B1G Returning Starters

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Last updated: 01/19/2014 12:37 PM
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The Big Ten's Returning Starters for 2014
By Tony Gerdeman

Now that the NFL early entry date has come and gone, we can finally take a look at the returning talent in the Big Ten. Northwestern and Indiana lead the way with 18 starters returning each, while Wisconsin and Nebraska return the fewest starters with 10.

Illinois is the only team in the conference that won't be returning significant experience at quarterback, and Ohio State and Michigan are the only teams that lose their leading rushers. While Northwestern leads the Big Ten in starters returning, they are the only team that loses both their kicker and punter.

(*) denotes returning quarterback

Big Ten West

Offense: 7
The Illini will need to find a new quarterback, but they do return running back Josh Ferguson, who rushed for 779 yards and caught 50 passes last season. Tight ends Matt LaCosse and Jon Davis return, as do four starters on the offensive line. Receivers will need to be found, however.

Defense: 9
Leading tackler Jonathan Brown is gone, but the next 10 leading tacklers on the team return. Three defensive linemen and two linebackers return, including defensive end Houston Bates, who compiled 12.0 tackles for loss last season. The entire secondary returns as well, but they only intercepted two passes last year.

Special Teams: 2
Taylor Zelewski hit 12-17 field goals last season, and was just 2-5 from 40 yards or more. Justin DuVernois averaged 41.1 yards per punt with a long of 66 yards. Only 13 of his 51 punts made it inside the 20-yard line.

Offense: 7*
Quarterback Danny Etling returns, and he should be much better as a sophomore. Leading rusher Akeem Hunt is also back, but needs to be more productive. The top seven receivers will be back, as are a pair of offensive linemen.

Defense: 5
Only five starters return on defense, and three of them come from the secondary. Big-play cornerback Ricardo Allen will certainly be missed, however. Defensive end Ryan Russell is back, as is linebacker Joe Gilliam, but the two of them combined for just 66 tackles last season.

Special Teams: 1 (K)
Paul Griggs was just 6-12 on field goals last season, making 4-9 from beyond 30 yards.

Offense: 7*
Technically, running back Melvin Gordon isn't a returning starter, but considering he led the Badgers with 1,609 yards rushing last season, we'll make an exception. Quarterback Joel Stave is back for his third season as a starter. Four offensive linemen return, including second-team All-Big Ten lineman Rob Havenstein, but receivers and tight ends will need to be found.

Defense: 3
In essence, the Wisconsin Badgers lose their entire front seven, though they return several players with starting experience on both the defensive line and linebacker. Safety Dezmen Southward is the only starter in the secondary who doesn't return. Safety Michael Caputo is back and finished second on the team in tackles (63).

Special Teams: 2
The Badgers split place-kicking duties, as Kyle French and Jack Russell combined to hit 14-21 field goal attempts. Punter Drew Meyer averaged just 38.6 yards per punt, and only six of his 50 punts went for 50 yards or more.

Offense: 4*
Technically, the Huskers return their starting quarterback, even though that starting quarterback is Tommy Armstrong and not Taylor Martinez. He started eight games but only threw for 966 yards. Fortunately, Ameer Abdullah and his 1,690 yards rushing return. Leading receiver Kenny Bell is back, but the Huskers return just one starter on the offensive line.

Defense: 6
Nebraska only returns six starters, but they include the top five tacklers on the team. All-Big Ten defensive end Randy Gregory and his 19 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks will be back, as will safety Corey Cooper, who led the Huskers with 91 tackles. The two starting linebackers return, as do two members of the secondary and defensive line.

Special Teams: 1 (P)
Sam Foltz averaged 41.6 yards per punt with a long of 64 yards. Only 22 of his 71 punts made it inside the 20-yard line.

Offense: 10*
The only starters lost from last season are quarterback Kain Colter and receiver Rashard Lawrence. Leading rusher Treyvon Green (736 yards rushing) returns, though Northwestern is attempting to get a medical redshirt for Venric Mark. The entire starting offensive line will be back, as will superback Dan Vitale. Quarterback Trevor Siemian wasn't technically a starter, but he did throw for 2,149 yards last season, so he's included in the number above.

Defense: 8
Five of the top six tacklers return, though leading tackler Damien Proby departs. The other two linebackers return, as do their 184 combined tackles from last season. All cornerbacks return, though one of the two spots was split between two players. Defensive end Dean Lowry returns, and watch out for Ifeadi Odenigbo, who came off the bench last year to compile 6.5 sacks.

Special Teams: 0
Northwestern loses both of their long-term kicking specialists and will need to find a new kicker and punter for 2014.

Offense: 8*
Leading rusher Mark Weisman returns, as does his backup Damon Bullock. Quarterback Jake Rudock returns, though he needs to improve. The Hawkeyes return a pair of receivers, including leading receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley (40-388), as well as tight end Jake Duzey. Three offensive linemen also return, including All-Big Ten tackle Brandon Scherff.

Defense: 5
The Hawkeyes lose all three of their starting linebackers and their 322 combined tackles from last year. Cornerback Desmond King and safety John Lowdermilk are the lone members of the back seven to return. Defensive tackles Carl Davis (42 tkls) and Louis Trinca-Pasat (38 tkls) are back, as is defensive end Drew Ott (6.5 tfls).

Special Teams: 1 (P)
Connor Cornbrath averaged 40.0 yards per punt this past season, but his long was just 55 yards. He put 27 of his 65 yards inside the 20-yard line.

Offense: 8
Quarterback Philip Nelson is transferring, but Mitch Leidner returns, and he's plenty experienced. Leading rusher David Cobb (1,202 yards rushing) is back, as are four offensive linemen, and a couple of others with starting experience. No starting wide receivers are back, but tight ends Maxx Williams (the team's leading receiver with 25-417-5) and Drew Goodger are back.

Defense: 7
The Gophers lose star tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, but return the rest of the defensive line, including defensive end Theiren Cockran (10.0 tfls, 7.5 sks). Safeties Cedric Thompson (team-leading 79 tkls) and Antonio Johnson are back, as is linebacker Damien Wilson (78 tkls). Cornerback Eric Murray, who led the team with 10 passes broken up also returns.

Special Teams: 1 (P)
Peter Mortell averaged 43.3 yards per punt, and 21 of his 62 punts landed inside the 20-yard line.

Big Ten East

Offense: 8*

Budding stars (or budded stars?) Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford return in the Spartan backfield. Leading receivers Tony Lippett (44-613-2) and MacGarrett Kings (43-513-3) return, though Kings only started three games. Tight end Josiah Price is back as are a pair of offensive linemen, though there are other linemen with starting experience returning as well.

Defense: 5
The Spartans lose linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, but return linebacker Taiwan Jones (67 tkls). All-Big Ten safety Kurtis Drummond, second on the team in tackles with 91, is also back. Defensive ends Shilique Calhoun (14 tfls, 7.5 sks) and Marcus Rush (7.5 tfls, 5.0 sks) return, as does cornerback Trae Waynes.

Special Teams: 2
Mike Sadler is one of the nation's best punters, and he averaged 42.5 yards per punt last season with a long of 69 yards. Michael Geiger was 15-16 on field goal attempts and was 8-8 on attempts from 40 yards and out.

Offense: 5*

Two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller is back, but the Buckeyes lose tailback Carlos Hyde. Receivers Devin Smith (44-660-8) and Evan Spencer (22-216-3) return, as does tight end Jeff Heuerman (26-466-4). The lone starter returning on the offensive line is right tackle Taylor Decker.

Defense: 7
The Buckeyes return the entire front four. Defensive ends Joey Bosa (7.5 sks, 13.5 tfls) and Noah Spence (8.0 sks, 14.5 tfls) are back, as is defensive tackle Michael Bennett (7.0 sks, 11.5 tfls). Linebackers Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry return, but increased production is a must. Cornerback Doran Grant (58 tkls, 3 INTs) is back, and nickel back Tyvis Powell (started six games) returns, though likely at safety.

Special Teams: 1 (P)
Cameron Johnston had a fantastic freshman season, averaging 44.0 yards per punt with a long of 71 yards. He put 31 of his 49 punts inside the 20, and 24 of his punts were fair caught.

Offense: 7*

Quarterback Devin Gardner returns, and it will be interesting to see what he can do under new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. The Wolverines will have to find a new tailback, but that's not necessarily bad news. Receiver (not tight end) Devin Funchess is back, as is Michigan's actual tight end Jake Butt. Several starters on the interior line return, but two new tackles need to be found.

Defense: 9
Cornerback Raymon Taylor returns after leading the team in tackles with 86. The team's best cornerback – Blake Countess – is back as well. Every linebacker with starting experience returns, including a healthy Jake Ryan. Defensive end Frank Clark (12.0 tfls, 4.5 sks) is back. Some safety help needs to emerge.

Special Teams: 1 (P)
Matt Wile averaged 40.6 yards per punt, but put just 16 of his 61 punts inside the 20-yard line. Only 12 of his punts were fair caught.

Offense: 8*

Quarterback Nate Sudfeld (2,523 yards passing) is back, as is backup Tre Roberson (1,128 yards passing). Running back Tevin Coleman (958 yards rushing, 12 touchdowns) returns, though leading receiver Cody Latimer left early for the NFL. The Hoosiers also return receiver Shane Wynn and six offensive linemen with extensive starting experience.

Defense: 10
The only loss on defense is veteran safety Greg Heban. The other safety, Mark Murphy, is back after finishing second on the team with 84 tackles last season. Leading tackler linebacker David Cooper (85 tkls) returns, along with fellow linebackers T.J. Simmons (68 tkls) and Forisse Hardin (59 tkls). Cornerback Tim Bennett returns and was one of the nation's leaders in passes broken up (20).

Special Teams: 1 (P)
Erich Toth averaged 40.6 yards per punt with a long of 57 yards. The Hoosiers had two punts blocked last season.

Offense: 6*

Leading rushers Zach Zwinak (989 yards rushing) and Bill Belton (803 yards rushing) return, as does quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns as a true freshman. Only two offensive linemen return, as do the tight ends. The Nittany Lions need to find some receivers.

Defense: 8
Linebackers Mike Hull (78 tkls) and Nyeem Wartman (32 tkls) return, but leading tackler Glenn Carson is gone. The only loss in the secondary is safety Malcolm Willis. Defensive ends Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan are back, but All-Big Ten defensive tackle DaQuan Jones is gone.

Special Teams: 1 (K)
Sam Ficken was 15-23 on field goal attempts last season, but was just 11-19 on kicks from 30 yards or longer.

Offense: 9*

Quarterback Gary Nova returns, for better or worse, as does leading rusher Paul James (881 yards). No starting receivers return, but tight end – and leading receiver – Tyler Kroft (43-573-4) does. The entire offensive line is back as well, including second-team All-AAC center Betim Bujari.

Defense: 6
Middle linebacker Steve Longa is back after leading the team in tackles with 123 as a redshirt freshman. Fellow linebacker Kevin Snyder (96 tkls) returns as well. Versatile defensive lineman Darius Hamilton and his 11.5 tackles for loss are back, as are several cornerbacks with starting experience who have had various degrees of success. Safety Lorenzo Waters is back. He finished with 62 tackles last season.

Special Teams: 1 (K)
Kyle Federico went 12-18 on field goal attempts last season with a long of 48 yards. He had two kicks blocked, and was just 2-5 on attempts further than 39 yards.

Offense: 8

The Terps lose quarterback C.J. Brown, but backup Caleb Rowe (989 yards passing) returns. Leading rusher Brandon Ross (776 yards rushing) is back, as are the top five wide receivers, including the dynamic Stefan Diggs. The Terps also return four offensive linemen, though none of them received even as much as honorable mention All-ACC recognition.

Defense: 9
Safety Sean Davis led the Terps with 102 tackles last season, and fellow safety Anthony Nixon finished with 60. Cornerback William Likely (70 tkls) returns as well. Rutgers, which ran a 3-4 defense last season, returns their entire defensive line, as well as three of their linebackers. Defensive end Andre Monroe was just a part-time starter, but led the team with 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks.

Special Teams: 2
Nathan Renfro averaged 40.8 yards per punt, but managed to put just 18 of his 75 punts inside the 20-yard line. Brad Craddock was 21-25 on field goal attempts with a long of 50 yards.

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