Just days after the start of a new year and hours after the end of the last Big Ten bowl game there is only one question in mind: What does this all mean for next year?
The 2011 senior class is deep and talented and quite a few players will make the switch to Sundays next year. Behind those departing seniors are three more classes of players looking to either take a step up in production or finally emerge from a reserve roll.
Today, we will look at the 50 best returning players in the Big Ten. These are the players who have already shown a great deal of ability. Some are established starters at their respective positions; others are solid role players that will see a larger opportunity to contribute in the void left by a departing star.
This list is, as these things go, heavy on quarterbacks and running backs—the easiest players to track statistically. Unfortunately that leaves less room for offensive linemen (of which, five are represented).
Finally, in a couple weeks this list could be a little shorter. Some players like Whitney Mercilus, Montee Ball and John Simon could declare for the NFL draft and give up their senior seasons. If players like this return they will unquestionably be some of the best in the conference so their inclusion is still warranted here. If I think a guy could leave he will have an asterisk by his name.
Let's look at who will be the premier players in 2012.