Here we go with the start of the top 10 in the Big Ten player-ranking countdown, which measures only contributions during the 2013 season. The pick here marks the first appearance by a player from Nebraska, the ninth school to claim a spot on the 25-man list.
No. 10: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Previous ranking: Not ranked
Making the case for Gregory: The preseason expectations for Gregory peaked months before his arrival at Nebraska, as word traveled about his flashes of dominance as a junior college player in 2011.
His athleticism and pass-rushing ability earned Gregory a ranking as the No. 2 juco prospect nationally.
But as last season neared and Gregory, who missed all 2012 because of injury, remained absent from summer drills while finishing coursework in Arizona, hopes were tempered. After all, by the time of his major-college debut, Gregory wouldn’t have played football in more than 18 months, and he received just a few weeks to prepare with his new teammates.
Safe to say, Gregory in 2013 exceeded even the highest of all expectations.
He led the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks and contributed 19 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Gregory was a force on the defensive line for the Huskers from the outset, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league’s coaches, media and ESPN.com.
He dominated in particular during a key midseason stretch. Gregory’s stop behind the line on third-and-goal forced Northwestern to kick a field goal on its final drive in Lincoln, allowing the Huskers to win the game on their next possession with a Hail Mary.
He notched three sacks in the Huskers’ win at Michigan a week later.
Gregory’s strong play extended to late in the season, when he finished with eight tackles at Penn State despite receiving extra attention from the Nittany Lions. He capped the season with a sack and five tackles in the Huskers’ TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl win over Georgia.
By December, the 6-foot-6 Gregory appeared noticeably more thin than three months prior, when he entered the program listed at 255 pounds. An offseason at Nebraska ought to transform Gregory into an All-America-caliber defender in 2014.