Big Ten Football: 10 Best Players from BCS Era
The BCS has been consigned to the history books, and many Big Ten fans may be happy to see it go. After all, the Bowl Championship Series was marred with repeated disappointments for the conference. But despite winning just a lone BCS title way back in 2002, the conference had more than its fair share of spectacular individual performances.
To expand on the great player performances, the Big Ten racked up an impressive list of individual awards that rival any conference in the nation. The list of awards includes more than 50 national individual awards, including two Heisman Trophy winners.
Any list identifying the top-10 players from a conference when there are so many award winners to pick from is going to be somewhat subjective, so we've laid out a few simple ground rules. First, we're excluding some pretty great players from Big Ten programs that never actually played in the Big Ten during the BCS era (1998-2013). Sorry, Nebraska fans, but you won't see Ndamukong Suh's name here. Secondly, with so many players receiving national awards, it's not crazy to limit our selections to players who received a national award, a Big Ten Player of the Year Award or was a consensus All-American.
With those provisos laid out, we now present Bleacher Report's selection of the top-10 Big Ten football players from the Bowl Championship Series era.
No. 10: Jake Long, OT, Michigan
Michigan's Jake Long was the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick in 2007 by Miami, and he was a two-time consensus All-American at Michigan. Long was also a two-time finalist for the Outland Trophy.
Long was also a Freshman All-American and two-time Big Ten Lineman of the Year.
We're including Long not only for his back-to-back Lineman of the Year honors but also for his consistently impressive performance through his entire career as a Wolverine. Being picked as the top-overall draft pick is an honor in itself, but he's also been selected to four Pro Bowl teams in his NFL career, extending his success in college to the NFL.
No. 9: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
It's often hard to figure out where recent players fit into history; we're so caught up in the recent emotion of their exploits, and the accomplishments are so fresh in our minds. But when it comes to Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, we couldn't overlook his impressive résumé.
Dennard was a two-time, first team All-Big Ten honoree, and he was a consensus All-American in 2013, a season in which he not only won the Thorpe Award but was also an integral cog in Michigan State's drive to a Big Ten Championship Game victory over Ohio State and a Rose Bowl Game victory over Stanford.
Dennard was also a first-round selection in the 2014 NFL draft by Cincinnati.
No. 8: Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan
With over 3,500 receiving yards and 39 touchdown catches, Michigan's Braylon Edwards' accomplishments speak for themselves. Add in the fact that Edwards had three successive seasons with at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he becomes a pretty easy pick for our top-10 list.
His 39 touchdowns is still a Big Ten record, and Edwards was named the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year in 2004, also winning the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top receiver.
No. 7: Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota
Big old No. 61 at Minnesota did something not many centers do in college football: win an Outland Trophy as the nation's top lineman.
In his four seasons at Minnesota, Greg Eslinger earned some sort of All-American recognition in every season. He was a Freshman All-American in 2002, a third team All-American in 2003, a first team All-American in 2004 and a consensus All-American in 2005, the year he won the Outland.
During his tenure, Minnesota never had a losing season. The Gophers even managed to win 10 games in 2003 (the first time that had happened since 1905).
No. 6: Joe Thomas, OT, Wisconsin
It should be clear that one thing for which the Big Ten is highly regarded is the quality of pro-caliber linemen that come out of the conference. Wisconsin's Joe Thomas might be the finest example of that fact, at least from a BCS-era standpoint.
Wisconsin, while known for its college football team, isn't known for it's deep wealth of in-state high school football talent. Thomas is a sparkling exception, earning All-American honors twice as a member of his home state Wisconsin Badgers. Thomas also earned an Outland Trophy in 2006 before moving onto the NFL—where he has earned a spot in the Pro Bowl every single season since.
No. 5: Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State
Troy Smith's collection of collegiate trophies is nothing short of exceptional. During his time at Ohio State, Smith was named AP Player of the Year, won the Walter Camp and Davey O'Brien Awards and perhaps, most importantly, became the first Big Ten quarterback since 1944 to win the Heisman Trophy.
With "only" two Heisman Trophy recipients from the Big Ten during the BCS's lifespan, there's little question why Smith, complete with his 68 combined touchdowns, needs to be included in any list of top Big Ten players during the era.
No. 4: James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State
Let's see: the Butkus Award, the Nagurski Award, a pair of Lambert Awards, a couple of Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors and three years as a consensus All-American are all part of Ohio State's James Laurinaitis' long list of collegiate accomplishments.
With three straight seasons of 115 tackles or more, Laurinaitis left Columbus with four Big Ten Championship rings and helped the Buckeyes make two trips to the BCS National Championship Game.
As one of the most decorated linebackers in the history of the Big Ten, Laurinaitis is a no-brainer for our BCS era top-10 list.
No. 3: LaVar Arrington, LB, Penn State
Penn State has had a long history of developing some of the greatest linebackers ever to play the game. Among that long list of great linebackers is one of the very best ever, LaVar Arrington.
There have been few players in the history of college football as feared as Arrington. Almost unstoppable, Arrington was a major reason Penn State was 28-9 during his three-year career.
Arrington captured the Lambert and Butkus Awards as the nation’s top linebacker in 1999, and if that wasn't enough, Arrington also snagged the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player. During that amazing standout season, Arrington had 72 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, nine sacks and a pair of blocked kicks.
Along with James Laurinaitis, Arrington is not only one of the greatest Big Ten linebackers of the BCS era but one of the greatest players regardless of position, conference or era.
No. 2: Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin
If you add in bowl game statistics, there's only a single player in the history of Division I-FBS football to have amassed 7,000 rushing yards over a career: Ron Dayne.
Dayne's mark has been subsequently passed in the FCS, Division II and Division III, but no FBS player has managed to surpass Ron Dayne on the all-time rushing yards list quite yet. But Dayne wasn't just about yards; he scored a ton. There have been just four players in FBS history to score 70 rushing touchdowns, and Dayne is one of them.
Dayne also holds the record for most carries in FBS history (1,220) and is one of only three players to ever be named Rose Bowl Game MVP twice (Vince Young in 2005 and 2006, Bob Schloredt in 1960 and 1961).
His career at Wisconsin was capped with a Heisman Trophy after passing the 2,000-yard mark in 1999. He was also a consensus All-American, Big Ten Player of the Year, AP Player of the year and won the Maxwell, Walter Camp and Doak Walker Awards.
No. 1: Drew Brees, QB, Purdue
It's often hard to compare a player from the late 1990s to a player from, say, 2013. Last season is still relatively fresh in our memories, and many of the players from the 90s have not only long since departed their school's zeitgeist but have wrapped up their pro careers, too.
But when you have a player that not only shatters nearly every record there is but still lays claim to those records, it's hard to ignore the impact he made on the conference.
Drew Brees was Big Ten Player of the Year not once, but twice. He also led Purdue back to the Rose Bowl for the 2001 game, the Boilermakers' first trip to Pasadena since 1966. The 2000 Maxwell Award winner also finished in the top four in Heisman voting in both 1999 and 2000.
Brees still holds the Big Ten title in pass completions (1,026), attempts (1,678), passing yards (11,792), passing touchdowns (90), total offense (12,692) and total touchdowns (104). He also holds the Big Ten's single season touchdown passing record with 39 in 1998—which is six touchdowns more than the second place performance by Russell Wilson in 2011.
Brees continued his record-setting pace in the NFL, breaking the single-season mark for completion percentage, the mark for consecutive games with a touchdown pass and most season with at least 5,000 passing yards—among others.
Because of his penchant for shattering nearly every quarterbacking record the Big Ten has, and the ability of those records to stand the test of time, we've elected to put Drew Brees atop our list of the 10 best players from the Big Ten during the BCS era.