In the biggest games of the season we expect the best players to shine.
For the Big Ten, the schedule is filled with signature match-ups and marquee contests as the season debuts on Thursday, September 3. It’s an opportunity for each team’s most important and most talent players to make an immediate impact and prove they belong on the national stage.
With so many important games looming, there are a few players that need to put together impressive, season-opening performances in order to give his team a better chance to come out on top.
Here are the five Big Ten players who will be most needed to play well in the opening week of the 2015 season.
Adolphus Washington, DT, Ohio State
Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech – Sept. 7
Kicking off the season in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech wasn’t going to be an easy task. The loss of Joey Bosa, last year’s Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, doesn’t make the test any easier.
No Bosa means that the senior defensive tackle must have a bigger presence in the backfield and getting pressure on Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer.
Last year, Washington recorded 10.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, but was recognized more for clogging up gaps and serving as a nuisance to offensive linemen. Washington will have a greater responsibility without his teammate on the defensive line.
The Buckeyes can’t run the risk of letting Brewer get hot like he did a season ago in Columbus.
Shane Morris/Jake Rudock, QB, Michigan
Michigan vs. Utah – Sept. 3
Whoever wins the quarterback battle for the Thursday night opener against Utah will have his hands full as the Jim Harbaugh era begins at Michigan.
Michigan was one of the worst offensive teams in the Big Ten last season and Harbaugh’s arrival in Ann Arbor is expected to cure that relatively quickly. That job isn’t going to be easy against a defense that only allowed 30 or more points in two games last season.
Quarterback efficiency is extremely important in this contest if the Wolverines are hoping to shake the demons of the past few seasons and open up the 2015 campaign on the right foot. Regardless of whether it’s Morris or Rudock under center, the quarterback has to be accurate and play mistake-free football for the Wolverines to start with a win.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
Stanford vs. Northwestern – Sept. 5
Hype has surrounded the sophomore running back after an unexpectedly brilliant first season in Evanston. That anticipation will be put to the test in the Wildcats’ Week 1 bout with Stanford in an important Big Ten/Pac-12 duel.
The Cardinal defense finished last season 7th in defending the run, allowing 104.5 yards per game. On the other side of that, Northwestern was one of the worst rushing teams in all of college football, stumbling into a meager 136.6 yards per contest.
Without much talent surrounding him, Jackson is the primary focus of Northwestern’s offense and his production, especially against a quality defense, is crucial if the Wildcats want to hang with the Cardinal.
Briean Boddy-Calhoun, CB, Minnesota
TCU vs. Minnesota – Sept. 3
If the Golden Gophers want to have a chance against a highly-ranked TCU team and one of the most prolific offenses in the country, somebody is going to have to make plays.
Boddy-Calhoun can be that guy for Minnesota.
The defensive back intercepted five passes a season ago, broke up nine more and forced two fumbles in his junior season. He has to play with that same fiery aggression if Minnesota wants to avoid a second-straight throttling at the hands of the Horned Frogs.
Even if Boddy-Calhoun puts together a solid outing and his able to make Trevone Boykin think about each pass, the Gophers are a long-shot to take down TCU and continue to improve the perception of the Big Ten’s depth.
It certainly won’t happen if the defense doesn’t come up with some stops.
Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin
Wisconsin vs. Alabama – Sept. 5
It’s somewhat of a foregone conclusion that Alabama will slow down Wisconsin’s running attack and keep Corey Clement in check in his first start against a significant opponent. That puts a hefty amount of pressure on the Badger quarterback.
Stave ranked in the bottom portion of the Big Ten in completion percentage last season with a 53.4 clip. That type of accuracy won’t be acceptable against an Alabama defense that thrives on putting quarterbacks in uncomfortable situations.
Wisconsin’s offense is going to have its hands full against one of the country’s biggest and most physical defenses. The senior has to stay calm inside the pocket and deliver catchable passes for his receivers.
Any signs of struggle from Stave would be an indicator for a long season-opener for Paul Chryst and the Badgers.