We've spent the past several days looking at which Big Ten players can reach some major single-season statistical milestones in 2013. On Tuesday, we hit the defense and which players could compile 100 tackles this season. Let's wrap this up now by analyzing who might record another impressive defensive achievement: double digits in sacks.
(We do so in honor of the late, great sack master Deacon Jones, who was so good that he is credited with inventing the term "sack." I have a feeling some quarterbacks in heaven are looking over their shoulders right about now).
The Big Ten didn't have any players reach 10 sacks last year, but two did so in 2011, including national leader Whitney Mercilus of Illinois. Who's the most likely to bring the pain to opposing backfields and potentially crack double digits this fall? Let's examine the candidates in order of likelihood.
Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State: The Big Ten's reigning freshman of the year finished with six sacks in 2012, and while that leaves him pretty far away from 10, we think he'll only continue to get better. Losing Jordan Hill might mean he gets more attention, but Barnes still has plenty of room to grow.
Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern: Perhaps Scott should have topped our list, as he did have nine sacks last year. He looked like one of the most improved players in the league last year and has the strength to cause opposing offensive tackles all kinds of problems.
Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State: The Buckeyes' two super sophs deserve to be mentioned together right now. Both got a taste of playing time last year, with Washington having a bigger impact than Spence. Both wreaked havoc this spring against a veteran offensive line. Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort has predicted Spence will lead the Big Ten in sacks. But will he even lead his own team in that category?
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: The Gophers' large human being had six sacks a year ago and has been tearing it up this offseason. It's not always easy for an interior lineman to rack up big sack totals, though. It could be that he creates traffic jams and opens up opportunities for teammates like Thieren Cockran and Michael Amaefula to reach the quarterback.
Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue: Russell had only four sacks last year and has yet to put up the big stats that his potential suggests he can. But that's just it: the potential is there. He could be ready to make the leap.
Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State: Allen managed only three sacks last year, but the "Waterboy" put up 11 in 2011, so the ability is there. The Spartans were strangely poor at bringing down the quarterback in 2012 despite their defensive talent, but the speedy Allen could help change that in '13 if he rediscovers his heat-seeking form.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska: If you want to speculate on sacks, Gregory is a good stock to buy. He was ranked by some as the top junior college defender in the nation last year, and he racked up 21 tackles for loss and nine sacks at Arizona Western. The opportunity for immediate playing time is definitely there on the Huskers' D-line.