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Big Ten Football: Ranking the 10 Best Playmakers from Week 1

David LutherFeatured ColumnistSeptember 1, 2014

Big Ten Football: Ranking the 10 Best Playmakers from Week 1

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    Finally, college football has returned.  After the first week, we've already seen some teams struggle, some teams shine and even a few glimpses of greatness.  While we've seen some great team efforts, here, we'll take a look at the best individual playmakers from the Big Ten in Week 1.

    Playmakers can change the course of a game before you can blink.  Often, it's these types of players that are the difference between a decent bowl game and a January bowl—or, in this year's case, a January bowl and a College Football Playoff berth.

    So who made our top 10 list for Week 1?  Which players stood out among the rest as one of the very best?

    Let's have a look!

Jordan Westerkamp, Nebraska

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    We really don't care if Jordan Westerkamp doesn't make another single catch all season; this one will still go down as one of the best highlights of 2014.

    A behind-the-back catch?  Are you serious?

    How could we not mention Westerkamp?

Bobby Richardson, Indiana

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    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    If you want to walk around, flapping your gums about how the Hoosiers don't have any defense worth talking about, do a quick glance around the room to make sure Bobby Richardson isn't within earshot.

    This behemoth, 6'3", 286-pound defensive tackle might just do what he did to FCS Indiana State quarterback Mike Perish: hit you over and over again.

    Richardson recorded an FBS-leading three sacks this week, proving that even the most overlooked of players on the most overlooked of units on the most overlooked of teams can be big-time playmakers.

Paul James, Rutgers

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Welcome to the Big Ten, Paul James.

    Rutgers, thanks in large part to James' three rushing touchdowns and 173 yards, defeated Washington State on the road in Week 1.  Not only does the win give the conference a much-needed victory over a fellow "power five" league in nonconference play, it also serves to put the rest of the Big Ten on notice.

    The East Division better be prepared to deal with James and the rest of the Scarlet Knights, or Rutgers could be playing more than a spoiler role come November.

Tevin Coleman, Indiana

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    Alan Petersime/Associated Press

    OK, so Indiana was playing Indiana State, an FCS team that was just 1-11 in 2013 (with that win coming against a 2-9 Division II squad).  But you go outside and run 247 yards, and see what it's like.

    Tevin Coleman proved that Indiana is more than just a pass-happy offense, as he racked up a conference-leading (and second in the FBS) 247 rushing yards this week.  Even if he only rushes for half that mark each week, he'll be one of the most prolific running backs in history.

    Granted, some Big Ten defenses will slow him down eventually, but there's little doubt he was one of the biggest playmakers in Week 1.

Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    We know a lot of these Week 1 games were expected to be lopsided, and against the Owls from Florida Atlantic, we expected Ameer Abdullah and the rest of the Cornhuskers to have a big day.

    We also expect Abdullah to be a playmaker every week, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that he and his 232 rushing yards (and one touchdown) make our Week 1 list.

Connor Cook, Michigan State

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    At this point last season, Connor Cook was backing up Andrew Maxwell at the quarterback position.  Michigan State had survived a visit from Western Michigan (which ended 2013 with a 1-11 record), and the defense was outscoring the offense.

    Boy, how things have changed in East Lansing.

    The defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions have a legit Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in junior quarterback Cook.  Granted, the Spartans played FCS Jacksonville State, but Cook used the opportunity to gear up for a daunting trip to No. 3 Oregon in Week 2.

    Cook threw for 285 yards and three touchdowns in one half of action, and he only had one incompletion all night.

    Clearly, MSU head coach Mark Dantonio won't be as worried about his offense as he was at this point last season.

Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

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    Peter Morrison/Associated Press

    We all knew Christian Hackenberg was good, right?  But 454 yards against defending Fiesta Bowl champion Central Florida good?

    Not only did he pick apart UCF's secondary, he set a school record in the process.  Now, that might not mean a whole lot at schools without a plethora of history.  But a program like Penn State, with all of the history and tradition, to break a school record as auspicious as passing yards in a game deserves special recognition.

    What's more, Hackenberg did all of this without the services of Allen Robinson, who is off to the NFL this season.

    We have a sneaking suspicion that Hackenberg will be making plays all season.

Devin Gardner, Michigan

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    Sun Belt teams are still Sun Belt teams, and Appalachian State is a very new, fresh out of the FCS Sun Belt team.

    But we all remember what happened the last time the Mountaineers strolled into the Big House.  Clearly, so did the Wolverines.  There was no mercy this past Saturday, and one of the more pleasantly surprising parts of the game (if you're a Michigan fan) was the fact that the Maize and Blue beatdown was led by none other than embattled quarterback Devin Gardner.

    Gardner threw for 173 yards (just 10th in the Big Ten in Week 1), but he had three important touchdown throws early.

    What's perhaps even more important is the fact that Gardner avoided throwing any interceptions, clearly showcasing some improved mechanics in his passing.

    Shane who?  If Gardner keeps this kind of efficiency going (13-of-14, 12.4 yards per attempt), he'll have the Michigan faithful forgetting they ever questioned his abilities as starter.

Devin Funchess, Michigan

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    In case you weren't aware, the No. 1 jersey at Michigan isn't just handed out by the head coach to a player for no good reason (unless, of course, that coach—Rich Rodriguez, we're looking in your direction—didn't seem to appreciate the respect for Michigan's storied football traditions).  The jersey is reserved for the best receiver on the team, and even then, the receiver in question has to earn the right to wear this very special number.

    Well, Devin Funchess has apparently earned it.

    And it didn't take long for him to prove to spectators and opponents alike why the coaching staff honored him in such a way.  Funchess, fully mindful of the responsibility of the No. 1 jersey, took to the field in Ann Arbor with reckless abandon, piling up 95 yards on just seven receptions.

    Oh, and three touchdowns, too.

    There wasn't a defender Appalachian State had on the roster that could cover Funchess when he didn't have the ball or contain him when he did.

    Keep your eye on the Devin-squared tandem of Gardner to Funchess this season.  They are poised to do something special.

Tony Lippett, Michigan State

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Hauling in 167 yards worth of receptions is one thing.  Doing it on just four catches is quite another.

    Tony Lippett averaged nearly 42 yards per catch in MSU's win over Jacksonville State Friday evening, and he scored two touchdowns for good measure as the Spartans demolished the Gamecocks.

    Every prolific quarterback needs a prolific, go-to receiver.  Cook may have found his for 2014.

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