Welcome to “B1G Numbers to Ponder,” a new feature here at the Pants where I’ll be taking a quick look at some numbers and stats in the Big Ten from last season as we head into 2017. Once the season starts, we’ll be shifting gears to what went down in the previous week. This won’t be Moneyball, sabermetrics type stuff, but it’ll get through through a sip or two of coffee during the week. You’re welcome.
Is the Big Ten the New Quarterback Conference?
The big names in terms of the 2018 NFL Draft are both currently playing college ball in L.A., but the Big Ten is loaded with proven winners and stat-monsters at the position. The top six passers in the conference in both yardage and touchdowns from 2016 return to lead their teams into the 2017 campaign. Trace McSorely of Penn State, Richard Lagow of Indiana, David Blough of Purdue, Clayton Thorson of Northwestern, J.T. Barrett of Ohio State and Wilton Speight of Michigan were the cream of the crop in the old conference last season. They’re all back, and they all have talented skill players around them to help repeat their performances from last season.
The conference is loaded at running back as well
Seven of the top ten rushers in the conference from last year return in 2017 to wreak have on the league’s defensive fronts. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, Minnesota’s Rodney Smith, Ohio State’s Mike Weber, Iowa’s Akrum Wadley and Maryland’s Ty Johnson all topped the 1,000-yard mark on the ground. Michigan State’s L.J. Scott missed the mark by only six yards. Forget the stats, that’s a strong a list of names at any one position as you’ll find in any conference in the country.
Oh, and Ty Johnson is basically a walking first-down
As a sophomore in 2016, Johnson was able to top 1,000 yards rushing despite only carrying the ball 110 times. He also added 16 catches for 206 yards. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s an average of 9.6 yards every time he touches the football. If I’m Maryland head coach D.J. Durkin, I find every way possible to get him at least one touch every three plays.
For what it’s worth, Iowa doesn’t play Maryland until 2018. With another season like Johnson had in 2016, he might be long gone by then — and I won’t be mad about it.
Iowa City isn’t the only place where proven talent at receiver is scarce
When the Big Ten teams line up for kickoff weekend later this year, not a single 1,000-yard wide receiver from the previous season will be taking the field. None. There will be talent, but I wouldn’t call it “big time” talent just yet until some of those aforementioned quarterbacks can start getting these guys some targets. If you’re looking for what should be the deadliest quarterback-receiver combo in the conference, that’s probably going to be Indiana’s Richard Lagow connecting with Nick Westbrook. They connected 54 times for 995 yards and six scores in 2016.
It’s been a while since Penn State lost at home
The last time the Nittany Lions tasted defeat in Happy Valley was before Thanksgiving of 2015. In all fairness, that was also their last home game of the 2015 season, but it’s still fun to point that stuff out. Think of it this way — Peyton Manning was still playing in the NFL, Lonzo Ball hadn’t graduated high school and the Cubs still hadn’t won a World Series since 1908. It sounds better when you put it like that.