COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Before there could even be a discussion about his viability for an all-conference award, let alone anything bigger, Ryan Shazier first had to win over his own coach.
The Ohio State sophomore had plenty of production during the first half of the season, though he also missed some plays that could have been made and wasn't the most technically sound player on the field.
The Buckeyes knew that Shazier had the physical tools to make his presence felt all over the field and the willingness to chase the ball down anywhere between the sidelines, though too often he was doing both without a real sense of purpose.
So Shazier piled up impressive numbers without generating any real buzz, despite playing for a team in the midst of a perfect season. Then Urban Meyer popped in the film of a win over Purdue, and suddenly he was seeing more than just the kind of numbers that might make even a presumptive Heisman Trophy candidate on another undefeated team a bit jealous.
"I think he's an excellent football player, and he's turned into an excellent linebacker," Meyer said. "He wasn't that way before the Purdue game. If I remember right, that's when I watched the film and said, 'That is a big-time linebacker.'
"Before that he was just missing tackles, running all over the place. Kind of an out-of-control player, and [defensive coordinator Luke Fickell helped] made him an under-control, All-Big Ten linebacker."
Shazier officially claimed that honor on Monday, and for now it appears that will be all the recognition he'll receive from a breakout campaign that helped spur the Buckeyes on to perfection.
And while awards seemed to make little difference to Shazier in the aftermath of Saturday's against Michigan -- helped in part by this 2.5 tackles for a loss to extend his conference-leading total -- he might have deserved more attention than he's currently receiving, particularly from the Big Ten coaches who made him a second-team choice this week.
The Buckeyes already have an established Most Valuable Player in quarterback Braxton Miller, and defensive end John Simon's combination of on-field work and locker-room leadership helped him win the vote for conference defensive player of the year on Tuesday. But the comparison that has become perhaps the most popular debate about Shazier's value has been focused on the only other undefeated team in the country and it's Heisman candidate, Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te'o.
Purely based on statistics, Shazier has the edge in tackles (115), sacks (5), passes defended (12), forced fumbles (3) and leads by a wide margin in tackles for loss (17 to 5.5). Te'o has recovered more fumbles (2) and owns a decisive advantage with 7 interceptions against Shazier's lone pick during the regular season.
And while the Ohio State sophomore might not have the intangible qualities that have made Te'o one of the feel-good stories of the season, he does have some signature moments, such as his touchdown return against Penn State or the forced fumble that denied Wisconsin's Montee Ball a record-setting touchdown -- plays that typically stick in the minds of voters and help win votes.
They aren't going to come this season, and Shazier already seemed well aware of that as flashed back on his emergence this season after doing his part to knock off rival Michigan. But there's always next season, and he's certainly set the table for himself now.
"I think that's an amazing honor [to be all-conference], but to me, I was just really playing this year for the seniors and doing everything I could for them," Shazier said. "For me personally, if I make All-Big Ten this year, then I want to be defensive player of the year next year.
"I want to be one of the best guys to ever come through here."
Having Meyer's stamp of approval is a start, and Shazier obviously has that in his favor now.