Big Ten Returning Talent - Leaders

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Last updated: 01/26/2012 2:35 AM
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Looking at the Big Ten's Returning Talent in 2012
By Tony Gerdeman

One of the great aspects of college football is the amount of turnover that takes place from team to team and year to year.

So much of a team's hopes and expectations are based upon which starters are returning and which need to be replaced. New stars are waiting to be discovered, and older stars are preparing to shine even brighter.

Not only does it give an obvious leg up on the field, but it does so off the field as well. After all, a team's preseason ranking is based upon who is coming back, and who isn't.

The number of returning starters is the single-greatest indicator of what type of season a team is about to have. So, with that in mind, let's take a look at what the Big Ten has coming back in 2012.

The Leaders Division
(In order of most starters returning. *Indicates returning starter at quarterback)

1) Ohio State

Seven on offense*, nine on defense and both kicking specialists.

The Good News
The Buckeyes only lose two starters on defense in linebacker Andrew Sweat and nickel back Tyler Moeller. They return their entire defensive line, as well as both starting safeties and cornerbacks. Not only that but they will also return defensive end Nathan Williams (a starter in 2010), who missed the 2011 season and was expected to be the team's best pass rusher.

Offensively, Ohio State returns quarterback Braxton Miller, which should allow for an ideal marriage between quarterback and offensive style for Urban Meyer. Nearly all of last year's receivers return, save for oft-suspended Devier Posey, who started in two games last season. The Buckeyes return their starting guards, but will need to find three new starting linemen. Running back Carlos Hyde has starting experience for the Buckeyes, but the roles of the running backs are a bit of an unknown at the moment.

The Bad News
Ohio State loses 106 career starts with the graduation of left tackle Mike Adams, center Mike Brewster and right tackle J. B. Shugarts. But that's it on offense. They lose Devier Posey, but they never really had him last year anyway. The loss of Boom Herron will have to be addressed, but the Buckeyes may have a half dozen different running back options to choose from.

The defense, which certainly struggled in 2011, will miss the experience of Sweat and Moeller, but the production shouldn't be difficult to match. Ryan Shazier, who started just two games at linebacker for the Buckeyes, finished sixth on the team in tackles (57) and second in sacks (3). He will step in nicely for Sweat. Even the nickel back situation should be fine, featuring either Christian Bryant (eight starts in 2011) or Orhian Johnson (four starts in 2011).

2. Purdue

(Eight on offense*, seven on defense, and the punter.)

The Good News
Purdue returns four quarterbacks with starting experience next season. Back-up Robert Marve was granted a sixth year of eligibility, but the more important return will be that of Rob Henry, who was lost for the season with an ACL tear. They will compete with incumbent Caleb TerBush. Ralph Bolden returns, as do receivers Antavian Edison and O.J. Ross, who combined for 77 receptions on the season. They will need to find a new left tackle and right guard, however.

Defensive tackle Kawann Short returns, as do two other starters up front, which is about all any Boilermaker fan could hope for. Linebackers Will Lucas and Dwayne Beckford combined for 173 tackles last year, and will look to better those numbers in 2012. Cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson return to form one of the better duos in the conference.

The Bad News

The Boilermakers will have to find a replacement for defensive end Gerald Gooden, who was a three-year starter. They shouldn't have to look too hard, however, as Gooden only produced three sacks last season. Linebacker Joe Holland leaves with over 300 career tackles, but his experience will be even more difficult to replace. Both safeties are gone as well, and both were two-year starters.

Purdue will need to replace three-year starter Dennis Kelly at left tackle, and there are eight separate ACLs praying that it happens. Versatile lineman Nick Mondek is also gone. There will be a need, though not a heavy one, for a fullback with the graduation of Jared Crank. Replacing Justin Siller, the team's leading receiver with 50 catches, shouldn't be too hard, provided they can find a possession receiver who fits the role.

3. Indiana

(Seven on offense*, seven on defense and both kicking specialists.)

The Good News
In the second year of Kevin Wilson's offense the Hoosiers will be returning quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Stephen Houston both of whom made their Indiana debuts last season. Because of Wilson's search for an offensive identity, a ton of returning offensive players got starts last year, including four offensive linemen who started at least five games. Receivers are plentiful as well.

Similar to the offense, the defense saw a slew of different starters as the coaches looked for adequacy. They return long-time defensive tackle starters Larry Black and Adam Replogle as well as a pair of ends who each started six games last year. Both cornerbacks return, as do a handful of safeties with a modest number of starts to their credit.

The Bad News
Two-year starter at left tackle Andrew McDonald will be difficult to replace, as will the versatile Justin Pagan, who started half the season at right guard and the other half at right tackle.

Indiana will also have to replace linebacker Jeff Thomas who led the team with 80 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss. They will have to replace linebacker Leon Beckum who was fourth on the team in tackles with 53 as well. They lose three safeties with starting experience, but also return just as many. Their problem is that they just haven't been able to find the right guys back there.

4. Illinois

(Seven on offense*, seven on defense, and no kicking specialists.)

The Good News
Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns for his third season as a starter, and with Tim Beckman at the helm, this should be his best by far. There are plenty of receivers to throw to, and three-fifths of last year's starting offensive line to block for him. Four tight ends started at least one game last season, and all four return for 2012.

Second-team All-Big Ten defensive end Michael Buchanan returns. He finished second on the team with 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Next to him on the defensive line will once again by Akeem Spence, who was one of the most active tackles in the Big Ten last season with 69 tackles. Most of the secondary returns, except for cornerback Tavon Wilson, but they have experience to replace him in Justin Green, who started five games last season. Leading tackler Johnathan Brown (linebacker) also returns, as do his 19.5 tackles for loss.

The Bad News
The most notable loss on the Illini team is that of All-American defensive end Whitney Mercilus, who has left early for the NFL. He led the country in sacks with 16. Losing Tavon Wilson isn't good news, despite the depth at the position that Illinois has. He was third on the team with 81 tackles last season. Losing linebackers Ian Thomas and Trulon Henry leaves two gaping holes that need to be addressed.

Illinois will have to find a new anchor tackle for the first time in years. The departed Jeff Allen was a four-year starter and a two-time Second Team All-Big Ten performer. Running backs Jason Ford and Troy Pollard are gone, but Donovonn Young should be fine to replace them. Receiver A.J. Jenkins is also a big loss, but the new offense will do wonders for their receivers.

5. Wisconsin

(Five on offense, six on defense, no specialists.)

The Good News
The best news for the Badgers came when running back Montee Ball decided to come back for his senior season. Ball led the nation in rushing and scored as many touchdowns (39) as Ohio State's offense did. Left tackle Ricky Wagner returns, as does left guard Travis Frederick, but that's it on the offensive line. Receiver Jared Abbrederis and his team-high 933 yards receiving will be back as well.

Fortunately for the Badger defense, linebackers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland return. There is potential on the defensive line with Brendan Kelly and Ethan Hemer returning, along with reserve Beau Allen. There are also veterans in the secondary returning, including Devin Smith, who was granted a medical redshirt following an injury early last season.

The Bad News
Quarterback Russell Wilson is gone, as is three-fifths of his offensive line. Junior center Peter Konz declared for the NFL, so there will be an entirely new battery in place. The Badgers will be breaking in a new signal caller, and a new line, which is never good news. Reliable receiver Nick Toon is gone as well. Wisconsin will also be looking for a new fullback, which is actually an important position for them.

They also lose half of their defensive line, and will need to find a pass rusher to replace defensive end Louis Nzegwu, who led the team with 4.5 sacks. First-team All-Big Ten safety Aaron Henry and first-team cornerback Antonio Fenelus will both be difficult to replace.

6. Penn State

(Four on offense*, four on defense and both kicking specialists.)

The Good News
The best news for the Nittany Lions offense is the fact that 1,200-yard rusher Silas Redd is back for his junior season. He will have a handful of receivers around him, namely Justin Brown, who finished second on the team with 35 receptions last year. Also of note, both Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden are scheduled to return at quarterback next year. Neither has played well, but 2012 should be the first time they receive adequate coaching in their college careers.

Defensively, Penn State returns a very good group of linebackers in Gerald Hodges and Glenn Carson. Also coming back will be Michael Mauti, who was lost after four games last season. Defensive tackle Jordan Hill looks like the next first round defensive lineman for Penn State after finishing with 59 tackles and flirting with the NFL in 2011. Also keep an eye on defensive end Pete Massaro, who was the starter in 2010, but was out with an injury all of 2011.

The Bad News
Both Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden return. Is this good or bad? The biggest void, however, will be finding four new starters on the offensive line. Losing fullback Joe Suhey and tight end Andrew Szczerba shouldn't be overlooked either.

Devon Still won one of the ridiculous "named" trophies last year following his 17 tackle-for-loss-season. He now moves on to the NFL and leaves a gaping hole in the middle of the Nittany Lion front four. However, that should still be manageable. What will be more difficult to overcome is an entirely new starting secondary. They do have reserve cornerback Stephon Morris returning, however, and he started ten games in 2010.

Next: The Legends Division

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