As Nebraska moves into its third season in the Big Ten Conference, HuskerOnline.com will get you ready with ranking analysis pieces breaking down each position in the league. Today, we look at the safety position in the Big Ten heading into 2013.
1. Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State, 5-10, 210, Sr.
Michigan State senior Isaiah Lewis has started 27 consecutive games at safety for the Spartans and is coming off the best individual season of his career in 2012. Known for his physical play both in coverage and against the run (he was second on the team with 80 tackles last year), Lewis has established himself as one of the best playmakers in the Big Ten, as he's already returned two interceptions for touchdowns in his career.
2. Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern, 5-11, 205, Jr.
With a team-high 12 pass breakups last season, Northwestern junior Ibraheim Campbell became known as one of the most ball-hawking safeties in the conference. He also proved his worth in his run defense, racking up 89 tackles and forcing two fumbles to go along with two interceptions for the Wildcats. Just a junior this season, expectations for Campbell are soaring in Evanston for what could be to come over the next two years.
3. Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin, 6-2, 214, Sr.
The only returning starter in Wisconsin's secondary this season, senior Dezmen Southward is being counted on to lead the way for the back end of the Badgers' defense. Luckily, he seems more than up to the task. Southward was fourth on the team last year with 69 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, to go along with four pass breakups and an interception. Arguably the best overall athlete on UW's roster, Southward will also be looked to as one of the main leaders of the defense.
4. C.J. Barnett, Ohio State, 6-1, 203, Sr.
Senior C.J. Barnett is a three-year starter who is being counted on to step up as one of the primary leaders of Ohio State's defense this season. Known as one of the hardest hitting safeties in the Big Ten, Barnett has seen his all-around game improve every year. He matched his career highs in 2012 with two interceptions and six passes defended, and should once again be a force in the secondary for the Buckeyes.
5. Thomas Gordon, Michigan, 5-11, 208, Sr.
Few safeties in the Big Ten have bigger shoes to fill this season than Michigan senior Thomas Gordon, who will be charged with replacing three-time all-conference selection Jordan Kovacs as the leader of the secondary. Having played in 34 games with 26 starts, Gordon has all the experience to fill the role, but it's been his leadership this spring that has made him more valuable to the Wolverines than anything.