The Big Ten has long been defined by impressive line play on both sides of the ball, and this year's recruiting efforts certainly fit that theme. Of course, it's hardly a surprise to see the league's top programs loading up on defensive ends when they have to contain dual-threat quarterbacks of the caliber of Denard Robinson or Taylor Martinez on a weekly basis.
Of all the outstanding freshmen heading to the Big Ten in 2012, this quintet represents the best of the bunch:
Noah Spence, Ohio State
Urban Meyer made his name as an offensive coach, but it's the defense that's getting the biggest upgrade in Meyer's first Buckeye recruiting class. Noah Spence is as good a pass rusher as any freshman in the nation, and pairing him at defensive end with senior John Simon will make Ohio State an intimidating test for any opposing quarterback.
Spence isn't just good for a defensive end: he's ranked as the nation's fourth-best overall recruit by ESPNU, and he's a good bet to put up numbers on a par with his considerable hype.
Kyle Kalis, Michigan
No recruit in this year's class was sweeter to land for Wolverine fans than Kyle Kalis, who decommitted from hated Ohio State following Jim Tressel's resignation. It doesn't hurt that Kalis is one of the most imposing run blockers in this season's freshman class, with the versatility to play either tackle (where he was recruited) or guard.
At 6'5", 305 lbs, he already has promising size for a Big Ten lineman, and his advanced skill set has him competing for immediate playing time at left guard.
Ondre Pipkins, Michigan
Ondre Pipkins is a classic space-filling defensive tackle at 6'3", 320 lbs. He can make plays in the backfield if he's overlooked, but his specialty is occupying blockers to let the linebackers (such as talented classmate Joe Bolden) make things happen.
Pipkins, who appears to have recovered from last week's neck injury, isn't likely to beat out veteran Will Campbell as the starting nose tackle, but he'll be in the defensive line rotation and should make his presence felt off the bench.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, Northwestern
No Wildcat defender registered more than three sacks in 2011, and two of the players who shared that lead have graduated. In other words, there's plenty of room for a high-powered freshman pass rusher like Ifeadi Odenigbo to make an impact on next year's Northwestern front.
Odenigbo is on the light side for a defensive end at 6'3", 217 lbs, but his speed and explosiveness will make up for a lot, especially when it comes to getting to the quarterback.
Adolphus Washington, Ohio State
As if adding Noah Spence didn't already give the Buckeyes a world-beating pass rush, Urban Meyer also brings in another top-of-the-line defensive end. Adolphus Washington isn't as polished as Spence, but he's still ranked as high as No. 10 among all recruits in the country (by Scout.com).
Expect Washington to get plenty of snaps—and plenty of sacks—in the Buckeye defensive line rotation, even though he won't beat out John Simon or Spence for a starting job.