There are few things more cruel in college sports than an injury which takes away an entire season.
Players work and train year-round for the right to suit up on a dozen or so Saturdays in the fall. So it's no fun when those games are taken away and the year turns into rehab drudgery.
The good news is, a season-ending injury is sometimes just a bump in the road. Here are some guys who missed all of the 2015 season but could make an impact in the Big Ten in 2016:
Ohio State WR Noah Brown: The Buckeyes were raving about Brown's potential all spring and summer last year. But less than a week before the season opener, Brown broke his left leg during practice. He's practicing this spring, albeit not at full speed, and could be a contributor this season as Ohio State looks for some playmakers at wideout.
Michigan State LB Ed Davis: Spartans coaches expected a huge senior year out of Davis, whom they described as their most productive linebacker in 2014. But Davis suffered a season-ending knee injury on the first day of full-pad workouts in fall camp. He must graduate this spring before applying for a sixth year, and Michigan State is confident that will happen. He could turn an already very good linebacker corps into a potentially great one.
Illinois WR Mikey Dudek: A mostly unheralded recruit, Dudek was one of the great freshman success stories of 2014 when he caught 76 passes for 1,038 yards. A torn ACL in spring practice last year kept him from following that up in 2015, as he wisely decided against rushing back to the field. Now a year removed from the injury, Dudek has looked good early on in spring practice for new coach Lovie Smith and could be a major weapon again this year.
Indiana WR J-Shun Harris: A quick slot receiver who made an impression as a freshman, Harris seemed primed for a big role on last year's Hoosiers. That is, until he tore his ACL early in summer workouts. Harris is practicing on a limited basis this spring, and Indiana could always use another athlete in its potent passing game when he gets fully healed.
Michigan DT Bryan Mone: The Wolverines were counting on Mone to be at least in the rotation at nose guard, as the 6-foot-4, 325-pounder showed serious potential as a true freshman in 2014 and during preseason practice. Then Mone broke his leg in August on a freak play. He was back to 100 percent this spring and should play a vital role on what will be a deep and imposing Michigan defensive front.
Here are a few other guys who played only briefly in 2015 who could be very important in 2016:
Michigan State CB Vayante Copeland: As a freshman last year, Copeland was already drawing comparisons to the standout Spartans corners who preceded him. But he suffered a scary neck injury in the Week 2 win over Oregon. It's great to see him back in pads this spring, and his return should strengthen the back end of the Michigan State defense.
Rutgers DT Darius Hamilton: The Scarlet Knights' team captain only managed 15 snaps last season and called it a year in September. Getting him back will be a huge boost for a defense that struggled to stop the run while he was sidelined.
Nebraska DB Charles Jackson: The Huskers senior can't buy a break. He took a redshirt in 2014 after injuring his knee in fall camp, then dealt with another year-ending knee injury in last year's opener. He's giving it one last go this spring, and he deserves better luck.
Minnesota S Damarius Travis: He was lost for the season after getting hurt in the opener against TCU, and that dented the Gophers defense. He should be a leader for another strong secondary in Minneapolis this fall.
Penn State LB Nyeem Wartman-White: Adding injury to insult, Wartman-White busted up his knee in the season-opening loss against Temple. He's being held out this spring but will be needed this season on a linebacker crew that lacks depth.