Now that spring practice is over, we're starting a new series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.
By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/eaten by a bear, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.
We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Let's start off, for no particular reason, with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
James Vandenberg, QB, Sr.
Well, yeah, this one is kind of obvious, as any starting quarterback would be. But it's also obvious that the Hawkeyes really need Vandenberg to be successful in 2012. There isn't much experience behind him, with redshirt freshman Jake Rudock, little-used senior John Wienke and junior-college transfer Cody Sokol filling out the depth chart.
Vandenberg enters the season as the Big Ten's most accomplished pocket passer, having thrown for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns in his first full year of starting. There's a good chance that new offensive coordinator Greg Davis will lean heavily on the passing game this season, with a lack of experience at running back and some new pieces on the offensive line. That makes Vandenberg about as indispensable as they come.
Steve Bigach, DT, Sr.
Here's an example where indispensable doesn't necessarily equal best. You could make strong cases for linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey and cornerback Micah Hyde being the best players on Iowa's defense. But they play positions where the Hawkeyes actually have some experienced depth. That's not the case on the defensive line, where Bigach is the only player with significant starting history.
The senior started five games a year ago and will be counted on to help lead a frightfully young group of tackles and ends. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said some of the kids up front made progress this spring, but they're still mostly inconsistent. Is Bigach an all-conference type of performer? Probably not. But he is indispensable at a position with major question marks for Iowa.