (19)

RB: Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota (2)

RB: Master Teague, Ohio State (21)

WR: David Bell, Purdue (1)

WR: Jahan Dotson, Penn State (11)

TE: Jake Ferguson, Wisconsin (6)

Second Team

QB: C.J. Stroud - Ohio State (27)

RB: Tyler Goodson, Iowa (23)

RB: Cam Porter, Northwestern (24)

WR: Ty Fryfogle, Indiana (13)

WR: Chris Olave, Ohio State (16)

TE: Daniel Barker, Illinois (15)

Third Team

QB: Sean Clifford, Penn State (32)

RB: Noah Cain, Penn State (27)

RB: Zander Horvath, Purdue (29)

WR: Bo Melton, Rutgers (17)

WR: Garrett Wilson, Ohio State (25)

TE: Brenton Strange, Penn State (16)

Sleepers

QB: Jack Plummer/Aidan O'Connell, Purdue

This one is a fairly easy one to project because neither quarterback (as it currently stands) is projected for all of the snaps at this point in order to incorporate the risk involved in selecting one of the two before the starting battle takes place in camp. Even this early, I still wouldn't be opposed to tossing a late-round dart at whichever you believe is going to win. My early money for this would be on Plummer but it's a situation that could go either way. Plummer averaged 29.0 fantasy points in his three starts under center, while O'Connell posted 22.5 per contest. To be fair to O'Connell, however, he did face the two toughest defenses on the schedule in Northwestern and Iowa, while Plummer went against Nebraska, Minnesota and Rutgers. Whoever wins will sorely miss Rondale Moore, but David Bell returns as arguably the best fantasy wideout in college football this season.

Another to consider: Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland

RB: Tyler Goodson, Iowa

I would have Goodson above Master Teague if the decision alone was mine. The junior tailback averaged 107 rushing yards and a touchdown per game over the last six contests last year, adding in eight catches for 85 yards over that span as well. That, however, included Mekhi Sargent in the backfield mix absorbing 26 percent of the carries. While Ivory Kelly-Martin does return to the squad after minimal inclusion last year and figures to slot in as the No. 2, but this is a backfield I could see tipping even more in the direction of Goodson than it was a season ago. The Hawkeyes' wide receiving corps also took a big hit with Ihmir Smith-Marsette moving on to the NFL and Spencer Petras hasn't proven yet that he's ready to shoulder the load in the passing game, so everything points to Goodson cashing in on a big workload.

RB: Zander Horvath, Purdue

Horvath would rank near the top of this list in PPR formats thanks to his abilities as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. He posted an impressive five catches per game last season and went for over 300 yards receiving in just six games, albeit with a catch rate (93.8 percent) that seems unlikely to repeat. Still, it wouldn't be surprising to see a similar volume of passes headed his way, especially with the aforementioned target hog Rondale Moore having left West Lafayette for the pros. David Bell should rank atop the Purdue target charts by a wide margin in 2021, but Horvath ranked third behind just Bell and Milton Wright in targets last season and is getting overlooked a lot in drafts because he doesn't provide quite as much production on the ground as some of the other Big Ten backs.

RB: TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State

Henderson falls in the sleeper category because there is a contingent out there that believes he will overtake Master Teague for the top spot in the Buckeyes backfield. If that happens, even if it's not right out of the gate, Henderson would likely jump to near the top of the running backs list. It's still difficult to see Teague being eliminated from the game plan but the Buckeyes do have a good history of producing with multiple backs anyway, so there could be some upside to Henderson even if he just carves out a partial role. 

WR: Milton Wright, Purdue

Wright is another guy who climbs up the leaderboard a bit in PPR formats because of the sheer volume of pass attempts in the Boilermakers' offense compared to the rest of the Big Ten. His sleeper potential also surfaces because of the target volume left vacant by Moore's departure. Wright checked in third on the team in targets per game (6.3) last season, but that pales in comparison to Bell's 13.0 and Moore's 14.7 per contest. If Wright can inch closer to either of those numbers, he could have a monster year ahead. It also helps that he has Bell opposite him to presumably draw the opposing team's top corner on a weekly basis.

WR: Rakim Jarrett, Maryland

Jarrett's freshman season didn't jump off the page, but he suited up for just five games and seemed to be less than 100 percent in the second half of the season. The five-star wideout did flash that potential against Penn State, notching five catches for 144 yards and a pair of touchdowns on six targets. Jarrett also likely suffered in his early growth due to the COVID-19 issues that prevented a normal fall camp, which would typically be a big learning session for freshmen. With a presumably more normal fall camp ahead, Jarrett could display major growth heading into his second collegiate season and maintains continuity in his connection with a quarterback who also could be on the verge of a breakout (Taulia Tagovailoa) in Mike Locksley's offense.

Busts

QB: Adrian Martinez, Nebraska

Martinez was a highly sought-after fantasy asset prior to 2019 and has delivered decent returns each in each of his three seasons under quarterback as a runner, posting seven or more touchdowns in each campaign. Even if he delivers on the ground again in 2021, the talent surrounding him is a highly questionable group, especially for a subpar thrower. Gone is his favorite target – Wan'Dale Robinson – whose 68 targets last season were 40 more than any other player on the team and represented a 30.8 percent target share. It could be a struggle for Martinez again this year and he's not a quarterback I'd like to invest in.

QB: C.J. Stroud, Ohio State

It's not that I think Stroud will be horrible if he wins the job, I'm just not ready to take the plunge on him as highly as he's going in drafts. He's typically being selected as a QB1 in the vast majority of drafts, largely because of the talent that surrounds him in the Buckeyes' offense. His talent at wide receiver may be unmatched around the nation. He does have a returning stud back in Master Teague and a young guy with potential in TreVeyon Henderson. The formula adds up to a potentially big season for the Buckeyes. What Stroud doesn't have is experience under center himself nor the guarantee he has the starting job. Stroud is looked at as the favorite by most, but coach Ryan Day hasn't made any calls on the starter at this point, suggesting the quarterbacks are even going into fall camp, and there could be an added wrinkle if Quinn Ewers elects to skip his senior season and join the Buckeyes in fall camp. There's plenty to like with Stroud's situation if he wins the job, but there's more risk baked into his draft stock than I'd like if he's my top QB pick.

RB: Noah Cain, Penn State

Cain certainly has the talent to earn his ranking within the top six backs in the conference, but he's got a crowded running back room to sort through to get there. Not only do Devyn Ford, Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes all return to Happy Valley, but the Nittany Lions added John Lovett from Baylor as a transfer this offseason. There are conceivably four or five running backs on the roster for Penn State who have degrees of success with the ball in their hands heading into the season. Add to that the fact that Cain is returning from a serious lower-body injury that cost him all but one game last season, and there's a recipe for disappointment. It's another case where there is plenty of upside to Cain if he's indeed the workhorse for Penn State in 2021, but we haven't seen him handle more than 84 carries in a season to date.

RB: Master Teague, Ohio State

I selected Master Teague in a mock draft earlier this summer and wouldn't say I'm out on him at this point either, but I just want to point out the risks involved with him as well. Teague is part of a talented Buckeyes offense that should put up a bunch of points again this year and should see a good chunk of carries. The question is exactly how much TreVeyon Henderson will be involved in the offense. Some believe that Henderson could overtake Teague for the lead role in the Buckeyes' backfield. I'm not ready to go that far at this point, but it's worth keeping in mind that he's not a 100 percent lock to maintain the lead role in Ohio State's offense the full season. Teague is also a back who hasn't handled a massive volume to date, rushing no more than 135 times in a season thus far. It remains to be seen if he can both stay healthy and effective if he's leaned on for a larger role over a full season.

WR: Chris Autman-Bell, Minnesota

Autman-Bell takes over as the No. 1 wide receiver in a Minnesota offense that has churned out NFL draft picks at the position each of the two years. The problem is, Autman-Bell is no Tyler Johnson and no Rashod Bateman. He's shown inconsistency throughout his career and can disappear on any given week. Tanner Morgan had an impressive 2019 campaign with Johnson and Bateman at his disposal in 2019 but struggled to get the ball to anyone bout Bateman last year. I don't see that tune really changing and the Gophers figures to once again rely heavily on the ground attack and star back Mohamed Ibrahim. It would also not shock me if someone else emerges as the team's leading wideout over Autman-Bell, who enters his senior campaign with no more than 28 receptions to his name in a single season. He could be headed for a career-best season, but that's still not enough to warrant his current ADP in my mind.

WR: Garrett Wilson, Ohio State

The only reason Ohio State players fit into this section more than some of the others is that they land more highly in drafts (and rightfully so) than a lot of other teams. Wilson is in a similar vein, where he's certainly capable of churning out a massive campaign, but he's going higher in drafts than I'd be willing to invest in him at this point. He was once again outproduced by Chris Olave last year on a per-game basis during the regular season, yet I've seen people taking Wilson over Olave – likely based on potential. I wouldn't even be opposed to drafting Wilson over Olave in the 2022 NFL Draft, but it's a situation where I'm not ready to bet that he's going to outproduce Olave this year. As mentioned above, he's also set to have a green quarterback with minimal or no experience under center, so we can't exactly anticipate the same level of play under center the Buckeyes got from Justin Fields the last two seasons. For those reasons, I may look elsewhere at his current ADP, which sits in the WR10-15 range at the moment.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Benzine
Chris is a sports editor for various sports on the site and also a consistent contributor in the college sports arena.
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