Friday, November 13, 2009

Trying to Pick the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (and the weekly picks)

I had wanted to get this into its own post sometime this week, but it never happened so we'll throw it in with the weekly picks: who is going to be named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year?

I wondered this after last week's stinker from front-runner QB Daryll Clark of Penn State, the injury to Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi, and Michigan crapping the bed again. Should we even bother naming a most outstanding offensive player? Should we put a great big asterick beside the 2009 winner saying "we named this guy only because we HAD to pick someone"? Or maybe we should rename it the "Common Man" Award (like the Common Man Dan Cole on KFAN, this year's recipient would be the best of the lousiest), as just like 2nd team all-Big Ten QB last year (and this year, for that matter), there hasn't been anybody truly deserving of the offensive POY for 2009. I think I know who'll win (it can only be one of two guys, really, and perhaps a third if he finishes strong), but I can't ever remember such an underwhelming collection of offensive skill position players as we've had to watch this season.

Still, by default SOMEBODY has to win it. Along with the picks, we'll look at the candidate for each team.

Indiana @ #18 Penn State (11am Big Ten Network)
We'll start with Clark, the guy most likely to win because he's a senior QB on a team that will finish in the top three in the conference- and it's all thanks to their crappy, putrid, disgustingly weak schedule. The JoePa's played two ranked teams all year- Iowa and Ohio State- and played them at home, and yet got routed in both. Because the Hawks and Buckeyes don't have great offenses, the scores don't look that lopsided, but anyone who watched Clark and Penn State choke in those two games know they were not that close. And Clark was not that good. So we're going to give the award to a guy who plays well against mediocre to awful opponents, but who pees his pants and chokes when in big games? Good thing Penn State only played two of those.

For Indiana, QB Ben Chappell is second in passing yards per game, but their unquestioned best offensive player has been sophomore wideout/returner Tandon Doss. Doss leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (133.1 per game), is second in receiving yards (843), and third in catches (65) and receiving yards per game (84.3) while adding four touchdowns. He won't win it, but with him, Chappell and top rusher Darius Willis all returning next season, things are looking up for a change for the Hoosiers. Not so much for this game, though.

Northwestern @ Illinois (11am ESPN Classic)
While Northwestern have disappointed this year, senior QB Mike Kafka has more than exceeded expectations. A run-first QB in 2008 (or "run only" might be a more accurate description), Kafka has transitioned nicely to pass-first QB who can run if he has to, ranking first in completion percentage (66.2%), fourth in passing yards per game (226.7), and second in total offense (250.3 yds per game). If he plays this well to finish the season, I think he should get 2nd team All-conference (unless Joey Elliot of Purdue continues to play like he did last week).

One thing we can be sure of is that Illinois will not have a single skill position player named All-Big Ten, but it doesn't mean they haven't been an effective group. Their rush offense dropped to fourth despite the win over Minnesota, but their passing game gained steam under redshirt frosh Jacob Charest. Because I have to pick somebody, it'd be sophomore tailback Mike LeShoure, who leads the team with 465 rush yards and an impressive average of 6.1 yards per carry.

Regardless of whether Juice Williams or Charest is at QB, I like the Illini in this game, as they proved last week they can move the ball with either guy.

Michigan @ #20 Wisconsin (11am Big Ten Network- how is this not the ESPN game, by the way?)
After the 4-0 start, freshman QB Tate Forcier was looking to make a run at this award, but as the team plummeted back to earth, so has Forcier. His passing has not improved, and while he's still plenty able with his feet, we haven't seen the fourth quarter magic he displayed in a win over Notre Dame, or the overtime he forced on Michigan State. Still, he would still get the nod for me at this point over senior tailback Brandon Minor, who despite solid numbers (476 yrds 5.3 ypc 8 TD) has had trouble staying healthy.

Wisconsin tailback/bulldozer/dumptruck John Clay is one of only two guys who can take the award from Clark, and frankly Clay deserves it. He's the Big Ten's leading rusher with 973 yards and 11 TD's, and is the only conference back averaging over 100 yards per game (108.1 to be exact). His negatives would be that he still hadn't won the starting job outright when Big Ten play began, and that like Clark, he didn't play well in Sconnie's two losses to Ohio State and Iowa (combined in those losses he had just 134 yards on 3.27 ypc with no TD's. Still, he was better than Clark against those two teams).

Clay will have no problems Saturday against Michigan's porous run D (they allow a conference worse 4.3 ypc to opponents), and neither should the Badgers.

Michigan State @ Purdue (11am ESPN- really?)
While Spartans QB Kirk Cousins leads the conference in pass efficiency, I can't name him Michigan State's best offensive player because it took coach Mark Dantonio SO long to name him the starter and give him all of the snaps. Senior wideout Blair White has been steady all season, and thanks to the injury to Decker and the sucktitude of Illinois' Arrelious Benn, he should be first-team all-conference. The former walk-on is third in catches (58) and yards (836), and is tied for the most receiving TD's with 7.

Tough call to decide who Purdue's best guy has been: is it senior QB Joey Elliott, who leads the conference with 2448 yards and 16 TD passes, but has also thrown 13 picks, is ninth in pass efficiency, and has not completed 60% of his passes (59.3, but still)? Is it junior receiver Keith Smith, who leads the conference in catches (71) and yards (863), and has a respectable 4 TD catches and a 12.2 yard average? Or is it sophomore back Ralph Bolden, who started like a house of fire with 357 yards and four TD's in their first two games, but in the eight games since has not rushed for 100 yards in a game and has only scored 3 TD's? It's a real three-way tossup, but I'd have to give the slight nod to Elliott, only because he's the guy making the whole thing go.

This game is also a tough call, as who knew when the season started this would be a bowl elimination game? Purdue needs to win out to get to six wins, and with MSU sitting at 5, if they don't beat the Boilers it would mean having to beat Penn State next week to get bowl eligible. I'm going to give the slight edge to Purdue here, as their weak run D won't matter as much against MSU's lackluster running game. The game will be won through the air, and I like the Boiler's chances against what continues to be a suspect-at-best Spartans pass defense.

#10 Iowa @ #11 Ohio State (2:30pm ABC)
Iowa's best player, as well as their national title hopes (and probably their BCS bowl hopes too), went down with Ricky Stanzi against Northwestern last week. Stanzi's numbers sure weren't pretty, but his second half comebacks, as well as the nine wins he led the Hawks too, make it easy to name him Iowa's best offensive player.

It's hard to believe QB Terrelle Pryor could be a possible conference player of the year candidate considering the Buckeyes were winning in spite of him and losing because of him for the first seven games. But since the beating of our beloved Gophers three weeks ago, followed by impressive performances against New Mexico State and Penn State, Pryor is right back in the conversation. He's leading his team in rushing and is fifth in the entire conference with 604 yards and third with 7 rushing TD's. His passing has also been much improved, as since the first half of the Minnesota game he's thrown 5 TD's with no interceptions, and is starting to actually resemble a quaterback instead of a running back lining up behind center. For me, he's third behind Clark and Clay, but if he plays well in high-profile games against Iowa and Michigan, he could make the Big Ten media look smart for picking him as preseason MOP.

Of course, as long as Pryor keeps his turnovers to a minimum, it doesn't matter what else he does against Iowa this week, as the Buckeyes should beat the Hawkeyes with ease. Once Stanzi went out last week with 11:46 left in the second quarter, Iowa managed just 132 yards of offense on their last eight drives, which ended like this: INT, fumble, punt, missed FG, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs. This was AT HOME against a middle-of-the-pack Northwestern defense. Saturday Iowa has to play at Ohio State against the top defense in the conference. The question isn't whether Iowa can win, it's not even whether they can score, it's whether Ohio State will score more points than Iowa gains first downs.

South Dakota State @ Minnesota (11am Big Ten Network)
Despite the fact he hasn't played in almost three full games, and that he won't play again the rest of the season, senior wide receiver Eric Decker is still the Gophers' offensive player of the year by a mile. It's really not even close, actually. But what's amazing is that even though Decker only really played in seven full games this season (he's officially listed with eight, but he went out in the first quarter of the Ohio State debacle) he could still easily be second team all-conference, and you could even make a case for him for first team. Seriously. Despite everybody else's best receiver playing two or three more games than Decker already, he STILL ranks fourth in the Big Ten in catches (50), yards (758), and TD's (5). While this probably just reinforces what an underwhelming group of receivers we have in the Big Ten this year, it also shows just how ridiculously good Decker was when healthy. After the Michigan State game I didn't think we'd miss him that much, but the Illinois game reinforced just how much he meant to this team in 2009.

It's too bad he'll never wear the Maroon & Gold again, but let's just hope we won't be missing him too much against SDSU. I know SDSU is a good 1-AA team, but they're still just a 1-AA team. Minnesota cannot and should not lose this game under any circumstances. You can crank up the "Fire Brewster" chants if they do.

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