Tough choices at RB, LB, WR in making All-Big Ten picks

The Big Ten Network will unveil the selections for some of the league’s annual football awards tonight, but first we offer our picks for the first-team offense and defense as well as a handful of individual awards.

QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
RB Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
TE Devin Funchess, Michigan
OG Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
OG Ryan Groy, Wisconsin
C Corey Linsley, Ohio State
OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
OT Brandon Scherff, Iowa

Receiver and running back were both competitive spots with probably at least twice as many worthwhile candidates for available slots. Stats* make a relatively easy tie-breaker, but I felt like Hyde and Abdullah were the best at the position all-around. They also led the group in all-purpose yards on top of rushing.

Miller was an easy choice at quarterback thanks to his No. 1 quarterback rating and leading the conference in total offense.

This was a good year for tight ends, but Funchess was the biggest weapon in the passing game.

Robinson and Gallon put their considerable talents to great use and were the most productive receivers in conference play despite Robinson having a bullseye on his jersey after leading the league in receiving last season and Gallon lacking another receiver or a running game to take pressure off him.

Ohio State’s line was far and away the best in the conference this season, and I picked the top three performers to make the first team. Groy and Scherff are the best players on their respective lines that were also among the top groups in the league. Although a couple of guys from Michigan State could probably make an argument for inclusion on this list, I felt that was a group that was better than the sum of its parts.

DL Randy Gregory, Nebraska
DL Michael Bennett, Ohio State
DL Noah Spence, Ohio State
DL Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
LB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB Denicos Allen, Michigan State
LB James Morris, Iowa
DB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB B.J. Lowery, Iowa
DB Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
DB C.J. Barnett, Ohio State

Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
P Mike Sadler, Michigan State

Gregory led the league in sacks during conference play and injected some life into a Nebraska defense that was in bad shape in the middle of the season. Bennett was Ohio State’s best all-around lineman and put up the second-most sacks in the conference during league play while finishing second behind Gregory in tackles for loss by a lineman. Spence was a terror, probably the best pure pass rusher in the conference with 5.5 sacks, and I think his presence made life easier for ultra talented Joey Bosa on the other side. Calhoun was the biggest standout on a great Michigan State defensive line, but I liked the work of that whole unit.

Linebacker was the most competitive position on either side of the ball, but Shazier was an easy choice thanks to his topping the league in tackles for loss (16.5). He shared the lead in sacks by linebackers with Morris, which is what got Morris the nod over Chris Borland, who is a great player and was admittedly hindered by injury. Allen takes a spot thanks to begin the biggest playmaker on the league’s best defense.

In the secondary I thought Barnett and Drummond really stood above the rest for their ability to not only play the pass but provide run support. A lot is asked of both, and they came through in big ways. Dennard was an easy pick as the best cornerback in the league, and I gave Lowery a slight nod over Bradley Roby because of the Buckeye’s struggles when he got the chance to match up with Jared Abbrederis in the Wisconsin game.

Offensive Player of the Year: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
Defensive Player of the Year: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
Freshman of the Year: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
Offensive Lineman of the Year: Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
Defensive Lineman of the Year: Randy Gregory, Nebraska  
Coach of the Year: (tie) Urban Meyer, Ohio State; Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

The C.O.Y. has been a hot-button issue on Ohio State message boards and Twitter for years with Jim Tressel taking home exactly none of them despite coaching seven Big Ten championship teams, and I would not be surprised if Dantonio claims it this year for what he was able to do with a Spartan team that was 7-6 last year. I copped out and gave the award to both because I think it’s just about impossible to differentiate the jobs they did in their respective divisions. Meyer oversaw a team that had to deal with having a target on its back every week, played almost all of three games without its starting quarterback and pulled out close games against Northwestern and Michigan. Dantonio made a difficult decision to bench a veteran quarterback for a youngster and stayed the course with his general approach on each side of the ball, and that paid off with eight double-digit victories in conference play.

Shazier was the easy pick based on the eyeball, numbers and intangibles tests for D.P.O.Y., and I went with Hyde over Miller because it felt like he became the backbone of the team down the stretch. Hyde led the league in scoring, although Miller had a hand in more touchdowns (19 passing, eight rushing). Obviously, each can attribute some of his success to the presence of the other, but Hyde really carried the team with Miller fighting the wind in Illinois and two weeks later turned in the best rushing performance ever by an Ohio State player against Michigan.

Meyer praised Mewhort endlessly for his leadership, and the fight-year senior was a rock the Buckeyes could run behind and trust to protect Miller’s blind side.

*Although the Big Ten does not make a distinction about how they should be considered during voting, I go by conference-only stats because that provides a more even sample of games with teams playing different nonconference slates.