The Big Ten announced its 2012 all-conference teams and most individual awards Monday night, but four more awards have yet to be revealed. Before the winners are announced, 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 endorsement for the league's top defensive player in 2012:
Brian Bennett endorses Penn State LB Michael Mauti
There are plenty of good candidates for defensive player of the year, and a lot of people think Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier deserves to win this award. If this honor were just about who played the best in the final half of the season, Shazier would run away with it. But by his own admission and as Urban Meyer says it, Shazier played out of control and missed a whole bunch of tackles early in the year. We can't ignore that. We also can't ignore the immense contributions Mauti made on and off the field for the Nittany Lions. He was great on the field, with 96 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles in a little more than 10 games. He was even greater off the field as one of the best leaders we've seen in recent years among players. He was so respected and admired that his teammates decided to put his No. 42 on their helmets for their final game last week. Mauti was instrumental in keeping an entire community unified through unprecedented adversity. That deserves recognition and puts him over the top, in my view.
Adam Rittenberg endorses Penn State LB Michael Mauti
This is a very tough call for me, as I can overlook a player's early struggles if he develops during the course of the season and plays his best in the most important games, as Shazier certainly did for Ohio State. From a statistical standpoint, he has the edge on Mauti in tackles (115-96), tackles for loss (17-4) and sacks (5-2.5). And he looked dominant down the stretch as the Buckeyes' defense rebounded from its early struggles. Mauti, however, had a bigger role in forcing turnovers with three interceptions and three forced fumbles, ranking in the top five in the Big Ten in both categories. There also was no better leader in the league this season, aside from perhaps Shazier's teammate, defensive end John Simon, whom I also considered for this award. Mauti also basically missed the final two games and could have had similar tackles numbers as Shazier. I don't want to punish him for his unfortunate injury. Plus, Shazier has two more years to win this award. After all Mauti has been through, he gets the nod from me as well.