The 2009 Big Ten football season saw defensive backfields across the conference hold their own along with the nation's top players. Safeties and cornerbacks made a lasting impression.
Three conference teams—Penn State, Iowa, and Ohio State—finished among the top 25 teams in the country for passing defense. The Hawkeyes ranked fourth nationally in passes defended, and finished in the top five in the nation for total interceptions along with the Buckeyes.
While the Big Ten loses several star players to the NFL like Amari Spievey, Kurt Coleman, and Donovan Warren, a huge pool of defensive back talent still remains in the conference.
And yes, that presents the perfect opportunity for another preseason power ranking.
Entering his senior season, Michigan defensive back Troy Woolfolk sits ready to anchor the Wolverine defense.
His numbers aren’t exactly the definition of impressive (46 tackles, one pass break up last year), but he has tons of talent and speed .
He will need it, as Woolfolk takes over Donovan Warren's spot at corner.
Minnesota's Kyle Theret has had a solid career, starting 32 games in his first three seasons as a Gopher. He ranks sixth in school history with nine career interceptions.
In 2009, Thret made 73 tackles (50 solo) and intercepted three passes. Although he is currently indefinitely suspended for a violation of team rules and policies, he should have a solid year if/when allowed to re-join the team.
Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin has quietly become one of the best defensive backs in the conference.
Mabin finished the 2009 season with 75 tackles and two interceptions. Entering his junior year, Mabin has 126 career tackles, five career interceptions and has started in 24 games.
Michigan State's Chris Rucker has established himself as one of the more consistent defenders in the Big Ten.
Rucker has 127 career tackles, 12 career passes broken up, four career interceptions, and three career forced fumbles during his time as a Spartan.
After two injury-plagued seasons at Penn State, Nick Sukay finally put together a successful season last year.
Sukay had 11 breakups, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in his first year as a starter. He finished the season ranked second in the Big Ten in passes defended (13).
Assuming he learned his lesson about trying to block Iowa's Adrian Clayborn on special teams, Sukay could have an even better 2010 season.
Wisconsin Badger cornerback Devin Smith had an impressive 2009 season.
Smith was tied for fifth in the conference in passes broken up with Michigan's Donovan Warren, who now plays for the New York Jets. He compiled 55 tackles, nine pass break-ups, two interceptions, and a sack last year.
Heading into the 2010 season, Smith was named second-team Preseason All-Big Ten by Phil Steele.
Playing in only 10 games last year, Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater still put up impressive numbers.
Prater collected 42 total tackles last year, averaging 4.2 tackles a game. He tied teammate Amari Spievey for seventh in the Big Ten in passes defended, with eight passes broken up and two interceptions.
Prater should have no problem putting up even better numbers in 2010.
Ohio State's Devon Torrence is a bit of an unknown and flew under the radar last year. After registering 35 tackles, two interceptions, and a sack last season, the former wide receiver is looking to increase his playing time and impact opposite Chekwa in 2010.
Phil Steele selected Torrence as a preseason third team all-Big Ten.
Wisconsin’s Jay Valai is one of the most experienced defensive backs in the conference. He has started 25 games over the last two seasons and has earned 112 career tackles as a Badger.
In 2009, Valai had 51 tackles and broke up four passes as a safety, earning second-team all-Big Ten.
All-Big Ten safety Brett Greenwood has been a starter for the Hawkeyes since his freshman year. Heading into his senior season, Greenwood has collected 168 tackles and seven interceptions.
Greenwood is often compared to former Iowa safety Sean Considine, who currently plays for in the NFL for Jacksonville.
Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne showed that he had some talent last year.
Against No. 5 Cincinnati he broke up three passes. He also returned his first career interception 44 yards for a touchdown in a game against Minnesota.
Former Illini receiver Arrelious Benn thinks Hawthorne can win the Heisman. “It’s a little Charles Woodson deal, offense and defense. I think they’re going to work him on both sides of the ball. He is the type of guy that can do that.”
Ohio State’s Jermale Hines is arguably the best free safety in the Big Ten.
Hines recorded 57 tackles, two interceptions—one for touchdown—and a sack in 2009, but should improve upon that this fall with more starting time.
It’s been said that while he runs like a safety, he hits like a linebacker.
Chimdi Chekwa has started at cornerback for Ohio State the last two seasons. Last season, Chekwa had 43 tackles, defended eight passes and was named honorable mention All-Big Ten.
The senior Buckeye is a fast and athletic defender with excellent man-to-man coverage with no shortage of highlight clips to prove it. To give a hint how fast he is, Chekwa anchored the Buckeyes’ Big Ten Champion 4x100 relay in outdoor track.
In 2009, Iowa’s Tyler Sash recorded 12 passes defended, six pass break-ups, and six passes intercepted for 203 return yards and a touchdown. He led the Big Ten in interceptions and ranked second in the league in interceptions per game.
According to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, Sash already holds the Iowa record for career interception return yards (350), ranking him fifth in Big Ten history. He also tied a single-game team record with three picks against Iowa State.
Heading into his junior year at Iowa, Sash has 11 career interceptions and 138 career tackles.
It’s called Tyler Sash’s Traveling Interception Show. Reserve your tickets in advance.