Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Conference Secondaries

David Fidler Correspondent IApril 9, 2012

Big Ten Football: Power Ranking the Conference Secondaries

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    The Big Ten may be known for its line play, but it has produced some quality defensive backs.

    Charles Woodson, Bob Sanders, Malcolm Jenkins and Leon Hall were all recent All-Pros that came from Big Ten teams.

    The number of asterisks next to a player's name indicates how many years he has started. A "starter," for my purposes, had at least four starts to his credit in any one season.

    Players in italics are returning all-conference honorees.

    A pound sign (#) indicates a player who hasn't started consecutive years or didn't start last year.

    I based my ranking on returning experience, inherent talent (recruiting rankings), as well as what the teams and coaches have turned out in the past.

    When I refer to passing defense, I am referring to opposing quarterback efficiency rankings and not yards allowed.

    Finally, a lot can change in the next few months.

    This article is based on what the rosters of Big Ten teams look like, and what we know, right now.

    Check out previous articles in this series, beginning with the most recent, Power Ranking the Big Ten Linebackers.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    CB: Troy Stoudermire (Sr)**

    CB: Brock Vereen (Jr)** OR Briean Boddy (JUCO Jr) OR Martez Shabazz (JUCO Jr)

    SS: OPEN

    FS: Jeremy Baltazar (JUCO Jr) OR OPEN

    Other Players in the Mix

    Michael Carter (Sr)#*, Kenny Watkins (Jr), Cedric Thompson (So), Grayson Levine (So), Derrick Wells (So), Steven Montgomery (RFr), Antonio Johnson (TrFr), Eric Murray (TrFr), Eric Rallis (TrFr), Damarius Travis (TrFr),

    The Lowdown

    With the loss of both of his starting safeties, not to mention a seeming lack of confidence in his returning cornerbacks—Stoudermire was only recently granted a medical redshirt—Jerry Kill dived heavily into the JUCO pool.

    Will it be enough to patch up the conference's second-worst passing defense?

    Maybe it will be a case of addition by subtraction. After all, the Gophers were 107th in the country in opponents' passer efficiency rating. How much worse could it be?

    My guess is that the passing defense, and by extension the secondary, will not get worse, but it also won't get better in 2012.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    CB: Demetrius Dugar (Sr)

    CB: Daniel Jones (So)

    SS: Ibraheim Campbell (So)*

    FS: Jared Carpenter (Sr)#* OR Hunter Bates (Sr)

    Other Players in the Mix

    Davion Fleming (Jr), C.J. Bryant (So), Mike Eshun (So), Jimmy Hall (So), Jarrell Williams (RFr), Nick VanHoose (RFr), Terrance Brown (TrFr), Traveon Henry (TrFr), Joseph Jones (TrFr), Dwight White (TrFr), Eric Wilson (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    The Cats graduated three full-time starters in all-conference safety Brian Peters; and cornerbacks Jordan Mabin and Jeravin Matthews.

    In 2011, the Northwestern pass defense was pretty awful—third-worst in the Big Ten, having allowed an opponents' passer efficiency rating of 139.00. Consequently, one could argue there wasn't much lost.

    The good news is that Ibraheim Campbell stepped up as a redshirt freshman, and has a bright future ahead of him.

    The further good news is Northwestern is a developmental program and it has upperclassmen ready to step in for the departed seniors.

    Nevertheless, expect a small step back next season.

Indiana Hoosiers

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    CB: Greg Heban (Jr)**

    CB: Lawrence Barnett (Jr)* OR Michael Hunter (So) OR Kenny Mullen (So)

    SS: Drew Hardin (So) OR Alexander Webb (Sr) OR Farisse Hardin (So)

    FS: Mark Murphy (So)*

    Other Players in the Mix

    Tregg Waters (JUCO Jr), Ryan Thompson (JUCO Jr), Brian Williams (So), Shaquille Jefferson (So), Dawson Fletcher (TrFr), Antonio Marshall (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    The Big Ten's worst pass defense—No. 116 in the country—returns most of its key players.

    However, head coach Kevin Wilson isn't taking any chances. He dug into the JUCO pool and came up with Tregg Waters and Ryan Thompson, both of who will compete for immediate playing time.

    Wilson likes using a number of nickel and dime packages. In fact, he started a fifth and/or sixth defensive back in lieu of a linebacker five times last season. One has to wonder if that was because he had no confidence in his linebackers or because he didn't realize he was no longer in the pass-happy Big 12.

    Either way, expect the Indiana secondary to take some steps forward this season. Greg Heban proved himself to be a solid, if unspectacular, cornerback, and Wilson is sure to find at least three other decent defensive backs, given all the players jockeying for a place on the depth chart.

Penn State Nittany Lions

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    CB: Adrian Amos (So) OR Derrick Thomas (Jr) OR Mike Wallace (Jr)

    CB: Stephon Morris (Sr)#*

    SS: Stephen Obeng-Agyapong (Jr)

    FS: Malcolm Willis (Jr)#*

    Other Players in the Mix

    Jacob Fagnano (Sr), Curtis Drake (Jr), Da'Quan Davis (TrFr), Jordan Lucas (TrFr),

    The Lowdown

    Let's start with the good.

    Penn State, under Joe Paterno, had a history of reloading on the defensive side of the ball. Joe Paterno may be gone, but the current players on the roster developed under him and his defensive coordinator, Tom Bradley.

    Adrian Amos and Stephon Morris have experience—in Morris' case, quite a bit of experience. The problem is that they've been sketchy.

    Furthermore, the secondary will be helped out by what should be a strong front seven.

    Finally, Obeng-Agyapong and Willis could be a good safety tandem, but the casual fan hasn't seen enough of them to make a fair assessment.

    Here is the bad.

    There isn't any depth to speak of. The secondary will be in big trouble if Willis or Obeng-Agyapong get injured. Usually, PSU could depend on a strong recruit or two to step in, but due to the Nits' off-the-field issues, the Penn State recruiting class was not as strong as normal.

    Secondly, the starters might be decent, but it is a guessing game.

    Thirdly, PSU fans have seen a lot of Morris, and there is a reason he lost his starting job to a converted wide receiver.

    The truth is, based on nothing more than what the casual fan has in front of him, Penn State should be lower on this list, but recent history causes me to give Bill O'Brien and his DC, Ted Roof, some benefit of the doubt.

    That said, I'm not expecting much from the back four, especially if it gets hit with the injury bug.

Purdue Boilermakers

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    CB: Ricardo Allen (Jr)**

    CB: Josh Johnson (Sr)**

    SS: Max Charlot (Sr)*

    FS: Landon Feichter (So)

    Other Players in the Mix

    Chris Quinn (Sr), Ishmael Aristide (Jr), Normondo Harris (Jr), Taylor Richards (So), E.J. Johnson (So), Antoine Lewis (So), Frankie Williams (RFr), Anthony Brown (TrFr), Jordan Shine (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    The Boilers feature one of the more underrated cornerback tandems in the league in Allen and Johnson. However, they have to replace both of their safeties.

    Charlot has starting experience and should be decent at strong safety. Meanwhile, if Feichter, who gained one start last year, doesn't step up, head coach Danny Hope has a number of other players vying for the position.

    The bigger issue is Hope's recent past in coaching up defenses. The Purdue pass defense ranked eighth in the Big Ten in 2010, even with Ryan Kerrigan running wild in opposing teams' backfields.

    Last year, with Kerrigan gone, but the secondary returning en masse, the Boilers ranked seventh.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    CB: Marcus Cromartie (Sr)*

    CB: Peniel Jean (So) OR Devin Smith (Sr)#*

    SS: Shelton Johnson (Sr)*

    FS: Dezmen Southward (Jr)

    Other Players in the Mix

    Darius Feaster (Jr), Jerry Ponio (Jr), Devin Gaulden (So), Jameson Wright (So), Michael Trotter (So), Terrance Floyd (RFr), Michael Caputo (RFr), Darius Hillary (RFr), Hugs Etienne (TrFr), D.J. Singleton (TrFr), Reggie Mitchell (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    Last season, the Wisconsin pass defense ranked fifth in the Big Ten, allowing an opposing quarterback efficiency rating of 120.45.

    This year, the Badgers graduated their top cornerback and their all-conference free safety.

    Expect 2012 to be a step back for UW.

    There is a good amount of depth, but the starters are not quite ready for prime time.

    That said, an improved front seven might help to disguise any issues the secondary has.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    CB: Micah Hyde (Sr)**

    CB: B.J. Lowery (Jr) OR Greg Castillo (Sr)

    SS: Nico Law (So) OR Tom Donatell (Sr) Or Collin Sleeper (Sr)

    FS: Tanner Miller (Jr)*

    Other Players in the Mix

    Jack Swanson (Sr), Jamal Overton (So), Jordan Lomax (So), John Lowdermilk (So), Torrey Campbell (RFr), Kevin Buford (TrFr), Sean Draper (TrFr), Anthony Gair (TrFr), Maurice Fleming Jr. (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    The Hawks are in the exact opposite situation of the Badgers.

    Micah Hyde is an all-conference corner that will look to have a big senior year. B.J. Lowery is ready for prime time, and will likely not be much of a step back from departed corner Shaun Prater.

    Tanner Miller improved as last season wore on, and one can expect the same this season.

    Finally, Nico Law will make some mistakes early in the year, but will fully step into his role by November.

    The issue is the pass rush, and particularly the front four. Iowa is not a blitz-heavy team. It expects its front four to generate a lot of heat. When it can't do this, the secondary feels a great deal of pressure.

    Next season's Hawkeye front four does not look impressive. This will reflect itself in the pass defense.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    CB: Andrew Green (Jr)*

    CB: Ciante Evans (Jr)* OR Stanley Jean-Baptiste (Jr) OR Mohammed Seisay (JUCO Jr)

    S: Daimion Stafford (Sr)*

    S: Courtney Osborne (Sr)#* OR P.J. Smith (Sr) OR Corey Cooper (So)

    Other Players in the Mix

    Justin Blatchford (Sr), Antonio Bell (Sr), Wil Richards (Jr), Dijon Washington (Jr), Braylon Heard (So), Harvey Jackson (So), Josh Mitchell (So), Daniel Davie (RFr), Bronson Marsh (RFr)

    The Lowdown

    The Big 12's best pass defense in 2010 took a step back in 2011.

    What was expected to be a strength for the Huskers turned into a (predictable) weakness, particularly against teams with rushing quarterbacks.

    This year, the Huskers return a number of key members of that secondary, but will Nebraska be able to replace another potential first-second round cornerback? Will the Huskers plug an experienced, but still questionable, safety in for a departed senior?

    Despite a good deal of returning experience and talent, the NU secondary has a lot of questions.

Illinois Fighting Illini

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    CB: Terry Hawthorne (Sr)**

    CB: Justin Green (Sr)#*

    SS: Suppo Sani (Sr)* OR Steve Hull (Jr)*

    FS: Steve Hull (Jr)* OR Patrick Nixon-Youman (Sr)

    Other Players in the Mix

    Jack Ramsey (Sr), Eaton Spence (RFr), Nick North (RFr), Taylor Barton (TrFr), B.J. Bello (TrFr), V'Angelo Bentley (TrFr), TaJarvis Fuller (TrFr), Javaris Little (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    Last season, the Illini had the third-best pass defense in the Big Ten.

    This season, with the loss of only one key contributor, it will once again be among the best.

    Terry Hawthorne has shown a great deal of promise from the time he stepped onto the field as a true freshman. He battled injuries throughout his career, but a big senior season will spring him onto NFL scouts' radars.

    Justin Green subbed for an injured Hawthorne in 2010, but lost the job to him last season. He will move back into the starting gig in 2012.

    Sani, Hull and Nixon-Youman make for one of the better trios of safeties in the conference. Expect head coach Tim Beckman to employ a lot of 4-2-5 looks, due to the surplus at the safety position.

Michigan Wolverines

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    CB: J.T. Floyd (Sr)**

    CB: Blake Countess (So)* OR Courtney Avery (Jr)#*

    SS: Thomas Gordon (Jr)**

    FS: Jordan Kovacs (Sr)***

    Other Players in the Mix

    Floyd Simmons (Sr), Terrence Talbott (Jr), Marvin Robinson (Jr), Raymon Taylor (So), Delonte Hollowell (So), Josh Furman (So), Tamani Carter (RFr), Jeremy Clark (TrFr), Allen Gant (TrFr), Terry Richardson (TrFr), Jarod Wilson (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    The Michigan defense took huge steps forward last season, but it still was vulnerable through the air.

    Despite notching 30 sacks—fourth-most in the conference—the UM pass defense was ranked sixth in the Big Ten.

    This season, Troy Woolfolk is the only non-returning key contributor.

    Overall, this year's secondary will be solid, but there are questions as to whether there are any playmakers in this bunch. One or two will be needed as the front four—the foundation of last year's success—graduated three of its starters, and, at least at the beginning of the season, will be a liability.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    CB: Bradley Roby (So)*

    CB: Travis Howard (Sr)*

    SS: Christian Bryant (Jr)* OR Orhian Johnson (Sr)*

    FS: C.J. Barnett (Jr)*

    Other Players in the Mix

    Zach Domicone (Sr), Jamie Wood (Jr), Corey Brown (Jr), Doran Grant (So), Adam Griffin (So), Ron Tanner (RFr), Tyvis Powell (TrFr), Najee Murray (TrFr), De'van Bogard (TrFr), Armani Reeves (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    Fourteen Ohio State defensive backs were drafted between 2002 and 2011, three of them in the first round. Can Urban Meyer continue the tradition of Defensive Back U?

    He'll have the raw materials to make it happen.

    C.J. Barnett has already established himself, and will be the focus of opposing offensive coordinators' game plans.

    Meanwhile, the other three returning starters have a great deal to prove, after giving up a passer efficiency rating of 126.75, which ranked eighth in the conference.

    Improvement up front will help this group tremendously.

Michigan State Spartans

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    CB: Johnny Adams (Sr)**

    CB: Darqueze Dennard (Jr)*

    SS: Isaiah Lewis (Jr)*

    FS: Kurtis Drummond (So) OR Jairus Jones (Jr) OR R.J. Williamson (RFr)

    Other Players in the Mix

    Mitchell White (Sr), Dana Dixon (Jr), Jeremy Langford (So), Mylan Hicks (So), Trae Waynes (RFr), Arjen Colquhoun (RFr), Demetrious Cox (TrFr), Jermaine Edmondson (TrFr), Mark Meyers (TrFr), Ezra Robinson (TrFr)

    The Lowdown

    Michigan State returns two all-conference defensive backs, but it lost three-year starting safety Trent Robinson to graduation.

    How well the Spartans reload at free safety will say a good deal how far Mark Dantonio has or hasn't brought this program.

    Overall, I don't expect much, if any, step back for the conference's second-best pass defense.

    If teams are to score on the Spartans, the points probably won't come through the air.