Illini-Nation.Com Big Ten All-Conference Team

<p>The Big Ten coaches and media have had their say, now it's our turn. Here's the first annual Illini-Nation.com Big Ten All-Conference team.

Offense Quarterback – John Navarre (Michigan)

John Navarre had caught a lot of grief in the state of Michigan over the last few years for failing to live up to expectations. He quieted his critics with a stellar season and guided the team to a Big Ten championship. Michigan State's Jeff Smoker threw for more yards, but had more attempts, more interceptions and fewer touchdowns.

Running Back – Chris Perry (Michigan) and Marion Barber III (Minnesota)

While Navarre was considered the Wolverines leader, Chris Perry was their workhorse. Perry carried the ball 315 times for 1,589 yards and 17 touchdowns. His most impressive stat was his 132.4 average yards per game.

Marion Barber III cut up the defense of many of Minnesota's opponents. In 191 rushing attempts, he gained 1,159 yards and crossed the goal line 17 times. Barber's 6.1 average yards per carry is amazing.

Wide Receiver – Lee Evans (Wisconsin) and Braylon Edwards (Michigan)

Wisconsin is normally known for their running backs, but Lee Evans stole the show in Madison this year. Evans caught 60 passes for 1,162 yards and 12 touchdowns. He averaged 19.4 yards per catch.

Braylon Edwards was yet another cog in the powerful Michigan offense. He caught 75 passes for 1,031 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Center – Greg Eslinger (Minnesota)

Minnesota RB's Barber and Laurence Maroney should take Greg Eslinger out for a steak or two at the end of the season. The center is the quarterback of the offensive line and Eslinger created a lot of holes for the Gophers backfield.

Guard – David Baas (Michigan) and Alex Stepanovich (Ohio State)

Offensive linemen usually get little or no credit for the success of the football team. If they get noticed, it's because something bad happened. That wasn't the case for David Baas and Alex Stepanovich. These two were noticed for their strong play and were first-team selections of the coaches and media.

Tackle – Robert Gallery (Iowa) and Tony Pape (Michigan)

Robert Gallery must do everything right, because he is one of the best known offensive linemen in the country. The resurgence of the Iowa program over the last two years has a lot to do with this guy. Gallery was named Big 10 offensive lineman of the year.

Michigan is a virtual lineman factory and Tony Pape carries on the tradition. Pape was a first-team selection of both the coaches and the media. He's a tackle that would make former Wolverine Dan Dierdorf proud.

Tight End – Ben Utecht (Minnesota)

Most Big Ten tight ends are used as an extra offensive lineman, but occasionally they get the glory of catching passes. Ben Utecht caught 18 balls for 289 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Kicker – Nate Kaeding (Iowa) Hawkeye kicker Nate Kaeding was deadly accurate in 2003. Kaeding made 17 of 18 field goals and kicked 36 extra points. Kaeding was named to the first-team by the coaches and the press.

Defense

Defensive Line – Will Smith (Ohio State), Matt Roth (Iowa), Shaun Phillips (Purdue) and Anttaj Hawthorne (Wisconsin)

In 2003, Will Smith was definitely the Fresh Prince of Columbus. Smith earned conference defensive player of the year honors from the coaches and the media. Smith had 20 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks during his senior season.

Matt Roth of Iowa tied Smith for second in the Big Ten with 10.5 sacks. Roth's sacks added up to 73 yards of lost offense for Hawkeye opponents.

Purdue's Shaun Phillips led the Big Ten with 13.5 sacks during 2003. His presence on the front line helped jumpstart the Purdue defense, which had traditionally been weak under head coach Joe Tiller.

Anttaj Hawthorne of Wisconsin didn't have the most impressive sack numbers (4.0), but his 70 tackles are quite a bit for someone on the defensive line. Hawthorne was named first-team all-conference by the conference media.

Linebacker – A.J. Hawk (Ohio State), Niko Koutouvides (Purdue) and Abdul Hodge (Iowa)

A.J. Hawk of Ohio State could make the all-name team of any conference. His tough name was backed up by his tough play on the field. The sophomore collected 96 tackles and 4 sacks. The media and coaches both put Hawk on the first-team.

Niko Koutouvides sounds more like a soccer player's name, but he hit like a football player. The Boilermaker had 90 tackles and was named to the first-team by the conference coaches and media.

Abdul Hodge of Iowa was the Big Ten's leading tackler in 2003. Hodge racked up 133 tackles and 2 sacks. The sophomore should be terrorizing Big Ten quarterbacks for 2 more years.

Defensive Back – Bob Sanders (Iowa), Stuart Schweigert (Purdue), Jim Leonhard (Wisconsin) and Alan Zemaitis (Penn State)

Iowa's Bob Sanders was a unanimous first-team selection by the conference coaches. The Hawkeye had 69 tackles and 6 forced fumbles.

With a name like Stuart, Purdue's Stuart Schweigert needs to be tough. He proved he was on the gridiron this year with 77 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Schweigert picked off 4 passes.

Jim Leonhard of Wisconsin led the Big Ten with 6 interceptions. When he wasn't picking off passes, Leonhard put on a tackling clinic and ended the season with 93 tackles.

Sophomore Alan Zemaitis rounds out the defensive back portion of the team. The Penn State sophomore had 71 tackles on the year, but the most impressive state was his 4 interceptions that he returned for a total of 207 yards and 1 touchdown.

Punter – Steve Weatherford (Illinois)

It's a sad year when the only opportunity to put a player from your favorite team on the all conference squad is at punter. Illinois' Steve Weatherford got plenty of work in this year. Weatherford's punted away the ball 46 times for a total of 2,045 yards and an average kick of 44.5 yards.

Big Ten Coach of the Year – Joe Tiller (Purdue)

The conference media gave their honor to first-year Michigan State coach John L. Smith. I thought about following suit, but decided to go outside the box. In his previous years at Purdue, Tiller's teams were based around a strong passing offense and the hope the Boilermakers would outscore their opponents. That changed this year as Purdue ran the ball more and played hard-hitting defense. Tiller adapted his coaching style to meet the strengths of his team, which is something we didn't see in Champaign this year.


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