College Football 2022: Offensive and defensive spotlight for all Big Ten teams | college football
Like clockwork, the Ohio State Buckeyes should be in the conversation for a spot in the college football playoffs. Unlike last year, however, it’s unclear whether the Michigan Wolverines will repeat their success in 2021.
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Editor’s note: This analysis focuses on non-quarterbacks.
Offensive star player: RB CHASE BROWN
Brown is the Illini’s most important player, and it’s not particularly close. He finished the 2021 season as the team’s most valuable offensive player and is Illinois’ most valuable returning player overall in 2022. Brown has shown either up or down trends in 2021, with several elite games above 90.0 mixed with some poor ratings below 60.0. Consistency will be key for Brown in 2022, but the offensive line must also do its part as blockers. Even still, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound fullback averaged 5.7 yards on not-perfectly-blocked rushing plays last year — a top-five FBS mark.
Defensive star player: CB DEVON WITHERSPOON
Witherspoon is eyeing a bigger 2022 campaign after three years of mediocre play with an overall PFF rating in the 60s. His ability to get going quickly stands out as a major asset. He makes excellent flatfoot breaks out of coverage, which helped him rank third in defensive stops among Big Ten cornerbacks in 2021 (19). That’s not to say there aren’t inconsistencies in Witherspoon’s game, hence his career average ratings.
Offensive star player: WR DJ MATTHEWS JR
A breakout seemed imminent for Matthews with the Hoosiers in 2021 after transferring from Florida State, but a torn ACL cut his season short. Against Cincinnati in Week 3, he earned an 85.6 PFF rating after catching five of six targets for 120 yards. He is a road seller who is deadly on double moves. Matthews’ separation rate was beyond the 90th percentile at the position in the FBS before he was injured. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound slot receiver is also a seasoned punt returner. He made one of his four home punt returns last season and has an 80.2 punt return rating for his college career. If he can get back to his pre-injury form, Matthews can be a major weapon for Indiana.
Defensive flagship player: CB TIAWAN MULLEN
Injuries have derailed Mullen’s 2021 campaign, limiting him to just four starts and 227 snaps. When healthy, he is undoubtedly among the best at this position. The 5-foot-10, 175-pounder has indoor-outdoor versatility and is a fierce blitzer. Mullen is also the proud owner of the highest run defense rating among cornerbacks since his true freshman campaign in 2019. In coverage, he consistently wins at the catch point, with an uncompletion rate. forced by 20.6% since 2019 – the second best among active Power Five cornerbacks.
Offensive flagship player: TE SAM LAPORTA
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