Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Poll: Big Ten's most surprising player
By Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten's collective struggle in September has been the main storyline so far this season, but the league has produced its share of bright spots -- surprise stars, in fact. Here's your chance to select the league's most surprising player through the first five weeks.
Raise your hand if you expected Iowa's Mark Weisman to a) lead the Big Ten in touchdown runs and rank fourth in rushing yards, b) become Iowa's featured back, c) see the field at all for the Hawkeyes. Hadn't heard of Weisman before Sept. 15? You're not alone. The Hawkeyes' battering ram of a fullback has gone from anonymous to local cult hero in a matter of weeks, racking up 515 yards and seven touchdowns on 74 rushes.
Matt McGloin didn't need to introduce himself to the Big Ten like Weisman did, but he had a reputation to repair. Most Penn State fans were less then thrilled when first-year coach Bill O'Brien named McGloin the team's starting quarterback late this spring. McGloin hadn't exactly torn apart opposing defenses the past two years. But Nittany Nation has a different view of the senior signal caller these days, as McGloin leads the league in passing (243.4) and completions (101) with 10 touchdown strikes and only two interceptions in a league-high 170 attempts.
Like McGloin, Minnesota defensive end D.L. Wilhite entered his fifth year with a less-than impressive résumé. He had appeared in 35 career games, starting 16, but had just 34 total tackles with seven sacks and two forced fumbles. He played for a Gophers defensive line that has been among the nation's least effective for the past three seasons. But Wilhite and the front four have surged this season. Wilhite leads the Big Ten with 4.5 sacks, and ranks fourth with 5.5 tackles for loss. He also has a forced fumble.
You might have caught a glimpse of Northwestern's Venric Mark before this season as he sprinted downfield on a punt or kickoff return. That's all Mark really was, a gifted return specialist, as he couldn't crack the lineup as a wide receiver and briefly was a candidate to play in the secondary. But he has found a home at running back and energized a position that has been dormant in Evanston in recent years. Mark ranks fourth in the league and tied for 17th nationally in rushing average (107.6 ypg). He has five rushing touchdowns and seven total touchdowns.
Penn State fans knew about McGloin, but they had major concerns about who he'd be throwing passes to this fall after top returning receiver Justin Brown transferred to Oklahoma. O'Brien talked up Allen Robinson in preseason camp, but Robinson had just three catches as a true freshman in 2011. Robinson has backed up his coach -- and his quarterback -- in a big way through the first five games, ranking second in the Big Ten in both receptions (6.4 rpg) and receiving yards (87.8 ypg), and tying for the league lead in touchdown catches (5).
All five players are surprises, to varying degrees. And there are others. It's your turn to pick the most surprising player. Time to vote.