The Maxwell Football Club announced its preseason Bednarik Award Watch List this morning. There are 65 players in all on the list, so it's more an exhaustive list of what voters believe to be potential members of the top tier of defenders in 2012 than anything else.
That said, there certainly aren't any slouches among the 63 nominees, and the Big Ten is very well represented; there are 14 defenders from the conference altogether. In particular—and to no surprise whatsoever—Michigan State not only leads the Big Ten with four players on the watch list, it's tied with Alabama and LSU for the most in the nation.
Here's the list in full, and a quick breakdown afterwards.
Who's the best defender in the Big Ten?
DE John Simon, Ohio State: It'll be fascinating to see whether Simon or fellow lineman Johnathan Hankins is more unblockable this year; at the very least, one of the two is getting single-teamed on every play, and the offensive line quality in the Big Ten is shaky enough that both Simon and Hankins should be game-changers. We give Simon the nod here because defensive ends are generally sexier to voters.
DE William Gholston, Michigan State: In terms of sheer athleticism, there probably isn't another player in the nation like Gholston; he's 6'7", 275 pounds and moves as well as an outside linebacker. If his discipline is in order, he'll put up mammoth stats—reaching 20 tackles for loss in one year is totally in play for Gholston.
LB Gerald Hodges, Penn State: Hodges is probably the most athletic linebacker in the entire conference; there isn't a back in the Big Ten that can beat Hodges to the corner, and throwing near him in coverage is a grave error. Oh, and he's aggressive in run support between the tackles.
LB James Morris, Iowa: Morris is a 100-tackle type of player, but there are plenty of those in the Big Ten, to say nothing of the entire nation. Morris was only the 37th most prolific tackler in the nation last year, and he's essentially a non-factor in pass coverage. He's not even a difference maker from a physicality standpoint.
CB Micah Hyde, Iowa: Yes, yes, we're Iowa haters here if the only two pretenders on the watch list are Hawkeyes. But it's simple: Purdue's Rico Allen and Michigan State's Johnny Adams (both fellow Bednarik watch listers) are the best two cornerbacks in the conference, and Hyde is clearly not on their level. Unless he makes an unforeseen leap in quality, he's not a serious contender here.
LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State: Shazier was a worthy Freshman All-American last year, and now that he's filling out his frame, he'll be an every-down terror for the Buckeyes. Put it this way: By the end of the 2012 season, there won't be any question whether Shazier's one of the 63 best defenders in the nation.
LB Mike Mauti, Penn State: Yes, Mauti has been plagued with injuries during his time in Happy Valley. But when he's healthy, he might be the best linebacker on the team, and we're quite aware that Gerald Hodges is Mauti's teammate. If Mauti's legs hold up and his athleticism is still there, Penn State will be an absolute force on defense.
LB Mike Taylor, Wisconsin: Fellow linebacker Chris Borland got the nod on the watch list, but it was Taylor who topped the Big Ten in tackles with 150 last year. Taylor won't wow anyone with jaw-dropping athleticism (see: Shazier, Ryan), but he is relentless from snap to whistle, kickoff to gun, opener to finale.