Predicting every Big Ten team’s defensive MVP in 2020
The Big Ten was loaded with difference-makers in 2019. There isn’t quite the same high-end talent in 2020, but that just leaves room for some new leaders to emerge.
Here is who I think the defensive MVP will be for each Big Ten team:
Illinois: Jake Hansen, LB
For the Illini to come anywhere near the number of takeaways (28) it had in 2019, Hansen is going to have to be the same ball-hawking linebacker. He forced 7 fumbles, which led the nation. There are a whole lot of tackles up for grabs without Dele Harding (who was 2nd nationally with 153).
Indiana: Tiawan Mullen, CB
There are a lot of dynamic wideouts on Indiana’s schedule (Chris Olave, Nico Collins, Rondale Moore and Jahan Dotson come to mind), so having a lockdown corner to limit the damage is vital. That’s where Mullen comes in. He was the 9th-highest rated freshman corner for a Power-5 program in PFF history. According to PFF, he broke up 30% of passes thrown his way, which was 2nd nationally.
Iowa: Chauncey Golston, DE
Golston is the only returning starter on the defensive line that loses star A.J. Epenesa, so that unit will lean on his experience. He was 2nd on the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and tied for 3rd in sacks (3). For a defense that prides itself on stopping the run, Golston’s skills in that area will be critical.
Maryland: Nick Cross, CB
Cross lived up to the hype as a true freshman. The top-100 recruit committed to Florida State but flipped to his hometown Terps. He wound up starting 5 games and finished with 45 tackles and 2 interceptions. The expectation is that he builds upon what he flashed last season and becomes a star.
Michigan: Aidan Hutchinson, DE
There are so many good options on what I believe will be 1 of the top defenses in the country. Kwity Paye, for example, has gotten a ton of buzz after he was the No. 1 player on Bruce Feldman’s annual Freaks List. But if we’re talking pure production and not draft measurables, I’ll take Hutchinson right now. Paye is still a little unrefined in his pass-rushing technique, while Hutchinson isn’t flashy, but he’s going to get the job done (just ask Tristan Wirfs). He can do a little bit of everything, as he is the leading returning tackler (69), led the team in forced fumbles (3) and was 2nd on the team in tackles for loss (10) and pass deflections (6).
Michigan State: Antjuan Simmons, LB
Michigan State has had some great defensive players in the Past decade, and it’s Simmons’ time to shine. He was 2nd on the team in tackles for loss (15) and led the team in tackles (90). For Mel Tucker’s new staff, Simmons is a solid building block.
Minnesota: Coney Durr, CB
Durr’s experience in the secondary (23 starts) will be valuable without star safety Antoine Winfield, who left early for the NFL. Durr tied for the team lead with 10 pass break-ups, in addition to a pick-6.
Nebraska: Cam Taylor-Britt, S
Nebraska’s offense has a ton of experience coming back, but the same can’t be said on defense. That’s why Cam Taylor-Britt’s playmaking ability will be critical for a Huskers defense that needs to mix in some takeaways and not just count on stopping the opposing offense. Taylor-Britt led the Huskers with 3 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles in 2019.
Northwestern: Paddy Fisher, LB
This is a tough call because linebacker is essentially the QB of the defense, and Northwestern has 2 good ones in Fisher and Blake Gallagher. But I’ll say Fisher because of his track record (2017 Freshman All-America, 2018 All-Big Ten), even though Gallagher has led the Wildcats in tackles the past 2 seasons. If Northwestern is going to have the bounce-back season that some are predicting, the defense can’t afford any drop-off — and that puts the onus on Fisher, a team captain in 2019.
Ohio State: Shaun Wade, CB
Wade could have gone pro after last season and maybe been a 1st-round pick, but he elected to return to move outside. He was excellent as a slot corner last season (and that could make him a tremendous asset at the next level), but he wanted the role vacated by Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette. His versatility will be valuable to the Buckeyes, as they can always move him back inside if need be.
Penn State: Micah Parsons, LB
I’m really going out on a limb here, huh? It’s not a stretch to say that Parsons might be the most valuable defender in all of college football. Look no further than the Cotton Bowl victory over Memphis when he registered 14 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles. He has a very good chance at being the 1st defensive player picked in the 2021 NFL Draft. The 5-star recruit has lived up to the hype.
Purdue: George Karlaftis, DE
The 4-star recruit (and hometown hero) delivered an outstanding freshman season at Purdue, racking up 7.5 sacks and tied for 3rd in the Big Ten with 17 tackles for loss. It will be interesting to see how new defensive coordinator Bob Diaco uses a weapon like Karlaftis in the 3-4 defense. The Boilermakers badly need Karlaftis to take another step forward as it finished 13th in the Big Ten in total defense in 2019.
Rutgers: Brendon White, S
The easy answer is probably linebacker Tyshon Fogg, who was Rutgers’ leading tackler last season. But I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that White, an Ohio State transfer, will play a huge role for the Scarlett Knights. White is a former 4-star recruit who was the MVP of the 2019 Rose Bowl, but he fell out of favor last season when Ohio State went to a single-high safety look in most situations. It’s telling that he went to Rutgers to be reunited with Greg Schiano, who was Ohio State’s defensive coordinator in 2018. I’ll bet Schiano finds a way to make 1 of his most talented players a critical part of his defense.
Wisconsin: Jack Sanborn, LB
Sanborn will be incredibly valuable for his production (he led Wisconsin with 80 tackles last season), but he’ll be even more important because of his impact on an inexperienced linebacking crew. Without Chris Orr and Zack Baun, who combined for 24 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss, the Badgers will need Sanborn’s leadership in the middle of the field. Wisconsin is experienced at every other position, and Sanborn taking his game up another level will ensure Wisconsin stays among the nation’s best defenses.