Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
We're in the process of projecting the Big Ten's statistical leaders for the 2013 season. We've already offered our choices for the league's top rusher and top passer. So naturally, today's Take Two topic is: Who will lead the Big Ten in receiving yards this year?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
Perhaps a better question might be, who will finish second in receiving yards to Penn State's Allen Robinson? The Nittany Lions junior was clearly the best wide receiver in a league that lacked stars at the position in 2013. Robinson's 1,013 yards were more than 200 yards better than the next closest competitor, and his 77 catches were nine more than any other Big Ten player. He should only improve in his second year as a full-time starter.
The only reasons to believe Robinson won't repeat as the receiving yards leader would include the inexperience at quarterback for Penn State this season, increased defensive attention after his breakout year and/or a major improvement by a fellow league wideout. Let's examine that last factor for some possibilities. There are several players who I think could make a leap up this year and post big numbers. Start with Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis, who could easily surpass 1,000 yards receiving if he stays healthy and the Badgers' passing game shows more competency than a year ago. Nebraska's Kenny Bell has the talent and opportunity to become the Huskers' first 1,000-yard receiver ever. Ohio State's Corey Brown should thrive as Braxton Miller's No. 1 target, and Michigan's Jeremy Gallon will love being the go-to guy for Devin Gardner over a full season.
My choice to dethrone Robinson, though, is Indiana's Cody Latimer. He caught 51 passes for 805 yards a year ago and should benefit from working with more experienced quarterbacks in 2013. While he has competition for catches on his own team with Shane Wynn, Kofi Hughes and others, Latimer is the team's top big-play threat and has a great set of hands. If the pass-happy Hoosiers can get to a 13th game, he has a chance to finish with some eye-popping numbers.
I'm still picking Robinson as the receiving yards king. But should he falter, I say Latimer is the guy who picks up the crown.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
If this was about naming the Big Ten's best wide receiver, Robinson would get my vote. He also could repeat as receiving yards leader, but I'm hesitant to make that prediction without seeing Penn State quarterbacks Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg compete against FBS defenses. Robinson and Matt McGloin fed off of one another extremely well last season, particularly in the red zone, and Bill O'Brien's NFL-style offense provided the platform for both to flourish. O'Brien is still there and either Ferguson or Hackenberg could follow McGloin's path in Year 1 of running the system, but neither man has been in the fire like McGloin was before last season.
Latimer is a good pick as I love his size and big-play ability. Indiana isn't afraid to throw the football so Latimer should have plenty of chances to rack up yards. The thing working against him, as you outline, is the Hoosiers' overall depth at receiver, plus tight end Ted Bolser. Abbrederis likely would be my pick if Wisconsin's passing game hadn't struggled so much in 2012. He'll enter his senior season as Wisconsin's only legitimate threat at wide receiver, which might help his numbers (more opportunities) or limit him (more attention from opposing defensive backs). Ultimately, Wisconsin's run-first approach will prevent Abbrederis from leading the league in receiving yards.
I had Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez as the Big Ten's leading passer, and I'm sticking with Big Red for this pick and going with Kenny Bell. His production dropped off a bit toward the end of last season, but I really liked what I saw during the first seven games. Another offseason in the program should help Bell, who brings explosiveness to an offense that loves to stretch the field in the passing game. Although Nebraska has other weapons at wideout in Jamal Turner and Quincy Enunwa, the Huskers lose their top tight ends and should feature a guy like Bell more this fall as Martinez continues his evolution as a passer.
Several names could appear atop the Big Ten's receiving yards chart this fall and not surprise me. Let's also remember that no one pegged Robinson to lead the league in 2012, so a player could come out of relative obscurity to finish No. 1. But right now, Bell gets my vote.