The start of the college football season is just a few short weeks away and it promises to be an entertaining race in the Big Ten. Now, if you are an Ohio State fan, you are hoping it is not too interesting, especially after coming up short last season. But the other 13 teams have scholarships and uniforms too and there is no denying that there is plenty of talent spread out around this conference.
It got us to thinking about the top players at specific positions going into the season. Ohio State fans are always well-aware of who their favorite team has but what about the rest of the teams in the league?
We now shift gears from offense to defense and start on the line with the defensive end position. Some places are going to talk about a rush end versus a defensive end, but we are not choosy here, the only thing you need to be to make this list is a player who plays on the edge, regardless of a 4-3 or 3-4.
Will any of the Buckeyes defensive ends make the cut? If this year goes as hoped, the list could be full of Buckeyes in the postseason but how about in the preseason? Who makes the cut, who misses out? Let’s go to the top five of defensive end for the Big Ten.
5. J.T. Tuimoloau – Ohio State
This one is based on predictions more than anything. That is not to take anything away from J.T.’s 2021 rookie campaign, he racked up 4.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks in year one, and let’s not forget that Tuimoloau did commit to Ohio State until July 4th, reported late and really had to play catch-up.
That did not keep him off the field, but you knew in the back of your mind that a year of seasoning would mean a lot here and now J.T. has that.
Plus, Ohio State has brought in a new defensive coordinator, and it seems that the defensive ends will have a chance for more production under Jim Knowles’ leadership.
And, this is our list, so if we want to put two Buckeyes on the list, that’s our call.
4. Jer’Zahn Newton – Illinois
Bret Bielema would be happy if he can get the defense starting to click as the Illini have been in a rebuilding phase longer than an ODOT project on Interstate 70.
Newton had 50 tackles with four TFLs and three sacks last year, his second with the Illini.
This is one of those times where we just feel that the future results carry more weight than the stats on the page from the previous season.
The conference media took notice as Newton was named an honorable mention All-B1G player in 2021 and while the jury is still split in the preseason rankings, we are bullish on Newton’s chances this year as long as he remains on the field.
3. Adetomiwa Adebawore – Northwestern
Sometimes we have to defer to other publications for a little help on this list, you can’t see everyone, every week and we did not know a lot about Adebawore, but Phill Steele is a fan and that is good enough for us
He has tackle size but plays outside at 6-foot-2, 280-pounds and while his 25 tackles with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles does not have him in the same conversation with a couple of players further down the list, being part of a Pat Fitzgerald-led system is worth something, even if the Cats’ defense took a big step backward last year with the retirement of Mike Hankwitz.
We will be watching this one closely.
2. Garrett Nelson – Nebraska
Sometimes you have a hard time determining where to put a player, why do we put Nelson with the defensive end/edge players and put Nick Herbig (Wisconsin) with the linebackers? It is just kind of the way that we saw things.
Let’s look back at Nebraska in 2021, the best 3-9 team in the nation, one that did not get blown out in any game and certainly frustrated its fans with way too many close calls.
Don’t put blame on Nelson who had 57 tackles, a team-high 11.5 for loss and five sacks as one of Nebraska’s best defensive players last season.
He is not going to be a player that Ohio State fans will hear a lot about as a lunchbox type of player who just makes plays but may not make many highlight reels.
1. Zach Harrison – Ohio State
The Big Ten lost a lot of production from the position due to graduation and just normal attrition and many Ohio State fans are happy to see Zach Harrison on top of this list but may be skeptical as well as many feel that Harrison has not had that moment where he lived up to the five-star billing.
Harrison had eight TFLs and four sacks in 2021 but the Ohio State defensive line always seemed to be half-a-step behind on creating more havoc as teams just made the decision not to hold the ball long against the Ohio State defense.
As we mentioned with Tuimoloau earlier, a lot of this is based on what we think the defense can become under Jim Knowles, but there just is not an obvious Aidan Hutchinson in the league this year, at least not at this point of the preseason.