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Take Two: Early Big Ten MVP choices

9/27/2011

Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two topic is this: With the first month of the season complete, who are your Big Ten offensive and defensive MVPs so far?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

In my view, the offensive MVP is a three-man race at this early stage between Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Denard Robinson. My choice is Robinson. Wilson has been fantastic thus far and is a true Heisman contender, but I have no doubt the Badgers would be 4-0 with or without him. Martinez has been great, too, but no one has been more valuable than Robinson. Where would Michigan be without his heroics? They certainly wouldn't have won the Notre Dame game, where he accounted for almost every yard. Game after game, the Wolverines' offense has needed Robinson to carry the offense with big plays, and he has delivered. The question is whether he can continue to do so as the season wears on.

The defensive picture isn't nearly as clear, as there have been a lot of strong performances but not many transcendent ones. My early pick for defensive MVP is Penn State's Devon Still. The senior defensive tackle has continued the momentum from his terrific game in the Outback Bowl, and he currently leads the league with 5.5 tackles for loss. That's an impressive number for an interior lineman. We talked in the preseason about defensive tackle being the top position of strength in the Big Ten, and I think Still has had the best year at that spot so far. But there's a lot of football left.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg



It's hard not to give the offensive MVP to Wilson, but you're right, Wisconsin is 4-0 even without him. So many weapons on that offense. Robinson and Martinez also are good choices, but I'm going in a different direction. James Vandenberg. You know, the quarterback from Iowa? Through four games, his passing numbers are almost as impressive as Wilson's (1,095 pass yards, 10 TDs, 1 INT), and Iowa really has needed the junior to step up. Vandenberg's heroic performance in the historic comeback against Pitt might be the turning point of the season. If Iowa falls to 1-2, things really could start to snowball. Instead, the Hawkeyes are 3-1 entering the bye week and their quarterback is playing with a ton of confidence. The run game hasn't been nearly as consistent as Iowa thought it would be, and the Hawkeyes needed Vandenberg to be the player in games that they saw in practice last year.

Defensive MVP is tougher, and Still is a very strong candidate. But Illinois wouldn't be 4-0 without its defense, which has been huge the past two weeks against Arizona State and Western Michigan. Defensive end Whitney Mercilus really has impressed me. In addition to having a terrific name for a pass-rusher, Mercilus has been consistently disruptive, making plays in opposing backfields. He has four sacks, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. While linebacker Jonathan Brown and others have stood out for the Illini, Mercilus is my pick.