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Big Ten awards tracker, Week 6: Stability emerging at the top

There is stability at the top of the polls.

But everything under the No. 1 slot remains highly subject to change as the Big Ten hits the midway point of the season.

With a huge weekend looming that could bring some clarity to the division races in the league, Saturday could also provide a showcase for the players vying for the conference’s most coveted individual awards. There appear to be two clear favorites at this point, and there’s an obvious frontrunner in this week’s bonus category at quarterback, but if this season has proved anything, it’s that one weekend can completely change the script -- and the votes from the Big Ten reporting crew.

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott (6 first-place votes): The junior tailback didn’t deliver any of his signature breakaway runs in the high-scoring win over Maryland, but he cracked the 100-yard mark and found the end zone a couple times. His consistency for the Buckeyes is nothing short of remarkable, and with an offense that is showing signs of finding its footing again, more huge performances could be on the way.

2. Iowa RB Jordan Canzeri: Iowa was able to follow a pretty simple, old-school approach against Illinois, thanks to having a tireless rusher that fits that style perfectly. The Hawkeyes handed Canzeri the football a staggering 43 times and threw it to him a couple more, with his 271 combined yards and two touchdowns making the difference in the victory and sending him shooting up the league rankings.

3. Indiana RB Jordan Howard: The Hoosiers have simply not been the same offensively without their prolific running back in the lineup, and the sooner Howard is able to return to full health the better for a team trying to punch a ticket to a bowl game this season. There was hope he would play last weekend against Penn State, but without him, Indiana rushed for just 79 yards in a blowout loss.

4. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: Despite a couple underwhelming performances, Cook still leads the Big Ten in passing touchdowns and ranks second in efficiency heading into a huge test on Saturday against rival Michigan. After being held under 150 yards in each of the previous two games, Cook delivered when he had to against Rutgers, tossing for 357 yards with a pair of scores.

5. Illinois WR Geronimo Allison: No target in the league has been more productive or consistent lately than the Fighting Illini senior, who has grabbed at least eight catches in each of the last three games and four times total this season. Allison is the only player in the league averaging more than 100 yards receiving at the midway mark of the season, and assuming he checks out OK after being evaluated for a concussion last weekend, he’ll be crucial in the push for a postseason appearance for Illinois.

Also receiving votes: Iowa QB C.J. Beathard, Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin LB Joe Schobert (4 first-place votes): Not every play he makes occurs behind the line of scrimmage, but it sure seems that way for Schobert lately. The veteran has already racked up 13.5 hits in the backfield among his 40 tackles, a frightening ratio if he’s able to sustain it as the Badgers try to get back in the West Division race.

2. Penn State DE Carl Nassib (2 first-place votes): The former walk-on is a nightmare for anybody trying to block him up front, a task that now falls to Ohio State’s experienced unit in a big East Division clash on Saturday. Nassib has already posted a double-digit sack total at the halfway point of the season, and he’ll have his sights set on Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett this weekend.

3. Northwestern LB Anthony Walker: A poor performance at Michigan doesn’t undermine all the positive work the Wildcats did defensively to start the season, and with playmakers like Walker still healthy and motivated, they’re more than capable of getting back on track in a hurry. In what promises to be a throwback, physical affair with Iowa, expect Walker to be around the football plenty Saturday to add to his team-high 50 tackles.

4. Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis: A shutout streak like the current three-game one the Wolverines are currently enjoying takes more than one player, obviously, but Lewis has flashed as a standout in the secondary and gets the nod ahead a handful of talented teammates. With 10 passes defended, a pair of interceptions and a touchdown to his credit, Lewis has been putting the screws to opponents trying to beat Michigan through the air.

T-5: Iowa CB Desmond King: The per-game average dipped after King couldn’t come up an interception against Illinois, but that might be nitpicking considering he’s already nabbed five for the surprising Hawkeyes. King leads the Big Ten by two in that category at this point, and grabbing one more against Northwestern on Saturday could provide a boost in a critical West Division matchup.

T-5: Michigan State LB Riley Bullough: If Michigan wants to play a little smash-mouth football this weekend, that will suit Bullough just fine. The Spartans don’t mind the contact, following the lead of their hard-hitting linebacker who has 55 tackles this season already.

Also receiving votes: Ohio State DE Joey Bosa.

Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year

1. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: Forget about the draft stock, the touchdown passes or anything else about his passing ability. All Jim Harbaugh could focus on as he prepared to face Cook was his eye-popping 29-3 record as a starter, a statistic that has only improved so far for the unbeaten Spartans.

2. Iowa QB C.J. Beathard: The last couple outings haven’t been all that flashy for the junior, but Iowa still looks like it made the right choice to have him lead the offense, which continues to be in good hands. He’s thrown for 200 yards or more in five of the Iowa's six games, and with three rushing touchdowns, he’s also provided an occasional spark on the ground.

3. Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld: The senior was playing at perhaps the highest level of his career during the first month of the season, but unfortunately for the Hoosiers, Sudfeld’s value has once again only truly been revealed with him out of the lineup. Missing in action along with Howard against Penn State, the offense was a mess and clearly needs him back moving forward.

Also receiving votes: Illinois QB Wes Lunt