Big Ten Defenses to Rely Heavily on Underclassmen in 2014, Will It Be an Issue?

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor IJanuary 16, 2014

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 03:  Tajh Boyd #10 of the Clemson Tigers throws the ball away and is called for intentional grounding resulting in a safety as Joey Bosa #97 and Joshua Perry #37 of the Ohio State Buckeyes defend in the first quarter during the Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

To some, the beauty of college football comes in the yearly changes that are forced by graduation and players heading off to the NFL. 

With names like Chris Borland, Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby, Max Bullough, Darqueze Dennard and a host of others off to the NFL or graduated, the landscape of Big Ten defenses is about to change. 

One look at depth charts and names of others producing in the Big Ten this past year gives us a clue that this conference is about to go through a huge youth movement. 

Every team is losing at least one senior starter or players off to the NFL, and most are losing some very significant parts. 

Big Ten Defensive Losses
East TeamsStarters Lost
Michigan State6
Ohio State3
Penn State3
West TeamsStarters Lost
Wisconsin7 Depth Charts

That could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on what kind of experience that youth has. One has to wonder: Will it be growing pains or could the youth be talented enough to make a difference in major roles in 2014?

The biggest indicator of just how good the conference could be in 2014 is that a lot of freshmen made huge impacts this past season, when seniors and talented upperclassmen were supposed to rule the B1G.

Names like Joey Bosa and Vonn Bell showed up big at Ohio State, while Sojourn Shelton and Desmond King made significant impacts at cornerback for Wisconsin and Iowa respectively (and that's just to name a few).

Nearly every team has a 2014 sophomore that has the potential to be a big name in the conference this season. Here is a quick look at some of the more likely names to contribute based on production and positions in the two-deep last year.

Sophomores on Big Ten Defenses
East DivisionPlayers
IndianaRaphael Green, DT; Darius Latham, DT; T.J. Simmons, LB
MarylandWilliam Likely, CB; Roman Braglio, DE; Yannick Ngakoue, LB
MichiganDymonte Thomas, CB; Willie Henry, DT; Chris Wormley, LB
Michigan StateDarian Harris, CB; Demetrious Cox, FS; Jermaine Edmondson, CB
Ohio StateJoey Bosa, DE; Tyvis Powell, CB; Vonn Bell, CB
Penn StateBrian Gaia, DT; Gary Wooten, LB; Nyeem Wartman, LB
RutgersAnthony Cioffi, CB; Delon Stephenson, CB
West DivisionPlayers
IllinoisDeJazz Woods, LB; T.J. Neal, LB
IowaDesmond King, CB; Reggie Spearman, LB; Anthony Gair, S
MinnesotaNick Rallis, LB; Jalen Myrick, DB
NebraskaGreg McMullen, DE; Vincent Valentine, DT; D.J. Singleton, S
NorthwesternMatthew Harris, CB; Dwight White, CB; Greg Kuhar, DT
PurdueEvan Panfil, DE; Leroy Clark, CB; Austin Logan, S
WisconsinSojourn Shelton, CB; Nate Hammon, S

One look at this list should be all you need in order to know just how important the sophomore class could be to the Big Ten this year. 

Yet, that is only one-half of the equation for the B1G's youth movement in 2014. The other part involves this upcoming class of freshmen.

Recruiting on the defensive side has become more about speed, and the conference is attracting some of the top defensive talent in the country because of it. 

This year alone, Michigan has a verbal commitment from the No. 1-ranked cornerback, Jabrill Peppers, and Ohio State has the No. 1-ranked linebacker, Raekwon McMillan, in the fold. 

McMillan is already part of the Buckeyes, choosing to enroll early in Columbus. In fact, a number of prospects on both sides of the ball are making their way to campuses across the conference. 

Getting that kind of talent when you are losing so many players can make an instant impact on the conference, but those two players are just a small glimpse of the future ahead for Big Ten defenses. 

While most will talk this offseason will be about what is missing from Big Ten defenses, the biggest lesson of last year is that youth can and does make an impact. 

The combination of impact recruits and proven sophomores should help to ease any fears about a hole being created by all the talent leaving the B1G.

Now it's on that youth to become leaders, and if that happens, 2014 could be an exciting year for Big Ten defenses once again. 

*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for the Big Ten. All recruiting information courtesy 247sports. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens


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