As we all know, the Big Ten rechristened all their end of season awards last year plus introduced a few new ones. There is now an award available to honor basically the best player at every position on the field.
In turn, we’re going to take a look at some of the candidates for the awards in 2012, and ultimately provide you, dear reader, with some humble predictions as to how it’ll all shake out by the time the Big Ten Championship season rolls around.
Today, we'll start with the offensive stars; tomorrow, the defensive awards. Warning: some of the "likely candidates" we're spitballing may be a tad unrealistic. Try to keep your scoffing to a minimum and let’s get right down to brass tacks.
Griese-Brees Quarterback Of The Year
Last year’s winner: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin.
Predicted 2012 winner: Denard Robinson.
I really do hate to say this. but another year in Al Borges’ system and Denard is going to be even more of a force to be reckoned with. He's likely to put up some huge numbers both running and throwing. If he cuts down on his INT’s, he’s easily the best candidate. Let’s just hope the exception to the rule is in Columbus Thanksgiving weekend.
Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year
Last year’s winner: Montee Ball, Wisconsin.
This year’s likely candidates: Ball; Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State; Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan; Carlos Hyde, Ohio State; James White, Wisconsin; Rex Burkhead, Nebraska; Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota.
Predicted 2012 winner: Le’Veon Bell.
Going chalk is soooo boring. Also, Montee Ball will have a wonderful season this year but it will be exceedingly difficult for him to match the 39 touchdowns he had last year with a new offensive line and a new quarterback. I think Bell is really going to carry the load for Sparty and be essentially their entire offense.
Richter-Howard Wide Receiver of the Year
Last year’s winner: Marvin McNutt, Iowa.
This year’s likely candidates: Roy Roundtree, Michigan; Corey Brown, Ohio State; Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin; Keenan Davis, Iowa; Kenny Bell, Nebraska; DaJon McKnight, Minnesota; Kofi Hughes, Indiana.
Predicted 2012 winner: Jared Abbrederis.
Roundtree is awfully tempting here, but Abbrederis’ talent and versatility trumps the fact that Roundtree has Denard Robinson throwing to him. Keenan Davis has all the talent in the world as well.
Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year
Last year’s winner: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern.
Predicted 2012 winner: Jake Stoneburner.
Stoney's the most physically talented tight end in the league. As Buckeye fans know, he was criminally underused last year and, if we’re being honest, the year before. He’ll be a stud statistically in Urban Meyer and Tom Herman’s new offense, regardless of what the rest of the offense does.
Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year
Last year’s winner: David Molk, C, Michigan
This year’s likely candidates: Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin (or really, anyone on Wisconsin’s offensive line); Blake Treadwell, Michigan State; Taylor Lewan, Michigan; Jack Mewhort, Ohio State; James Ferentz, Iowa.
Predicted 2012 winner: Taylor Lewan.
On the heels of a strong performance against all-everything William Gholston last year, Lewan played at an extremely high level. A lot of the offensive line talent in the Big Ten graduated or went pro last year, but Lewan is ready to have a monster Jake Long-esque year.
Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year
Last year’s winner: Brett Maher, Nebraska
Predicted 2012 winner: Maher.
Derek Dimke of Illinois could have won it last year, but his first missed field goal of the year caused Illinois to lose at Penn State, which may have given Maher the edge. Maher is an excellent kicker in his own right, so barring a Blair Walsh-style breakdown, he should win again. Conroy and Wiggs are his main competition.
Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year
Last year’s winner: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
This year’s likely candidates: Noah Spence, Ohio State; Isaac Hayes, Minnesota; Taylor Decker, Ohio State; Joe Bolden, Michigan; Monty Madaris, Michigan State; Brionte Dunn, Ohio State; Ifeadi Ohenigbo, Northwestern; Barkley Hill, Iowa.
Predicted 2012 winner: Monty Madaris.
It’s extremely difficult to pick out which true freshmen will have the largest impact. Some of them may wind up being redshirted, and some of them may never pan out. Usually offensive stars have the biggest impact right away, but the best prospects in year’s Big Ten recruiting classes are heavy on the defensive side of the ball or in the trenches. There just isn’t the huge crop of quarterbacks or running backs that are good enough to start right away this year. Madaris is a four-star receiver on a team that’s been heavily depleted at that position by graduation, so that’s the best guess we've got at this point.
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
Last year’s winner: Montee Ball.
This year’s likely candidates: Braxton Miller, Ohio State; Denard Robinson, Michigan; Ball; Le’Veon Bell, Michigan State; James Vandenberg, Iowa; Rex Burkhead, Nebraska; Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois; Taylor Martinez, Nebraska.
Predicted 2012 winner: Denard Robinson.
Denard won this award back in 2010, and he appears poised for another excellent season this year. The three best candidates are Robinson, Miller, and Montee Ball. While Braxton Miller is ready to take the next step, Robinson's been more consistent, a better offensive line, and seniority. It’ll be an extremely close race all year and this group should constitute essentially the most exciting players in the conference to watch on a week in, week out basis.
What say you, loyal commentariat? Who takes what award and why?