Projecting what next season will look like is a favorite pastime of college football fans and media alike. During this practice, you'll find people paying a lot of attention to what players are returning as opposed to which players have departed and the voids those stars are leaving.
The Big Ten was arguably the best conference in the country from top to bottom in 2017, and much of that had to do with some of the elite individual talent on display every Saturday. Some of these players were cornerstones of championship runs, while others simply carried their teams through some tough times. While this list is certainly debatable and it's hard to narrow it down, here are the 10 players in the B1G who will be the most difficult for their respective teams to replace.
Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
Barkley didn't end up having the statistical season that many thought he would, but he was the best football player on the field in every game he played in during the 2017 season. He excelled as a runner, receiver and a returner — always seeming to come up with a big play when the Nittany Lions needed it most. His presence alone changed the way teams prepared for and subsequently played Penn State.
Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa
Jackson led the nation in interceptions (eight) in 2017, using his rare size and length for the position to make circus-style picks and knock away would-be completions in key moments. Elite corners simply don't flock to Iowa City to play college football, but in losing Jackson early to the NFL draft, the Hawkeyes are losing a second big-time player at the position in consecutive years (Desmond King).
Josey Jewell, LB, Iowa
You don't find many kids with less than a "3-star" recruiting rating and only one FBS offer who develop into one of the best college football players in the country. That's the story of Jewell (above, right), and never was his talent and impact more apparent than when he and Saquon Barkley went toe-to-toe in Iowa City in 2017. Iowa will recruit guys who are better athletes out of high school, but I'm not sure they'll ever sign a better pure football player.
Brian Allen, OL, Michigan State
Allen is one of the few impact players the Spartans are losing from their 2017 campaign, but his is perhaps the biggest void in the conference. He started 27 straight games at two different positions during his tenure in East Lansing. Pro Football Focus had Allen as the top-rated center in the Big Ten this season.
Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
Hurst has been the lifeblood of the Wolverine defensive line during the Jim Harbaugh era. His explosiveness off the line and ability to navigate traffic in the trenches to get to the ball carrier set the tone for the rest of the Michigan defense. He had a Warren Sapp-like motor that's going to be tough for his successor to replicate each week.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Barrett was a bit of a lightning rod during his time in Columbus, but I attribute that largely to Buckeye fans taking his leadership, consistency and playmaking ability for granted. He was a true field general for Urban Meyer, and his toughness and resiliency won't be fully appreciated until Ohio State struggles at the quarterback position in 2018.
Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
Hubbard has rare athleticism for the monster of a human he is. The 6-foot-5, 265-pounder was an obstacle for opposing passers to throw over at the line of scrimmage and a challenge for ball carriers to run away from in the backfield. His strength allowed to the Buckeye coaching staff to move him around the line, both inside and outside, to create matchup issues and free up linebackers.
Marcus Allen, S, Penn State
If you are looking for interception stats that pop off the page when looking at Allen's numbers, you won't find them. You need to turn on the film so see what he brought to the Nittany Lion defense. Penn State may be known as "Linebacker U", but Allen played the run as well as any of his teammates in PSU's front seven and as any safety in the country. Like his teammate Saquon Barkley, Allen's presence and reputation altered games.
Tegray Scales, LB, Indiana
Scales was the key piece to Indiana's recent turnaround on the defensive side of the ball. He was a masterful tackler in the open field who was always near the ball when the whistle blew. Linebackers of his caliber are a rare get in Bloomington, and the Hoosiers have their work cut out for them in finding his heir apparent.
Troy Fumagalli, TE, Wisconsin
Fumagalli was one of the best tight ends in the country over the last two seasons. He excelled as a blocker and gave a run-first Wisconsin offense a dependable target that could stretch the middle of the field in the passing game. The Badgers don't lose much, but with the departure of Fumagalli, they'll miss a valuable safety net for quarterback Alex Hornibrook.
14 Others That Will Be Missed
(in alphabetical order)
Jason Cabinda, LB, Penn State
Mason Cole, OL, Michigan
James Daniels, C, Iowa
Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
Godwin Igwebuike, S, Northwestern
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
Nick Nelson, CB, Wisconsin
Billy Price, C, Ohio State
Akrum Wadley, RB, Iowa
Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State
Damon Webb, S, Ohio State
Sean Welsh, OL, Iowa
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation and Bleacher Report. He has covered the Big Ten Conference extensively throughout his career. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.