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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Big Ten awards race tracker

By Brian Bennett

Beginning this week until the end of the season, we'll offer you a real-time snapshot of how the two major player of the year races (offense and defense) are shaping up. We'll also include a third, rotating category for other award races, starting this week with the freshman of the year competition.

The offensive player of the year battle is a little more clear-cut right now than on defense, but things can change quickly as we get further into conference play.

Offensive player of the year

1. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson: The frontrunner right now not only for Big Ten honors but also possibly the Heisman race. Wilson leads the league in virtually every passing category and has been stellar for the Big Ten's top-rated team.

2. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson: The junior once again leads the league in rushing, with 603 yards, and though his passing has been erratic, he still has thrown for eight touchdowns. Plus, Michigan is 5-0 and his heroics are a big reason why.

3. Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg: Other than a slow start in the Pittsburgh game, Vandenberg has been brilliant. He has thrown for 10 touchdowns and just one interception and is second in the league in total offense. He will have a challenge this week against the Penn State defense.

4. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball: If not for Wilson, Ball might be the leading candidate here. He is third in the league in rushing, and his 14 total touchdowns leads the Big Ten and all of the FBS.

5. Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins: After his huge day against Northwestern last week, Jenkins leads the Big Ten in receiving and all-purpose yards, and his five touchdown catches are second only to Wisconsin's Nick Toon.

Defensive player of the year

1. Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still: The most dominant interior lineman in a league full of them, Still is tied for the league lead with 5.5 tackles for loss and has powered a defense that has consistently saved the day for the Nittany Lions.

2. Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus: He leads the Big Ten in sacks with 5.5 and has been a key cog on a surprising Illinois defense.

3. Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy: He's giving Still a run for his money for the title of best defensive tackle. Worthy was all over the Ohio State backfield in last week's win in Columbus, and the Spartans have been terrific on defense.

Freshman of the year

1. Illinois running back Donovonn Young: Part of a deep Illini rushing attack, Young has carried the ball 35 times for 241 yards and four touchdowns this season.

2. Michigan State linebacker Marcus Rush: This week's Big Ten freshman of the week, Rush has 18 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and a sack, for the league's top-rated defense.

3. Nebraska returner Ameer Abdullah: A top candidate for special teams player of the year, the electric Abdullah leads the league in kickoff return average, including a 100-yard touchdown, and is second in punt returns.

On the radar: Jamal Turner, WR, Nebraska; Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State; Kevonte Martin-Manley, WR, Iowa; Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan; Donnell Kirkwood, RB, Minnesota.