NCAA Football: 2011 All-Big Ten Football Team
The Big Ten's inaugural conference championship game will pit the Michigan State Spartans against the Wisconsin Badgers.
Perhaps it is an unlikely pairing for the conference of Michigan and Ohio State.
On the other hand, the matchup couldn't have been that much of a surprise. The Badgers were the early-season favorite to represent the East in the championship game. Meanwhile, the Spartans were most people's second choice—following Nebraska—to represent the West.
The winner of the game will go on to the Rose Bowl. Furthermore, at 10-2, Michigan won't be the conference champion, but will have a shot to go to the Sugar or Fiesta Bowl.
Finally, there is the question of whether the NCAA and the Big Ten will tolerate institutional negligence on as grand a scale as Penn State displayed; and whether the Nits will be allowed to go bowling. However, that is not for me to decide.
Yes, it has been another great year of football in the Big Ten, and with great years of football comes superlative awards.
In truth, most end-of-the-year college awards have as much to do with reputation as with actual accomplishments.
Despite this, I will attempt to bestow these highly prestigious honors on players that have specifically earned it due to their on-the-field accomplishments.
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First Team: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin Badgers.
Second Team: Denard Robinson, Michigan Wolverines.
Wilson didn't quite finish the year with the promise with which he began. At one point, the Badgers were on the fast track toward a perfect 13-0 season and Wilson was on the short list of Heisman candidates.
That ended in East Lansing and was punctuated the following week in Columbus. However, Wisconsin has a chance to go to its second Rose Bowl in a row and Wilson—the most efficient quarterback in the country—is a large part of the reason why.
Meanwhile, Robinson still isn't a great passer, but he has eliminated some of the mistakes that riddled his 2010 campaign.
Heading into the final week, I was torn between three different quarterbacks for second-team honors. Ultimately, I suspect the Big Ten will hand its award to MSU's Kirk Cousins, but the way Robinson manhandled Ohio State left no doubt in my mind.
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First Team: Montee Ball, Wisconsin Badgers; Marcus Coker, Iowa Hawkeyes.
Second Team: Rex Burkhead, Nebraska Cornhuskers; Silas Redd, Penn State Nittany Lions.
One can find out most of what one needs to know about running backs through their statistics. In effect, here are the top Big Ten running backs' stats.
Ball: 248 ATT, 1,642 YDS, 6.54 YPC, 29 TD, 17 REC, 248 YDS, 5 TD.
Coker: 280 ATT, 1,384 YDS, 4.94 YPC, 15 TD, 21 REC, 157 YDS.
Burkhead: 260 ATT, 1,268 YDS, 4.88 YPC, 15 TD, 16 REC, 142 YDS, 2 TD.
Redd: 230 ATT, 1,188 YDS, 5.17 YPC, 7 TD, 9 REC, 40 YDS.
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First Team: Marvin McNutt, Iowa Hawkeyes; A.J. Jenkins, Illinois Illini; B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State Spartans.
Second Team: Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern Wildcats; Nick Toon, Wisconsin Badgers; Da'Jon McKnight, Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Receivers are in the same situation as running backs, though in this case, one has to consider the system in which the receiver plays. However, the following are the stats of the top six Big Ten receivers.
McNutt: 78 REC, 1,269 YDS, 16.27 YPR, 12 TD.
Jenkins: 84 REC, 1,196 YDS, 14.24 YPR, 7 TD
Cunningham: 67 REC, 1,125 YDS, 16.79 YPR, 9 TD.
Ebert: 71 REC, 1,025 YDS, 14.44 YPR, 11 TD.
Toon: 52 REC, 788 YDS, 15.15 YPR, 9 TD.
McKnight: 51 REC, 760 YDS, 14.90 YPR, 4 TD.
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First Team: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern Wildcats.
Second Team: Jacob Pederson, Wisconsin Badgers.
Overall, it wasn't a banner year for tight ends in the Big Ten. However, there were some standouts.
In Northwestern's offense, Dunsmore doesn't operate out of the standard tight end position. In fact, NU coach Pat Fitzgerald refers to Dunsmore's position—which is essentially an H-back—as a superback.
Out of his superback position, Dunsmore was the Wildcats' second-best pass catcher. He finished the season with 43 catches for 509 yards and six touchdowns.
Pederson was the only other tight end in the conference with over 25 catches. He also was a fierce blocker for the best running team in the Big Ten. His final stat tallies are: 28 REC, 326 YDS, 8 TD.
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First Team: Mike Brewster, Ohio State Buckeyes; Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin Badgers; Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin Badgers; Riley Reiff, Iowa Hawkeyes; Joel Foreman, Michigan State Spartans.
Second Team: Dave Molk, Michigan Wolverines; Dennis Kelly, Purdue Boilermakers; Al Netter, Northwestern Wildcats; Jeff Allen, Illinois Illini; Taylor Lewan, Michigan Wolverines.
Offensive line is a tricky area. Usually, conference awards and even All-American awards are based more on reputation than performance. That plays a part in all position group awards, but especially with offensive linemen.
Part of the issue is there is nothing to go on. After all, O-linemen don't generate any tangible statistics.
Moreover, I certainly haven't seen every Big Ten game this year. In effect, it was particularly difficult to be true to my initial criteria—that the players I named would be based on performance rather than reputation.
That said, I have seen all of the above play at least once.
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First Team: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois Illini; Devon Still, Penn State Nittany Lions; Jerel Worthy, Michigan State Spartans; John Simon, Ohio State Buckeyes.
Second Team: Mike Martin, Michigan Wolverines; Broderick Binns, Iowa Hawkeyes; Jack Crawford, Penn State Nittany Lions; Kawann Short, Purdue Boilermakers.
While Illinois fell off the map in the second half of the season, Mercilus has still been active. He leads the nation with 14.5 sacks. He is also fifth in the country with 19.5 tackles-for-loss. What is it with disruptive Big Ten linemen on so-so defenses? Last year, there was Ryan Kerrigan and this year there is Mercilus.
Regardless, Devon Still's individual numbers aren't as impressive. He has 4.5 sacks and 17 TFL. However, he has been the keystone in the conference's third best run defense and top scoring D.
Speaking of keystones, when MSU defensive tackle Jerel Worthy isn't flopping, he is one of the best linemen in the conference. He doesn't generate impressive stats in the Spartans' defense—3.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL—but he is instrumental in taking on blockers to free up other defenders to get to the ball.
Finally, John Simon has the misfortune to be a key player on the worst Ohio State defense in years. However, that doesn't take away from his talents. He finished the regular season with seven sacks and 15 TFL.
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First Team: Lavonte David, Nebraska Cornhuskers; Chris Borland, Wisconsin Badgers; Gerald Hodges, Penn State Nittany Lions.
Second Team: Kenny Demens, Michigan Wolverines; Mike Taylor, Wisconsin Badgers; Jonathan Brown, Illinois Illini.
David didn't rack up the numbers he did in 2010, but he wasn't going to as he's playing in a different conference with a different dynamic.
He still had an impressive season, recording 122 tackles, two interceptions, 3.5 sacks and 10 TFL. The Blackshirts weren't great this season, but they usually were on when it counted and David was a large part of the reason why.
Wisconsin was another defense that wasn't quite as good as Badger fans might have hoped. However, they usually stepped up when it counted and Borland, in his first entirely healthy season, was the leader. He finished with 124 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 16.5 TFL. And he didn't do any place kicking this season.
Finally, Gerald Hodges helped Penn State re-earn its Linebacker U moniker, and regain its place as the top scoring defense in the conference. He finished the season with 97 tackles, one interception, 4.5 sacks and 10 TFL.
First Team: Antonio Fenelus, Wisconsin Badgers; Johnny Adams, Michigan State Spartans; Nick Sukay, Penn State Nittany Lions; Trent Robinson, Michigan State Spartans.
Second Team: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska Cornhuskers; Micah Hyde, Iowa Hawkeyes; Brian Peters, Northwestern Wildcats; Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State Spartans.
Defensive backs are such a position where those players—and particularly cornerbacks—with less garish stats are often the most productive. After all, a cornerback with a lot of tackles is probably getting picked on. Meanwhile, a cornerback with very little to show for his time on the field is probably being avoided.
However, this was not the case this season.
It is no surprise that MSU has three players in this group. The Spartans did have the second best passing defense in the conference, and one of the best in the country.
That began with Johnny Adams, who locked down one corner position. He finished the year with three picks, including one returned for a touchdown. He also had six pass breakups and three sacks in MSU's ultra-aggressive D.
Trent Robinson was the senior member of the Spartan secondary and he delivered. He tied fellow-MSU safety Isaiah Lewis, Northwestern safety Brian Peters and Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus with a conference-best four picks.
Speaking of the Wisconsin cornerback, Fenelus locked down one side of the field for the third best pass defense in the conference. He finished the season with four picks and five pass breakups.
PSU safety Nick Sukay led the Big Ten's best pass defense. Sukay individually contributed three interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Kickers and Punters
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First Team Kicker: Brett Maher, Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Second Team Kicker: Anthony Fera, Penn State Nittany Lions.
First Team Punter: Cody Webster, Purdue Boilermakers.
Second Team Punter: Brett Maher, Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Maher led the conference, having made 86.4 percent of his field goal attempts. His long was 50 yards. Furthermore, he made all of his extra points, and 26.03 percent of his kickoffs went for touchbacks, which was third in the Big Ten.
Webster came in second in the Big Ten in punting average, finishing with 43.3 YPP. However, his net was much better than the player that came in first, Nebraska kicker/punter, Brett Maher.
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Kickoff Returner: Ameer Abdullah. Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Punt Returner: Jared Abbrederis. Wisconsin Badgers.
As the Big Ten does not name all-conference return men, I saw no reason to name second-team returners, as one could say that naming first team returners was superfluous.
That said, Abdullah is a true freshman who has led the conference in kickoff return average. He finished with 29.96 YPR with one touchdown.
Meanwhile, Abbrederis has been the model of consistency. He averaged 16.35 YPR on 17 returns. He also ran one back for a touchdown.
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Coach of the Year: Brady Hoke, Michigan Wolverines.
Offensive Player of the Year: Montee Ball, Wisconsin Badgers.
Offensive Lineman of the Year: Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin Badgers.
Defensive Player of the Year: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois Illini.
Defensive Lineman of the Year: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois Illini.
Freshman of the Year: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska Cornhuskers/ Braxton Miller, Ohio State Buckeyes.