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Big Ten spring wrap: 14 players to watch in upcoming season

Purdue wide receiver Charlie Jones (15) breaks the tackle of Northwestern defensive back Jeremiah Lewis (9) on his way to a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

A look at football players in the Big Ten this spring who are poised to have breakout seasons this fall:


INDIANA: QB Tayven Jackson, little brother of Hoosiers basketball All-American Trace Jackson-Davis, appeared in three games for Tennessee last year and retained his redshirt status. The homegrown four-star recruit and native Texan Brendan Sorsby head into fall in a close battle for the starter’s job.

MARYLAND: DL Jordan Phillips made one tackle in three games for Tennessee last season and probably would have remained in a backup role had he stayed with the Volunteers. He figures to make a big impact on a rebuilding defensive line.

MICHIGAN: CB Will Johnson, according to Pro Football Weekly, would be a top-10 pick if he were eligible for the NFL draft this year. He became a starter in November and closed with a flurry, making a career-high eight tackles against Ohio State and two of his three interceptions against Purdue in the Big Ten title game.

MICHIGAN STATE: RB Jalen Berger is the key if the Spartans are going to re-establish a running game that dropped off dramatically following the departure of 2021 Doak Walker Award winner Kenneth Walker III. Berger’s 683 yards were fewest by an MSU leading rusher since 2018 (excluding 2020 pandemic season).

OHIO STATE: S Sonny Styles was mostly a special teams guy last year. Expect him to be on the field a lot more. The Buckeyes play as many three safeties at a time, and the 6-foot-4, 222-pounder also has worked at linebacker. He was one of the stars of the spring game with six tackles and two pass breakups.

PENN STATE: QB Drew Allar gets the keys to the offense after playing behind Sean Clifford. The 2022 top national quarterback recruit displayed his elite passing ability in 10 appearances. With a bounty of talent surrounding him and a favorable schedule, the stage is set for him to make the Nittany Lions a College Football Playoff challenger.

RUTGERS: OL Jacob Allen is ready to show what made him New Jersey’s top-ranked recruit and the nation’s No. 10 lineman last year. He didn’t play his first season because of a lower-body injury. New line coach Pat Flaherty is giving Allen a long look for a starting tackle job.


ILLINOIS: QB Luke Altmyer, beaten out for the starter’s job at Mississippi last year, is first in line to replace Tommy DeVito. Coach Bret Bielema said Altmyer got better with each spring practice. Altmyer doesn’t have star RB Chase Brown behind him like DeVito did. Altmyer does have a high ceiling and will throw to an upgraded group of receivers.

IOWA: QB Cade McNamara has won over the locker room and shined on the practice field since transferring from Michigan. He gives the fan base hope the offense can up its production in a make-or-break season for coordinator Brian Ferentz. McNamara hasn’t played since injuring his knee in the third game last season.

MINNESOTA: DE Jah Joyner led the team in quarterback pressures despite being in a backup role. He likely will take over Thomas Rush’s spot and be a major contributor for new defensive line coach Winston DeLattiboudere, who’s looking for more sacks than the 19 the Gophers produced in 13 games.

NEBRASKA: DL AJ Rollins switched from tight end to defensive tackle at new coach Matt Rhule’s request. The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder has taken his new role and run with it. He played with the No. 1 offense in the spring game and had four tackles, one for loss, and a pass breakup.

NORTHWESTERN: WR Cam Johnson played from 2018-21 at Vanderbilt and last season at Arizona State, where he caught just 10 balls. Johnson should have a prominent role for a team that lost top receiver Malik Washington to the transfer portal and whose top returning pass catcher had just 19 receptions.

PURDUE: QB Hudson Card is next up in the program known as the “cradle of quarterbacks.” The Texas transfer takes over for Aidan O’Connell. He has a strong arm and good athleticism. More important, he has picked up offensive coordinator Graham Harrell’s system quickly.

WISCONSIN: CB Ricardo Hallman made eight starts last season, but his playing time dipped significantly after he struggled in a midseason overtime loss at Michigan State. He intercepted three passes Saturday in a practice open to the public. The Badgers need him to step up at a position where they lack depth.


AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell, Tom Canavan, Larry Lage, Mike Marot, Steve Megargee and Andrew Seligman contributed to this report.