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January 13, 2010

Big Ten Breakdown: A season of redemption


This turned out to be a season of redemption for the Big Ten.

The much-maligned conference acquitted itself well in the postseason, with the top four teams - Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin - coming away with wins.

John Clay led the Big Ten with 1,517 yards and carried Wisconsin to a 10-win season.

Player of the year: Wisconsin RB John Clay.
The big fellow rumbled for a Big Ten-high 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns in leading the Badgers to 10 wins. His 118.7 yards per game ranked 12th in the nation.

Rivals.com 2009 All-Big Ten Team

The Big Ten paced all conferences with four squads ranked among the top 16 and three teams in the top 10 in the final Associated Press poll.

Want more? The Big Ten had twice as many top-16 teams as any other league, as the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Mountain West and SEC each had two top-16 teams. The SEC was the only other league with multiple teams in the final top 10.

Coach of the year: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. This guy is the best coach in the Big Ten, and he proved it again this season by leading the Hawkeyes to a 9-0 start and within an eyelash of the league title. The trip to the Orange Bowl was the program's sixth New Year's Day trip this decade.

Freshman of the year: Wisconsin LB Chris Borland. He ranked second in the Big Ten and tied for fifth nationally with five forced fumbles. He also notched 51 tackles with 7.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and a pick.

Offensive coordinator of the year: Paul Chryst, Wisconsin. Working with a first-year starting quarterback, Chryst oversaw the No. 1 attack in the Big Ten (416.9 ypg). As usual, a physical ground game that ranked first in the conference (203.9 ypg) led the way.

Defensive coordinator of the year: Norm Parker, Iowa. He didn't have the talent of Ohio State or Penn State, but Parker still had an excellent defense that ranked No. 10 in the nation (276.5 ypg). Parker saved his best work for last, limiting Georgia Tech to one offensive touchdown and just 155 yards in a 24-14 Orange Bowl win.

Biggest surprise: Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien. He wasn't supposed to be the starter, but the junior emerged to become the most efficient passer in the Big Ten. He hit 64 percent of his passes (211-of-328) for 2,705 yards with 16 touchdowns. And he capped his season with a standout effort in a 20-14 Champs Sports Bowl victory over Miami, going 19-of-26 for 260 yards.

Biggest disappointment: Illinois QB Juice Williams. It was all supposed to come together as a senior for Williams, but he flopped and at one point in the season lost his starting job. He finished as the No. 6-rated passer in the Big Ten, and the Fighting Illini finished a disappointing 3-9 and missed a bowl for the second year in a row.

Best postseason performance: Ohio State. The Buckeyes earned back some respect by shutting down Oregon's high-powered offense in the Rose Bowl. QB Terrelle Pryor opened some eyes with his performance.

Worst postseason performance: Minnesota. The Golden Gophers racked up 434 yards against Iowa State but scored just 13 points in a 14-13 loss in the Insight Bowl. The problem - as it was all season - was a soft ground game. Remember: This was an Iowa State defense that ranked 11th in the Big 12 overall and 10th against the rush.

Underclassmen liable to leave early: Illinois WR Arrelious Benn (already declared), Penn State LB Navorro Bowman (already declared), Iowa OT Bryan Bulaga (already declared), Ohio State DE Thaddeus Gibson (already declared), Michigan State LB Greg Jones, Iowa CB Amari Spievey, Michigan CB Donovan Warren (already declared).

Next season's breakout offensive player: Purdue QB Robert Marve. The Miami transfer will be eligible after sitting out this season. His speed and strong arm will make him a dual threat in a Boilermakers program that's on the rise under Danny Hope.

Next season's breakout defensive player: Iowa LB Jeremiha Hunter. He was overshadowed by A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer this season, but still finished second on the team in tackles. Hunter, however, received no postseason accolades. That will change in 2010.

Player most on the spot next season: Pryor. If Ohio State is going to be a legit national title contender, Pryor must step up his game. He was the No. 8-rated passer in the Big Ten, throwing 18 touchdowns and 11 picks. He foundered badly in midseason before coming on strong down the stretch.

Next season's conference champion: Ohio State. Expect the Buckeyes to pick up where they left off in their Rose Bowl win over Oregon. Pryor looks primed to take the next step as a quarterback as the Buckeyes shoot for their sixth Big Ten title in a row.

National title contenders: Ohio State. The Buckeyes probably are the Big Ten's lone legit contender to play for the BCS title next season in Glendale, Ariz. But don't count out Iowa, which returns 70 percent of its starters, and Wisconsin, which should be even stronger on offense next season.


Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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