As Big Ten teams look to build on success from last season, they might not have to look much further than some of the incoming players on their roster. The conference has talented freshmen coming into the fold who could provide a spark and fill voids where needed.
Here is a look at some of the freshmen who could help their respective teams this season.
Michigan: The Wolverines have quite a few new players who could fit the bill for this category. The most glaring need is at wide receiver, which means Donovan Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black both have a ton of opportunity ahead of them.
One Michigan coach said Peoples-Jones is athletically and physically ready to play. Both Peoples-Jones and Black have created buzz in the spring, as well.
Outside of those two, center Cesar Ruiz has been mentioned as another newcomer who could push for playing time. The Wolverines have a need, and Ruiz was billed as the most college-ready center prospect in his class. On the opposite line, defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon might not start, but his talent means he should push for playing time, as well.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes always have a few freshmen contribute, and this year should be no different. A few Ohio State coaches have been talking up running back J.K. Dobbins, as he has been turning heads all spring.
The staff is losing quite a few big names in the secondary with Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley and Malik Hooker all headed to the NFL. The coaches did an outstanding job recruiting to that need, though, with five-star cornerback Shaun Wade, five-star safety Jeffrey Okudah and the No. 1-ranked junior college corner in Kendall Sheffield.
All three could get on the field for the Buckeyes this season, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it’s sooner than later. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see defensive end Chase Young make his way to the field. Young could be a terror on the edge for the Buckeyes as early as this season.
One Penn State coach singled Wade out as someone who has stood out in spring practices. At 5 feet 10, he isn’t the biggest defensive back, but what he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and instinct.
Outside of Wade, defensive tackle Fred Hansard has a lot of depth in front of him, but he could be a player who pushes his way to the field. Rotating linemen isn’t abnormal for Penn State, so he could see the field early in a rotation behind some of the more veteran players on the roster.
Iowa: Youth could help bolster some of the strongest points of the Hawkeyes' depth chart and some of the weakest.
Blue-chip defensive end prospect A.J. Epenesa will likely be too talented to keep off the field for his 2017 season. Iowa's staff thinks the 6-foot-5, 270-pound second-generation Hawkeye could average between 15 and 20 plays a game to help add a solid layer of depth to a talented front seven.
Incoming freshmen might also make an impact at wide receiver and in the secondary, both spots where injuries and attrition have hit this offseason. The names to watch once they get on campus this summer include Djimon Colbert, Matt Hankins and Trey Creamer -- who could end up playing on either side of the ball depending on how he looks in training camp.
Nebraska: Mike Riley's staff has roped in some help from the West Coast that could make a quick impact in the fall.
Nebraska coaches have said since signing day that at least part of the trio of talented young receivers they added to the roster will get a chance to prove themselves early. Despite Stanley Morgan and De'Mornay Pierson-El cementing their spots as leading upperclassmen in the passing game, there is still space for the young guys. Injuries held back Keyshawn Johnson and Jaevon McQuitty during spring football, but they should be healthy and joined by the speedy Tyjon Lindsey this summer.
It's also worth keeping an eye on Pasadena, California, native Elijah Blades. He could add a layer of depth as a playmaker in the secondary or on special teams if he gets a shot to get on the field.