May is a good time of the year to look forward to football.
Or you can look back. Way back. This year marks the Big Ten's 120th anniversary, so we cracked open the history books and took a look back at some of the conference's best players. This week, we're ranking the top 5 all-time B1G players at each position. Every day, we'll give you an offensive position and a defensive position.
This is not to serve as a judgment on NFL success or failure. It’s based entirely on each player’s college career and how it was viewed in his respective time period.
And we’re considering all players who came from teams currently in the Big Ten. In other words, no need to remind us that Maryland played in a different league in 1970.
The series began with the quarterbacks.
Up next are the defensive ends.
1. Bubba Smith, Michigan State, 1964-66: Moses Hightower from the “Police Academy” movies, Smith packed a huge punch in real life, too. Out of Orange, Texas, he dreamed of wearing the burnt orange of the Longhorns, but segregation sent him north to play for Duffy Daugherty -- and won Smith a spot in MSU lore. He earned All-America honors in 1965 and 1966 and inspired the chant, “Kill, Bubba, Kill,” from the fans in East Lansing. At 6-foot-7 and more than 250 pounds, he was a man among boys in the college game, starring in the iconic 1966, 10-10 tie between the Spartans and Notre Dame. Smith’s No. 95 was retired in 2006, five years before his death at age 66.
2. Paul Robeson, Rutgers, 1915-18: The third African-American student to enroll at Rutgers College, Robeson overcame prejudice and violence to star for the Scarlet Knights. He was benched as a sophomore when Washington and Lee University refused to play against a team with a black player. Robeson overcame the racism to dominate in his final two seasons and lead Rutgers as a two-way standout. He competed in four sports at the school and was elected by his classmates as valedictorian.
3. Courtney Brown, Penn State, 1996-99: A three-year starter for Joe Paterno, Brown set school records at Penn State with 33 career sacks -- then an NCAA record -- and 70 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. He was a consensus All-American in 1999, named the Big Ten defensive player of the year and finished with 29 tackles for loss as a senior before going No. 1 overall in the NFL draft. Notably, Brown was an athletic freak, helping usher in an era of monstrous players at his position after he ran a 4.52-second 40-yard dash at 6-foot-4 and 271 pounds.
4. Grant Wistrom, Nebraska, 1994-97: Twice the Big 12 defensive player of the year, Wistrom emerged as a true freshman on Tom Osborne’s first national championship team. His presence as an anchor of the defensive line helped the Cornhuskers roll to 49 victories in 51 games, winning three titles in his four years. Wistrom won the Lombardi Award as a senior and closed his career with 58.5 tackles for loss, Nebraska’s all-time leader in the category. He also collected 26.5 sacks, and his jersey was retired by the school in 1998.
5. Joey Bosa, Ohio State, 2013-15: History tells us time is often required to appreciate and understand greatness. Not in the case of Bosa, whose in-your-face dominance needs no waiting period to recognize. Remember his game-ending sack against Penn State in 2014 as Bosa trucked his way through the backfield? That kind of brute force earned All-America honors for Bosa as a sophomore and junior. He was twice named the Big Ten defensive lineman of the year and landed third overall last month in the NFL draft.
Honorable mention: Simeon Rice, Illinois; Dave Robinson, Penn State; Mike Vrabel, Ohio State; Lamarr Woodley, Michigan; Neil Snow, Michigan; Brandon Graham, Michigan; Tom Burke, Wisconsin; Dave Schreiner, Wisconsin.