Big Ten football: Top players Ohio State will face this season

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

With the Big Ten set to hold its annual media days this week in Indianapolis, we continue our Ohio State football preseason preview with a look at some of the best players the Buckeyes will face in the conference.

With Pro Football Focus rankings as a guide, here are players who could play an outsized role in their teams’ efforts to end a Buckeyes’ winning streak against Big Ten foes that stands at 21 games entering the season:

Michael Penix Jr., Indiana quarterback

This is an obvious starting point.

Penix not only plays the most important position in the game, he is also the best player on what figures to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten East.

The 6-3, 218-pound junior missed the 2019 game against Ohio State but made up for it in a big way last season when he threw for nearly 500 yards in a 42-35 Ohio State victory.

The strong-armed lefty had an 82.9 offensive grade from PFF last season and is a good athlete with a knack for big plays.

Tanner Morgan, Minnesota quarterback

The Northern Kentucky native is 18-8 as a starter, and he gets the first crack at an Ohio State secondary that struggled most of last season.

He was the league’s No. 4 QB last season per PFF and must find a new No. 1 target with Roshod Batemen moving on to the next level, but Chris Autman-Bell was one of the league’s top-rated receivers last season and Springfield grad Michael Brown-Stephens is in the mix to join the rotation.

Jahan Dotson, Penn State receiver

The 5-11, 184-pounder introduced himself to the nation last season when he caught eight passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes in Week 2.

That included a pair of spectacular catches that marked him as a play-maker and another player who will challenge Ohio State’s cornerbacks against this fall.

Ty Fryfogle, Indiana receiver

Not only is he the top-rated returning (non-Ohio State) receiver in the Big Ten, he has shown the Buckeyes what he can do up close and personal.

The 6-2, 205-pounder may have wrapped up Big Ten Receiver of the Year against the Buckeyes when he caught seven passes for 218 yards and three touchdowns against the Buckeyes last season.

David Bell, Purdue receiver

Noticing a theme yet?

Ohio State’s beleaguered secondary is on notice until the Buckeyes prove they are a better unit than the one that was frequently abused last season.

Bell is a 6-2, 205-pound Indianapolis native who has not faced Ohio State yet but should have their full attention in November. He was a first-team All-Big Ten pick last season when he had 53 catches for 625 yards and eight touchdowns.

Derrick Tangelo, Penn State defensive tackle

A 6-2, 307-pound transfer from Duke, Tangelo could cause problems for a new-look interior of the Ohio State offensive line.

He was a three-star prospect coming out of high school but excelled for the Blue Devils, ranking seventh in the ACC in defensive grades among linemen last season.

JoJo Domann, Nebraska linebacker

A 6-1, 230 pounder did it all for the Blackshirt defense last season when he led Nebraska with 58 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

PFF rated him as a cornerback and gave him the No. 23 grade among all defenders in the conference last season.

Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota running back

Far and away the league’s most productive running back last season with 1,076 yards and 15 touchdowns in seven games. He also gets to go against that Ohio State defense that will have four new faces in the front seven.

Blaise Andries and Sam Schlueter, Minnesota offensive tackles

Schlueter and Andries were both among the top 10 blockers in the league last season according to PFF, and they made our list because Ohio State’s defensive ends will be looking to generate a bigger pass rush this season after a so-so 2020.

Andries may move inside if highly regarded tackle prospect Daniel Faalele reclaims right tackle after opting out of last season.

Tiawan Mullen, Reese Taylor and Jaylin Williams, Indiana defensive backs

A trio of talented players give the Hoosiers defensive secondary a strength to rely on after that side of the ball was a liability for years in Bloomington.

They all ranked in PFF’s top 40 defensive players in the league last season and could make life difficult for Ohio State’s new quarterback this fall.

Jaquan Brisker, Penn State safety

The 6-1, 204-pounder broke into the starting lineup for the Nittany Lions last season and made an immediate impact. Although he was just a third-team All-Big Ten pick, PFF named him a first team All-American after he broke up six passes and logged 57 tackles.

Micah McFadden, Indiana linebacker

The top-rated IU defender, McFadden was a first-team All-Big Ten pick and second-team All-American last season when he led the Hoosiers with 58 tackles, including 10.5 for loss.

He figures to be key if the Hoosiers want to be able to avoid getting run over again by the Ohio State running game, as they were the last two seasons.

Daxton Hill, Michigan safety

A junior who was a five-star recruit coming out of Tulsa, Okla., Hill is perhaps Michigan’s most talented player on either side of the ball.

He’s also a versatile weapon for a Wolverines defense that will have a new look under a new defensive coordinator this fall, and an all-around talent like this is someone who can change a game — something Michigan has lacked in recent seasons.

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