Tag:Whitney Mercilus
Posted on: November 29, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 4:24 pm
 

Big Ten announces 2011 individual award winners

Posted by Adam Jacobi

On Monday evening, the Big Ten announced its full slate of conference award winners -- the first such slate since the Big Ten added the trophies in addition to expanding to 12 teams and two divisions.

Here's a breakdown of all the trophies handed out by the Big Ten:

Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Wilson's resume this year is undeniably brilliant, and he's going to be in line for some national postseason recognition after finishing first nationally in passer efficiency. Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, shouldered one of the conference's worst rushing attacks and still finished third in the Big Ten in efficiency and emerged as a solid ambassador for the program, conference, and sport. From a strictly on-field standpoint, Wilson deserves this award to himself, but the Big Ten named its divisions "Legends" and "Leaders"; surely it won't turn around and say its trophies should be restricted to strict on-field accomplishments, will it? All of which is to say, I'd rather the conference had thrown Cousins a bone and split this award between Wilson and him. Wilson would have been an even bigger snub than Cousins, but they're both highly deserving of recognition.

Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year: Marvin McNutt, Iowa
ADAM SAYS: McNutt basically rewrote Iowa's receiving record books, and he looked at times like the best player on either side of the ball for the Hawkeyes this year. That he was left off the list of 10 Biletnikoff finalists is a joke. Illinois' A.J. Jenkins was a strong contender here, but his inability to get into the end zone even once during the Illini's six-game slump seals his fate as an also-ran. 

Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Rex BurkheadMarcus Coker, and Silas Redd all had admirable efforts this year, but c'mon. Could this trophy possibly go to anybody else? With 1,622 rushing yards (1,870 total from scrimmage) and 34 total touchdowns, Ball is third on my list of 2011 Heisman candidates and far and away the best running back in the Big Ten this year. 

Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern
ADAM SAYS: 43 catches for 509 yards and six touchdowns is a great year for a tight end (or superback, as it would be), and to do so in a season with three different quarterbacks seeing significant action is an even better accomplishment. Dunsmore was one of the three or four best TE in the nation this year and a deserving winner of the Kwalick-Clark Trophy.

Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: David Molk, Michigan
ADAM SAYS: If this award were given to entire offensive lines (which I would not mind), it would have to go to Wisconsin. At any rate, though, coming into the season, Ohio State's All-American Mike Brewster was the highest-profile center in the conference. It was Molk, however, who showed the most leadership and mashery over the course of the season. Hopefully, this award translates into All-American attention for Molk; he deserves it for the job Michigan did pushing the line of scrimmage forward on offense this year.

Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Devon Still, Penn State
ADAM SAYS: Illinois' terror at DE, Whitney Mercilus, would be the strongest contender for this award if Illinois hadn't collapsed down the stretch, but even that collapse is hardly on the aptly-named Mercilus; he led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles on the year (if Tyrann Mathieu is the honey badger for his six forced fumbles, what does that make Mercilus with nine? Galactus?). Devon Still was an absolute beast for Penn State, though, and his presence affected opposing game plans all season long. A split between Still and Mercilus would have been ideal.

Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Lavonte David, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Lavonte David's been even better than I thought he'd be this year, and he was my top preseason linebacker in the conference. No-doubter here. Look for Wisconsin's Chris Borland to be the leading candidate for this award next year; the former Big Ten defensive freshman of the year was strong in his return from a torn ACL this season, and he's got two more years of eligibility.

Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Purdue CB Ricardo Allen is the only guy who could make a decent case for being snubbed here, but Dennard turned this defense into an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. He deserves this award.

Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: The fact that Maher was snubbed for Lou Groza consideration despite missing zero kicks from 50 yards and in this year is an absolute travesty the likes of which we haven't seen since... well, last year, when Nebraska kicker Alex Henery was also snubbed from Groza finalist consideration despite being pretty obviously the best kicker in college football. Maher's bona fides aren't as strong as Henery's, but he's still the best kicker in the Big Ten and should have been named a Groza finalist all the same.

Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Oh, stop showing off, Nebraska.
Posted on: November 27, 2011 3:47 am
Edited on: November 27, 2011 6:19 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 13



Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Wisconsin's lust for revenge

The two heart-breaking losses Wisconsin absorbed in the middle of what was supposed to be a special season have never really let the Badgers go. Oh, the Badgers got over them, to be sure; they won their next four Big Ten games by an average score of 44-14, and of those only the 28-17 win over Illinois was even halfway competitive. And yet, Wisconsin has struggled in vain to so much as crack the Top 15 of the polls, as its only win against a ranked opponent all year was a 48-17 dismantling of then-No. 8 Nebraska in Week 5. That's it.

Or, that was it until Saturday, anyway, when Wisconsin officially ended Penn State's conference title aspirations (and the Nittany Lions' stint in the Top 25) with a 45-7 shellacking. Wisconsin's now the (sigh) Leaders Division winner and all set for the Big Ten Championship Game next Saturday. And wouldn't you know it, Michigan State -- the team that dealt Wisconsin its first, most crushing loss will be waiting in Indianapolis for the Badgers.

And there's probably no team Bret Bielema and his Badgers would rather face.

The first meeting of the two teams was an outright classic, with Wisconsin going up 14-0 early before a Montee Ball injury derailed the Badgers' offense to the point that MSU was able to open up a 31-17 lead. But it wasn't until a deflected Hail Mary pass from Kirk Cousins found its way into the arms of Keith Nichol and Nichol twisted the ball across the plane while being tackled that the Spartans could sew up the victory. It was as slim a margin of victory could be in regulation, and it doomed Wisconsin's highest aspirations for the season. What more could you ask for after a game like that than a rematch? And if there must be a rematch, why not do it with everything in the Big Ten on the line? This week should be great.  

LOSER: The so, so, so fired Ron Zook

Ron Zook's Illinois squad just put the finishing touches on a 6-6 campaign, one that would probably be a little more palatable if it hadn't finished in six straight losses where a formerly formidable offense just plain cratered. The last effort that'll likely be on Ron Zook's resume is a 27-7 throttling at the hands of a Minnesota program that hadn't beaten a Big Ten opponent by that many points since it beat Indiana 63-26... in 2006, when Glen Mason was still at the helm. We'll have more on the Gopher revival in a bit, but suffice it to say that Zook is going to be fired very, very soon. 

There's no up side for this Illinois team's collapse. Nathan Scheelhaase has gone from a future first-team All-Big Ten quarterback to a potential second-team quarterback for the Illini in 2012. A.J. Jenkins scored zero touchdowns in the last six games after a scintillating first half of the season. The Illinois rush defense -- ranked second in the Big Ten -- ceded 248 yards to Minnesota, which was a season high for the Gophers. Whitney Mercilus was a terror all year long, racking up 9.5 sacks and nine forced fumbles, but now there's almost no chance he'll be back in 2012. So what is there to look forward to with this team in 2012 regardless of who's coach? And the fact that such a question is being asked in a coach's seventh year in a program probably means he won't be around for an eighth.

WINNER: Michigan Men (even when they're not)

Much was made about Brady Hoke's ties to the Michigan program when he was hired after the 2010 season, with the phrase "Michigan Man" bandied about liberally. And to be sure, that's exactly what Hoke is -- right down to his insistence on calling Ohio State "Ohio" and never wearing red.

But when it came to hiring coordinators, Hoke wasn't dumb enough to limit himself to fellow Michigan Men. Offensive coordinator Al Borges is, if anything, a "Chico State Man," graduating from there in 1981 and spending the next 30 years bouncing around various schools as offensive coordinator (usually on the west coast, and never at Michigan). Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison spent five years at Michigan back in the '90s, sure, but he also spent more time than that at Notre Dame. -- and did so more recently than his first Michigan stint. Is Mattison a Michigan Man? A Notre Dame Man? Both? He couldn't be both, could he? Anyway, all told, only three of Hoke's nine assistants have any prior ties to the program.

And yet, the difference in quality between last year's team and this year's is inestimable. The Michigan defense has gone from putrid to passable in just one season, and while it's not a championship-caliber unit just yet, it is good enough to get the Wolverines to 10-2 in the regular season and in immediate division contention -- back where the Big Ten figured Michigan would be when these division lines were drawn in the first place. And oh yes, there is that 40-34 victory over Ohio State that the Wolverines clawed for this year, their first over OSU in almost a decade.

LOSER: Will Hagerup

Welp, guess I'm just gonna punt this here ball away, just gonna do my job as punteWHAT AWWW HAMBURGERS OHHHHH NOOOOO

WINNER: Montee Ball's Heisman campaign

Montee Ball's probably not going to win the Heisman this year. That honor will probably go to someone in the trio of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, or Trent Richardson. But at the very least, Ball probably bought* himself a ticket today with a 156-yard, four touchdown effort that pushed his season numbers to 248 carries, 1622 yards, 29 rushing touchdowns, 17 catches, 248 receiving yards, and five more receiving touchdowns. He also threw a 25-yard touchdown to Russell Wilson against Indiana (which doesn't count for Ball in total touchdowns, only Wilson), a sure sign that offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was very bored that day.

So that makes 34 total touchdowns on the season for Ball, a mark that only Barry Sanders has bested with his other-worldly 39 scores in 1988 (which doesn't even count his five touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl, as bowl games weren't counted in official statistics back then). And Ball isn't just pushing scores in from a yard out, either; nine of his 25 rushing touchdowns have come from more than five yards out, and his 6.75-yard rushing average was fourth in the FBS among 1000-yard rushers coming into Saturday's action. Ball isn't a touchdown machine, he's an everything machine, and now that it's been him front and center in Wisconsin's push to Indianapolis, voters are likely to take notice.

*Metaphorically speaking, NCAA! We never meant to imply that Ball or anybody around him has ever so much has handled a dollar bill. We understand that the sanctity of this game can only be achieved if everybody involved is dead broke and rejects capitalism outright, and we assure you that Ball has not been tainted by the immoral slime of legal tender. They're student-athletes, not money-recipient-athletes. We get it. 

LOSER: The "Heroes Game"


What seemed like an intriguing new rivalry -- Iowa vs. Nebraska, every year, with the Missouri River set to be the most hotly contested border waterway since the Rhine. Whereas the French had the mighty but tragically immobile Maginot Line to protect themselves, though, Iowa's line just plain couldn't stop anyone coming right up the middle, either on Saturday or all year long. Rex Burkhead set a Nebraska record with 38 carries, and his 160 yards and a touchdown wore down the Iowa defense to the point of surrender. 20-7 was the final, and it really wasn't that close.

Next year's game might be more competitive simply because it's in Iowa City, but the 2012 Hawkeyes probably won't be any better than this year's iteration, and if this rivalry starts off lopsided it'll be hard to get the fanbases worked into the lather necessary for a lasting rivalry. Nebraska's never going to get tired of 13-point wins that are more one-sided than the final score indicates, of course, but the Huskers aren't really going to care about beating Iowa until they can't take it for granted anymore.

WINNER: Jerry Kill, eh?

It looks like everything Jerry Kill's been telling his team since he inherited it last December might yet be sinking in. After a 1-6 (0-3) start to the season where none of the Gophers' conference losses were even competitive, Minnesota turned the boat around in a big way with a 22-21 comeback win over Iowa. After that, Minnesota looked like a different team, hanging tough with Michigan State and Northwestern in losses and at the very least losing to Wisconsin by a smaller margin than Penn State just did. And now, the Gophers have closed the season out with the aforementioned 27-7 drubbing of listless Illinois. MarQueis Gray rushed for 167 yards, threw for 85 more, and accounted for all three of the Gopher's touchdowns in the victory without turning the ball over.

This Gopher team has a long way to go in order to start hanging with its Legends Division rivals on a weekly basis. The lines are a mess, there's a dearth of experience on both sides of the ball, and Kill isn't drawing high-quality recruits yet. He's got a complete overhaul on his hands, and those don't happen in a year at a school like Minnesota. But there's two ways to overhaul a program: spend four years recruiting "your" players into the system, or change the program's culture so substantially that the old coach's players buy in and become "your" players. Kill seems to be on that path, and that bodes well. Doesn't seem like something we thought we'd be saying just a couple months ago, when Kill was talking about needing to "babysit" his players and losing every game by 30 or so, but here we are.

LOSER: Michigan's classless fans

Look at them, rushing the field and celebrating after Michigan beats a 6-6 team. Act like you've been there, guys, right? The nerve of it all!

We're kidding, of course, because the cathartic value of a win like that, erasing eight years of misery and futility hard-wired into to Michigan's identity as a football program, would be off the charts even if Ohio State were coming into the game 0-11. But we're still talking about a bowl team here in OSU, and one that gave Michigan all sorts of fits over the course of the game. You have our full blessing on this field-storming, Michigan. And if anyone says otherwise, well, haters gonna hate. Feels nice to have haters again, doesn't it?



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Posted on: October 18, 2011 5:42 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 3:02 pm
 

Eye on College Football Midseason Report: Big Ten



Posted by Adam Jacobi

It's been one heck of a year in the Big Ten's first go at a 12-team lineup, and if there's anything close to a certainty after the first seven weeks of play, it's this: Wisconsin is really, really good. The Russell Wilson free agent acquisition purely academic-based graduate school enrollment decision has worked out beautifully for the Badgers, who are currently rolling toward, at worst, a Rose Bowl berth.

With that, let's get onto the superlatives for the year thus far. There was plenty of competition every step of the way, and truth be told we could have handed out some ties on a lot of these categories, but if college football fans wanted ties we wouldn't have overtime, so here we go.

Offensive Player of the Year: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin. This was a tough, tough call, especially with Denard Robinson over in Ann Arbor putting up huge numbers against tougher competition, but the fact is that Wilson has exceeded nearly every expectation set for him at Wisconsin, not only from the standpoint of his offense's prodigious production but also his own level of play. Yes, Wisconsin's schedule has been cake so far. But offensive player of the year isn't a question of RPI, it's a question of production, and Wilson's systematic dismantling of Nebraska's once-vaunted defense proved the Badgers are capable of running it up on anybody. Also considered: Denard Robinson, Michigan; A.J. Jenkins, Illinois; Montee Ball, Wisconsin

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Defensive Player of the Year: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois. Illinois is a surprising 6-1 right now, and that start has been primarily responsible to not only the heady play of QB Nathan Scheelhaase, but the Illini's imposing front seven. Leading that charge is defensive linemanWhitney Mercilus, who leads the nation in sacks per game and ranks fourth in TFLs (TsFL if we're being super-accurate), and has been that disruptive force on the defensive line that folks generally thought Illinois wouldn't have after Corey Liggett decided to go pro after 2010. Also, his name sounds like "Merciless," and that's an even better name for a defender than former Iowa linebacker Pat AngererAlso considered: Lavonte David, Nebraska; Mike Martin, Michigan

Coach of the Year: Ron Zook, Illinois. This award is usually a euphemism for "team that overachieves the most," which is the only reason why Jim Tressel didn't win it year after year despite Ohio State mashing its opponents to pulp. But truly, Ron Zook deserves recognition for what his players have accomplished so far, even after three stars declared early for the NFL. Illinois wasn't supposed to be good. It is good. That doesn't happen in football despite a coach. Not at this level. It happens because of a coach, and that's why Ron Zook deserves recognition so far this year. Also considered: Bret Bielema, Wisconsin; Brady Hoke, Michigan

Surprise: Michigan. The consensus among Big Ten media was that whileBrady Hoke was the right hire and Denard Robinson was the conference's most dynamic playmaker, the Wolverine's latest ascension to Big Ten prominence was at least a year away. Not so, as the Wolverine defense has looked surprisingly adept thus far as Michigan has stormed to a 6-1 record early. They could use a bit of help in the Big Ten race, but not as much as you'd think, and this Wolverine offense might be the only one in the Big Ten that can keep pace on the scoreboard with Wisconsin if the championship comes down to those two teams. Also considered: Illinois

Disappointment: Ohio State. Everybody knew difficulties were coming once Jim Tressel resigned and Terrelle Pryor was sent packing, but Ohio State has always prided itself on an overall talent advantage against everybody else in the Big Ten, and that advantage has yet to manifest itself this season. OSU has been throttled by Miami and shut down by Michigan State, and even when the Buckeyes were spotted a late 21-point lead at Nebraska they couldn't seal the deal. Perhaps last week's win over previously unbeaten Illinois is a sign of things to come, but for now, it looks like OSU is just lucky to be over .500 on the season, and that is stunning. Also considered: Nebraska; Minnesota; Northwestern  

Game of the Year (so far): Notre Dame at Michigan. Was this a pretty game? Lord no, not for one second of the contest's 60 minutes or the fans' three and a half hours. Was it an exciting game? Of course it was, and it leads off our list of the best games of the year in the Big Ten. For three quarters, Notre Dame looked like it was snuffing Michigan out, holding a 24-7 lead headed into the final stanza. Then Denard Robinson came alive, erupting for four touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and even an Irish touchdown with 30 seconds left proved to be too much to leave the Wolverines as Michigan marched 80 yards down the field in just three plays and scored the game-winning TD with two seconds left. Pandemonium ensued, and Michigan fans had to be asked (politely) by police to leave the stadium after the win. Now that's the way to host your first home night game ever. Also considered: Ohio State at Nebraska; Nebraska at Wisconsin 

Game of the Year (to come): Wisconsin at Michigan State. Excepting the first Big Ten Football Championship Game in league history (aside from all the de facto championship games between Michigan and OSU, anyway), the game of the Big Ten's regular season actually takes place this weekend as Wisconsin travels to the only team that beat the Badgers last year and the team that has the last, best shot of upending them this year: Michigan State. Past that, games against OSU, Illinois, and Penn State loom for Bucky, but those team look like Wisconsin roadkill until proven otherwise. Also considered: Nebraska at Michigan; Ohio State at Michigan

Legends Division Champion: Michigan State. MSU took a huge step forward from its early-season loss to Notre Dame by not only beating Michigan, but doing so in a very important way: beating the Wolverines on the ground. Sparty was pushed around on both sides of the ball against ND, which seems very un-MSU this year, and the Spartans' cakewalk of a schedule from here until last week precluded any definitive assessments of the team's actual merit. The dismantling of Denard Robinson's offense and MSU's active defensive attack were both better than we've seen out of any Wolverine opponents this year, and both factors portend well for the upcoming Michigan State-Nebraska matchup.Also considered: Nebraska; Michigan

Leaders Division Champion: Wisconsin. It's going to take multiple upsets to take the Badgers out of contention for the Leaders Division crown, and a team that steamrolls its opponents on such a consistent basis doesn't usually make itself available for those types of losses. This bodes poorly for everybody else on the Badgers' schedule. Also, Montee Ball looks like he's going to set records when it comes to touchdowns, as the talented junior has racked up 18 (16 rushing, 1 receiving, 1 passing) in just six games. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Also considered: Illinois

Big Ten Champion: Wisconsin. It has to be Wisconsin until anybody can demonstrate an ability to bottle the Badger attack, and no defenses thus far have so much as demonstrated an ability to take either the run or the pass out of the Badger offense. And if you can't stop the conference's most prodigious rushing offense from even passing, you're not really playing defense, you're just praying. And let's be honest: that's terrible advice for anyone who wants to see his team take the conference crown this year. Also considered: Michigan State, but only to be sporting about it

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