- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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We love to talk about quarterbacks and running backs and all the other glamor positions, but the Big Ten -- and all of football -- is usually won on the defensive line.
The league has many standout linemen once again in 2012, but several schools also have some question marks up front. That means a few defensive linemen must really live up to their potential for their teams to achieve their goals.
Which defensive linemen have the most riding on their shoulders? Here are the top candidates:
Will Campbell, DT, Michigan: The senior is a big man who came to Ann Arbor with a lot of hype. His potential has mostly gone unrealized during his career, but he's in a starting role now and will be counted on to replace Mike Martin in the middle for the Wolverines. Summer reports say Campbell has lost weight and started to accept a leadership role.
Carl Davis, DT, Iowa: The Hawkeyes' defensive line is full of inexperienced players, but the 6-foot-5, 310-pound Davis is being counted on as an anchor for the group. The redshirt sophomore has been slowed by injuries in his career, but has reportedly been impressive in preseason practice. But he has played in all of seven games in his career.
David Gilbert, DE, Wisconsin: The Badgers are pretty well set in the middle of their defensive line, but need someone to come off the edge and provide a consistent pass rush. Gilbert is by far their most athletic defensive end, but the junior had his 2011 season cut short by a foot injury that also kept him out of spring practice. Wisconsin needs Gilbert to be healthy and effective.
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: The Gophers' problems on the defensive line in recent years have been well documented, but Hageman inspires hope. The 6-foot-6, 301-pounder has received a lot of attention for his physical skills, but hasn't yet delivered much on the field. Minnesota hopes this is the year he has a long-predicted breakout campaign.
Eric Martin, DE, Nebraska: The Huskers should have a lot more depth in the defensive trenches this season, but they could still use a fierce pass-rusher. Martin, a senior who moved from linebacker to end last season, has drawn some offseason buzz for his ability to be just that. "He's kind of a wild-card for us up front," Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis told ESPN.com. "He's different than all of our other defensive ends in terms of his ability to rush the passer, and we can stand him up and do different things with him.. He's going to be a key for our defense this year."
Which of these defensive linemen will hold the biggest key to their team's success? Vote in our poll now.
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