Assuming the games go off this weekend without a hitch (as if), the Big Ten will be more than halfway through the strangest of college football seasons.
Seems like as good a time as any to think ahead to possible Big Ten award winners. Yours truly votes for a lot of the honors, including Heisman, All-American, All-Big Ten and a handful of position and coaching awards. Many will have Big Ten contenders.
Please don’t clip and save. I’d hate to look (more) foolish in late December.
So here goes nothing (note there are nine categories, matching the number of games Big Ten schools are scheduled to play in this COVID-19 pandemic-abbreviated season.
➜ Best Heisman bet: Justin Fields, Ohio State quarterback. Up until a few weeks ago, the Georgia transfer was considered to be trailing Clemson quarterback and presumptive 2021 NFL top-draft pick Trevor Lawrence. But Lawrence missed two games because of COVID-19, including a loss to Notre Dame. Lawrence is certainly still in the hunt, but Fields has moved ahead in the opinion of many national observers. I’m one of them. Lots of football left to play but the award is Fields to lose.
➜ Big Ten MVP: Fields. His only problem has been COVID-19 cases for other teams. Maryland couldn’t play last week, costing Fields a chance to rack up big numbers. As it is, he has been almost perfect in three games, with an obscene passing efficiency rating of 222.4. He has completed 87 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns and no picks. What, don’t they play defense in the Big Ten anymore? A lot can still happen this season and Fields’ numbers could slip some, but not enough to move him from the top spot.
➜ Defender of the Year: Jaylin Williams, Indiana defensive back. Yes, lots of love for the Hoosiers, who lead the Big Ten with 10 picks ... so far. Williams has three of them, and a stack of other big plays before Saturday’s game at No. 3 Ohio State.
➜ Special Teams Star: Charles Campbell, Indiana kicker. At 5-foot-9, he is unlikely to help the Indiana basketball team. But he is the BMOC after hitting his first seven field-goal tries of the season. He missed No. 8, but the Hoosiers were way ahead. He is a part of the reason Indiana is in the Top 10.
➜ Opt-out missed the most: Micah Parsons, Penn State linebacker. Hard to blame the expected Butkus winner for thinking about his future. He will be an early pick in the NFL draft. How many games would the Nittany Lions have won with him on the field? More than zero.
➜ Coach of the Year: Tom Allen, Indiana. If before the season, you had the Hoosiers starting 4-0, please go buy a Mega Millions ticket. And enjoy retirement on a tropical island. The Hoosiers were improved in 2019, but not this much. They have already ended a forever slump against Michigan and are eying another one this weekend against Ohio State. Beat the Buckeyes and ... wait for it ... we are going to be talking about the Hoosiers as a CFP contender. Seriously.
➜ Comeback Coach of the Year: Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern. You didn’t really think Fitz would allow 3-9 to happen again, did you? He made a tough choice and fired offensive coordinator Mick McCall. New guru Mike Bajakian came from Boston College and is having a positive impact.
➜ Newcomer of the Year: Taulia Tagovailoa, Maryland quarterback. If he had stayed at Alabama, Tua’s brother might be sitting on the bench. With the Terrapins, he is one of the Big Ten’s leading passers and has helped the team in two big wins.
➜ Comeback Player of the Year: Mike Epstein, Illinois tailback. After missing all but the opener in 2019 with a torn ACL, the Florida native has provided a steady presence in the Illini backfield. And he has found his way back into the end zone with three rushing touchdowns. It’s one of the feel-good stories of the early season.