Big Ten: Jake Ryan

Revised image suits Michigan's Jake Ryan

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
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Jake RyanMatthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsMichigan's Jake Ryan has grown into a leadership role since suffering a torn ACL in his left knee.
Jake Ryan has been looking forward to this weekend for a long time.

Playing his final game at the Big House as a Michigan linebacker will be a moment to remember, as will the pregame curtain call in front of his family and more than 100,000 other onlookers. The chance to clinch bowl eligibility by beating Maryland for the team’s sixth win this season is nice, too. But that is not what Ryan has been waiting for. No, this weekend he’s finally getting a new suit.

Since turning a few heads at Big Ten media days in Chicago this summer, Ryan has been beseeching his father to help him upgrade his wardrobe.

"He’s asked me to call my suit person like six times in the last two months. It’s nonstop," said Tim Ryan, who lent Jake the plaid, maize-ish and blue sport coat and matching gold tie that he wore to represent the Wolverines in Chicago.

Jake stuffed the jacket’s pocket with a silk blue handkerchief, pinned a Block M to his lapel and then canvassed the gathered media to see if he was the sharpest-dressed player in town. He held his own. At the very least, this GQ-styled, well-coiffed version of Ryan was a far cry from the long-haired sophomore who emerged as one of the conference’s most promising young defenders two years earlier.

"I like dressing nice," Ryan said months later. "I do, I’ll admit that. I’ve always thought I’ve gotta have some style."

Ryan’s style took a sharp turn 19 months ago, shortly after the lowest point of his football career. Eight days removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL, Ryan chopped off and donated 10 inches of the shoulder-length blond hair that had been his calling card during the first half of his Michigan career.

This was a fresh start, he told his family, a symbolic reminder that he would have to remake himself to get where he wanted to go. It was the first step in a tumultuous year and a half -- one that included a painful and patience-testing rehab, a position change and a senior season besmirched by disappointing losses and distractions. As it draws to a close, that path has transformed Ryan into a more polished professional, in football and fashion.

A family affair

The Ryans are a football family. Tim played wide receiver at Wake Forest. Jake’s cousin John was a defensive end at Notre Dame, and Jake's older brother, Connor, was a receiver at Ball State. Their younger brother, Zack, is a starting linebacker at Ball State, and the youngest of the four Ryan boys seems destined to follow them when he finishes high school. It’s what the Ryans do. They play for Chuck Kyle’s St. Ignatius football powerhouse in Cleveland and then find a college to continue their career.

In high school, Jake needed to forge an identity he could call his own. He picked a surfer’s wardrobe and adopted the laid-back personality to match. His inspiration was his West Coast cousin Mikey. Ten years older, Mikey was the epitome of cool in the eyes of his younger cousins.

Mikey used product to slick back his hair as a teenager, so 7-year-old Jake slapped globs of gel in his hair until his father nixed that idea. Mikey wore Vans, so Jake searched Cleveland for whatever psychedelic-colored, floral-patterned shoes he could find. Mikey was a surfer. There were no waves anywhere near Ohio, so Jake learned to snowboard.

When Jake injured his hand during a playoff run in his senior year at St. Ignatius, he opted to wrap it in a neon pink cast. He visited Ball State a few weeks later on a recruiting trip, which meant Connor had to explain to his teammates that the goofball prospect with the pink cast was actually his little brother.

"He always wanted to be different," Connor said. "He’s starting to [learn] a little bit more from me I would say. He’s getting a little bit better fashion sense, definitely starting to get the hang of it."

Jake’s style on the football field was equally unique.

"Unorthodox," he said. "That’s what they’re calling it now, I guess."

He finds the ball by instinct, he says, more than following a premeditated path or assignment. His coaches at St. Ignatius stuck him at safety during his first week with the varsity team, but Ryan had trouble understanding why they wanted him to move backward when the ball was in front of him. Midway through double sessions they moved him to linebacker, and his coaches say he "just started wrecking guys."

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
AP Photo/Rich SchultzLinebacker Jake Ryan (90 tackles) has had six games this season with at least 10 stops.
His unorthodox style, combined with a lack of size he wouldn’t overcome until a last growth spurt as a senior, put Ryan behind schedule on the typical recruiting process. Brady Hoke, who had recruited Connor to Ball State before moving on to coach at San Diego State, had one of his Aztecs assistants call the Ryans to say he wasn’t interested in offering Jake a spot on the team.

"I still tell him that when he messes up," Hoke said. "I probably should have done a little more homework on him."

It worked out for Hoke, who inherited Ryan when he took the Michigan job and played him as an outside linebacker and defensive end during their first two years together. As a redshirt sophomore, Ryan led the Wolverines' defense in tackles (88), tackles for loss (16) and sacks (4.5).

The following winter Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison told Ryan they wanted to move him to inside linebacker so opposing offenses couldn’t run away from him. Ryan, a budding star on the edge, was skeptical. Mattison, the former linebackers coach for the Baltimore Ravens, handed him a stack of Ray Lewis film to explain the new role, and Ryan was sold. He would soon be the new centerpiece of the Michigan defense. A few weeks later, he tore his ACL.

Surviving rehab

Rehab was miserable. Patience was a virtue Ryan had not yet acquired. He vowed to get through the process as quickly as possible. If NFL star Adrian Peterson could get back on the field six months after ACL surgery, so could he. Ryan cut every distraction that might slow him down, including his hair.

Ryan became a fixture in the Michigan training room and tried to help his teammates with their assignments during practice. He learned he could never be a coach. It turns out telling someone to do something over and over is a lot more frustrating than trying to do something over and over.

He sought advice from teammates past and present who had gone through a similar injury, including Michigan fullback Joe Kerridge, who tore his ACL as a high school senior. Kerridge told him surgery wasn’t a death sentence. Stay with your recovery program and you’ll be back, he said.

"He attacked everything with the workouts and the rehab," said Kerridge, who has lived with Ryan for the past three years. "I think the knee really tested him. He excelled through it and he really matured. He learned what he had to do to be a great football player."

Teammates recognized Ryan’s diligence and selected him to be a team captain even though he spent all of training camp on the sideline. The new leadership position made Ryan more conscious of all the eyes that were on him and pushed him to continue to evolve into the more professional version of his free-spirited self. He started speaking up more often when needed. He became a regular volunteer at the university’s children’s hospital. And of course, he made sure he looked sharp whenever he knew he would be going in front of a camera.

"He knows that he can be one of the faces of the team," said his brother Connor. "I think he wants to resemble that 'Michigan man.' When you’re asking to grab some nice suits or dress a little nicer or watch your language, whatever it may be, I think that’s him growing up."

Ryan reached his goal of making it back on the field in six months, but the eight games he played during the 2013 season were humbling. He didn’t fully trust his knee yet, and he didn’t have the speed to keep up with his instincts. The coaching staff kept him at outside linebacker for the rest of the season so as not to overload him with adjusting to a new position while trying to get healthy.

The hurdles came in quick succession from there.

When Ryan felt comfortable with his knee, he set about learning to fend off lineman and see the game from a new angle as an inside linebacker. His first game in the middle, a blowout win against Appalachian State to open the 2014 season, allowed him to settle in.

As Ryan got better at his new job, the program around him seemed to get worse. Michigan lost four of its next five, and off-the-field turmoil spiraled out of control. Ryan continued to hone his image while learning how to ignore the negative public feedback.

"You always learn more from losing than winning," he said. "You learn how to stick together. You learn how to mold a team. I think you do need to go through some situations that put you down to learn a lot of things. It prepares you to be a man."

A resilient leader

This is not the senior season Ryan imagined. It has, though, helped him grow into the resilient face of a team that, if nothing else, continues to show up no matter what punches fate throws its way.

Michigan has won three of its past four during a more forgiving stretch in its schedule. A victory on Senior Day would keep the Wolverines from a losing record and salvage a bowl trip.

Ryan is the team’s top defender again. He is 10 tackles shy of reaching 100 on the season. He has had six games this season with at least 10 stops. Only nine players in the history of Michigan football have had more double-digit performances in a single season. He is one of 15 linebackers in the country still in the running for this year’s Butkus Award, and most experts expect Ryan will be picked in the third or fourth round of the NFL draft in the spring.

Before the team’s most recent game, a 10-9 win at Northwestern, Ryan made a deal with his father. If he made 13 tackles and intercepted a pass against the Wildcats, he would earn a trip to the tailor for a new suit. Ryan had never picked off a pass before in his career, but he finished with an interception and 11 tackles. Close enough.
In just a couple of weeks, the Big Ten will announce its individual award winners for 2014. We've been giving you the scoop on those races all season long, and it's time again to see who leads for the top offensive and defensive honors. Plus, this week we look at the chase for the punter of the year award. Hey, punters need love, too!

Here we go:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): Well, yeah. After his 408-yard performance last week, Gordon has solidified his grip here. He's on pace to do things that only one or two FBS running backs have ever done, like finish with 2,000 yards and 30 TDs.

2. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He's coming on strong and is a bona fide Heisman contender now. In another year, Barrett would be running away with this award. If Gordon falters in the next two weeks, maybe he can sneak in.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Speaking of "in any other year ..." Coleman is No. 2 nationally in rushing yards (1,678) and put up 307 at nearly the same time Gordon was doing his thing. Phenomenal player on a crummy team.

4. Minnesota RB David Cobb: If you still had any doubts about Cobb, he answered them with a 145-yard, three-touchdown performance against Ohio State. He should break Minnesota's single-season rushing record.

5. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: We hate to see Abdullah finish this way. He clearly wasn't himself against Wisconsin, running for just 69 yards on 18 carries. Hopefully he'll get healthier and end his illustrious career on a high note.

Also receiving votes: Michigan State WR Tony Lippett

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Ho hum, just 1.5 sacks against Minnesota. He's got 11.5 sacks in 10 games, or more than any Big Ten player managed in either of the past two full seasons.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: The Nittany Lions rank third nationally in total defense, and Hull -- the Big Ten's top tackler -- is a big reason why.

3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: Did we mention how good Penn State's D has been? Zettel has been the anchor up front all year long. He's got 11 tackles for loss, which is a big number for an interior lineman.

T-4: Michigan LB Jake Ryan: There haven't been many bright spots for Michigan all season, but Ryan (90 tackles, 13 for loss) has been a beacon of hope.

T-4: Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel: It's hard to pick just one of the Badgers' outstanding quartet of linebackers. But Biegel might be the most versatile, and he's second in the league in TFLs with 14.

Also receiving votes: Iowa DE Drew Ott

Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year

1. Minnesota's Peter Mortell (six first-place votes): Mortell was brilliant against Ohio State, consistently flipping field position. He leads the league with a 45.4-yard average.

2. Illinois' Justin DuVernois: He's right behind Mortell with a 44.9-yard average, including a league-best 74-yarder. Illinois also leads the Big Ten in net punting

Also receiving votes: Ohio State's Cam Johnston
The championship drive is on in the Big Ten. And so, too, is the race for major individual awards.

We've been tracking the offensive and defensive player of the year award chase all year long. For a first time in a while, neither award has a unanimous leader this week. A lot can change in the final few weeks. We're also cycling back to see where the coach of the year race stands this week.

Here we go:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesJ.T. Barrett's play against MIchigan State at least has closed the gap on Melvin Gordon.
1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (five first-place votes): Gordon put up his third 200-yard day of the season last week at Purdue, running for 205 yards and scoring twice. He leads the nation with 1,501 rushing yards.

2. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett (one first-place vote): The kid is coming on strong. After a huge performance in the win at Michigan State, Barrett has to be considered a top candidate for this award, if not the Heisman. He's No. 2 nationally in passer efficiency.

3. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Will Abdullah (MCL sprain) be fully healthy this week at Wisconsin? That's the big question for both the Huskers and for his award chances.

4. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: The burden of trying to carry the entire offense finally caught up to Coleman, who was held under 100 yards for the first time all season vs. Penn State. Put him in the same situation as Gordon or Abdullah, and who knows what he'd be accomplishing.

5. Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: A subpar (for him) game against Ohio State doesn't diminish the fact he has been the best wideout in the league all year long.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (five first-place votes): Bosa was pretty well contained by Michigan State's offensive line, but his season-long body of work speaks for itself.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull (one first-place vote): Hull helped contain Coleman and Indiana, as Penn State's defense did not allow an offensive touchdown in a win over the Hoosiers. He's averaging 11 tackles per game.

3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: Zettel has been just as valuable as Hull on that Nittany Lions defense, which looks even better for having held Ohio State to just 17 points in regulation.

4. Michigan LB Jake Ryan: He was all over the field in Michigan's win at Northwestern and now has 13 tackles for loss on the season.

5. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: His spotlight opportunity arrives on Saturday, as the Huskers defense attempts to slow down Melvin Gordon.

Also receiving votes: Wisconsin LB Derek Landisch; Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun; Maryland DE Andre Monroe

Dave McClain/Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year

1. Ohio State's Urban Meyer: What he has done with a very young roster and a first-time starting quarterback, especially since the Virginia Tech game, is amazing. But can a Buckeyes coach actually win this award? Jim Tressel never did, and Meyer couldn't claim it despite winning his first 24 games over two seasons.

2. Minnesota's Jerry Kill: The Gophers are 7-2 and in prime position in the West Division. They play Ohio State this weekend, and an upset would put Kill in the driver's seat for this award.
EVANSTON, Ill. — Frank Clark had grown so accustomed to the midweek film work that the Michigan defensive end had to wonder if all that boredom would eventually pay off.

At the most opportune time Saturday, it finally did.

Clark pressured quarterback Trevor Siemian into slipping and falling on Northwestern's fateful two-point try, the biggest defensive play on a day filled with them for the Wolverines, whose offense threatened to let the effort go to waste but nonetheless enter a bye now on their first winning streak since Oct. 5 of last season.

[+] EnlargeFrank Clark
David Banks/Getty ImagesMichigan defensive end Frank Clark had seven tackles and a sack as he terrorized Northwestern.
"Great coaching," Clark said of the Wildcats' failed two-point try, down one with three seconds left. "You watch film all week, you get bored of watching. You see the same plays repeatedly, same plays, and we knew that was one of their plays they like to do. They showed it a couple times, they like to do that in the red zone and I executed. I did my job. And that's all the coaches ask us to do. And they've been saying that all week: You do your job, you're going to win the game."

By almost any measure, Michigan's defense dominated in Saturday's 10-9 win. It forced three turnovers. The Wolverines held Northwestern to minus-9 rushing yards. They recorded six sacks.

And yet it almost went for naught, thanks to an offense that gave the ball away three times.

Never was the defense's bailing-out of the offense on better display than after Devin Gardner's second interception, an ill-advised third-quarter deep toss that Ibraheim Campbell returned 79 yards to the Michigan 15-yard line.

Clark blew up Tony Jones on a reverse for a 5-yard loss then pressured Siemian into an intentional grounding flag two plays later.

The drive's final tally? Three plays, minus-28 yards, as Northwestern still lost 5 net yards even after punting.

It was one of three third-quarter drives that Northwestern started in Michigan territory. The Wildcats scored on none of them.

"If it's sudden-change, go out there and play like we know how to play," linebacker Jake Ryan said. "There's nothing crazy about it. We just go out there and do our job."

After gaining just 95 yards from scrimmage through three-plus quarters, Northwestern mounted scoring drives of 95 and 74 yards on its final two possessions. But Michigan made one last stand, calling a timeout when the Wildcats elected to go for two after a touchdown with three seconds left.

"Jarrod Wilson got on the headsets during the timeout there and [safeties] Coach [Curt] Mallory talked him through it and he then relayed it to the rest of the guys in the back end," head coach Brady Hoke said, anticipating the play.

Nerves? Hardly. Clark knew the Wildcats' sprint-out pass was coming, having seen them run something similar a year ago. He pressured Siemian into slipping, clinching the win, enhancing 5-5 Michigan's bowl hopes and capping another strong performance from a defense that has now allowed just 19 total points and 455 total yards while forcing five turnovers over its last two games.

"It's weird, because it really wasn't nerves. It was more like a will," Clark said. "You got the bowl game, you really don't have anything to lose. You just want to make it to the bowl.

"We're not going to the Rose Bowl; we failed at that. We're not going to the Big Ten championship; we failed at that this year. All we can do is finish the season strong. Beat Maryland. Beat Ohio. We finished Northwestern. All we can do is finish the season, and that's it."

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

November, 10, 2014
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Our latest afternoon and evening of football was billed nationally as Separation Saturday, with six games between ranked teams set to reshape the College Football Playoff picture, including, of course, Ohio State-Michigan State in the Big Ten.

After the Buckeyes' 49-37 victory -- their league-record 21st straight in regular-season conference play -- the Saturday moniker appears to apply more so in the Big Ten than any place elsewhere on the Power 5 landscape.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesJ.T. Barrett accounted for five touchdowns in Ohio State's win over Michigan State.
Boosted by freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, Ohio State has separated itself atop the Big Ten, according to the many pundits who watched OSU punish the Spartans en route to 568 yards of total offense.

But three weeks of play remain. An opponent from the West, presumably to face Ohio State, must be determined for the Big Ten championship game.

It's not over in the Big Ten. Really, it's not.

Also on Saturday, Wisconsin pushed forward with a 34-16 win at Purdue. Iowa provided its fans with reason to give up on this year, losing 51-14 at Minnesota. Great rebound, by the way, for the Gophers.

The other two games were not worth revisiting. But read on, and we'll get there:

Team of the week: Ohio State. The Buckeyes, if you stopped watching after Week 2, have outscored their past seven opponents 214-59 in the first half. They've also won 12 straight games on the road, the longest streak among FBS teams, and last lost at Spartan Stadium in 1999. Ohio State simply bullied its way to victory over the Spartans. Defensively, the Buckeyes blitzed Connor Cook effectively, holding the junior quarterback without a completion on six first-half attempts against five or more pass rushers. On offense, Ohio State gained 284 yards on designed rushes and became the first team to run for four touchdowns against Michigan State since Alabama in 2011 Capital One Bowl.

Biggest play: Ohio State trailed 21-14 when Barrett found Michael Thomas on a slant. Thomas slipped past cornerback Darian Hicks and outraced safety Kurtis Drummond to the end zone for a 79-yard reception. The Buckeyes never trailed from there. Adding to the impact of Thomas' big catch, it followed a 39-yard missed field goal by Michael Geiger after a holding penalty wiped out Jeremy Langford's touchdown run. And that came on the heels of a fumble by Ohio State receiver Dontre Wilson on a kickoff return. So to assess, a dramatic reversal of momentum that propelled Ohio State to a halftime lead.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Who do you think? Barrett finished with 300 yards on 16-of-26 passing with three touchdowns. He also rushed for 86 yards and two scores. That's five touchdowns, giving him 34 for the season -- two from tying Braxton Miller's school record set last year. And despite another 205 rushing yards from Melvin Gordon, it's hard now not to consider Barrett as the frontrunner for Big Ten offensive player of the year.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Michigan defensive end Frank Clark teamed with linebacker Jake Ryan to smother Northwestern in the Wolverines' 10-9 win. Clark gets the nod for his impact on the defining play of the game. After the Wildcats scored on a Tony Jones reception with three seconds to play, Clark chased Trevor Siemian on the two-point conversion as the Northwestern QB slipped to the ground. Credit Pat Fitzgerald with a gutsy call to go for the win. But credit Clark more for his readiness to make a crucial stop.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Purdue kicker Paul Griggs connected on three field goals. His conversions from 53 and 52 yards with the wind at his back made him the first ever at Purdue to hit two field goals in the same game of 50 yards or longer.

Biggest faceplant: Take your pick among the offensive units in Michigan-Northwestern and Penn State's 13-7 win at Indiana. Only Penn State, among the foursome, made it to 300 yards. In Evanston, it was scoreless until De'Veon Smith's 3-yard touchdown run with 6:49 to play in the third quarter. On a particularly ugly sequence in the third quarter for Michigan, a snap from center Jack Miller hit Devin Funchess as the receiver ran in motion, leading to a turnover; when Michigan regained possession, QB Devin Gardner tripped and fell for a 7-yard loss.

Fun with numbers: Minnesota's 37-point margin of victory was its largest in a Big Ten game under coach fourth-year coach Jerry Kill. Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams caught three touchdown pass and set a season position record at the school with seven. ... The Gophers are 6-0 at home for the first time since 1977. ... Barrett has thrown 22 touchdowns with three interceptions in Ohio State's past seven games. ... The Buckeyes are 20-0 when Devin Smith catches a touchdown. ... Urban Meyer is 36-3 in November since 2003. ... Eight Wisconsin receivers caught at least one pass against Purdue. ... The Boilermakers rushed for 26 yards on 26 carries, the third straight and sixth of nine Wisconsin foes to rush for fewer than 100 yards. ... Gordon accumulated 249 yards of total offense. He has scored multiple touchdowns in six of the Badgers' past seven games. ... Wisconsin QB Joel Stave threw for a season-high 219 yards.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 9, 2014
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Recognizing the brightest from Week 11 in the Big Ten:
  • Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett: The redshirt freshman didn't just play well against the No. 5 defense in the nation; he absolutely dominated. Barrett threw for 300 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That alone probably would've earned him a helmet sticker -- but he also added another 86 yards and another two scores on the ground. He led Ohio State to touchdowns on six straight drives and scored four TDs in just the first half, as the Buckeyes posted the surprising 49-37 victory over Michigan State. Barrett played big on the Buckeyes' biggest stage yet this season; this honor was a no-brainer.
  • Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams: When Williams inevitably wins the Big Ten tight end of the year award, how many of his highlights are actually going to come from this game: His first TD? His second? His third? Or about that toe-dragging 25-yard reception? On a day in which the Gophers finished with 51 points in a 51-14 win, the most they’ve scored in the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale since 1949, Williams was the star. He finished with five catches for 46 yards and three touchdowns. All of his scores came on second downs, and he made it all look easy for the Gophers.
  • Michigan defensive end Frank Clark: Good numbers, clutch play, holding the other team to minus-9 rushing yards – that’s a pretty good route to a helmet sticker. Clark finished with seven tackles, two pass breakups, a sack and two stops in the backfield during Michigan's 10-9 victory at Northwestern. He was closing in on Wildcats quarterback Trevor Siemian when Siemian slipped on the potential game-winning two-point conversion. Clark helped ensure the U-M victory and, while linebacker Jake Ryan also turned in a solid performance, Clark’s nose for the ball on the Northwestern’s final play gives him an edge.
  • Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon: Another week, another helmet sticker for MGIII. You can’t really be surprised at this point because the Heisman hopeful tends to dominate every week. In a 34-16 victory over Purdue, he ended up with 25 carries, 205 rushing yards and a touchdown. He also added a highlight or two receiving with three catches for 44 yards and another score. His two touchdowns came when the Badgers needed them most, the first to take the lead and the second to make it a double-digit game. He’s quick, he’s explosive, and his helmet might be running out of room with all these Big Ten helmet stickers.
  • Penn State defense: Indiana never once entered the red zone during Penn State's 13-7 victory, but it’s not fair to single out just one Nittany Lion defender here because, quite frankly, no individual stuck out. Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman paced the unit with seven tackles apiece, but five other players had six tackles. And eight players had at least one stop in the backfield, with no one finishing with more than two. It was a total team effort. And it was the first time all season Indiana tailback Tevin Coleman didn’t reach the 100-yard mark. It was an impressive performance all-around. PSU’s defense finished with 10 stops in the backfield and two interceptions.
There are just four weeks left in the regular season, a month to go for players to build their cases for individual awards.

We've been tracking the races all season and have unanimous picks right now for our offensive and defensive player of the year honors. And this week's bonus category is also unanimous: top placekicker.

Here's how we see it after 10 weeks:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): Gordon just keeps chugging along, with six straight 100-yard games. He's got 1,296 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season.

2. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: It's not his fault that he had only 1 yard vs. Purdue, as Abdullah went out with an early knee injury. But in a close race among elite tailbacks, that hurt his case.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He has 4 more yards on the season than Gordon, and we can only hope that the Hoosiers' struggles elsewhere don't overshadow his outstanding year.

4. Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: The best receiver in the Big Ten will get a showdown with Ohio State's revamped pass defense on Saturday night.

5. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He has great numbers on the year but wasn't as effective on the road against a good defense at Penn State. Can he get it done in East Lansing?

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Top five nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. Yep, he's a beast.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: He leads the Big Ten and is seventh nationally in tackles per game, at 11.5.

3. Iowa DE Drew Ott: He's second in the Big Ten behind Bosa in sacks with eight on the year. With him, Louis-Trinca Pasat and Carl Davis, Iowa has a formidable defensive line.

4. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: He has been an absolute force at defensive tackle; will he and Hull split votes in this category among Nittany Lions defenders?

5. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: He's at 5.5 sacks, so he's got some work to do to reach double digits in that category for a second straight year.

Others receiving votes: Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Wisconsin S Michael Caputo, Minnesota LB Damien Wilson.

Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year

1. Maryland's Brad Craddock (six first-place votes): He hit the game-winner last week at Penn State and is a perfect 14-for-14 on the year. Should be an All-American.

2. Penn State's Sam Ficken: If not for Craddock, Ficken might have been the hero last week in State College. His comeback story continues to impress, and Ficken is 17-of-19 on field goals this season.

Happy Halloween in the Big Ten

October, 31, 2014
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Happy Halloween, Big Ten fans! The conference got off to a ghoulish start this season but has since provided enough tricks and treats to set up an entertaining final month of the regular season. In celebration of the undead, let’s take a look at what Halloween staples we think of when talking about the Big Ten.

Jason Voorhees: Have you ever seen Jason run after one of his soon-to-be victims? Nope, but somehow he always catches them with his slow-and-steady gait. Watching Minnesota hasn’t been much different this season. The Golden Gophers are in no hurry, defiantly marching their way toward wins in the age of turbo-speed offenses. Somehow Jerry Kill (a name made for a horror movie villain) and his team, which is now 6-2, usually end up catching their opponent and slashing them to bits.

Zombies: Unless of course, Minnesota is playing the Fighting Illini. Tim Beckman and his coaching staff might be walking dead as his third season in Champaign rolls toward the finish line, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take a few other teams down with them along the way. Can Illinois infect another team with an undefeated conference record when it faces Ohio State this Saturday? Something tells me J.T. Barrett will be going to this weekend’s party dressed as Michonne, katana and all.

Freddy Krueger: You don’t want to sleep on Nebraska this season. The Cornhuskers fell off the radar after a loss at Michigan State in early October. With Ameer Abdullah terrorizing defenses this season, they haven’t played their way out of an unexpected playoff bid just yet. The original playoff rankings put Nebraska at 15th. If Bo Pelini's team can win the West Division and a potential rematch with the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game, it can silently sneak up on a lot of folks in the college football world.

Sidney Prescott: The Ohio State-Penn State referee crew. Sidney is the main character in the Scream series, but this one applies to pretty much any pretty slasher-film target. You know, the ones who always seems to make the wrong decision. The front door is open? It’s time to scramble up the stairs. An incomplete pass bounces on the turf? Let’s rule it an interception. Getaway car is running in the driveway? Time to hide behind the chainsaws. The play clock expired? Let them kick the field goal anyway. These decisions always work out for the killer, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone outside of Columbus who doesn’t see Urban Meyer as the perfect fit for a Big Ten villain role.

The Headless Horseman: Michigan isn’t headless quite yet, but coach Brady Hoke and athletic director Dave Brandon are both moving in the direction of the guillotine. The Wolverines may be riding through the night searching for a couple new leaders a month from now. While football season has left the people of Ann Arbor feeling hollow, the town has been anything but sleepy this autumn. The Big House feels haunted. Maybe that explains all the boos.

All right, I think we’ve filled our quota for (candy)corny Halloween puns this year. Before we go, a few costume suggestions for coaches and players around the Big Ten…

Michigan LB Jake Ryan: He-Man (Before Ryan cut his hair, of course)

Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (No one has rocked the flat top as well as Turay since Will Smith.)

Michigan WR Dennis Norfleet: Carlton Banks (Will needs his partner in crime, and Norfleet’s dance moves fit the bill.)

Northwestern DC Mike Hankwitz: Walter White (No costume required, maybe just a black hat.)

Penn State coach James Franklin: Gus Fring (Close enough, and Hankwitz's defense did blow up the Nittany Lions this year.)

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: George Whitfield (No wonder Hazell has Austin Appleby playing so well.)

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini: Voldemort (When Bo is screaming, the resemblance is uncanny.)

Michigan State P Mike Sadler: Bo Pelini (Well, technically Faux Pelini, but his impression was spot-on.)

Indiana QB Zander Diamont: Derek Zoolander (There’s more to life than being ridiculously good looking, and for former model Diamont, that includes playing quarterback for the Hoosiers.)
The awards race tracker took a break last week, as we named our midseason MVPs on both sides of the ball. We're back to give you a checkup on how the major Big Ten individual award races are going.

Since we didn't include a tight end on our midseason All-Big Ten team, we'll give that position some love as our bonus category of the week.

Here we go ...

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): The Badgers were off last week, but we named Gordon our midseason offensive MVP.

2. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: He bounced back from a rough game at Michigan State to score four touchdowns at Northwestern. Expect a big finish to his college career.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Even though Michigan State knew Indiana couldn't pass the ball last week, Coleman still managed 132 rushing yards. What a player.

4 . Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He's sneaking up on the competition. The Buckeyes' freshman has 20 total touchdowns and just one interception in his past four games, and he leads the league in total offense and pass efficiency.

5. Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: Brady Hoke called him the league's best wideout this week, and we agree wholeheartedly. Lippett's eight receiving touchdowns lead the league, as does his 112.3 receiving yards per game.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): The guy who leads the league in tackles for loss and ranks second in sacks had his best game against Rutgers last week, according to Urban Meyer. Bosa is getting better, which is scary.

2. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: He leads the league in tackles, with 76. That ranks 15th in the FBS.

3. Maryland CB Will Likely: If you pass the ball on the Terps, he will likely intercept it. And maybe score. Likely had another pick-six vs. Iowa, his second of the year and his Big Ten-best fourth interception overall.

4. Penn State LB Mike Hull: The Nittany Lions' defense remains stout, and Hull is an anchor. He's right behind Wilson for the Big Ten tackles lead.

5. Iowa DE Drew Ott: He started off the Maryland game with an interception, and Ott now leads the league in sacks with seven in as many games.

Also receiving votes: Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun; Nebraska DE Randy Gregory; Michigan LB Jake Ryan

Kwalick–Clark Tight End of the Year

1. Maxx Williams, Minnesota (six first-place votes): In an offense that doesn't pass much, Williams has become the go-to target. He has 15 catches for 247 yards and four touchdowns and has made some spectacular plays.

2. Josiah Price, Michigan State: Price's numbers are very similar to Williams' (15 catches, 244 yards and four touchdowns) as the tight end has become much more of a weapon this season for the Spartans.

ESPN's midseason All-Big Ten team

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
11:00
AM ET
The regular season is at its halfway point, so we're presenting our selections for the midseason All-Big Ten team.

Offense

QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State
WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OT: Jack Conklin, Michigan State
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State
G: Zac Epping, Minnesota
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State

Defense

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DE: Marcus Rush, Michigan State
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State
DT: Carl Davis, Iowa
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State
LB: Damien Wilson, Minnesota
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin
CB: Desmond King, Iowa
CB: Eric Murray, Minnesota
S: Frankie Williams, Purdue
S: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

Special teams
PK: Brad Craddock, Maryland
P: Justin DuVernois, Illinois
KR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska

Thoughts: The first thing you probably notice is an unconventional offense featuring three running backs and no tight ends. Sure, it's a little bit of a cheat, but how do you leave any of those three tailbacks off? Coleman, Gordon and Abdullah rank 1, 2 and 4 nationally in rushing yards. Though there are some excellent tight ends in the league -- Minnesota's Maxx Williams and Penn State's Jesse James come to mind -- we would rather reward the outstanding tailbacks. Heck, we probably could have gone four or five deep at that position, given how loaded it is right now. ... The toughest call came at cornerback, where you might be surprised by our choices. We love King's shutdown ability for the Hawkeyes, and Murray gets the slight nod over teammate Briean Boddy-Calhoun for the Gophers' excellent secondary. Michigan State's Trae Waynes might be the best player at the position in the league, but he has given up some big plays this season. Same goes for Maryland's Will Likely, who has been explosive at times and torched (see: West Virginia and Ohio State) at others. It's only midseason, remember; these choices could change by the end of the season. ... Speaking of surprised, the steady Rush makes the team over more heralded position mate Shilique Calhoun. It's a close call, but Rush has been consistently terrific so far this season. ... Some pretty fresh names at linebacker, especially after so many stars at the position departed after last season. Michigan's Jake Ryan just missed there. ... Two freshmen made the team in Hamilton and Pierson-El. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is also pushing Cook for No. 1 status at quarterback.

The breakdown by team:

Michigan State: 5
Iowa: 3
Minnesota: 3
Penn State: 3
Wisconsin: 3
Maryland: 2
Nebraska: 2
Ohio State: 2
Illinois: 1
Indiana: 1
Purdue: 1
Michigan: 0
Northwestern: 0
Rutgers: 0

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 4

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
3:00
PM ET
A few teams have already played a third of the season. The nonconference action is winding down. Big Ten play is about to really kick off in earnest this weekend -- and the battles for individual awards are starting to come into better focus.

There is still plenty of football to be played and more than enough opportunities to shake up the ballots. But our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races to take the pulse of the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track record.

Here's where it stands after Week 4:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (six first-place votes): Another prolific performance in a win for the unbeaten Huskers and another unanimous selection as the top offensive player in the league. Abdullah has set the bar high in the early going and could be tough to chase down if Nebraska keeps rolling.

2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Still something of an unknown nationally, Coleman helped get his name out last weekend in the upset at Missouri. He's actually averaging more rushing yards per game than Abdullah.

3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: Fresh off a bye, Cook was able to take even more time off after carving up Eastern Michigan early and and then calling it a day after six attempts last weekend. He's completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and is clearly building on his strong finish to last season.

4. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: One of the preseason favorites has finally arrived in the rankings after a slow start. Gordon made up for some lost time with a ridiculous outing against Bowling Green, steamrolling to 5 touchdowns and 253 yards on just 13 carries.

5. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: Massachusetts didn't pose much of a threat to the Nittany Lions, and the sophomore didn't need to do much to secure another victory. He still leads the Big Ten in passing yardage, but he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns at this point.

Also receiving votes: Minnesota RB David Cobb and Michigan State WR Tony Lippett.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (six first-place votes): The clear-cut leader for the second week in a row, the defensive tackle continues to lead the league in tackles for loss. His emergence has been invaluable during the perfect start for the Nittany Lions.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: The Buckeyes were off this week, but that didn't hurt the pass-rushing dynamo any in the rankings. Bosa isn't likely to get his sidekick Noah Spence back any time soon, so his production will be even more critical moving forward for Ohio State.

T-3. Maryland CB Will Likely: The talented defensive back is breaking up at least one pass per game, and he's already nabbed a pair of interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. Even better for the Terrapins, he's a willing tackler averaging nearly 7 takedowns from his spot in the secondary.

T-3. Minnesota LB Damien Wilson: The senior sits on top of the tackling leader board after four games having already piled up 44 of them. The Gophers could use another solid outing as they head to Michigan with a chance to claim the Little Brown Jug.

5. Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay: The defensive race has been relatively wide open and full of surprising names, perhaps none as head-turning as Turay. Through four games, the freshman's four sacks are tied for the league lead.

Also receiving votes: Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Iowa DE Drew Ott and Wisconsin LB Joe Schobert.

Big Ten morning links

August, 27, 2014
Aug 27
8:00
AM ET
A tip of the cap to the Big Ten for staying ahead of the curve. For sticking its collective conference neck out there.

Yes, that Big Ten, often criticized for its conservative nature -- the league slow to stage night games late in the season or play on Thursday nights, the same Big Ten that’s reluctant to pit foes early in the fall when mismatches abound and the fans crave meaningful football.

That Big Ten is leading the way this year in playing neutral-site games. Starting with Rutgers-Washington State on Thursday in Seattle -- if that doesn’t scream Big Ten, nothing does -- league schools will play in five of eight neutral-site games nationally early this season.

On Saturday, you’ve got Penn State-Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland, Ohio State-Navy in Baltimore and Wisconsin-LSU in Houston. Notre Dame and Purdue play in Indianapolis on Sept. 13.

The Big Ten has officially embraced a college football trend popularized by the Southeastern Conference. Dare we say, the Big Ten is doing it better than any other league this year?

And even if not, Big Ten teams are trying hard to reach new audiences and tap fertile recruiting grounds. It counts for something.

Forget, for a moment, the financial ramifications. Yes, the neutral-site games can be profitable. Some offer payouts in excess of $5 million, which can equal the revenue lost from a home game, considering that the neutral-site pairings don’t require a road game in return.

But it’s about more than money.

Indirectly, everything about scheduling involves money. By playing games outside of their comfort zones, though, Big Ten programs illustrate that they want to grow their brands. They show that they’re not content with bundles of TV-generated cash and underachieving reputations.

“The kids should walk out of there with a big-time experience,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said of the Badgers’ showdown on Saturday night.

His program receives $2 million for the game.

Kickoff is set for 9 p.m. ET on ESPN, competing for viewers with Florida State-Oklahoma State at 8 p.m. ET on ABC from Arlington, Texas.

These are big-time draws, especially a week before the NFL regular season hogs attention.

Next year, the Badgers face Alabama in the Cowboys Classic. In two years, LSU visits Lambeau Field in Green Bay for the Wisconsin rematch.

Here’s to more neutral-site games in the Big Ten region. Illinois and Northwestern have tested pro stadiums in Chicago and figure to go back, but how about Nebraska or Michigan, Iowa or Michigan State at other venues easily accessible to their fans?

Keep thinking big, Big Ten.

One day before kickoff, let’s go around the league…

East Division
West Division
Bonus links
  • Who said Penn State would go back to nameless jerseys? Not James Franklin. In fact, he's not saying anything.
  • Johnny Manziel weighs in on Miller, J.T. Barrett the Ohio State quarterback situation.
  • A little fun with Kevin Wilson after practice at Indiana.

Preseason All-Big Ten team

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
9:00
AM ET
There is no official preseason all-conference team in the Big Ten (or official predicted order of finish, etc.). But we here at ESPN.com have got you covered with our preseason all-league picks on offense, defense and special teams.

And here they are:

Offense

QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State: Braxton Miller's injury opened up this spot on the first team. Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Indiana's Nate Sudfeld were potential choices here too, but Cook's Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl MVP finish earn him the nod.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: Well, sure. He could lead the nation in rushing, unless ...

RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: ... Abdullah, his good friend, beats him to it. In a league blessed with great running backs, these two stand out the most.

WR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland: There is a lot of uncertainty in the Big Ten at receiver heading into 2014. This much is certain: If Diggs can stay healthy, he'll be one of the nation's best.

WR: Shane Wynn, Indiana: Wynn scored more touchdowns than any other Big Ten receiver the past season, and now he steps into a more featured role.

TE: Devin Funchess, Michigan: Funchess might play wide receiver almost exclusively, in which case this should be viewed as a third wide receiver spot on the team. The matchup nightmare looks poised for a big season.

OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa: He might just be the best left tackle in college football in 2014. He's definitely got NFL scouts drooling.

OT: Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin: An enormous road grader at right tackle. Trying to shed him and catch Melvin Gordon is just not fair.

OG: Kaleb Johnson, Rutgers: He thought about leaving for the NFL after the past season but instead gave the Scarlet Knights a boost by returning. He has started 37 straight games.

OG: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: He could be the next rising star in Wisconsin's offensive lineman factory.

C: Jack Allen, Michigan State: A second-team All-Big Ten pick the past season, the former high school wrestling champion has no let up in his game.

Defense

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State: He’s the returning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year and could become the conference’s defensive player of the year in 2014, unless ...

DE: Randy Gregory, Nebraska: ... Gregory edges him out for the honor. The pass-rush specialist outpaced Calhoun in sacks (10.5) the past season, and Bo Pelini said Gregory has “only scratched the surface of what he’s going to be down the line.”

DT: Michael Bennett, Ohio State: He anchors the best defensive line in the conference and was named to the All-Big Ten’s second team last season.

DT: Carl Davis, Iowa: He still thinks Scherff would get the best of him if they squared off, but Athlon thought highly enough of Davis to make him a fourth-team preseason All-American.

LB: Chi Chi Ariguzo, Northwestern: The quiet Ariguzo likes to let his play do the talking, and it chatted up a storm this past season -- to the tune of 106 tackles and four interceptions.

LB: Mike Hull, Penn State: He was a coin-flip from transferring to Pittsburgh during the sanctions, but now he’s the leader of this revamped defense.

LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan: Ryan shocked onlookers last season by taking less than seven months to go from ACL surgery to playing in a Big Ten game. Hopes are higher now for the healthy redshirt senior, as he has registered a stop in the backfield in 25 of his past 30 games.

CB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State: He’s taking over at Darqueze Dennard's boundary cornerback position, but he’s up for the challenge. He’s already on the watch lists for the Bednarik and Thorpe awards.

CB: Blake Countess, Michigan: He tied for the Big Ten lead in interceptions (6) the past season -- despite battling lower abdominal pain most of the year.

S: Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State: The blue-collar DB started 21 straight games and was a Sports Illustrated All-American the past season.

S: Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern: A smart and instinctive player, Campbell has been remarkably consistent for the Wildcats. He’s a three-time all-academic B1G player and has eight career interceptions.

Special teams

K: Michael Geiger, Michigan State: As a freshman in 2013, he made 15 of his 16 field-goal attempts.

P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State: An ESPN.com All-American in 2013, Sadler combines with Geiger to give the Spartans the best 1-2 kicking tandem in the league.

KR: Kenny Bell, Nebraska: He led the Big Ten in return yardage the past season (averaging 26.5 yards per kick) and took one 99 yards for a touchdown at Penn State.

PR: Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa: He averaged 15.7 yards per return in 2013 and scored on two punt returns in the same game.

Selections by school:

Michigan State: 7
Iowa: 3
Michigan: 3
Nebraska: 3
Wisconsin: 3
Northwestern: 2
Indiana: 1
Maryland: 1
Ohio State: 1
Penn State: 1
Rutgers: 1
Illinois: 0
Minnesota: 0
Purdue: 0

Roundtable: B1G Top 25 players list

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
10:30
AM ET


Earlier today, we wrapped up our countdown of the Big Ten's Top 25 players entering the 2014 season. Not surprisingly, Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller topped the list as he aims for a third consecutive Big Ten offensive player of the year award.

Miller was a fairly easy choice at No. 1, but we debated several other players and where they should end up.

It's roundtable time, and our Big Ten reporter crew is set to break down the Top 25.

Which player did you struggle with the most to rank?

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsDevin Gardner's inconsistent play forced him down the Big Ten's top 25 players list.
Adam Rittenberg: Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner. He can be really, really good, as we saw last season in games like Notre Dame, Ohio Sate and Indiana. But he also has some moments -- or even entire games -- that leave you scratching your head. He actually didn't appear in my Top 25 because of concerns about his consistency, Michigan's depth at receiver and a struggling offensive line. I can live with him at No. 22 and could certainly see him rise up, but you just don't know what you're going to get week to week.

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure I properly ranked (or in some cases didn't rank) the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights. It's tough because we haven't watched them that closely, while we know the ins and outs of players who competed in the Big Ten the past couple of years. I'm sure Stefon Diggs belongs, and Andre Monroe probably does, too. What about Tyler Kroft or Paul James or Darius Hamilton or Steve Longa or Deon Long? We'll know more about these guys' bona fides after they spend a year in the league.

Mitch Sherman: Venric Mark posed some problems for me. Coming back from a broken ankle that ruined his 2013 season, the Northwestern Wildcats running back is something of a forgotten man, especially amid an outstanding group of league backs. But Mark rushed for nearly 1,400 yards in 2012 and would have likely earned a spot higher than I gave him -- No. 16; 15th in the composite vote -- a year ago.

Which player(s) do you see making the biggest moves up the list for the postseason rankings?

Austin Ward: Now that he's the last one standing with the Indiana Hoosiers, quarterback Nate Sudfeld won't have to worry about sharing snaps or practice reps, and his numbers could skyrocket in that high-octane offense. Fairly or unfairly, though, if the defense doesn't lend a bigger hand to help earn Sudfeld some credit as a winner, he might not be able to climb all that much higher than No. 23.

Rittenberg: Two defensive players suiting up in the Mitten State jump out in Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan (No. 20) and Michigan State Spartans cornerback Trae Waynes (No. 19). Ryan showed in 2012 just how good he can be when healthy, recording four forced fumbles and 16 tackles for loss. Coaches around the Big Ten love Waynes, who steps into the top cover corner role with Darqueze Dennard departing. I also love Tevin Coleman's potential and could see the Indiana running back in our postseason top 10.

[+] EnlargeNate Sudfeld
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerNate Sudfeld's stock should rise as he leads Indiana's offense this season.
Bennett: I admittedly like Gardner the most and ranked him higher than everyone else. Yes, he forces things at times. But he's also incredibly tough, and he got zero help from the running game last season. If Doug Nussmeier can improve the ground game and patch together a decent offensive line, Gardner could finish as a top 10 player.

What does the Top 25 say about certain positions in the league?

Sherman: We probably overvalue quarterbacks. It's the most important position in football, yes, but I doubt five actually rate among the league’s top 23 players. Interestingly, with the quarterbacks and five running backs, we've still got just 13 offensive players in the top 25. Clearly, it's a strong year for Big Ten defensive ends. By December, at least one of those pass-rushers will belong among the league’s best four players.

Bennett: Defensive end is stacked. Nebraska Cornhuskers' Randy Gregory, MSU's Shilique Calhoun and Ohio State's Joey Bosa are studs, and the Minnesota Golden Gophers' Theiren Cockran and Ohio State's Noah Spence are also special. Also, where are all the offensive linemen in a league known for them? Other than Brandon Scherff, star tackles, guards and centers are MIA.

Ward: Playing quarterback might not be all that fun this season. Ohio State's defensive line might be among the best in the nation, but that's not the only team that will be able to generate a ferocious pass rush. There are seven defensive linemen listed in the preseason top 25, and there could easily have been a few more.

Who were the biggest snubs, either in ranking or those who didn't even make the Top 25?

Sherman: I'll go with two guys who didn't make the list -- Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell, on track to rewrite the school records at his position, and Rutgers' Longa, who collected 123 tackles as a redshirt freshman last year. If Longa played at an established league school, he would have made the Top 25. I voted Bell at No. 23, by the way, and Longa at No. 24.

Rittenberg: I ranked Illinois running back Josh Ferguson in my list and would have liked to see him in the group. He's incredibly versatile -- 50 receptions last season -- and explosive with the ball in his hands. I really like Waynes and think Minnesota defensive end Theiren Cockran could have been higher than No. 21.

Ward: Calling Doran Grant a snub might be a stretch coming off a season with three interceptions for Ohio State’s anemic pass defense, but I think the senior’s talent is overlooked and he’s primed for a breakout in the new system co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has installed. Playing more aggressively with bump-and-run coverage suits Grant’s athleticism, and by the end of the year, I expect he'll be recognized among the Big Ten's best.

Bennett: Indiana receiver Shane Wynn scored more touchdowns than any other Big Ten player last season, and now he's the top option in the Hoosiers' high-octane passing attack. Fellow players pointed to Wynn as one of the league's best playmakers during media days, yet he didn't get his due here.
CHICAGO -- With some of the Big Ten's best all gathered in one place for media days, it seemed only natural to poll the players about the best and brightest athletes in the conference.

So on Tuesday morning, five offensive players and five defensive players offered their takes regarding those top athletes. We ran the offensive player results earlier on Tuesday, and up now are the results from the defense.

The full question: Besides you or players on your team, who's the best -- or most exciting -- defensive player in the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeShilique Calhoun
AP Photo/Andrew A. NellesShilique Calhoun is one of the most disruptive forces in the Big Ten.
DT Carl Davis, Iowa: "Probably [Shilique] Calhoun from Michigan State. He's a great competitor, and he got the defensive lineman of the year award. I talked to [Iowa OT Brandon] Scherff, and he said that's the best defensive end he went against last year -- and Scherff's a big guy; he can drive guys like 20 yards downfield. And Calhoun is a powerful player; he uses speed and power to his advantage. He's a great player."

S Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State: "I like watching Randy Gregory and the way he can tackle people. We got a lot of good players in this conference, so that's kind of tough to say. But I like his motor, I like the way he gets after people, and I like his excitement. I like guys that are out there having fun, and you can tell he has fun the way he plays."

DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State: "A lot of them left last year. Hmm ... I'd have to say Shilique Calhoun because he's the only other name I really know. He makes plays. Other than that, I watched his film and I wasn't really sure what the hype was -- but then, somehow, in our game he comes out with two forced fumbles and three sacks or something like that. So the guy is a playmaker and he gets the job done."

LB Mike Hull, Penn State: "That's tough. There's a lot of good players, but I really follow a lot of the linebackers. So I'd say Jake Ryan. He's a solid linebacker, makes good plays and has really good fundamentals. Just have respect for Michigan."

S Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern: "It's tough to say ... but there's some defenses that stand out. Michigan State's defense always stands out. It's more of a concerted effort; their whole unit plays with a good energy that I like. I'll always be watching them during the season, and they'll always stand out to me. If we're watching Illinois' offense and they played Michigan State, they'll just kind of stand out as one of the best teams defensively."

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