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Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 12

By Brian Bennett

Let's see where some key individual award races stand with two weeks left to go in the regular season:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson: Russellmania is back on top this week after a nearly perfect (16-for-17, four touchdowns) performance at Minnesota. He will shatter the NCAA record for passer efficiency if he maintains anywhere close to his current pace.

2. Wisconsin running back Montee Ball: It's odd to have two players from the same team be the top two candidates. But it's also hard to argue right now. Ball leads the Big Ten in rushing yards and also just set the league touchdown record with two games to play.

3. Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead: After an off week against Northwestern, Burkhead bounced back with a big performance against a very tough Penn State defense. And he almost got to show off his passing skills while playing under center for several snaps.

4. Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt: A.J. Jenkins may have been named a Biletnikoff semifinalist, but for my money McNutt is the best receiver in the Big Ten right now. He has 11 fewer catches and 44 fewer receiving yards than Jenkins but has three more touchdowns and a better yards-per-catch average (16.8 to Jenkins' 14.9).

5. Iowa running back Marcus Coker: He didn't have a great game against Michigan State, but Coker still ranks second in the league in rushing and third in rushing touchdowns. With Silas Redd having an off day against Nebraska, Coker moves ahead of the Penn State back.

Just missed: Redd

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State defensive tackle Devon Still: The Nittany Lions lost last week, but Still was dominant. His play to force a fumble that set up Penn State's last touchdown was the perfect illustration of how great he's been this season.

2. Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David: Speaking of great, David made the key tackle in the game by stopping Redd on a fourth-and-1 run. There aren't many better linebackers in the country.

3. Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus: You can't ignore Mercilus' 12.5 sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles. But his prospects are fading a bit as Illinois continues to falter.

4. Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor: One of the most improved players in the league, Taylor had a 13-tackle showing against Minnesota and now leads the Big Ten in tackles with 108.

5. Ohio State defensive tackle John Simon: He's tied for third in the league in sacks (6) and is sixth with 13.5 tackles for loss as the anchor of the Buckeyes' defense.

Just missed: Purdue DT Kawann Short

Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year

1. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller: He still has a way to go as a passer, but Miller has shown remarkable poise in the clutch and is a tremendous runner. He made an amazing play to beat Wisconsin and another fantastic one to tie the score last week at Purdue in the final minute. Big Ten defenses will have to worry about him for a long time.

2. Michigan State defensive end Marcus Rush: Jerel Worthy and William Gholston get most of the attention on the Spartans' defensive front, but Rush has been a valuable player there as well. He has 43 tackles, two sacks and eight tackles for loss on the season.

3. Michigan cornerback Blake Countess: The true freshman has emerged as a starting corner, moving veteran Troy Woolfolk to safety. He has displayed excellent cover skills and has six pass breakups in nine games to help Michigan's defense improve.