Graduation and the 2016 NFL Draft are leaving some B1G shoes to fill, both figuratively and literally
One thing that both fans and media members love to do when trying to project the next college football season is to look at what a team is returning. Often overlooked, however, is the impact of new players filling the roles of recently departed key contributors.
The Big Ten is losing some of the best players in the country. Some of them have been cornerstones of championship runs in recent years, while others were simply elite talents who carried their teams through tough times. We've narrowed our focus to 10 players in the nation's oldest conference who will be the most difficult to replace.
10 Toughest Players to Replace in the Big Ten in 2016
Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Decker is going to make a run at being the first overall player taken in this year's NFL Draft. You could make the argument that he was the best offensive tackle in all of college football. Ohio State will replace him with an elite player, because that's how Urban Meyer recruits. Be that as it may, talent and physical attributes like those possessed by Decker aren't easy to replace. There will be at least a temporary drop-off for the Buckeyes at the position in 2016.
Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State
It goes without saying that you can't just lose the Lombardi and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award winner and just shout "next man up!" Nassib was a dominant force on one of the most underrated defensive lines in the country. Even if James Franklin has an athlete to fill Nassib's role, there will be a transition period for his replacement to be able to reach Nassib's maturity and football IQ levels.
Jack Allen, C, Michigan State
While quarterback Connor Cook got all of the attention for the Spartans over the last couple of seasons, it was Allen who was the real glue that held the Michigan State offense together. The continuity and experience he provided at the center position were evident in the win over Ohio State, where the Spartans were able to secure a victory despite Cook being sidelined. Allen's calming presence and leadership will be missed just as much as his skill set.
Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
Carroo was the most skilled and complete wide receiver in the the Big Ten — arguably over the last two seasons. When he was on the field, Rutgers was a different team and defenses needed to account for him. His presence opened up other options for the Scarlet Knight offense, probably masking talent deficits elsewhere and preventing even worse results than what transpired in 2015. Quite simply, Rutgers will struggle to replace a game-breaker like Carroo.
Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
Miller's leadership and passion for the Buckeye program simply will not be replaceable in 2016. Additionally, it'll be tough to find a skill player as versatile as Miller. He was a player who Urban Meyer could literally line up anywhere and force opposing defenses to take seriously. He was a luxury created by extremely rare circumstances. The void he leaves — both on the field and off — will be apparent early on.
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
You could make the case that Calhoun was the best pass rusher in college football over the past three seasons. The Michigan State defense now has a reputation for being solid at every level, and Calhoun is a big reason why. Whether he was pressuring quarterbacks and forcing them to serve up gifts to the Spartan secondary or cleaning up plays before they reached the linebacker level, his impact was obvious. The Spartans will move on without him, but he's a once-in-a-generation-type of player who will be sorely missed.
Jason Spriggs, OT, Indiana
The Hoosiers were must-see TV during the last two seasons — at least on offense. Running backs Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard got much of the attention, but it was often Spriggs opening those off-tackle holes that both were able to capitalize on. His presence also played a large role in Nate Sudfeld becoming one of the most prolific passers in college football.
Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
If Taylor Decker was the No. 1 tackle in the conference, Conklin was 1A. Conklin was the man who protected Connor Cook's blindside and allowed the Michigan State running game to remain formidable regardless of who was carrying the ball. He brought with him a toughness that become the identity of one of the better offensive lines in the land.
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Apple was a big, physical corner whom Urban Meyer could stick on an island against the opposing team's top receiver and not lose sleep over it. He allowed the rest of the elite Ohio State defenders to pin their ears back and go after the ball, knowing the opponent's most dangerous vertical threat had his hands full. The Buckeye defense will need to change up how it operates — even if only temporarily — while Apple's replacement gets acclimated.
Jake Rudock, QB, Michigan
Rudock may have been the most overlooked player in the Big Ten outside of Ann Arbor. If you throw out the Utah game — when every Wolverine was still trying to figure it out — Rudock was the calming force that allowed Jim Harbaugh to game plan each week without inexperience at the quarterback position holding him back. From a pure skill and athleticism standpoint, Rudock is replaceable. From the neck up, however, the Wolverines may miss him more than any team in the Big Ten misses any player in 2016.