Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
As the 2013 season kicks off this week, we're making our picks for the four major Big Ten individual awards. Today's Take Two topic is: Who will win Big Ten defensive player of the year honors?
Take 1: Adam Rittenberg
This should be the most interesting major awards race as so many elite defenders are back, especially at the linebacker position. I could make cases for at least three linebackers -- Wisconsin's Chris Borland, Michigan State's Max Bullough and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier -- two cornerbacks (Ohio State's Bradley Roby and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard) and maybe even a defensive lineman such as Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman. Ultimately, I'm going with the guy who does the most for his defense, Wisconsin's Borland. He has been one of the nation's most productive defenders in his first three seasons, winning Big Ten freshman of the year honors in 2009 and racking up 308 career tackles, including 41.5 for loss and 13 sacks, to go along with 13 forced fumbles, six fumble recoveries, three interceptions and 16 passes defended.
Borland should set the FBS career forced fumbles record this season (he needs one to tie). His playmaking ability always has set him apart, and he complements his ball-hawking skills with sound tackling, effective blitzing and an excellent knowledge of Wisconsin's scheme and those of the Badgers' opponents. Some linebackers might struggle moving from a 4-3 to a 3-4 as a senior, but Borland will flourish at the helm of Wisconsin's defense. I pegged Borland to be involved in nine total takeaways this season. One of the more unique players in college football earns All-America honors and takes home the Nagurski-Woodson award as the Big Ten's top defender.
Take 2: Brian Bennett
I'll go with the guy who I thought was the best defensive player in the second half of 2012: Ohio State's Shazier. His numbers were ridiculous last year: 115 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, five sacks, a pick-six, three forced fumbles and 11 pass breakups. And that was for a guy still learning the linebacker position, with very little experienced help around him.
Shazier was in beast mode for many of the Buckeyes' big games down the stretch, including Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan. He's the only veteran starter back in the Ohio State front seven, which means defensive coordinator Luke Fickell might have to rely on Shazier even more this year. In a league filled with great linebackers, no one can cover the field sideline to sideline quite like Shazier. He's got a nose for the ball and a flair for the dramatic, even iconic moments, such as his interception for a touchdown to swing the Penn State game or his goal-line stuff of Montee Ball in Madison.
The Buckeyes enter the season as a substantial favorite to win the Big Ten and possibly run the table. To the victors go the spoils, as we saw last year when Ohio State swept the offensive and defensive player of the year awards. It could happen again, and I expect Shazier to parlay a monster junior year into the Nagurski-Woodson trophy.