Naming an offensive MVP for every B1G team
Some of the Big Ten’s best offensive players are just getting started, such as Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud and Wisconsin true freshman running back Braelon Edwards.
Others, such as receivers David Bell of Purdue and Jahan Dotson of Penn State, either have played their final college games or will do so this bowl season before moving on to the NFL.
Some others will leave, while still others will return to provide further thrills in B1G stadiums in years to come. Those decisions will dribble out over the next month or so, but until then, here’s a look back at 2021’s top offensive performers on each of the league’s 14 teams:
Illinois: Chase Brown, RB
Brown racked up 1,005 yards in the 10 games in which he played, making him 1 of only 3 players in the B1G to average 100 yards rushing per outing. After a slow start to the season, he blossomed into the Illini’s key weapon. He topped 100 yards in the final 4 of the team’s 5 wins, going over 200 twice.
The 5-11, 205-pound sophomore carried 33 times for 223 yards and Illinois’ only TD in a 20-18, 9-OT victory at Penn State. In his other monster game, he went for 257 yards — including TD jaunts of 80 and 31 yards — in a 24-14 victory over Charlotte. That was the 4th-best rushing game in Illini history.
Indiana: Peyton Hendershot, TE
Hendershot served as the safety-valve receiver as injuries forced Indiana’s struggling offense to work 4 QBs into the mix in a 2-10 season. The 6-4, 254-pound senior led the team in receiving yards (537) and was the only Hoosier with more than 1 receiving TD (4). With 45 receptions, he finished 1 behind WR Ty Fryfogle for the team lead.
Transfer RB Stephen Carr (600 rushing yards, 93 receiving yards, 7 total TDs) would be the other option for offensive MVP, but he played in only 9 games to Hendershot’s 11 and averaged under 4 yards per carry. Hendershot’s stats would have been even more impressive had he not missed Indiana’s only cakewalk of the season, a 56-14 win over Idaho in Week 2.
Iowa: Tyler Goodson, RB
It had to be one of the Tylers, either center Linderbaum or running back Goodson. Linderbaum ranks as the best offensive player in the B1G according to some NFL scouts, but as just one-fifth of Iowa’s offensive line, he could only do so much. The offense revolved around Goodson.
The 5-10, 200-pound junior posted his first 1,000-yard rushing season, racking up 1,151 yards while playing in all 13 games. He rushed for 88.5 yards per game, while no other Hawkeye averaged even 20. He caught more passes than everyone other than TE Sam LaPorta, reeling in 31 throws for 247 yards. All told, he had the ball on 34 percent of Iowa’s offensive plays and accounted for 36 percent of its yards.
Maryland: Taulia Tagovailoa, QB
Down one of his top targets (Dontay Demus) since Week 5 and working behind a so-so line, Tagovailoa nonetheless set program records for completions (308) and yards (3,595) in a season. Outside of his horrific 5-INT game vs. Iowa, Tagovailoa played at a level comparable to Heisman finalist CJ Stroud of Ohio State. Maryland’s 5-11, 205-pound junior QB connected on 68.4 percent of his throws for 24 TDs and 11 INTs.
After leading Maryland to bowl eligibility with a 40-16 victory over Rutgers, Tagovailoa will get a chance to further pad his record stats against Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Michigan: Hassan Haskins, RB
The thunder just kept getting louder as Michigan’s season wore on, with Haskins saving his best for last in Michigan’s B1G championship run. When backfield mate Blake Corum missed some time down the stretch, Haskins took over. The 6-1, 220-pound senior averaged 125.4 yards and 2 TDs on 24.6 carries in the 5 games following the Wolverines’ loss to Michigan State. He came up huge in UM’s biggest games, carrying 31 times for 156 yards in a narrow win over Penn State and 28 times for 169 yards and 5 TDs in the regular-season finale against Ohio State.
Over this year’s 13 games, Haskins averaged just under 5 yards per carry while racking up 1,288 yards and 20 TDs on the ground. He also caught 16 passes for 116 yards. If not for exiting early in blowout victories and sharing the backfield with the lightning-quick Corum (939 yards, 11 TDs), Haskins easily could have topped 2,000 yards.
Michigan State: Kenneth Walker III, RB
Walker finished second in the nation in rushing yards, and was far and away the best workhorse back from a Power 5 program, averaging 136.3 yards per game on 6.2 per carry while finishing 5th nationally in attempts (263, just under 22 per game). Among the 40 players with at least 192 attempts, no one produced more yards per carry.
The 5-10, 210-pound junior transfer from Wake Forest played the key role (197 yards, 5 TDs) in a 37-33 victory over Michigan that got MSU to 8-0 and No. 5 in the nation. At that point, Walker might have been the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He finished the regular season with 8 100-yard games, including 2 that went well over 200. Walker went 75 yards for a TD on his first carry as a Spartan and finished Game 1 with 264 yards and 4 TDs against Northwestern. He’s been the centerpiece of MSU’s offense ever since.
Minnesota: Daniel Faalele, OT
Despite a middling passing game and the early season loss of star RB Mohamed Ibrahim, the Golden Gophers ground their way to an 8-4 record. With Faalele leading the Big Ten’s biggest and most experienced offensive line, Minnesota rushed for 194 yards per game, behind only Michigan and Wisconsin in the conference.
The 6-9, 380-pound Faalele helped keep the chains moving even as injuries forced Minnesota to delve deep down the depth chart at running back, with 3 Gophers finishing the regular season with between 552 and 680 yards. Faalele made first team All-Big Ten in voting by the league’s coaches. The big Australian has come a long way since first taking up football in 2017 at IMG Academy.
Nebraska: Adrian Martinez, QB
The 4th-year starter at quarterback produced 308 total yards per game (15th in FBS) over 11 starts, averaging 260.3 passing yards and 47.7 rushing yards per outing. He led the team in rushing as well as passing yards, continuing his do-it-all play in his final season with the Huskers.
Alas, he also averaged a turnover per game as Nebraska went 3-9 with all the losses by single digits. As he enters the transfer portal, he and Scott Frost are 14-25 in games Martinez participated in. But the QB gave everything he had, playing through pain and injury before sitting out the season finale. He final game as a Husker was one of his best, as he went 23-of-35 for 351 yards in a 35-28 loss to Wisconsin.
Northwestern: Evan Hull, RB
Hull rushed for 1,009 yards for a team that went 3-9 and never did settle on a starting quarterback. The 5-11, 210-pound sophomore averaged 5.1 yards per carry while playing in all 12 games, and also caught 32 passes for 255 yards.
Hull scored 9 TDs, while no one else on the team had more than 3.
Ohio State: CJ Stroud, QB
In his debut college season, Stroud has thrown for 351.1 yards per game with 38 TDs and only 5 INTs while leading the best offense in the country. He’s 1 of 8 QBs in the nation completing better than 70 percent of his passes, and the only one of those listed as a freshman.
With 3 of the best receivers in college football and a 1,000-yard true freshman back, Stroud has plenty of help. But he’s the man orchestrating the action, and deserved his spot in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
Penn State: Jahan Dotson, WR
With a bowl game remaining, should he chose to play in it, the senior WR already has produced the second-best receiving season in program history, with 1,182 yards and 12 receiving TDs on 91 catches. His 240-yard game vs. Maryland set a PSU record, as did his 12th 100-yard career outing in the season finale. He also ran for a TD and went 2-for-2 as a passer this year.
With great hands, great route-running and improved strength, the 5-11, 184-pound Dotson has made himself into a first-round NFL Draft pick according to multiple experts.
Purdue: David Bell, WR
The 6-2, 205-pound junior has announced he will enter the NFL Draft, and he certainly has proven he’s ready for the next level. This year, he led the B1G in receptions (93) and yards (1,286), posting his best games in Purdue’s 2 upset victories over top 5-ranked teams. He had 11 catches for 240 yards to help end then No. 2 Iowa’s 12-game winning streak, and went 11-217 three weeks later to deal then No. 5 Michigan State its first loss of the season.
Bell has averaged better than 100 receiving yards over 29 career games at Purdue and will leave West Lafayette as the B1G’s receiver of the year. He’s undecided about playing against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl, but either way he’s left quite a mark on the Boilermakers’ program.
Rutgers: Noah Vedral, QB
The Scarlet Knights’ offense isn’t pretty, ranking 12th in the B1G. Under Greg Schiano, the program for now gets by with a tough and scrappy approach, and its 6-1, 200-pound senior quarterback led the way in that regard.
Vedral, in his second season in Piscataway after transferring from UCF, played all 12 games in this 5-7 season, leading the team in passing (1,726 yards, 7 TDs, 6 INTs) and finishing second in rushing (280 yards, 2 TDs). The other offensive MVP candidates would have been senior WR Bo Melton and junior RB Isaih Pacheco, who both finished with about 670 yards from scrimmage.
Wisconsin: Braelon Allen, RB
When injuries and other events thrust Allen into the role of lead running back, the 17-year-old proved more than ready. The 6-2, 238-pound true freshman rescued the Badgers from their 1-3 start by rushing for more than 100 yards in each of their 7 straight victories.
Allen and the Badgers cooled off in a loss to Minnesota to end the regular season, but he still racked up 1,109 yards on 7.1 per carry — with 12 TDs — over the 10 games in which he played. That’s a pretty good start for a guy who won’t turn 18 until after Wisconsin’s date with Arizona State on Dec. 30 in the Las Vegas Bowl.