Big Ten Award Candidates

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Last updated: 08/04/2011 2:07 PM
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Sizing Up the Big Ten's Award Candidates
By Tony Gerdeman

The first Coaches' Poll of the season was released on Thursday, and though you may think it's worthless, I will argue that its worthlessness pales in comparison to the worthlessness of college football award watch lists.

Chances are that if you've ever started a college football game and you played a position that gives out an award, then you've been on a watch list.

Some people don't even know they're on watch lists. It's like those people that don't know they have money just sitting somewhere waiting to be claimed.

Watch lists are pointless because they cover so much ground. They don't narrow anything down or give any odds as to which player is most likely to win.

That's why I'm doing the following. I forsook the broad scope of the watch lists, and narrowed it down just to Big Ten players, and I didn't just list players - well, okay, that's exactly what I did - but mine are actually listed in order of likelihood to win, which is a vast improvement.

Oh, and if you didn't know that Nebraska was now in the Big Ten, you will after reading this.

Bronko Nagurski Trophy / Chuck Bednarik Award (Most Outstanding Defensive Player)

1. Lavonte David, Nebraska linebacker
2. Jared Crick, Nebraska defensive tackle
3. Shaun Prater, Iowa defensive back
4. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska cornerback
5. Andrew Sweat, Ohio State linebacker

Clearly, the Blackshirts are back. However, we can expect the numbers of Lavonte David and Jared Crick to diminish somewhat just for the simple fact that the Big Ten is a bit more methodical, and a lot less maniacal on offense than the Big XII. Andrew Sweat will make plays on the weakside for Ohio State. If he can make a good portion of those plays in the backfield, then he can move up on this list.

Butkus Award (Top linebacker)

1. Lavonte David, Nebraska
2. Andrew Sweat, Ohio State
3. Chris Borland, Wisconsin
4. Michael Mauti, Penn State
5. Gary Tinsley, Minnesota

Lavonte David had 152 tackles last season, which was his first at Nebraska after transferring from junior college. It is pretty obvious that he's in the right system. Chris Borland, if he can stay healthy, may be the most disruptive defensive player in the conference.

Chicago Tribune Silver Football (Big Ten MVP)

1. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State quarterback
2. Denard Robinson, Michigan quarterback
3. Dan Persa, Northwestern quarterback
4. Montee Ball, Wisconsin running back
5. Marcus Coker, Iowa running back

Kirk Cousins has a ton of talented receivers to throw to, but the thing that may cost him this award is the ton of talented running backs who will be taking yards and touchdowns from him. Yes, that's a first-world problem. Oh, and the reason there are no defensive players here is because there have only been two defensive players chosen in the last 27 years (Charles Woodson and Brandon Graham).

Davey O'Brien Award (Best quarterback)

1. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State
2. Dan Persa, Northwestern
3. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
4. Denard Robinson, Michigan
5. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska

I don't think Denard Robinson and Taylor Martinez really have much of a chance at this award because they just don't throw it well enough. Dan Persa will complete 70% of his passes, and Cousins will throw for 3,000 yards. Neither Robinson or Martinez will come close to those numbers.

Doak Walker Award (Top running back)

1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin
2. Marcus Coker, Iowa
3. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
4. Edwin Baker, Michigan State
5. Silas Redd, Penn State

First off, there are more talented backs in the Big Ten than this list can hold. However, I'd still find a way for them if they weren't all splitting carries. Wisconsin's James White should be here, but I went with Marcus Coker, Rex Burkhead and Silas Redd because they won't be splitting carries like White and Montee Ball will be. I put Ball on here because he simply can't be ignored. He averaged 155 yards rushing over his last five games last season--the only five where he was actually involved in the offense. An average like that comes out to 2,176 yards over a 14-game season.

Fred Biletnikoff Award (Top wide receiver)

1. Marvin McNutt, Iowa
2. A.J. Jenkins, Illinois
3. Da'Jon McKnight, Minnesota
4. Roy Roundtree, Michigan
5. Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern

Ron Zook says that A.J. Jenkins will be Illinois' big-play receiver this season, and with a more comfortable quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase, who am I to argue. Roy Roundtree is dinged because of his acute braylonitis, and because the read option play-action plays where he was most effective may not be as big a part of the offense as it used to be. Let's call Da'Jon McKnight a wildcard. If MarQueis Gray can throw the ball, he'll be looking for McKnight over and over again.

Jim Thorpe Award (Top defensive back)

1. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska cornerback
2. Shaun Prater, Iowa defensive back
3. Travis Howard, Ohio State cornerback
4. Ricardo Allen, Purdue cornerback
5. Antonio Fenelus, Wisconsin cornerback

People outside of Ohio State don't necessarily know about Travis Howard yet, but all signs point to him making himself very known this season. Ricardo Allen had a huge freshman year, but will need to show consistency and avoid falling victim to the sophomore slump. Shaun Prater appears to be moving from cornerback to safety, so that may or may not be good.

John Mackey Award (Most outstanding tight end)

1. Kyler Reed, Nebraska
2. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
3. Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern
4. Manasseh Garner, Wisconsin
5. Eric Lair, Minnesota

Kyler Reed caught eight touchdown passes last season, which was more than Roy Roundtree or Devier Posey. It will be tough to reproduce those numbers, but that doesn't mean they can be ignored. Jake Stoneburner should be a very important piece to the passing puzzle while the Buckeyes are without the aforementioned Posey. Expect him to be flexed out quite a bit this season, which should make it easier for him to find open spaces. If he can find a some synergy with whichever quarterback wins the job, Stoneburner could be very busy this season.

Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Trophy (Outstanding senior quarterback)

1. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State
2. Dan Persa, Northwestern
3. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
4. Robert Marve, Purdue
5. Joe Bauserman, Ohio State

The last two candidates should tell you about the amount of youth taking snaps this season. These are the only five senior quarterbacks with their eyes on playing time, and even if Marve and Bauserman see the field, they'll be splitting time with younger quarterbacks.

Lombardi Award (Best lineman or linebacker)

1. Jared Crick, Nebraska defensive tackle
2. Lavonte David, Nebraska linebacker
3. Mike Martin, Michigan defensive tackle
4. Chris Borland, Wisconsin linebacker
5. John Simon, Ohio State defensive lineman

We have really only seen glimpses of how good Mike Martin can be, but those glimpses have been promising. This will be his finest year at Michigan, so expect to hear his name quite a bit. The same goes for John Simon. He'll be moving all over the place this season, so he'll have ample opportunity to make his mark.

Lou Groza Award (Top placekicker)

1. Carson Wiggs, Purdue
2. Dan Conroy, Michigan State
3. Derek Dimke, Illinois
4. Phillip Welch, Wisconsin
5. Mitch Ewald, Indiana

There are some pretty good kickers in the Big Ten this season, but we're going with Carson Wiggs on top because he's got the strongest leg and as everybody knows, chicks dig the long ball. Wiggs probably won't be called upon to repeat the 67-yard field goal that he made in the spring, but it still has to be nice to know that you've got that in the arsenal.

Outland Trophy (Best interior lineman)

1. Jared Crick, Nebraska defensive tackle
2. Mike Brewster, Ohio State center
3. Riley Reiff, Iowa offensive tackle
4. Mike Martin, Michigan defensive tackle
5. Jerel Worthy, Michigan State defensive tackle

Hey look everybody, it's Jared Crick again. That's probably what Big Ten opponents will be saying this season as well. He finished last season with 70 tackles and 17 tackles for loss. The only two Big Ten players who got into the backfield more than Crick last year were Ryan Kerrigan and J.J. Watt.

Ray Guy Award (Top punter)

1. Will Hagerup, Michigan
2. Brad Nortman, Wisconsin
3. Brandon Williams, Northwestern
4. Anthony Fera, Penn State
5. Ben Buchanan, Ohio State

Will Hagerup was expected to be the next Zoltan Mesko, but he fell a little bit short. Though let's be honest, Ray Guy probably would have fallen short as well. I'm expecting Hagerup to be even better than he was last year, and he was pretty darn good last year.

Rimington Trophy (Most outstanding center)

1. Michael Brewster, Ohio State
2. David Molk, Michigan
3. Peter Konz, Wisconsin
4. Peters Drey, Purdue
5. Graham Pocic, Illinois

This is a two-man battle between Michael Brewster and David Molk. Brewster isn't just the Big Ten favorite to win the award, he's probably the national favorite. Molk is a tremendous player, but he has been overshadowed by Brewster, and Michigan's failures certainly haven't helped him.

Ted Hendricks Award (Top Defensive End)

1. John Simon, Ohio State
2. Nathan Williams, Ohio State
3. Vince Browne, Northwestern
4. Cameron Meredith, Nebraska
5. Craig Roh, Michigan

I've got John Simon here under the assumption that he's actually going to play more end than tackle. It's been a while since a Buckeye had double-figure sack numbers, and I'm not sure that's going to change this year. Vince Browne may end up leading the conference in sacks, but Cameron Meredith and Craig Roh are the wildcards. As with the rest of the Wolverine defenders, it is going to be fascinating to see how Roh responds to actual defensive coaching.

Walter Camp Award / Maxwell Award / Heisman Trophy

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan quarterback
2. Dan Persa, Northwestern quarterback
3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin running back
4. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska quarterback
5. Marcus Coker, Iowa running back

You know that doubt that you have about Denard Robinson? Remember the doubt that you had about him last year? Maybe it's time to start letting him live up to expectations, and stop hoping he lives down to yours. Will things go seamlessly in the new Michigan offensive system? No. But let's not pretend he's got no chance. He may be a square beg, but he's a square peg that runs a 4.3 forty.

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