The end of another football season is approaching, and most Big Ten teams have their last regular season game this weekend.
That means it's time to start compiling the All-Big Ten lists.
Since this year appears to be the year of the defense in the Big Ten, it seemed fitting to start off with a list of the top defensive players in the conference. Narrowing the list down to a top 12 all-conference team was no easy task, as a number of players around the Big Ten have stepped up big this year.
Nevertheless, the list had to be compiled, with numerous criteria coming into play so as to make it as objective as possible (hence the longer-than-average list of honorable mentions at the end).
So, without further ado, here is the All-Big Ten Defense...
Senior safety Kurt Coleman was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last year, and has followed that performance up with another stellar year.
Coleman was suspended for one game this year because of a helmet-to-helmet hit against Illinois, but his play has made up for it since then.
So far on the year, Coleman has three interceptions for a total of 129 return yards, including an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown against Wisconsin.
To go along with his interceptions, Coleman has 60 tackles, three forced fumbles, and a sack this year. He was also nominated for the AT&T All-America Player of the Week.
Sophomore safety Tyler Sash ranks first in the Big Ten, and third in the country, with six interceptions for 203 return yards. His interception for an 86-yard touchdown against Indiana is one of the more memorable plays in the Big Ten this year.
He also ranks 13th in the Big Ten in tackles, with a total of 76.
His 11 passes defended and two forced fumbles are part of why Sash has been named Big Ten Player of the Week twice this year.
Michigan's Donovan Warren is arguably one of the best defensive backs in the country.
He is tied for second in the conference in passes defended (11), and also tied for second in interceptions (4). One of his interceptions was a game-winner against Indiana.
Warren also has 59 tackles on the year.
Junior cornerback Amari Spievey is also one of the best defensive backs in the country. He was named preseason first team All-Big Ten by Phil Steele's College Football.
While his two interceptions, nine passes defended, and 50 tackles might not be the best statistics in the conference, it is not for lack of effort. Rather, it has more to do with quarterbacks around the Big Ten trying to avoid throwing in his direction.
ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper rates Spievey third among the juniors and seniors who could be drafted in 2010.
Linebacker Navorro Bowman has had a great year for the Nittany Lions, and is arguably one of the best linebackers in the country.
Heading into the last regular season game of the season, Bowman has 74 total tackles, 12 tackles for loss, two interceptions (one returned for touchdown), and two quarterback sacks. In addition to his interception for touchdown, he also recorded a 91-yard fumble return for touchdown.
He was named Big Ten Player of the Week once this season.
Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones has been having a great year so far. He is first in the Big Ten and second in the country in total tackles, with 126 (57 solo tackles, 69 assisted tackles).
To go along with his tackling insanity, Jones has 11 tackles for loss and 7.5 quarterback sacks.
Jones was selected Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of Year.
Iowa's linebacker Pat Angerer is having a monster year.
Angerer is second in the Big Ten and third in the country in total tackles, with 119 (40 solo tackles, 79 assisted tackles). He also had five pass break-ups, an interception, and two forced fumbles.
This year, he has been named Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week, Big Ten Player of the Week, Lott Trophy Impact Player of the Week, and was also named to this year's Butkus Award and Lott Trophy Award watch lists.
Angerer has also been playing the last month with torn ligaments in his right thumb. "You don’t need thumbs," he said. "My best friend is my brother's dog. He doesn't have any thumbs and he's doing fine."
Minnesota's Lee Campbell is about as complete of a linebacker as they come. Heading into the last game of the season, Campbell has 106 total tackles with nine tackles for loss. His 65 solo tackles leads the Big Ten.
Campbell also has five pass break-ups, an interception, and a blocked punt.
He was named Big Ten Player of the Week once this season.
To go along with having a great name, Wisconsin's defensive end O'Brien Schofield has been having a great year. He is sitting fourth in the Big Ten in sacks (8), and second in tackles for loss (19.5).
In addition, he has seven quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
Schofield was named Big Ten Player of the Week once this season.
Quarterbacks around the Big Ten know Ohio State's defensive end Cameron Heyward very well. On the year, he has five sacks, two quarterback hurries, and seven-and-a-half tackles for loss.
He earned a national defensive player of the week award this year.
Heyward is being projected by some as a first-round NFL draft pick.
Some argue that Iowa's defensive end Adrian Clayborn might not be human. His play this year almost prove his skills are from another planet.
Clayborn's eight-and-a-half sacks ties him for second in the Big Ten and his 16.5 tackles for loss ranks third best in the Big Ten. He also has three forced fumbles so far this year.
Clayborn has been named Big Ten Player of the Week on special teams and defense this year, as well as named AT&T All-America Player of the Week after he returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Penn State.
While Purdue's season has been less than expected, their defensive end Ryan Kerrigan has been having an awesome year. Kerrigan leads the conference in sacks with 10 so far this year.
He also has 63 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles.
Kerrigan was named Big Ten Player of the Week once this season, as well.
There were a number of other players who could have easily made this list, too. As such, they deserve at least a mention:
DT Jared Odrick, Penn State
DT Karl Klug, Iowa
DE Corey Wootton, Northwestern
DE Jammie Kirlew, Indiana
DE Brandon Graham, Michigan
CB David Pender, Purdue
LB Nate Triplett, Minnesota
LB Brian Rolle, Ohio State