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Best of the B1G: 2016's unlikely stars, wild plays and crazy stats

Just one round wasn’t enough for a season this memorable.

We already have compiled one batch of superlatives for the Big Ten and collected the season's best quotes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to celebrate. Even if some attention has already shifted to projecting what’s next, the 2016 season was far too fun, entertaining and competitive to stop reflecting on it already. So let’s dip back in for seconds.

Biggest individual emergence: Northwestern’s Austin Carr. With apologies to the overnight superstars in Ohio State’s secondary, the rise of Carr as the league’s most prolific wide receiver was just about impossible to predict. Those Buckeyes at least came with previous recruiting hype, but Carr was a former walk-on playing for an offense that at the beginning of the season didn’t look like it could throw the football on anybody. By the end of the season, Carr had snagged 90 receptions for 1,247 yards and 12 touchdowns, and established himself as the conference’s most productive target.

Most underwhelming: Michigan State’s Malik McDowell. Injuries were a major part of the problem for the physically imposing defensive lineman, and that shouldn’t be held against him. But even when McDowell was healthy, he wasn’t looking like the potential first-round pick or nightmare in the trenches that many expected to see before he skipped off to the NFL. McDowell finished with just 34 tackles and 1.5 sacks in his nine games this season, as part of an overall effort by the Spartans that left plenty to be desired.

Wildest run: Curtis Samuel’s double-overtime scamper. The touchdown dash and joyous leap into the end zone will be the lasting image from Ohio State’s thrilling win over rival Michigan. Right before, there was the famous J.T. Barrett spot on fourth down that will forever be a flashpoint for the Wolverines. But before either of those plays could happen, Samuel had to go on his sideline-to-sideline, catch-and-run roller coaster on a “T-swing pass” on third-and-9 that eventually netted 8 yards after he had dropped back as far as 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Considering the stakes, the moment and the drama, few plays compare with that magic act pulled off by Samuel.

Best use of a single hand: Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis. The star cornerback seemed to be floating through the air, waiting for the moment to throw up his right arm at full extension and snag a deep, last-gasp shot from Wisconsin in another tight Big Ten battle. Watching Lewis pull down the interception at full speed is breathtaking for its incredible athleticism, and it was even more impressive that he pulled it off in the clutch to lock up a crucial victory over the Badgers.

Most unsustainable statistical start: Minnesota’s Tai’yon Devers. The streak was bound to end at some point, because obviously not every tackle of the freshman’s career was going to produce a sack and forced fumble. But Devers made it three in a row to begin his career, showing off his immense potential right away by flying around to hit quarterbacks and knock the football loose. Talk about bursting on the scene with major impact performances. Injuries slowed him down some after that, and he finished the season with just five tackles, but that start is remarkable no matter what.

Best and worst NFL news: Ohio State. The Buckeyes are once again getting hit hard by early defections to the draft, but the number is smaller than last year -- and the number of key contributors electing to stick around is higher. The secondary will have to rebuild on the fly for the second year in a row after Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore all turned pro, and Raekwon McMillan, Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel pushed the total to six departures. But Ohio State will be getting quarterback J.T. Barrett back along with Big Ten defensive lineman of the year Tyquan Lewis, fellow pass-rushers Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes and veteran offensive linemen Billy Price and Jamarco Jones. For the Buckeyes, the offseason news probably couldn’t have turned out much better.