Power Five1. Michigan State
2. Ohio State
Can the Big Ten send a participant to the playoff? It could be contingent on either Michigan State or Ohio State winning out. For Michigan State, a loss at Oregon early in the season can still look fine if the Ducks keep winning. Ohio State’s home to Virginia Tech won’t look good, but winning Nov. 8 at Michigan State would do wonder for the Buckeyes.
Rutgers and Maryland were supposed to struggle mightily in their first season in the Big Ten, but pundits are trumpeting their early-season success. However, don’t get too carried away. Rutgers is 5-1, but 1-1 in the league. Maryland is 4-2, but also 1-1 in the league, and both teams still have a tough schedule ahead. For the Scarlet Knights, it’s a killer three-game stretch of at Ohio State, at Nebraska and home for Wisconsin. The Terps still have Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan State on the schedule.
Michigan could be the biggest disappointment through the first half. The Wolverines are 3-4, and began Big Ten play an unheard of 0-2 in the conference before surviving against a depleted Penn State last week. Coach Brady Hoke’s job is in serious jeopardy, and somehow the Wolverines have to find a way to win three games against Michigan State, Indiana, Northwestern, Maryland and Ohio State just to get bowl eligible.
Penn State is in an intriguing position when it comes to a bowl possibility. The Nittany Lions are eligible this season, providing they can get to six wins, but the loss to Michigan will make it a tad more trying. The Nittany Lions (4-2) have home games against Ohio State, Maryland, Temple and Michigan State and travel to Indiana and Illinois.
There was enormous concern when Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season to injury, but J.T. Barrett moved in and is doing well. He completed 88 of 133 (66.2 percent) for 17 touchdowns against five interceptions, and is Ohio State’s second leading rusher with 276 yards and two touchdowns on 71 attempts. The Buckeyes are also at least 50 points in the last three games.
Coach of the YearMinnesota often gets lost in the Big Ten, but the job Jerry Kill did in the first half is phenomenal. The Golden Gophers are 5-1, including 2-0 in the West Division, and the lone loss came at TCU, which is now in the Top 10. Minnesota should be able to push to 7-1 with games against Purdue and Illinois up next, but a finish against Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin will test the Golden Gophers in a huge way.
Offensive Player of the YearSurprise, surprise. Wisconsin has a running back churning out the yards. In this case, it’s Melvin Gordon, who is averaging 7.9 yards per carry and is already over the 1,000-yard mark. He has 13 touchdowns to go with his 1,046 rushing yards, and his durability and the Badgers’ ability to control the ball will be huge moving into November.
Defensive Player of the YearIs it unlikely the top player comes from Maryland? Well, it’s William Likely, who is playing well against Big Ten competition in many areas. Likely has three interceptions, which is tied for the Big Ten lead, and he ranks in the top 20 in tackles with 42. He also added an 89-yard interception return for a touchdown, and as a sophomore, it bodes well for him to anchor Maryland’s secondary for the next few years. .
Offense: Top FreshmanWhat DaeSean Hamilton has done at Penn State is impressive, especially given the Nittany Lions’ inability to run the ball and the struggles of the offensive line. He leads the Big Ten with 43 catches, he is second in receiving yards per game at 93.3. What’s more amazing is 32 percent of quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s completions are to Hamilton.
Defense: Top FreshmanThere is not a ton to choose from for this category, so the selection is Rutgers defensive end Kemoko Turay. He is best known around the country these days for blocking Michigan’s game-winning field goal attempt earlier this month, but as pass rushing specialist he is giving the Scarlet Knights a threat. He has a league-leading 5 ½ sacks and 12 tackles.