Published Tuesday, November 26, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 1:04 pm
Barfknecht: Big Ten image problem dims shine of its stars

The Big Ten's overall sluggish performance this season and its diminished national reputation over the past few years appear to have seeped into voting for 2013 college football awards.

Frankly, some stars in this conference are getting dissed. Here are four cases:

» Ray Guy Award (top punter): The list of three finalists didn't include Michigan State's Mike Sadler, who should be a first-team All-American without argument.

The junior leads the nation in punts downed inside the 10-yard line (15) and is second in punts inside the 20 (27). He also has 11 punts of longer than 50 yards.

The impact Sadler has had on games, in only 59 punts, has been astounding.

“We believe the punt is the most important play in football,” MSU coach Mark Dantonio said, “because of the number of yards you can pick up in one single play. He's been irreplaceable, is how I would describe him.

“We're disappointed for Mike, but we've never been about awards here.”

Get the latest Big Ten headlines from The World-Herald and from beat writers around the nation.

» Butkus Award (top linebacker): Five finalists were named. Wisconsin's Chris Borland, the favorite for Big Ten defensive player of the year, didn't make it. Ohio State's Ryan Shazier deservedly did, but Borland was left out.

“It's surprising, to say the least,” Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. “I'm sure there's some great players on that list. But in my opinion, the best linebacker in the country isn't.”

Andersen might be more ticked about it than Borland, who would be my co-favorite with UCLA's Anthony Barr.

“When I talked to Chris about it,” Andersen said, “he looked at me and said, 'That's OK, Coach. We'll just go out and win.' That sums it up for what that kid is all about.”

» Doak Walker Award (top running back): Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah was one of 10 semifinalists, but didn't make the final cut to three.

I'm not saying Abdullah should win the award. Voters saw his touchdown total of seven and probably looked elsewhere. But with the load he has carried for the Huskers statistically (1,483 yards, 6.4 per carry) and emotionally (guts, leadership, playing hurt), he should have been a finalist.

“I wouldn't trade Ameer Abdullah for anybody in the country,” NU coach Bo Pelini said Tuesday.

» Outland Trophy (top interior lineman): Ohio State has its best offensive line in years. The linchpin is senior tackle Jack Mewhort.

But despite Mewhort leading a unit that is third nationally in scoring (48.7), fifth in rushing (314.7) and seventh in total offense (530.9), he didn't even make the list of six semifinalists.

“He's one of my all-time favorite players,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “He's playing at an extremely high level, but that's just part of it. It's the leadership value he brings.

“He has incredible respect, and I'm talking about from the strength staff, the coaching staff and players. And it's not all business. He's a locker-room guy, too. He's an energy giver.”

The biggest award — the Heisman Trophy — won't go to a Big Ten player. But one deserves a trip to New York as a finalist.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, despite missing two full games and most of a third with a knee injury, has helped stretch the Buckeyes' victory streak to 23 games. His statistics aren't mind-blowing, but he was at his best in what were OSU's two biggest wins at the time (Wisconsin, at Northwestern).

Miller finished fifth in the voting last season, when only three finalists were invited to the ceremony.

After the scramble in the Heisman candidate mix lately, especially with Oregon's Marcus Mariota and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel likely dropping, Miller should be in the hunt with Florida State's Jameis Winston and Alabama's A.J. McCarron.

But with the way the Big Ten is viewed, don't hold your breath.

Players of the week

Offense: Illinois wide receiver Steve Hull. The senior from Cincinnati caught a career-high 10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Purdue.

Defense: Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier. The junior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., had 16 solo tackles and 20 overall in a win over Indiana.

Special teams: Nebraska place-kicker Pat Smith. The senior from Quincy, Ill., kicked a game-winning 42-yard field goal in an overtime decision against Penn State.

Co-freshman: Indiana defensive tackle Ralphael Green III and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Green, from San Antonio, had a sack, a forced fumble and two tackles for loss in a loss to Ohio State. Hackenberg, from Palmyra, Va., threw for 217 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in a loss to Nebraska.

Quote of the week

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, when asked if he'll root for Michigan State this week to try to make the Big Ten title game against the Spartans as attractive as possible:

“I couldn't even tell you who they are playing.”

Stat of the week

In six home games, Wisconsin has allowed three touchdowns, tying Alabama for the fewest. Overall, seven of 11 UW opponents have posted a season scoring low.

Bits and pieces

» Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, knocked out of last week's Michigan State game by an illegal hit, has missed the first two days of practice this week. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said Tuesday the decision on whether Colter gets to play on Senior Day rests with the doctors.

» Ohio State linebacker Curtis Grant and cornerback Doran Grant, starters who missed time last week with injuries, are expected back for Saturday's game at Michigan.

» Wisconsin (9-2) is playing for its fourth 10-win season in the past five years.

Contact the writer: Lee Barfknecht    |   402-444-1024    |  

Lee Barfknecht has won nine national writing awards from four separate organizations, and is a 12-time winner of the Nebraska sportswriter of the year award. He covers Big Ten football and basketball, Nebraska basketball and other college financial issues for The World-Herald.

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