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June 24, 2011

Ranking the Big Ten: The return game

As Nebraska moves into the Big Ten Conference, HuskerOnline.com will get you ready with ranking analysis pieces breaking down each position in the league. Today we look at the top kickoff/punt returners in the Big Ten heading into 2011.

Other Big Ten rankings: QB l RB l WR l TE l OL l DT l DE l LB l S l CB l K/P l

1. Jordan Hall , Ohio State, 5-9, 190, Jr.
On a list ranking the best kick and punt returners in the Big Ten Conference, Ohio State's Jordan Hall just might be the best at both coming into the 2011 season. While his impact at running back was minimal last year, Hall made his name in the return game and ended the season ranked second in the conference in kickoff returns (27.9 yards per return) and third in punt returns (9.9 ypr). He showed the knack for being able to make the big play in both respects, as he had a 70-yard punt return and an 85-yard kick return for a touchdown last season.
2. Keshawn Martin, Michigan State, 5-11, 185, Sr.
Michigan State's Keshawn Martin doesn't handle both return duties like Hall, but he's very, very good at the one unit he does man. With an eye-popping average of 14.2 ypr and a 74-yard runback for a touchdown, Martin was head and shoulders above the rest of the pack as the Big Ten's best punt returner. His 14.2 average ranked 11th nationally, and he was named first-team all-conference at kick returner by numerous publications.
3. Devon Smith, Penn State, 5-7, 157, Jr.
He may be the smallest player on the field in most of the games he plays, but Penn State's Devon Smith makes a huge impact as the Nittany Lions' star punt returner. Smith was the only player to come close to Martin in punt return average last season, as his 12.9 ypr ranked second in the Big Ten. His production hasn't been much of a surprise, as Smith is one of the fastest players in college football. In high school, he set the Maryland state record in the 100 meters with a time of 10.42 and has a 40-time clocked at 4.19.
4. Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota, 5-10, 190, Sr.
There might not be a more consistent return man in the Big Ten than Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire, and his numbers certainly back that up. With 2,929 total kick return yards, Stoudermire needs just 189 more yards to tie the NCAA all-time record and needs just 16 more returns to tie the NCAA record in that category. Last season, he ranked third in the conference with an average of 27.2 ypr on 29 returns, so both of those records appear easily within reach.
5. Venric Mark, Northwestern, 5-8, 170, So.
Northwestern's Venric Mark made an impressive debut in the return game as a true freshman last season, as he finished fourth in the Big Ten and 32nd nationally in kickoff returns with an average of 26.2 ypr, including a 92-yard runback for a touchdown. On top of that, Mark was named to the second-team Freshman All-American team as a punt returner after averaging 12.9 ypr on nine returns.

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