Ohio State Buckeyes: B1G superlatives 13

Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We’ll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We’ll let you decide which blogger is right.

As the 2013 season kicks off this week, we’re making our picks for the four major Big Ten individual awards.

Today’s Take Two topic: Who will win Big Ten freshman of the year honors?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

The options are plentiful, as some very talented true freshmen enter the league, and you can't discount redshirt freshmen. Deion Barnes was a redshirt freshman last year when he won the award at Penn State, and I say the Thompson-Randle El trophy stays in State College -- this time on the offensive side.

Head coach Bill O'Brien still hasn't named a starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Syracuse, but I continue to believe that Christian Hackenberg will pilot the Nittany Lions offense for the majority of this season. And the player who was ranked as the No. 1 pro style quarterback in the Class of 2013 will have an outstanding supporting cast around him, with receiver Allen Robinson, a deep group of tight ends, some experienced running backs and a solid offensive line. We shouldn't expect Hackenberg to throw for 3,000 yards like Matt McGloin did last year, but he will put up strong numbers in that offense. Playing such a high-profile position will surely help his candidacy with voters, which is why I see Hackenberg beating out other candidates like Ohio State's Dontre Wilson, Michigan State's Riley Bullough and Michigan's Derrick Green.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

Hackenberg is a good call, Brian, and if he can steady the ship on offense for the Lions, he'll have an excellent chance to win the award. I might have picked Michigan's Green before preseason camp, but senior Fitz Toussaint really took control of the running back spot in recent weeks. Ultimately, the race comes down to Hackenberg and Ohio State's Wilson.

There's no doubt Hackenberg plays a more high-profile position, but I'm going with Wilson because of the "SportsCenter" factor. I expect the Buckeyes' H-back to be a transformative type player, not only for Ohio State but in the Big Ten, piling up highlight-reel touchdowns. Wilson will have three or four jaw-dropping touchdowns that get replayed over and over on ESPN and the Big Ten Network. He'll get noticed very early in the season, and it'll help that he plays for a national championship contender. Wilson is a different player than former Illinois standout Arrelious Benn, the last wide receiver named Big Ten freshman of the year (in 2007). But like Benn, Wilson will contribute in different ways and get the attention he needs to win the award.

More major awards picks
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We’ll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We’ll let you decide which blogger is right.

As the 2013 season kicks off this week, we’re making our picks for the four major Big Ten individual awards.

Today’s Take Two topic: Who will win Big Ten offensive player of the year honors?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIt's hard to pick against Braxton Miller for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
I'm going with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, not because he's the only candidate (he's not) or because he ran away with the Graham-George offensive player of the year award in 2012 (he didn't). Miller came a long way in 2012 in his first season running Urban Meyer's well-suited offense. But he has so much further to go in his development, and his potential to take an even bigger step this season is why he's my choice to be the Big Ten's first back-to-back winner of offensive player of the year honors (former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees won in 1998 and 2000).

Miller did special things with the ball in his hands last season (1,271 rush yards, 13 TDs), but he'll become a more complete quarterback this season as the passing game evolves and more weapons emerge around him. Receiver Corey "Philly" Brown could blossom into an All-Big Ten candidate and dynamic freshman Dontre Wilson should be a major asset for Miller. Although Miller will eclipse 2,000 career rush yards in Saturday's season opener against Buffalo, he should be less of a run-first quarterback this season, while potentially improving his scrambling skills, which have been subpar, according to the coaches. He'll boost his completion percentage (58.3 last year) and flourish behind the Big Ten's best offensive line.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

I wish I could be bold and pick someone else besides Miller, who is the obvious choice for all the reasons you mention. And I think there is some reason to believe he won't repeat. Players who win major awards and then return the next season often have their games picked apart by critics and commentators looking for new things to say. Expectations will be sky high, and anything less than a marked improvement over last year's numbers will be viewed, fairly or unfairly, as something of a disappointment. Urban Meyer said this week that he doesn't want Miller leading the team in rushing, which means Miller's stats could go down as the weapons around him improve. Also, don't forget that the league coaches voted Taylor Martinez, not Miller, as the Big Ten's first-team quarterback last year. Martinez led the conference in total offense and could put up a spectacular season that eclipses Miller in the process. Other strong candidates such as Northwestern's Venric Mark, Penn State's Allen Robinson, Michigan's Devin Gardner and the Wisconsin tailback duo of James White and Melvin Gordon lurk as well.

In the end, though, it's just too hard not to pick Miller. He plays on the Big Ten's best team and has proven himself as a winner who makes big plays in key moments. Remember, too, that Miller was only 19 last season and that he turned 20 shortly after the Michigan game. He's still maturing and growing as both a person and a player. And he's the obvious and correct choice to repeat as Big Ten offensive player of the year.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

As the 2013 season kicks off this week, we're making our picks for the four major Big Ten individual awards. Today's Take Two topic is: Who will win Big Ten defensive player of the year honors?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireWisconsin LB Chris Borland could have even more opportunities to make plays as the Badgers transitioni to a 3-4.
This should be the most interesting major awards race as so many elite defenders are back, especially at the linebacker position. I could make cases for at least three linebackers -- Wisconsin's Chris Borland, Michigan State's Max Bullough and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier -- two cornerbacks (Ohio State's Bradley Roby and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard) and maybe even a defensive lineman such as Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. Ultimately, I'm going with the guy who does the most for his defense, Wisconsin's Borland. He has been one of the nation's most productive defenders in his first three seasons, winning Big Ten freshman of the year honors in 2009 and racking up 308 career tackles, including 41.5 for loss and 13 sacks, to go along with 13 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, three interceptions and 16 passes defended.

Borland should set the FBS career forced fumbles record this season (he needs one to tie). His playmaking ability always has set him apart, and he complements his ball-hawking skills with sound tackling, effective blitzing and an excellent knowledge of Wisconsin's scheme and those of the Badgers' opponents. Some linebackers might struggle moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 as a senior, but Borland will flourish at the helm of Wisconsin's defense. I pegged Borland to be involved in nine total takeaways this season. One of the more unique players in college football earns All-America honors and takes home the Nagurski-Woodson award as the Big Ten's top defender.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

I'll go with the guy who I thought was the best defensive player in the second half of 2012: Ohio State's Shazier. His numbers were ridiculous last year: 115 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, five sacks, a pick-six, three forced fumbles and 11 pass breakups. And that was for a guy still learning the linebacker position, with very little experienced help around him.

Shazier was in beast mode for many of the Buckeyes' big games down the stretch, including Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan. He's the only veteran starter back in the Ohio State front seven, which means defensive coordinator Luke Fickell might have to rely on Shazier even more this year. In a league filled with great linebackers, no one can cover the field sideline to sideline quite like Shazier. He's got a nose for the ball and a flair for the dramatic, even iconic moments, such as his interception for a touchdown to swing the Penn State game or his goal-line stuff of Montee Ball in Madison.

The Buckeyes enter the season as a substantial favorite to win the Big Ten and possibly run the table. To the victors go the spoils, as we saw last year when Ohio State swept the offensive and defensive player of the year awards. It could happen again, and I expect Shazier to parlay a monster junior year into the Nagurski-Woodson trophy.

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