The NCAA men's basketball tournament tips off tonight in Dayton, Ohio, but the Big Ten players tournament is already off and running. It's time to look at the second of four first-round matchups between Big Ten standouts from the past 15 seasons. As a reminder, each Big Ten member is limited to one entry, and candidates must either have won Big Ten MVP honors or a major national award.
Voting for this matchup will take place until 9 a.m. ET Thursday.
Let's get to it ...
No. 2 seed Troy Smith (Ohio State QB, 2003-06) vs. No. 7 seed Antwaan Randle El (Indiana QB, 1998-2001)
One blazed the trail for dual-threat quarterbacks in the Big Ten. The other is the last Big Ten player to win the Heisman Trophy. Two strong choices here.
Smith went 26-4 as Ohio State's starting quarterback and haunted the Buckeyes' archrival Michigan, leading the Scarlet and Gray to three victories to start a long win streak in the series. He was among the nation's most efficient passers his final two seasons, finishing fourth nationally in 2005 and seventh in 2006. Smith led Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl championship following the 2005 season and then took his game to the next level in 2006. He passed for 2,542 yards with 30 touchdowns and six interceptions as a senior, claiming the Heisman, the Walter Camp Award, the Davey O'Brien Award, Big Ten MVP honors and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors. Smith became the first Ohio State starting quarterback to lead the team to three straight wins against Michigan, racking up 1,151 yards of offense and nine touchdowns (seven pass, two rush) against the Wolverines. Although his career ended on a down note in the national title game against Florida, Smith is considered by many to be the top quarterback in Ohio State history.
Look at all the dual-threat quarterbacks starting for Big Ten teams these days and then remember Randle El. He transfomed the game in a league wedded to traditional drop-back quarterbacks with big arms and limited mobility. Randle El burst on the scene as a freshman in 1998, racking up 1,745 pass yards, 873 rush yards and 16 touchdowns (10 rush, 6 pass), earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He became the first player in NCAA history to score 40 touchdowns (45) and throw for 40 TDs (42), the first to record more than 2,500 total yards in four seasons, and the first to both pass for more than 6,000 yards and rush for more than 3,000 yards. Despite playing for teams that never made bowls or had winning records, Randle El earned All-Big Ten honors in 1999, 2000 and 2001. As a senior he was named Big Ten MVP and a first-team All-American, and he finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.
Don't forget to vote, and send me your rationale, as I'll include some of the responses in a post announcing who advances to the semifinals.