Big Ten’s best defenses come out of spring in rebuild mode

Wisconsin Badgers Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard
WISC-TV/Channel3000

Coordinator changes and heavy player personnel losses made it a spring of uncertainty for the top Big Ten defenses.

Start with Wisconsin, which has been in the national top five in total defense three straight years and lower than that just twice since 2014. The Badgers must replace eight of their top 10 tacklers.

Penn State, in the top 10 in scoring defense three of the last five seasons, has a new coordinator in Manny Diaz. The former Miami coach spent the spring fitting pieces together to compensate for the loss of as many as six players who could be drafted.

Defending conference champion Michigan, coming off its first College Football Playoff appearance, hired Jesse Minter as its coordinator after Mike Macdonald left after one year for the Baltimore Ravens. Minter must replace seven starters, including possible No. 1 draft pick Aidan Hutchinson.

Ohio State also is retooling its defense after it got exposed early last season against Oregon and again in a 42-27 loss to Michigan. Coordinator Kerry Coombs was fired and Jim Knowles, who excelled as Oklahoma State’s coordinator, was hired and began installing a 4-2-5 scheme.