Each year college football produces a new list of previously unheralded names and unexpected accomplishments. Not many expected Trace McSorley to rewrite the Penn State record books last year. Who expected a fullback (Khalid Hill) to lead Michigan's potent offense in touchdowns? How many casual Big Ten fans knew of Indiana tackling machine Tegray Scales even midway through the season?
The 2017 season will be no different. It's hard to say exactly where the next wave of surprises will emerge, but sifting through last year's stats and sorting out what the fall might hold provides a better picture of some of the Big Ten players who have a chance to catch our attention before the year's end. For discussion's sake, let's take a stab at some of the West Division players who could jump onto the national radar if everything breaks right for them this year. Don't be surprised if ...
Minnesota's Blake Cashman finishes with at least 10 sacks
The former walk-on linebacker may have found his scholarship in an Easter egg hunt, but he really earned it by tracking down quarterbacks last fall. Cashman had 7.5 sacks for the Gophers last year as a sophomore. With another season of experience, a maturing group around him and some serious closing speed, he has everything he needs to make a name for himself as one of the conference's most efficient pass-rushers.
Illinois' Mike Dudek leads the Big Ten in receiving
How will one of the league's least productive offenses from a year ago get better? A healthy Mike Dudek is a good start. After an eye-opening freshman season in 2014 (76 catches, 1,038 yards), Dudek missed both 2015 and 2016 with torn ACLs. If his knees hold up, Dudek might remain as one of the Big Ten's best when it comes to pulling in contested balls and getting into the end zone. As part of an Illini offense that isn't exactly swimming with options, Dudek should get plenty of opportunities to make plays. When he had those chances as a rookie, he took advantage.
Purdue's Markell Jones tops 1,750 all-purpose yards
Jones was a bright spot for the Boilermakers in his first couple seasons, and now he has a chance to be the top weapon in an attack orchestrated by coach Jeff Brohm's offensive mind. Brohm said he didn't yet have the personnel to run the type of pass-heavy offense that helped him make Western Kentucky the country's highest-scoring team a year ago. That's good news for Jones -- a compact and powerful back who has run for 1,491 yards in his first two season and shown the ability to be an effective receiver out of the backfield. The Boilermaker staff could do a whole lot with Jones' skill set if they are willing to get creative with him.