The bad news is it's still 97 days until the season kicks off. The good news? The Big Ten blog is here to help you pass the time with a weeklong series focusing on the conference's most indispensable players.
As a reminder, indispensable doesn’t necessarily mean best.
The goal is to identify players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they suffered an injury, were lost to suspension, kidnapped by Bigfoot, etc. Whether it’s from a particular player’s individual value or lack of depth at a position, we’re picking two guys from each team who fit the bill -- usually offense and defense, but not always.
Up next: Rutgers
WR Leonte Carroo: It's really not that difficult to gauge just how important Carroo is to this offense. Not only did he lead the conference last season in yards per catch (19.7 ypc), but he also finished second in yards (1,086) and third in touchdowns (10).
His value becomes especially evident when you compare his production to that of his teammates. Carroo had more than twice as many receptions as the No. 2 receiving target (Janarion Grant - 25 catches), and he had nearly three times as many yards as the runner-up in that category (Andrew Turzilli - 347 yards). Plus, he accounted for 45 percent of the Knights' passing touchdowns.
But feel free to ignore all those numbers. It basically comes down to this: Carroo was the big-play spark on this offense last season and, with a new quarterback, he'll be counted upon even more in 2015. The passing offense doesn't work without Carroo.
DT Darius Hamilton: At 255 pounds, he's not the biggest defensive tackle in the Big Ten. But he's a three-year starter, a team leader and Rutgers' top defensive lineman. He also led the Knights in 2014 with 11.5 tackles for loss and finished second with six sacks.
But he's even more indispensable this season because of the depth. His backup now appears to be Julian Pinnix-Odrick, who moved from defensive end in the spring and has never started a game in his career. That's obviously a big drop-off from Hamilton.
Granted, the defensive line struggled at times last season -- RU finished No. 106 nationally in rush defense (212.3 ypg) -- but those numbers would've been even worse without the undersized Hamilton. To improve upon those numbers, Hamilton needs to stay healthy -- which makes him an easy pick for this list.