It starts up front.
That is an age-old mantra in football, and even in the age of the spread offense, it still holds true.
Control the line of scrimmage, win the battle in the trenches, and you will win the game. And that starts with the defensive line.
This year's Big Ten graduated or lost most of its most dominant defensive linemen. In fact, the only team that will be bringing back a first team all-conference D-lineman is Nebraska, and the lineman in question—Jared Crick—wasn't even in the Big Ten last year.
Nevertheless, players develop and new faces spring up. That is the nature of college football.
As we have recently broken the 100-day mark before college kickoff, it seems worthwhile to put the past in the past and start looking ahead.
In effect, in this article I will rank the 2011 defensive line position groups of every team in the Big Ten.
A few notes
The players in italics are returning starters. A "returning starter," for my purposes, is any player that has started four or more games in his career.
Players in italics and bold denote multi-year starters.
Players with an asterisk next to their names were first or second team, media or coaches, all-conference last season.
Players with three asterisks next to their names would be returning consensus All-Americans, but as there are none this season, this is irrelevant.
Finally, I have not factored true freshmen into this projection. While true freshmen can fill out a depth chart and have important roles to play, if a true freshman is starting on either side of the line, that is rarely a good sign.