Hickey: 2023 Saturday Tradition Big Ten midseason awards
The 2023 Big Ten season is, in essence, already at its halfway point. And to think, it still feels like we were in Indianapolis for Media Days last month.
Since we are at that magical marker, we are hereby obligated to present you with the 2023 Saturday Tradition Big Ten midseason awards.
We know, there’s a lot of football left. None of the most important games on this year’s Big Ten schedule have even been played yet.
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But when most pro sports pause midseason for an All-Star game, why shouldn’t we apply the same principles to college football?
Much will likely change by November. Schedules toughen. Injuries happen. New stars emerge down the stretch.
But with the B1G’s actual postseason awards as our guideline, these are our award leaders in the midseason clubhouse.
Quarterback of the Midseason: JJ McCarthy, Michigan
You’d be hard-pressed to top Penn State’s Drew Allar, who has yet to throw an interception this year. McCarthy has done so.
McCarthy is completing 77.6% of his throws, which leads the B1G and rates 3rd in the country. No other Big Ten quarterback has a completion percentage above 66%.
And it’s not like he’s dinking-and-dunking his way down the field. McCarthy leads the B1G with 10.4 yards per attempt and has 21 completions of at least 20 yards.
He’s also a threat on the ground, averaging 6.7 yards per carry with 3 touchdowns on 20 rushing attempts.
Running Back of the Midseason: Blake Corum, Michigan
The Wolverines have done a good job keeping Corum fresh in their light early-season schedule. He’s only averaging 13.8 carries per game.
Even with the considerable tread Michigan is saving on his tires, Corum leads the B1G with 10 rushing touchdowns — 3 more than Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen. Corum is also 2nd in the Big Ten in rushing yards.
Receiver of the Midseason: Marvin Harrison Jr., Ohio State
Remember when Indiana shut Harrison down in the season opener?
The Hoosiers held him to 2 catches for 18 yards, which may well go down as 1 of the great defensive performances of all-time, albeit in a losing cause.
Even with that on his ledger, Marvelous Marvin is already leading the B1G with 99.8 receiving yards per game — 16 yards a game more than 2nd-place Isaiah Williams of Illinois.
Michigan’s Roman Wilson would join Harrison as a 1st-team all-B1G selection at the position with his 8 touchdowns, but Harrison’s generational talent can’t be contained.
Tight End of the Midseason: Cade Stover, Ohio State
Given the injury to teammates Luke Lachey and Cade McNamara, Iowa’s Erick All seems likely to take this mantle by the end of the season. He’s the only target the Hawkeyes can throw to.
But for the first half of the season, Stover is the man. He’s leading all Big Ten tight ends with 61.2 receiving yards per game — 15 ypg clear of All, his nearest pursuer.
Offensive Lineman of the Midseason: Zak Zinter, Michigan
Call it a lifetime achievement award.
Zinter has been all-B1G back-to-back seasons, and he is the face of a Michigan offensive line that is again dominating all comers.
Of course, none of those comers has been a match for Michigan’s offensive front. We’ll learn a lot more about whether the Wolverines again have the nation’s top offensive line in the second half of the season.
Defensive Lineman of the Midseason: Joe Evans, Iowa
Who needs Lukas Van Ness?
This Iowa defensive end has 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 7 quarterback hurries and a pass breakup in the first half of 2023.
There’s a ton of defensive line talent in the Big Ten that’s poised to make this the most hotly contested postseason award in the conference. Illinois’ Keith Randolph Jr. and Jer’Zhan Newton, Ohio State’s JT Tuimoloau and Michael Hall Jr., Penn State’s Adisa Isaac, Chop Robinson and Zane Durant, Michigan’s Kris Jenkins, Mason Graham and Josaiah Stewart — any of them could win it.
But to this point, no one has outperformed Evans.
Linebacker of the Midseason: Jay Higgins, Iowa
Who needs Jack Campbell?
Higgins is the latest Hawkeye linebacker stuck filling the shoes of his talented predecessor and promptly tackling everyone in sight.
Higgins has 74 tackles — 19 more than any other Big Ten player — nearly doubling his total from last season. He also has an interception, 3 pass breakups, a forced fumble and a QB hurry.
Defensive Back of the Midseason: Ricardo Hallman, Wisconsin
Hallman has been everywhere the ball is this season, leading the conference and tying for the national lead with 4 interceptions.
And it’s not like Hallman is feeding on weaklings. Most of his INTs are against Big Ten opponents — 2 against Purdue, and another against Rutgers than he turned into a 95-yard touchdown.
This is another position with a wealth of talent in the B1G — Iowa’s Cooper DeJean, Ohio State’s Denzel Burke, Minnesota’s Tyler Nubin, Michigan’s Mike Sainristil and more. But Hallman is playing at another level right now.
Punter of the Midseason: Tory Taylor, Iowa
Who else could it be?
Even though his leg should have fallen off after 36 punts in 6 games, Taylor leads the Big Ten with an average of 48 yards per punt with a 45.1-yards per punt net.
Taylor was the odd man out in last year’s vaunted B1G punting wars between Michigan State’s Bryce Baringer and Rutgers’ Adam Korsak, but he’s the undisputed league leader this season.
Kicker of the Midseason: Dragan Kesich, Minnesota
Kesich was as cool as a cucumber when he hit the game-winning field goal as time expired to beat Nebraska in the season opener, and he’s been that way since.
Kesich has made 10 of 11 field goals, including a 54-yarder. His lone miss was a 54-yard attempt in the first half of the season opener.
Dragan is kicking fire.
Return Specialist of the Midseason: Cooper DeJean, Iowa
DeJean, who will also be in the mix for Defensive Back of the Year when it’s all said and done, is Iowa’s best return man since Tim Dwight.
DeJean has doubled the competition with 4 punt returns of 20 yards or more, including a 70-yard touchdown to clinch Iowa’s 26-16 win over Michigan State.
Freshman of the Midseason: Darius Taylor, Minnesota
Despite missing the past 2 games with an injury, Taylor remains the Big Ten’s rushing leader with 532 yards. That’s an average of 133 ypg. Considering who he is replacing — Gophers legend Mohamed Ibrahim — it’s an impressive feat.
Minnesota definitely needs Taylor back in the lineup as soon as possible.
Offensive Player of the Midseason: JJ McCarthy, Michigan
McCarthy is certainly catchable — especially with the number of balls Marvin Harrison Jr. is catching. And Blake Corum could take off once Michigan starts feeding him more down the stretch.
But as things currently stand, McCarthy is on a pace to become the first Michigan quarterback to win Big Ten offensive player of the year since Denard Robinson in 2010.
Defensive Player of the Midseason: Jay Higgins, Iowa
The defensive player of the year race will be far more wide-open than the offensive race. There could be up to a dozen still-viable candidates in the mix.
But at midseason, Higgins is poised to be the first Iowa linebacker to win Big Ten defensive player of the year since… last season.
Coach of the Midseason: James Franklin, Penn State
We knew the Nittany Lions had the talent to potentially challenge Michigan and Ohio State for the Big Ten title this year. But would Franklin be able to coach that largely youthful group to the point where Penn State could reach the College Football Playoff a year ahead of schedule?
Thus far, Penn State looks up to the task. And that’s on a coach who has the Nittany Lions well-prepared.