Iowa Hawkeyes B/R Featured Columnist
Last year was supposed to be the year of the wide receiver in the Big Ten, with stars like Illinois' Arrelious Benn and Minnesota's Eric Decker returning.
While some stars emerged from other teams, other stars failed to deliver. Benn turned into an average wide receiver and Decker got hurt halfway through the season, ending his year.
This year's crop of receivers looks just as promising and is much deeper, with a few possible All-Americans in the mix.
No. 10—Graham Zug—Penn State
Zug was the leader of Penn State's young receiving corps last season. The senior will be counted on more than ever in 2010 to lead a passing offense that could struggle with the departure of quarterback Darryl Clark.
At 6'2'', 178 pounds, Zug is relatively small for a receiver, but still accumulated 46 receptions, 600 yards, and seven touchdowns in 2009. He was the Nittany Lions' second-leading receiver behind Derek Moye. Expect him to improve in his senior season.
However, his stats may take a hit due to the quarterback change. With very little experience at that position, expect coach Joe Paterno to run the ball early and often, as running back Evan Royster returns for his senior season. JoePa will need to phase the new quarterback (likely sophomore Kevin Newsome) in very slowly, especially with an early game looming in Tuscaloosa against the defending national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
So while Zug may improve in 2010, his stats may not be as impressive as 2009's due to youth in the passing game and a focus on the run game.
No. 9—B.J. Cunningham—Michigan State
Cunningham was the leader of Michigan State's surprisingly effective receiving corps in 2009. He accumulated 48 receptions, 641 receiving yards, and four touchdowns for the Spartans and helped quarterback Kirk Cousins find a rhythm early in the season.
But Cunningham's status with the team is still yet to be determined. He was suspended for the Alamo Bowl after his role in a campus fight in November, and later pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery charges.
Coach Mark Dantonio said that Cunningham's status with the team will be evaluated at a later date. The same applies for wide receiver Mark Dell, MSU's second leading receiver, who pled guilty to the same charges.
But don't expect too much of a penalty, especially because Cunningham already missed the bowl game. A one game suspension seems the most likely at this point, and it shouldn't have much of an effect on his season.
No. 8—Derrell Johnson-Koulianos—Iowa
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos's (DJK to Iowans) rank within the Hawkeye wide receiver hierarchy has been difficult for Hawkeye fans to understand ever since he arrived in Iowa City.
On one hand, he will likely break Iowa's career receiving record in 2010, but he has dropped on the depth chart numerous times during his career.
Normally, that tactic is just used by coach Kirk Ferentz to motivate DJK, whose lack of work ethic has sometimes been a cause for concern. But over the last two seasons, DJK has stayed mainly on Ferentz's good side and has been a key contributor to Iowa's passing game, accumulating 45 receptions, 750 yards, and two touchdowns in 2009.
Expect DJK to improve his stats even more in 2010, as he has improved greatly from year to year. The return of starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi will help his numbers as well.
No. 7—Demarlo Belcher—Indiana
At most Big Ten schools, Belcher would get a lot of attention. But remember, this is Indiana. It also doesn't help that he is the number two receiver for the Hoosiers, behind Tandon Doss.
But Belcher is a very talented receiver in a passing offense that's quite talented itself. He had 61 receptions for 770 and five touchdowns in 2009. Expect those numbers to improve in 2010 with the return of quarterback Ben Chappell.
Belcher will likely be overshadowed by Doss once again, but he will be a key contributor to Indiana's pass offense, which will be better than most expect next season.
No. 6—Derek Moye—Penn State
After a breakout sophomore season, Derek Moye will help lead Penn State in a rebuilding season that features a new quarterback.
Moye hauled in 48 receptions for 785 yards and six touchdowns last season for the Nittany Lions, but, like Zug, likely won't be able to continue that level of success into 2010.
As new starting quarterback Kevin Newsome is integrated into the system in State College, the Nittany Lions will likely lean on senior tailback Evan Royster and the run game, meaning Moye won't get as many receptions as last season. Nevertheless, he will still be a key asset to the Penn State passing game in 2010.
No. 5—Nick Toon—Wisconsin
With the departure of tight end Garrett Graham, Toon will be Wisconsin's top receiver in 2010. He led the revived Badgers passing game with 54 receptions for 805 yards and four touchdowns in 2009, and will likely improve in 2010.
With the exception of Graham, the entire Wisconsin receiving corps returns next season, as does quarterback Scott Tolzien. The running game will be very good and running back John Clay may contend for the Heisman Trophy. But expect a balanced attack in Madison, meaning Toon will have a chance for a very strong season in 2010.
No. 4—Marvin McNutt—Iowa
At this time last year, Marvin McNutt was a quarterback buried deep in Iowa's depth chart. But coach Kirk Ferentz refused to let this remarkable young talent go to waste, and McNutt made the move to wide receiver.
McNutt's 674 receiving yards are second on the team to DJK, but his many of his eight touchdowns were some of the most important in Iowa's season.
He made an outstanding grab against Ohio State to send the game to overtime, caught the winning touchdown against Michigan State as time expired, and had a 92-yard touchdown reception against Indiana to give momentum back to the Hawkeyes.
McNutt has a chance to be a star next season, and he and DJK will give Iowa its best receiving tandem since 2004.
No. 3—Keith Smith—Purdue
The only receiver to have more than 1,000 yards in 2009, Keith Smith could easily be an All-American candidate at the end of the season.
But, like Belcher, his team could hold him back. Purdue isn't exactly a football powerhouse, and while it has improved, Smith would be better off playing somewhere else.
Another obstacle that could hold Smith back is the departure of quarterback Joey Elliot. Like the Penn State receivers, Smith's stats could end up worse next year because of the quarterback transition.
No. 2—Tandon Doss—Indiana
Doss was the third leading receiver in the Big Ten last year with 77 receptions, 962 yards, and five touchdowns, and was the leader for one of the best receiving corps in the Big Ten.
A rising junior, Doss has become a force to be reckoned with in his conference and may end up as an All-American within the next two years.
With senior quarterback Ben Chappell returning, look for Doss to improve his stats even more. He's likely to pass the 1,000 yard mark. He and Belcher should form the Big Ten's best receiving duo in 2010.
No. 1—DeVier Posey—Ohio State
Of course no top 10, Big Ten preseason wide receiver list is complete without an Ohio State player, and this particular player has the chance to be the conference's top receiver in his junior season of 2010.
Overall in 2009, DeVier Posey was was pretty good, but not always great—Although he had some great moments at times last season.
But now, he has a chance to be a star with the improvement of Terrelle Pryor's passing game.
Last year, Posey accumulated 60 receptions for 828 yards and eight touchdowns for the Buckeyes. You can expect a breakout year this coming season, as Ohio State is expected to pass the ball a lot more.
Posey was outstanding during the Rose Bowl, with 101 receiving yards and a touchdown, helping his Buckeyes break their recent bowl game curse.
Expect many more games like the Rose Bowl in 2010 from Posey, and from the Buckeyes as they pursue their sixth straight Big Ten title, their fourth trip to the BCS title game in the last nine seasons, and their record ninth trip overall to a BCS bowl game since the inception of the BCS back in 1998.
All photos within this article courtesy of BleacherReport.com / Getty Images