2019 Big Ten West Dream Team
The concept for this article is being borrowed from a “mailbag” question from an article on The Athletic. We thought it was a terrific off-season idea and I’ve adapted it to the Big Ten’s two divisions.
I’ll start with the Big Ten West.
The idea is to create a “dream team” using one position group from each team in the Big Ten West. The catch is that I can only use each team one time.
For example, I have to choose a group of quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers/tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers and secondary using one group (and one group only) from each Big Ten West team. If I choose the running backs of Illinois, I cannot choose Illinois for any other group.
Quarterback – Nebraska Cornhuskers
There were a couple of options here but Adrian Martinez is my favorite quarterback in the conference and I want him leading this hypothetical super team. The sophomore completed 64.6% of his passes in 2018, threw for 2,617 yards with 17 passing touchdowns and used his legs to burn opponents for 629 yards with eight rushing touchdowns. Martinez does not have much behind him so we’d be relying on Andrew Bunch or a true freshman (Luke McCaffrey) if he goes down injured but I’m rolling with the super sophomore at quarterback. That selection takes Nebraska out of consideration for any other position groups.
Running Backs – Wisconsin Badgers
I was torn between the Minnesota backs (Rodney Smith, Shannon Scott and Mohamed Ibrahim) and Wisconsin. Ultimately, I took Jonathan Taylor and left the Gophers for another position group. Taylor is the best running back in the Big Ten and he might be the best in the country. Last season, he was ridiculous, amassing 2,194 yards on 7.2 yards per carry with 16 touchdowns. Taylor has everything you want in a tailback. He runs with power and is excellent at gaining yards after contact, plus he has the breakaway speed to turn 15 yard gains into long scores. I like Minnesota’s overall depth a bit more but it’s not like Wisconsin is bereft of talent behind Taylor. If Bradrick Shaw can return to health, the depth would look much better. Garrett Groshek is very serviceable and watch for freshman Nakia Watson to contribute in his debut season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – Purdue Boilermakers
This pick is about two players: Rondale Moore and Brycen Hopkins. By selecting the Boilermakers here, I get one of the most electric weapons in the country in Moore and fifth year senior Brycen Hopkins gives us an All-Big Ten tight end. Hopkins averaged 17.2 yards per reception so he is more of a “big play” tight end than most and I would expect him to improve on the 34 catches he had in 2018. Moore was a standout as a freshman, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, All-America honors and catching 114 passes for 1,258 yards with 12 touchdowns. He also stood out as a kick returner and rushed the ball 21 times for 213 yards with two scores. These are two weapons we can build around. The depth of the Boilermakers receiver unit gave me pause but Jackson Anthrop is okay and Jared Sparks had 28 catches for 274 yards. Tyler Hamilton is a former four-star recruit that might be ready to contribute in his redshirt sophomore season and the Boilers are adding a 4-star Army All-American in David Bell. Teams can key on Moore and force other guys to beat them but slowing Moore down, even when you know it is coming, is a tall task.
Offensive Line – Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Wisconsin Badgers had one of the best lines in the country last country. However, they lost three starters to the NFL and one to retirement. I am confident Wisconsin will still have a good line but the Badgers have some rebuilding to do. The Gophers were much improved upfront in 2018 and they bullied opponents later in the season. They were second in the league in adjusted line yards and they were rarely stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The most appealing part of the line is that they return a lot of contributors and should be even better this season. Jason Dickson and massive Daniel Faalele will be the starting tackles while veterans Connor Olson, Curtis Dunlap and John Michael Schmitz are on the interior. This is an experienced line with a ton of size.
Defensive Line – Iowa Hawkeyes
The Iowa Hawkeyes have an elite defensive end in A.J. Epenesa. He only played roughly half of the defensive snaps for Iowa a season ago but he will step into a starring role this season and be relied upon for an All-American type season. Despite his somewhat restricted snaps in 2018, he still led the league in sacks and I would expect more of the same in 2019. The junior will be joined by senior tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff and the other end will be occupied by Chauncey Golston. The Hawkeyes have potentially exciting young depth in redshirt freshmen John Waggoner and Nathan Nelson. This could be one of the top 15 defensive lines in the country.
Linebackers – Northwestern Wildcats
The Northwestern Wildcats have a pair of terrific linebackers and tackling machines in potential All-American Paddy Fisher as well as Blake Gallagher. Fisher, now entering his junior season, has more than 110 tackles in both of his first two campaigns. Gallagher was a breakout player in 2018 as a sophomore and he now helps anchor one of the better linebacker corps in the league. Chris Bergin had 51 tackles in 2018 and he is a very solid third backer. Paddy Fisher on the inside and Blake Gallagher on the outside won’t jump off the page athletically but they are rock-solid, explosive as tacklers and more than good enough to lead what should be a stout defense for Northwestern.
Secondary – Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois does not have an elite secondary and they would certainly not be my first choice here. But, the rules of this exercise dictate that I have to choose each team once to fill the units and build my “super team”. I was not in love with the secondary’s of other Big Ten West programs and I think the Illini could be serviceable at corner and safety so this was a logical choice. They are adding an elite sprinter and potentially good young corner in freshman Marquez Beason and he will undoubtedly see the field in 2019. The biggest problem for Illinois in 2018 was their run defense but our super team will have a much better group of linemen and linebackers in front of this secondary. Quan Martin showed flashes of being a quality #1 cornerback they played a whole lot of youth in 2018. Those freshmen and sophomores now have a bit of experience and the talent level in Champaign is increasing.
We will do the same exercise for the Big Ten East so come back to this space for more preseason coverage.
Noah Vedral will be the backup QB for Nebraska