The past few weeks, we've been taking a look at which Big Ten players can hit some major, single-season statistical milestones in 2012. We turned to the defense earlier this week with a look at which players could compile 100 tackles this season. Let's end the series now by analyzing who might reach double digits in sacks this fall.
Getting to at least 10 quarterback sacks in one season is a tall order. Only two players in the Big Ten did it last year, led by Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus' national-best 16. The previous two seasons, only Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan got to double digits. Only 13 players in the FBS accomplished it last season. It's usually, but not always, accomplished by a defensive end. Here are the top candidates for 10 sacks in order of most likely:
1. Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State: It's more difficult for a linebacker to rack up huge sack totals, but Allen is a heat-seeking missile who had 11 last year, second only to Mercilus in the league. His speed and nose for the ball, most evident in his "Waterboy" play against Ohio State, combined with defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's aggressive blitz schemes give Allen a chance for another big year in the sacks department.
2. Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois: Assuming he's recovered from a broken jaw, Buchanan seems like the best bet to replace Mercilus as his team's quarterback hunter. Buchanan had 7.5 sacks last year, helping keep pressure off Mercilus, and his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame could be set free toward the backfield more often in '12.
3. John Simon, DE, Ohio State: Simon had seven sacks last year while playing in different spots on the Buckeyes' defensive line, which dealt with some injuries. He should have a lot more help this year on what looks like a fierce unit, and Simon's nonstop motor could lead him to many quarterbacks' grills.
4. William Gholston, DE, Michigan State: We all know how physically gifted and large Gholston is, and there's every reason to believe this could be a big breakout year for him. But he only had five sacks last year and will have to improve the consistency of his effort. On the plus side, it will be hard to double team him with Marcus Rush on the other side and all the defensive talent surrounding them.
5. Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois: Like Allen, Brown has such quickness to the backfield that he can pile up some monster numbers. He had six sacks last year in addition to a whopping 19.5 tackles for loss.
6. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: You don't often see defensive tackles racking up major sack totals. But if anyone in the league can do it, it's the extremely talented Short, who had 6.5 sacks as a junior in 2011.
7. Cameron Meredith, DE, Nebraska: Meredith is entering his third season as a starter and should be one of the leaders of the Blackshirts this season. He had five sacks a year ago, and the Huskers expect better production overall from their defense this fall. Quarterbacks may collapse just getting an up-close look at Meredith's mustache.
8. Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State: Hill could take over Devon Still's role as a dominant disruptor, but even the 2011 Big Ten defensive player of the year had only 4.5 sacks last year. Maybe linebacker Gerald Hodges or defensive end Sean Stanley makes a big jump in sack numbers.