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June 10, 2013

Ranking the Big Ten: Return men

As Nebraska moves into its third season in 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 return men in the Big Ten heading into 2013.

1. Venric Mark, Northwestern, 5-11, 165, Sr.
While he might not get as much attention at the national level he deserves, Northwestern senior Venric Mark has established himself as one of the most explosive playmakers in the Big Ten with the ball in his hands. Also the Wildcats' starting running back, Mark was named first-team All-America at punt returner last season after averaging 18.7 yards per return with two runbacks for touchdowns.
2. Corey Brown, Ohio State, 5-11, 187, Sr.
Not only was Corey Brown Ohio State's leading receiver in 2012, he was also the top punt returner in the Big Ten, averaging 12.3 yards per return with two touchdowns. Add prolific kickoff returner Jordan Hall - who missed last year to injury - back into the mix, and the Buckeyes boast arguably the best return unit in all of college football.
3. Jordan Cotton, Iowa, 6-2, 190, Sr.
Offense was tough for Iowa to come by all season in 2012, but kickoff returner Jordan Cotton gave the Hawkeyes a desperately needed spark. Cotton's 28.3 average on kick returns was far and away the best in the Big Ten, with his biggest highlight coming on a 92-yard runback for a score and a 45-yarder to set up a field goal in a 19-16 win over Michigan State.
4. Dennis Norfleet, Michigan, 5-7, 168, So.
Michigan's Dennis Norfleet broke onto the scene as a true freshman last season and emerged as one of the Big Ten's top kickoff returners. His 23.6 average was second in the conference only behind Cotton, and he was named to the Freshman All-Big Ten team and was a second-team all-conference selection for his efforts. Look for 2013 to be even bigger for Norfleet.
5. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska, 5-9, 190, Jr.
There was a time when Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah was considered one of the best kickoff and punt return threats in the country, but a disappointing end to last season has dropped his stock significantly going into 2013. He's proven to be an electric playmaker in the return game, but it will be interesting to see if his role on special teams changes now that he's the feature running back in an inexperienced Husker backfield.

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