Big Ten: 09 endorsements

The coach of the year race came down to two candidates: Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Ohio State's Jim Tressel. Ferentz led Iowa through a maze of obstacles and wild games to a 10-2 record and a possible BCS at-large berth. Tressel did what he does best, win Big Ten titles, but this year's championship run took on a different tone after an Oct. 17 loss to Purdue.

Both coaches should be commended for their work, but in the end, I could only choose one.

I endorse Iowa's Kirk Ferentz for Big Ten Coach of the Year.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
David Purdy/Getty ImagesKirk Ferentz led the Hawkeyes to a 10-2 record and a possible BCS bowl berth.
Ferentz had so many things working against him this season, namely a brutal road schedule and several unfortunate injuries. Running back Jewel Hampton, the projected successor to Big Ten MVP Shonn Greene, went down with a knee injury during the summer. Ferentz lost left tackle Bryan Bulaga and tight end Tony Moeaki for a chunk of the season, and running back Adam Robinson missed two games with a high-ankle sprain. And Iowa still went 10-2, finding new players to step up and new ways to win games seemingly every week.

Had quarterback Ricky Stanzi not gone down with an ankle injury Nov. 7, Iowa might be undefeated and in the national title discussion. But even Stanzi's injury didn't keep the Hawkeyes from nearly stunning Ohio State in Columbus before falling in overtime. Ferentz readily admits Iowa isn't the most talented or deepest team in the Big Ten, but he and his assistants got the most out of the Hawkeyes this fall.

Tressel deserves to win this award one of these seasons, and he did a great job turning things around after Purdue and worked his November magic yet again. I'd be happy for Tressel if he got the nod tonight, but the honor should go to Ferentz.

Wisconsin's Borland for top freshman

November, 23, 2009
The Big Ten lacked a multitude of standout freshmen this fall, but the league made up for quantity with quality. From a surprise difference-maker at Wisconsin to a starting quarterback at Michigan to a running back savior at Iowa, the league boasted several young stars.

My decision came down to three players: Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier and Iowa running back Adam Robinson. Wait for it, wait for it ...

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesChris Borland took over the starting outside linebacker spot midway through the 2009 season.
I endorse Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland as Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

The award has gone to a quarterback, running back or wide receiver in each of the past eight seasons, and it wouldn't surprise me if Forcier got the nod tonight (Big Ten Network, 8 p.m. ET). But Borland has been the most outstanding freshman performer for a Wisconsin team that turned things around this fall largely because of young players.

The lightly recruited Borland made an impact for the Badgers as soon as he set foot on campus. Coaches raved about him during preseason camp, and it was easy to see why during the year. Borland ranked second in the Big Ten in both forced fumbles (5) and fumbles recovered (3). He was the only freshman to twice earn Big Ten player of the week honors, for special teams on Sept. 20 and for defense on Nov. 1.

Borland first made his mark on special teams, blocking a punt against Wofford that was returned for a touchdown and even returning seven kickoffs, a rarity for a linebacker. He replaced the injured Mike Taylor at starting outside linebacker midway through the season and has 51 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and an interception to go along with his amazing fumble statistics.

Forcier did magical things for Michigan and Robinson showed tremendous maturity and guts as he emerged as Iowa's top running back, but Borland consistently made a huge impact every time he stepped on the field.
Of the four major Big Ten awards, this was by far the most difficult selection. Earlier this month, I detailed how as many as nine players should be considered for the award, and little has changed in recent weeks. The Big Ten is bursting with defensive stars.

In the end, it came down to six players: Greg Jones, Brandon Graham, Pat Angerer, Navorro Bowman, Kurt Coleman and O'Brien Schofield.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesGreg Jones's 141 tackles ranks second in the nation.
The envelope, please ...

I endorse Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones for Defensive Player of the Year.

Graham is the league's most feared defender, and Schofield isn't far behind. Bowman and Coleman made tons of big plays, while Angerer is the model of consistency. But in making this endorsement, I tried to find the player who was a factor every time the offense snapped the football. No player found himself in the mix more than Jones.

The Spartans junior leads the Big Ten and ranks second nationally with 141 tackles (11.8 tpg). He reached double digits in tackles eight times this season. Most importantly, he found his way to the quarterback, leading all Big Ten linebackers with nine sacks, a total that ranked fourth overall in the conference. Jones ranks eighth in total tackles for loss (13.5) to go along with a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and eight quarterback hurries. He wasn't always the flashiest player on the field, but his consistency is second to none. Named the Big Ten's preseason defensive player of the year, Jones backed up the hype.

You can't go wrong with any of these choices, but Jones deserves the award.
The Big Ten awards and all-conference teams will be revealed tonight (Big Ten Network, 8 p.m. ET), giving us plenty to talk about in a week featuring only one conference team (Illinois) in action.

You'll have to wait a bit longer for my All-Big Ten teams, but I will reveal my picks for the four major awards this afternoon. Actually, because this is election month, I'll endorse candidates for Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year. I'll leave the Offensive and Defensive Linemen of the Year up to the coaches, who know line play a lot better than I do.

I endorse Wisconsin running back John Clay for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

Matthew Emmons/US PresswireWisconsin running back John Clay leads the Big Ten with 13 touchdowns.
Let's get started.

Some might argue Clay fumbled away the top spot in Saturday's loss to Northwestern, but each of his three primary challengers for this award -- quarterbacks Daryll Clark, Mike Kafka and Joey Elliott -- all also committed critical turnovers in losses earlier this year. Clay has been undoubtedly the Big Ten's top running back, rushing for 100 or more yards in seven games, including each of the last four. He leads the Big Ten with 13 touchdowns and reached the end zone in eight of Wisconsin's 11 games.

The 6-1, 248-pound Clay is the focal point for opposing defensive coordinators in the Big Ten. How many other offensive players in this league carry that distinction?

You can make cases for Clark, Kafka or Elliott as well, but the quarterback play in the Big Ten wasn't spectacular this year. Clay had only one bad performance (against Wofford), and while his numbers dipped against both Ohio State and Iowa, he wasn't the same after an ankle injury in the loss to the Hawkeyes. The redshirt sophomore has 1,224 rush yards through 11 games and will add to that total Dec. 5 at Hawaii.

In a season without many offensive superstars in the Big Ten, Clay rose to the top with his powerful running.