The Big Ten announced its 2011 all-conference teams and most individual awards Monday night, but four more awards will be revealed Wednesday afternoon. Before the winners are revealed, we're putting in our endorsements for offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, coach of the year and freshman of the year. We'll agree on some and differ on others.
Let's get started.
Adam Rittenberg endorses Wisconsin RB Montee Ball for offensive player of the year
There are only two realistic candidates for this award and they share a backfield in Madison. As I wrote after Wisconsin's win Saturday against Penn State, Ball and quarterback Russell Wilson are having the best combined season by a running back and a quarterback in Big Ten history. It's really not close. While Wilson might be my pick for the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football Award (Big Ten MVP) for the new elements he has brought to the offense, Ball has been nothing short of exemplary since the middle of last season. As some guy pointed out earlier today, Ball has more impressive numbers than Alabama's Trent Richardson, the likely Heisman Trophy winner. Ball's 34 touchdowns rank second in FBS history behind Barry Sanders, and his streak of 12 games with multiple touchdowns surpassed Sanders' NCAA mark of 11. The only reasons Ball doesn't get more national recognition are because he plays for Wisconsin, which everyone assumes should always run the ball like this, and because he shares the spotlight with Wilson. Ball is no ordinary Wisconsin running back and he's having no ordinary season. He might not strike a pose in New York next month, but he deserves an invite and deserves this honor.
Brian Bennett also endorses Ball
I'd be perfectly content with a co-player of the year situation featuring Wilson and Ball. But if forced to choose one, I'm also going with "MoneyBall." Wilson has been terrific, but I think the Badgers' junior running back has been a bit more valuable in Big Ten play. Ball has scored 24 of his 34 touchdowns in league play and has averaged 157.8 rushing yards per game against conference opponents. That includes four touchdowns each against Nebraska and Penn State. If he can keep up his conference pace this week in Indianapolis and in the bowl game, he'll finish with 40 touchdowns, an almost inconceivable number. Yes, Ball benefits from his great offensive line and Wilson's effectiveness, but Wilson similarly is aided by all the attention defenses are forced to pay to the powerful Wisconsin running game. Ball's scoring record will likely stand for a long time, and he deserves to be rewarded with player of the year honors because of it.