As a reminder, these lists try to identify younger players (ideally non-starters) who showed flashes in 2012 and who will be in positions to make a greater impact this coming season. Examples from the 2012 season on the defensive side include Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan, Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes and Northwestern linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo. Players who earned All-Big Ten honors in 2012 aren't eligible for this list. We're looking for players who haven't come close to their ceilings yet.
Lastly, we realize a list of five excludes many promising players, but we had to cut it off somewhere.
Here we go (in alphabetical order) ...
Michigan LB Joe Bolden: A decorated 2012 recruit, Bolden enrolled early and immediately began impressing the coaching staff. The 6-foot-3, 222-pound Bolden saw the field in all 13 games as a true freshman, recording 31 tackles, including four for loss and a sack, to go along with a fumble recovery. Bolden likely will step into a starting role in 2013 as Michigan loses Kenny Demens to graduation. If Bolden takes a big step like Ryan did as a sophomore, Michigan could challenge Michigan State for which team boasts the Big Ten's top linebacking corps.
Shilique Calhoun could fill the starting defensive end spot that used to be belong to NFL-bound William Gholston.
Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: Calhoun definitely is a projection pick, but he clearly made strides before the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and delivered two tackles for loss, including a sack, and a quarterback hurry against TCU. The departure of William Gholston to the NFL draft frees up a starting spot opposite Marcus Rush that Calhoun could occupy in 2013. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Calhoun saw action in all 13 games as a redshirt freshman this fall and should get bigger and stronger for a potentially big sophomore season.
Penn State LB Mike Hull: Hull is definitely the most familiar name on the list, but after waiting his turn as a reserve, his number will be called much more in 2013. The 6-foot, 228-pound rising junior had starter-like numbers in 2012, recording 58 tackles, including five for loss and four sacks, to go along with an interception, two fumble recoveries, four pass breakups and a blocked kick. He's already one of the Big Ten's best special-teams players and should be among the league's top linebackers this coming season as Penn State must replace standouts Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti.
Nebraska LB David Santos: Bo Pelini and his staff have acknowledged the team's pressing need at linebacker after transitioning from the Big 12 to the Big Ten. Although finding a difference-making defensive lineman might be the Huskers' biggest desire, they still need help in their defensive midsection and should get more out of Santos. The 6-foot, 220-pound Santos appeared in 13 games as a redshirt freshman this season, recording 24 tackles, including two for loss, and a forced fumble. Nebraska needs leadership at linebacker following Will Compton's departure, and Santos looks ready to take on a bigger burden.
Ohio State DE Adolphus Washington: The Buckeyes have to reload along the defensive line after losing Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon and interior space-eater Johnathan Hankins, among others. Urban Meyer and his staff landed several elite defensive line recruits in their first class, including Washington, who appeared in 10 games as a true freshman and recorded three sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. Along with classmate Noah Spence, Washington is expected to take on a bigger role in 2013 and could be a breakout performer.