Big Ten Football: Bleacher Report's 2013 All-Conference Team
With the 2013 regular season and conference championship games now in the rear-view mirror, focus in the Big Ten—and around the nation—now turns to the bowl season. Eight teams from the Big Ten are bowl-eligible this season, but as these teams look forward, let's pause a moment to look back and honor some of the best individuals of the 2013 Big Ten football season.
As always seems to happen, the 2013 season didn't quite turn out the way we all imagined it would back in August. The epic showdown in the Big Ten Championship Game between hated rivals Michigan and Ohio State never materialized as Michigan State took control of the Legends Division early on.
Ohio State, flush with talent, finished the regular season 12-0 for the second-straight season, only to run into the defensive buzz-saw of the Spartans in the conference championship game.
And while Leaders Division champion Ohio State and Big Ten champion Michigan State will have their fair share of honorees, there are plenty of individuals deserving of recognition spread throughout the conference.
Here, we'll hand out such honor with Bleacher Report's 2013 Big Ten All-Conference Team.
Special Teams (Kickers / Punters)
Punter: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
Season Stats: 70 punts, 42.3 yards per punt average.
Often an unsung hero, the punter is probably the one player on every team a fan never really wants to see trot out onto the field. But if you have to punt the ball away, it helps to have a guy like Mike Sadler.
A big reason for Michigan State's defensive success this season was opponents' starting field position. A stellar defense like Michigan State has its job made easy when the opponents are backed up into their own end. Sadler, averaging over 42 net yards per punt, was one of the very best.
Kicker: Michael Geiger, Michigan State
Season Stats: 14-of-15 FG, 33-of-35 PAT
With 75 total points this season, Michael Geiger finished tied for 11th in the Big Ten in overall scoring. He also led the conference in field-goal percentage (93.3), which was critically important during those times of the season when MSU's offense sputtered.
Geiger, a freshman, will have MSU's kicking game well tended for the foreseeable future after splitting time with venerable long-kicker and senior Kevin Muma.
Special Teams (Returners)
KR: Akeem Hunt, Purdue
Season Stats: 24 KR, 626 YDS (26.1 AVG), 1 TD
One of the few bright spots for Purdue (1-11, 0-8 in the Big Ten) this season was Akeem Hunt. Despite winning just one game this season, Purdue has found a real gem in returner Hunt, who reliably gets the ball out over the 25-yard line, and has a proven ability to break big returns if given the smallest of openings.
PR: Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa
Season Stats: 18 PR, 292 YDS (16.2 AVG), 2 TD
The only punt returner in the Big Ten to have multiple touchdowns, Martin-Manley was also one of just two returners to average in excess of 15 yards per return in 2013.
While returning an average number of punts this season (18), Martin-Manley nearly broke the 300-yard mark while no other Big Ten player even broke the 200-yard mark. Just based on stats alone, Martin-Manley set himself apart from his counterparts this season, making his inclusion a no-brainer.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
Season Stats: 59 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 4 INT, 10 PBU, 2 FF
Michigan State's nation-leading defense is flush with stars, but perhaps none brighter than Dennard. By midway through 2013, teams in the Big Ten had learned to avoid throwing the ball anywhere near Dennard. Even so, Dennard emerged as not only the Big Ten's best defensive back, but among the nation's top defenders, too.
Bradley Roby, Ohio State
Season States: 69 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 INT, 1 TD, 13 PBU
Ohio State's defense—particularly the secondary—was viewed as a possible weak spot in Ohio State's championship chances this season. That assumption was proven somewhat valid against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
But Ohio State isn't without stars on the defensive side of the football. Bradley Roby, a standout junior corner from Georgia, led the Buckeyes' defensive unit this season with standout performances throughout the schedule. In fact, we're betting that had it not been for Roby, Ohio State would never have been in a position to play for a national championship in the first place.
Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
Season Stats: 86 tackles, 3 TFL, 4 INT, 1 TD, 8 PBU, 1 FF
Another standout performer on a team of standout performers. Kurtis Drummond was not only the perfect complement to Darqueze Dennard's lockdown ability on the edge, but Drummond also made a name for himself as a safety, installing a no-fly zone over the deep center of the field.
The ball-hawking safety came away with four picks on the season, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He also showcased some great ball skills, flying all over the field to knock the football to the turf—sometimes even after it was caught.
Blake Countess, Michigan
Season Stats: 42 tackles, 2 TFL, 6 INT, 1 TD, 4 PBU
Michigan may not have had the season it wanted, but you can't blame Blake Countess. With six interceptions on the year, Countess not only led the Wolverines in picks, he led the entire conference (along with Purdue's Ricardo Allen)—and was tied for fourth in the nation.
Countess, a sophomore from Owings Mills, Maryland, certainly has a bright future in Ann Arbor, and he'll play a central role in Brady Hoke's defense in 2014.
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Season Stats: 135 tackles, 23.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 4 FF, 4 PBU
Ryan Shazier's stats read like a stat sheet from a video game. He not only led the Big Ten with 135 tackles in 2013, he was in the top four nationally in both categories. There's simply no reason to keep this junior from Pompano Beach, Florida off of our 2013 All-Big Ten list.
Max Bullough, Michigan State
Season Stats: 76 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 FF, 2 PBU
While certainly not possessing the stat sheet sparkle of Shazier, Michigan State's Max Bullough was equally important to Michigan State's success in 2013. This surprisingly quick 6'3", 245-pound linebacker from Traverse City, Michigan was a disruptive force is every game he has placed for Michigan State.
A third-generation Spartan, Bullough followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, putting on a Michigan State football uniform. And he's lived up to his family name, earning All-Big Ten honors for his stout defensive play in 2013.
Chris Borland, Wisconsin
Season Stats: 102 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 1 FF, 2 PBU
Wisconsin has a long tradition of great linebackers, and Chris Borland is just the next name on an increasingly long and impressive list. Borland surpassed the 100-tackle mark in Wisconsin's regular-season finale loss to Penn State, which is even more impressive when you consider Borland missed the Badgers' November 2 date with Iowa due to injury.
The senior from Kettering, Ohio even managed some offensive stats this season, remarkably going 1-of-1 for 23 yards in Wisconsin's passing game. Over his career at Wisconsin, Borland has managed to throw passes, return punts and kickoffs, and make it in to nearly every defensive statistical category—and he even kicked three extra points way back in 2009.
Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
Season Stats: 36 tackles, 14 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 2 FF, 2 FR, 2 TD
Michigan State's defense was known in 2013 for being a unit that could not only stop any offense in the Big Ten, but score quite a few points on its own. Shilique Calhoun was a big part of that scoring, scoring three awesome "fat guy" touchdowns all by himself.
For every turnover forced by Calhoun, six points resulted this season. And even when he wasn't leading all Big Ten defenders in touchdowns, he was breaking up plays in the backfield or putting punishing hits on the quarterback (finishing tied for second in the Big Ten with 7.5 sacks).
Randy Gregory, Nebraska
Season Stats: 60 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 TD, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU
Nebraska's "black shirts" defense could probably be better described in 2013 as some shade of gray. The Cornhuskers certainly improved as the season wore on, but still finished with just the fifth-best total defense in the conference. Not exactly the standard on which Nebraska has built a proud and deserving reputation.
But there were still some stellar individual performances from the Nebraska defense this season, not the least of which was Randy Gregory's impressive first year of playing. The sophomore from Fishers, Indiana looked like a steely veteran defensive end for Bo Pelini this season, and as he and his teammates grow and mature, the Huskers may be back to their old stifling ways before too long.
Noah Spence, Ohio State
Season Stats: 50 tackles, 14 TFL, 7.5 sacks, 1 FF, 2 PBU
Perhaps part of the problem with Ohio State's defense this season was that it was so inexperienced. If that was truly the case, Buckeyes fans should breathe a little easier this offseason knowing that young studs like defensive end Noah Spence are only going to get better as the years pass.
While not always putting together highlight-reel performances, Spence was the definition of consistency for Ohio State late in the season, recording at least a half tackle for loss in each of Ohio State's last six games. Spence also recorded at least three tackles in all but two games in 2013, and has emerged as a leader for the Ohio State defense.
Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Season Stats: 34 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 sacks, 8 PBU, 2 kick blocks
It's been a while since we've had the chance to talk about Minnesota when it comes to conference accolades, but with an 8-4 record the Gophers are not only bowl bound but looking to take home some individual awards as well.
Ra'Shede Hageman earns a nod from us in his senior season as an All-Big Ten lineman not only for his stats but for his leadership of his team on the field. Sure, 11 tackles for loss and a league-leading two blocks are nice on paper, but his dedication and tenacity have caught on in Minneapolis. Hopefully the Golden Gophers can perpetuate this newfound success as they begin to move the program forward under head coach Jerry Kill.
Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Iowa's Brandon Scherff was the anchor to an offensive line that allowed just 12 sacks this season.
Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
You don't build a power running offense without first having a powerful offensive line. Ryan Groy is part of a stellar O-line that allowed Wisconsin to average 283 rushing yards per game in 2013. Groy is also supremely versatile, capable of playing center, guard or tackle.
Blake Treadwell and Jack Allen, Michigan State
Michigan States's strength this season wasn't on offense, but the Spartans still improved enough throughout the season to win the Big Ten title. Despite gaining over 150 passing yards in a game just once prior to October, Michigan State averaged 237 passing yards per game over the last five games of the season—including a season-high 304 against Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game—thanks to the blocking of Treadwell and Allen.
Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
Ohio State led the Big Ten in rushing offense this season, averaging 317.5 yards per game on the ground. While stars like Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde get all the sexy stat attention, it's the big behemoths like Jack Mewhort up front that allow the kind of gaudy numbers the Buckeyes put up in 2013.
Devin Funchess, Michigan
Season Stats: 47 REC, 727 YDS, 6 TD, 4 CAR, 20 YDS
Our All-Big Ten selection for tight end is Michigan sophomore Devin Funchess. A sure-fire consensus pick, Funchess was one of the few bright spots on Michigan's offense this season, and considering where we expected the Wolverines to be at this point in 2013, being one of just two Wolverines to make our All-Big Ten team should be both an honor and disappointing.
Funchess led all Big Ten tight ends in receiving yards and touchdowns this season, and was a useful tool to keep Michigan's offense from completely sputtering this season. There's a ton of upside to Funchess, and Brady Hoke would be wise to draw up more plays featuring this standout tight end.
Allen Robinson, Penn State
Season Stats: 97 REC, 1432 YDS, 6 TD, 6 CAR, 36 YDS
The reports of Penn State's demise have obviously been greatly exaggerated—so far. Bill O'Brien clearly has enough talent on his roster to field the conference's top wide receiver. Allen Robinson, a junior from Southfield, Michigan, led the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards this season and was third in the FBS with 1,432 yards.
Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
Season Stats: 73 REC, 1051 YDS, 7 TD, 6 CAR, 119 YDS, 2 TD, 11 PR, 94 YDS
Jared Abbrederis had an impressive senior season at Wisconsin, breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his four seasons as a Badger. Abbrederis will leave Madison as one of the more productive receivers in school history, although Wisconsin has never really been known for its top-flight receiving corps.
Abbrederis, a former walk-on, managed to perform well above his average size, speed and athleticism would have seemed to allow, and he will likely make Wisconsin fans proud at the next level following the 2014 NFL draft.
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Season Stats: 183 CAR, 1408 YDS, 14 TD, 14 REC, 108 YDS, 2 TD
Just imagine the kind of season Carlos Hyde might have had if he had not been suspended for three games in the wake of an assault on a woman prior to the start of the 2013 campaign. Even after sitting out the first three games of 2013, Hyde still managed to finish third in the Big Ten in rushing yards (while leading in yards per game with 140.8).
Character issues aside, there's little reason to not place this senior at the top of the Big Ten running backs list, and he's easily one of the top backfield prospects to come out of college football this season. Heck, had he been able to avoid his off-the-field issues over the summer, we may be talking about a potential Heisman candidacy.
Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Season Stats: 254 CAR, 1568 YDS, 8 TD, 26 REC, 232 YDS, 2 TD
If Carlos Hyde was a no-brainer for the All-Big Ten list, so too is Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. The Big Ten's leading rusher with 1,568 yards, Abdullah was ninth in the FBS in total rushing yards. Maybe the only thing that kept Abdullah off of many watch lists for a national trophy was his lack of scoring this season (just eight touchdowns). But with another season in Lincoln to hone his skills, expect him to reemerge as one of the nation's best backs in 2014.
Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Season Stats: 146-of-231, 1860 YDS, 22 TD, 5 INT, 157.9 RATING, 153 CAR, 1033 YDS, 10 TD
It might seem odd to some that a quarterback who finished ninth in the Big Ten in passing would be the All-Big Ten selection. But Braxton Miller's contribution to Ohio State's success was simply too great to ignore.
Despite throwing for fewer than 1,900 yards, Miller accounted for 2,893 yards of total offense and 32 combined touchdowns. Only three quarterbacks had more yardage, and no one in the Big Ten racked up more points. Miller also brought that special explosive quality to the Buckeyes, and was likely the single biggest reason Ohio State is 24-1 under head coach Urban Meyer.
All this is on top of the fact that Miller missed two games in September due to injury. Like teammate Carlos Hyde, the time off the field may have ended up costing Miller some valuable postseason hardware—but not the honor of being named Bleacher Report's 2013 All-Big Ten quarterback.
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