Last week, we took a look at five Big Ten offensive players to watch in 2014. Today, we turn to the defense.
We're limiting ourselves to five players on each side of the ball. We're looking for players who will take that next step into greatness, like Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun (who made this list a year ago). Players who earned first- or second-team All-Big Ten honors from either the coaches or the media were not eligible for this list. We're focusing instead on those who can make a big leap.
Away we go, in alphabetical order ...
Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State: We could have put Joey Bosa on this list, but that would have been too easy. Bell got his first start in the Discover Orange Bowl and showed off his playmaking ability with a spectacular interception of Clemson's Tajh Boyd near his own end zone. He probably should have played more as a true freshman but has a chance to really break out as a sophomore in a revamped Buckeyes secondary.
Desmond King, CB, Iowa: He played well this season as a rookie starter for the Hawkeyes and stood out in the Outback Bowl against LSU's pair of star receivers. In fact, the Tigers' Odell Beckham Jr. told the Des Moines Register that "I feel as if the sky is the limit for him."
Ifeadi Odenigbo, DE, Northwestern: He was one of the Wildcats' top-rated recruits ever when he signed in 2012, and Odenigbo made his first impact this year as a third-down pass-rushing specialist. He finished second on the team with 5.5 sacks. The redshirt sophomore should have more opportunities for playing time with Tyler Scott graduating, though Northwestern still has Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson at defensive end.
Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska: The future is bright for the Huskers' young defense, and we strongly considered linebacker Michael Rose, safety Corey Cooper and others here. But there aren't a lot of 325-pound defensive tackles with major upside floating around, and that's what Valentine is. He showed flashes during his redshirt freshman campaign and could develop into a force on that defensive line for Bo Pelini.
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State: Waynes is hardly an unknown. He started as a sophomore in the Spartans' No-Fly Zone secondary and was honorable mention All-Big Ten. He still has room to get even better, though, and with Darqueze Dennard moving on to the NFL, he'll become the leader of the cornerbacks group. Heck, the way Michigan State has produced defensive studs, we could have made this entire list out of Spartans, as guys like Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath, Ed Davis and Riley Bullough all have major potential.