Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We’ll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We’ll let you decide which blogger is right.
As the 2013 season kicks off this week, we’re making our picks for the four major Big Ten individual awards.
Today’s Take Two topic: Who will win Big Ten offensive player of the year honors?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
I'm going with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, not because he's the only candidate (he's not) or because he ran away with the Graham-George offensive player of the year award in 2012 (he didn't). Miller came a long way in 2012 in his first season running Urban Meyer's well-suited offense. But he has so much further to go in his development, and his potential to take an even bigger step this season is why he's my choice to be the Big Ten's first back-to-back winner of offensive player of the year honors (former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees won in 1998 and 2000).
Miller did special things with the ball in his hands last season (1,271 rush yards, 13 TDs), but he'll become a more complete quarterback this season as the passing game evolves and more weapons emerge around him. Receiver Corey "Philly" Brown could blossom into an All-Big Ten candidate and dynamic freshman Dontre Wilson should be a major asset for Miller. Although Miller will eclipse 2,000 career rush yards in Saturday's season opener against Buffalo, he should be less of a run-first quarterback this season, while potentially improving his scrambling skills, which have been subpar, according to the coaches. He'll boost his completion percentage (58.3 last year) and flourish behind the Big Ten's best offensive line.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
I wish I could be bold and pick someone else besides Miller, who is the obvious choice for all the reasons you mention. And I think there is some reason to believe he won't repeat. Players who win major awards and then return the next season often have their games picked apart by critics and commentators looking for new things to say. Expectations will be sky high, and anything less than a marked improvement over last year's numbers will be viewed, fairly or unfairly, as something of a disappointment. Urban Meyer said this week that he doesn't want Miller leading the team in rushing, which means Miller's stats could go down as the weapons around him improve. Also, don't forget that the league coaches voted Taylor Martinez, not Miller, as the Big Ten's first-team quarterback last year. Martinez led the conference in total offense and could put up a spectacular season that eclipses Miller in the process. Other strong candidates such as Northwestern's Venric Mark, Penn State's Allen Robinson, Michigan's Devin Gardner and the Wisconsin tailback duo of James White and Melvin Gordon lurk as well.
In the end, though, it's just too hard not to pick Miller. He plays on the Big Ten's best team and has proven himself as a winner who makes big plays in key moments. Remember, too, that Miller was only 19 last season and that he turned 20 shortly after the Michigan game. He's still maturing and growing as both a person and a player. And he's the obvious and correct choice to repeat as Big Ten offensive player of the year.