The Big Ten East figures to be stacked this season, with Ohio State (No. 2), Penn State (No. 6) and Michigan (No. 11) all in the top 11 of Monday’s Associated Press preseason poll.
The Wolverines have their work cut out if they’re going to win their first Big Ten title since 2004.
In sophomore Rashan Gary, Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated believes the Wolverines have a player who can help them end that drought.
The talented defensive end is one of 12 players in the country who Staples says can transform their teams from contenders to champions. Also making the list is Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson, a redshirt freshman and former Saline standout.
“They may not all have transformative seasons,” Staples wrote Monday, “but the ones who do can help transform their entire teams.”
Gary already has recevied plenty of attention heading into his second season, including spots on watch lists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Bednarik Award and Walter Camp Player of the Year, after a freshman season in which he had 27 tackles — five for loss — playing along a deep Michigan defensive line.
“With ends Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley gone,” Staples wrote, “Gary will be expected to terrorize opposing quarterbacks and set the edge so backs can’t bounce runs outside for extra yardage.
“Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, who has coached his share of great players, wasn’t shy about praising Gary earlier this summer. ‘Best I’ve ever seen,’ Brown told The Detroit News. ‘Best I’ve ever seen combining speed, strength, change of direction, and the mental curve. He’s unbelievable. The sky is the limit.’ ”
Jackson, meanwhile, was named the Hokies’ starting quarterback last week after redshirting last season.
“Jackson, the son of former Michigan assistant Fred Jackson, beat out touted true freshman Hendon Hooker,” Staples wrote. “He’s adept at the read option, and his arm will allow the Hokies to do as much or more than they did with (Jerod) Evans last season. If Jackson turns out to be an upgrade, Virginia Tech could vastly exceed expectations.”