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Friday, February 27, 2009
Who will break out in the Big Ten?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Sometimes, all a player needs is an opportunity.

And as several sizable senior classes and national award winners depart the Big Ten, there will be opportunities around the league this spring.

Here are five Big Ten players on the verge of breaking out. Obviously, there are other potential stars in the league, but these are five who came to mind.

Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn -- Clayborn could become one of the Big Ten's top pass rushers in 2009. He recorded eight tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass deflections and a forced fumble as a sophomore last fall, though defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul understandably got most of the credit. It will be tough not having King and Kroul inside to occupy offensive linemen, but Clayborn has the skills to bust out.

Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey -- Some wondered why the dynamic Posey didn't play much more as a true freshman, but he shouldn't have trouble seeing the field this fall. Boasting top-shelf speed and size, Posey could evolve into Ohio State's best big-play threat. It doesn't hurt that he's very good friends with starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Northwestern defensive end Vince Browne -- Browne showed plenty of promise as a redshirt freshman, recording four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He should step in seamlessly to the starting spot vacated by Kevin Mims and provide a viable end rusher opposite All-America candidate Corey Wootton. As Wootton recovers from knee surgery, Browne will take center stage in spring ball.

Michigan running back Brandon Minor -- The Wolverines' offensive struggles of 2008 are well documented, but Minor finished the season as one of the Big Ten's hottest running backs. Michigan mixed and matched for some time before Minor emerged as the top option, racking up 447 yards and seven touchdowns in his final five games. He should thrive in a featured role.

Wisconsin safety Jay Valai -- Valai established himself as one of the Big Ten's most ferocious hitters last fall. He should take the next step and become more of a complete player during the spring. Wisconsin loses its top defensive back in corner Allen Langford, and more of the burden will be on Valai, who recorded 56 tackles and three forced fumbles last year.