Our Big Ten all-bowl team wasn't without its debates and tough calls for who should make the team and who should be left off. So we decided to revisit the team with a question to the Big Ten writers: What was the toughest call here?
Austin Ward: Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
After all the ups and downs of a season that certainly didn’t play out the way Barrett envisioned, the redshirt sophomore capped the challenging year with his best performance and once again looked like the guy who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy race in 2014. After everything Barrett went through on and off the field, the struggles he had while dealing with the competition with Cardale Jones early in the season and the debacle against Michigan State in November, the effort he delivered while carving up Notre Dame for 211 passing yards and a touchdown to go with 96 yards on the ground should bode well for the Buckeyes as they reload and chase another title next season. Maybe those numbers aren’t eye-popping -- thanks in large part to Ezekiel Elliott’s four touchdowns -- but Barrett looked fully back in command of his game and was instrumental in an impressive victory in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl.
Dan Murphy: Indiana K Griffin Oakes
This case is more of a tough break than a tough call. Oakes finished Indiana's 44-41 overtime loss to Duke as the goat. The box score says he hit two of his four kicks. One of the misses was a 38-yard attempt in overtime that ended the game. You can judge for yourself if he missed or not, but if the referees decided the sky-high was actually between the uprights, the Big Ten's kicker of the year might have been the kicker of the bowl season, too. If the kick was ruled successful, he would've been 3-for-4 with the only miss coming from 56 yards out. Add on the five extra points he converted and whatever else might have followed in the ensuing overtime periods, and he stacks up well to the three short field goals from Rafael Gaglianone, who ended up on our all-bowl team.
Jesse Temple: Indiana WR Mitchell Paige
The Hoosiers put up tons of points, and some players are guaranteed to benefit from their high-octane offense more than others. But Paige took advantage of his opportunity and set an Indiana bowl record with 11 catches for 95 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown. The score gave IU a 41-34 lead and was nearly enough for the game-winner before Indiana lost in overtime to Duke in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. Paige was electric all season and finished with a team-best six TD catches. It was quite a way for him to go into what should be a special senior season in 2016.
Mitch Sherman: Nebraska cornerback Joshua Kalu
Eli Apple and Eric Murray benefit from name recognition -- and, in the case of Apple, an abundance of talent among defensive teammates. Kalu has neither. But the sophomore led the Cornhuskers in tackles with eight and played a key role in the Foster Farms Bowl as Nebraska largely silenced UCLA phenom Josh Rosen in the second half. Kalu also intercepted Rosen late in the second quarter on the play immediately after Nathan Gerry was ejected for targeting. With the score tied at 21, headed toward halftime, the Bruins were threatening to retake momentum following Nebraska’s rally from a 14-point deficit. Kalu’s interception, at the Nebraska 30-yard line, thwarted UCLA momentum as and the Huskers scored the first 16 points of the second half to take control.
Josh Moyer: Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
If we decided to go with three wideouts instead of three running backs, Thomas definitely would've been in the mix. He finished with seven catches for 72 yards and a touchdown -- but he was responsible for more than one-third of this passing offense. He boasted over twice as many yards as the next-leading receiver, and 24 of his yards came after the catch. Barrett wouldn't have been nearly as effective without him. Not only did Thomas tie his season-high in receptions (7), but four of those catches were for first downs. Elliott got plenty of love for his four-touchdown performance, and rightfully so, but Thomas was also integral to the win.