With the regular season in the rear-view mirror, it's time for the Big Ten to name all-conference teams and hand out individual awards. The awards and all-conference teams roll out today and tomorrow. Today the Big Ten announces All-Big Ten Defense and Special Teams selections as well as Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Lineman of the Year, Linebacker of the Year, Defensive Back of the Year, Kicker of the Year, Punter of the Year, Specialist of the Year, and both Coach of the Year awards. Tomorrow the Big Ten will announce the All-Big Ten Offense slections as well as Offensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Offensive Lineman of the Year, Quarterback of the Year, Running Back of the Year, Receiver of the Year, and Tight End of the Year. Awards will be announced at 4 PM CT on The B1G Show on BTN.
So who's going to win the awards? Let's take a stab at some predictions.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
No need to overthink this one: it's going to be Chase Young. Young led the Big Ten (and the nation) with 16.5 sacks... and that was after missing two games due to an NCAA suspension. He racked up 19.5 tackles for loss and forced six fumbles. He was credited with 47 QB pressured, per Pro Football Focus, 4th-best in the Big Ten. He absolutely wrecked opposing teams this season.
Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year
Chase Young, duh.
Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year
I'm going with Dele Harding of Illinois. He led the Big Ten in tackles with 147 (2nd most in the nation), which was a whopping 33 more tackles than the player with the next-most tackles (Purdue LB Ben Holt). Harding had 13 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions, and two defensive touchdowns. Seems like a playmaker to me. I think the league will recognize that level of productivity.
Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year
Iowa has had a stranglehold on this award in recent years, but the Hawkeyes don't really have a great candidate this year. Michael Ojemudia (36 tackles, 7 pass break-ups, 3 interceptions) had a good year, but wasn't dominant. I think Minnesota's Antoine Winfield, Jr. takes the honor this year. Winfield led the Big Ten with 7 interceptions (no one else had more than three). He also had 58 tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and a defensive touchdown. He was the face of a very solid Minnesota defense. If Winfield doesn't win the award, it could go to Ohio State's Josh Okudah, who had three interceptions, six pass break-ups, and is regarded as the top cover corner in the Big Ten and a possible Top 10 pick in next year's NFL Draft.
Bakken-Anderson Kicker of the Year
It's Keith Duncan and it's not even close. He leads the Big Ten in field goal attempts (34), makes (29), and conversion percentage (85.3%). Duncan had probably the greatest season ever for a kicker in the Big Ten and there's absolutely no justification for any other kicker winning this award.
Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year
Michael Sleep-Dalton finished sixth in the league in punting average (42.1 yards per kick), so Iowa's wait for a Big Ten Punter of the Year honor looks set to continue. Who will win it? Um... IDK? Adam Korsak, the Rutgers punter who you may remember putting on an absolute clinic against Iowa earlier this season, finished third in the league in punting average (43.8 yards per punt), though he did lead the league in total punts and punting yardage (which is what happens when you play for Rutgers and get to average six punts a game). If the Big Ten decides to honor volume (as well as strong performance), Korsak or Illinois punter Blake Hayes (44.9 yards per punt, second most punts this year) should be the winner. If they just decide to go with average, it should probably go to Michigan's Will Hart, who led the Big Ten with a 45.1 yards per punt average.
Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year
Maryland's Javon Leake should win this award hands down. He had two kick return touchdowns (no one else had more than one) and he led the league in returns (30), kick return yards (804), and kick return average (26.8). He had over 200 more yards than the next-closest returner.
Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year
This is the coach of the year award selected by Big Ten coaches. P.J. Fleck seems like a shoo-in for this award, given that he led Minnesota to their first 10-win season in over 15 years and had Minnesota doing several things that their program hadn't done since at least the 1960s.
Dave McClain Coach of the Year
And this is the coach of the year award selected by Big Ten media. Fleck seems like the most likely choice here as well, although there's a possibility that Ryan Day gets recognized for taking over the Ohio State juggernaut and not only not missing a beat, but making it even more dominant. It would be kind of hilarious if Day is the OSU coach who ends the Buckeyes' Coach of the Year drought and not Jim Tressel or Urban Meyer.
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
There's an intriguing race here, actually. Dwayne Haskins won this award last year in a no brainer selection; his passing stats were absolutely preposterous. He completed 70% of his passes and threw for 4831 yards (1100 more than anyone else in the Big Ten) and 50 touchdowns against just 8 interceptions. (Those stats do include Haskins' monster efforts in the Big Ten Championship Game (34/41, 499 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT) and Rose Bowl (25/37, 251 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT), but even without those games he still had over 4000 yards passing and 42 touchdowns.) There isn't anyone like that this year.
Tanner Morgan was the face of Minnesota's offensive explosion this year and he had a Big Ten-best 2975 passing yards while completing 66% of his passes and leading the conference with a 10.3 yards per attempt average. He also had 28 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Ohio State's Justin Fields replaced Haskins and didn't really miss a beat: he had 2654 passing yards and completed 68% of his passes. He also had a preposterous 37:1 TD:INT ratio this year.
Before Haskins, this award had gone to running backs four straight years. And there are two running backs with good claims to the award this year, too. Wisconsin's Jonathan Taylor had 1761 yards on 279 carries (6.3 ypc) and 20 touchdowns, as well as 22 receptions for 201 yards and five touchdowns through the air. Ohio State's JK Dobbins had 1657 yards on 250 carries (6.6 ypc) and 19 touchdowns, as well as 17 receptions for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the passing game. Maybe Dobbins gets the edge because of his performance in big games? He ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns on Wisconsin, 157 yards and two scores on Penn State, and 211 yards and four touchdowns on Michigan. Taylor had 203 yards and two scores on Michigan, but was stymied by Ohio State (52 yards and no touchdowns) and also had a relatively quiet game against Minnesota (76 yards and two touchdowns). I think this award could go a lot of directions, but I'm going to lean Dobbins.
Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year
This award is probably between Morgan and Fields and I think Fields takes it thanks to that utterly absurd 37:1 TD:INT ratio.
Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year
This award is going to either Taylor or Dobbins and there isn't much between them as we established above. Still, I think Dobbins' better performances in big games (particularly his standout showings at the end of the year against Penn State and Michigan) will push him over the top.
Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year
Can they split this award? Good luck choosing between Minnesota's Rashod Bateman (57 receptions, 1170 yards, 11 TD) and... Minnesota's Tyler Johnson (74 receptions, 1114 yards, 11 TD). Either guy will be a fully deserving winner. If I have to pick one... maybe Johnson, due to his edge in receptions? (Though you could argue that should benefit Bateman instead, since it shows he was more of a big play threat.)
Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year
Another no brainer. Purdue's Brycen Hopkins led all Big Ten tight ends in receptions (61), receiving yards (830), and receiving touchdowns (7).
Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year
Michigan State's Elijah Collins (892 yards and 5 TD on 201 carries) and Ohio State's Master Teague III (780 yards and 4 TD on 128 carries) had very good debut seasons as freshmen running backs. But this award feels like it's Purdue wide receiver David Bell's to lose. He led the Big Ten in receptions (86) and he was third in receiving yards (1035), while also hauling in seven touchdowns. Shout-out to Iowa's Tyrone Tracy too; he had 589 yards and three touchdowns on 36 receptions and while that won't be enough to win this award, he ought to make the All-Freshman team offense.
Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year
This is a difficult award to figure, given how hard it is for laypeople to assess offensive line play. Tristan Wirfs probably has a realistic chance of giving Iowa a second award-winner this season, though, in this category. He was the highest-graded OL in the Big Ten per Pro Football Focus:
Top Big Ten OL grades this year according to @PFF— Blair Sanderson (@BlairRIVALS) December 2, 2019
1. Tristan Wirfs, Iowa 90.4
2. Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin 86.7
3. Rashawn Slater, Northwestern 85.4
4. John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota 83.5
5. Wyatt Davis, Ohio State 81.5
6. Tyler Linderbaum, Iowa 81.3
7. Doug Kramer, Illinois 79.2
And he has a fair amount of name recognition thanks to his past performances and the fact that he entered this season as a likely first round NFL Draft pick in 2020. Working against him is the fact that Iowa's offense was, well, offensive. The offense's woes weren't really Wirfs' fault at all, but it still might be weird to give the award to a player from one of the worst offenses in the conference. If not Wirfs, I'd guess it goes to a Wisconsin or Ohio State lineman, since they helped pave the way for massively productive offenses.
I'm not going to try and select entire All-Big Ten teams on offense or defense. So let's just guess where Iowa players might be honored on those teams.
- Keith Duncan is a no-brainer as the All-Big Ten kicker.
- A.J. Epenesa should be first-team All-Big Ten defensive line; if there were any doubts (only due to his relative lack of statistical production), his efforts against Nebraska should have erased them.
- Will any other Iowa DL get honored? Maybe Golston gets some honorable mention love; overall Iowa's DL didn't really post big numbers this year (aside from Epenesa, and even his statistical production came near the end of the season).
- Kristian Welch will probably get third-team or honorable mention at LB.
- Michael Ojemudia might get second-team honors at CB; his three interceptions was tied for the second-most in the conference and his 10 passes defended was tied for fifth-most in the league. He was also a very sure tackler and the leader of Iowa's secondary this season.
- Wirfs seems like a lock for the first-team All-Big Ten offensive line.
- Alaric Jackson probably missed too much time (and took too long to round into form when he was healthy) to get more than third-team or honorable mention recognition.
- Tyler Linderbaum also might get some honorable mention recognition.
- Will anyone else on the Iowa offense get recognized? Seems doubtful.
We'll find out the actual winners today and tomorrow.