Big Ten: Anthony Thompson


MADISON, Wis. -- Melvin Gordon didn't see Ron Dayne as he entered Wisconsin's interview room early Saturday evening.

Gordon sidestepped Dayne, just as he did numerous Nebraska defenders during an afternoon that won't soon be forgotten in a place used to seeing extraordinary running backs do extraordinary things.

"I should be kicking you in the legs or something," Dayne joked, which caused Gordon to turn back and grin.

Dayne had just watched those legs break his Wisconsin single-game rushing record (339). Dayne's milestone was just the first Gordon took down in Wisconsin's 59-24 mashing of Nebraska at Camp Randall Stadium. Anthony Thompson's Big Ten single-game record of 377 yards -- set on the same field in 1989 -- fell during the third quarter. Moments later, on a 26-yard touchdown run, Gordon shattered LaDainian Tomlinson's FBS single-game record of 406 yards.

Afterward, Gordon took a small, appropriate bow.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin's Melvin Gordon was in rarefied air with his record-breaking effort on Saturday.
He finished with 408 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries for an average of 16.3 yards per carry that is ridiculous for any college running back not named Melvin Gordon. He also didn't play in the fourth quarter.

"You never know when a special day comes," Gordon said. "When it does, it's a special feeling."

Wisconsin running backs now hold the FBS single-season rushing record (Dayne), single-season touchdowns record (Montee Ball) and single-game rushing record (Gordon). But only Dayne has the most coveted individual award in college football, the Heisman Trophy, which he captured in 1999.

When Dayne won, it was common for running backs to hoist the Heisman. Texas' Ricky Williams had won in 1998, and running backs went back-to-back in 1994 (Colorado's Rashaan Salaam) and 1995 (Ohio State's Eddie George). But since Dayne, only two non-quarterbacks have won the Heisman -- USC running back Reggie Bush in 2005 and Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009. As Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, a good friend of Gordon's, told ESPN.com in September, "the Heisman's really become a quarterback's award."

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota entered Saturday as the clear Heisman front-runner. Another quarterback, one-time favorite Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, had an opportunity to gain on Mariota -- or perhaps eclipse him -- with a signature performance at Alabama. Gordon was in the mix, but after putting up big numbers against inferior teams and with an incomplete performance against LSU, he needed to make a convincing case on this day, against the nation's 20th-best rush defense.

Mission accomplished.

"I think he's the best of the best," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "And he proved it on the national stage when he was given the opportunity. There's some great players out there ... and the decision is going to be made by other people. But if I made that decision, it's going to this guy right here.

"A lot of people have God-given ability, and a lot of people don't do anything with that ability. He's taken it to the highest level."

Gordon still has to catch Mariota, a tough task because the Oregon quarterback does so much good and so little bad and leads a team gunning for a College Football Playoff spot. But the gap is narrowing.

On Saturday, Gordon earned more than a courtesy trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony on Dec. 13. He earned the right to be seriously evaluated as a Heisman contender.

"Just show the man respect," Wisconsin second-string running back Corey Clement said. "That's all I ask."

Gordon will forever be respected here. Students chanted his name and "Heisman!" as the snow turned Camp Randall Stadium into a Wisconsin wonderland (at just 26 degrees at kickoff, it was the coldest game at Camp Randall in 50 years).

The tributes flooded in during and after the game, from Tomlinson, Ball and others.

"The best of the best," Andersen said. "Unbelievable."

A fourth-year junior, Gordon could have skipped this season and likely been the first running back selected in the NFL draft. He returned to guide Wisconsin to a national championship, a dream that died in early October with a stunning loss to Northwestern. But a Big Ten title remains possible, individual awards are coming, and Gordon, a Kenosha, Wisconsin, native, will leave as one of Wisconsin's favorite sons.

"There's risks that come with coming back when you have the chance to leave," Clement said. "God willing, he doesn't get injured, so he can do what he needs to do."

What he does is record big runs. Gordon had four runs of 40 yards or more Saturday, which brought his season total to 14, including a 62-yard scoring burst in the second quarter, when he hurdled Nebraska's Corey Cooper.

"It's something special," Badgers guard Dallas Lewallen said. "Once he gets to the open field, you never know if he's going to take it [to the end zone]."

Added quarterback Joel Stave: "He wowed us all again today."

Gordon's first half included 238 rush yards, a touchdown and two lost fumbles, the first time he has lost multiple fumbles in a game. It will be a forgotten footnote to everyone but Gordon, who thanked the coaches "for just sticking with me."

Smart choice.

The snow continued to fall Saturday night and blanketed the field where Gordon made his Heisman move.

"His legacy is going to be left here for a long time," Andersen said. "His footprints are going to be left all over these hallways."

Whether those same footprints are behind a podium in New York in four weeks remains to be seen.

Gordon gained the nation's attention Saturday. Now he needs to keep it.
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MADISON, Wis. -- After falling behind by 14 points early, No. 20 Wisconsin surged back to wallop No. 16 Nebraska 59-24 behind junior running back Melvin Gordon, who delivered an unforgettable performance to bolster his Heisman candidacy in a national showcase game. Gordon broke LaDainian Tomlinson's single-game FBS record with 408 rush yards. He also broke the Big Ten and team single-game records held by Anthony Thompson and Ron Dayne, respectively.

Let's look at how it went down at Camp Randall Stadium.

How the game was won: Wisconsin overcame a sloppy start and used a 21-point second quarter to take control. Gordon reeled off runs of 62, 44 and 39 yards in the quarter to put the Husker defense on its heels. His play seemed to energize Wisconsin's defense, which turned up the heat on Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong and then began forcing turnovers. After halftime, it was all Gordon, who scored three of Wisconsin's four touchdowns in the third quarter to put away the Huskers.

Game ball goes to: Hmmm, really tough choice here. I guess we'll go with Melvin Gordon. He had 238 rush yards and a touchdown at halftime. And then he really got rolling, racking up 170 yards in the third quarter to break Tomlinson's record. He averaged 16.3 yards per rush with four touchdowns on 25 carries. Gordon did lose two fumbles, something no one will remember after this one.

What it means: Wisconsin is alone atop the West Division after entering the day in a three-way tie for first place with both Nebraska and Minnesota. The Badgers can clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a win next week at Iowa, and a Minnesota loss at Nebraska. The loss almost surely knocks Nebraska out of the division race and turns up the heat on coach Bo Pelini, who hasn't been able to avoid meltdown-type performances in the Big Ten.

Playoff implication: Nebraska's loss means Ohio State is likely the Big Ten's only realistic playoff candidate. The Huskers were a long shot going in despite only one loss -- a five-point road setback against Michigan State -- but they're definitely out of it now. It could hurt Ohio State's case as the Buckeyes hoped to face an 11-1 Nebraska team ranked in the top 10 at the Big Ten championship game. Wisconsin will move up the rankings but won't be able to overcome a loss to Northwestern.

Best play: So many Gordon runs to choose from, but his 62-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter is the pick. Gordon hurdled Nebraska safety Corey Cooper at the 37-yard line and scooted untouched the rest of the way.

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What's next: Wisconsin visits rival Iowa next week, looking to possibly lock up the West Division crown. Nebraska returns home to face Minnesota.
Ron Dayne US PresswireWisconsin's Ron Dayne capped off his senior season in 1999 earning several national awards.
On Monday we revealed our list of top five individual seasons by a Big Ten player in the past 50 years, and as Brian Bennett explained, the choices weren't easy. We omitted several incredible individual performances, and some of you let us hear about it.

Here's a list of 10 outstanding individual seasons that just missed the cut. As a reminder, these are performances from the past 50 seasons only (1962-2011). Although Nebraska has played only one season as a Big Ten member, we considered Huskers' performances from the time span, as well as those by Penn State players before the 1993 season, when Penn State joined the Big Ten. Again, this is a list of outstanding individual seasons, not individual careers.

Even with this list, we're leaving out many great performances.

Here's the rundown, in alphabetical order:

Brad Banks, QB, Iowa, 2002: Banks played only two seasons in Iowa City, but he left quite an impression in 2002. He led the nation in pass efficiency with a 157.1 rating and had 26 touchdown passes and just five interceptions, to go along with 423 rush yards and five touchdowns on 83 carries. Banks finished second for the Heisman Trophy but took home plenty of awards, including AP Player of the Year, Davey O'Brien and Big Ten MVP.

Kerry Collins, QB, Penn State, 1994: Penn State is known for producing star running backs, but Collins broke the mold in the team's second Big Ten season with an outstanding performance. He set team records for total offense (2,660), completions (176), passing yardage (2,679), completion percentage (66.7), yards per attempt (10.15) and passing efficiency (172.86). His efficiency mark ranks third in Big Ten history. Collins won the Maxwell and O'Brien awards and finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting. He led Penn State to an undefeated season and a Rose Bowl title.

Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin, 1999: It was a tough call between Dayne's 1999 campaign and his historic freshman year in 1996, but he capped his Badgers career by sweeping the major national awards (Heisman, Walter Camp, Maxwell, Doak Walker). Dayne rumbled for 1,834 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry, as Wisconsin repeated as Big Ten and Rose Bowl champions.

Eddie George, RB, Ohio State, 1995: Like Wisconsin's Montee Ball, who made our top five list from Monday, George was a model of consistency at the running back spot. He eclipsed 100 rush yards in 11 consecutive games despite often playing sparingly in the fourth quarter, and he finished the season with 1,927 rush yards and 23 touchdowns. He edged Nebraska's Tommie Frazier for the Heisman Trophy and also won the Maxwell, Walter Camp and Doak Walker.

Desmond Howard, WR, Michigan, 1991: He's the only Big Ten wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy (Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers played in the Big Eight), and his Heisman pose after a punt return touchdown against Ohio State remains an iconic image. Howard had 62 receptions for 985 yards and 19 touchdowns that year. He averaged 27.5 yards per kick return with a touchdown, 15.7 yards per punt return with a touchdown and had 13 carries for 180 yards and two scores. He still holds the single-season record for receiving touchdowns in Big Ten games (13).

Larry Johnson, RB, Penn State, 2002: Johnson's numbers from 2002 are simply insane, as he averaged 183.1 yards per game and 7.7 yards per carry en route to leading the nation in rushing (2,087 yards). His yards total is the second highest in Big Ten history, and he had 54 fewer attempts than Dayne in 1996. Johnson won the Walter Camp, Maxwell and Doak Walker awards and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting.

Orlando Pace, OT, Ohio State, 1996: Offensive linemen shouldn't be excluded from a list like this, and Pace was one of the best in recent college football history. He capped his career with an outstanding 1996 season, finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, the best total for a lineman (offense or defense) since 1980. He popularized the term "pancake block" and earned his first Outland Trophy and his second Lombardi Award that year. Pace also earned Big Ten MVP honors.

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska, 2009: Everyone around the country learned the name and the "Suuuuuuuh!" calls from Huskers fans. Suh turned into one of the more dominant seasons by a defender in college football history, racking up 12 sacks, 24 tackles for loss, 26 quarterback hurries, 10 pass breakups, three blocked kicks, a forced fumble and an interception. Suh won several national awards (Bednarik, Rotary Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland) and finished fourth in Heisman voting.

Anthony Thompson, RB, Indiana, 1989: Thompson capped a brilliant career with a flourish, winning the Walter Camp and Maxwell Awards in 1989 and earning his second consecutive Big Ten MVP honor. The Hoosiers star rushed for 1,793 yards and 24 touchdowns, and added 35 receptions for 201 yards. He recorded the top single-game rushing total (377 at Wisconsin) and set the Big Ten's career scoring record, which Dayne eclipsed a decade later.

Lorenzo White, RB, Michigan State, 1985: There are several work-horse efforts that could be included in this list, but none is more impressive than White's 1985 campaign. The Walter Camp Award winner set a Big Ten record with 419 carries and became the first Big Ten ball-carrier to eclipse 2,000 yards, piling up 2,066. He also ranks second in Big Ten Conference games in both rushing yards (1,470) and rushing average (183.7 yards per game).

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 11

November, 10, 2011
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Ten things to watch around the Big Ten as a pivotal Week 11 slate of games kicks off on Saturday.

1. Penn State with no JoePa: For the first time since 1965, Penn State will play a game without Joe Paterno as its head coach. Paterno's firing Thursday night shook a program that had been rattled to its core throughout the week. Senior Day at Beaver Stadium will take place without the most famous senior of all. How will Penn State players respond? How will the fans respond after an outpouring of emotion Wednesday night? It's a very big game for this team and these seniors, but they'll be truly challenged to keep the focus on the task at hand.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarSilas Redd and Penn State take the field after difficult week in State College.
2. Tom Bradley: The longtime Penn State defensive coordinator steps into the uncomfortable position of acting head coach following Paterno's ouster. Bradley must keep the focus on the players and not on the firestorm outside the program. He'll need help from his fellow assistants, including former head coaches like Galen Hall and Ron Vanderlinden. While many think Penn State's assistants have coached the team for years, Saturday will mark the first time Paterno is totally out of the equation.

3. A date with destiny: Michigan State and Iowa are the only two Legends Division teams that control their own fate in the Big Ten championship race. Only one squad will walk out of Kinnick Stadium on Saturday with that label still in place. Iowa has won seven consecutive home games in the series, including a 37-6 spanking of the then-undefeated Spartans last season. Michigan State hasn't been the same team away from home and must come out with better energy, particularly on offense, after struggling in a 24-3 loss at Nebraska on Oct. 30. The Hawkeyes haven't lost at home this season, but haven't played a team as complete as Michigan State.

4. Chasing the record: Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, or "Moneyball," as we like to call him, needs two touchdowns to tie the Big Ten single-season record of 26 held by three players (Ohio State's Pete Johnson in 1975, Indiana's Anthony Thompson in 1988 and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter in 1994). Ball has scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season and leads the nation with 24 scores in 2011. He'll try to make history as Wisconsin puts Paul Bunyan's Axe on the line at Minnesota.

5. Starting blocks in Champaign: Michigan and Illinois are trying to get back in the win column, and both teams are looking for stronger starts. The Wolverines have throttled opponents after the first quarter, but have been outscored in the first 15 minutes. The Illini have failed to score in the first half in each of their past three games, all losses. Ron Zook wants his Illinois team to play loose, while offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said it comes down to the basics. Illinois needs to show up offensively against a Michigan team that typically gets better as games go along.

6. Rex vs. Silas: Still undecided about the Big Ten's best running back? You're not alone. Two of the top candidates square off Saturday in State College as Nebraska's Rex Burkhead goes up against Penn State's Silas Redd. Both men have been their teams' most consistent offensive performers this season. Redd comes off of a bye week after recording a historic performance in October, rushing for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games and leading all FBS players with 703 rush yards during the month. Burkhead, who was a bit banged up in last week's loss to Northwestern, has eclipsed 100 rush yards five times in the past seven games.

7. Cousins' chance at redemption: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins grew up a big Iowa fan and has a few Hawkeye alums in his immediate family. But he has yet to record a win against Iowa as Michigan State's starting quarterback, losing a 15-13 heartbreaker in 2009 and struggling in last year's game, throwing three interceptions, including a pick-six. Cousins gets one final shot at Iowa on Saturday, and it's a huge game for the senior and his Spartans teammates. Iowa has been vulnerable against the pass at times this season, so Cousins and his receivers will look to stretch the field.

8. Axe to grind: Speaking of final chances, Minnesota senior safety Kim Royston gets one last crack at Wisconsin, his former team, on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Royston began his career as a Badger before transferring to Minnesota, where he has faced some hurdles, including a broken leg that sidelined him all of last season. The NCAA granted Royston a sixth year of eligibility, and he has made the most of it as one of few bright spots for Minnesota's defense, leading the Big Ten in solo tackles (51). The Gophers have been playing much better ball as of late, and they hope to shock Wisconsin and regain the Axe on Saturday. Said Royston: "I've been having those visions [of hoisting the Axe] ever since I left there."

9. Buckeyes' boiling point: After looking flat at times last week against Indiana, Ohio State knows it can't afford a similar performance this week at Purdue. The Boilers are one of those teams, like Illinois, that seems to give Ohio State trouble. Ohio State stumbled at Purdue in 2009, putting its Big Ten title hopes in jeopardy. Another loss Saturday likely would take Ohio State out of the Leaders Division race. Buckeyes' running backs Dan Herron and Jordan Hall both are dealing with ankle injuries. Herron is expected to play and Hall could return after missing the Indiana game.

10. Bowl push continues: Northwestern (4-5) and Purdue (4-5) both need two more wins to become bowl eligible, and the quest resumes Saturday on their home fields. After a potentially season-turning win at Nebraska, Northwestern returns home to face 3-6 Rice, which has a victory over, yep, Purdue. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said his team won't be overlooking the Owls, who can put up plenty of points. Purdue, meanwhile, returns home after consecutive blowout losses on the road against Wisconsin and Michigan. The Boilers are 2-0 in Big Ten home contests and need at least one of the next two (Ohio State, Iowa), plus the finale at Indiana to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2007.

Did you know? Big Ten in Week 10

November, 4, 2011
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Some notes and nuggets to hopefully make you smarter as you watch Big Ten football this weekend. Thanks to ESPN Stats & Info for several of these.
  • Michigan State has allowed 22 plays of 20-plus yards this season, the fewest in the Big Ten and tied for ninth fewest in the FBS.
  • Nebraska finished the first half of its regular season at 5-1 for the second consecutive year. In each of Bo Pelini’s first three seasons as head coach, Nebraska has equaled or bettered its first-half record during the second six games of the regular season. Overall, Nebraska is 17-7 in the first half of the regular season under Pelini, and 17-3 after the midway point during Pelini’s first three seasons, including 2-0 this season.
  • Iowa and Michigan are tied for 27th in the nation in red zone offense (88 percent conversions), with both teams scoring points on 29 of 33 red zone possessions. Michigan leads the nation in red zone defense (59 percent, 13-for-22), while Iowa is tied for 16th at 72 percent (26-for-36).
  • Russell Wilson completed 61.5 percent of his passes of 15-plus yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in Wisconsin's six wins. He completed 36.8 percent of his passes (7-19) with two touchdowns and two interceptions in Wisconsin's two losses.
  • Minnesota running back Duane Bennett has cracked the team's top 15 for all-time career rushing yardage. He has rushed for 1,893 yards in his career. Last week’s total of 101 yards pushed him to the No. 18 spot on the chart. He needs 107 yards to become just the 13th Gopher to rush for 2,000 career yards.
  • Through the first eight games of the season, Purdue has lost only three fumbles (only two on offense). Purdue has seen 16 different players rush with the ball this season and not a single runner has coughed it up on 317 carries.
  • In the past three games, Indiana has averaged 253.0 rushing yards, 47 attempts and 5.3 yards per carry to move into a tie for fifth in Big Ten games with 182.8 rushing yards per game. In its first six games of the season, Indiana averaged 118.8 rushing yards.
  • The month of November has been kind to Northwestern in recent seasons, with the Wildcats posting a 7-4 mark in the final month of the regular season since the start of 2008. That includes a 4-2 record on the road in November.
  • Ohio State running back Dan Herron had his 13-game streak with a rushing touchdown snapped in last week's win over Wisconsin. That was the longest streak by a Buckeye since Pete Johnson ran for at least one score in 13 consecutive games from 1975-76. Keith Byars ran for at least one rushing TD in 21 straight games during the 1983-84 seasons. Ohio State is 21-3 in the 24 games in which Herron has scored a rushing touchdown.
  • With 268 yards of total offense per game, Michigan QB Denard Robinson tries to become the first player to lead the conference in consecutive years in total offense since Purdue's Drew Brees led the Big Ten from 1998-2000. At 17.0 points per game, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball would average the most points per game since at least 1970 and become the first player since former Indiana running back Anthony Thompson in 1988-89 to lead the conference in points per game two years in a row.

Big Ten did you know? Week 1

September, 2, 2011
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Some notes and nuggets from around the Big Ten to make you smarter as you head out to the games this weekend.
  • If Michigan QB Denard Robinson earns Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors this fall, he would become just the second player to do so in back-to-back seasons, joining former Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson (1988-89). Including Thompson, just four players have successfully defended their Player of the Year awards. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (2007-2008), Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald (1996-1997 and Illinois linebacker Dana Howard (1993-1994).
  • Nebraska enters the season opener with victories in each of its past 25 season openers. The Huskers' streak leads the nation, bettering Florida's 21 straight wins. Nebraska's last loss in a season opener was a 17-13 setback against Florida State at Memorial Stadium in 1985.
  • With Caleb TerBush poised to be the starter against Middle Tennessee, the Boilermakers will have a different quarterback under center to begin a season in four consecutive years, and TerBush will be the fifth Boiler QB to garner a start in less than a calendar year (Robert Marve, Rob Henry, Sean Robinson, Justin Siller, TerBush).
  • Iowa's defense has ranked among the national leaders in forcing turnovers in recent seasons. Over the last three seasons Iowa has collected 63 interceptions, a total that ranks second in the nation over that span (Florida leads with 68). In addition, in each of the last four seasons, Iowa has had more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed.
  • Illinois opens the season at home for the first time since 2006 has have eight home games on the schedule in 2011 for the first time in the Memorial Stadium era and for the first time since 1903, when Illinois played nine home games.
  • Penn State has a 64-14 (.821) record in non-conference games overall since starting Big Ten play in 1993. The Nittany Lions have won 18 of their last 21 nonconference games, with the lone losses coming to USC in the 2009 Rose Bowl, at Alabama (2010) and to Florida in the 2011 Outback Bowl.
  • Michigan State fifth-year senior receiver B.J. Cunningham needs just 10 more catches to become the team's all-time leader in receptions (record: 148 by Matt Trannon, 2003-06). The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Cunningham already ranks among the school’s career leaders in catches (third at 139), touchdown receptions (tied for 10th with 13) and receiving yards (1,780).
  • Minnesota enters the season only carrying 41 upperclassmen on the roster.
    Here's the full breakdown of each class for the Gophers: freshmen -- 53; sophomores -- 25; juniors -- 21; seniors -- 20.
  • The last 20 Ohio State coaches are 19-0-1 in their debuts. The last Ohio State coach to lose his debut was Jack Ryder, who suffered a 40-4 loss at Oberlin in 1892. No pressure, Luke Fickell.
  • Northwestern boasts 31 offensive and defensive players who have made a combined 378 career starts. That is a significant jump from last season, when 30 players with starting experience combined for 276 starts at the start of the season.
  • Indiana allowed just 12 sacks last season, the 11th fewest total in the nation. The offensive line surrendered one sack per 42.8 pass attempts, which led the Big Ten. All five of this season’s projected starters are in at least their fourth year with the program.
We round out the day of polling with a look at the Big Ten's offensive player of the year race.

For the second consecutive year, the Big Ten returns its reigning offensive POY. Wisconsin running back John Clay wasn't able to repeat as the winner after claiming the award in 2009. Indiana running back Anthony Thompson is the only player to win Big Ten offensive player of the year in consecutive seasons (1988-89).

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson can change things with another superb season this fall. Robinson set the NCAA quarterback rushing record with 1,702 yards in 2010, became the first player in FBS history to record 2,500 pass yards and 1,500 rush yards in the same season, and also set several Michigan marks. But the Wolverines junior is transitioning to a new offense that might present some challenges.

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is another leading candidate after rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles' that cut short his 2010 season. Persa set a Big Ten record for completion percentage (73.5 percent) and will lead what could be one of the league's best offenses this season.

Not to be forgotten is Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, who enters his third season as a starter after leading the Spartans to a share of their first Big Ten title in two decades. Cousins battled through injuries during the second half of last season. At full strength, he could have a huge year.

Don't forget about the Big Ten running backs in this race. Wisconsin has two of the best in Montee Ball and James White, who could end up competing against each other for the award.

What say you?

Indiana's Mount Rushmore

February, 23, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

This series isn't designed to beat up on any programs, so I'll put this mildly. Indiana's football history is, well, limited when it comes to winning. Aside from a nice run in the late 1980s, Indiana has consistently finished in the league's bottom half. 

As much fun as it would be to compile a Rushmore for Indiana hoops -- could the candy striped pants get a spot? -- this is a football blog, so I'll stick with football. And despite the Hoosiers' struggles on the gridiron, they have produced several notable players and coaches. 

  • Anthony Thompson -- A two-time first-team All-American, Thompson is undoubtedly the greatest player in team history and one of the top running backs in Big Ten history. In 1989, he set NCAA single-season records for rushing and scoring, won the Maxwell Award and finished second for the Heisman Trophy. Thompson led the Big Ten in rushing in each of his last two seasons and is the only player in team history to have his number retired.
  • Antwaan Randle El -- Indiana never notched a winning season during his career, but the dynamic Randle El left his mark on the program and the Big Ten. One of the most exciting Big Ten players of this decade, Randle El won Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and rushed for more yards than any quarterback in FBS history (3,895). The College Football Hall of Fame selection finished his career with 86 career touchdowns (44 rushing, 42 passing).
  • George Taliaferro -- Taliaferro remains the only Indiana player to earn All-America honors in three different seasons. He played on Indiana's Big Ten championship team in 1945 and became the first black player drafted by an NFL team. Taliaferro earned first-team All-America honors as a defensive back in 1948 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981.  
  • Bill Mallory -- Mallory's overall record at Indiana might not look overly impressive (69-77-3), but he turned around a neglected program and restored it to respectability during the mid 1980s. In 1986, he coached Indiana to its first bowl game since 1979 and followed with postseason appearances the next two years. Indiana reached six bowl games under Mallory before going through a drought from 1993-2007. Mallory won back-to-back Big Ten Coach of the Year awards in 1986-87. 
Others considered for Indiana's Rushmore included: Pete Pihos, Terry Hoeppner, John Isenbarger, Bo McMillin, Tim Clifford, John Tavener and Vern Huffman.

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