Big Ten superlatives

August, 28, 2009
8/28/09
1:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten preview marches on with a look at the best, the new, the surprising and the disappointing.


1. Offensive player of the year: Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn gets the nod in a close race with Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark. Benn has the league's most experienced quarterback (Juice Williams) at his disposal, and he headlines one of the deepest receiving corps in the country. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson should take some of the attention away from Benn, who has done everything but catch touchdowns and should see his total increase this fall.


2. Defensive player of the year: Navorro Bowman put up amazing numbers last fall despite not starting the first few games, and the Penn State junior linebacker should be even better this fall. Bowman will benefit greatly from Sean Lee's return to the field, and his speed won't go to waste in a talented Nittany Lions front seven. Michigan State's Greg Jones, Michigan's Brandon Graham and Northwestern's Corey Wootton all could contend here.


3. Newcomer of the year: I've got a feeling Keith Nichol will wind up as Michigan State's starter at quarterback, and the Oklahoma transfer shouldn't disappoint. His athleticism gives the Spartans' offense a new element, and he has improved as a passer and should be able to capitalize on a good group of wide receivers and tight ends. Illinois' Fayson and Wisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt are also good candidates.


4. Comeback player of the year: Penn State's Lee is a no brainer here. A second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2007, Lee has had no setbacks in his recovery from a torn ACL that cost him all of last season. Lee is the type of player who shouldn't miss a beat as he returns to the Lions defense and teams with Bowman to form arguably the nation's best linebacker tandem.


5. Freshman of the year: Gotta go with a Michigan quar
terback, and my pick is Tate Forcier. Enrolling early should pay off for Forcier, who fits Rich Rodriguez's offense and showed promising signs in the spring game. Denard Robinson will push Forcier and could end up with this award by season's end, but Forcier appears to be a bit more polished and should benefit from the veterans around him.


6. Most exciting player: Whether you love or loathe Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, it's hard to take your eyes off of him. His size and speed is truly unique, and he finds ways to extend plays and pull off dazzling moves. Pryor struggled with his passing last fall but made strides during the offseason and could become a complete quarterback that opposing defenses fear.


7. Coach of the year: Jim Tressel wins the award for the first time (wow) as an Ohio State team with a few more question marks than normal wins another league title. The Buckeyes affirm their ability to replace national award winners and fill gaps at running back, linebacker and cornerback. I could also see Iowa's Kirk Ferentz or Michigan State's Mark Dantonio winning here.


8. Game of the year: When it comes to determining the league champ, the Ohio State-Penn State game on Nov. 7 is the obvious choice. The Buckeyes carry a 15-game conference road win streak into the season, but their last Big Ten road loss came against Penn State in 2005. The Nittany Lions have been dominant at Beaver Stadium since 2005 and could enter the game undefeated with a shot at returning to Pasadena. Though Ohio State-Penn State will be huge, no game means more to the Big Ten as a whole than Ohio State-USC on Sept. 12.


9. Surprise team of the year: No obvious choice here, but I'm going to buy into Illinois. With so many offensive weapons, particularly at wide receiver, there's no reason why the unit shouldn't surge this fall. I really liked the vibe I got from linebacker Martez Wilson, who will finally meet expectations after moving to the middle. Several other squads could fit in here -- Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern, Minnesota -- but I'll go with the Illini.


10. Team that will disappoint: Wisconsin worries me. The quarterback competition didn't produce a ton of clarity, and there are depth questions at linebacker and in the secondary. Bret Bielema's Week 1 depth chart is filled with unproven players. A favorable schedule might save the Badgers, but I'm not sold. Michigan could be the pick if it stumbles out of the gate.

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