Two of the most talented players in the Big Ten Conference—Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell—departed after the 2012 college football season, opening the door for a new wave of Midwest stars.
The Big Ten still boasts a number of skilled running backs who could be taking the place of the likes of Ball and Bell at the top of next year's All-Big Ten lists.
Additionally, a number of the Big Ten's well known players will return in 2013 with plenty of work left to do in order to live up to their reputations and truly be regarded as the best in the conference.
Today we'll take a look at a few players who haven't been as good as advertised, as well as a few under-appreciated talents in the conference.
Starting now, here are the underrated and overrated players of the Big Ten:
Northwestern running back Venric Mark has earned plenty of national respect for his efforts in the return game.
He was named a first-team All-American at punt returner by the Football Writers Association of America in 2012.
However, it is time to start respecting him as a running back as well.
Mark exploded for 1,335 yards out of the backfield last season and 12 touchdowns off of 226 carries.
He averaged more than six yards per carry, which is better than both Le'Veon Bell and Montee Ball—the two runners who finished ahead of him in the 2012 All-Big Ten voting.
Mark should make first-team All-Big Ten in 2013 and may even earn some All-American recognition at his primary position.
The only stipulation: Northwestern must find more creative ways to involve him in the passing game.
Last season, Mark only caught 20 passes for 104 yards and one touchdown—as dangerous as he is in space, those numbers aren't high enough.
Curtis Grant has just ten career tackles at the end of his first two seasons—not the start the former 247Sports composite 5-star envisioned when he came to Ohio State.
After a rough start to his career in Columbus, things are looking up for Grant now, as he's expected to take hold of the starting middle linebacker position for the Buckeyes in 2013.
However, he was in the exact same position in 2012, which didn't turn out well for him.
Grant has plenty of time to turn the disappointment he has experienced so far into success.
That process will need to start this season.
Until he does make improvements, Grant will be just another player who hasn't lived up to his potential.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon spent his freshman season in the shadow of Montee Ball and is poised to have a breakout sophomore campaign in 2013.
He averaged 10.2 yards per carry in 2012—more than any other Big Ten running back by far.
With Ball gone, he'll split time with senior James White next season—another very capable back.
Look for Gordon to be a factor on outside runs and catching balls out of the backfield, while White will do the majority of his work in the middle of the field.
Wisconsin has had a very impressive line of talented running backs going for some time now and Gordon is the next in that line.
It feels like Taylor Martinez has been the starting quarterback at Nebraska for about a decade now.
In reality, it has only been three long seasons since Martinez burst onto the scene in 2010 and led Nebraska to within three points of a Big 12 Conference title in its final year in the conference.
He was an excellent running quarterback then and still is today. But ever since his freshman year, he has been expected to improve his throwing skills and become a complete quarterback.
In fact, Martinez might be a good throwing motion away from being a Heisman Trophy contender.
However, it certainly doesn't look like that is going to happen.
The Corona, Calif., native saw his passing attempts inflate last year, but so did his interceptions, as he completed a career-high 12 balls to the wrong team.
He was particularly bad in the Huskers' four losses, where he threw eight of his picks last year.
In other words, if Martinez were better, the Huskers would have undoubtedly been BCS bound last year—but he wasn't and they weren't.
If Nebraska wants to make it back to elite status in 2013, Martinez needs to be better.
Michigan's James Ross was one of the best freshman linebackers in the Big Ten last year, despite the fact that his playing time wasn't overwhelming in a crowded UM LB corps.
As he enters his sophomore season, he'll be taking on an even bigger role for the Wolverines.
Star linebacker Jake Ryan is expected to miss much of the season since going down with a torn ACL this spring—an update on his status can be seen here from MLive.com.
With Ryan's status in flux, Ross may need to be the guy and luckily he has the skill to lead this group.
Keep an eye on how Ross handles this new role in 2013.
The story of Jared Abbrederis is pretty interesting. The Wautoma, Wis., native began his career as a simulated spread quarterback for the Wisconsin scout team and worked his way to being regarded as one of the best receivers in the Big Ten Conference.
However, last season wasn't an impressive one for the former walk-on.
He had a scorching start to the season, only to shrink against better competition in the Big Ten.
After notching three straight 100-yard performances after recovering from an early-season injury, he didn't break 70 yards or haul in a single touchdown for the remainder of the year.
Those aren't numbers consistent of a truly dominant receiver.
Additionally, Abbrederis actually regressed statistically from his sophomore to junior season, which shows that the opposition is learning how to deal with him.
In order to truly earn his status as the best of the Big Ten, he'll need to improve in 2013.
Doran Grant may not be a household name just yet, but Big Ten fans will know about the Ohio State cornerback in due time.
Grant spent 2012 as the nickel corner behind Bradley Roby and Travis Howard, but he is now poised for a breakout junior season.
With the graduation of Howard, Grant will likely take on a full-time starting role opposite Roby in 2013.
With Roby as the most feared corner in the conference, Grant should have a number of opportunities to make plays this season.
You probably won't be able to miss Grant's presence next year, as the Buckeyes—one of the preseason national title favorites—will be playing in some pretty big games.