Our All-Big Ten team is out. As usual, plenty of positions had more worthy candidates than open spots. Here are our takes on the toughest calls in assembling the team.
Brian Bennett: Defensive end
The Big Ten doesn’t distinguish between defensive line positions for its official all-conference team, which led to four defensive ends making this year’s squad. That seems like a cheat to me and a disservice to the interior linemen who do all the dirty work. (Give the big guys some love!) But I also understand why four pass-rushers made the first team: Because the league was ludicrously loaded. For ours, we had to leave off Maryland’s Yannick Ngakoue, who merely had a school-record 13.5 sacks (third-best in the FBS), and Michigan State star Shilique Calhoun, who capped a brilliant Big Ten career with a monster showing in the league championship game against Iowa. Northwestern’s Dean Lowry also had an underappreciated season. We could go with only two, and it’s hard to do better than Joey Bosa and Carl Nassib. But it’s also painful to omit such tremendous players at the position.
Dan Murphy: Center
According to the folks who decide the Rimington Trophy, two of the country's three best centers were on the field last Saturday in Indianapolis. Choosing between Michigan State's Jack Allen and Iowa's Austin Blythe for our all-conference team was a toss-up. Both are team leaders and both embody the physical toughness that defines their respective teams. Allen got a chance to show his athleticism earlier in the season when he moved out to left tackle to help fill in for injured teammates. His versatility was on display again during Michigan State's epic 22-play drive to beat the Hawkeyes in the conference championship game. That's what gave him the slightest of edges over Blythe in the middle of the line.
Mitch Sherman: Wide receiver
The media and coaches who picked the official All-Big Ten teams failed to agree on a consensus at wide receiver. And for good reason. We went with Wisconsin’s Alex Erickson alongside the easy choice, Aaron Burbridge of Michigan State. Erickson was the most consistent of the No. 2 options, catching five or more passes in eight games. His 924 receiving yards ranked third in the league behind Burbridge and Penn State’s Chris Godwin. But Erickson didn’t convince everyone. Big Ten coaches placed Jehu Chesson of Michigan on the first team; Chesson earned honorable mention from media. Godwin also made a good case, as did Leonte Carroo, the most explosive wideout in the Big Ten who played in just eight games because of injuries and a suspension. Carroo led the league with 10 touchdown catches and a 20.7-yard per catch average. He warrants more than a mention, but Carroo's rocky season prevented his inclusion on our team.
Austin Ward: Linebacker
The Big Ten continues to be as loaded as ever at linebacker, a major reason so many of the nation’s top defenses hail from a league where an old-school, physical approach still wins games. The first two spots were relatively easy to fill, but settling on a third with so many candidates was a challenge -- which was made even more difficult since three quality candidates hailed from the same team. Ohio State’s rise to No. 2 nationally in scoring defense was fueled in part to the production it received from its talented linebackers, with Raekwon McMillan in the middle flanked by Darron Lee and Joshua Perry with each of them stuffing the stats sheet in just about every way. McMillan racked up the most tackles and is a Butkus Award finalist, but Lee’s multipurpose ability and Perry’s consistency may have actually made both of them more valuable for the Buckeyes. Ultimately Perry’s reliability, volume of plays near or behind the line of scrimmage and even his leadership as a captain helped give him the nod.