We're all about Big Ten football on this blog -- 24/7/365 -- but we're not naïve about the fact that hoops is dominating he college sports landscape right now. After all, I typed this post from the United Center in Chicago, where I spent late last week watching some excellent Big Ten basketball tournament action.
March Madness is upon us, and it is glorious.
To get in the spirit, we're once again putting our own spin on the brackets to have a little fun (and, naturally, stir the pot). If you recall last year, we staged the Big Ten champions tournament, which featured an eight-team field of championship teams from the previous 15 years. Teams were seeded and faced off against one another, and you voted on who should advance. Nebraska's 1997 team prevailed as the champion of champions.
This year, the field will include eight Big Ten players from the past 15 years (Nebraska's representative played in the Big 12, but like last year, we can't exclude the Huskers from the fun). As Brian Bennett pointed out last year, 15 years gives us a time frame that is fairly fresh in our memories. It's difficult enough to identify eight representatives for this list, and we don't want to start comparing players from completely different eras. We realize the game has changed in the past 15 years, but not as much as it has in the past 40. So we're looking at players from 1998-2012.
It's impossible to come up with a list that pleases everyone, and while we're ready for your abuse, we had to put some parameters on the selections. For starters, we want to involve as many fan bases as we can, so we've capped the selections at one per program. Although four programs won't be represented, it's better than six or seven.
Also, to narrow things down, a selection must be a winner of the Silver Football as Big Ten MVP or win at least one major national award (Heisman, Maxwell, Walter Camp, Bednarik, Biletnikoff, Butkus, Rotary-Lombardi, Mackey, Outland, Rimington, Thorpe, Doak Walker). Take issue with this if you'd like, but we had to reduce the candidate pool. We could forever debate Braylon Edwards vs. Jake Long as Michigan's representative, but the bottom line is Edwards won Big Ten MVP and the Biletnikoff Award in 2004. Long, as great as he was, never won the Outland Trophy.
We also looked for representatives who had special/iconic careers, so one-year stars like Iowa RB Shonn Greene (2008) weren't in the mix. And while a candidate had to play at least one season during the 15-year window, multiple seasons was a plus.
OK, long-winded intro over.
We'll get started later today with the matchups and polls, but now it's finally time to introduce the field (in alphabetical order):
Drew Brees, QB, Purdue, 1997-2000: Maxwell Award winner and Big Ten MVP in 2000, while finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting; Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 1998 (co); All-Big Ten selection from 1998-2000; runner-up for Maxwell Award in 1999; Big Ten career leader in passing attempts (1,678), passing completions (1,026), passing yards (11,792), passing touchdowns (90) and total offense (12,692); owns NCAA record for pass attempts in a game (83) and tied for third in single-game completions (55).
Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin 1996-99: Won Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Doak Walker Ward, Big Ten MVP and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 1999; consensus All-American in 1999 and first-team All-Big Ten in 1996, 1998 and 1999; Set NCAA career rushing record with 6,397 yards (not including bowl games) and ranks sixth in both career rushing touchdowns (63) and rushing yards per game (148.8); became just the fourth player in FBS history to eclipse 1,000 rush yards in all four seasons; first player to lead the Big Ten in rushing for three consecutive seasons; only Big Ten player to win back-to-back Rose Bowl MVP awards (1999 and 2000); left Wisconsin with 48 team records and had his No. 33 retired in 2007.
Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan, 2001-04: Big Ten MVP, Biletnikoff Award winner, unanimous consensus first-team All-American and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2004; only wide receiver in Big Ten history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons; first-team All-Big Ten in 2003 and 2004; holds Big Ten record for career touchdown receptions (39), ranks fourth in career receiving yards (3,541) and fifth in career receptions (97); set Michigan records for career receptions (252), receiving yards and receiving touchdowns; last player to wear the coveted No. 1 jersey for the Wolverines.
Robert Gallery, OT, Iowa, 2000-03: Won the Outland Trophy in 2003 and earned consensus first-team All-America honors; named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2003; earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2002 and 2003; started final 44 games of his career and didn't allow a sack in 36 straight games for the Hawkeyes.
Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana, 1998-2001: Big Ten MVP, first-team All-American and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2001; All-Big Ten selection from 1999-2001; first player in NCAA history to score 40 touchdowns (45) and throw for 40 TDs (42), the first to record over 2,500 total yards in four seasons, and the first to both pass for over 6,000 yards and rush for over 3,000 yards; Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1998, transformative figure for Big Ten quarterbacks as a dual threat.
Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State, 2003-06: Became just the second player to win the Bednarik Award (nation's top defender) in consecutive seasons, doing so in 2005 and 2006; won the Butkus Award in 2005 and was a finalist for the Butkus in 2006 and twice for the Rotary Lombardi Award; first-team All-American in 2005 and 2006; started the final 37 games of his career and became the first Nittany Lions player to lead the team in tackles three times and to post three 100-tackle seasons; was a two-time captain.
Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State, 2003-06: Won Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Big Ten MVP, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2006; unanimous consensus first-team All-American in 2006 and also earned first-team All-Big Ten honors that year; finished fourth and seventh nationally in pass efficiency in 2005 and 2006, respectively; set a team record with 30 touchdown passes in 2006, finished with 54 touchdown strikes against only 13 interceptions and led Ohio State to consecutive BCS bowl appearances (the latter in the national title game).
Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska, 2006-09: Named AP Player of the Year in 2009 and also won Bednarik Award, Rotary Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy and Outland Trophy; Heisman Trophy finalist (finished fourth in voting, first defensive tackle invited to New York since Warren Sapp in 1994); named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year; consensus first-team All-American in 2009; first-team All-Big 12 in 2008; led Nebraska in tackles in his final two seasons, racking up 43 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks; his 57 career tackles for loss ranks second in team history.