Hi everyone. My summer vacation is over so it's back to a regular blogging schedule. My third of 10 conference rankings continue today with the conference's top pass catchers. No tight end made my list, but a special mention to Wisconsin's Travis Beckum who's the best of a decent group at his position.
The plan is for regular blogs Monday and Thursday until the season starts, and as things warrant. I'll be out at Lions training camp this week and in Chicago next for the Big Ten's kick-off luncheon and media day. Now on to the rankings.
1. Mario Manningham, Michigan: The Wolverines get a clean sweep of the skill positions as Manningham's big-play ability (18.5 ypc) and nose for the end zone (nine TDs in 10 games last year) make him the clear choice. Things may be a little bumpier earlier in the season as Michigan breaks in new tight ends and settles in the rest of its receiving corps, but Manningham looks like a first-round pick next April assuming he's fully recovered from the knee injury that cost him three games as a sophomore.
2. James Hardy, Indiana: On Sheer talent, Hardy is Manningham's equal. The 6-foot-6 junior was slowed the second half of last season by injuries and has a history of off-field issues, but he's a guaranteed touchdown in the red zone. Only two Big Ten receivers have ever topped 100 passes in a season (Purdue's Chris Daniels in 1999 and Illinois' David Williams in '84). Hardy could be the third.
3. Dorien Bryant, Purdue: Bryant was actually the most prolific receiver in the conference last year and, despite the return of Purdue's top seven pass catchers, could lead the league again. At 5-foot-9, he's a product of Purdue's system in many ways. His hands aren't the best, but he's a rocket in and out of breaks and has the burners to beat anyone deep.
4. Derrick Williams, Penn State: Williams is still living a bit off reputation, but I expect a big season out of Penn State's most talented offensive player. Williams has had his problems with drops, but he's as athletic as anyone in the conference. With Tony Hunt off to the NFL, the Nittany Lions might think about using him in their thin backfield, too.
5. Brian Robiske, Ohio State: Robiske won't make anyone forget Ted Ginn and Anthony Gonzalez, but he's solid in his own right. The sure-handed junior had a key touchdown in the Michigan win, and should surpass last year's numbers (29 catches, 383 yards, 5 TDs) easily if sophomore teammate Raymond Small develops as everyone expects.