- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Spring practice is in full gear around the Big Ten, and that means optimism is also running high for the 2012 season on just about every campus.
A new season means new names and faces throughout the league, and this is the time to daydream about unlimited potential. So today we're taking a look at a few of the top newcomers (i.e., those who haven't played a down of Big Ten football before this season) to watch this fall:
DeAnthony Arnett, WR, Michigan State and Kyle Prater, WR, Northwestern: We put these two together because technically neither is yet eligible to play for his respective team in 2012. But the two transfers -- Arnett played at Tennessee last year, while Prater was at USC -- are both appealing to the NCAA for waivers to become immediately eligible, and both schools feel good about their chances of winning those cases. Each player fills a need; Michigan State lost its top three receivers from last year and desperately needs some experienced playmakers at the position, while Prater could step into the No. 1 receiver role that Jeremy Ebert left behind. Both could make a big impact on the season if they are able to see the field.
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State: The top-rated recruit to sign with a Big Ten team in February, Spence was rated as the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2012 class. It's easy to see why, as he's a 6-foot-4, 245-pound athletic specimen who looks ready to chase after opposing quarterbacks from Day One. Urban Meyer said he doesn't plan to redshirt many freshmen and expects his defensive line recruits to contribute right away. If not Spence, then Se'Von Pittman, Adolphus Washington or Tommy Schutt could all make their presence known up front on defense as true freshmen.
Danny O'Brien, QB, Wisconsin: Let's see. Former ACC starting quarterback graduates and transfers to Wisconsin, where he's immediately eligible. Haven't we heard this story before? True, maybe O'Brien won't play at a superstar level like Russell Wilson did a year ago. But the former Maryland signal caller plugs a huge hole on the Badgers roster, as injuries and inexperience at quarterback threatened to derail an otherwise promising season. O'Brien won't arrive in Madison until later this spring, but he's likely to grab hold of the starting quarterback job right away and perhaps lead Wisconsin back to the Big Ten title game.
Joe Bolden, LB, Michigan: Our recruiting gurus loved Bolden when he signed with the Wolverines, and the early enrollee has already drawn praise from head coach Brady Hoke on the way he's practiced this spring. Don't be surprised to see him get major minutes at linebacker and possibly contribute on special teams.
James Gillum, RB, Minnesota: The junior college transfer ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast, and he has the opportunity to start at tailback right away for a Gophers offense in search of more playmakers. The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Gillum already has many of the skills needed for a top-flight Big Ten running back but still must adjust to a higher level of play. If he pans out, he could pair with quarterback MarQueis Gray to form a dangerous Minnesota rushing attack.
16hJosh Moyer and Mitch Sherman