Preseason All-Big Ten team: Penn State's backfield, Ohio State's defense lead way

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Only four players who ended the 2016 season on our Big Ten all-conference team start the 2017 season on the same list. Many of last season's picks are grinding their way through NFL preseason camps right now, but there's no lack of familiar names from which to choose when deciding who is primed to take over those spots.

After sorting through a handful of tough decisions, here are our picks for the league's best lineup.


QB Trace McSorley, Penn State: Thanks to a stellar performance in the Rose Bowl and the promise of more to come, McSorley just edges out Ohio State's J.T. Barrett. The Buckeye captain will have a chance to make up ground at the helm of an offense that should now move as fast as McSorley’s.

RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State: The junior star might be the most explosive player in the country this season, let alone the conference. His off-the-charts lower body strength and good vision help Barkley turn routine plays into highlight-reel moments.

RB Justin Jackson, Northwestern: No shortage of options at running back in the Big Ten again, but Jackson gets the nod here over the likes of Akrum Wadley, Mike Weber and LJ Scott because of his long track record of success.

WR Nick Westbrook, Indiana: Westbrook and Simmie Cobbs give the Hoosiers the best established pair of receivers in the conference this season after a lot of turnover at the position. Westbrook came up just shy of 1,000 receiving yards in 2016 and has as good a shot as anyone to top that mark this fall.

WR Malik Turner, Illinois: Turner caught 48 passes for 712 yards last season despite the injury bug biting the Illini quarterbacks. The receiver position on this list is wide open, so don't be surprised if a new face (like Turner's teammate Mike Dudek) quickly works himself into the conversation here.

TE Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin: After posting comparable stat lines last season, Fumagalli barely nudges out Penn State's Mike Gesicki for this spot. They both have the potential to end the season as Mackey Award finalists, but Fumagalli got the edge here because of how big of a role he'll play in Wisconsin's passing game.

OT Mason Cole, Michigan: Cole appears to be bumping back out to the edge of the line after spending a season at center. The three-year starter and captain is the Wolverines' most versatile and athletic lineman.

OT Nick Gates, Nebraska: Gates returns to Lincoln with 23 starts under his belt to lead an offensive line that allowed only 15 sacks last season, the best mark in the Big Ten.

OG Sean Welsh, Iowa: Welsh has missed only one game since taking the field for the Hawkeyes as a redshirt freshman in 2014. The senior has been a consistent force for a consistent group.

OG Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin: It wouldn't be right to put together an All-Big Ten line without at least one Badger. Benzschawel (6-foot-6, 317 pounds) is a worthy addition to the list after starting all 14 games at guard last season.

C Billy Price, Ohio State: Last season the Buckeyes moved Pat Elflein from guard to center and he won the Rimington Award. Price, an All-American guard as a junior, has the potential to follow the same path.


DE Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State: The reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year is a versatile cornerstone of what could be the deepest defensive line in the nation this season. He had eight sacks last season.

DE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State: There is no shortage of options for the Buckeyes here, but we'll go with Hubbard over budding sophomore Nick Bosa (a freshman All-American in 2016) because of his athleticism and his ability to keep offenses guessing.

DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan: Perhaps the most explosive interior player in the conference this season, Hurst and sophomore Rashan Gary will give a lot of offensive lines headaches when they set up next to each other.

DT Steven Richardson, Minnesota: The senior had 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks while serving as the foundation of the Gophers defensive line last season. He'll be the leader of that group again this season.

LB Josey Jewell, Iowa: Speed, power and 124 tackles last season made Jewell an obvious pick. He'll be the linchpin of a strong front seven.

LB Tegray Scales, Indiana: No player in the country was more disruptive than Scales last season with his 23.5 tackles for loss. The senior is back after thriving in Tom Allen's system.

LB Jerome Baker, Ohio State: Baker might be the best athlete on this loaded defense. He has a penchant for making big plays when they're needed.

S Marcus Allen, Penn State: Allen has become the emotional leader of Penn State's defense after recording a team-high 110 tackles in 2016. He leads a young secondary that could have a big impact on the conference championship race.

S Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern: One of the country's top open-field tacklers, Igwebuike is back for his senior season. He had 108 tackles as a junior.

CB Rashard Fant, Indiana: The Georgia native broke up 39 passes over the past two seasons. Sooner or later, quarterbacks are going to stop looking his way.

CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State: Ward and company have to help replace three high NFL draft picks from the defensive backfield. As part of a three-man rotation at cornerback in 2016, he has the experience and the potential to follow in the footsteps of his former teammates.

Special Teams

K Emmit Carpenter, Minnesota: Carpenter missed only two field goals last season and made all 10 of this tries from 40 yards or longer. He'll have a good chance to repeat as the conference's kicker of the year in 2017.

P Blake Gillikin, Penn State: As a freshman, Gillikin averaged 42.8 yards per punt last season, earning a spot on our Freshman All-America team. His four kicks in the Rose Bowl went for an average of 50.8 yards.

KR/PR Janarion Grant, Rutgers: Grant missed most of last season after breaking his ankle in September, but returns as one of the best all-purpose players in the country. He is one touchdown away (he has eight) from tying an NCAA record for most combined scores on kick and punt returns.