So who's the best offensive player in the Big Ten?
Yes, the conference has gotten off to a dismal start. And, yes, the season is young.
Ohio State's Braxton Miller, the Big Ten's top offensive player the past two years, is out for the season after shoulder surgery. Someone is destined to step into that vacancy.
Yet not many teams in the country would turn down backs like Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah or Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, or smart quarterbacks such as Christian Hackenberg of Penn State or Michigan State's Connor Cook.
And Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford, Maryland's Stefon Diggs, Michigan's Derrick Green, Minnesota's David Cobb — and even the freshman who replaced Miller, J.T. Barrett — may all stake a claim.
The conference has many offensive threats. It all comes down to how they're utilized.
"It's a little bit about personality and it's a little bit about what the head coach wants to be on offense," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said in assessing the Big Ten's attacks. "Ultimately, offense comes down to getting the ball into the hands of your playmakers and there's a lot of different ways to do that."
Abdullah, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior I-back, is averaging 132 yards rushing a game for the conference's last unbeaten team (3-0). But he's much more.
"There's really no weakness in his game. He can do it all," coach Bo Pelini said. "That's rare. He can pass-protect, he can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, he can run inside, he can run outside. He's very versatile and a complete back."
Gordon, a 6-1, 213-pound junior, is off to a relatively slow start with 178 yards and two TDs in as many games. Don't be surprised if he explodes soon, possibly this Saturday against Bowling Green.
"I don't think he drew it up nor did we with the number of yards he's had to this point, but he's excited about the opportunity," coach Gary Andersen said. "We're looking forward to watching him have a great year."
Overshadowed so far despite being the nation's leading rusher is Coleman, averaging 218.5 rushing and 237.5 all-purpose yards a game. He is bidding to become the Hoosiers' first Big Ten offensive player of the year since Antwaan Randle El in 2001.
Hackenberg was the conference's freshman of the year in 2013, when he broke one Penn State passing record and 12 school freshman marks for passing while completing 231 of 392 passes for 2,955 yards and 20 TDs with 10 interceptions.
He's picked up where he left off last season, passing for 361 yards a game to rank seventh in the nation.
"I've really only studied one guy this year in particular on tape, just from the standpoint that we didn't play him a year ago," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "That was Christian Hackenberg. He's a really impressive, impressive young man."
Hackenberg's first-year coach, James Franklin, said Hackenberg has the attitude that seems to come as part of the package with top-flight quarterbacks.
"Christian's got tremendous belief in himself and he's also willing to sacrifice to be special," he said. "It's very, very important to him. And I think that shows up on Saturdays."
Cook took over as Michigan State's starter last year and led the Spartans to victories in the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl, winning MVP honors in each. So far this season, the junior is completing more than 68 percent of his passes for 314 yards a game for the No. 11 team in the nation.
"He's leading (the team), he's got a great arm, he's got a quick release," coach Mark Dantonio said. "My feeling is he still has room to grow. That's what's so exciting about this. Really, the sky's the limit for him."
Running backs Langford, Green and Cobb, quarterback Barrett and receiver Diggs all figure to also be prominent contributors when the Big Ten season kicks off in earnest Sept. 27.
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