Big Ten notebook: It’s time for midseason awards

Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliott (15) runs into Northern Illinois Huskies safety Marlon Moore (2) and Huskies linebacker Boomer Mays (45)during the second half at Ohio Stadium. 

Joseph Maiorana/Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It took a wild final play last week, but the Big Ten East appears to be headed toward the type of year most expected, at least at the top. Meanwhile, the West might not be as wild as expected with Iowa entering the second half in the driver’s seat.

 

Midseason MVP: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

With the quarterback position a question more often that not on a weekly basis, the junior from St. Louis was the most constant threat the defending champions had in the first half of the season. He leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally in rushing at 141.1 yards per game.

 

Freshman of the (half) year: Jabrill Peppers, DB (and more), Michigan

The redshirt freshman wasted no time showing Wolverines fans what they were missing last season while he sat out with an injury, showing off his speed an athleticism in the season-opener at Utah. He has only gotten better since, notching 23 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. He has also flashed the ability to be a dangerous return man and joined the Wolverines offense last week in their narrow loss to Michigan State.

 

Biggest surprise (team): No. 12 Iowa Hawkeyes (7-0, 3-0)

Kirk Ferentz’s squad has raced off to their best start since 2009 when the Hawkeyes won their first nine games. The team has played stout defense, as they currently posses the 12th best total defense, only giving up 294.3 yards per game. They have an extremely favorable schedule for the rest of the season which has many people in Iowa City wondering if 12-0 and a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game is in the cards.

 

Biggest surprise (player): Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State

The former walk-on showed the world why coach James Franklin said he was excited about him, proving to be nearly unblockable at times on the edge. The first-year starter leads the nation in sacks (11.5), tackles for loss (15.5) and fumbles forced (five) after seven games.

 

Biggest disappointment (team): Minnesota (4-3)

This was supposed to be the season where Jerry Kill got his Gophers to break through the glass ceiling his staff helped to elevate. It hasn’t been the dream season many hoped for. Even three of their four victories have been unimpressive, each coming by three points. They haven’t even gotten to the meat of their schedule yet with Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, and Wisconsin left to play. It will be a long season in Minneapolis.

 

Biggest disappointment (player): Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State

Admittedly one of the prerequisites for being disappointing is having high expectations — and many believe Hackenberg has the skill set to justify such things — but through seven games he hasn’t delivered. Again dealing with poor pass protection, the junior is ninth in the Big Ten in pass efficiency and outside the top 10 in passing yards. On the bright side, he has thrown only two interceptions.

 

Biggest loss: Indiana’s 55-52 loss to Rutgers on Oct. 17

This is a double-edged sword given one conference team benefited at another’s expense, but the Hoosiers had to be feeling particularly empty after coughing up a 25-point second-half lead to the Scarlet Knights, who entered the matchup below .500. Indiana appeared on its way to ending a two-game losing streak that followed an encouraging 4-0 start and getting within one win of bowl eligibility.

 

Most viral moment: Braxton Miller’s spin move at Virginia Tech, Sept. 7

Who knew how the former quarterback’s transition would go as the season started? But Miller let the college football world know in the third quarter in Blacksburg he hadn’t lost those moves that made him one of the game’s most electric players from 2011-13, putting his foot in the ground and leaving a couple of Hokies in his dust en route to his first touchdown run since 2013.

 

Best play of the year: The "Gift six" — Michigan State beats Michigan on the final play

The Wolverines looked all set to claim a sixth straight win and continue their quick rise under Jim Harbaugh, but a mishandled snap, an ill-advised reaction and a Spartan in the right place at the right time resulted in one of the most memorable moments in college football history.

This was most definitely not another case of, "Sparty No!"

This was almost certainly the most viral play moment, too, but we thought it carried more weight and has the potential to change the direction of the season of both teams.

 

Worst play of the year: Rutgers’ fourth-down spike

Rutgers had a chance to erase some of the bad memories from the first half of a season marred by off-field scandals by knocking off Michigan State, but the Scarlet Knights’ last chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter went by the wayside when quarterback Chris Laviano spiked the ball on fourth down, turning it back over to the Spartans rather than allowing one last shot at a game-tying touchdown. Afterward, interim head coach Norries Wilson took the blame for the miscommunication that led to the ill-fated decision by the sophomore quarterback.

 

Best game left on the calendar: No. 7 Michigan State at No. 1 Ohio State, Nov. 21, time TBD

After the Spartans survived a near-death experience at the Big House, they are on a collision course with the Buckeyes for a third-straight season-defining game between the teams.

 

Player to watch out for in the second half: Akrum Wadley, RB Iowa

It isn’t often that a backup running back bursts onto the scene like Wadley. The sophomore running back out of Newark, N.J., came in for Jordan Canzeri last Saturday against Northwestern and made his presence felt. He rushed for 204 yards on 26 carries and added a school record four rushing touchdowns. The team hopes to get Canzeri back this season, but Wadley showed he is someone to pay attention to for the remainder of the season.

 

Who makes the CFP Final Four:

1: Clemson

2: LSU

3: Ohio State

4: TCU

Team most likely to get passed over for a CFP spot: Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish could take down rising Stanford to build a case they can play with anyone, but Notre Dame will need more to happen than for the remaining unbeaten teams ahead of them to knock each other out.