Big Ten Football — The Next Big Things
By Tony Gerdeman
There is no doubting that the future of the Big Ten is extremely bright. Millions of dollars roll in every year faster than the conference can spend it, and that money now gets reinvested into the football programs of the five or six schools who find the sport important.
With such a future ahead for the conference, the quest for the "Next Big Thing" is an on-going process that never really stops. Even when that next big thing is in hand, the other hand is searching for the next bigger thing. It's a perpetual motion machine fueled by its own selfish desires.
These big things will come faster and more frequently until the next big thing is actually the norm. Next big things will litter rosters like eggs in a henhouse. You won't be able to walk ten feet without bumping into the broad shoulders of a next big thing.
But until that time comes 150 years from now, let's just take a look at the next Next Big Things, and worry about bumping into them later on.
Jalin Marshall. It's a recruiting pitch to certain elite athletes that Urban Meyer loves to give: "I see you in the 'Percy Harvin role'." It's a way to entice a recruit who doesn't know if he'd rather run the ball or catch it. In Jalin Marshall's case, however, he might also like to throw it. Marshall is a verbal commitment in Ohio State's 2013 class who plays quarterback for Middletown High School, and he plays it very well. But it's his speed and athleticism that have made him a five-star recruit and possibly the first legitimate candidate to fill the Harvin role since Percy Harvin himself. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they'll have to wait a year for him to get to campus. Once he does, however, expect him to be given a chance to make plays immediately, and expect those plays to last for just three seasons.
Bill O'Brien. Whether he succeeds as a head coach or not, Bill O'Brien is a move in the right direction simply because he is actually moving. In Joe Paterno's latter years, Penn State won despite being in a form of stasis best left for wedding dresses. O'Brien is actually coaching and recruiting, which is something that a Penn State head coach hasn't done in nearly a decade. Regardless of wins and losses, the first step towards changing a bad situation is always a good one, even if the short-term results aren't favorable. The fact that O'Brien is the man in charge of that change makes him the biggest next big thing in Penn State history.
Fan interest. Having been to Memorial Stadium a handful of times to see Ohio State play, my experience with Illinois fans has always been pleasant. Come the middle of the first quarter when they are making their way to their seats, they are polite in asking who is playing. Then, when leaving at halftime, they are sure to wish opposing fans good luck. However, in the very near future, there will be fans who actually care. Eventually, these fans will know who is playing and you won't be able to scalp tickets for half of face. With Tim Beckman, and whomever takes over for Beckman when he leaves for Oklahoma State when Mike Gundy leaves for the Dallas Cowboys in two years, the future of Illinois football is absolutely on the upswing.
Shane Morris. Morris is a five-star quarterback from Warren, Michigan who has been committed to the Wolverines for over a year. Since then he has spent his time recruiting a pair of top-flight recruiting classes and pretty much being everything an Ohio State fan could hate. He is the future of Michigan football and will finally bring with him the pro-style offense that Al Borges and Brady Hoke have promised. If all goes well, Borges will hopefully get the Wolverines to where he had Auburn's offense in 2006 and 2007—scoring under 25 points per game.
Beer-battered deep-fried bacon-wrapped cheese curds on a stick. Proof that evolution exists, but also that we have just maxed out our potential as humans. No more waiting on hoverbikes, because it's just not going to happen. A distant second? Tailback Melvin Gordon. He's good, but he's neither batter, nor cheese, nor bacon-based.
None. There are no big things coming Indiana football's way. Unless somebody goes out and finds another limestone boulder to defend, I guess. In fact, not only are there no "next big things" on the horizon, there isn't even a horizon. There is only a void in the space-time continuum. That's how John Mellencamp is still so popular there.
Philip Nelson. Nelson is a true freshman quarterback who was in for the spring and impressed quite a few people. He will likely redshirt, which makes him a four-year starter beginning in 2013. The best part for the Gophers and Nelson is that he'll get time to truly learn how to play quarterback for Jerry Kill, which MarQueis Gray never got. This is a slow build for Kill and Minnesota, but Nelson could be the first legitimate step towards a brighter future. He's athletic and has a tremendous arm. He should be able to put up tremendous numbers in Kill's system.
Junior college player to be named later. You can take the boy out of the Big XII, but you can't take the Big XII out of the boy. Nebraska's next big thing isn't even at his final college yet. In fact, he's probably some Texas or Florida high schooler who didn't take his Government class seriously and thinks checks and balances are about paying bills. This kid likely has offers from mid-level BCS schools, but with an understanding that he's not going to be eligible. He's not even on Nebraska's radar yet, which is surprising because they'll take anybody. Anyway, what they'll end up doing is just checking with Kevin Wilson, Jerry Kill and Purdue's next coach in a couple of years to see what junior college prospects they're looking at. And then they'll steal the best one.
Future Drew Brees progeny. Yes, it's going to be a while before Purdue's next big thing happens. And unfortunately for Purdue, the future Brees progeny-in-question will be the worst quarterback of his sons because if they were any good, they would have obviously gone somewhere other than Purdue.
Tony Lippett. Lippett started five games at cornerback last year as a redshirt freshman, but he'll be a very large part of the Spartan offense this year at receiver. With no starting receivers returning and a brand new quarterback in Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State is going to have to reestablish its passing game, and Lippett will make that transition easier. He is a tremendous athlete with good size (6-2 189) who knows how to get after the ball. He may not be big in 2012, but his time is coming.
Dr. Arliss Schmidt. Much like Dr. Frank Jobe, the pioneer who first performed the aptly named "Tommy John Surgery" on Tommy John, Dr. Arliss Schmidt will soon change Iowa football like Jobe did for Major League Baseball. Schmidt will develop a miraculous procedure that will get football players back on the field mere weeks after an ACL surgery. Sure, it will require players to run on their hands, but at least they'll be back in the lineup the same season.
Ibraheim Campbell. Campbell is a rising sophomore safety who redshirted in 2010, which Pat Fitzgerald called one of his biggest regrets. Campbell saw the field last year as a redshirt freshman and it was instantly apparent why Fitzgerald's regret was so great. He started twelve games and led the team in tackles with 100, and his 3.5 tackles for loss were good enough for third on the team. Campbell picked off two passes and broke up four others. He did well enough to be named a Freshman All-American, and obviously even more is expected of him this season. He's athletic, is capable against the run, and covers enough ground to make plays on the ball. Last year was a learning experience for him, but his confidence has grown and he will battle for All-Conference honors in 2012.
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