The 2010 All-Big Ten teams will be revealed tonight, so it's time for me to weigh in on who should take home the league's major awards.
Let's get the endorsements started.
Michigan QB Denard Robinson for Offensive Player of the Year
This was by far the toughest call, and I expect this to be arguably the most divided vote for an award in recent league history. You could make a case for at least five quarterbacks and a running back. Ultimately, I looked for the player who made the most dramatic impact on his team and whose presence most significantly impacted a game. In the end, it came down to Robinson and Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa.
Both players were outstanding, and Persa's absence certainly was felt in Northwestern's final two regular-season games. But Robinson's overall impact from start to finish put him over the top. He was not only an outstanding quarterback, but the Big Ten's top runner, setting a FBS single-season record with 1,643 rush yards and 14 touchdowns. Robinson is the nation's fourth leading rusher and ranks 20th nationally in passer rating.
I'd have no issue if the award went to Persa, but Robinson is my pick. While Terrelle Pryor, Scott Tolzien and Kirk Cousins all deserve consideration as well after leading their teams to league titles, all three had help in the backfield as well as better defenses than both Michigan and Northwestern.
Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan for Defensive Player of the Year
Wisconsin's J.J. Watt made this a very competitive race, especially the past few weeks, but I'm sticking with my original choice of Kerrigan. If you look at the overall body of work, Kerrigan gets the nod. That's not to take anything away from Watt, who made more game-changing plays than any Big Ten defender and was absolutely outstanding down the stretch in league play.
The Big Ten snubbed Michigan's Brandon Graham in 2009 because he played for a losing team, and Kerrigan should avoid the same fate. He leads the nation with 26 tackles for loss and ranks second nationally in both sacks (12.5) and forced fumbles (5). Both Kerrigan and Watt are All-Americans in my view, and while I wouldn't be upset to see a split on the Defensive Player of the Year award, Kerrigan gets my vote.
Wisconsin RB James White for Freshman of the Year
Wisconsin's rushing attack entering the season appeared to be John Clay and everyone else. But White immediately put himself in the mix and, at times, stole the show with his incredible speed and shiftiness. He leads Wisconsin and ranks fifth in the Big Ten in rushing with 1,029 yards, and has reached the end zone 14 times despite receiving fewer carries (148) than nine of the Big Ten's top 10 rushers.
Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase certainly deserves consideration as well after a terrific freshman season, but I'd be stunned if the award doesn't go to White. If White wins, Wisconsin will have produced the league's Freshman of the Year for the second consecutive season, and for the third time in the past five years.
Michigan State's Mark Dantonio for Coach of the Year
It's a close call between Dantonio and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema, the coach everyone loves to hate. Take your shots at Bielema, but the guy has done a terrific job in Madison. Still, Dantonio has guided Michigan State to new heights following a 2009 season that saw the program take a step back both on and off the field.
The Spartans were unranked entering the season and went on to record a team-record 11 wins and their first Big Ten championship in 20 years. Dantonio made two of the Big Ten's gutsiest calls -- "Little Giants" and "Mousetrap" -- and came back to coach the team after suffering a mild heart attack on Sept. 19. The Spartans showed tremendous resiliency this fall, and it started at the top.
Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi for Offensive Lineman of the Year
Carimi shut down Kerrigan, Adrian Clayborn, Cameron Heyward and every other elite pass rusher he faced this fall. He should win the Outland Trophy in my view, and he could be the top offensive lineman selected in April's NFL draft.
Purdue's Kerrigan for Defensive Lineman of the Year