FILE - In this Oct. 31, 2015, file photo, Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel (47) and Joe Schobert celebrate after Biegel sacked Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano during an NCAA college football game in Madison, Wis. Biegel was one of the best linebackers
Andy Manis, File
August 04, 2016

Ohio State reminded us all last season that sometimes what seems like a good problem is really just a problem.

There is no doubt who the quarterback of the Buckeyes will be to start this season. Barring injury, J.T. Barrett is the man and considering all the retooling being done around him, he might just be the most important player in the conference.

Unless it's the new quarterbacks for Ohio State's top two rivals. Defending conference champion Michigan State and Michigan will be breaking in starters. How quickly they bring stability to the position will have a major impact on the playoff hopes of both the Spartans and Wolverines.

Those are the givens, but looking beyond the quarterbacks (in most cases) there are other players who will play pivotal roles for their Big Ten teams this season. Here are six:


Armstrong has not been at Nebraska since Bill Callahan was coach, but it sure does feel that way for the senior who has been starting since midway through his redshirt freshman season. Armstrong's first season in Mike Riley's offense produced the expected ups and down. He passed for 3,030 yards and 22 touchdowns and ran 400 yards and seven scores. He also completed a substandard 55 percent and tossed 16 interceptions. Cut down on the picks and boost that percentage above 60 and the Cornhuskers could be back in the Big Ten title game.


The senior was one of the best linebackers in the country last season, teaming with Joe Schobert to form a devastating pass-rush combo. They combined for 17 1/2 sacks and 23 hurries. Schobert is gone, meaning offenses can pay more attention to Biegel. How will he respond?


The 310-pound senior provides some pass rush in the middle and helps free up leading tackler Josey Jewell. Even with an All-America at cornerback in Desmond King, Johnson has potential to be the best player on a solid defense.


The Nittany Lions' offensive line had more depth and talent last season, but still not enough production. A healthy Nelson locking down left tackle and providing protection for whoever plays quarterback is paramount. Penn State has some weapons at receiver and running back. The line has to give them a chance to flourish.


Michigan State's new starting quarterback will be looking for a new No. 1 receiver to replace all-conference performer Aaron Burbridge, who had more catches and yards than the Spartans' second- and third-leading receivers combined. Shelton was No. 3 with 43 catches for 503 yards. There are talented youngsters on the roster, but Shelton is the leader.


The promising sophomore missed all of last season with a knee injury. He returns to find plenty of carries waiting for him now that Ezekiel Elliott is in the NFL and Bri'onte Dunn was dismissed from the team. It's probably too much to ask Weber to be the all-around player Elliott was for the Buckeyes, but he needs to be go-to No. 1 back.



Six more pivotal players: Trey Edmunds, RB, Maryland; Darius Hamilton, DL, Rutgers; Austin Carr, WR, Northwestern; Shannon Brooks, RB, Minnesota; Hardy Nickerson, LB, Illinois; Jonathan Crawford, S, Indiana.


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