Early peek at Big Ten awards races shows Indiana players on rise

Jordan Howard has helped Indiana reach the 4-0 mark for the first time since 1990. Lance King/Getty Images North America

There are a few new faces in the weekly check-in on some of the Big Ten’s biggest awards as we gear up for conference play.

The lists are void of several of usual suspects like Ohio State quarterbacks and powerful defensive ends like Shilique Calhoun and Joey Bosa. The Hoosiers, off to a 4-0 start, are well represented on offense with their backfield sharing two of the top three spots in our straw poll, and it’s a linebackers’ world on defense this week. There is bound to be more movement as conference games become the norm this Saturday, but here is a look at where things stand after a month of college football:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Indiana RB Jordan Howard (six first-place votes): Howard is a unanimous pick atop the list for a second straight week, and for good reason. He leads the NCAA in rushing yards after four games. It’s hard to imagine the Hoosiers would still be undefeated at this point if they hadn’t picked up the UAB transfer this winter.

2. Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott: The quarterbacks are missing, but Elliott is on the rise. He has five touchdowns already and has reached the 100-yard mark in all four games this season. The Buckeyes are too talented to not land someone on this list.

3. Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld: The other half of Indiana’s backfield has thrown seven touchdowns and only one interception -- only Michigan State’s Connor Cook has a better ratio so far among Big Ten quarterbacks. He is running an offense that has the Hoosiers poised for their first bowl appearance since 2007.

4. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.: The junior has been a pleasant surprise for new coach Mike Riley, who is not used to using a quarterback who can do so much with his legs. Armstrong leads the conference with 346 yards of total offense per game, most of which is coming through the air.

5. Iowa QB C.J. Beathard: Beathard has quickened the pulse of Iowa’s offense during the team’s 4-0 start. He’s completing 68 percent of his passes (second-best in the Big Ten and 19th nationally).

Also receiving votes: Northwestern RB Justin Jackson, Michigan State QB Cook, Michigan State WR Aaron Burbridge

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Northwestern LB Anthony Walker(5): Walker is a tackling a machine for one of the nation’s best defenses. He has 41 stops through four games and appears to be the playmaker the Wildcats need as their young offense takes time to settle into conference play.

2. Penn State DL Carl Nassib: It’s hard to say who is a bigger breakout player between Walker and Nassib. The Penn State senior already has as many sacks in four games (seven) as he had total tackles during the 2014 season.

3. Michigan State LB Riley Bullough (1): The Spartans' defense changed Saturday when Bullough returned to the field in the second half after sitting out the first because of a targeting penalty the previous week. He’s the guy who will be responsible for holding together an injury-challenged unit this season.

4. Wisconsin LB Joe Schobert: The Badgers already have three players with at least 20 tackles, but if there is a stop in the backfield there’s a pretty good chance Schobert is responsible. He leads the nation in havoc-wreaking with 9.5 tackles for loss.

5. Ohio State LB Darron Lee: Lee jumps from our "receiving votes" category into the Top 5 despite picking up only three assisted tackles against Western Michigan. He’s found many ways to affect opposing offenses during the first month of the season.

Also receiving votes: Ohio State S Vonn Bell, Michigan State DE Calhoun, Maryland LB Jermaine Carter Jr.

Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year:

1. Michigan State's Burbridge(5): Circus catches like the one he had against Air Force two weeks ago have made Burbridge the favorite target of Cook. The last guy Cook favored won this award a year ago.

2. Indiana's Ricky Jones (1): The Hoosiers' deep threat is averaging 22.8 yards per catch and has more receiving yards than anyone in the league through four games.

3. Nebraska's Jordan Westerkamp: With 26 catches already, Westerkamp is on pace to easily pass his production from last season (44 receptions). His connection with Armstrong has clearly grown stronger since last fall.