Which Big Ten Program Has the Best Group at Each Defensive Unit Heading Into 2018?

By David Wertheim on June 23, 2018 at 8:45 am
Michigan Linebacker Devin Bush
Rick Osentoski- USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we took a look at which Big Ten programs had the best units at each position on the offensive side of the ball. 

What we found is that the Buckeyes led in the backfield, but were behind Penn State and Wisconsin in the other two units. Like on offense, the Buckeyes hold serve in one unit here, but are not the top dogs in the others. 

Defensive Line: Ohio State

The Buckeyes lost a bulk of their defensive line to the NFL: Tracy Sprinkle, Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, and Jalyn Holmes, all valuable contributors from a year ago, left Columbus to chase pro dreams. Nevertheless, Ohio State still holds the Big Ten's top spot on the defensive line. 

With former five-stars Chase Young and Nick Bosa bookending, and with Dre'Mont Jones returning to Columbus for one more year, Ohio State is really, really strong with the first wave on the defensive line.

The one weakness of this group, however, would be the depth. While supremely talented, the majority of Ohio State's defensive line depth is very young, with freshmen such as Tommy Togiai and Tyreke Smith expected to play significant minutes this fall. While Larry Johnson has proved time and time again that he is one of the best coaches in college football, it may be a tough task to keep this group fresh while still playing to their elite level. 

Michigan is another elite horse here, however. The Wolverines return both Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary, two players who have terrorized opponents for the past few years and are poised to do it again once more before they are off to the NFL. However, the nod goes to Ohio State... for now. 

Honorable Mention: Michigan, Penn State

Linebackers: Michigan

Ohio State fans don't want to hear it, but Michigan has a strong linebacker corps heading into 2018.

Led by returning juniors Khaleke Hudson and Devin Bush Jr, the Michigan linebackers are set to fly all over the field this season, much like they did in 2017.

Bush finished T-7 in the conference with 94 tackles, and also racked up five sacks, en route to a first-team all Big Ten selection and second team All-American selection

Hudson finished second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss, and was a third-team All Big-Ten nominee. Other expected contributors to the linebackers room include Drew Singleton, Devin Gil, and Cam McGrone. Oh, and a Don Brown defense can never ever be overlooked.

Defensive Backs: TBD

This one is too close to call. Will Michigan hold serve? Can Sparty's young guns keep up? Will Ohio State's talent reign supreme? The defensive back question is one that will certainly intrigue Big Ten fans all season long.

Our beloved Buckeyes return three starters in the secondary (including the nickel corner Damon Arnette), but none is proven outside of safety Jordan Fuller. While former five-star Kendall Sheffield clearly has the talent, it remains to be seen whether he and Arnette can all put it together. 

Michigan, on the other hand, has two proven starters in David Long and Lavert Hill, but not much else. Josh Metellus has been through major struggles, and the rest of the depth is not necessarily there (or ready). If the Wolverines can put it all together, though, look out. 

Michigan State has a few young guns including Cincinnati native and true sophomore Josiah Scott and Justin Layne, another young and upcoming cornerback. While defensive backs coach Harlon Bennett took his talents to Florida State, the Spartans reload with former Kent State head coach (and Buckeye assistant) Paul Haynes. 

The cornerback question is one of the puzzles that will be pieced together throughout the season. It remains to be seen who comes out as the alphadogs. 

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