We’ve spent some time this offseason debating the Big Ten’s best – from the conference’s top offensive player to the defensive MVP – so we recently decided to take those debates directly to the players themselves.
During Big Ten media days in Chicago, we pulled aside 14 of the 39 player representatives and asked them four questions: Who is the Big Ten’s best offensive player? Who’s the best on defense? What other coach would you most like to play for? And what’s the toughest place to play?
We kept players' names anonymous so they'd feel free to vote and speak their minds. There was only one catch: Any pick you made could not come from your own team. Some players declined to come up with an answer for every category, so you’ll also notice that the votes don’t always add up to 14.
We’ll get to all the results of our non-scientific poll Thursday and Friday. But we start with the first question: Who is the Big Ten’s best offensive player?
Best offensive player (12 votes)
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett – 4 votes
Penn State RB Saquon Barkley – 2 votes
Michigan TE Jake Butt – 2 votes
Michigan AP Jabrill Peppers – 2 votes
Iowa QB C.J. Beathard – 1 vote
Indiana OL Dan Feeney – 1 vote
It’s no surprise at all that Barrett finished No. 1. “I had a lot of players on my mind,” one B1G East player told us, “but he’s very gifted in what he can do as a quarterback. I have to give it to J.T.” The big shock here had to be who came right after Barrett: Michigan's Peppers.
Peppers carried the ball just 18 times last season, attempted one pass and finished with eight receptions. But two B1G players, at separate times and from separate teams, still couldn’t resist picking the electric redshirt sophomore.
You sure you don’t mean for defense? “Yeah, for offense,” one B1G player said. “I think he does a great job on offense when he plays there. I’m fully aware he plays both ways; I just think the things he’s able to do, man, it’s just ridiculous.” Said another player: “He’s just an explosive guy.”
Beathard was praised for his leadership, Butt for his balance as a blocker/receiver, and Feeney for having virtually no weaknesses. But it was Barkley who might’ve wound up with the best quote from an opposing player. Said one defender: “He can make you miss but when he has to go and bang and try to bring you over, he does that, too. When I saw him play, I was like, 'He’s a freshman? He’s got two more years of this?'”