2013 Big Ten Position Rankings: Defensive Line stays strong despite new faces

[Ed. Note: These rankings are my own (Andy Coppens) and not a reflection of the entire staff here at TheB1GTime]

Yesterday it was Tight Ends… an ever engrossing subject in a world of spread offenses that don't value the traditional tight end. Well, today, we talk about the one position that has steadily produced some of the highest NFL Draft picks…. the defensive line. 

2013 will be all about getting to know new names as all but one D-Line has at least one starter gone from last season. So, let us introduce you to the groups that will make up the D-Lines of 2013…. 

1. Michigan: What a turnaround in Ann Arbor. Just a few short seasons ago this group was in some serious trouble. There was little to no depth and the starters weren't all that great to begin with. Well, that's all changed now thanks to massive recruiting wins, a philosophy change on D, and some great coaching. Sure, the Maize 'N Blue lose Craig Roh and Williams Campbell off the line from last year, but it'll be next man up and there is plenty to love about what they leave behind. At end expect big things from Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia – both are capable of having breakout seasons. Inside this unit isn't going to feel the loss of Campbell much thanks to the likes of Jibreel Black and Quinton Washington. Also look for the massive Ondre Pipkins (a sophomore) to play significant minutes. Oh, and on the outside, watch for true freshman Taco Charlton to be at least a pass rushing specialist. His speed was a handful for his O-Line all spring long.

2. Penn State: This one may seem high to some, especially after losing the likes of DT Jordan Hill, but that kind of thinking is to forget just how awesome one Deion Barnes was in just his freshman season last year. After all, he did  have 26 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks and was named the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year for his efforts. So, that's one hell of a solid foundation to build a line off of and he'll be counted on to be that same player this season. Inside there's the experience DaQuan Jones, who showed promise next to Hill last season, and he'll likely be joined by Kyle Baulblitz (at least to start the season) in the middle. Look for redshirt freshman Austin Johnson to play an increasingly significant role as the season goes on, I really like what I've seen from him both on film and during spring. As for the other end opposite Barnes? Well, they'll need to be more of the run stopping variety, but look to C.J. Olanyian to be the guy. Anthony Zettle will also have a nice role in the rotation. While the names might not immediately jump off the page at you, this unit has a lot to like, although they are admittedly thin on experience this season.

3. Wisconsin: The Badgers are a rarity in the Big Ten this season. One, they return everyone that started on the defensive line last season and two, they will be the only team playing a 3-4 scheme in the league. That switch has been pretty seamless and it's all because of the numbers and versatility of the D-Line unit in Madison. Beau Allen was about as close to a breakout player as you could get last season for a DT – he'll be manning the nose tackle position, something he's really embraced this offseason. On the ends you'll have fellow space eater Ethan Hemer (all 311lbs of him) and Pat Muldoon. While these names may not all jump off the page at you they are all veteran players and all are very talented. There is massive depth and versatility behind them as well and this group could be the best on the Badgers roster outside of running back.

4. Ohio State: New faces at every position should doom most teams, but this is THE Ohio State and they don't rebuild, they reload and after seeing the spring game and hearing from those who've been in attendance at practices all spring this group is going to be just fine. If you don't know these three names – Noah Spence, Adolphous Washington, and Tommy Schutt – yet, well, you'll want to get familiar with them. Spence and Washington ate up a pretty damn good OSU offensive line in the spring game and should be very good ends. Schutt will be a force inside along with Michael Bennett and Joel Hale (nice three man rotation to have on the inside). Overall this group should be pretty damn good once again, but before I jump them into the top three I need to see them prove it against someone other than themselves. Hell, they could fall flat on their face with other folks across from them, but I don't expect that to happen. 

5. Michigan State: Marcus Rush has been a pass rushing demon in his career so far. He's also never had the spotlight on him the way it will be in 2013 and that's my biggest issue with this line this season. Outside of Rush there really isn't much in the way of a proven threat and that means more attention to a one dimensional player and more issues for a defense that had the 2nd fewest sacks in all of the Big Ten last year. Shilique Calhoun, a sophomore end, who had all of 6 tackles, 2.5 tfl's and 1 sack last season will counted on to explode off of those numbers, but I'm not totally sold on him as a full-time player just yet. Inside there are some good parts to like, namely James Kittridge and Tyler Hoover who are space eater extraordinaires. They also return part-time starter Micajah Reynolds from last season inside. However, I worry about this group's ability to stop a power run game off the edges this season as both Rush and Calhoun are more speed pass rushing type guys than ends that like to stuff the run. I could be eating my words though come season's end, but right now I just am not sold on this unit being as good as the ones over the past two years, thus the drop down a few notches in the preseason.

6. Northwestern: This could be one of the better groups the Wildcats have put out on the defensive line in quite some time, however they do lose some parts that were big for them last year in Brian Arnfelt and Quentin Williams, so my enthusiasm is a bit tempered (hence the middle of the pack ranking). If you don't know the name Tyler Scott, shame on you… All he is is the leading returning sacker from last season (9). Joining him at the end position should be Deonte Gibson, although there will be a nice battle between Dean Lowry and him. On the inside there are some names to like and one I'd personally be watching is Sean McEvilly (who started 10 games as a redshirt sophomore last season). He's likely to be joined by fellow junior Chance Carter. Those two could form one of the more solid tandems inside in the league by season's end. 

7. Minnesota: The 2013 D-Line has a chance to be something special, especially with breakout star Ra'Shede Hageman becoming a force last season. Problem is there's a lot of promise and very little experience on this line. With D.L. Wilhite gone the biggest question is who's going to take the pressure off of Hageman from the edge? It's something we covered extensively in our defensive preview this past week, so check it out. 

8. Iowa: Personally I'm a big fan of Dominic Alvis outside and Louis Trinca-Pasat inside. They form a nice combo… Or at least they should on paper. The problem is that once you see this line play as a unit something just isn't right. It's probably because Alvis and Trinca-Pasat haven't lived up to vast potential in the way most would expect them to. Well, it's now or never for these two and especially for Alvis who needs to step up as a pass rusher. After all, this team ranked dead last in sacks last season with a whopping THIRTEEN has a team. Opposite of Alvis will be sophomore Drew Ott and on the inside expect Carl Davis to the be the anchor to allow the likes of Trinca-Pasat and Darian Cooper to be more flashy. This isn't a terrible line, it just needs to show more for this team to be successful and it all starts at the end positions in 2013.

9. Nebraska: Quick, name me a defensive lineman at Nebraska for 2013….. Couldn't do it off the top of your head, could you? There in lies part of the issue for this team. That's also what happens when you lose three of four starters on the line. The only name, so to speak, is senior end Jason Ankrah. He's been a solid player but will need to step it up on the pass rush side (only 3 career sacks). At the other end it looks like a lot of youth will have to separate itself, but look for JUCO Randy Gregory to be the guy opposite of Ankrah. On the inside I was fairly impressed with Aaron Curry, a sophomore, who could move into a starting position by the end of camp. Other names to watch on the inside are Thad Randle (who knows if he'll ever stay healthy) and Kevin Williams. Again, do you see the issue here – this line hasn't been itself for a few years and the names in front of you this season don't exactly inspire confidence. 

10. Purdue: No Kawann Short, one of the defensive stars of last season? Well, that'll hurt any line to be honest with you. Luckily there is another potential star in the middle with Bruce Gaston. However, outside of that there are a lot of bodies with very little experience or production to have faith in. Ryan Russell has a ton of potential on the outside as a pass rushing force, but hasn't proven it that much in games so far. Gaston could be the star inside because he'll team up with massive Brandon Taylor. Starting opposite of Russell will be….. Well, that's the issue – we don't know who it will be. There are about three or four names vying for that spot. So, why so low if there are some good options, well that's just it… There are good first team options and ZERO known depth behind them.

11. Illinois: Can we just all agree to erase what happened in 2012? Well, maybe that's the wish of the Illini coaches and players, but we can't here at TheB1GTime. Especially when the two biggest names (Akeem Spence and Michael Buchannan) are off to the NFL. Tim Kynard will have a lot on his shoulders as the lone returning starter. However, given the results last season it may not be the worst thing ever to start over. There are a lot of questions on the end opposite of Kynard…. As in there is a JUCO transfer and a converted linebacker competing for that spot. Inside the name to watch for me is Jake Howe, a big man that will need to be a run stuffer if this unit is to make any jump at all. Overall though, this group has a lot to answer for and little known about them and little depth. 

12. Indiana: When you were as bad as the Hoosiers line was in 2012 and you lose your two biggest names (Larry Black, Jr. and Adam Repogle) this ranking was bound to happen. Luckily for them they were able to flip one of the nation's biggest DT recruits from Wisconsin back home to Indiana in Darius Lathum. He's the name to watch out of this group and could have an immediate impact. Staying inside look for Raphael Green and Alex Todd (two massive space eaters) to also be in the rotation. Where's the pass rush coming from? The closest thing this group has to a play maker is end Ryan Phillis, but on the whole this unit has a ton to prove on the field in 2013. 

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Andrew Coppens

About Andrew Coppens

Andy is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). He is the Managing Editor of MadTownBadger and associate editor of Bloguin's World Cup site, 32flags.com as well as Publisher of Big Ten site talking10.com