It's time for the moment you've all been waiting for: the 4th Annual Brainsplotch Big Ten Football Awards: hereafter renamed the Brainsplotch/TFTSA Big Ten Football Awards (in honor of my new Michigan State Spartans sports-related blog, Treasures from the Spartan Attic). So, without any further preamble, the winners are...
Most Valuable Player: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. A case could easily be made for Wilson's backfield teammate, Montee Ball, but Wilson added a dimension to the Badger's offense that made a huge difference for them. His dual threat capabilities gave Wisconsin the most dynamic offense in the conference, if not the nation--and it's hard to imagine the Badgers having the year they had without Wilson at quarterback. Beyond his athletic abilities, Wilson has proven to be a great leader and teammate. Pretty darned good for a player who is essentially a one-year "free agent signee".
Best quarterback: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. For all the reasons listed above, and his stat line is incredibly impressive, with an astonishing 28 touchdown passes and only 3 interceptions, to go along with 2692 yards through the air.
Honorable mentions: Kirk Cousins had an outstanding senior year for Michigan State, leading them to the Legends Division title. Denard Robinson improved throughout the season at Michigan and Brady Hoke eventually settled on an offensive scheme that utililized his abilities. Dan Persa of Northwestern once again demonstrated that he is one of the toughest and grittiest (not to mention elusive) quarterback in the conference.
Best running back: Montee Ball, Wisconsin. A no-brainer if there ever was one, Montee "Bowling" Ball easily led the Big Ten in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, yards per game, and averaged an astonishing 6.5 yards per carry. His 29 rushing TDs were almost double the number (16) his closest competitor (Denard Robinson) had this season.
Honorable mentions: Marcus Coker (Iowa) had a great sophomore season, Rex Burkhead (Nebraska), Silas Redd (Penn State).
Best wide receiver: Marvin McNutt, Iowa. McNutt, in his senior year, led the Big Ten in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. As a Michigan State fan who has watched this guy victimize the Spartans for three years, I won't miss him--but I wish him well at the next level.
Honorable mentions: B.J. Cunningham (Michigan State), A.J. Jenkins (Illinois), Jeremy Ebert (Northwestern). I was so close to giving this to Cunningham, but don't want to be accused of being a homer. Jenkins had a good year for the Illini, and I've always been a fan of Ebert's.
Best kicker: Brett Maher, Nebraska. Maher had a great season for the Huskers. He was perfect in PATs (42-42) and led the Big Ten in field goal percentage, making 19 of the 22 he attempted. By the way, those 22 attempts and 19 conversions were tops in the conference.
Honorable mention: Mitch Ewald (Indiana). 13 of 16 of field goal attempts and perfect on PATs (30 for 30).
Best defensive lineman: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois. I didn't really see him play this year, but I sure wish I had because this guy sounds like a beast, and arguably has the most badass name in college football. Mercillus led the conference in three different defensive categories: sacks, tackles for loss, and forced turnovers. Mercillus anchored a solid Illini defense that finished third in total defense in the Big Ten. His 13 solo sacks were easily the best in the Big Ten, far outpacing the runner-up John Simon (Ohio State) who had 7 solo tackles. Mercillus also led the conference in total sacks (solo and assisted) with 13, five better than Denicos Allen (Michigan State) who had 8 (6 solo, 2 assisted). His 9 forced fumbles outdistanced his closest competitors, Chris Borland (Wisconsin) and Sean Prater (Iowa), each of whom had 4.
Honorable mentions: Jerel Worthy (Michigan State), John Simon (Ohio State), Devon Still (Penn State)
Best linebacker: Chris Borland, Wisconsin. Borland is a tough, gritty guy who is the lynchpin of the Badgers' defense. He finished fourth in the conference in tackles, and third in tackles for loss.
Honorable mention: Lavonte David (Nebraska)
Best defensive back: Trenton Robinson, Michigan State. Robinson, a senior, is a great leader on Michigan State's conference leading defense. He tied with four other players (including teammate Isaiah Lewis) for the conference lead in interceptions.
Honorable mentions: Isaiah Lewis (Michigan State), Johnny Adams (Michigan State), Ricardo Allen (Purdue)
Best punter: Brett Maher, Nebraska. Maher led the Big Ten in punting average at 45.0. His 61-yard punt late against Penn State helped the Huskers cling to a 17-14 lead and get out of Happy Valley with a victory.
Honorable mention: Cody Webster (Purdue).
Coach of the year: Brady Hoke, Michigan. Hoke built a defense at Michigan (something Rich Rodriguez was never able to do) and performed an impressive turnaround in leading the Wolverines to a 10-2 record.
Honorable mentions: Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern). Dantonio proved that 2010 was no fluke by leading the Spartans to the Legends Division championship and a 10-2 regular season record. Fitzgerald continues to get the most out of the limited talent he has at Northwestern.