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.