- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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The balance of power can change from year to year in any conference, and we're not just talking about the strength of the teams.
Some years are dominated by quarterbacks or other offensive skill positions, while others are highlighted by defensive standouts. For example, the Big Ten was stacked at defensive end last season thanks to stars like Ryan Kerrigan, J.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, Adrian Clayborn and others.
So what's the position of power, if you will, in the Big Ten for 2011? Heading into the season, it looks like defensive tackle is the definitive position. Here are a few reasons why:
Jared Crick, Nebraska: The All-American has followed ably in the shoes of Ndamukong Suh as a menace in the middle of the Cornhuskers' defensive line. He's the top candidate for preseason Big Ten defensive player of the year.
Mike Martin, Michigan: Throughout the Wolverines' struggles on defense, Martin has been a bright spot. One can only wonder what Martin could do with some more help.
Jerel Worthy, Michigan State: Projected by many as a high first-round NFL pick, Worthy has been a man-child ever since he started playing as a redshirt freshman for the Spartans.
John Simon, Ohio State: Those who follow the Buckeyes think this will be a breakout year for Simon, who can toggle between tackle and defensive end. He's already reputed to be one of the strongest players in the Big Ten, if not college football.
We haven't even mentioned Purdue's Kawann Short, Iowa's Mike Daniels, Penn State's Devon Still or Illinois' Akeem Spence yet. The league is simply loaded on the interior defensive line. Which is interesting, because our choice for the No. 2 position of power in the Big Ten this year would be center, featuring studs like Ohio State's Mike Brewster, Michigan's David Molk and Wisconsin's Peter Konz.
It's difficult not to track the ball when watching a football game. But keep an eye on the dirty work in the middle of the trenches if you want to see some potentially legendary (and leader-y) battles.