2019 Big Ten East 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 offseason idea and I’ve adapted it to the Big Ten’s two divisions.
I started with the Big Ten West last week, and I’ll conclude with the Big Ten East today.
The idea is to create a “dream team” using one position group from each team in the Big Ten East. 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 East team. If I choose the running backs of Maryland, I cannot choose Maryland for any other group.
Quarterback – Ohio State Buckeyes
We will start the team with the former number one recruit in the country: quarterback Justin Fields. Fields went from Kennesaw, Georgia to the University of Georgia and spent his freshman season as a Bulldog. He served as the backup to Jake Fromm and was mixed in for snaps during all 12 games during the 2018 season. Fields completed 27 of 39 passes and rushed for 266 yards. He struggled some in the spring as he attempted to learn Ryan Day’s offense and get used to his new personnel but Fields has a lot of talent. The depth behind Fields was hurt as Tate Martell left for Miami and Matthew Baldwin bolted as well. Gunnar Hoak, a former backup at Kentucky, is likely to be the backup for Fields while Chris Chugunov transferred in from West Virginia and will provide veteran depth. I am certainly not comfortable with the situation if Fields gets injured but he’s a terrific talent and choosing the Buckeyes here opens up my other consideration for a place where they are potentially elite.
Running Backs – Maryland Terrapins
Ty Johnson is now in the NFL but the Maryland running back corps is the strength of the team for the Terrapins and they’ll provide a great backfield for our “super team”. Despite a heavy load share, Anthony McFarland Jr. ran for 1,034 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman in 2018. He averaged 7.9 yards per carry and really hit his stride later in the season, rushing for 210 against Indiana and exploding for 298 against Ohio State. McFarland will be joined by junior Javon Leake, redshirt juniors Lorenzo Harrison III and Jake Funk and junior Tayon Fleet-Davis. Leake is a player with breakaway speed that will be utilized as a returner and a big-play runner. Harrison has battled injuries but he was good as a freshman and Tayon Fleet-Davis is an all-purpose player. Jake Funk is a bit of an afterthought but he is a powerful runner that could provide some short-yardage work for the Terrapins. The Terrapins have a deep backfield that is full of players with a variety of skills and it would be a blast to find ways to utilize them next to Justin Fields.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – Indiana Hoosiers
This might be a surprise given the Hoosiers lack of a vertical passing game in 2018 but I believe that had more to do with conservative play-calling and a quarterback with arm strength limitations. Indiana has a lot of talent at the wide receiver position and they are ready to show what they can do in a more aggressive and vertical attack. Nick Westbrook is a fifth-year senior that has led the Hoosiers in receiving yards in his playing career. He is 6’3” and has terrific hands and will be the number one target again this season. Fellow fifth-year senior Donovan Hale is 6’4”, giving Indiana a pair of big targets on the outside. Hale had a solid 2018 and he looked great during spring practice, earning Tom Allen’s praise as the best offensive performer in the spring. Whop Philyor is an electric slot receiver that was injured near the end of his 13-catch, 148-yard display against Michigan State. Though his season was cut short in 2018, he showed a breakaway speed that threatens defenses every time he touches the ball. Depth is provided by junior Ty Fryfogle, redshirt freshmen Miles Marshall and Jacolby Hewitt and incoming freshmen Da’Shaun Brown and David Ellis (both are low 4-star, high 3-star). IU wants to use the tight end and new offensive coordinator did that while at Fresno State. Peyton Hendershot is the best of the bunch but youngsters Matt Bjorson, T.J. Ivy and Gary Cooper are all going to play a big part of the attack.
Offensive Line – Michigan Wolverines
I was tempted to use the Wolverines for the secondary or for the quarterback position but I believe they have the best offensive line in the league and I love their mix of talent and experience. They return four All-Big Ten linemen: Jon Runyan Jr. (left tackle), Ben Bredeson (left guard), Cesar Ruiz (center) and Michael Onwenu (right guard). All four of them are big, strong and play with a physical edge. The right tackle spot will be a battle between Andrew Stueber (part-time starter in 2018) and redshirt freshman Jalen Mayfield. There are solid backups and some blue-chippers that provide great depth as well. The top four linemen for Michigan are NFL prospects that will be drafted at some point in the future and new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis (who worked at Alabama last season) called this group: “the best offensive line he’s ever been around.” This group blocking for Justin Fields and the great group of running backs we’ve selected from Maryland would make for a scary running game.
Defensive Line – Michigan State Spartans
There was no doubt that I would be choosing the Spartans for one of the defensive units. The only question was which one would be the best fit. I settled on defensive line and the Spartans have one of the best in the country. Kenny Willekes has gone from walk-on to star and he had 78 tackles with 20.5 for loss and 8.5 sacks in 2018. His presence means the other end, Jacub Panasiuk will have every chance to make plays while teams focus on Willekes and the tackles. Inside, seniors Raequan Williams and Mike Panasiuk were the main reason the Spartans had college football’s top rushing defense (cfbstats.com). They are two of the best interior defenders in the Big Ten and Michigan State has three legitimate senior stars on this line. The unit may struggle in 2020 but they sure look great this season (unlike their new alternate uniforms which are creations better left in someone’s imagination).
Linebackers – Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions are going to look a lot different this season than they have the past couple of seasons after a whole host of big-time contributors have exited during the past two offseasons. One of the spots where Penn State does not have a bunch of questions is linebacker. They return all three starters: sophomore Micah Parsons, senior Jan Johnson and senior Cam Brown. Sophomores Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks did enough in spring practice to have the coaches confident about the depth in the middle but it’s the play of the starters that has defensive coordinator Brent Pry excited. “I’m excited about Micah (Parsons) and the growth he’s had, and I think he’s ready to take the next step and be more of a 200-level player to 300-level player that really gets the bigger picture,” Pry said. “And then, you know, Jan just continues to impress and he’s got a lot of competition with Ellis and Jesse. I think Cam Brown has really set himself up to be the leader of this defense. He’s big and he’s healthy.” Penn State has recruited well at this position so there are a couple of incoming players that could crack the rotation as well.
Secondary – Rutgers Scarlet Knights
I saved Rutgers for the secondary. This is not because they were particularly great at corner or safety but I had to put them somewhere, the offense was flat awful and the pass defense was actually quite serviceable in 2018. The Scarlet Knights were 17th in the country in least passing yards allowed last season. You could argue that this was due to teams being able to run the ball very effectively and not feeling a need to pass but still, the passing defense was the strength of an otherwise weak defense. Safety is a major question mark as Kiy Hester and Saquan Hampton have both moved on. Four players: Malik Dixon, Jarrett Paul, Chris Izien and Tim Barrow are going to play and the hope is that their talent will overcome a complete lack of experience. Senior Damon Hayes has been moved from safety back to corner and he will start on one side. He’ll be joined by sophomore and potential #1 corner Avery Young. This is a pretty good tandem and Tre Avery is a good third corner. If they can get at least competent play at safety, the secondary won’t hurt our super team.
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