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.
Here's our second endorsement, for the league's top defensive player in 2011:
Brian Bennett endorses Penn State DT Devon Still
There are three really strong candidates for defensive player of the year in Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus, Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David and Penn State's Still. I believe all three of them deserve All-America recognition. But in my view, there was simply not a more dominating, disruptive defensive presence in the Big Ten or the rest of the country than Still. Ever since his big showing in January's Outback Bowl, the senior played like he was on a mission. He had 55 tackles, including 17 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Remember, he was playing a position -- defensive tackle -- that usually doesn't rack up big statistics, and he faced nearly constant double-teams all season long. Yet he always seemed to find a way into an opposing offense's backfield or at least occupy enough attention that his teammates could make a stop. Penn State won this year because of its defense, and Still led the way.
Adam Rittenberg endorses Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus
Brian, I'd even add a fourth candidate to the mix in Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, who will be making a lot of money next year if he decides to forgo his senior season. This is a really tough call as all four men have been outstanding for their teams. Penn State's Still has been extremely disruptive, as you point out. But my vote goes to Mercilus, who, like past Defensive Player of the Year winners, shouldn't be punished for his team falling short. From a numbers standpoint, Mercilus blows away the other candidates. He leads the nation in both sacks (14.5) and forced fumbles (9), the latter mark setting a new Big Ten record. Mercilus has one more sack and three more forced fumbles than any other FBS player this season. He also is tied for fifth nationally in tackles for loss (19.5). The junior has added six quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery. Yes, Illinois faded down the stretch, but Mercilus never stopped producing. Last year's Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, played for a worse team than Mercilus. The same held true for Michigan's Brandon Graham, the Big Ten's co-MVP in 2009. Mercilus should be viewed in the same way as both Kerrigan and Graham. He deserves the hardware.