A bold prediction for Big Ten football in 2021: Defense is going to make a comeback.

Sure, playing on the stoppers’ side of the ball ain’t what it used to be. RPOs, rules limiting collisions and the development of prolific, up-tempo offenses have changed the benchmarks for success.

But several B1G teams are poised for plenty of what passes for it in this modern era.

We’ve got ball-hawkers. Run stoppers. Sure tacklers and highlight-reel athletes. Guys who can rush the passer and others who can stick with the conference’s top receiving talent. Some can do both.

Elite defenders don’t play on teams that consistently hold opponents to 2 or fewer scores anymore. But they dictate the course of play up front and make momentum-turning plays in the back six or seven.

Who are most capable of that heading into this season? Here are 25 names to keep a close eye on, ranked in reverse order.

25. Jesse Luketa, LB, Penn State

A Butkus award watch list name and one of the conference’s top returning tacklers, Luketa had a breakout 2020 and stands to be even better after another full offseason of workouts and spring practices.

24. Coney Durr, CB, Minnesota

Durr isn’t afraid to throw a little shade. Just check his Twitter feed following B1G Media Days. But the 4th-year starter can back it up; he’s one of the league’s most consistent cornerbacks.

23. Tyshon Fogg, LB, Rutgers

Rutgers has a sneaky-good linebacking corps, and Fogg is a big part of it. He ranked 4th in the B1G in tackles in 2019 and 6th last season. The 2020 leader is his teammate and also appears on this list.

22. Zach VanValkenburg, DL, Iowa

The name alone sounds like a monstrous Iowa heavy you wouldn’t enjoy running into during Oklahoma drills. It’s fitting — No. 7 recovered 4 fumbles last year and has seen a meteoric rise since transferring from the Division II ranks.

21. Cam Taylor-Britt, DB, Nebraska

There’s a video circulating on social media of Taylor-Britt leapfrogging a tackling dummy and snaring a one-handed interception during pre-fall-camp drills. But he’s more than just freaky athleticism; “Cam Juice” has a penchant for big plays, as evidenced by his 5 interceptions over the past 2 seasons.

20. Gemon Green, DB, Michigan

Green ranked second in the league in passes defended last season, his first as a starter. The Texas native shares the defensive backfield with his twin brother, German Green.

19. Boye Mafe, DE, Minnesota

A freak athlete who proved last season he can do more than just run fast and jump high. Mafe’s 4.5 sacks ranked tied for 6th in the conference in 2020. The Gophers need a better pass rush, and Mafe’s their best chance at making it happen.

18. Keeanu Benton, DL, Wisconsin

The Badgers should be the favorite to with the B1G West again this season. Benton is poised for a breakout year after cracking the starting lineup as a true freshman in 2019 and starting 5 of Wisconsin’s 7 games last year.

17. Brandon Smith, LB, Penn State

Smith started all 9 of the Nittany Lions’ contests last year as a true sophomore. His 8 tackles for loss tied for 11th in the B1G.

16. Chris Bergin, LB, Northwestern

He’s one of the top returners from last year’s prolific defense that carried the Wildcats to their 2nd B1G title game in 3 seasons. Bergin is the league’s No. 2 returning tackler and will be relied upon as several younger defenders get up to speed for coach Pat Fitzgerald.

15. Sevyn Banks, CB, Ohio State

Banks appears on watch lists for both the Jim Thorpe Award for the nation’s top defensive back and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, presented annually to the country’s top defensive player. Banks leads a star-studded secondary in 2021.

14. Olakunle Fatukasi, LB, Rutgers

The other side of Rutgers’ two-headed monster at linebacker. Fatukasi led the conference in tackles and ranked 2nd in tackles for loss in 2020. A do-it-all linebacker with plenty of promise for both this season and the next level.

13. Ben Stille, DE, Nebraska

One of several “super seniors” who have Big Red thinking big gains on defense this fall. Stille is Pro Football Focus’ No. 8 returning interior defensive lineman after switching from end to tackle last season.

12. Jake Hansen, LB, Illinois

Hansen doesn’t get enough credit for his exploits. Unless, that is, you’re talking to the guys who have to try to block him. Multiple B1G offensive linemen have mentioned he’s one of the league’s toughest linebackers to contain. Hansen led FBS in takeaways from 2019-20.

11. Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State

A name on all kinds of preseason watch lists who represented himself well at B1G Media Days. Harrison’s 9.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks are tops on the team during his career.

10. Jack Sanborn, LB, Wisconsin

It wouldn’t be a top-25 list without a Badgers ‘backer, would it? Sanborn’s one of the best in the country. PFF ranks him the nation’s No. 7 linebacker heading into 2021.

9. Tyreke Smith, DE, Ohio State

It took a little longer than expected for the 2018 top-35 recruit to blossom. But when he did, Smith did it big. Per PFF, he posted a 25.3-percent pass-rushing win rate (fourth in the FBS) and a 22.3-percent pressure rate generated (second in the FBS).

8. Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State

We may be hearing Brisker’s name on many an NFL broadcast for years to come. The 6-foot-1, 204-pounder oozes big-league potential, starting with his 6 pass breakups and 57 tackles last season.

7. JoJo Domann, Nebraska

Domann is somewhat of a unicorn. He can cover, rush the passer and tackle. The son of an NFL agent, he has a bright future but felt he had unfinished business and decided to return to Lincoln for a 6th year.

6. Micah McFadden, LB, Indiana

The B1G is a treasure trove of solid linebackers once again, and McFadden’s name shouldn’t get lost in the melee. He led the league with 6 sacks last year and earned first-team all-Big Ten honors. The Hoosiers’ defense could be scary good this fall.

5. George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue

A true junior who already seems like he’s been around for ages. That’s what happens when you record 7.5 sacks as a freshman. There’s added zest for Karlaftis, who missed a good chunk of last season because of injury and COVID-19.

4. Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan

Hutchinson was a stud before injury cut short his already-pared-down 2020 season. He’s in position to be one of the nation’s best defensive ends this fall.

3. Tiawan Mullen, CB, Indiana

One of those cats who probably could’ve gone to the NFL Draft last year but came back to run it back for Tom Allen. Mullen, simply put, is one of the best defensive backs in the country …

2. Brandon Joseph, S, Northwestern

… and so is Joseph, who’s easily the top returner for a somewhat-depleted Wildcats team. Fitz’s group might take a step back, but Joseph will be a joy to watch.

1. Haskell Garrett, DL, Ohio State

Garrett had PFF’s No. 2 pass rush grade behind first-round pick Christian Barmore last season and PFF ranks the Las Vegas native its No. 1 returning interior defensive lineman. He’s a preseason All-American according to a swath of sources and could bring home serious hardware. If the Buckeyes return to the College Football Playoff, you can bet Garrett will be one of the top reasons why.