Point/counterpoint: Who will be the Big Ten's best player in conference games?

BY DI STAFF | SEPTEMBER 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Russell Wilson, Wisconsin quarterback

The best Big Ten player this year will be the offensive leader of the conference's best team.

That team is Wisconsin, and that player is quarterback Russell Wilson.

Wilson has been stellar in the Badgers' nonconference schedule, albeit against some lousy competition. The North Carolina State transfer has thrown for 11 touchdown passes with only one interception. Wilson has also recorded an off-the-charts 218.4 QB rating in Wisconsin's four games.

The Richmond, Va., native instantly improved a Wisconsin team that was without a stable signal caller in spring practice, and the Badgers have steamrollered into Saturday's showdown with Nebraska as a result. The game, played in prime time with ESPN's "College GameDay" on campus, will be the first display of Wilson in Cardinal and White on a national stage.

Wilson's numbers could also approach Big Ten records if he is able to continue his red-hot start. The Wisconsin QB has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in each of his first four games as a Badger; if he continues connecting with his receivers at that rate, he could threaten Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa's conference-record 73.5 completion percentage set last year.

Additionally, Wilson's competition for the Player of the Year honor all have major flaws. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson hasn't shown he can stay healthy for an entire season, and Montee Ball has to share carries for the Badgers.

Wilson is the best candidate for Big Ten player of the year, and he will be the one standing with the hardware at the end of the season.

— by Ryan Murphy

Montee Ball, Wisconsin running back

Tailback Montee Ball has gone above and beyond to establish himself as the MVP for not just his Badgers but for all the Legends and Leaders in the Big Ten.

Ball has nine rushing touchdowns in just four games, the third-most of all Division-I running backs. The junior is also averaging 5.7 yards per rush and 20 yards per catch through Wisconsin's nonconference season.

Granted, Ball does have a little help carrying the rushing load; true sophomore James White has more than 300 rushing yards and three touchdowns. However, the Wisconsin offense is based on Ball doing all the heavy lifting in the early quarters, while the speedy White can tear up whatever is left of a weary defense.

It's also tough to make the argument against the Badgers' play-caller, Wilson. The quarterback has excellent stats in his first year for the Badgers, and he is not only a contender for the Big Ten MVP, but possibly the Heisman Trophy as well. But Wilson's jaw-dropping numbers are almost certainly helped by throwing against defenses that are terrified of facing whichever Badger emerges from the backfield on the ground.

Last season, Ball rushed for 996 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's on pace to eclipse those numbers and make himself not just the premier running back in the Big Ten but the most valuable player in the one of the premier football conferences in the country.

— by Ben Ross

Denard Robinson, Michigan quarterback

Big Ten play hasn't even started yet, and Denard Robinson is playing as if he wants the conference championship. He has shown he's more than capable of stepping up in big games to get big wins, and that mentality makes him a worthy Big Ten Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

Robinson has been named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week twice in Michigan's four games, including after the Wolverines' historic comeback victory over Notre Dame on Sept. 10.

The Wolverines trailed the Fighting Irish, 24-7, at the end of the third quarter, but Robinson led Michigan to a 28-point comeback to win the game 35-31, with Robinson throwing a touchdown pass in the final seconds.

What's most impressive is that he rushed for 29 yards and passed for 202 in the fourth quarter alone and kept his mental control in the waning seconds despite fumbling and being intercepted in the period.

Robinson exerts an important leadership quality — call it a standard of excellence — that is crucial for the Wolverines.

Robinson is hot right now (especially when he's running), and it's doubtful that he's going to slow down once Big Ten play starts this week. He's leading the conference in rushing yards this season, with 552 in four games, and he just moved into the second spot on the league's career quarterback rushing list, with 2,605 yards.

Big Ten football will always be competitive, and plenty of quarterbacks will have similar offensive statistics every year. What differentiates Robinson is his ability to come through with fantastic plays when it really matters. The way he's played in pressure situations so far, he'll probably step it up and perform even better in conference games.

— by Molly Irene Olmstead

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