The Big Ten is loaded with talent heading into 2013, with a number of nationally elite players lining the sidelines on Saturdays.
The 2013 season is expected to bring a new day for the conference as it seeks to land a team in the final BCS National Championship game of the pre-playoff era. These 10 players are the guides that will get it there.
It will be a strong year on the national stage for the Big Ten, and these stars will drive the headlines.
Max Bullough is the leader of a pack of elite linebackers that will line the Big Ten sidelines this fall. He has been a starter for the Spartans for the past three years and is listed by SI.com as a Big Ten player to watch for 2013 (via Michigan State Athletics).
Last year, he totaled 110 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also finished the year with one interception (via CFBStats.com).
Michigan State is trying to climb back into the top of the Legends Division in the Big Ten, and for that to happen, the Bullough-led defense will have to be the best in the conference this fall.
The Purdue Boilermakers are expected to pick up a lot of new offensive electricity with the hiring of Darrell Hazell from Kent State, but expect the defense to make strides this year as well.
One of the leaders for Purdue will be Landon Feichter.
Heading into the new year, he is one of the premier cover corners that returns in the Big Ten. He is a rising junior for the Boilermakers that will make headlines as a leader for the Purdue defense this fall.
The Northwestern Wildcats have risen to the top of the Big Ten over the past few seasons, and it has been a designed plan by head coach Pat Fitzgerald that has landed them there.
One of the pieces of that plan was a strong defensive line presence, and rising senior Tyler Scott. Heading into the new year, he will be an elite pass-rusher for the Wildcats.
Scott finished the year tied for first in the conference in sacks (nine) and ended the season with 12.5 tackles for loss (via CFBStats.com).
The Wildcats need Scott to expand his play in 2013 as they shoot for a Big Ten title.
Darqueze Dennard is heading into the 2013 season looking to solidify his draft position with a solid senior campaign. Dennard is already considered the No. 3 corner in the draft for 2014 (via NFL Draft Scout) and a solid year will solidify that prediction.
The Spartans are battling to take back a foothold in the Big Ten, and Dennard will help make that happen this year.
Last season was a steppingstone to a masterful senior season. He has the skills to finish the year as the best shutdown corner in the conference.
This is a position group that is loaded with playmakers, but Dennard will be leading the pack after this season concludes.
Wisconsin is one of the best ground-and-pound offenses in the country every year and they are extremely reliant on top performers at running back.
With the departure of Monte Ball, there will be some whispers of a drop-off, but James White will prove that any concerns are unfounded. Last year, he filled in as a backup and finished with 806 yards on 125 carries (via ESPN).
He will be the headliner for the Badgers offense this fall and will be one of the best running backs in the country. He started 2012 as a Doak Walker watch-list player (Wisconsin Athletics) and will likely garner that same honor heading into this season.
Taylor Martinez has been the starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers for three seasons and has guided the Nebraska program to two consecutive Big Ten title games.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t won a title yet, but that could change this fall.
Martinez is a rising senior and one of the most veteran leaders in the conference for 2013. He is surrounded by a wealth of skill and talent and will improve on his 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions (via ESPN) from a year ago.
He finished 2012 as a first-team All-Big Ten selection from the coaches (Nebraska Athletics) and continues to set records for the Huskers program.
Allen Robinson stepped into the Penn State program exactly when it needed him.
The Nittany Lions are now headed into a tough transition period, and having leadership on offense like Robinson is priceless for this program.
Last year, Robinson caught 77 passes for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns (via ESPN). Heading into 2013, he is the best at his position in the conference.
There are others that deserve mention—Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin—but Robinson will prove this season that he is the best in the conference.
His skills are enough to keep the Penn State offense in a lot of games this coming season.
Carlos Hyde pushed through injuries last fall to become one of the best running backs in the conference.
Heading into the new year, he is one-half of the most dangerous tandem in football. Hyde and Braxton Miller will be nearly impossible to stop next fall.
Hyde finished 2012 with 185 carries for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns (via ESPN). He also added eight catches to his stat line. He only appeared in 10 games last fall but finished No. 6 in the conference in rushing yards per game (via CFBStats.com).
A strong season from the Ohio State backfield will produce a dark-horse Heisman candidacy for this talented back.
The Big Ten was full of explosive offense last fall, but the most surprising and under-appreciated player has to be Venric Mark—the No. 2 talent in the conference.
Mark finished No. 5 in rushing yards per game and No. 1 in all-purpose yards for the Big Ten last year (via CFBStats.com). He totaled 1,366 rushing yards with a six-yards-per-carry average, 104 receiving yards, 15 total touchdowns and 696 total return yards (via CFBStats.com).
The mix of return man and running back make for a dangerous overall playmaker for the Northwestern Wildcats, and it creates an explosive playmaker for the conference on the national stage.
Look for the Wildcats to push for a lot of wins in 2013, with Mark stealing the show on Saturdays.
Braxton Miller is a huge playmaker for the Ohio State offense and is a leader in the Heisman race for the 2013 season.
He finished last year as an outside candidate for the award, but he didn’t have the numbers to make it to New York.
Still, his 2,039 passing yards, 1,271 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns were very impressive (via CFBStats.com).
As a rising junior entering his second season in the Urban Meyer offense, Miller will excel well beyond last year’s numbers. Look for a leap in production and push for the BCS for the Buckeyes on the back of Miller this fall.