Big Ten Media Days -- Kirk Ferentz's favorite time of the year -- officially get underway in Chicago next week. But since the Big Ten has abandoned the practice of preseason picks for... reasons (the ways of the Delanybot 9000 are inscrutable at times), the media has picked up the slack. Cleveland.com organizes a straw poll comprised of 38 writers, including at least one beat writer for each team, and posts their results each this summer. This year's results? It's all about the Buckeyes (again).
This isn't really a surprise -- OSU returns a great deal of talent from the team that made the College Football Playoff last year (and has a host of talented recruits waiting in the wings to replace the talent that isn't back) and the Buckeyes are also big Vegas favorites. OSU was picked to win by 29 of 38 voters; Wisconsin and Penn State were the next-most popular winners (four picks each), while Michigan picked up the lone remaining vote. Wisconsin was the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten West as well, with 31 of 38 votes; Northwestern (five votes) and Nebraska (two votes) were the other West teams picked to win. Iowa was picked to finish fourth in the West, sandwiched between Nebraska and Minnesota.
The good news? The predictive power of this exercise is... not great. The preseason Big Ten champion in this poll has never gone on to actually win the Big Ten in its six-year history. Ohio State has been the preseason champion pick four times (including this year), but the only time they actually won the Big Ten was in 2014, when Michigan State was the pick. So don't pencil in that Ohio State-Wisconsin Big Ten Championship Game just yet -- based on recent history, there will be a spanner in the works by December. Hopefully that spanner will be wearing black and gold.
But I do want to talk about the preseason picks for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year because there was some very weird voting there. Let's start with offense.
Look, I think the top of this poll is fine. Saquon Barkley should be the preseason favorite. He's incredible to watch! He was amazing in the Rose Bowl. I still shudder to think about him knifing through the entire Iowa defense in that debacle in Happy Valley last season. J.T. Barrett and Trace McSorley are fine picks, too; they're highlight-friendly quarterbacks on high-powered offenses on teams that should contend for the Big Ten title. Jackson led the Big Ten in rushing yards last year (1524) and was tied for third in touchdowns (15) and if you think Northwestern is going to contend in the West, it's probably because you think Jackson will carry the offense.
No, it's the bottom of this poll where things get very strange. L.J. Scott? Akrum Wadley ran for more yards (1081 vs 994) and more touchdowns (10 vs 6), while averaging over a yard more per carry (6.43 vs 5.40). Rodney Smith? He bested Wadley on yards (1158 vs 1081) and touchdowns (16 vs 10), but he needed 72 more carries to do so and his yards per carry was over a yard and a half less than Wadley (6.43 vs 4.83). Alex freaking Hornibrook? He completed less than 60% of his passes last season and was barely above a 1:1 TD:INT ratio (9 to 7). Unless your name is Russell Wilson, no Wisconsin quarterback is sniffing Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors -- and Alex Hornibrook is no goddamn Russell Wilson. Fumagali isn't even the top returning tight end in the Big Ten (Penn State's Mike Gesicki had more receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns). Cobbs had over 1000 receiving yards in 2015 but is coming back from a season-ending injury in 2016. Jamarco Jones is a left tackle and while offensive linemen are certainly criminally underrated as a whole, no offensive lineman is winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, Akrum Wadley didn't even got one single measly vote. Good job, Big Ten scribes. Again, I certainly don't think he should be the favorite -- Barkley and Barrett are much better picks there -- but to not get any consideration seems ridiculous, especially when people are throwing out votes for Wisconsin quarterbacks and decent Michigan State running backs.
That said, the voting for Preseason Defensive Player of the Year suggests that the Big Ten media doesn't have any blind hatred of Iowa -- Josey Jewell finished just behind Ohio State defensive end Tyquan Lewis as the winner there. Jewell actually got more first-place votes than Lewis (12 to 11), but Lewis edged him on overall points, meaning some writers had Jewell a few spots lower on their ballots. Lewis was first-team All-Big Ten last year and had the most sacks (8.0) among returning defenders. Jewell was second in the league in tackles last year and was second-team All-Big Ten last year. To win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Jewell is going to need to elevate his game to another level (and likely record more "highlight" plays; he had zero interceptions and 1.5 sacks last year) and come up big in Iowa's biggest games of the year (Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin). And, hey, if he does that Iowa's probably going to have a good year and record a few memorable wins, which would be just fine by us.