The Big Ten will head into the 2013 college football season with a respectable senior class. A few guys put the NFL on hold to return to their teams, while others stayed one more year to chase that important conference title.
From defensive studs to offensive playmakers and a few guys you may have never heard of, the Big Ten has a surprisingly deep group of seniors. Star power isn't what this conference is known for, but there are a few players out of this class who can hold their own with some of college football's best.
Here are the top Big Ten seniors entering the 2013 season.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.
Ra’Shede Hageman is a disruptive defender.
At 6'6", 311 pounds, this mammoth of a human being carries his weight well and is quite athletic for a guy his size. Just check out some of these highlights to see what you probably missed out on last season.
Hageman started every game last year, finishing with 35 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. While those numbers don't exactly jump out at you, his impact on the game is much larger, as he can do different things and affect the game in various ways.
With a full year under his belt, Hageman is somebody you may want to watch a little closer.
There is a chance you haven't heard of Greg Heban, simply because he plays for the Indiana Hoosiers. But the former baseball player has skills and will hear his name called in the 2014 NFL draft if he can build on last year's efforts.
Heban led the Hoosiers with 91 tackles and three interceptions, while his 7.6 tackles per game were the best in the Big Ten among defensive backs. He was an All-Big Ten honorable mention and should become a more popular player once the season kicks in gear.
The senior played nickelback before moving to safety for the final seven games. Whatever position he plays this season, he will continue to be that leader and playmaker on the Indiana defense.
Quick question: Which Big Ten player finished last season with the most tackles?
If you said Anthony Hitchens, you are correct.
Finishing last season with 124 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, Hitchens was one of the few bright spots for Iowa last season. Unfortunately, his efforts were overshadowed by a disappointing 4-8 record.
Hitchens originally came to Iowa as a running back, but immediately switched to defense and has seen time at linebacker and defensive back. Playing in every season since a true freshman, Hitchens will continue to lead a productive and experienced linebacker corps into the new season.
Kain Colter isn't even guaranteed a starting job at quarterback, as he remains in a battle with Trevor Siemian. However, there may not be a more versatile player than this feisty senior.
Despite playing quarterback last season and completing 67.3 percent of his passes, Colter also rushed for 891 yards and caught 16 passes for 169 yards. Whether he remains the starting quarterback, lines up at running back or goes out for passes, Colter is a valuable player to Northwestern and one of the premier playmakers in college football.
The Big Ten isn't known for flashy offensive stars, but Colter brings that playmaking ability and is a threat to score at any time.
Taylor Martinez has driven Big Ten defensive coordinators mad the last three seasons. The dual-threat quarterback has rushed for at least 874 yards in each of his three seasons and has scored a combined 31 touchdowns on the ground.
Last season, we saw a completely different quarterback. Completing 62 percent of his passes and throwing for 2,871 yards, Martinez became a true threat passing the ball for the first time in his career. Throwing for 26 touchdowns and producing 36 plays of 25 yards or more, the Nebraska quarterback really stood out.
You have to wonder if it was a fluke or if he can continue to make progress, but Martinez is easily one of the best players in the Big Ten.
After being an afterthought his first two seasons, Venric Mark really made an impact his junior year, rushing for 1,366 yards and scoring 15 total touchdowns. Mark does a terrific job of catching the ball, and his playmaking ability has allowed him to make plays on special teams.
Last year, there were many running backs stealing the spotlight from the Northwestern speedster. But with Le'Veon Bell, Montee Ball and Denard Robinson all in the NFL, the stage is now set for Mark to become a household name in the Big Ten.
With his combination of speed and elusiveness, Mark should be one of the best running backs in the country.
Another Northwestern Wildcats player? You bet.
Tyler Scott finished last year with nine sacks, which was tied with John Simon for the most in the Big Ten. He also had three forced fumbles, 42 tackles and he produced 12.5 tackles for loss. Even with such a terrific season, Scott received only an honorable mention for the All-Big Ten team.
The Northwestern defender is strong at the point of attack and plays the game with a high motor. With more help on the Wildcats defensive front this year, Scott could be in for an even better season.
Maybe then, he will get the respect he deserves.
Jared Abbrederis is that guy you root for to do well.
He came to Wisconsin as a walk-on and slowly worked his way up the ladder. Now, he is considered the best wide receiver in the Big Ten, and it shouldn't even be a question.
Hauling in 124 passes for more than 2,000 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career, Abbrederis has been an impact player on offense, as well as special teams. He returns punts, kickoffs and has also been involved on a few trick plays in the running game.
Abbrederis may have a future in the NFL with his sure hands and underrated speed, but for now, he is one of the top seniors in the Big Ten.
Max Bullough has been the leader of the Michigan State Spartans defense the last two seasons, and that will continue this year.
Leading the Spartans in tackles in both his sophomore and junior year, Bullough has emerged as a defensive playmaker. He finished last season with 110 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and an interception.
A first-team All-Big Ten selection, Bullough is the quarterback of the defense and makes sure everybody is lined up where they should be. When you add his production and leadership to the conversation, he is one of the top players in the Big Ten—regardless of class.
Taylor Lewan should be preparing for NFL training camp right now. Instead, he decided to return to Michigan for his senior year. Widely considered one of the top draft-eligible players, Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated believes that he could have been the first pick overall in 2013.
Lewan has been an All-Big Ten player since his redshirt-freshman season. From his size to his athleticism, Lewan is the prototypical left guard at the next level and has been tremendous for the Michigan Wolverines. The senior offensive lineman was even able to hold his own against South Carolina defender Jadeveon Clowney in last year's bowl game.
With his impact on the field and potential NFL draft stock, Lewan is easily the best senior in the Big Ten.