Ah we can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're no friends of mine
A grim appraiser of the B1G might divide the conference into two distinct groups: those teams with secondaries and those with some guys watching receivers catch footballs. Lately, it has seemed as though the B1G doesn't have many "mediocre" pass coverage units anymore. You either get a smothering, sure-tackling, ball-snagging back four, or you get Indiana's merry band of downfield spectators. Feast or famine beyond the linebackers.
Will this year be different? Probably not. The rich get richer and the poor get to enjoy New Year's Day with their families. Secondaries are like insurance companies: you don't hear too much about them until they screw the pooch. Household notoriety can be hard to come by in the land of deep third, but one sure way to get noticed is to get burned. With that sobering fact in mind, let's take a look at who will be returning as the last line of defense against seam routes, arm punts, and the dreaded Hail Mary.
Players to watch:
1. Jabrill Peppers. The erstwhile 5-star recruit and reputed Lothario hasn't been a letdown per se, but his performance thus far hasn't lived up to the stratospheric hype that followed him to Ann Arbor. Nonetheless, he's an extremely talented athlete and as he heads into his second season under Harbaugh he looks to be the frontrunner for the best safety in the league. Word is that he'll be the starting SS and slide into the nickel spot as needed.
2. Demetrious Cox and Montae Nicholson. Sparty may be the only team to return good depth at the safety position. Cox and Nicholson snagged six interceptions between them last year as part of a good-but-not-great unit. Add youngsters Grayson Miller and Khari Willis to the mix, and MSU looks like the team with the best deep cover squad in the conference.
3. Cameron Burrows. One of the few returning Buckeye names that might be familiar to fans, Burrows' 2015 season was ended by a foot injury. He's expected to anchor the safety spot ahead of a group of inexperienced but talented new faces. Replacing Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell will be a tall order.
Teams to watch:
Penn State returns two experienced players in Marcus Allen and Malik Golden. They're not big-name playmakers, but have both been part of a reliable and solid PSU defense in the past.
Wisconsin lost most of its defensive backfield talent. With Sojourn Shelton remaining at CB, they'll have some experience to lean on as D'Cota Dixon and Arrington Farrar find their legs, and Leo Musso looks to regain a starting spot. That's a good thing for a Badger team that lost Dave Aranda to LSU at the same time they lose Tanner McEvoy and Michael Caputo.
Iowa is in a similar spot, with Desmond King providing experience at CB while Miles Taylor returns at safety. Brandon Snyder, a former walk-on, will fill the other deep spot.
Nebraska will be in solid shape, returning Nate Gerry and Aaron Williams. Jesse Collins notes that the former really came on in the second half of the season after gaining experience in the quarters cover scheme. Hopefully they'll be in good enough form to prevent something like, say, a Hail Mary in the opener.
The Battle for Worst:
Indiana and Maryland look to be tied for the least experienced, least capable units returning. While that's not a surprise to anyone, it would be revolutionary for Indiana's prospects to gain something of a pass defense. The team's outstanding offense was hampered by a league-worst pass defense last season, ultimately damning their potential for a big season. Maryland is still in horrible shape, according to DJ. I can't argue with the expert. I won't put Rutgers down here because even with little talent in the hopper, Chris Ash knows coverages. He's their last, best hope.