Big Ten: indispensable 13

Our series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team is all wrapped up, and Monday we asked you to identify the league's most indispensable offensive piece for the 2013 season.

Let's turn the spotlight to the defense. As a reminder, by indispensable, we don't necessarily mean the best players, but the players who would be the hardest to place between now and the start of the season if they were hurt, suspended or vaporized.

Here are the nominees for defense (in alphabetical order):
  • SportsNation

    Who is the Big Ten's most indispensable defensive player?

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      32%
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      7%
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      12%
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      35%
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      14%

    Discuss (Total votes: 3,208)

    Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State: The Spartans once again should have a nationally elite defense, and they're the only Big Ten team that had two defenders (Bullough and CB Darqueze Dennard) listed in its most indispensable capsule. But Bullough is undoubtedly the leader of the unit, as he plays an integral role in communicating calls and setting alignments. Bullough earned first-team All-Big Ten honors (coaches) last season and second-team honors as a sophomore in 2011. He has 223 career tackles, including 21 for loss, and has started the past 27 games. Although MSU doesn't have a major depth problem at linebacker, Bullough would be a significant loss because of all that he brings to the field.
  • Bruce Gaston Jr., DT, Purdue: It's hard enough to replace one standout interior lineman, as Purdue must do after losing Kawann Short, a second-round pick in April's NFL draft. The Boilers would have a tough time filling Gaston's shoes, too. He has started his first three seasons at Purdue, racking up 17 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick. Purdue's defense isn't "Big Ten strong" just yet, but the 6-2, 303-pound Gaston certainly fits the description. Given the question marks at linebacker and elsewhere on defense, the Boilers really need No. 90 on the field.
  • Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: The Gophers have holes to fill at both linebacker and cornerback, so they'll need to be stout up front and that starts with Hageman. He always has had next-level potential and showcased it at times in 2012, when he recorded six tackles and 35 total tackles in 13 starts. Minnesota must be better against the run after finishing 72nd last season, and the 6-foot-6, 311-pound Hageman takes up a lot of room in the interior line. Although the Gophers need safety Brock Vereen and others to stay on the field, Hageman has the superstar potential the defense has lacked and would be a very tough piece to replace.
  • Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State: Put aside the fact Shazier earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012 after recording 17 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, 11 pass breakups and an interception in a breakout sophomore season. He's also the only member of Ohio State's defensive front seven with meaningful starting experience. The Buckeyes lose all four starting linemen, and while there's optimism about talented younger players stepping into larger roles, there's more concern about the depth at linebacker. Ohio State needs Shazier's production, playmaking ability and leadership to bind the defense together at it chases a national championship this season.
  • Dezmen Southward, S, Wisconsin: Here's the thing about the Badgers. Yes, most of their coaches are new, but most of their players aren't. They return capable pieces at wide receiver, tight end, running back, quarterback and offensive line. All-Big Ten linebacker Chris Borland also is back, along with several veteran defensive linemen. But the secondary could be a major problem, especially if Southward, the lone returning starter from the 2012 team, can't stay on the field. Southward recorded 69 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble last season and will provide leadership for a new-look back four this season.

It's time to vote. Make yours count.
Last week, we wrapped up our series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team. By indispensable, we didn't necessarily mean the best players, but rather the ones who would be hardest to replace if they were suddenly unavailable.

SportsNation

Who is Big Ten's most indispensable offensive player?

  •  
    26%
  •  
    32%
  •  
    28%
  •  
    5%
  •  
    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,604)

Now, we want to know who you think are the most indispensable players in the league overall. We'll start today with the offensive guys. The choices:
  • Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan: Gardner is not only a standout player with a chance to put up huge numbers this year, he's the only experienced quarterback on the roster. Russell Bellomy's ACL tear left only walk-ons as Gardner's backups this spring, and true freshman Shane Morris might be forced into action if something happens to Gardner. Needless to say, that's a scary scenario for the Wolverines, who have been looking for a transfer quarterback this offseason.
  • Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton led the Buckeyes to a comeback win against Purdue last year and could reasonably handle the offense in a pinch. Still, there aren't many players who could actually replace Miller, the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year. Miller's running ability and knack for the clutch play gives Ohio State a dimension that would be nearly impossible to replicate.
  • Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers' backup QB situation doesn't look as dire as it has in the recent past after Tommy Armstrong and Ron Kellogg III both turned in nice springs. Still, Martinez has taken just about every snap for Nebraska in the past three years and knows the offense inside and out. While the Huskers have plenty of talent surrounding him, he is still the engine that drives everything.
  • Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern: A 1,000-yard rusher and All-American returner last year, Mark is the Wildcats' true gamebreaker. He put up over 2,100 all-purpose yards last season and was a threat to score on nearly every touch. While Northwestern could likely put together a solid offensive attack without him, it would dearly miss all the things he brings to the table.
  • Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin: As I wrote earlier this month about Abbrederis, "Nowhere on the team is there such a large difference between the best player at his position and the No. 2 guy." The Badgers spent much of last year searching for a complement to Abbrederis in the passing game and never found the answer. The search continues this year, as they still need to develop consistent receivers who can take pressure off of their senior star.

Vote now in our poll.
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or vaporized. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. The series wraps up with the Northwestern Wildcats.

Venric Mark, RB, Sr.

There is little doubt Mark finished the 2012 season as Northwestern's most valuable player, and he'll enter the 2013 campaign as the team's most indispensable piece. Although you can make a good case for multitalented quarterback Kain Colter or even center Brandon Vitabile, one of just two returning starters on a new-look offensive line, no player fundamentally changes games like Mark. Last fall, he became Northwestern's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 and averaged 6.2 yards a carry with 13 touchdowns as the team's featured back. He also earned All-America honors as a return man, scoring two punt return touchdowns and averaging 18.7 yards per runback. Mark finished with 2,166 all-purpose yards, just 29 yards shy of Damien Anderson's team record, and he helped make the kicking game, once a weakness for Northwestern, into a significant strength. Colter would be a big loss, too, but Northwestern has another capable, albeit different option, in Trevor Siemian. Although the team's depth at running back isn't bad, no one has Mark's breakaway ability on carries and returns. He'd be missed.

Ibraheim Campbell, S, Jr.

It's a tough call here as cornerback Nick VanHoose certainly seemed indispensable last season, when his absence because of injury potentially cost Northwestern games against Nebraska and Michigan. Veteran linebacker Damien Proby also would be a good pick given the team's inexperience at the position, and defensive end Tyler Scott has revived the pass rush. But Campbell has been the Wildcats' most productive defender the past two seasons, racking up 189 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. He's an integral part of Northwestern's run defense, which rose from 84th nationally in 2011 to 21st last season. Safeties are often called the quarterbacks of a defense, and Campbell certainly fills that role as he has grown into a strong leader. Northwestern is building better depth at both secondary spots, but cornerback isn't the vacuum it once was in Evanston. The Wildcats should be better equipped to play without VanHoose if he goes down this season. They would have a tougher time replacing all that Campbell brings to the defense.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Nebraska
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Iowa
Penn State
Illinois
Purdue
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or forced to listen to William Hung songs until their ears exploded. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Purdue is our penultimate team in the series.

Bruce Gaston Jr., DT, Sr.

The Boilers already will be without a standout defensive tackle in Kawann Short, a second-round pick in April's NFL draft (first Big Ten player selected). They can ill afford to lose another space-eater in the interior defensive line. Gaston is a three-year starter who recorded two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 5.5 tackles for loss as a junior in 2012. Although Gaston hasn't put up All-Big Ten-type numbers, he has been consistently productive in his career and could take things to the next level as a senior leader. Gaston missed most of spring practice following thumb surgery but made an impact after returning for the final few workouts. "There’s weight classes in boxing for a reason," Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said, referring to Gaston. "When big guys move around, things happen. They create space and they alter the line of scrimmage." Hudson thinks Gaston, with a strong summer, could flourish at the 3-technique for Purdue this fall. He's critical to improving Purdue's run defense and overall consistency and would be missed if he goes down.

Akeem Hunt, RB, Jr.

There are several other possibilities here -- Ryan Russell, Dolapo Macarthy, Robert Kugler -- but it's hard to ignore what Hunt did this spring at a position where Purdue currently has very little depth. Hunt capitalized on the chance to establish himself as the Boilers' No. 1 back and more than just a speed guy. Although Purdue likely needs another back or two to emerge and could rely on incoming freshmen like Keyante Green, the coaches can enter camp knowing they have a good option with some experience and knowledge of John Shoop's offense. The passing game is a significant question mark as Purdue remains unsettled at quarterback and needs several receivers to step up. The Boilers can help their unproven signal-caller with a threat in the run game, and Hunt provides it. His contributions on special teams as arguably the Big Ten's fastest player also can't be overlooked.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Nebraska
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Iowa
Penn State
Illinois
Now that spring practice is solidly in the rearview mirror, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or had to go battle White Walkers north of The Wall. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Let's turn now to the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Jonathan Brown, LB

Don't forget that Brown might never have been 100 percent healthy in 2012, when the Illini defense struggled mightily. He played in nine games but lacked the production he showed in a breakout sophomore campaign. Would Brown have made a huge difference in Illinois' final 2-10 record? Most likely not, since the team had so many other problems. But don't discount just how valuable a player he can be. This is a guy, after all, who had 108 tackles, six sacks and 19.5 TFLs in 2011. While Mason Monheim and Mike Svetina turned in promising campaigns as true freshman linebackers last year, defensive coordinator Chris Beatty would love to have a healthy Brown as a defensive difference maker in 2013.

Donovonn Young, RB

Frankly, it's a tough call finding two truly indispensable Illini because of how undistinguished most of the returning players are. That happens on a 2-10 team. We believe that the offense is better off with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase starting, but that Reilly O'Toole or even freshman Aaron Bailey could handle the reins without him. Illinois will likely need Martize Barr and Miles Osei to stay healthy among a thin receiving corps, especially after the dismissal of Darius Millines. But Young is a guy who looks like a potential centerpiece of the offense, especially after he ran for 86 yards and three touchdowns in the spring game. He's a physical runner who could provide the punch in Bill Cubit's spread offense and improve a ground game that ranked last in the Big Ten in yards per carry last year. Josh Ferguson is a solid option at running back as well and brings a lot of speed to the table. But he's also been injury prone during his career, making Young look even more indispensable.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Nebraska
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Iowa
Penn State
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or sent on a goodwill mission to North Korea. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Up next: the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Allen Robinson, WR, Jr.

The biggest reason not to panic about Penn State's quarterback situation is the supporting cast that will surround unproven options Tyler Ferguson or Christian Hackenberg. Penn State has excellent depth at tight end and solid depth at running back, but there are question marks at receiver behind Robinson, who won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award last season. Robinson emerged as the league's most dynamic and dependable pass-catching option as a sophomore, recording 77 receptions for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had five or more receptions in 10 of 12 games and nine or more receptions in four contests. Robinson formed tremendous chemistry with Matt McGloin, especially in the red zone, and Penn State's new starting quarterback undoubtedly will be helped when No. 8 is on the field. Although the Lions have some other potentially good options at receiver, Robinson is proven and would be missed if he isn't out there.

Mike Hull, LB, Jr.

It's rare when a player who didn't start in 2012 earns the "most indispensable" table, but Penn State fans won't be surprised to see Hull's name here. He essentially served as the Lions' fourth starting linebacker in 2012, recording 58 tackles, four sacks, two fumble recoveries, an interception and a blocked kick. Hull stood out on special teams and showed his natural playmaking ability throughout the season. Not only does he move into a featured role this fall, but he does so at a position where Penn State lacks depth after losing All-Big Ten selections Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Although returning starter Glenn Carson is back, and hopes are high for Nyeem Wartman, Penn State needs big things from Hull to solidify the middle of the defense. Hull could be an All-Big Ten-caliber player this season, and if Penn State loses him, the defense could take a step back.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Nebraska
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Iowa
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or shot out of a cannon. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Let's take a look at who's indispensable for the Nebraska Cornhuskers:

Taylor Martinez, QB

It's hard to imagine anyone other than Martinez, who has started the past 39 games, lining up at quarterback for the Huskers. The senior improved as a passer last season and finished with a career-high 1,019 rushing yards to lead the Big Ten in total offense. Backups Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III looked good in the spring game, and Armstrong in particular shows great promise. But this is Martinez's offense, and he's in complete control of it as he enters his third year working with coordinator Tim Beck. Martinez will need to stop forcing throws when Nebraska falls behind and take better care of the ball in general. Still, the Huskers would assuredly take a major step backwards if Martinez was lost for any reason.

David Santos, LB

There's no obvious pick for a second indispensable player. Nebraska has valuable standouts like receiver Kenny Bell, guard Spencer Long and defensive back Ciante Evans, but their positions are fairly deep. The Huskers could probably even withstand the loss of running back Ameer Abdullah, given how Imani Cross performed this spring and Martinez's own running ability. That is why we're going with Santos, even though he's just a sophomore with 24 career tackles under his belt. Nebraska lost all three starters at linebacker from last season, and during the spring, Santos became the de facto leader of that group despite his youth. He's versatile enough to play both in the middle or on the outside, though he'll most likely start the year in the middle. The Huskers are frightfully inexperienced in the front seven on defense, but are counting on superior athleticism to make up for that. And they're really counting on Santos to anchor the linebacking corps.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Iowa

 

 
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or shot out of a cannon. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Up next: Iowa

Brandon Scherff, OT, Jr.

Maybe offensive coordinator Greg Davis will surprise us and call 40 passes a game with an unproven quarterback. It's more likely Iowa relies on its running attack and -- hope AIRBHG isn't reading -- a good stable of backs led by Mark Weisman. That's where Scherff comes in. He's the team's best lineman and a guy who has the potential to follow recent Hawkeyes star tackles like Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff. Iowa's offense already had problems before Scherff suffered a gruesome injury last October against Penn State, but without Scherff -- and fellow lineman Andrew Donnal, who got hurt two plays later -- the unit had no chance. Not only does Scherff provide blindside protection for the Hawkeyes' new signal-caller, but he'll be instrumental in sparking a run game that showed potential when the backs were healthy in 2012. Iowa is very young at tackle behind Scherff and Brett Van Sloten, and it can't afford to lose No. 68 again.

B.J. Lowery, CB, Sr.

Some might expect to see a linebacker here, as Iowa returns starters James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. But the Hawkeyes have strength in numbers with their defensive midsection, and if one player were to go down, the others are there to pick up the slack. Iowa doesn't enjoy the same type of depth at cornerback, especially after losing Micah Hyde, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and a fifth-round pick in last month's NFL draft. After recording 50 tackles and an interception last season, Lowery capped a strong spring with an interception and three pass breakups in Iowa's spring game. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the team's quarterbacks avoided throwing toward Lowery in practices, and he showed why in the scrimmage. Iowa has some questions at the other cornerback spot and not much overall depth at the position, so it needs to keep Lowery on the field this fall.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Indiana
Michigan State
Ohio State
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Up next: Ohio State.

Braxton Miller, QB, Jr.

Were you expecting someone else? As much as Urban Meyer raves about backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, Miller will shape Ohio State's season more than any other player. He carried the offense at times in 2012 and won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors, finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Miller accounted for more than 65 percent of Ohio State's total offense in 2012 and 28 of the team's 54 touchdowns. He should be even better, especially in the pass game, after another full offseason under Urban Meyer and his staff. Ohio State still would be a good team without Miller, but it wouldn't be a national title contender if he goes down.

Ryan Shazier, LB, Jr.

Ohio State has no shortage of spots to fill in the defensive front seven, but the Buckeyes can rely on Shazier, a first-team All-Big Ten selection (media) who had a breakout season in 2012. He emerged as one of the Big Ten's top defensive playmakers, recording 17 tackles for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, 11 pass breakups and an interception. Although Ohio State must replace all four starting defensive linemen from a 12-0 team, a bigger concern could be linebacker as the Buckeyes must build around Shazier. Without him, the defense could be in major trouble not only against the run but the pass, where Shazier thrived at times last season. Perhaps Curtis Grant finally blossoms or younger players like Joshua Perry emerge, but Ohio State really needs to keep Shazier on the field this fall.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Indiana
Michigan State
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/run over by a rickshaw, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Let's turn now to the Minnesota Golden Gophers:

Ra'Shede Hageman, DT

The Gophers had pretty good competition for playing time all along their defensive front this spring. With the exception, that is, of Hageman's spot. He's the most accomplished veteran on that line and maybe the best overall athlete on the entire team at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds. Minnesota expect Hageman to build on the progress he made his junior year and become a truly dominant figure as a senior. The defensive tackle spot is not bare outside of Hageman; Cameron Botticelli returns at the other spot after starting all 13 games last season, and the coaches really like the potential of Scott Ekpe. But they don't make too many guys like Hageman, and his skills would be awfully tough to replace.

Ed Olson, LT

Loads of injuries on the offensive line last year had one positive effect for Minnesota: Young players were forced to gain experience, and now there's some actual depth in that group. Still, the offensive line is different when Olson is anchoring it at left tackle. This will be his fourth year as a starter, and when he got hurt after six games last year, there was a noticeable drop-off in performance for the line as a whole. Olson also missed this spring because of an injury, and Marek Lenkiewicz took his first-team reps. Lenkiewicz is capable, but the Gophers would feel the loss if Olson wasn't there to protect Philip Nelson's blind side.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin

Now that spring practice is over, we're starting a new series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or joined the circus. It could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Next up: Indiana.

Jason Spriggs, LT, So.

Spriggs stepped into the fire as a true freshman at arguably the most important offensive line position and held his own last season. Although Indiana had plenty of youth up front in 2012, the line excelled in pass protection, allowing just one sack every 31.8 pass attempts and finishing 33rd nationally in sacks allowed per game (1.42). Spriggs, who protected the blind side of all three IU quarterbacks, led the team with 80 knockdowns and allowed just two sacks in 961 snaps. Spriggs and guard Dan Feeney both set a team record by starting all 12 games as true freshmen. Both earned freshman All-America honors and honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Feeney certainly could be here, too, but Spriggs played such a big role in pass protection. He would be a major loss for Indiana, which is relying on Spriggs and Feeney to form the foundation of the offensive line for years to come.

Greg Heban, S, Sr.

The Hoosiers' long-suffering defense will improve as younger, more talented players enter the program through upgrades in recruiting. But every unit needs some veteran leadership, and Heban provides it and much more from the safety position. Indiana loses significant pieces along the line, and while linebacker David Cooper could prove to be indispensable, the defense really needs Heban to stay on the field. He has started 22 games the past two seasons and last fall led Big Ten defensive backs in tackles per game (7.6), while tying for fifth in interceptions (3) and tying for 11th in passes defended (11). He's a natural playmaker for a secondary and a defense that still lacks them. Heban also can play safety, corner or the nickel spot. Indiana should have better overall depth on defense this season, but it can't afford to lose No. 9.

More indispensable:

Michigan State

Michigan


Wisconsin


Now that spring practice is over, we're starting a new series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/bested by a super villain, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Next up: Michigan State.

Max Bullough, LB

The Spartans are so loaded on defense that they could probably make up for the loss of any one guy. But Bullough isn't just any guy. He's the on-field computer for Pat Narduzzi's defense, a guy who knows where every player is supposed to be on every snap. Bullough is more than just a leader in making defensive calls, however. He has also led the team in tackles each of the past two years, including 111 stops in 2012. Could Michigan State find another linebacker to take over Bullough's role? Probably, with potentially Kyler Elsworth or maybe even Max's younger brother, Riley. But could Narduzzi find someone to do the job at the same level as Bullough? No way.

Darqueze Dennard, CB

We'll stick with two defensive players for the Spartans, because no one on the offensive side of the ball is distinguished enough to be considered indispensable at this point. Like with Bullough, Michigan State would see a dropoff without Dennard, who could stake a claim to being the Big Ten's top cornerback. People touted teammate Johnny Adams as a possible first-round pick last summer, but Dennard ended up outplaying him. Sophomores Trae Waynes and Arjen Colquhoun got lots of first-team reps with Dennard injured earlier this spring. The Spartans hope that was a one-time only deal for 2013.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Wisconsin
Minnesota
Now that spring practice is over, we’re taking a look at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don’t necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/bitten by a Komodo dragon, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We’ll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Up next: the Wisconsin Badgers.

Jared Abbrederis, WR

Abbrederis led the Badgers with 49 catches for 837 yards and five touchdowns last year. The next top receiver on the team was Jordan Frederick, who had just 17 receptions for 196 yards and one score. Only one other wide receiver, Jeff Duckworth, caught a touchdown. Nowhere on the team is there such a large difference between the best player at his position and the No. 2 guy. That was amplified last year when Abbrederis was banged up and the team struggled to get much going in the passing game. New receivers coach Chris Beatty is trying to develop some complementary players to go with Abbrederis this offseason, but so far it seems to be going slowly. That's why he's so important to the Badgers' hopes in 2013.

Dezmen Southward, S

You could argue that Chris Borland belongs on this list, and you'd have a strong case, especially with Wisconsin using more 3-4 looks on defense this season. But at least the Badgers have some experience at linebacker besides Borland. That's not the case in the secondary, where Southward is the lone returning starter. Redshirt freshman Reggie Mitchell is a possible starter at the other safety spot, and there's precious little experience behind Southward. Gary Andersen is bringing in two juco defensive backs for a reason. Southward developed into a very solid player last year, and Wisconsin needs him both for his ability and his leadership.

More indispensable:

Michigan
Now that spring practice is over, we're starting a new series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/crushed by a safe, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Let's start off, in no particular order, with the Michigan Wolverines:

Devin Gardner, QB, Sr.

Picking a starting quarterback for any team is pretty obvious, but Gardner might be as indispensable -- again, not the same thing as best -- quarterback in the league. That's because his only experienced backup, Russell Bellomy, tore his ACL in the spring. Right now, walk-on Brian Cleary is the No. 2 quarterback, and if anything happened to Gardner in the fall, the Wolverines likely would turn to true freshman Shane Morris. Michigan wouldn't have to completely change the offense if it lost Gardner as it did last year when Denard Robinson went down at Nebraska. But the offense's productivity -- and likely the team's fortunes -- would take a major hit if he were removed from the equation.

Taylor Lewan, LT, Sr.

Here's a case where Michigan's most indispensable players are probably also their best ones. The Wolverines already lost a very valuable star in linebacker Jake Ryan, but at least they have depth at that position. Not so much at offensive line, where Lewan is one of only two returning starters and by far the most decorated. His decision to return for his senior year rather than become a possible high first-round NFL draft pick changed the entire outlook of the offensive line. He's also developing into a respected senior leader. Without Lewan, Michigan would likely have to insert a freshman like Logan Tuley-Tillman or Erik Magnuson at one of the tackle spots. And things definitely wouldn't be the same without the All-American.

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