Helwagen: All-Big Ten Team

The Big Ten regular season winds down with six conference games this weekend. We already know that Michigan State will play in next Saturday’s inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. The Spartans will tackle the winner of Saturday’s game between Penn State and Wisconsin in Madison.

Wisconsin's Russell Wilson

With the season winding down, I thought it might be beneficial to share my own All-Big Ten team. I asked our 247 Sports publishers for their recommendations and mashed it all together. You can make arguments for a lot of guys, but I try and weigh a lot of factors into my choices. I look at statistics, production and what these players mean to their respective teams.

The Big Ten will announce its all-conference picks during a special on Big Ten Network Monday night. More special awards will be announced throughout the week.

Here goes nothing:

All-Big Ten Offense

* Quarterback – This was a good year in the Big Ten for the quarterback position. To rate quarterbacks, you need to look at their production as well as their team’s play. To me, the top name here is Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson. He leads the league in passing efficiency (he may set a record for that rating, in fact). He has thrown for 26 TDs against 3 INTs. His numbers are every bit as good as Troy Smith’s from the year he won the Heisman Trophy.

You could also make a case for Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins (second in passing average, third in efficiency), Michigan’s Denard Robinson (tops in total offense) and Iowa’s James Vandenberg (first in passing average per game). After that wave, you also have some honorable mentions like Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, Northwestern’s Dan Persa and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase. Persa has played at a high level, he just hasn’t played enough to warrant any higher consideration.

I’d go Wilson then Cousins. Robinson’s 14 picks are a few too many, to me.

* Running Backs – Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (Big Ten record 30 TDs, nation’s leader in scoring, second in rushing) is an obvious choice. The other contenders are Iowa’s Marcus Coker, Penn State’s Silas Redd and Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead, who have all eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark. Michigan’s Fitzgerald Toussaint is making a late push, while MSU’s Le’Veon Bell and Indiana’s Stephen Houston have also been solid.

I would go Ball and Coker on the first team with Redd and Burkhead on the second.

* Wide Receivers – Illinois’ A.J. Jenkins tops the list. It is then real tight between Iowa’s Marvin McNutt, Northwestern’s Jeremy Ebert, Michigan State’s B.J. Cunningham, Wisconsin’s Nick Toon and Penn State’s Derek Moye (missed 2 games or might be higher).

I would go Jenkins and McNutt on the first team with Ebert and Cunningham on the second. It’s too bad you can’t have four first-teamers because they all four seem to deserve it. They are that close.

* Tight End – Northwestern’s Drake Dunsmore (42 catches, 6 TDs) is an actual part of the Northwestern offense. Wisconsin’s Jacob Pedersen, Minnesota’s Collin McGarry, OSU’s Jake Stoneburner and MSU’s Brian Linthicum also deserve some notice.

I would go Dunsmore on first team and Petersen on second.

* Offensive Line – I’m going with Wisconsin’s Kevin Zeitler, Iowa’s Riley Reiff, MSU’s Joel Foreman, Northwestern’s Al Netter and Michigan’s David Molk on my first team. The second team would be Illinois’ Jeff Allen, OSU’s Mike Adams and Michael Brewster, Illinois’ Graham Pocic, Nebraska’s Mike Caputo and Nebraska’s Spencer Long.

All-Big Ten Defense

* Defensive Line – This was another great year for defensive linemen in the Big Ten. An obvious first-team pick is Illinois’ Whitney Mercilus (nation’s leader with 13-1/2 sacks). The rest of my first team would be Penn State’s Devon Still (16-1/2 TFLs), OSU’s John Simon (6 sacks, 13-1/2 TFLs) and Purdue’s Kawann Short (6-1/2 sacks, 16-1/2 TFLs).

Everybody raves about MSU’s Jerel Worthy and my guess is he and William Gholston (11 TFLs) do a great job setting the tone for the Spartans defense. But Worthy only has 2-1/2 sacks and 7-1/2 TFLs.

Those two would be second-team consideration with OSU’s Johnathan Hankins, Illinois’ Michael Buchanan, Michigan’s Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin, Iowa’s Broderick Binns, Illinois’ Akeem Spence, Indiana’s Adam Replogle, Nebraska’s Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler and Northwestern’s Tyler Scott.

* Linebackers – This discussion begins with Nebraska’s Lavonte David, a true game changer for the Huskers. Wisconsin’s Mike Taylor and Chris Borland (16-1/2 TFLs) have also put up huge numbers. Illinois Jonathan Brown (tied with Mercilus for Big Ten lead in TFLs with 18-1/2), MSU’s Denicos Allen, Penn State’s Gerald Hodges, Iowa’s Tyler Nielsen and James Morris and Minnesota’s Gary Tinsley.

This is tough. I’d go with David, Borland and Brown on the first team with Taylor, Allen and Morris on the second.

* Defensive Backs – Lot of good names to choose from here. Minnesota’s Kim Royston (fourth in Big Ten tackles with 110). More picks: Northwestern’s Brian Peters, Michigan State’s Trenton Robinson, Wisconsin’s Antonio Fenelus, MSU’s Johnny Adams, Penn State’s Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay, OSU’s Bradley Roby, Iowa’s Micah Hyde and Shaun Prater, Illinois’ Terry Hawthorne and Tavon Wilson, Purdue’s Ricardo Allen, Michigan’s J.T. Floyd and Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard.

This is real tough. I’d go Royston, Peters, Fenelus and Dennard on the first team.

All-Big Ten Specialists

* Punter – Nebraska’s Brett Maher averages almost 2 yards more than his next closest competitor, Purdue’s Cody Webster. He has also put 20 of his punts down inside the 20, second only to OSU’s Ben Buchanan. PSU’s Anthony Fera has also excelled. Maher is the pick.

* Kicker – It used to be if you hit 60 percent of your field goals you felt pretty good. The Big Ten had nine guys who were 69 percent or higher on field goal accuracy. Maher may get the daily double here after hitting 17 of 20 (85 percent) of his kicks with a long of 51. Others of note here include PSU’s Fera, Iowa’s Mike Meyer, OSU’s Drew Basil, MSU’s Dan Conroy, Illinois’ Derek Dimke (only 8 of 9, though), Indiana’s Mitch Ewald and Purdue’s Carson Wiggs.

* Kick Returner – There are three elites here: Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (30.0 average), Purdue’s Raheem Mostert (29.2) and PSU’s Chaz Powell (28.2). Maybe one of them pops a big one this weekend to steal it. For now, I’d go with Abdullah.

* Punt Returner – Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis (16.9 average with a touchdown) leads the way here. Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon and MSU’s Keshawn Martin are also in the running.

Award Winners

The Big Ten has instituted a flock of new awards for this season. Here is a look at who may get some of these honors:

* Graham-George Offensive Player Of The Year – This is tough between Wisconsin’s Ball and Wilson. I guess I would give this to Ball. The Chicago Tribune also does the Big Ten MVP. I’d give that to Wilson because he’s the one who has made that offense really go.

* Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player Of The Year – Nebraska’s David, hands down.

* Hayes-Schembechler Coach Of The Year (coaches vote) – To do as well as Michigan State did with that brutal schedule, my guess is the coaches will give this one to MSU’s Mark Dantonio.

* Dave McClain Coach Of The Year (media vote) – The media could go for Michigan’s Brady Hoke in taking that mess at UM to possibly a 10-2 season.

* Thompson-Randle El Freshman Of The Year – I think Indiana QB Tre Roberson is probably the pick here. If OSU’s Braxton Miller can lead the Buckeyes past Michigan, maybe he steals it.

* Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman Of The Year – MSU’s Foreman.

* Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman Of The Year – Illinois’ Mercilus.

* Griese-Brees Quarterback Of The Year – Wisconsin’s Wilson.

* Ameche-Dayne Running Back Of The Year – Wisconsin’s Ball.

* Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back Of The Year – Wisconsin’s Fenelus.

* Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker Of The Year – Nebraska’s David.

* Richter-Howard Receiver Of The Year – Illinois’ Jenkins.

* Kwalick-Clark Tight End Of The Year – Northwestern’s Dunsmore.

* Baaken-Andersen Kicker Of The Year – Just to spread the wealth, I’d go with PSU’s Fera.

* Eddleman-Fields Punter Of The Year – Nebraska’s Maher.

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