The 2000s saw plenty of great players in the Big Ten. One, in fact, won the Heisman: Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith (2006), who arguably is the top player from the 2000s. Yesterday, I looked at the best of the best offensive players in the Big Ten since the calendar flipped to 2000. Next up: Defense.
Before I get to the list, I have a couple rules: 1. A player had to play at least two seasons to be considered; 2. Nebraska players prior to 2011 are not eligible.
[ RELATED: See Dienhart’s All-Big Ten Offense since 2000 ]
L: Brandon Graham, Michigan (2006-09). He paced the Big Ten with 20 TFLs in 2008 and led the country with 26 in 2009, developing into one of the nation’s top disrupters.
L: Shaun Phillips, Purdue (2000-03). He became one of the Boilermakers’ top ends ever, notching 60.5 TFLs with a school-record 33.5 sacks in his career. He helped the 2003 defense rank No. 1 in the Big Ten.
L: Will Smith, Ohio State (2000-03). An All-American in 2003, Smith was a force off the edge with 22 career sacks and 44.5 TFLs.
L: Vernon Gholston, Ohio State (2004-07). Yes, he was a colossal bust in the NFL. But Gholston was a beast in Columbus, collecting 30.5 TFLs and 21.5 sacks.
LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08). The three-time All-American paced the team in tackles for three seasons and helped push the Buckeyes to the BCS title game in 2006 and 2007.
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State (2007-10). The tackling machine left East Lansing with 465 stops and was just the second player to pace the Spartans in tackles for three seasons.
LB: Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06). He won the Butkus Award in 2005 and the Bednarik Award in 2005 and ’06 en route to leaving school as the school’s all-time leading tackler. Enough said.
DB: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State (2005-08). A premier cover man, Jenkins won the 2008 Thorpe Award and finished his career with 11 picks and 196 stops.
DB: Bob Sanders, Iowa (2000-03). The quintessential dynamo, Sanders tallied 348 career tackles and paced the country in forced fumbles (six) in 2003. He was a linebacker masquerading as a safety.
DB: Jim Leonhard, Wisconsin (2001-04). The former walk-on notched 21 interceptions, which tied Jamar Fletcher for the most in school history. He also tallied 281 career tackles. A classic overachiever.
DB: Marlin Jackson, Michigan (2001-04). A first-team All-American in 2004, Jackson finished with 195 career tackles, 13 tackles for loss and nine interceptions. And his 34 passes defensed ranked second in school annals.
P: Travis Dorsch, Purdue (1998-2001). The Ray Guy Award winner as a senior, Dorsch set myriad records; among them, career scoring (355 points), career field goals (69), and career punting average (48.4). He became the first Big Ten player to be named as a first-team all-conference selection as a punter and a kicker.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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