Every team has that one guy who needs to show up every week and get his job done at the highest level in order for his team to have success. Sometimes that player is simply the most talented one on the team. Often it's the quarterback. Other times, the most important player is one who simply plays a key role in the game plan and scheme from week to week.
Whatever the case, these guys from each Big Ten team need to show up and play at a high level — perhaps even more so than their teammates — in order for their teams to have success this season.
The Most Important Player on Every Big Ten Team in 2016
Dan Feeney, Guard, Indiana
The Hoosiers have evolved into a bit of an offensive juggernaut over the last couple of seasons. They rely on lighting up the scoreboard and getting into shootouts in order to stay in and win football games. That all starts with solid play on the offensive line, and none of their lineman are more talented than Feeney. He didn't allow a single sack in 2015 and proved to be one of the more dominant run blockers in the Big Ten. His presence raises the bar for his fellow linemen and makes Indiana a threat to consistently move the ball.
Will Likely, Cornerback, Maryland
Speaking of raising the bar, the undersized Maryland corner is one of the very few bright spots in College Park on football Saturdays. He gives the Terrapins an elite defensive back that opposing offenses must respect and often game plan around. He also has the ability to flip the field as a return man. His playmaking ability should provide a certain level of comfort and a boost of confidence for a team going through a coaching transition.
Jabrill Peppers, Linebacker, Michigan
Peppers is a natural defensive back whose athleticism is going to be used at the linebacker position in Michigan's new scheme. His versatility, which allows him to come off the corner and pressure the quarterback as well as lock down tight ends and running backs in pass coverage, will be the difference between the Wolverine defense being good and great. He must stay healthy, and that could be a tall order as he operates largely in an area of the field where the big bodies roam.
Brian Allen, Center, Michigan State
Allen will likely be the pivot man on the Spartan offensive line. His role is all the more important, as Michigan State works in a new full-time starting quarterback for the first time in more than three seasons. Additionally, some serious talent on the offensive line from 2015 departed for the NFL. It'll be up to Allen to provide the leadership and continuity necessary for this offense full of solid skill players to function at a high level.
J.T. Barrett, Quarterback, Ohio State
No team in college football has lost more raw talent since the end of last season than the Ohio State Buckeyes. Barrett returns to lead Urban Meyer's crew on a quest for another title. His experience and playmaking ability — especially early in the season — will be key to Ohio State surviving long enough for the new players to get comfortable as starters without suffering a couple of early losses. He'll need to be at his absolute best — particularly in the early matchup at Oklahoma — if the Buckeyes want to be in the College Football Playoff conversation past September.
Trace McSorely, Quarterback, Penn State
The Christian Hackenberg era has come to an end. McSorely now takes over an offense with some elite skill players that could end up stunning the East division. His ability to pick up the new, no-huddle scheme being installed by offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead could be the deciding factor as to whether or not the Nittany Lions are competing for a division title or just the chance to play in a bowl game.
Janarion Grant, Wide Receiver, Rutgers
New head coach Chris Ash will have his work cut out for him in Piscataway this season. He has made strides in recruiting, but inherited a fairly empty cupboard, especially in the way of playmakers. Grant is the lone star in that regard and will be counted on to be a consistent threat in the passing game. He's also one of the best returners in the country. His ability to flip the field could save Ash a lot of headaches in 2016.
Hardy Nickerson, Linebacker, Illinois
Lovie Smith will have the luxury of a seasoned quarterback in Wes Lunt to lean on during his first season at the helm in Champaign. Hardy Nickerson, whose father will serve as the team's defensive coordinator, will be that guy on defense. The graduate transfer already speaks the language of the scheme and will provide the senior leadership on and off the field necessary to keep this team focused during a transition period.
Greg Mabin, Cornerback, Iowa
The Hawkeyes have talent all over the field on defense — most notably in cornerback Desmond King. King might be the best defensive back in the country. Kirk Ferentz and all of Hawkeye Nation know what he brings to the table every week. Opposing offensive coordinators and quarterbacks are well aware of King's talents as well, making Mabin's mere presence and playmaking ability that much more important. King will have his third of the field locked down, meaning Mabin will be tested early and often. If he's not ready for the challenge, Iowa's defense becomes much easier to attack.
Shannon Brooks, Running Back, Minnesota
Minnesota's lack of home-run hitters has plagued them for a couple of years now. Brooks is the only skill player the Gophers have who can light up the scoreboard from anywhere on the field. He'll need to do just that early in the season in order to keep opposing defenses honest against an otherwise pedestrian offensive attack — especially through the air.
Tommy Armstrong, Quarterback, Nebraska
We saw what Armstrong and the Husker offense can do when they are firing on all cylinders last December when they ran over a talented UCLA team in the Foster Farms Bowl. The Huskers have some decent talent of their own on offense, but it will be Armstrong's decision-making ability that will determine just how effective the offense will be. If he can avoid some of the head-scratching turnover issues he had in 2015 and replicate his bowl game performance during the majority of the matchups on Nebraska's slate, it could be a special season in Lincoln.
Clayton Thorson, Quarterback, Northwestern
The Wildcats exceed the expectations of most experts and pundits in 2015, largely on the back of a dream season from their then-freshman quarterback. Thorson's mobility and wherewithal to know when to tuck it and run and when to throw it away were key factors in Northwestern winning 10 games. He'll have another stout defense as a security blanket as well as one of the nation's better running backs in Justin Jackson behind him in 2016. Thorson just needs to play to his ability and maintain control of the situation for Northwestern to replicate its success from a season ago.