Big Ten: indispensable 14

Last week, we finished up our series looking at the most indispensable players for each Big Ten team. Now, we're interested in your opinion. Who is the most indispensable player is in the entire league.

As we mentioned over and over again at the top of those posts, indispensable doesn't necessarily translate into "best." It means the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/shrunk by Rick Moranis, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

SportsNation

Who is the most indispensable player in the Big Ten in 2014?

  •  
    30%
  •  
    29%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    9%
  •  
    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,988)

We gave you two from each team during the series. Now we want you to pick one of these five candidates:
  • Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: The Buckeyes got to see what life without Miller would look like this spring while he was recovering from shoulder surgery. They hope that was merely a drill. The senior is the two-time, defending Big Ten offensive player of the year, and backups Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett have no real experience. Without Miller, Ohio State could easily fall from national championship contender to Big Ten also-ran.
  • Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State: Hackenberg threw for nearly 3,000 yards as a true freshman and will again be the focal point of the Nittany Lions' offense this season. There's also a severe lack of experience behind him, with Penn State likely needing to turn to true freshman Michael O'Connor or a walk-on should something unfortunate happen to its young star.
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers' defense simply wouldn't be the same without Gregory, who led the Big Ten in sacks (10.5) and tied for second in tackles for loss (17.5) last season. With the other defensive end position a little bit of a question mark and young players being counted on at tackle, Gregory's tremendous pass-rushing skills are a necessity for Nebraska to contend for the West Division title and beyond.
  • Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State: After finally finding some stability at quarterback, the last thing the Spartans want to do is go through another carousel at the position. Tyler O'Connor and redshirt freshman Damion Terry could provide decent replacement options. But Cook's poise and confidence helped take Michigan State to another level last season -- a Rose Bowl-winning level.
  • Brandon Scherff, LT, Iowa: The Hawkeyes know how to develop offensive linemen, so they'd probably find someone to fill Scherff's shoes. But how well? The senior enters the season as the best lineman in the Big Ten and is integral to everything Iowa wants to do on offense. Losing the likely 2015 first-round NFL draft pick for any significant stretch this season would likely reverberate throughout Kirk Ferentz's team this fall.

Which of these players is the most indispensable to his team's fortunes in 2014? Vote now in our poll.
Summer is a time in college football where the only news is usually bad news. With that in mind, we're 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/encounter Sharknado. 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 Wednesday with the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

[+] EnlargeRandy Gregory
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRandy Gregory arrived in the Big Ten with a bang, leading the league in sacks.
Randy Gregory, DE, junior

This selection won't surprise Nebraska fans who fell in love with Gregory during his first season with Big Red. Few defenders have to be accounted for on every play, but Gregory does after leading the Big Ten in sacks (10.5) and tying for second in tackles for loss (17.5). Gregory recorded nine sacks in league games, including three in a road win against Michigan. He led the team with 18 quarterback hurries and recorded a pick-six, a fumble forced and a fumble recovered. Nebraska's defensive end depth isn't great as Avery Moss serves a year-long suspension, and while Greg McMullen looks promising, Gregory undoubtedly is the linchpin. Nebraska's defense needs No. 44 on the field to continue its progress from late last season.

Kenny Bell, WR, senior

Bell no longer has the Big Ten's most indispensable 'fro, but his value remains high for the Huskers. He's one of the nation's most experienced wide receivers with 134 career receptions for 1,901 yards and 15 touchdowns. Although his yards numbers went down from 2012 to 2013, his receptions total went up. Nebraska loses Quincy Enunwa and likely will rely more on Bell, who not only gives quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. a proven target but provides excellent perimeter blocking skills for Ameer Abdullah and the run game. Nebraska is still waiting for Jamal Turner to blossom. Jordan Westerkamp and Alonzo Moore are young and Taariq Allen hasn't been in a featured role. Bell contributes in so many ways and would be missed if he's not on the field this fall.
Summer is a time in college football where the only news is usually bad news. With that in mind, we're 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/encounter a White Walker, 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. We're getting close to the finish line with the series, and one of our final stops hits up the Penn State Nittany Lions.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIChristian Hackenberg turned heads as a true freshman, passing for 2,955 yards and 20 TDs.
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Soph.

Well, yeah. If there's any young player more valuable to Penn State's long-term success than Hackenberg, we'd like to meet him. After throwing for nearly 3,000 yards as a true freshman, Hackenberg backed up all his recruiting hype and probably makes James Franklin smile every time he thinks about his quarterback. What makes Hackenberg even more indispensable is the lack of experience behind him. Should something happen to the young star, the Nittany Lions would likely turn to true freshman Michael O'Connor or walk-ons Austin Whipple and D.J. Crook. So keeping Hackenberg healthy is a major priority for Penn State in 2014.

Donovan Smith, OT, Jr.

Hey, remember when we said protecting Hackenberg was a major priority? Well, to say Penn State's offensive line is in flux would be an understatement. With Miles Dieffenbach reportedly out with a knee injury, Smith is the only returning starter on the line. And he just so happens to be the left tackle and guardian of Hackenberg's blind side. Smith provides one of the few anchors Franklin can count on up front right now, and if he were to become unavailable, the scramble really would be on. Redshirt freshman Brendan Mahon could be the guy who steps in for Smith if the need arose. It's safe to say Penn State doesn't want to find out what that would look like.
Summer is a time in college football where the only news is usually bad news. With that in mind, we're 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/suffer from a grotesquely swollen jaw, 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 Northwestern Wildcats, who learned the hard way last year how tough it is to play without some of your most valuable players.

Brandon Vitabile, C, Sr.
Throughout a very rough 2013 season for the Wildcats, Vitabile provided some stability. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten performer and team co-captain, and the redshirt senior has now started 38 straight games. Vitabile enters the season as one of the top centers in the league, and his leadership would be tough to replace on an offensive line that underperformed at times last season. Quarterback Trevor Siemian would also be a big loss on the offensive side, but Northwestern has some talented -- if very young -- options behind him.

Ibraheim Campbell, S, Sr.
The secondary should actually be one of the deepest and perhaps strongest units on the field for the Wildcats, who will return starters at all four defensive back spots. But Campbell is the most experienced and valuable player in the back end. His four interceptions tied for the team lead last year, and he provides major help in run support. Defending the middle of the field was an issue for Northwestern last year, and without Campbell, it would quickly become a major problem again.
Welcome to June. The 2014 college football season is just a little bit closer. With that in mind, we're 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/ran away with the circus, 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. The Ohio State Buckeyes are up next in the rundown.

Braxton Miller, QB, senior

This might be the most obvious choice in the league. It's not just that Miller owns more accolades than any Big Ten standout, winning the league's offensive player of the year award in each of the past two seasons. Or that he boasts 8,346 career offensive yards with 84 touchdowns. Ohio State's new-look offensive line and the departure of battering-ram running back Carlos Hyde puts even more of an emphasis on the quarterback position. While reserves Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett are still developing, spring practice showed that neither is ready to take over and provide the threat Miller does every time he touches the football. There's no Kenny G on the roster. If Ohio State had last year's offensive line, Hyde back in the fold and a few more certainties at receiver, Miller's presence might not be quite as critical. But if he's not out there when the season rolls around, Ohio State immediately falls from the ranks of playoff contenders.

Doran Grant, CB, junior

I considered putting offensive tackle Taylor Decker or one of the returning linebackers, but Ohio State's secondary is the group undoubtedly in the spotlight when the season kicks off. The departures of cornerback Bradley Roby and safety C.J. Barnett leave Grant as the only full-time starter back from the 2013 team. Grant is Ohio State's only returning defender to start in all 14 games last season, and he recorded 58 tackles, three interceptions, 10 pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He moves into Roby's role on the boundary and will cover the top opposing wideouts this season. New co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash identified Grant and safety Tyvis Powell as two obvious leaders coming out of the spring. Although Ohio State has several young, talented defensive backs, Grant's presence looms large as the secondary tries to rebound this year.
Welcome to June. The 2014 college football season is just a little bit closer. With that in mind, we're 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/fell through a moon door, 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. Today, we examine Purdue.

[+] EnlargeRobert Kugler
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesRobert Kugler was Purdue's offensive MVP in 2013.
Robert Kugler, C

OK. We know what you're going to say the second you see the headline of this post. How can anyone be indispensable for a team that went 1-11 last season and was historically bad on both sides of the ball? A fair point, and it's not like Darrell Hazell's team is oozing with irreplaceable superstars in Year 2. Still, losing some players would hurt much more than others. Case in point: Kugler. He may not be one of the more recognizable names in the Big Ten, but he was named Purdue's offensive MVP for the 2013 season. The Boilermakers also lost four seniors off last season's offensive line and are replacing both starting tackles. They will be counting on juco transfers David Hedelin and Corey Clements to contribute right away. Even if that goes smoothly, they will need veteran leadership on the unit, and Kugler is just the man to provide it.

Ryan Russell, DE

The Purdue defense had a serious lack of playmakers last season, and it lost two of its best ones in cornerback Ricardo Allen and tackle Bruce Gaston. So there are major question marks for Greg Hudson's defense at several positions going into 2014. Russell has looked like a star-in-the-making for quite some time, with his ideal blend of size and quickness at the end position. But he hasn't yet put it all together, disappearing for long stretches. Still, the senior is one of the most experienced players in the program, and the potential remains there for a breakout season. Purdue needs him to lead the way for younger players on the line like Ra'Zahn Howard, Evan Panfil, Gelen Robinson and Kentucky transfer Langston Newton.
Welcome to June. The 2014 college football season is just a little bit closer. With that in mind, we're 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/abducted by Sam Cassell and his friends. 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: the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

[+] EnlargeLeidner
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsIf Mitch Leidner can improve his passing skills, he could provide a boost to Minnesota's offense.
Mitch Leidner, QB, So.

Leidner is by no means a finished product and must make significant strides as a passer after completing just 55 percent of his passes for 619 yards as a platoon player in 2013. But his value has skyrocketed in recent months. Philip Nelson's transfer in January leaves Leidner as Minnesota's only quarterback with significant game experience. Perhaps more important, Minnesota wants to be a power offense that controls the ball and the clock and wears down its opponent. The 6-foot-4, 233-pound Leidner brings a lot to the field as a ball-carrier, and if he makes just minimal strides with his passing, he could be very dangerous going forward. This spring, Leidner established himself as the team's unquestioned leader on offense. Although reserves Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy both are good athletes, Leidner would be a significant loss as Minnesota looks to bolster its offensive production.

Theiren Cockran, DE, Jr.

Coordinator Tracy Claeys expects more from a pretty stingy defense in 2014, citing improved depth throughout the unit. But after losing disruptive defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman to the NFL draft, the Gophers want to maintain a threat up front. Cockran certainly provides one after a breakout sophomore season in which he led the Big Ten in forced fumbles (4) and finished third in sacks (7.5). Listed at 6-foot-6 and 238 pounds, Cockran has both height and speed and could become even more of a force as he grows into his frame (he wants to play this season at 255 pounds). The Gophers have some experience on the line with players such as end Michael Amaefula and tackle Cameron Botticelli, but Cockran is the potential game-changer, and after losing Hageman, the Gophers need No. 55 on the field.
June arrives this weekend, but still dreaming about the fall months. With that in mind, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best.

[+] EnlargeDarius Hamilton
Rich Kane/Icon SMIDarius Hamilton has developed into a difference-maker on Rutgers' defensive line.
We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/interrogated by Jack Bauer, 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. On the clock today: Big Ten newbie Rutgers.

Darius Hamilton, DT, Jr.

Rutgers has pretty good depth on its defensive line, but Hamilton could be the main difference-maker on that side of the ball. He began to live up to his recruiting promise in the second half of last season when he became a wrecking ball up front for the Scarlet Knights, and Hamilton continued that this spring. He also emerged as a vocal team leader, and it's always nice to have one of your most talented guys also take charge of the locker room. Hamilton, at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, is not large by Big Ten defensive tackle standards, but he brings a mammoth presence to Rutgers on and off the field.

Leonte Carroo, WR, Jr.

The Scarlet Knights have multiple options at quarterback and running back and bring back a lot of experience on the offensive line. The receiver group, however, will have some new looks this year after the departures of Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt. Carroo played in only 10 games last season, but his nine touchdown catches were more than twice as many as any other player on the team. He has All-Big Ten potential and should be the go-to guy in the passing game for this offense.
The unofficial start of summer came this past weekend, but we're dreaming about the fall. With that in mind, we're 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/decided to try out for "America's Got Talent." 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. Big Ten newcomer Maryland is up next.

[+] EnlargeMatt Robinson
Mark Goldman/Icon SMIMatt Robinson made a very successful move from safety to linebacker for the Terps, posting 10 tackles for loss last season.
Matt Robinson, LB, Sr.

The Terrapins returns plenty of experience at linebacker with three returning starters, but Robinson is the biggest difference-maker with his playmaking ability. As Maryland tries to replace Marcus Whitfield (15.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, two forced fumbles last season), Robinson's presence will be critical. He recorded 10 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and a forced fumble as a junior, starting 10 games at outside linebacker after moving from safety last spring. Like many of his Maryland teammates, Robinson has battled several injuries in his career but showed last season how he can impact games when healthy. The Terps would miss Robinson's speed and production if he's not on the field this fall.

Sal Conaboy, C, Sr.

Almost any center who makes starts in each of his first three seasons will earn indispensable designation as a senior, and Conaboy is no exception. Maryland has some uncertainty at both the tackle and guard positions as junior-college tackle Larry Mazyck didn't qualify and Moise Larose was suspended by the school for a year. The Terrapins likely will be counting on young players, including blue-chip incoming recruits Damian Prince and Derwin Gray, for significant playing time. They certainly need Conaboy to stay on the field and provide leadership from the middle of the line. Conaboy started all 13 games last season, seven in 2012 and two in 2011, and made the Rimington Trophy preseason watch list. An academic All-ACC selection who serves on Maryland's leadership council, Conaboy provides stability for the line on an offense that boasts plenty of depth at the skill positions.
The unofficial start of summer came this past weekend, but we're dreaming about the fall. With that in mind, we're 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/became a ghost and danced in front of Don Draper, 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: Wisconsin.

Michael Caputo, S, Jr.
[+] EnlargeMichael Caputo
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsSafety Michael Caputo can make plays on the ball but isn't afraid to hit as he was second on the Badgers with 63 tackles last season.
As we mentioned in the intro, most indispensable doesn't always equal best player. Wisconsin's best player is running back Melvin Gordon. But with Corey Clement around, the Badgers could withstand a prolonged absence from Gordon and still be productive in the ground game. Sojourn Shelton is the team's most talented defensive back. Caputo might not be a star, but he did finish second on the team with 63 tackles last year. Moreover, with Dez Southward moving on to the NFL and Tanner McEvoy returning to quarterback, Caputo is the most experienced player at the safety position after moving back there from outside linebacker. Converted cornerback Peniel Jean and senior Leo Musso are competing for the other spot, while true freshman Austin Hudson got important reps this spring after enrolling early. Caputo could be the glue that keeps the safety position together.

Derek Landisch, ILB, Sr.
It says something about the difficulty of this task and the many question marks on the Badgers' roster that we picked a senior with three career starts as an indispensable player. But the fact is Wisconsin lost a ton of experience in its front seven, and no loss will be felt more than that of linebacker and 2013 Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland. Landisch is not going to make as many plays as Borland did, but he's a solid tackler and a real leader at the position. Along with Marcus Trotter, Landisch should bring some stability to the inside linebacker spots as defensive coordinator Dave Aranda works in some promising new players this fall.
The unofficial start of summer started this past weekend, but we're dreaming about the fall. With that in mind, we're 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/involved in a time-travel mishap, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

[+] EnlargeJosh Ferguson
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY SportsIllinois needs Josh Ferguson to keep its offense rolling.
We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Next up: the Illinois Fighting Illini.

Josh Ferguson, RB, Sr.
Others undoubtedly must step up if Illinois intends to maintain last year's offensive production, but Ferguson remains the linchpin. He's one of the Big Ten's more explosive and versatile offensive weapons, displaying top-end speed and the ability to contribute both as a runner and a receiver. Both his yards-per-carry average and yards-per-reception averages have increased in each of the past two seasons. Ferguson led Illinois in rushing last year, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt, and finished second on the team in receptions with 50, setting the single-season team record for receiving yards by a running back (535). Illinois' depth at running back isn't as dire as it was when coach Tim Beckman arrived, but Ferguson does so much to help an offense with plenty of question marks outside of the line. The Illini need to keep No. 6 on the field.

Mason Monheim, LB, Jr.
There simply aren't many guarantees in Illinois' defensive front seven, especially with Houston Bates leaving the team in late February. Although linebacker T.J. Neal had a good spring and Mike Svetina brings experience, Monheim remains the nerve center of the defense heading into his junior season. He has 183 tackles in his first two years, including 12.5 for loss, to go along with three forced fumbles. He had seven or more stops in eight of 12 games last fall. Without Brown, Monheim is the undisputed leader of a unit that has to make significant strides, especially against the run, for Illinois to have a chance at making a bowl this fall. Few recent Big Ten linebackers have been as productive early in their careers as Monheim, whose best days should be ahead of him.
The unofficial start of summer begins this holiday weekend, but we're dreaming about the fall. With that in mind, we're 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/involved in a time-travel mishap, 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. Our next stop in the series is the Michigan Wolverines.

[+] EnlargeDevin Funchess
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesA lack of depth at the position makes Devin Funchess an invaluable asset to Michigan's offense.
Devin Funchess, WR, Jr.

It's tempting to pick the other Devin here and go with quarterback Devin Gardner. And maybe that would be the smarter call. But Brady Hoke keeps insisting that Shane Morris has made progress and is catching up to Gardner, so the Wolverines could weather a prolonged absence from Gardner. Depth is a much more pressing issue at the position Funchess plays. After losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo to graduation and Jake Butt to injury, Michigan has few other experienced receiving options. Freddy Canteen turned heads this spring but is still just a true freshman, while other players such as Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh must prove themselves. Funchess caught 49 passes for 748 yards and six touchdowns last fall, and the converted tight end is a matchup nightmare, especially in the red zone. His playmaking skills would be sorely missed.

Frank Clark, DE, Sr.

The Wolverines are building talent and depth along their defensive line, but Clark is still the best playmaker up front. He led the team with 12 tackles for loss last season while adding 4.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 270-pounder has elite athleticism and is looking for a major breakthrough season as a senior. Michigan has other options at defensive end, including Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley. But Clark has a chance to be the leader for an improved defensive line that could be the key to the entire defense.
Summer's almost here, but we're still looking forward to the fall. With that in mind, we're 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/eaten by a bear, 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. The Indiana Hoosiers are up next.

Shane Wynn, WR, Sr.

[+] EnlargeShane Wynn
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesShane Wynn had a team-high 11 touchdown receptions for Indiana last season.
It's odd to label wide receiver as a concern for Indiana, as the program typically churns out productive pass-catchers. But after losing NFL draft picks at both wide receiver (Cody Latimer, second round) and tight end (Ted Bolser, seventh round), not to mention veteran wideout Kofi Hughes, the Hoosiers are suddenly thin on the perimeter. Wynn has by far the most experience in the group after starting every game in each of the past two seasons. He has 133 career receptions for 1,490 yards and 17 touchdowns, including a team-high 11 last season. Wynn also is a major special-teams contributor with 1,610 career kick return yards, third on Indiana's all-time list. Losing Wynn would hurt Indiana in two of the three phases.

Tevin Coleman, RB, Jr.

Although Indiana's defense should be better this season, no individual player can be labeled indispensable at this point. Coleman, meanwhile, would be a significant loss, especially with the Hoosiers' question marks at wide receiver and tight end. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound running back will be among the Big Ten's most explosive players in 2014 after averaging 7.3 yards per carry and 141.7 all-purpose yards per game last season. He became the first Indiana player since 2001 to average more than 100 rush yards, and he tied for second nationally with five plays of 50 yards or longer and tied for fourth with nine plays of 30 yards or longer. Stephen Houston's departure creates uncertainty behind Coleman, who should be IU's top offensive weapon in 2014.
Summer's almost here, but we're still looking forward to the fall. With that in mind, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Scherff
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Scherff is the Big Ten's best offensive lineman and he powers Iowa's offense.
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/stuck on a broken cruise ship, 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. In our second installment, we turn to the Iowa Hawkeyes:

Brandon Scherff, LT, Sr.

This one's pretty much a no-brainer. While the Hawkeyes have some nice depth on their offensive line and are one of the best in the business at developing offensive linemen, Scherff should enter the season as the best lineman in the Big Ten. He's integral to the entire Iowa offense in protecting quarterback Jake Rudock and paving room in the running game. We saw how the offense slowed to a halt after Scherff got injured late in the 2012 season. The Hawkeyes would likely be able to weather his absence better this season, but they sure don't want to find out what life is like this year without the potential 2015 NFL first-round pick.

Desmond King, CB, Soph.

Here's another case where a choice for most indispensable is probably not among the best two players on the team. If we were simply going that route, defensive tackle Carl Davis would likely appear here. But Iowa has built depth along the defensive line, while King -- who excelled as a freshman in 2013 -- is a guy the Hawkeyes really can't afford to lose right now. There are some major question marks elsewhere in the secondary after the graduation of B.J. Lowery. Three relatively unproven players -- Maurice Fleming, Sean Draper and Greg Mabin -- are battling it out for the other starting corner spot. Though King is just a sophomore, he's clearly a star in the making and one of the few anchors right now for the defensive backfield.
Summer's almost here, but we're still looking forward to the fall. Today, we begin a 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/eaten by a bear, 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 with the defending league champs, Michigan State:

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsConnor Cook is one of the Big Ten's best QBs and a big reason why the Spartans are title contenders.
Connor Cook, QB, Jr.

The Spartans are not without options at quarterback. Tyler O'Connor should be a capable backup after seeing some action early last season, and the bubble wrap is coming off multitalented redshirt freshman Damion Terry. Still, Michigan State's quarterback situation was a mess before Cook grabbed hold of it in the middle of last year, and if he needed to be replaced, the entire offense could suffer the same fate we saw in the 2012 season. The 2013 Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl MVP entered this offseason riding a wave of confidence and should be one of the league's top quarterbacks.

Trae Waynes, CB, Jr.

There are a lot of other players we could have picked for this second spot, including star defensive end Shilique Calhoun and running back Jeremy Langford. Losing Calhoun would obviously be a very difficult blow for the Spartans, but they still would have Marcus Rush at the other end spot, plus some promising young players such as Demetrius Cooper. Similarly, Langford's production would be tough to replace, but Michigan State usually finds a way to get it done in the running game and has some other options behind him. Waynes is the pick here because of the youth and inexperience behind him at the cornerback spot. Sophomore Darian Hicks and junior Arjen Colquhoun are battling it out for the other corner spot this offseason, but neither has proved much on the field. Pat Narduzzi's defense works best when it has a lockdown cover corner, and Waynes could be that guy this year.

SPONSORED HEADLINES