|Jesse Johnson/USA Today Sports|
|DE Randy Gregory is expected to build off an impressive first season with Nebraska.|
It's fun to talk about numbers in sports, and while projecting stats might seem an exercise in futility to some, did we mention that it's fun to talk about numbers in sports?
Besides, we're still about six weeks away from the start of the college football season, so why not slip on the Nostradamus hat and try to figure out who will lead various statistical categories in each league?
Today, we're spotlighting the Big Ten. Wednesday, it will be the Big 12.
Passing yards: Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld
Buzz: There's a good chance that Indiana and Illinois are the Big Ten's top two teams in passing yards, and we're going with Sudfeld to edge the Illini's Wes Lunt in this category. Sudfeld (6-foot-5, 232 pounds), a junior from Modesto, Calif., threw for 2,523 yards last season, when he shared time with Tre Roberson. Roberson, who threw for 1,128 yards and was a strong runner, has transferred, leaving the job to Sudfeld. Sudfeld has a big arm and should thrive in coach Kevin Wilson's pass-happy version of the spread this season. Keep an eye on Lunt (6-5, 225), though, a sophomore who is eligible after transferring from Oklahoma State and sitting out last season. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase led the Big Ten in passing yards last season, and Lunt is much more of a natural thrower than Scheelhaase.
Rushing yards: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Buzz: The battle to lead the Big Ten in rushing should be a good one. There's defending champion Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska (1,690 yards last season). There's Michigan State workhorse Jeremy Langford (1,422 yards, a league-high 18 rushing TDs). And there's Gordon (6-1, 207), a junior who was second in the league with 1,609 yards last season while sharing carries with James White (who had 1,444 yards). White now is in the NFL (he was a fourth-round pick of the New England Patriots), and while Gordon will share carries with Corey Clement, he still is going to get the bulk of the work and has a legit chance at an 1,800-yard season.
Receiving yards: Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Buzz: Each of the Big Ten's top seven receivers -- and eight of the top 10 -- are gone from last season. Indiana loves to throw the ball around, and with the early departure of Cody Latimer to the NFL (he was a second-round pick by the Denver Broncos), Wynn should become IU's go-to guy. Despite a lack of size -- he is 5-7 and 170 pounds -- Wynn is going to be a three-year starter. He has good speed and can get deep, but he also is an effective possession receiver with good hands. Wynn, a senior, has caught 114 passes in the past two seasons combined (with 17 TDs); given IU's penchant for passing, look for a season with around 85 catches this fall.
Tackles: Northwestern LB Chi Chi Ariguzo
Buzz: Ariguzo (6-3, 235), a senior, has 197 tackles in the past two seasons combined, and he should be around 115 or so this fall. Ariguzo is heading into his third season as the starter at weakside linebacker, and he is known for his all-around ability: He is solid against the run and has 16.5 tackles for loss, six interceptions and seven pass breakups in the past two seasons. Northwestern's defense must get tougher against the run this fall, and Ariguzo's presence should help in that regard.
Sacks: Nebraska DE Randy Gregory
Buzz: Gregory (6-6, 245), a junior, led the Big Ten with 9.5 sacks last season in his first year with the Huskers after transferring in from junior college. He and his coaches have said Gregory basically got by on athleticism alone last season, and bigger things are expected this season -- like a dozen or so sacks -- as he gains better technique and polishes his game. Gregory needs to add bulk and gain strength, but gaining weight is difficult for him. Still, even if he were to add another 10 pounds, he seems unlikely to lose the burst off the edge that sets him apart. Look for Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun, Ohio State DEs Joey Bosa and Noah Spence and Minnesota DE Theiren Cockran to be Gregory's main competitors for the sack crown.
Interceptions: Wisconsin CB Sojourn Shelton
Buzz: Shelton (5-9, 172) isn't the best corner in the Big Ten (that would be Michigan State's Trae Waynes), but he showed last season as a true freshman that he has the potential to contend for all-league honors. He had four interceptions and seven pass breakups even though he was thrown into the fray a bit earlier than expected, starting 12 games. Shelton -- who was a high school star in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a recruiting coup for Wisconsin -- needs to add bulk, but he runs well and has good instincts. The secondary was an issue for the Badgers last season, but an inexperienced group has grown up and should be a team strength this season.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at email@example.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.