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 already listed the results of the B1G’s top offensive player, and we’ll get to the other topics Friday. But, for now, we continue with the other side of the ball: Who is the Big Ten’s best defensive player?
Best defensive player (13 votes)
Iowa CB Desmond King – 5 votes
Michigan State DT Malik McDowell – 4 votes
Michigan LB/DB Jabrill Peppers – 2 votes
Wisconsin LB Vince Biegel – 1 vote
Michigan State LB Riley Bullough –1 vote
When it came to selecting the B1G’s best, most players had difficulty picking against the first Jim Thorpe Award winner to ever return for one more season in King. Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis was snubbed as a result but even Lewis admitted, during Monday’s podium interviews, that King had the better 2015 season. "There was no debate about it, he was the best last year,” Lewis told a group of reporters.
Two other B1G players, in separate interviews for this poll, also said they picked King because he “is always in the right place” at the right time. “He’s just always making plays,” one player said. “It was like that the whole season. That’s why he won the Thorpe Award.”
Another significant omission was Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker. One player mentioned Walker before going with Wisconsin’s Biegel because, “I just love watching Vince Biegel and the plays he makes.” We didn’t talk to Walker about the fact he was left off the list, but we’re guessing he probably wouldn’t be surprised.
McDowell was, far and away, the next pick after King – with Peppers coming in third with two votes. Interestingly enough, Peppers also had two votes as the B1G’s best offensive player. (And no one voted for him twice.) That definitely helps reinforce his status as one of the most versatile players in the nation or, as Jim Harbaugh once put it, the “Willie Mays of football.”
“He’s special,” one player told us. “You can’t go wrong picking him.”