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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten year-end position rankings move over to the defensive side and begin with quite possibly the league's strongest group, the defensive line. Looking at this list, the top seven or eight players would likely be top three or four in almost any other league. A very impressive collection, indeed.
|Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI|
|Penn State's Aaron Maybin was the best defensive end in the Big Ten this season.|
Here are my preseason rankings for interior linemen and defensive ends. The year-end list combines the two, so I've expanded it to 12 members.
1. Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin -- The redshirt sophomore came out of nowhere to earn All-America honors. Maybin led the Big Ten with 12 sacks (all solo) and tied for the league lead with 20 tackles for loss. Undersized but exceptionally fast, he became the Big Ten's top pass rusher.
2. Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King -- Running back Shonn Greene got most of the hype, but King very well could have been Iowa's MVP this season. He shut down running lanes up the middle and created havoc in the backfield with 15.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries. The play of King and Matt Kroul gave Iowa's younger defenders the freedom to make plays.
3. Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton -- The only member of a 9-4 Wildcats team to earn all-conference honors, Wootton blossomed this fall with 10 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. He maximized his size and speed to lead a Wildcats front that tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks (34).
4. Indiana defensive end Jammie Kirlew -- It wasn't a banner year for the Indiana defense, but Kirlew surged with 10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Much like Greg Middleton the previous season, Kirlew came out of nowhere to cause problems in opposing backfields.
5. Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham -- One of few bright spots for a struggling Michigan program, Graham ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (1.82 per game) and 11th in sacks (.91 per game). Should he return for his senior season, Graham will be one of the nation's top pass rushers.
6. Minnesota defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg -- After battling a wrist injury in 2007, VanDeSteeg showed that when healthy, he can carry a team. He turned in a memorable performance against Illinois and tied for second in the Big Ten in sacks (10.5). He also ranked fourth in the league in tackles for loss (19).
7. Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick -- Odrick also overcame previous injuries to dominate the line of scrimmage this fall. He contributed 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss and anchored a line that led the league in rushing defense (93.2 ypg).
8. Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul -- King's wingman for four seasons continued to be a rock in the middle of the Iowa line. The senior earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and contributed two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss for the nation's ninth-rated rushing defense.
9. Michigan State defensive end Trevor Anderson -- After a slow start, Anderson blossomed into the player head coach Mark Dantonio knew he was getting from the University of Cincinnati. The junior finished with eight sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries.
10. Wisconsin defensive tackle Mike Newkirk -- The move inside from defensive end seemed to suit Newkirk, who contributed four sacks, nine tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches.
11. Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan -- Kerrigan was one of seven defensive linemen to rank among the league's Top 10 in both sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (11.5). The sophomore finished fourth on the team in tackles and had an interception and two forced fumbles to lead Purdue's defensive line.
12. Ohio State defensive tackle Nader Abdallah -- Like his fellow line mates, Abdallah played his best football at the end of the season. He finished with six tackles for loss, a sack, a fumble recovery and four quarterback hurries. Abdallah stuffed the run up the middle and Ohio State allowed only seven rushing touchdowns in 13 games.