Ranking the Big Ten Defensive Lines — The Legends Division
By Tony Gerdeman
Having already taken a look at the defensive lines in the Leaders Division—and rest assured, every team in the Leaders Division was eligible to be ranked—it is now time to take a look at the Legends Division.
There should be no surprise at the top with Michigan State. They have a legitimate argument for having the top overall defensive line in the entire conference, but after the Spartans, things get a little sketchy for the Legends Division.
Michigan's defensive line is undersized, and Nebraska's is underwhelming. Northwestern and Minnesota are young, and Iowa is just...absent. There is nobody there.
Overall, it's not the division's best position as there are just too many question marks to have much confidence.
2. Michigan State
Starters: Marcus Rush (DE), William Gholston (DE), Tyler Hoover (DT), Anthony Rashad White (DT)
Backups: Joel Heath (DE), Corey Freeman (DE), Micajah Reynolds (DT), Matt Ramondo (DT), James Kittredge (DT), Damon Knox (DT), Mark Scarpinato (DT), Shilique Calhoun (DE), Jeremy Gainer (DE), Taylor Calero (DE), Brandon Clemons (DT), Doug Curtis (DL), Lawrence Thomas (DE)
Michigan State's defensive line may not be as deep as Ohio State's, but their first six or seven could be just as talented. Mark Dantonio is so excited about his defensive line that he has referred to them as "toys". William Gholston was second-team All-Big Ten last year after posting 16 tackles for loss on the season. Marcus Rush started all 14 games as a redshirt freshman last season and posted four sacks and twelve tackles for loss. Tackles Tyler Hoover and Anthony Rashad White have some things to prove, but Dantonio has confidence in them. Hoover missed last season due to injury, but will compete for the nose tackle spot. The staff is also high on redshirt freshman Damon Knox, who is currently listed as the backup to Rashad White. Defensive ends Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas have all earned raves from Dantonio. Thomas came to East Lansing as a linebacker, and can still run.
Starters: Cameron Meredith (DE), Jason Ankrah (DE), Baker Steinkuhler (DT), Chase Rome (DT)
Backups: Eric Martin (DE), Joseph Carter (DE), Walker Ashburn (DE), Jay Guy (DT), Kevin Williams (DT), Tobi Okuyemi (DT), Thad Randle (DT), Todd Peat (DT), Jeff Uher (DT), Donovan Vestal (DE), J.C. Moore (DE), Greg McMullen* (DE), Vincent Valentine* (DT), Avery Moss* (DE), Aaron Curry* (DL)
One of the things holding Nebraska's defensive line back last season was injuries. Now, however, they are fully healthy and they expect to put a much different product on the field. Cameron Meredith was a second-team All Big XII player as a sophomore and an honorable mention All-Big Ten player last season. His five sacks led the defensive line. Jason Ankrah started nine games last season, but only produced 17 tackles. Eric Martin outperformed him last season, despite starting just two games. Tackles Baker Steinkuhler and Chase Rome are expected to be very solid this year. Steinkuhler was an honorable mention All-Big Ten guy last season after finishing with 40 tackles. Rome was injured during the spring, but should be fine when fall camp opens. There is some depth here with Thad Randle, Kevin Williams and Eric Martin, but they can't go too far past their top seven or eight.
Starters: Craig Roh (DE), Brennen Beyer (DE), Jibreel Black (DT), William Campbell (DT)
Backups: Ondre Pipkins* (DT), Frank Clark (DE), Richard Ash (DT), Nathan Brink (DE), Keith Heitzman (DE), Quinton Washington (DT), Kenny Wilkins (DT), Chris Wormley* (DE), Tom Strobel* (DL), Matthrew Godin* (DL), Mario Ojemudia* (DE), Willie Henry* (DT)
Michigan's defensive line returns 39 career starts, unfortunately Craig Roh owns 38 of them. Roh is the most talented member of the front four and he has amassed 6.5 sacks in his career. William Campbell was a five-star recruit, but has never produced like it. The Wolverines need the senior to have his best ever season this year. Jibreel Black moves from defensive end to defensive tackle, and while he may have a quickness advantage, he is relatively undersized at 6-2 and 260 pounds. Brennen Beyer is the likely starter at rush end. He played linebacker last season as a freshman and is also a bit undersized (6-3 225). He has speed, but can he hold up at the point of attack? Frank Clark showed some ability last season as a freshman, but he's battling some legal issues right now. Like Brennan, he probably doesn't have the size and strength yet to be an every down player. Michigan could really use a freshman or three to step up, and the most likely may be Ondre Pipkins. At 6-3 and 320 pounds, he will certainly look the part.
Starters: Tyler Scott (DE), Quentin Williams (DE), Brian Arnfelt (DT), Chance Carter (DT)
Backups: Will Hampton (DT), Anthony Battle (DE), Max Chapman (DE), Bo Cisek (DT), Davon Custis (DE), Deonte Gibson (DE), Sen McEvilly (DL), C.J. Robbins (DL), Greg Kuhar* (DL), Dean Lowry* (DE)
While last season didn't go all that well for Northwestern's defensive line the mood is very upbeat for what 2012 could hold for the Wildcat front four. Tyler Scott will be looked at to rush the passer better than they did last year, as the team high for sacks was just three. Quentin Williams is the team's best pass rusher, but was out for the spring with an injury. In Williams' absence, redshirt freshman Deonte Gibson practiced with the starters, and did enough to make the coaches think that they have found a third-down havoc maker. Brian Arnfelt and Will Hampton are serviceable at tackle, but the buzz over the last few months has been about sophomore Chance Carter. Carter appears to have played himself into the starting lineup, but there will still be a rotation inside. Northwestern could still stand to find a couple of more bodies, especially on the inside.
Starters: Ben Perry (DE), Michael Amaefula (DE), Ra'Shede Hageman (DT), Roland Johnson (JC) (DT)
Backups: D.L. Wilhite (DE), Cameron Botticelli (DT), Gavin Bronson (DE), Thieren Cockran (DE), Curran Delaney (DT), Scott Ekpe* (DL), Matt Garin (DE), Austin Hahn (DL), Tyler Hartmann (DE), Eric Jacques (DT), Harold Legania (DT), David Stommes (DE), Jordan Hinojosa* (DT), Alex Keith* (DE), Yoshoub Timms* (DL)
Ben Perry and Michael Amaefula both earned multiple starts as true freshmen last year and were probably the lightest pair of starting defensive ends in the conference. Jerry Kill wants smaller, faster defensive linemen, and that's what he has in his defensive ends. Now he just needs them to begin producing. If they don't, the rotation may be just the type of encouragement they need. D.L. Wilhite is a senior who has started for two seasons, so he will continue to be heavily involved. Redshirt freshman Thieren Cockran may have received the largest amount of praise from Kill during the spring, as they love his ability to get into the backfield. Defensive tackle is a spot of concern, however. Ra'Shede Hageman has done little in his career, but they need the former high school tight end All-American to become a star at defensive tackle. Roland Johnson comes in from junior college and will be counted on immediately. Scott Ekpe is an early-enrollee freshman who had a surprising spring.
Starters: Steve Bigach (DT), Dominic Alvis (DE), Carl Davis (DT), Darian Cooper (DL), Joe Gaglione (DL), Louis Trinca-Pasat (DL)
Backups: Mike Hardy (DL), Nathan Lyman (DL), Riley McMinn (DE), Melvin Spears (DE), Dean Tsopanides (DE), Jaleel Johnson* (DT), Drew Ott* (DE)
Kirk Ferentz has ten defensive linemen listed in his two-deep, but it's not because the Hawkeyes have a ton of depth, it's because there are a slew of questions about who is actually going to start. Steve Bigach and Dominic Alvis are listed as co-starters at one defensive end spot, and both are still waiting for a breakout season. Joe Gaglione is listed as the starter at the other defensive end, but the senior only had seven tackles last year. Carl Davis and Darian Cooper are also listed as co-starters at one tackle spot. The natives are growing restless with Davis, who has great size (6-5 310), but the motor is lacking. Cooper is a redshirt freshman, so the natives are still hopeful for him. Sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat is currently the starter at the other tackle spot, and had a good spring. Melvin Spears and Riley McMinn are promising redshirt freshmen, and they should both get a chance to make an impact.
Big Ten Defensive Lines
1. Ohio State
2. Michigan State
7. Penn State
Ranking the Big Ten
Quarterbacks Leaders Legends
Running Backs Leaders Legends
Receivers Legends Leaders
Offensive Line Leaders Legends
Defensive Line Leaders
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