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The Most Important Player on Every Big Ten Team in 2019

The Most Important Player on Every Big Ten Team in 2019

The Most Important Player on Every Big Ten Team in 2019

No matter what team you root for, there's always one player whose absence can make or break a game, if not a season. The Big Ten is no exception and has quite a few players who walk the tightrope between disappointment and a better future for their program.

Here are the players those squads need to improve and impress the most in 2019:

Illinois: Reggie Corbin, RB

With quarterback AJ Bush Jr. having moved on, the Fighting Illini are tasked with replacing a guy who was responsible for more than 200 yards of offense per game. Whoever takes over for Bush will have to get settled in, but fortunately for them, Corbin returns on the heels of a 1,000-yard season. To give Illinois even more hope, four of last year’s starting five offensive linemen return to assist.

College Football Rankings: Illinois

The main problem is Illinois' schedule. If defensive coordinators sell out to stop Corbin and take their chances with Illinois' passing game, head coach Lovie Smith may be looking for a new gig following another four-win season.

Indiana: Coy Cronk, OT

The Hoosiers boast little experience up front with Cronk and right guard Simon Stepaniak being the only two returning starters on the offensive line. Quarterback Peyton Ramsey and running back Stevie Scott may help Indiana jerry-rig some wins out of the gate versus Ball State and FCS opponent Eastern Illinois.

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The Hoosiers then run into a Buckeye buzzsaw. The front end of their schedule doesn't look too daunting. However, Cronk will be singled out from game one and the Hoosiers' slate features a gauntlet that may see them end the year on an 0-5 run.

Iowa: A.J. Epenesa, DE

One of the Big Ten's premier defenders, Epenesa amassed 37 tackles, 16.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles last season. Chauncey Golston will complement him on the opposite side, one of the Hawkeyes' most improved players over the course of 2018.

College Football Rankings: Iowa Football

An Iowa defense led by Epenesa should allow quarterback Nate Stanley to get into a groove with new tight ends to replace first-round NFL draft selections T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. They were Stanley's top two receivers and got 34 percent of the targets, the most of any tight end corps in the country. Even better for the Hawkeyes, they face a schedule that could see them start the season 4-0 before traveling to Michigan for their first big test.

Maryland: Anthony McFarland, RB

Mike Locksley's first year as the Terrapins' head coach looks to be anything but easy. He has to implement a reliable quarterback who not only has to jive with the top wide receivers but find a way to not run McFarland into the ground early on.

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The rising sophomore had an impressive first season in College Park, racking up 1,034 yards and four touchdowns. Included in that was back-to-back 200-yards games against Indiana and Ohio State. Maryland is a curious team as another 5-7 record wouldn't be much of a surprise, while the Terrapins get used to a new culture and the offense gels. Still, McFarland's presence is a must. If he's absent on the field, five wins may look like a pipe dream for Locksley's debut.

Michigan: Shea Patterson, QB

Now in his senior season, the Ole Miss transfer is poised to lead Michigan to a Big Ten championship and perhaps a College Football Playoff berth. The biggest question mark is how he'll adapt to new offensive coordinator Josh Gettis' spread concepts that operate from a no-huddle approach.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan

Fortunately, Patterson managed 2,600 passing yards and a 22:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2018, so the learning curve shouldn't be too steep. He's also afforded an experienced offensive line that can give him all the time he needs to pick apart defenses.

Michigan State: Brian Lewerke, QB

To underscore how important Lewerke is to the Spartan offense, after suffering a shoulder injury during a gutsy win versus Penn State last season, Michigan State scored seven or fewer points in four of their final seven games. Assuming the Spartan quarterback can stay healthy, securing bowl eligibility shouldn't be a problem.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Michigan State

However, if Rocky Lombardi takes over for Lewerke as he did occasionally during 2018, Michigan State's outlook suddenly gets murky. Running back Connor Heyward isn't the biggest of offensive threats. Cody White and Darrell Stewart Jr. provide solid options at receiver. The contrast in the two quarterbacks' ability to get them catchable balls is rather noticeable. Even with a bum shoulder for the second half of the season, Lewerke managed to complete 54 percent of his passes compared to Lombardi's 44 percent.

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Minnesota: Carter Coughlin, DL

Whether we can legitimately view the Golden Gophers as a dark horse pick to win the Big Ten West will largely come down to defensive coordinator Joe Rossi. Having replaced Robb Smith following last year's 55-38 loss to Illinois, there's a Swiss army knife in Rossi's toolbox that’s bound to get picked up by an NFL squad: Coughlin.

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The best part about the senior defender is that under Rossi, Minnesota can truly use him as a defensive terror whether he's your usual end in a 4-3 scheme or if the Golden Gophers opt to bring him in as the fourth linebacker in a 3-4 look. Considering the extensive menu of offensive looks Minnesota will see on this year's slate, P.J. Fleck needs a do-it-all defender like Coughlin to keep his team in games where a shootout is possible, if not probable.