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CBSSports.com 2012 Preseason All-Big Ten Team

By Tom Fornelli | College Football Writer
Montee Ball looks to bring the Heisman Trophy back to the Big Ten and Wisconsin. (US Presswire)

With the season quickly approaching CBSSports.com's Eye On College Football Blog unveils its All-Conference Teams. Today we take a look at the Big Ten.

OFFENSE

Quarterback

Denard Robinson, Michigan - The Big Ten is changing whether you want to believe it or not. To realize this, all you have to do is look at the quarterbacks in the conference. Gone are the game-manager types who have all the agility of a statue, and in their place are exciting dual-threat quarterbacks. None of whom are more electric than Michigan's Denard Robinson. Of returning starters at the quarterback position in the Big Ten, Robinson had the highest pass efficiency in 2011 at 139.7, and he still has those legs of his. Denard has already helped lead Michigan to BCS glory, and now he'd like a Big Ten title and maybe even a Heisman Trophy before he leaves Ann Arbor.

Also considered: A few more dual threat quarterbacks like Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase deserve consideration, but none have accomplished nearly as much as Robinson.

Running Backs

Montee Ball, Wisconsin - In most seasons, 2,229 total yards and 39 total touchdowns will get a guy a Heisman Trophy. In 2011 it was only able to get Ball a trip to New York for the ceremony. Still, there's no doubt that Ball is the gold standard when it comes to Big Ten running backs, and the 5-foot-11 212-pound running back will once again be disappearing behind Wisconsin's mammoth line before bursting free again in 2012. Hard as it is to believe, with Russell Wilson no longer in Madison, Ball may be asked to do even more this season. If any back is capable of doing that, though, it's Ball.

Rex Burkhead, Nebraska - Burkhead didn't have a lot of trouble making the transition from running against Big 12 defenses to Big Ten defenses in 2011. The Nebraska running back rushed for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011 while being the most reliable back in the conference not named Montee Ball.

Also considered: As always, there are plenty of good running backs in the Big Ten. Michigan's Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, Ohio State's Jordan Hall, Penn State's Silas Redd, Purdue's Ralph Bolden and Indiana's Stephen Houston are just a few.

Wide Receivers

Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin - Eight of the top ten Big Ten receivers in 2011 are gone. Of those who did return, none had better numbers than Jared Abbrederis last season. Abbrederis finished 2011 with 55 receptions for 933 yards and 8 touchdowns. Now that Nick Toon has moved on and Abbrederis is the clear-cut number one in Madison, those numbers will likely improve in 2012.

Keenan Davis, Iowa - Like Abbrederis, Keenan Davis spent the 2011 season as a second option in the passing attack but will take on a much larger role in 2012. Davis had 50 receptions for 713 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2011, but those numbers will increase as he replaces Marvin McNutt in the Hawkeyes offense.

Antavian Edison, Purdue - Purdue is looking to improve on a 7-6 record in 2011 and take advantage of a Leaders Division that is certainly a lot more open now thanks to NCAA penalties against Ohio State and Penn State. Antavian Edison could play a large role in how far Purdue gets. The senior finished 2011 with 44 receptions for 584 yards and 3 touchdowns and will be looking to take that next step in 2012.

Also considered: Michigan's Roy Roundtree will be looking to bounce back from a down season in 2011. Big Ten fans should also keep their eyes on Nebraska's Kenny Bell, Northwestern's Demetrius Fields, Indiana's Kofi Hughes and the Ohio State duo of Devin Smith and Corey Brown.

Tight End

Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State - Stoneburner's overall numbers from 2011 don't jump out at you, as he had only 14 receptions for 193 yards. However, when you look closer, you notice where Stoneburner's real value to the Ohio State offense was. Of those 14 catches, 7 of them were for touchdowns, giving Stoneburner 3 more touchdowns than any other receiver on the Ohio State roster. His role will likely expand now that Urban Meyer is in Columbus.

Also considered: While Stoneburner deserves the nod, this spot could just as easily gone to Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen, Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz, or Michigan State's Dion Sims.

Offensive Tackles

Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin - Wagner is a big part -- literally, he's 6-foot-6 and 322 pounds -- of a Wisconsin offensive line that could wind up as the best in the conference again this year. At left tackle he was not only responsible for opening holes for Montee Ball all of last season, but also protecting the blind side of Russell Wilson. With monsters like this in charge of making the Wisconsin offense go it's no wonder the Badgers scored over 44 points a game last season.

Taylor Lewan, Michigan - Lewan was second team All-Big Ten in 2011 as a sophomore and the left tackle will only improve in 2012. He's the best lineman on one of the conference's best offensive lines, and if his ability on the football field isn't enough to put him on this team, then surely the fact he gets around campus on a tandem bicycle is.

Also considered: There are plenty of talented bookends in the Big Ten that deserved consideration. We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Ohio State's Jack Mewhort, Michigan State's Fou Fonoti, and Dan France or Northwestern's Patrick Ward.

Offensive Guards

Chris McDonald, Michigan State - The Spartans will have a new quarterback in Andrew Maxwell this season, and he'd no doubt appreciate some good pass blocking and a strong run game. Luckily for Maxwell he has lineman like Chris McDonald in front of him that can give him both.

Spencer Long, Nebraska - We've already gone over the accomplishments of Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead, and Rex would be the first to tell you that Spencer Long played a large role in his success last season. While he wasn't alone, Long was a big reason that the Cornhuskers finished 2011 averaging 217.2 yards per game on the ground.

Also considered: While Northwestern's offensive line struggled pass-blocking last season, Brian Mulroe proved more than capable as a run blocker. The same can be said for Ohio State's Andrew Norwell. Michigan's Patrick Omameh, Illinois' Hugh Thornton and Purdue's Peters Drey also deserve consideration.

Center

Travis Frederick, Wisconsin - There are plenty of good centers in the Big Ten, but it's hard to find one better than the 6-foot-4 328-pound landmass that is Wisconsin junior Travis Frederick. He was named to the All-Big Ten second team as a sophomore in 2011, and he's one of only two returning starters on the line along with tackle Ricky Wagner.

Also considered: While centers generally toil in anonymity, it's hard not to notice the work of Illinois' Graham Pocic and Iowa's James Ferentz. Penn State's Matt Stankiewitch has a lot of work in front of him as the only returning starter on Penn State's offensive line. Travis Jackson was a Freshman All-American last season for Michigan State, and he has the potential to be great.

DEFENSE

Defensive Ends

William Gholston, Michigan State - William Gholston is a monster and he's one that may be on the brink of becoming a household name in 2012. He finished the season with 70 tackles with 5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 3 quarterback hurries and 2 passes broken up. Impressive numbers, for sure, but numbers that look even more impressive when you realize Gholston was only a sophomore in 2011. When you take talent like Gholston has and combine it with a mean streak you get special things from a defensive end.

Michael Buchanan, Illinois - Last season Michael Buchanan played in the shadow of Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, as Mercilus seemingly came out of no where to lead the Big Ten in sacks. It seemed many didn't notice the damage Buchanan was doing on the other side of the defensive line, as he finished the year with 7.5 sacks and 64 tackles. Buchanan also had 4 quarterback hurries, broke up a pass and forced a fumble. If he has the same type of season in 2012 more people will notice.

Also considered: Want to know why there are so many talented offensive tackles in the Big Ten? Well, aside from Gholston and Buchanan there are also defensive ends like Ohio State's John Simon, Michigan State's Marcus Rush, Michigan's Craig Roh, Nebraska's Cameron Meredith and Penn State's Sean Stanley in the Big Ten. That's why.

Defensive Tackles

Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State - Like William Gholston, Johnathan Hankins had a big season for the Buckeyes in 2011 and did so as only a sophomore. Now he's a year older and he's even stronger. A scary proposition considering that he's 6-foot-3 and 317 pounds. Hankins had 67 tackles last season and will make like tough on offenses that try to run up the middle against the Ohio State defense. He can also help out in the pass rush, as he finished the 2011 season with 3 sacks.

Akeem Spence, Illinois - Spence is also coming off a strong sophomore campaign, and like teammate Michael Buchanan, he'll get a lot more attention this season now that Whitney Mercilus is gone. He was a key component of an Illinois defense that was one of the best in the nation last season (15th in scoring defense, 7th in total) and will look to improve on a year in which he had 69 tackles from the defensive tackle position.

Also considered: It was hard leaving Purdue's Kawann Short off the first team, but just because he didn't make it doesn't mean he isn't a name that offensive coordinators will have on their mind quite a bit this season. His teammate Bruce Gaston deserved consideration along with Penn State's Jordan Hill, Nebraska's Baker Steinkuhler and Indiana's Adam Peplogle.

Linebackers

Mike Taylor, Wisconsin - If you just kept your eyes on Wisconsin's Mike Taylor throughout a game he would lead you right to the ball over and over again. He led the Big Ten in tackles last season with 150 tackles making over 10 tackles a game. He can do it all, too, as he had 2 sacks for the Badgers last season as well as 2 interceptions. In other words, he makes life difficult for an offense.

Chris Borland, Wisconsin - The Badgers are blessed to have Mike Taylor in their linebacking corps, but having Chris Borland as well just isn't fair. Taylor may have led the Big Ten in tackles last season, but Mr. Borland finished second with 143 tackles of his own. Like Taylor, Borland also had 2 interceptions in 2011, but he's more of a disruptive force in the backfield as he had 2.5 sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss last season.

Jonathan Brown, Illinois - As talented as Illinois' defense is, Brown may be the crown jewel of the unit. He led the team with 108 tackles last season and that includes 6 sacks and another 19.5 tackles for a loss. Brown also had an interception, broke up 4 passes and forced a fumble. Oh, and did we mention he did all this as a sophomore?

Denicos Allen, Michigan State - The Spartans may have the most talented linebacking corps in the conference. Allen was a big reason why as he was a pass-rushing demon for the Spartans, finishing the year with 11 sacks --only Whitney Mercilus had more in the Big Ten last season -- and another 7 quarterback hurries. Like teammate William Gholston and fellow linebacker Max Bullough, Denicos was only a sophomore last season. So, yeah, that Michigan State defense is going to be a bit scary in 2012.

Also considered: The previously mentioned Max Bullough definitely deserved a spot on the first team, but there are just so many talented linebackers in this conference. Look at the five names we've already mentioned and then consider that we still didn't say anything about Penn State's Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, Iowa's James Morris, Michigan's Kenny Demens or Nebraska's Will Compton. That is a whole lot of talent.

Cornerbacks

Johnny Adams, Michigan State - Adams' stats don't really stand out compared to some other Big Ten cornerbacks, but there's a reason for it. Quarterbacks aren't willing to test him all that often. When they did last year Johnny was able to break up 6 passes and intercept another 3. Also, since he's part of Michigan State's defense, that means he's also able to rush the passer. Which is why he finished 2011 with 3 sacks and 4 quarterback hurries.

Micah Hyde, Iowa - Iowa's pass defense wasn't great in 2011, but that was due more to a pass rush that didn't produce as much pressure as in the past than it was Micah Hyde. Hyde was named to the All-Big Ten second team last season, and for good reason. He not only had 72 tackles from the cornerback position, but he also had 3 interceptions and broke up another 8 passes.

Also considered: Our apologies to Michigan's J.T. Floyd, Purdue's Ricardo Allen, Illinois' Terry Hawthorne, Ohio State's Bradley Roby, Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. You're all wonderful cornerbacks who will no doubt prove us wrong for leaving you off this team.

Safeties

C.J. Barnett, Ohio State - It's not always a good thing for a team when a safety leads your defense in tackles, but it didn't seem to hurt Ohio State's defense all that much in 2011. Barnett finished the year with 75 tackles, 2 interceptions and 6 passes broken up, proving that he's just as adept at stepping forward to stop the run as he is in coverage.

Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern - Speaking of safeties who happen to be tackling machines, here's Northwestern's Ibraheim Campbell. The Northwestern defense was not one of the better units in the Big Ten last season, but Ibraheim did all he could to try and make it one. He finished his freshman season -- yes, that's right, freshman -- with 100 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 passes broken up. What will he do for his sophomore encore?

Also considered: When it comes to your last line of defense, you can do a lot worse than Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis, Michigan's Jordan Kovacs, Wisconsin's Shelton Johnson or Nebraska's Daimion Stafford.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker

Brett Maher, Nebraska - Maher was the Big Ten Kicker of the Year in 2011 and for good reason. He converted 19 of his 23 field goal attempts and was 16-for-17 on field goals under 50 yards. He was also 43-for-44 on extra point attempts. It's nice for any offense to know it has a kicker as reliable as Maher to rely on.

Also considered: Kickers are football players too, no matter what anybody tells you, and Michigan State's Dan Conroy and Ohio State's Drew Basil are two other kickers who deserve your respect.

Punter

Brett Maher, Nebraska - Wait a second, wasn't Brett Maher the Kicker of the Year last season? He sure was, and he was also the Big Ten's Punter of the Year averaging 44.5 yards per punt and putting 25 punts inside his opponents' 20-yard line. So if he can't kick the field goal for you, he can bury your opponent with a punt. And all for only one scholarship!

Also considered: Purdue's Cody Webster and Ohio State's Ben Buchanan are also pretty good at kicking an oblong ball through the air for incredibly long distances.

Kick Returner

Raheem Mostert, Purdue - A receiver by trade, Mostert's biggest impact was felt on special teams last season. The Boilermaker led the Big Ten with an average of 33.5 yards per return last season and he also took one to the house.

Also considered: Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah also proved to be dangerous on kick returns last season, averaging 29.3 yards per return.

Punt Returner

Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin - Abbrederis makes the team twice after averaging 15.8 yards on his 20 punt returns with the Badgers last season. He returned one of those punts for a touchdown as well.

Also considered : Michigan's Jeremy Gallon is a big play waiting to happen on punt returns, and Northwestern's Venric Mark showed a lot of potential on his 8 punt returns for the Wildcats last season.

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