2012 All-Big Ten Team: Non-Conference Edition
Big Ten conference games get underway on Saturday, and while it hasn't been a banner season so far for the Big Ten, there have been plenty of bright spots.
It's time to look at who has starred in the first third of the season—some of the answers might surprise you.
This is not a prediction of who will be on the All-Big Ten teams at the end of the season, which will be largely selected based on success in conference play, but rather a review of who has put together big seasons thus far.
(Stats from Big Ten Official Site)
Without further ado...
Quarterback: Braxton Miller, Sophomore, Ohio State
The Buckeye sophomore is tied with Denard Robinson for second in the conference in rushing yards per game, but leads the Big Ten in rushing TDs with seven.
The Buckeyes' aerial attack is still a work in progress but Miller has thrown for 754 yards and 7 TDs with only 2 INTs. He is also responsible for 70% of Ohio State's total offense thus far.
His ability to rise to the occasion in tense moments—down in the fourth quarter to Cal and in the second quarter to Miami of Ohio and UAB—has kept Ohio State undefeated, despite their struggles against inferior opponents.
Honorable Mention: Taylor Martinez of Nebraska, which is leading the conference in passing efficiency, as well as Penn State's Matt McGloin, who leads the conference in passing yards.
Running Back: Le'Veon Bell, Junior, Michigan State
The Spartan workhorse has 610 yards on 117 carries with 5 TDs.
That is 194 more yards than Ameer Abdulah, who is second among running backs, and 24 more carries than Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, who is second in carries.
Bell is also fourth on the team in receptions, with 12 for 67 yards. All together, he has produced 677 yards—42 percent of the Michigan State offense. Needless to say, that is high for a running back.
Oh, by the way, he thrust himself into the air and into the Heisman discussion with the "Le'Veon Leap" shown in the photo.
Running Back: Ameer Abdullah, Sophomore, Nebraska
Abdullah’s role will change now that workhorse running back Rex Burkhead is back, but it doesn’t change the fact that Abdullah has been one of the Big Ten’s best big-play threats in non-conference action.
The sophomore has compiled 416 rushing yards, averaging six yards per carry; hauled in six catches for 78 yards; and returned eight punts for 147 yards.
His 81-yard punt return for a TD against Idaho State and 45-yard TD run against Arkansas State really showcased his talents. Now with Burkhead back, look for more big plays from Abdullah as defenses suck in to stop Burkhead’s power game.
Honorable Mention: Montee Ball of Wisconsin isn't having the season most expected, but is still making an impact. Mark Weisman of Iowa, with his 6.4 yards per carry, is tops among Big Ten running backs. He also leads running backs with six TDs.
All Purpose: Venric Mark, Junior, Northwestern
Mark has 93 touches (72 carries, 11 catches, five punt returns, and five kick returns) for 714 yards, which results in 7.68 yards per touch. He has also produced six TDs in three different ways: four rushing, one receiving, and one on a punt return.
Under Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern has always possessed an effective passing game, and with Kain Colter taking the majority of the snaps, the QB run is certainly a threat, but it’s the contributions of Mark that have been the X-factor for Northwestern.
A team that now stands at 4-0 and looks like it could compete in the Legends Division.
Mark was interchangeable with Ameer Abdullah, but Mark has impacted the game in more facets, so he got the all-purpose nod.
Honorable Mention: Kenny Bell of Nebraska. Bell is sixth in the conference in all-purpose yards, mainly as a receiver and kick returner.
Wide Receiver: Devin Smith, Sophomore, Ohio State
Smith is eighth in the conference in receptions and fifth in yards, which doesn’t blow anyone away, and he has also struggled somewhat with consistency and dropped balls.
Smith has come up with quite a few huge plays, however, in his young career at Ohio State. His game-winning TD catch against Wisconsin last season was just a preview of things to come for this high-flying receiver with a flare for the dramatic.
Smith has made two great TD catches, including one that will likely be the best catch of the college football season. His third TD catch wasn’t as spectacular, but it was a 72 yard-game-winner against Cal.
Wide Receiver: Allen Robinson, Sophomore, Penn State
Robinson is one of the bright spots for a struggling Penn State offense. He leads the Big Ten in catches (29), receiving yards (404), and receiving TDs (6).
The 6'3'' Southfield, Michigan product has been a pleasant surprise for new head coach Bill O'Brien, who had to have been worried when the Nittany Lions' top returning receiver left for Oklahoma.
For a program in need of positive attention, the connection between quarterback Matt McGloin and Robinson should be able to continue putting up points and W's.
Honorable Mention: Antavian Edison of Purdue and Cody Latimer of Indiana.
Tight End: Dion Sims, Junior, Michigan State
Coming into the season, Michigan State returned only one key member of the passing game—and that was Sims.
While the rest of the receivers have struggled to get open, Sims has proven himself to be a legitimate threat in the passing game and a safety valve for new QB Andrew Maxwell.
Sims is second in the Big Ten in receptions with 22, and has amassed 277 yards and two TDs, even though he has been other teams' main focus in the passing game.
A former two-sport athlete who only appeared in one basketball game for the Spartans, Sims is just another in a long line of tight ends that have a history on the hardwood.
Honorable Mention: Devin Funchess of Michigan
Kicker: Jeff Budzien, Junior, Northwestern
Budzien has not missed a kick this season.
He is 8-8 on field goals and 14-14 on extra points. His long is 42, with three of his eight kicks coming from 40 yards or more.
Budzien's scoring was the difference in all three of the Wildcats' first three games. He scored six in their one-point win over Syracuse, 11 in their ten-point win over Vanderbilt, and 16 in their nine-point win over Boston College.
The Wildcats have shown they aren't going to blow many teams out, especially in conference play. Budzien's hot streak may need to continue if the Wildcats want to win their division.
Honorable Mention: Mike Meyer of Iowa and Brett Maher of Nebraska, just for kicking a 54-yarder right before halftime, after UCLA tried to ice him.
Tackle: Jack Mewhort, Junior, Ohio State
Mewhort was Ohio State's most experienced returner on the offensive line, but had always played guard. This season, he has stepped into left tackle to replace second-round draft pick Mike Adams.
This season, Mewhort has anchored the Ohio State line that has cleared the way for a Buckeye backfield that has compiled 917 yards (second in the conference) and 13 rushing TDs.
Mewhort has also protected Braxton Miller's backside, something vital to the Buckeye's continued success.
Honorable Mention: Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
Tackle -- Patrick Ward, Senior, Northwestern
Ward, a four-year starter, has helped lead the Northwestern offense to a 4-0 start.
He has also helped pave the way for Venric Mark's run to stardom in the Big Ten conference.
The sack totals are somewhat high for the offensive line, but the Wildcats have been platooning quarterbacks which is messing with the timing in their passing game.
Honorable Mention: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
Guard: Spencer Long, Junior, Nebraska
Long, a 6'4'' 305 pound junior, has anchored an offensive line that has given the Cornhuskers' backs enough space to lead the Big Ten in rushing by a large margin—nearly 90 yards a game.
Long is one of only two returning starters on the Nebraska line that replaced both tackles, which is one reason why they have allowed such high sack totals (seven in four games).
Honorable Mention: Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
Guard: Chris McDonald, Senior, Michigan State
McDonald, a third-year starter, is the main cog in a machine that is clearing holes for Le'Veon Bell and keeping Andrew Maxwell upright.
The fact that the Spartans have the number two rusher in the country, despite not having a passing game to speak of, is impressive and a testament to McDonald and company.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Omameh, Michigan
Center: Matt Stankiewitch, Senior, Penn State
Stankiewitch is in his second year starting at center for the Nittany Lions.
He has been instrumental in keeping quarterback Matt McGloin upright, as Penn State has allowed the lowest number of sacks in the Big Ten.
Stankiewitch and the Penn State offense have struggled to get the running game going, but that can largely be attributed to the loss of Silas Redd to transfer and the loss of his two backups, Bill Belton and Derek Day.
Honorable Mention: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
Defensive Tackle: Johnathan Hankins, Junior, Ohio State
Hankins is the 6'3'' 315-pound behemoth in the middle of Ohio State's defense that runs sideline-to-sideline to chase down ball carriers half his size.
The amazing part is he often catches them.
On a defense that has struggled, Hankins has been a shining star. He leads all Big Ten defensive linemen with 25 tackles.
He is not a pass rush specialist, but he has gotten one sack so far on the season, and it was a big one late against Cal.
Defensive Tackle: Joe Gaglione, Senior, Iowa
Gaglione leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss with 6 and a half. He has also racked up three sacks.
When he hasn't been in the backfield, he has still been making plays—Gaglione has 21 tackles overall for the Hawkeyes defense.
The 2-2 start isn't what the team had in mind, but Gaglione, who was scarcely used in his first three seasons at Iowa, is showing up big time thus far.
Honorable Mention: Adam Replogle, Indiana and Kawann Short, Purdue
Defensive End: D.L. Wilhite, Senior, Minnesota
Wilhite has ten tackles, which puts him at ninth on his team, but he is making them count.
He leads the Big Ten with 4.5 sacks in the first four games, all of which the Golden Gophers have won.
He has also secured 5.5 tackles for loss.
Defensive End: Ryan Russell, Sophomore, Purdue
In only three games, Russell has compiled impressive numbers for the Boilermakers defense.
Russell has 4.5 tackles for loss, which is good for sixth in the conference and second in terms of TFLs per game.
He also has managed to get two sacks in the first three games, along with 13 tackles, good for third on the team.
Honorable Mention: Eric Martin, Nebraska; William Gholston, Michigan State; and Michael Buchanan, Illinois
Linebacker -- Michael Mauti, Senior, Penn State
Mauti has been a leader of the Nittany Lions since the Sandusky scandal broke, which has made him a fan favorite, but he's adding to his legend with stellar play on the field for "Linebacker U."
Mauti leads the Nittany Lions and his second in the conference in tackles with 42, 22 of which were solo tackles (also second).
He has also added two pass breakups, two tackles for loss, a sack and two forced fumbles.
Linebacker: Ryan Shazier, Sophomore, Ohio State
The Buckeyes' defense has been much maligned for their uncharacteristic poor tackling and Shazier has been a part of that, but the sophomore has still been able to make plenty of plays.
Shazier leads the conference in solo tackles with 26, and is third in overall tackles with 40.
He has also added two tackles for loss, one sack, three pass breakups, and one forced fumble.
Linebacker: Mike Taylor, Senior, Wisconsin
Last season as a junior, Taylor led the Big Ten in tackles with 150. He is back in Madison for his fourth season and is picking up where he left off.
Taylor is leading the Badgers and is fourth in the conference with 40 tackles, 20 of which are of the solo variety.
His 4.5 tackles for loss puts him at sixth in the conference. He has also broken up three passes.
Honorable Mention: Anthony Hitchens of Iowa, who leads the conference in tackles; Chris Borland of Wisconsin; and Michigan State's LB corps.
Corner Back: Bradley Roby, Sophomore, Ohio State
Despite missing the game against UAB, Roby has produced enough to make this team.
He leads the conference with six passes defended while still having the ability to accumulate 19 tackles, or 6.3 a game, which is good for 22nd in the conference.
Roby is yet to haul in an interception (Travis Howard, his counterpart, leads the conference with three) but he has recovered a fumble and collected two tackles for loss, one of which was a sack.
Corner Back: Johnny Adams, Senior, Michigan State
Adams is a physical cornerback with an NFL future and he has done nothing to hurt his stock this season.
He has 12 tackles, three for loss for the Spartans, who probably have the best defense in the conference.
Adams has also broken up five passes and intercepted one.
Honorable Mention: Travis Howard, Ohio State; Micah Hyde, Iowa and Troy Stoudemire, Minnesota.
Safety: Jordan Kovacs, Senior, Michigan
Kovacs, a former walk-on, is leading the Wolverine defense with 30 tackles, which places him at tenth in the conference and second among defensive backs.
The Michigan senior has spent most of his time in run support and is yet to intercept or break up a pass.
He does have two tackles for loss, however.
Safety: Derrick Wells, Sophomore, Minnesota
This sophomore Gopher had eight tackles as a freshman, but is averaging eight tackles per game this year.
His 32 tackles are the most among any defensive back in the conference and the most among Golden Gopher defenders.
Wells has also added a team high two interceptions and broken up five passes.
Honorable Mention: Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern; Christian Bryant, Ohio State; Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
Punter: Will Hagerup, Junior, Michigan
Hagerup is leading the Big Ten with 49 yards per punt for his ten attempts this season.
That number is nearly four yards better than any other punter in the conference.
His best on the year was a 62-yarder.
Honorable Mention: Justin DuVernois of Illinois
Coach: Jerry Kill, Minnesota
It was a close race with Pat Fitzgerald of Northwestern—both he and Kill have led their teams to unlikely 4-0 starts; both have done so with injury issues at the quarterback position.
Kill has been more impressive, but just slightly. The Gophers have played an easier schedule than the Wildcats, but the Wildcats were a bowl team last season with decently-high expectations.
Outsiders gave Minnesota almost no chance of having a good season, but thus far, they have looked good and enter the Big Ten season as one of three undefeated teams.