Big Ten Football: 2012 Midseason Award Winners
We are at the halfway point of the 2012 regular season (yes, already) (yes, that depresses us too) (yes, this is too many parenthetical asides at once), and even though the bulk of the Big Ten conference season has yet to be played, we've seen enough to hand out some midseason awards.
Does Ohio State run these streets across the board? Can anyone touch Braxton Miller as the Offensive Player of the Year? Should we just go ahead and give him defensive player of the year too? Is Braxton Miller the coach of the year? Can you tell that we really like Braxton Miller?
Never fear; there are other people winning some of these awards too. Some of these people aren't even affiliated with Ohio State (weird, we know). So let's take a look at some of the notable players, teams and games of the first half of the year.
Offensive Player of the 1st Half: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
As if there could be any doubt. Miller has 1,271 yards passing, 812 yards rushing and 20 total touchdowns en route to leading the Big Ten's highest-scoring offense to a perfect 7-0 record thus far in the season.
More than that, though, Miller makes the spectacular look routine, breaking off long runs with a frequency usually reserved for the likes of Denard Robinson and throwing the prettiest deep ball in the league.
And if you'll permit us to borrow liberally from the late, great Larry Munson: My god, a sophomore. Miller's in only his second year of college football (he'd be a redshirt freshman this year if Terrelle Pryor had stayed eligible) and in his first year of Urban Meyer's offense. He not only could get better, he should get better.
That doesn't even sound possible.
Defensive Player of the 1st Half: Ohio State DE John Simon
Sure, it seems weird to see a team give up 49 points to Indiana, then to turn around and say, "yep, that defensive end is the best defender in the conference!"
But John Simon is exactly that, a relentless terror beast of an end whose motor is matched only by his physical talent.
Simon is essentially on the same pace as his 2011 numbers (26 tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, three sacks thus far), and more than that, he's attracting enough attention from opposing blockers that his Buckeye brethren are seeing more single-team blocks, and thus, opportunities to make plays.
Yes, the Buckeye defense is struggling as a whole. Fullback Zach Boren moved to linebacker on a whim last week and promptly led the team in tackling right away, if that gives you any indication to how much depth and health there is going around at LB.
But don't you dare suggest Simon's not doing his part. He's doing that and then some, and one shudders to think where Ohio State would be without him.
Special Teams Player of the 1st Half: Iowa Kicker Mike Meyer
This probably won't hold up for much longer, but for right now, Iowa is 4-2 (2-0), sitting atop the Legends Division with co-leader Michigan. Where Iowa would be without Mike Meyer at kicker, however, is likely far, far worse.
Meyer has accounted for 54 of Iowa's 132 points, or over 40 percent of the Hawkeyes' scoring output. That means horrible things about the Hawkeye offense, but it also means Meyer is an invaluable part of the team.
Meyer missed his second field-goal attempt of the season against Northern Illinois, then went on to hit his last three in an 18-17 win in the season opener. He's been perfect ever since, including going 4-4 in Iowa's most recent 19-16 overtime win at Michigan State.
Without those two wins, Iowa's sitting at 2-4 (1-1), and Kinnick Stadium has probably burned to the ground.
Freshman of the 1st Half: Michigan TE Devin Funchess
With apologies to Michigan State wideout Aaron Burbridge, the real freshman sensation of the Big Ten has been Michigan tight end Devin Funchess, who has emerged as a desperately needed third option in the Wolverine passing game.
Funchess is still physically raw at 6'5" and 229 pounds—expect him to be at least 245 pounds by the end of his Michigan career, if not heavier. He's still got a ways to go as a blocker.
But as a pass catcher, he has shown the ability to both challenge the defense vertically and be a red-zone target. His hands and overall receiving instincts are impeccable, and when the rest of his game develops, he'll be impossible to keep off the field.
For now, though, 10 catches, 173 yards and three touchdowns in the first six games of his young career definitely qualifies as a great start. He's got our attention.
Coach of the 1st Half: Indiana Head Coach Kevin Wilson
We've made our case for Wilson earlier this week, but let's talk about the most immediate objection most people would have with this selection: the record. Football is about winning games, and right now, Indiana is 2-4 (0-2). So here's where some dim bulb says something about moral victories or whatever and then checks out mentally.
Sorry, but picking Wilson here isn't about "moral victories," it's about the fact that Indiana is a vastly better football team than before Wilson showed up—heck, it's vastly better than last year—and if he's able to sustain even moderate levels of improvement over the next couple years, the wins will come.
Moreover, just watching the games Indiana plays makes it easily evident that the team is playing better, especially on offense. So just saying "ehh, Indiana still lost" is ignorant, and we don't hand out awards for ignorance. Go to the SEC for that.
Just kidding; love you, Barrett.
Most Surprising Team: Northwestern Wildcats
As of the end of Week 7, only Northwestern is eligible for a bowl game in the Big Ten, sitting at 6-1. Of course, other teams will join the Wildcats in short order—everyone else in the Legends Division is sitting at four wins, and Wisconsin's one win away from eligibility over in the Leaders Division—but in terms of right now, the 'Cats stand alone.
That's pretty remarkable, not only for the schedule (Northwestern has three of the Big Ten's six non-conference wins over BCS conference opponents), but because there was genuine reason to wonder if Northwestern was going to get to six wins at all—especially in a road grader of a division like the Legends.
But lo and behold, here's Northwestern, and although its schedule is about to kick into high gear, that's not our concern for the midseason awards.
Most Disappointing Team: Michigan State Spartans
The season started out so wonderfully. With notorious September warriors Boise State in town, Michigan State unleashed Le'Veon Bell to the tune of 50 touches and a dominant fourth-quarter performance in a 17-13 win.
Since then, it's been as close to downhill as possible. Two MACrifices and one 60-minute struggle with Indiana are all that have populated the win column. Notre Dame pushed the Spartans around, Ohio State took MSU's best performance and still left East Lansing with a win and then just recently, Iowa absolutely stole a 19-16 win at Spartan Stadium to push Michigan State to 4-3.
Oh, and the upcoming schedule is murderous.
It is entirely plausible that Michigan State ends up at 6-6 for the regular season this year, even with the conference's best defense. Nobody expected that, especially when MSU was ranked No. 10 in the nation coming into the Notre Dame game. But here we are, and here's a horribly struggling Spartan team.
A win at Michigan this weekend could right the ship, but with the Wolverines favored by about 10 points, it's probably not worth holding one's breath.
Game of the 1st Half: Nebraska 30, Wisconsin 27
In what could easily be the 2012 Big Ten Championship matchup, Wisconsin and Nebraska opened up the conference slate under the lights at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln and fought an absolute slugfest before Nebraska prevailed 30-27.
Wisconsin struck first and struck hard in the game, jumping out to a 20-3 lead in the first half and holding a 27-10 advantage with six minutes gone in the second half. But Nebraska scored the last 20 points of the game while holding the Badgers to 1-for-7 on third downs.
Montee Ball registered three touchdowns in the game, but his 90 yards rushing took 32 carries to get there, and the Huskers ran for 259 yards against a stout Badger defense to help take the game back.
It was the second straight year where Nebraska's first home Big Ten game ended with a furious Husker comeback—last year, Ohio State gagged away a 27-6 lead en route to Nebraska prevailing 34-27. The message to the Big Ten is even clearer now than before: If you come into Lincoln, you'd better not let up for 60 minutes, because no lead is safe.