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Who is Big Ten’s best? There’s no easy answer

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Teddy Greenstein
November 18, 2009

Quick: Name the Big Ten’s best player.


Time’s up.


If no one came to mind, you’re not alone. Here are some responses from coaches on Tuesday’s Big Ten conference call:


Ohio State’s Jim Tressel: “Gosh, I haven’t given that a second thought.”


Illinois’ Ron Zook: “I don’t want to answer and miss people. We’ll put some time and thought into it as a staff.”


Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez: “Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of guys look good against us.”


Score one for Rich Rod there. But the larger issue is troubling for the Big Ten: The conference has not produced a single offensive star this season.


The top running back, Wisconsin’s John Clay, ranks 14th nationally with 112.4 rushing yards per game. No quarterback is in the nation’s top 10 in passing yards or efficiency. The top receiver is Keith Smith. If you know he plays for Purdue, Big Ten boss Jim Delany should buy you a beer.


Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark sputtered against Iowa and Ohio State. Northwestern’s Mike Kafka has completed a league-high 65.8 percent of his passes, but a 10-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio leaves him seventh in the league in passing efficiency. Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor is 10th in passing yards.


Ballots will go out this week for the (Chicago) Tribune Silver Football, awarded annually to the Big Ten’s best player. Every coach gets a first- and second-place vote and cannot vote for one of his players.


The last four winners won easily. This year? Maybe a defensive player should win it, given that the best teams, Ohio State and Iowa, are offensive ... hmm ... what’s the opposite of juggernaut?


A few of the top defensive players are Iowa linebacker Pat Angerer (12.3 tackles per game in conference play), Iowa safety Tyler Sash (six interceptions), Wisconsin end O’Brien Schofield (19½ tackles for loss), Michigan end Brandon Graham (8½ sacks) and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones (126 tackles).


Penn State coach Joe Paterno said in praise of Jones: “53 is as good a linebacker as there is in the country.”


This season, it seems, everyone is struggling to come up with a name.


Still The Game?

Tressel calls it “the greatest rivalry in all of sports,” although the last two editions of Ohio State-Michigan haven’t been close. The Buckeyes beat the Wolverines by a combined 56-10, and they’re 12-point favorites Saturday at Michigan Stadium.


“No, I don’t think (the rivalry) has lost any of its luster,” Tressel said. “I’d bet you there will be about 110,000 people excited about it on Saturday.”


Michigan has lost six straight Big Ten games but can salvage its season—and land a bowl bid—with a win.


“We talked about it,”


Rodriguez said. “If we’re going to put it all together, let’s do it this week.”


Teddy Greenstein writes for the Chicago Tribune.



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