Here are 14 players to watch next season across the Big Ten Conference

Thu, Apr 25, 2024

Here are 14 players to watch next season across the Big Ten Conference

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

INDIANA: Ohio transfer Kurtis Rourke appeared to have the lead in the QB competition over the returning Tayven Jackson. Rouke went 20 of 30 with 148 yards while working exclusively with the starters in the spring game. He has prototypical size at 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds, a strong arm and the ability to run. He also has experience, with 16 wins the last two seasons.

ILLINOIS: RB Aidan Laughery has made the most of his opportunities with a short-handed running back room. Coach Bret Bielema said Laughery stood out all spring. He ran 11 times for 70 yards and caught three passes for 27 yards in the spring game. Laughery totaled just 16 carries over nine games last season.

IOWA: DL Aaron Graves has made a steady climb the past two seasons and drew rave reviews from defensive coordinator Phil Parker this spring. His playing time is set to increase with the departure of NFL draft prospect Logan Lee. Graves made 37 tackles in 14 games as the backup to Yahya Black.

MARYLAND: NC State transfer QB MJ Morris is battling 2023 backup Billy Edwards Jr., among others, to replace Taulia Tagovailoa. Though coach Mike Locksley is giving no hints about who leads the competition, reports on Morris have been promising. He was 5-2 as a starter for the Wolfpack the past two years with wins over Clemson and Miami last season.

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MICHIGAN: DE TJ Guy used the spring to position himself for an expanded role. Coach Sherrone Moore said there were times in practice when Guy was nothing short of dominant, and he stood out in the spring game. His career highlights are limited to a sack against Michigan State and three tackles against Indiana last year.

MICHIGAN STATE: WR Nick Marsh, the highest-ranked player in the Spartans' recruiting class, should get on the field a lot if the spring game was an indication. He made three catches for 105 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown to open the second half. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder also showed he's a willing blocker.

MINNESOTA: WR Elijah Spencer is in a great spot with New Hampshire transfer QB Max Brosmer an upgrade as a passer and opposing defenses forced to give significant attention to the returning Daniel Jackson. Spencer transferred from Charlotte before last season and had a quiet debut with the Gophers, catching just nine balls for 65 yards.

NEBRASKA: Five-star QB Dylan Raiola is the highest-ranked recruit in program history and his dad is Dominic Raiola, the longtime Detroit Lions center who was an All-American for the Cornhuskers. Coach Matt Rhule hasn't named Dylan the starter, but it would be a huge surprise if he's not considering the Huskers had their worst offense since the 1960s.

NORTHWESTERN: RB Cam Porter is one of the few known quantities on offense. The quarterback situation is murky with 2023 starter Brendan Sullivan in the transfer portal, the top three receivers gone and the line in flux. Porter, entering his sixth season, was last year's leading rusher with 651 yards and four touchdowns.

OHIO STATE: WR Jeremiah Smith was the No. 1 national prospect, at any position, in the 2024 cycle and he looked every bit the part in the spring. Some of his catches had observers mentioning his name in the same breath as Marvin Harrison Jr. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder should be a big part of the offense right away.

PENN STATE: WR Julian Fleming had a mostly star-crossed career at Ohio State, and now he's in Happy Valley to play his final season for his home-state school. Beset by injuries and unable to find a consistent role, Fleming never lived up to his billing as a top-five national recruit in 2020. He's in a spot now where he can flourish if Drew Allar can get him the ball.

PURDUE: RB Reggie Love III was Illinois' leading rusher and is entering his fifth season. He and Devin Mockobee could form a stronger 1-2 punch than the Boilermakers had with Mockobee and Tyrone Tracy Jr. Mockobee led what was the Big Ten's top rushing attack in conference games. Having the experienced Love will take some pressure off QB Hudson Card.

RUTGERS: TE Kenny Fletcher moved over from defensive end late last season and played the position in the Pinstripe Bowl win over Miami. Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca leans heavily on his tight ends, and the hope is Fletcher can help cushion the blow of losing the top two from last season. Fletcher stood out in the first spring scrimmage.

WISCONSIN: WR Trech Kekahuna looks to build off a strong bowl performance after he didn't catch a pass during the regular season as a freshman. He caught four balls for 64 yards in a bowl game loss to LSU and has stood out the first couple weeks of spring practice. He figures to give the Badgers another playmaker behind Will Pauling and Bryson Green.


AP Sports Writers Dave Campbell in Minnesota, Mike Marot in Indiana, Steve Megargee in Wisconsin and Mitch Stacy in Ohio contributed to this report.


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ERIC OLSON Olson is an Associated Press sports writer based in Omaha, Nebraska. He covers Nebraska, Creighton, the Big Ten and national college sports issues. twitter mailto "
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