Local names to watch during the Big Ten football season

Count on these locally grown names to rise to the occasion in a short season.

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Northwestern’s Tyler Haskin, left, celebrates his touchdown against Massachusetts with teammate Riley Lees.

Northwestern’s Tyler Haskin, left, celebrates his touchdown against Massachusetts with teammate Riley Lees.

Jim Young/AP

Are you ready for some Big Ten football?

You should be, given how long the wait has been for the league to get started in this pandemic-dominated year. While some Power Five teams are more than halfway through their season, the Big Ten finally kicks off tonight when Illinois travels to Wisconsin.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 people with Chicago area roots to watch during this abbreviated eight-game season (with a few bonus picks thrown in for good measure):

Matt Allen, Michigan State

This will be the end of the Allen era in East Lansing with Matt, a fifth-year senior, back to start at center. His older brothers and fellow Hinsdale Central grads Jack (2012-15) and Brian (2014-17) were both four-year starters for the Spartans. Also back on the Spartans’ offensive line after being sidelined by injury much of last season is redshirt junior guard/tackle Kevin Jarvis (Maine South).

Tuf Borland, Ohio State

They don’t come much more durable or dependable than the fifth-year senior linebacker from Bolingbrook. He has played all 42 of the Buckeyes’ games over the past three seasons, starting 34, while piling up 180 tackles. Trivia I: Jarred Tuf Borland is his full name. Trivia II: He graduated last December with a degree in human development and family science.

P.J. Fleck, Minnesota

Minneapolis is no longer a college football backwater, thanks to this energetic Kaneland grad. Fleck doesn’t turn 40 till next month but he’s already entering his eighth season as a FBS head coach. The Gophers, 11-2 last season, are a national brand, hosting ESPN’s College GameDay on Saturday for the second time in 11 months when Michigan comes to town Saturday.

Riley Lees, Northwestern

The offensively challenged Wildcats had just 156 receptions last season, and the senior quarterback-turned-receiver from Libertyville had almost a third of them (51). Lees also was Northwestern’s top kickoff returner, averaging 22.0 yards per runback.

Tyler Nubin, Minnesota

All-American safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is gone, and his replacement could be this sophomore from St. Charles North. The Gophers’ defense also figures to start two more local products: grad transfer Micah Dew-Treadway (Bolingbrook) on the line and junior Mariano Sori-Marin (Providence) at linebacker.

Alex Palczewski, Illinois

The senior from Prospect has started 36 straight games on the Illini offensive line, the last 25 at right tackle. He made a couple preseason All-Big Ten teams and is on the Outland Trophy watch list. Another preseason All-Big Ten pick up front for the Illini is senior Doug Kramer from Hinsdale Central, who has 30 starts at center.

Jacub Panasiuk, Michigan State

A standout top pass rusher, the senior defensive end from Lake Park had 18 quarterback hits last season, tied for second in the nation. His brother Mike won four letters as a defensive tackle for the Spartans from 2016-19.

Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin

The junior linebacker from Lake Zurich is the only local player to make the Big Ten’s 10-member preseason honors list. He had a team-best 80 tackles and three interceptions last fall, and is considered one of the top NFL prospects in the Big Ten.

Peter Skoronski, Northwestern

True freshmen don’t often start in the Big Ten, but the left tackle from Maine South is listed as co-No. 1 on the Wildcats’ latest depth chart. He was a four-star prospect who ranked fourth nationally among centers in the class of 2020 and played on the Hawks’ 2016 state championship team as a freshman.

Anthony Williams Jr., Michigan State

The Bolingbrook grad had 288 all-purpose yards as a true freshman last season and figures to play a bigger role this fall. He could be taking handoffs from redshirt freshman quarterback Payton Thorne, a Naperville Central grad.

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