Earlier today, Adam identified five Big Ten defensive players to watch in 2012. Now I'm here to handle the offensive side of things.
We're trying to identify breakout players here -- guys who had good seasons in 2011 but could be primed for greatness in '12. Players who were first team All-Big Ten honorees weren't eligible. It was very hard to narrow this list to only five, as I had to leave off worthy candidates like Northwestern's Kain Colter, Indiana's Tre Roberson and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell.
But five it is. Here are the five offensive players who could be on the verge of stardom next season (in alphabetical order):
Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis: His costly late fumble in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon overshadowed a terrific all-around day to that point. Abbrederis accumulated 346 all-purpose yards to set a Badgers bowl record. He'll become the clear No. 1 receiver in 2012 with Nick Toon gone, and he has already developed into one of the nation's top return specialists. The only real question is who will be throwing him the ball next season.
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell: The Huskers freshman came on strong late in the season and had a 30-yard touchdown catch in the Capital One Bowl loss to South Carolina. He also had five catches for 93 yards against Iowa in the season finale as he emerged as the team's top receiving target. Nebraska returns the vast majority of its offense, and the passing game needs to become more reliable. Expect Taylor Martinez and Bell to hook up often next season. Plus, Bell has one awesome Afro.
Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray: He definitely had his ups and downs while adjusting from receiver to starting quarterback in 2011, but Gray seemed to figure things out down the stretch. He threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan State's stingy defense and ran for 327 total yards in the final two games of the season. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is hard to tackle when he takes off on the ground. He needs to improve his accuracy in the passing game after completing just 50.7 percent of his throws in 2011. But another year at the position and in Jerry Kill's system should help, as should some competition in practice from sophomore Max Shortell and incoming prospect Philip Nelson.
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: An obvious choice, but one that can't be ignored. Much like Gray, Miller is a dangerous runner who needs to continue to improve as a passer. But what he showed as a true freshman leads you to believe that superstardom is right around the corner. Miller's development under Urban Meyer in a system that seems to perfectly suit his talents will be one of the Big Ten's top storylines in the 2012 season.
Michigan RB Fitz Toussaint: The sophomore emerged in 2011 to provide the Wolverines another running option in the backfield along with Denard Robinson. Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards, and more than 700 of those yards came after the first seven games. Imagine what he can do if Michigan commits to giving him carries as the No. 1 tailback for a full season. Offensive coordinator Al Borges doesn't want to take the ball out of Robinson's hands too much, but Toussaint showed that he could be a dangerous weapon in his own right.