If you’re still trying to make sense of a strange Big Ten season, look no further than the Big Ten awards which were released on Tuesday.
It was domination, and the domination came from two directions. More superficially, it came from the only two teams in the conference unable to participate in postseason play because of NCAA sanctions.
Ohio State's and Penn State’s seasons are done early for very different reasons—by now you’re aware of the very different circumstance surrounding each—but the two were recognized when it came to handing out the conference hardware.
The winner of the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year was none other than Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, a worthy recipient and a name that will likely receive some deserved Heisman consideration next week. He won’t win, but an invite it still very possible.
On defense, Ohio State also took home Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year honors, as defensive lineman John Simon was picked—and again, rightfully so. Simon’s influence on that team stretches well beyond tackles for loss, but the senior is certainly someone Urban Meyer will miss dearly next year.
On the topic of Meyer, he was edged out for the Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year and Dave McClain Coach of the Year awards by Penn State’s Bill O’Brien. One of these awards was decided by the media, the other by the coaches. Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes was also Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year.
O’Brien, of course, inherited a difficult situation. In fact, “difficult” doesn’t begin to grasp the magnitude of what he dealt with since signing on the team. But, despite losing their first two games, O’Brien finished 8-2 in their final 10 matchups and finished 8-4 overall.
"This is a fantastic honor; it's very humbling," O'Brien said in a released statement (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). "Any time you are named coach of the year, it has a lot to do with two groups of people—it's your coaching staff and obviously your players."
After an unbeaten season, Urban Meyer finally lost to someone. You could argue that he should have taken home this hardware, although my choice still would’ve been O’Brien given everything that school went through. Regardless of where you stand, your case for either would be strong.
And that’s that.
The awards have been handed out, and Ohio State and Penn State will each watch the Big Ten championship game from their couches this weekend. Both teams finished above Wisconsin in the Leaders Division—I can’t explain enough how much I hate these division names—and they will now turn their focus to next season.
In a year where the Big Ten was down, however, their absence from the postseason is a significant reason why. When conference play picked up, so did Ohio State and Penn State’s play.
Bowl-ineligible Big Ten teams' conference record: 14-2. The rest of the gang: 34-46. Bowls won't be getting a very good version of the #B1G.— Adam Jacobi (@Adam_Jacobi) November 26, 2012
We’re past the reasons why they’re excluded from all postseason festivities, and this is no longer a fight worth making or debating. Instead, let’s appreciate the seasons for what they were. Two of the conference’s most storied programs entered this year with very little to play for but themselves, and they leave on very high notes.
Ohio State gained momentum, serious momentum, and it sent a message to the rest of the conference that it will be the force going forward.
Penn State leaves with optimism and hope, and it finally found stability after more than a full year of turmoil. The situation isn’t ideal, and three more years of being banned from a bowl and serious scholarship cuts won’t just go away, but the outlook has a much different look and feel now.
The punishments and obstacles will be a challenge, no question, but there’s a head coach who appears to be content right where he is and a team that will be more than just “competitive” in the coming years. In fact, with what we saw out of the rest of the Big Ten in 2012, they should probably worry about seeing Penn State on their schedule.
With the awards handed out and seasons complete, these two are already turning the page to 2013. And eight months from now when a new season is set to begin, our view of Penn State and Ohio State will have changed yet again.
The Buckeyes will be one of the favorites to win the final BCS national championship next season—thanks in large part to a favorable 2013 schedule—and the postseason handcuffs will be taken off Urban Meyer.
Braxton Miller will be one of the favorites, if not the favorite to win the Heisman, and a young Ohio State defense—aided by another solid recruiting class in the making—will further separate this team from every Big Ten squad not named Michigan.
On a vastly different path with vastly different expectations, Penn State will embark on its second year without a postseason. They will lose their starting quarterback, senior Matt McGloin, who was influential in their success in 2012. They will have to replace other upperclassmen who were critical this season, which will be no easy feat.
Recruiting won’t come easy with the sanctions looming, but the tune has changed drastically in a year. Forget about the Nittany Lions being a pushover. That’ll be far from the case. They’ll look to build on what they created this year, and an authentic foundation has been placed behind a coach who gets it.
It's impossible to group these two teams together, especially considering where they're at, where they're going and why they're headed there in the directions they are. Still, we can appreciate these seasons for what they were and be excited about lies ahead. Both appear poised to move upward, even if they're at a different pace and will be viewed at differently with their successes.
2012 got the ball rolling in a big way for both.
For them, next year is what matters now. But for us, perhaps we can appreciate their seasons, cut short as they were, just a little bit longer before we follow along.