Let's delve a bit deeper into the Big Ten secondaries by breaking down the league's top cornerbacks entering 2011.
This group could be one of the league's best, as it features a nice mix of established veterans and budding young players. Only two Big Ten cornerbacks -- Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard and Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus -- made the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, but I expect several more players to make their way onto the radar in the coming months.
Here's the rundown ...
1. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, senior: He's the final member of Nebraska’s triumvirate on defense along with tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David. Dennard earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2010 after recording 30 tackles, four interceptions and seven passes defended. After working alongside All-American Prince Amukamara, Denard is ready to take center stage.
2. Ricardo Allen, Purdue, sophomore: Get to know this name, Big Ten fans. Allen is one of the nation’s most dynamic young defensive backs. He recorded three interceptions in 2010, returning two for touchdowns, and finished fourth on the team with 73 tackles. Just 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Allen uses an aggressive style that's a lot of fun to watch.
3. Shaun Prater, Iowa, senior: Prater considered a jump to the NFL before returning to Iowa, where he'll lead a new-look secondary in 2011. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2010 after recording four interceptions, 10 passes defended, a fumble recovery and 68 tackles. After losing two multiyear starters at safety, Iowa needs Prater to shut down one half of the field this fall.
4. Antonio Fenelus, Wisconsin, senior: Fenelus played an integral role in the Badgers' overall improvement as a playmaking secondary in 2010. He led the team in both interceptions (4) and passes defended (11) and finished second in fumbles recovered (2). The media rewarded Fenelus by selecting him first-team All-Big Ten. He forms a solid cornerback tandem with Devin Smith.
5. D'Anton Lynn, Penn State, senior: Lynn took a significant step forward in 2010 and should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. He emerged in the second half of the season and finished with 75 tackles, three interceptions, seven passes defended and a fumble recovery. Penn State's secondary will be a strength this fall, and Lynn will showcase his talents against the Big Ten's top receivers.
6. Johnny Adams, Michigan State, junior: Here's another player who appears to be on the verge of big things in 2011. Adams surged throughout spring practice and was the first player selected in Michigan State's spring game draft. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches last season after recording three interceptions and 10 passes defended. Adams also had a forced fumble and recovered a blocked punt that helped cap Michigan State's come-from-behind win against Purdue.
7. Jordan Mabin, Northwestern, senior: Mabin is the Big Ten's most experienced cornerback, as he enters his fourth season as a starter and boasts 37 career starts. After a so-so-sophomore season in 2009, Mabin earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season, as he led the Big Ten and tied for 12th nationally in passes defended with 15 (1.15 per game). He capped his season with a pick-six in the TicketCity Bowl and should be in the mix for All-Conference honors this season.
8. Travis Howard, Ohio State, junior: This is a projection pick, as Howard moves into a featured role this fall after playing behind Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence. He showed some promise in 2010 with two interceptions, four passes defended and a fumble recovery in limited action. There's a lot of buzz about Howard entering the fall as Ohio State looks for its next shutdown corner.
9. Tavon Wilson, Illinois, senior: A rash of injuries forced Wilson to move to safety in 2010, but he's back at his preferred position entering the fall. He recorded 74 tackles, an interception and seven pass breakups at cornerback in 2009 and continued to make plays at safety last season, leading the team in passes defended (9) and adding an interception and two fumble recoveries. Wilson brings versatility to a secondary that might take a big step forward this season.
10. Josh Johnson, Purdue, junior: Allen garnered much of the attention in 2010, but Johnson forms a nice complement on the other side. He tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles and added an interception, seven passes defended, a fumble recovery and 53 tackles. Johnson's playmaking ability should come in handy, especially if opposing teams start throwing away from Allen.
Just missed the cut: Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire, Michigan's Troy Woolfolk, Illinois' Terry Hawthorne, Wisconsin's Devin Smith.