All Big Ten Football Team
The Big Ten Conference released its All Big Ten Football team selections this week. This list can be viewed at the BigTen.org website. Some people have said this was a down season for the Big Ten Conference this year. I disagree. The addition of Nebraska to the conference made the Big Ten stronger this year. There were many good players in the Big Ten Conference and not all players can make the All Big Ten list. I follow Big Ten football like a religion, but I am by no means the expert on Big Ten football. I do have enough knowledge of the players in the conference to know who should and who should not be on the All Big Ten Conference list. I thought it would be fun to put together my own list as a Featured Columnist for the Big Ten Conference and see if you agree or disagree.
So, here is my first ever All Big Ten Football Selections…..
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Russell Wilson (Wisconsin)
The best quarterback in the Big Ten Conference this year is Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson.
Wilson had some competition for this award from Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Iowa’s James Vandenberg, but when you watch the players on the field, there is no question that Wilson is the best.
Wilson was to struggle in his first season at Wisconsin. He arrived late to the campus and had to learn a new system with new players. He was able to pick up the system quickly and come out of the gate on fire. The bad news for Wisconsin is that Wilson will be playing in his last game after the Badgers play in their bowl game. Next year Wisconsin will be back to the drawing board, looking to start another new quarterback.
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Monte Ball (Wisconsin) and Rex Burkhead (Nebraska)
Since most teams play two running backs, I have selected two players for the All Big Ten Team.
The first selection is a no brainer, Monte Ball. I do not want this team to be filled with all Wisconsin players, but this article would have no credibility without Ball included. Ball was awarded the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Award.
Going into the Big Ten Championship Game, Ball leads the conference with 1,870 total yards and a conference record 34 touchdown (second all-time only to Barry Sanders). Ball’s 2011 season may be the best season ever played by a Big Ten running back.
The second man on the list does not have the stats that Ball has, but he means as much to his team as Monte Ball. To say Rex Burkhead carried the load for Nebraska this season is an understatement. Nebraska running backs carried the ball 361 times in 2011 and Burkhead had 261 of those carries (73%). Whenever Nebraska was in trouble they leaned on Burkhead to win them the game. He was a big part of Nebraska’s wins over Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa. If there was a Big Ten MVP award, Burkhead would be in the discussion.
Other considerations for the All Big Ten running backs could have been Marcus Coker (Iowa) and Silas Redd (Penn State). Both players had good seasons carrying the ball.
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Marvin McNutt (Iowa) and B.J. Cunningham (Michigan State)
The Big Ten Conference selected Marvin McNutt as their All Big Ten receiver and I agree with them.
Just like Burkhead was the go-to guy for the Cornhuskers, McNutt was the go-to receiver for Iowa. McNutt led the Big Ten Conference in receiving yards with 1,269 and receiving touchdowns with 12. McNutt is a senior this year and will be sorely missed by the Hawkeyes moving forward.
There are receivers in the Big Ten Conference with better stats than B.J. Cunningham, but he means as much to the Spartans as any receiver in the Big Ten Conference. Cunningham became the all-time leading receiver at Michigan State this year. The Spartans have had some big name receivers come through their program (Plaxico Burris, Andre Rison, Charles Rogers, Mark Ingram, and Courtney Hawkins). Like McNutt, Cunningham is a senior and a player who will be playing on Sundays next year.
Other wide receivers who could have been included are: A.J. Jenkins (Illinois) and Jeremy Ebert (Northwestern) Jenkins led the conference in receptions with 84 and Ebert played most of the season without his star quarterback, Dan Persa.
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Drake Dunsmore (Northwestern)
Usually the Big Ten Conference is a strong conference for producing tight ends. This season the tight end position was a little down. Three tight ends did produce for their teams though. Drake Dunsmore (Northwestern), Jacob Pedersen (Wisconsin), and Jake Stoneburner (Ohio State) each had good seasons. I went with Dunsmore because he led the conference tight ends in receptions with 43 and yards with 509.
Pedersen would have been the All Big Ten Conference tight end if he played on a different team. Pederson had to compete for the ball with wide receiver Nick Toon, and running backs Monte Ball and James White. Going into the Big Ten Championship Game, Pedersen has 28 receptions for 326 yards and a conference leading 8 touchdowns.
The Ohio State offense had a down year, but Jake Stoneburner was one of their bright spots. Stoneburner did not catch a lot of passes, but when he did he made them count. Stoneburner caught 14 passes and half of them were for touchdowns.
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Tackles: Josh Oglesby (Wisconsin) and Mike Adams (Ohio State)
Gaurds: Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) and Adam Gettis (Iowa)
Center: David Molk (Michigan)
When you block for a running back that sets many Big Ten records during the season, your team must have some linemen included on the All Big Ten Conference linemen list. That is why Josh Oglesby and Kevin Zeitler from Wisconsin are on this list. One thing was for sure when Monte Ball or James White carried the football for Wisconsin; there would be big holes to run through.
Mike Adams is the senior leader for the Buckeyes offensive line. Although the Buckeyes had their problems on offense, when they needed a yard they usually ran the ball to Adam’s side of the field.
Adam Gettis was a bright surprise for Iowa this year. Many people wondered how the Hawkeyes would fair on offense. Everyone knew wide receiver Marvin McNutt and running back Marcus Coker would be good, but who would block for them. Adam Gettis is the answer to that question. Coker finished second in the conference in rushing and many of his yards came from running to Gattis’ side of the field.
The best lineman in the Big Ten Conference had to be Michigan’s David Molk. Molk won the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year Award. The award is given to the best offensive lineman in the Big Ten Conference. His senior leadership and blocking abilities will be missed after he plays his finally game for the Wolverines in their bowl game.
Other linemen who had good season and just misses this list include: Mike Caputo (Nebraska), Joel Foreman (Michigan State), Mike Brewster (Ohio State), Travis Frederick (Wisconsin), Riley Reiff (Iowa), and Taylor Lewan (Michigan).
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Mercilus Whitney (Illinois), John Simon (Ohio State), William Gholston (Michigan State), Devon Still (Penn State)
When you look at stats alone, the best defensive lineman in the Big Ten Conference in 2011 was Illinois’ Mercilus Whitney. Whitney led the Conference in sacks with 16 and tackles for a loss with 23. Although he did not win the honor for the best defensive lineman in the Big Ten Conference, he is No. 1 on my list.
John Simon was a beast for the Buckeyes defense. He finished second in the conference in sacks with 7 and sixth in tackles for a loss with 16. Simon is a junior and if Urban Meyer can talk him out of entering the NFL draft, he could be one of the best defensive players in the conference next season.
There is no question as to which team had the best defensive line in the Big Ten Conference. Michigan State’s William Gholston led a Spartans defense that was No. 1 against the run and No. 2 against the pass. He led the Spartans with 11 tackles for a loss.
Penn State had one of the best defenses in the Big Ten Conference this season. The leader of the Nittany Lions defense was Devon Still. Still was award the Big Ten Conference player of the Year award and the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year Award. Still finished the season with 5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss.
Other defensive lineman who just missed out on the list include: Jerel Worthy (Michigan State), Cameron Meredith (Nebraska), Mike Daniels (Iowa), Mike Martin (Michigan), and Jack Crawford (Penn State).
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Lavonte David (Nebraska), Gerald Hodges (Penn State), Mike Taylor (Wisconsin)
The best defensive player in the Big Ten Conference was Lavonte David for Nebraska. David was awarded the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year Award. The award goes to the best linebacker in the Big Ten Conference. If Nebraska made a great play on defense, David was involved in it. He led the Cornhuskers with 122 tackles and 11 tackles for a loss. In his two seasons with Nebraska, David has become the No. 5 all-time tackler in school history with 274. With three more tackle in the bowl game, David will move up to No. 3 on the list.
Penn State is known as Linebacker University, so it is only fitting that the Nittany Lions have a linebacker on this list. Gerald Hodges recorded 97 tackles for the season with 11 tackles for a loss. Penn State was No. 5 in the conference in rush defense and Hodges was a big reason for that.
Mike Taylor for Wisconsin was not supposed to be on this list. He was not mentioned as a preseason All Big Ten player. All Taylor did this season was lead the Big Ten Conference in tackles with 128. Although he did not have many sacks or tackles for a loss, he was involved in most of the Badgers defensive plays. Other players will receive honors for their play at linebacker in 2011, but anyone who leads a conference in tackles will be included on my list.
Other linebackers who had good season and just missed out on the list include: Chris Borland (Wisconsin), Andrew Sweat (Ohio State), Max Bullough (Michigan State), Will Compton (Nebraska).
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Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska), Micah Hyde (Iowa), Nick Sukay (Penn State), Isaiah Lewis (Michigan State)
Most positions in football you can look at the stat sheet and see who the best players are. This is not the case for defensive backs. The players on this list do not have the best stats, but that is because most teams stayed away from them the entire game.
Alfonzo Dennard was a shutdown corner for the Cornhuskers this season. When Nebraska played Michigan State Dennard did not allow the Spartans star receiver, B.J. Cunningham to catch a ball. When the Cornhuskers played Iowa, Dennard held the Big Ten Receiver of the Year to four catches for 29 yards. Dennard was awarded the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back Award. The award is given to the best defensive back in the Big Ten Conference. That is saying a lot for a guy who missed the first four games.
Micah Hyde was a playmaker for the Hawkeyes in 2011. Hyde was tied for the lead in the Big Ten Conference in passes defended with 10. He also had 68 tackles, 3 interceptions, and returned 12 punts for 88 yards.
Nick Sukay was the leader of the Penn State secondary. Sukay led the Big Ten Conference in passes defended with 10. He ended the regular season with 59 tackles, and 3 interceptions.
Michigan State also had a playmaker in their secondary. Isaiah Lewis led the Big Ten Conference in interceptions and had seven passes defended. He would have had more passes defended but most teams stayed away from him in 2011. Those who didn’t, watched Lewis intercept their passes.
Other players who had good seasons but just missed making the list include: Shaun Prater (Iowa), Johnny Adams (Michigan State), Aaron Henry (Wisconsin), Ricardo Allen (Purdue), and C.J. Barnett (Ohio State).
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Kicker / Punter Brett Maher (Nebraska)
Returner Jared Abberderis (Wisconsin)
If Penn State is Linebacker University, Nebraska is clearly Kicker University. After putting place kickers Josh Brown, and Kris Brown in the NFL, Nebraska’s place kicker Alex Henery became the all-time field goal percentage leader in college football history and was selected as the first kicker in this year’s NFL draft.
Nebraska fans were worried that they could not replace Henery. Well, they did. Place kicker / punter Brett Maher lead the Big Ten Conference in field goals made, field goal percentage, and punting. Maher mad 19-22 field goals and averaged 45 yards per punt. Maher was awarded the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year Award and the Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year Award. These awards are given to the best place kicker and best punter in the Big Ten Conference. How Maher is not a finalist for the Lou Groza Award (given to the best kicker in college football) I have no idea.
Wisconsin never had problems this year with field position as long as Jared Abberderis was returning kicks. Abberderis led the Big Ten Conference in punt return average with 16.4 yards per return. He also returned one of the punts for a touchdown. Abberderis averaged 23.1 yards per kick return, placing him No. 8 in the conference.
Other special team players who had good seasons but just missed the list include: Cody Webster, punter (Purdue), Drew Basil, kicker (Ohio State), Ameer Abdullah, returner (Nebraska), and Raheem Mostert, returner (Purdue).