This week’s list: best bets to win Graham-George Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year
1. Braxton Miller, Ohio State
The quarterback flourished in his first season under Urban Meyer’s tutelage. And he won the award in 2012. Throwing for 2,039 yards, 15 touchdowns and rushing for 1,271 yards, 13 touchdowns for an unbeaten help out. An early Heisman Trophy favorite, Miller is 1,000 times better than when he only completed one pass, albeit a touchdown, during Ohio State’s 2011 win against Illinois in what is his only trip to Champaign so far.
2. Venric Mark, Northwestern
For so long under Pat Fitzgerald, the Wildcats lacked a running game. From a running back. Then Mark had the 2012 season he did. The senior rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. That was the highest output by a running back under Fitzgerald since Tyrell Sutton rushed for exactly 1,000 yards in 2006, Fitzgerald’s first season in Evanston.
3. Devin Gardner, Michigan
The Detroit native finally has a set position entering the 2013 season. Quarterback. Don’t anticipate seeing Gardner rely on his feet like his predecessor, Denard Robinson. He’s got a big body (6-4, 210) and has proven he can sling the ball (Iowa, last year, 314 yards on 18 of 23 passing). Has the moxie to develop into a bonafide challenger to Miller as the league’s best QB.
4. Allen Robinson, Penn State
This wide receiver is certainly glad Bill O’Brien is at Penn State. After only catching three passes for 29 yards during his true freshman season in 2011, Robinson led the Big Ten in both receptions (77), receiving yards (1,013) and receiving touchdowns (11) last fall. The only question now, though, is who will throw the ball to Robinson. Matt McGloin is all out of eligibility and projected starter Steven Bench has transferred to South Florida.
5. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
Made his name known in 2011 for his return skills. Did the same in 2012 for his running ability. Junior filled in nicely for Rex Burkhead, rushing for a team-best 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns. Carrying on long-standing tradition of solid I-backs to make their way through Lincoln, and Alabama native has chance to add even more to his legacy this fall.
6. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
He has thrilled Nebraska fans. He has made them moan in disgust. About to enter his fourth year as a starter with no bowl wins in three trips, Martinez has a love/hate relationship with the Cornhusker faithful. He enters his final season in Lincoln with the most passing yards (6,591) in school history and is the program’s all-time leader in total offense (9,449 yards) while only trailing Eric Crouch for top rushing honors from a QB by 576 yards. When it’s all said and done, Martinez could walk away as the most-decorated quarterback from Nebraska. He just needs to win. In December and January.
7. Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
The biggest hurdle for the biggest back (6-0, 242) in the Buckeyes’ system is getting enough carries. Jordan Hall is back after a red-shirt campaign and Braxton Miller is Braxton Miller, so Hyde might have a hard time duplicating last year’s output (970 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns), but if he gets close to last year’s total number of carries (185), watch out.
8. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
The dynamic sophomore will have to contend with senior James White in the Badgers’ backfield, but new coach Gary Andersen inherits a solid 1-2 punch. Anyone who watched last year’s Big Ten title game remembers Gordon running rampant against Nebraska (216 yards on only nine carries). That made up for more than a third of his rushing yards last season (621), but if he gets double the carries he had in 2012 (only 62), expect those rushing yards to double, too.
9. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
The former walk-on who started his career in Madison as the spread quarterback on the scout team has come a long way. A long way. While his receiving numbers dropped slightly in his junior season from his sophomore year (49 receptions for 837 yards in 2012 compared to 55 catches for 933 yards in 2011), Joel Stave or Curt Phillips, whoever wins the job, will have a receiver who could finish as high as No. 2 on the school’s all-time receiving yards list with a productive 2013.
10. Kain Colter, Northwestern
You’re never quite sure where the versatile athlete will line up. Pat Fitzgerald is probably OK with that concept. Colter has showcased his talents at quarterback, running back and wide receiver with the Wildcats. The philosophy out of the coaches’ offices in Evanston should be simple this fall. Get the ball in Colter’s hands. Somehow, someway.