I've set the standard at four or more interceptions for the season.
Five Big Ten players reached this milestone last year. Iowa safety Brett Greenwood led the league with five picks, while four players -- Iowa cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, Wisconsin cornerback Antonio Fenelus and Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson -- all finished with four. Nebraska safety Eric Hagg recorded a team-high five interceptions in 2010, while cornerback Alfonzo Dennard finished with four.
Here are the Big Ten's top pick-4 candidates in 2011:
1. Iowa CB/S Micah Hyde: All Hyde does is make plays, as he showed with an electrifying pick-six in the Insight Bowl as the game seemed to be slipping away from Iowa. Hyde worked at safety for much of the spring and could move into an even larger playmaking role as Greenwood and Tyler Sash both depart. I think teams will throw away from Prater, giving Hyde more chances for picks.
2. Michigan State S Trenton Robinson: The MAP motto -- Make A Play -- fueled Michigan State's secondary in 2010, and the group shouldn't see much of a drop-off this year. Johnny Adams is ready to move into Chris L. Rucker's role as a shut-down corner, and the veteran Robinson once again should have interception opportunities from the safety position.
3. At least one of Wisconsin's DBs: Like Michigan State, Wisconsin's secondary took a significant step forward from a playmaking standpoint in 2010. Fenelus remains a candidate to rack up interceptions, but I also like the potential from safety Aaron Henry and cornerback Devin Smith. Henry recorded two picks last fall, while Smith made a ton of plays this spring.
4. Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard: Dennard could force teams to throw elsewhere as he moves into the Prince Amukamara shut-down corner role. But as he showed last season, he can make plays on the ball and should have some interception opportunities along the way. I also could see a big interception season for Nebraska's other defensive backs like cornerback Ciante Evans and safety P.J. Smith, who had three picks last season.
5. Iowa CB Shaun Prater: Like Dennard, I won't be surprised if Prater sees fewer passes thrown in his direction this fall. It could be a lot like Amari Spievey in 2009. But Prater is a guy who will make the most of his opportunities and could record some interceptions while defending opponents' top receivers.
6. Penn State S Nick Sukay and/or CB D'Anton Lynn: Both players finished with three interceptions last fall and could increase their total this year. Sukay might be the better bet as he racked up three picks in only six games in 2010. If he can stay healthy, the senior should be one of the league's top safeties. Lynn also took a significant step forward in 2010 and should contend for All-Big Ten honors.
7. Purdue CB Ricardo Allen: Here's another example of a guy who might scare away opposing quarterbacks from throwing the ball his way. Allen certainly made teams pay in 2010, recording two interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He's one of the most aggressive young corners I've seen in the Big Ten for some time, so he should have some INT chances this fall.
8. Ohio State S Tyler Moeller: Several Buckeyes defensive backs are candidates, but I really like Moeller's potential to rack up interceptions this fall. He had a pick and two forced fumbles in four-plus games in 2010 before an injury ended his season. Moeller is a natural playmaker in a defense that has become increasingly opportunistic the last three seasons.
Also keep an eye on these players:
Northwestern S Brian Peters and CB Jordan Mabin
Ohio State CB Travis Howard
Nebraska S P.J. Smith
Michigan CBs Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd
Minnesota S Kim Royston
Indiana S Greg Heban
I'll continue the series Friday with a look at the Big Ten's top touchdown scorers (15+).