The career of the college football player is tragically short, with most seeing regular playing time for half of their eligibility, if they are lucky. This, of course, means there is a massive turnover of starters almost yearly. For the best teams, this usually doesn’t mean a whole lot, with the next batch of four and five-star recruits ready to jump in and carry on the school legacy. For the rest, it can be a matter of hoping seasoned backups or hotshot freshmen can jump in and fulfill their potential from day 1, or even an unrated recruit showing the recruiters that sometimes, one gets away.
Turning to the defense, just like on offense, having all the talent in the world in the back seven/eight can mean nothing if the guys up front can’t do their job. The variety of fronts and assignment can make comparing units akin to comparing apples and oranges. For example, there’s an old adage in football that a defensive tackle can have the best game of his career without making a tackle, or even making the stat sheet. This also makes rating units difficult, and sometimes a player’s impact isn’t noted until after he’s gone. This isn’t the rule though. There has been a lot of turnover on the D-line in the B1G this season, with only Minnesota and Wisconsin losing less than half of their starters. So, who are the new faces this season, and can they carry on, or improve, their unit’s standing? Let it also be noted, that for the purpose of this article, any player with 6 or more starts in a season is considered a “starter”. As always, leave your opinions, objections and abuse in the comments section, or find me on Twitter.
The Fighting Illini had a torrid season in 2012, but their line had some okay performers. DT Akeem Spence was the “star”, tallying a fine 72 tackles (DT, remember?), with 7 for loss and 2 sacks, but his effort didn’t always equal his talent. DE Michael Buchanan wasn’t a bad pass rusher, but these guys were as good as the line got. DE Tim Kynard started six games and should retain his spot, while Houston Bates will step in on the other side, where it is hoped his speed will serve him better as a pass rusher than it did at MLB. The situation at tackle is a little muddier, but rotation will help settle the issue. Jake Howe was a non-factor last season, but will get a second chance this year. If he stumbles, expect redshirt freshman Vontrell Williams to make better use of his opportunities. Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell will work at the other tackle spot. This line lacks experience, and production may dip a lot this year.
Keep an eye on: Freshman Paul James III – the Illini’s top recruit is a versatile wrecking ball who needs to bulk up, but can still have an impact at end this year. He may eventually end up at tackle.
The Hoosiers lose both their starting tackles, Larry Black and Adam Repogle, but they lose more than just a couple of big bodies in the middle, they lose a couple of leaders on the defense. Both were multi-year starters and very productive on a defense that wasn’t always. Charged with replacing them will be sophomores Adarius Rayner and Alex Todd. Rayner is very quick and will get after the passer, while Todd will stuff the run. They will need time to grow into their roles though. There is plenty of bulk in reserve, but experience is lacking. Ryan Phillis and Zach Shaw return at the ends. This year will be tough as the young guys learn, but could pay dividends down the road.
Keep an eye on: Rayner – he flashed some ability as a reserve last season, but has the ability to step in for Repogle once he gets comfortable.
The Hawkeyes struggled on offense last season, but the defense struggled down the stretch, certainly not up to usual Iowa standard. The line played a major factor here, failing to get much penetration or rush the passer. The best player, DE Joe Gaglione (5 of the team’s 13 sacks) is gone, as is DT Steve Bigach. Dominic Alvis returns at one end, but he’ll be asked to do a whole lot more after managing just 3 sacks last season. DT Louis Trinca-Pasat also returns. He can be trouble in the middle, but a lingering shoulder injury has held him back. The new boys look to be sophomore tackle Darian Cooper, who played well as a reserve last season, and end Drew Ott, who played sparingly as a freshman. Consider the line a potential headache for the Hawkeye coaching staff this season.
Keep an eye on: Freshman Brant Gressel – he won’t draw any comparisons to the new wave of pass rushing tackles, but this old school type will be a load in the middle in a year or two.
The Wolverines defense was pretty tough last season, but the defensive line didn’t always play their part. They struggled against the run on occasion, but did get some pass rush going down the stretch. DE Craig Roh and DT William Campbell were solid players who will be missed, but an upgrade over each would be welcome. Enter Chris Wormsley, who could have been a reserve in his freshman year had he not torn his ACL in camp. A year removed, he’s potentially overtaken Keith Heitzman for the top job. He’s not that fast, but he’s the most polished as a pass rusher. Jibreel Black will replace Campbell after starting some games last season. He’s not big, but he’s certainly quick, and will be a handful for slower guards and centers. Frank Clark and Quinton Washington are the returning starters. Expect similar production to last season.
Keep an eye on: DE Taco Charlton – the freshman has already turned heads in camp, and could see the field this season. He needs to bulk up some and learn better technique, but he has star power written all over him.
The Spartans defense was one of the best in the nation last season, and somehow managed to be successful against the pass despite a mere 20 sacks. This isn’t to say the line was bad, they were a force against the run and got some good pressure. The big concern is the line is losing its star, DE William Gholston, and experienced DT Anthony Rashad White, who ate up space in the middle. Senior Tyler Hoover got a rare sixth year of eligibility and will replace White in the middle. He has the agility of an end, but the strength to be a factor against the inside run. His height (6’7) could hinder QBs who wish to go over the middle. Shilique Calhoun has the tough job of replacing Gholston, but showed some pass rush ability last season when given the opportunity. He’s not a physical specimen like Gholston, but he’s more than capable of being a factor on the field. The line should be strong again in 2013.
Keep an eye on: DT James Bodanis – a Canadian JUCO transfer, he has the size, strength and quickness to see playing time straight away. He’ll need a period of adjustment, but he could a big piece of the puzzle sooner rather than later.
The Golden Gophers weren’t exactly stout against the run up front last season, but they did a good job rushing the passer and displayed some nice potential. They only lose one starter, but it’s leading sacker DL Wilhite (8.5). NT Ra’Shede Hageman was second on the team with 6 sacks and does a good job of getting into the backfield. He’s not the force someone his size should be against the run though. Beside him is Cameron Botticelli, who is quick off the snap, but more of a plugger than rusher. DE Michael Amaefula has great potential, but it’s time to start realizing it, or step aside. Theiren Cockran will get the first shot at replacing Wilhite, but Alex Keith could be a pass rush specialist if he doesn’t beat him out.
Keep an eye on: DT Demaris Peppers – he needs to hit the gym in a big way, but he knows how to come of the ball low and drive opponents backfield. He probably won’t play this year, but a redshirt will serve him well and he could be a factor in 2014.
The Cornhuskers run defense struggled at times last season, but it vanished completely when DT Baker Steinkuhler was lost for the last two games (remember Wisconsin?). Now, they’re essentially rebuilding the whole starting unit with only Jason Ankrah and Thaddeus Randle back, and they were part-time starters at different spots. Ankrah has superstar potential, but apart from the occasional flash, he hasn’t shown it yet. He will start at one end. Randle is built like a fireplug, but gets shoved around. He needs to play stronger this season. Aaron Curry should start at the other tackle spot. He has the quickness to knife into the backfield and blow up plays, but like Randle, he has to prove he can hold up at the point of attack. Redshirt freshman Avery Moss is another potential superstar who missed most of last season injured, and now gets the chance to strut his stuff. The line must be a major area of concern going into the season, as it could be a “feast or famine” scenario.
Keep an eye on: Randy Gregory – the top JUCO defensive end missed most of last season with a broken leg, but should be a fine pass rusher. He only arrived in summer, but is already making his presence felt.
The Wildcats are eternally outmanned up front, but last season the line did a great job at limiting the run and getting after opposing quarterbacks. A key reason for the success was the play of DE Tyler Scott, and the good news is, he’s one of their two returning starters. The other, DT Sean McEvilly, took over early and played well. He’s strong for his size and gets to the ball in a hurry. DE Quentin Williams and DT Brian Arnfelt were solid players and will be missed. Joining McEvilly in the middle will be either (or both) of Will Hampton or Chance Carter. Hampton lost his spot to McEvilly, and Carter hasn’t exactly taken advantage of his opportunities either. The new DE will be either Deonte Gibson or Dean Lowry, two guys who have looked fantastic in limited playing time. Now they have to prove they can be consistent in a full-time role.
Keep an eye on: Freshman DT Eric Joraskie – neither Hampton nor Carter inspire much confidence, and it could be the weak spot in an otherwise great unit. Joraskie will never be a star, but he’ll make interior linemen work hard, and is a good fit for this defense.
The Buckeyes defense was good, but not great, last season, but even so, losing all four starters on the defensive line has to sting. All four were multi-year starters, and while there is plenty of talent waiting in the wings, experience has to be earned. All four were good players, but DE John Simon and DT Johnathan Hankins will be missed the most. The new ends look like they could be potential upgrades, with Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence are a pair of super recruits who have the athleticism and pass rush ability to be all-conference given time. Michael Bennett has shown some ability to be a solid run-stuffer and sometime pass rusher, but he hasn’t been consistent. Joel Hale hasn’t played a whole lot, but looks like he could be a good one. Based on potential this unit could be amazing, but we’ve all heard that before.
Keep an eye on: Freshman DT Joey Bosa – this year’s top D-line recruit, he’s an old-school tackle who’ll be great against the run and should be a good interior rusher too. He’s got an excellent motor and he’ll be a full-time starter by next season with a few pounds added.
People didn’t know what to expect from the Nittany Lions last year, so needless to say many were more very surprised. One thing that wasn’t a shock was the strength of their defense – it’s been a tradition in Happy Valley and 2012’s edition certainly lived up to the history. The defensive line, led by DT Jordan Hill, was strong against the run and did its part getting after quarterbacks too. Hill is gone, and will be sorely missed, while Sean Stanley was a key part of the group. Returning DT DaQuan Jones is huge, and while he doesn’t make a lot of plays, he’s an important member of the line. DE Deion Barnes split time as a freshman, but looks like he could be a keeper, leading the team in sacks with 6. DT Kyle Baublitz hasn’t done a whole lot in his first two years, but the light went on for him this season and he’s earned the praise of his teammates and a first team spot. DE CJ Olaniyan has been a career reserve, but never realized his potential. Now he gets his chance, but there are others waiting in the wings.
Keep at eye on: Freshman DE Garrett Sickels – forget about stopping the run, that’s not his thing. He’ll make a few plays but his ticket at the FBS level is as a pass rusher. He works his hardest getting after the QB, and they’ll find a place for him on this defense based on that alone.
The Boilermakers line was inconsistent last season, but certainly wasn’t terrible. The best player by far was Kawann Short, but he’s playing in the NFL this season, so a new building-block needs to be found. Bruce Gaston won’t be Short, but he’s a good start. He’s got decent size and the quickness to knife into the pocket on occasion. New at tackle will be sophomore Ryan Watson, who didn’t play much last year, but has good athleticism and makes plays in pursuit. Ryan Russell returns at one end, having flashed on occasion, but fading into obscurity on others. He has the ability to play in the pros, but he needs to show he can bring it every week. Former JUCO Greg Latta is finally ready to take over at the other DE after learning the ropes the last couple of years. He’s a fine physical specimen, and is strong enough to slide inside on passing downs.
Keep an eye on: Freshman DE Evan Panfil – Purdue brought in a ton of players, but Panfil could be something of a sleeper. He’s good off the snap, and can play both the run and pass well. He needs some technique work, and to bulk up a little, but he should be a fine player here.
The Wisconsin defense was strong last year, with a couple of exceptions, and with everyone returning on the defensive line, it’s a safe bet that won’t change much this season, at least up front. There is one difference, and that’s the switch to a 3-4 under new coach Dave Andersen. Beau Allen was a rock last season at DT, and looks to be tailor-made for the nose, where he will play this season. The ends will be Pat Muldoon, who’s a good pass rusher but may not have the bulk to play the run as a 30 end, and Ethan Hemer, who started at tackle last season but has the quickness to unsettle a few QBs.
Keep an eye on: Freshman DE Alec James – he could end up as an OLB, but James should be a great edge rusher, with the quickness and agility to get into the backfield regularly, while also being a factor against the run..
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