Andre Neblett, Temple DT: Back for his fourth year as a starter, Neblett is a sturdy 6-foot-2, 295-pounder who has been a consistent run-stuffer in the Owls' rapidly improving defense. With 96 tackles, 18 tackles for losses and five forced fumbles in his career, he may well be the best defensive tackle the Nittany Lions face in the regular season. Temple's new defensive line coach, Randy Melvin, who spent four years in the same position with the Cleveland Browns, should also help Neblett.
Martez Wilson, Illinois LB: The Illini have surpassed Northwestern in terms of padding linebackers' tackle numbers, as an Illinois 'backer has led the Big Ten in stops in each of the past three years (J Leman for two seasons and then Brit Miller last fall). This year, Wilson will be the man to watch. He is moving from an outside post inside, the better to be in the middle of the action. Wilson has outstanding size (6-foot-4, 240) and speed. Poor fundamentals have prevented him from emerging as a star to date. But we expect that to change this year.
Brandon Graham, Michigan DE: Graham has a knack for sacking quarterbacks, pulling down passers 18.5 times over the past two seasons. A quick, aggressive, intense player, Graham had 46 tackles (29 solo) and 10 sacks in 2008 and was a bright spot in an otherwise dark season for Michigan fans. Graham's production could increase if the rest of the U-M defensive line has progressed.
Corey Wootton, Northwestern DE: Wooten may not be the best defensive end in the conference. But with good feet, impressive agility off the blocks and an ability to tear around the edge, he is the most consistent player at his position. Last season he had 10 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, an interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. On the year he had 42 tackles.
Kurt Coleman, Ohio State S: The senior safety will be counted on to be a leader in a secondary that must replace star corner Malcolm Jenkins. Though not the biggest player for the position (5-11, 188), Coleman has a nose for the ball, having made 78 tackles and team-high four interceptions in 2008. It will be interesting to see if he'll be able to roam the field this year without a shut-down corner like Jenkins protecting his flank.
Greg Jones, Michigan State LB: A first-team All-Big Ten pick in 2008, Jones has led MSU in tackles the past two seasons. In 2008 he had 127 tackles and was a true blitzing weapon for the Spartans, making 14.5 stops behind the line. At 6-1, 222 pounds, Jones has good size and impressive speed with the ability to plug up lanes and push back ball-carriers.