The 2013 Big Ten Championship Game is more than a contest to determine the Big Ten title and the conference's official representative to the BCS. This year's matchup between Ohio State and Michigan State will feature two teams with a significant amount of 2014 NFL Draft prospects.
After 12 games in 2013, we have a pretty good idea of which players are rising to the top of NFL scouts' watch lists. But when all the chips are down on the biggest stage the Big Ten has to offer, you can bet the house that scouts, coaches and executives from all over the NFL will be keeping a close eye on these five prospects that will take the field in Indianapolis this Saturday.
Demarcos Allen is just one of several anchors on Michigan State's stout defense. The Spartans are giving up just 237.7 yards of offense per game this season, best in the FBS, and Allen has played more than a minor role in that success.
Allen possesses some impressive speed off of the weak side and can swarm all over the field. He leads the Spartans in tackles with 83 and tackles for loss with 15 (which include his 5.5 sacks).
He's also surprisingly good at pass coverage for such a skilled pass-rusher, and his textbook tackling style is sure to catch the eye of pro scouts. The only drawback for Allen is the fact that he's a bit undersized from an NFL standpoint, but he makes up for it with outstanding speed and skill.
When Bradley Roby announced he was leaving Columbus for the NFL after the 2013 season, it was a blow to Buckeyes fans but a boon to NFL teams is search of a quality top-round corner. Roby is among the top CB prospects for the 2014 NFL Draft, even after some inconsistent play this season.
But that inconsistency makes Roby an intriguing player to watch against Michigan State. MSU isn't known for its aerial attack, giving Roby an excellent opportunity to shove some of those doubts about his pass coverage ability to the rear.
Roby had trouble earlier in the season with covering some of the Big Ten's top wide receivers, namely Jared Abbrederis of Wisconsin. The NFL is full of players like Abbrederis, and Roby will need to improve his zone and run coverage skills to really make a big jump up some draft boards.
With potential sub-4.4 speed, the combine will be an important step for Roby, but if he can combine that with some standout performances against Michigan State and Ohio State's eventual bowl opponent, a first-round selection isn't out of the question.
Max Bullough is a third-generation Spartan. Both his father and grandfather suited up for Michigan State on the gridiron, and some of that family football skill clearly rubbed off on Max.
Bullough is a prototypical middle linebacker and is in his second season as a defensive team captain and on-field defensive play-caller. Bullough is so smart and has such great instincts, the MSU coaching staff has even allowed him to make adjustments to the defense on his own initiative.
Bullough is third on the team with 73 tackles, including nine tackles for loss (one sack) and has some great strength and speed. But it's probably his brain that will attract a lot of attention from the NFL. Bullough isn't prone to mistakes, and when the rare error occurs, it rarely happens twice.
It's possible Ohio State fans have finally come to the realization that the Buckeyes' passing game just isn't going to be impressive anytime soon. Once again, the Buckeyes have put together a middling performance throwing the football this season, finishing the regular season seventh in the Big Ten in passing offense (209.3 yards per game, 85th in the nation).
Luckily, the running game leads all teams from BCS power conferences, and is second only to Army—and they don't throw the ball at West Point (Army ranks 125th in passing).
Carlos Hyde missed the first three games of 2013 because of a suspension, but has been one of the best backs in the nation since his return. In terms of average yards per game played, Hyde ranks sixth in the FBS with 143.3 yards per game.
NFL teams are always on the look-out for the next star running back, and Hyde might be it. We're not entirely sure where the Buckeyes would be today without Hyde toting the ball, but we do know they likely wouldn't be 12-0, the No. 2 team in the nation and gearing up for a shot at the programs first Big Ten title since 2009.
Darqueze Dennard, a finalist for the 2013 Jim Thorpe Award, was the Big Ten's top defensive player this season and is one of the very best in the entire nation. The man-coverage specialist is as good as it gets, especially in press coverage, where he's almost unbeatable.
His lightening quick feet, excellent upper-body strength and wide receiver-like hands all make him one of the best NFL corner prospects scouts have seen in years. With four interceptions, eight pass break-ups and a forced fumble, there are enough highlights to watch on film. But it's also not lost on pro scouts how Dennard impacts the passing game in other ways.
MSU's pass rushers have been so productive this season in large part because of Dennard's lock-down coverage. Dennard is fast enough to take away many quick routes, and he's a terror for quarterbacks who want to throw the ball downfield.
He's fast, strong, smart and deadly for the opponent's passing game. What more could an NFL team be looking for in a corner? Another impressive performance from Dennard could all but lock in a first-round selection for him.
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