Hit or Miss: Midseason review of the Big Ten

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It’s near the midpoint of the college football season so it’s time to review what I got right and wrong in my pre-season predictions as well as name some standouts and disappointments. Here’s the Big Ten.

… I picked Aidan Hutchinson before the season to be the top defender in the conference, and I feel even better about that pick now than I did then.

… I had Maryland DB Tarheeb Still as one of my sleepers in the conference and I’ve been impressed with his play.

… I had Mel Tucker from Michigan State on my rising stars list for coaches in the conference. I didn’t think he’d do this well this early but felt he was a good hire.

… I had the Iowa offensive line as one of my top position groups and they’ve been playing well. OK, it should have been their defensive backs but cut me some slack.

Jahan Dotson was in my top five for conference MVP and I’m proud of that with so many focusing on other wide receivers in the conference.

… I picked C.J. Stroud to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year on the logic that whoever was playing quarterback for Ohio State usually wins this award. And while he’s come on strong recently, he’s still not quite on the level that Michigan State RB Kenneth Walker has been this year. But frankly, I’m not sure if there was a single person in the world who could have predicted what’s been happening in East Lansing, especially how good Walker has looked.

… I had Michigan State at 5-7 and out of the bowl mix. They’ve already won more games than that.

… I had Indiana going 9-3 this season and challenging Penn State and others at the top. Ooops.

… I had Northwestern at 8-4 and Wisconsin at 11-1. Yeesh.

… I had Marvin Harrison Jr. as my No. 1 freshman breakout but I had the right team and wrong player. Running back TreVeyon Henderson should have been the pick.

Offensive Player and Transfer of the Year: RB Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State – The former Wake Forest RB is the nation’s leader in rushing yards (913) and it isn’t particularly close – he has 122 more yards than the player in second, and he’s one of the main reasons that the Spartans are 6-0. He takes home both mid season awards as he’s the best player in the conference and easily the biggest impact from the transfer portal. He’s also PFF’s No.1 graded offensive player in the conference, and is firmly entrenched in the Heisman race at this point.

Defense Player of the Year: DE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan – PFF’s top-rated defender in the conference, Hutchinson has anchored a Michigan defense that is a top-10 statistical unit in the country. Hutchinson leads the conference in sacks with 5.5, and is definitely going to be in line for some postseason hardware.

Offensive Freshman of the Year: RB TreVeyon Henderson, Ohio State – He’s been one of the most explosive players in the country, and is 10th in the nation in yards from scrimmage. He has 766 total yards and 11 touchdowns, which is good for third in the country. A great start to his career in Columbus.

Defensive Freshman of the Year: CB Denzel Burke, Ohio State – Burke has stepped in and been arguably the best cornerback on the Buckeyes this season, and has seemingly improved in every game. He got his first career interception against Rutgers in Week 5, and has allowed only a completion rate of 42 percent against him.

Coach of the Year: Mel Tucker, Michigan State – Tucker at this point should be called the transfer whisperer, as he has gotten the most out of the massive amount of new players on his roster, most notably Kenneth Walker III. The Spartans are 6-0 and ranked in the top 10, going 3-0 in conference and having a solid non-conference win over Miami.

Biggest Surprise: Michigan State – As listed above, they completely outperformed expectations, and are firmly in the mix in the Big Ten East. You’ve got to hand it to Mel Tucker and his staff, as they’ve done an exceptional job of acclimating all of the transfers and having them ready from day one.

Biggest Disappointment: Wisconsin – A preseason top 15 team and darkhorse playoff contender, the Badgers have fallen flat, losing three of their first four games. The defense has been outstanding, ranking second in total defense and first in rushing defense in the nation, but their offense is poor and they’re turning the ball over a ton while making a lot of mistakes on special teams. They’ve also now dismissed half of their running back room since the beginning of the season, portending something bigger going on under the surface.

Coach on the Hottest Seat: Scott Frost, Nebraska – Pretty easy choice here. Nebraska lost to Illinois to start the year and now sits at 3-4 with games coming up against top-10 teams Ohio State and Iowa on the schedule. He’ll be lucky to get them to .500 and there are still a lot of people looking to move on from him in Lincoln.

Draft Stock Up: WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State — I don’t have him as WR1 in the NFL Draft as some do but he’s rising up there. He’s sneaky strong and that speed of his has the NFL scouts in love.

Draft Stock Down: WR Ty Fryfogle, Indiana — He’s coming off a 10-catch performance and much of his struggles have come because of poor quarterback play but he’s slid in the Big Ten and nationally on draft boards.

Unsung Hero: DB Matt Hankins, IowaRiley Moss gets a lot of the attention and for good reason but Hankins has been one of the best corners in the country in efficiency and consistency. Iowa is not where they are without him.

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