As conference play starts in earnest this weekend, we’re going to see which teams have come this far with their health intact. There’s a lot of players that will be in street clothes on the sidelines or in rehab back home. That’s talent that won’t be available in a close game, talent that might have made a real difference. The depth of college rosters is a blessing and a curse. Recruiting can allow a team to go three or four deep at every position, but we know that these maturing bodies often break down at a pretty high rate. It’s no coincidence that the healthiest teams are the ones that win and that’s not just luck. Let’s take a look at injuries around the conference:
Corey Clement, RB Wisconsin
The big injury in the conference is supposed to be starring in the biggest game of the week, not watching from the sidelines. It’s unclear now where Corey Clement will be for the matchup with Michigan State, but it’s looking like he’ll play. He’s not 100 percent, but his progress in practice this week is a big positive for Paul Chryst. The depth behind Clement is also an issue, with Taiwan Deal also hurting and Bradrick Shaw ruled out. There’s no real way to spot out Clement, and Wisconsin’s not going to shift to a spread game, so finding a way to use him within his limits is going to be a key to the game.
WR Position, Nebraska
Who’s going to catch the ball for Nebraska? Mike Riley has taken some heat for turning down the contact at training camp. It rubbed some the wrong way in old-school Nebraska, but, for the most part, the Huskers are healthy. The one big exception is at wide receiver where two players are hurt: Alonzo Moore (shoulder) and Brandon Reilly (hamstring). Wide receiver isn’t a real position of depth for the team so it puts considerable pressure on Jordan Westerkamp, the only healthy WR. Tommy Armstrong should have Reilly back, but Moore is unlikely to play as he continues to heal.
Markell Jones, RB Purdue
The bye week helped Markell Jones’ shoulder to heal, but his Grade II shoulder sprain – the same kind of injury that knocked Jimmy Garoppolo and Josh McCown out in the NFL – often takes more than a couple of weeks to heal. Jones isn’t a quarterback, but think about how many hits a runner will take and how many times he’ll be brought to the turf, often on that shoulder and with a number of bodies piled on top. I’d expect the Boilers to be very conservative with Jones against Nevada. Their next three games, against Nevada, then Big Ten rivals Illinois and Maryland, could determine whether they have a shot at getting to .500. A couple breaks and Purdue could be looking at a bowl. To do that, they’ll have to have Jones on the field and productive.
Shannon Brooks, RB Minnesota
Is it more surprising that Shannon Brooks is listed as the third running back on the Gophers’ depth chart or that Brooks is on the depth chart at all? Brooks’ broken foot has caused him to miss most of training camp and several games already, but, on a pure talent level, Brooks is better than Rodney Smith and Kody McCrary. The question is, as with any injury, if he’s healthy now. He’s not back to 100 percent from the injury, but he’s at the point where he’s going to be able to start proving his talent on the field, even as part of a RB committee to start with. It shouldn’t be long before that depth chart rights itself.