Naming the preseason offensive MVP for each Big Ten offense in 2022
The 2022 college football season can’t arrive soon enough. Alas, it will still get here at the regularly appointed time.
But it’s not too early to look ahead. So we’re getting a jump by naming the preseason MVPs for each Big Ten program.
Yesterday, we covered the defensive MVPs. After all, this is the Big Ten. Defense gets first dibs.
Today, it’s all about the offensive stars.
Illinois: RB Chase Brown
Bret Bielema loves smash-mouth football, and he has the ideal vessel for succeeding in that task.
Brown was 3rd in the B1G in rushing yards per game last year (100.5), and a 3rd team all-Big Ten pick. He had a pair of 200-yard rushing games in that mix, joining Howard Griffith and Rashard Mendenhall as the only Illini to accomplish that feat in a single season. His 223 yards at Penn State were the most ever gained by an opponent at Beaver Stadium — a pretty good feat when that list includes Tony Dorsett, among many others.
If Illinois improves its passing game, Brown will have even bigger holes to break through this year.
Indiana: OL Matthew Bedford
It’s not necessarily a good sign when the offensive MVP is not a skill player. And to some extent, Indiana’s weaknesses at those positions is a factor here. But more if it is Bedford’s amazing versatility. He’s listed as “offensive lineman” because he can play any position up front.
Bedford has started 8 games each at right guard, left tackle and right tackle along with 3 starts at left guard. The only thing he hasn’t been asked to do is play center, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be capable.
Iowa: TE Sam LaPorta
LaPorta is the next tight end off the assembly line for a program that’s churned out George Kittle, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson in recent years.
LaPorta is 37th in Hawkeyes history with 1,118 career receiving yards. By the time this season is over, he may displace Ronnie Harmon for the No. 10 spot on that list. (And frankly, if Iowa’s quarterback situation was better, he’d probably become the 5th Hawkeye with 2,000 career receiving yards.)
Maryland: QB Taulia Tagovailoa
Surely this is the year where Tagovailoa puts together his many glimpses of promise into an all-Big Ten season. He’s already set Maryland’s single-season record for passing yards (3,860) and is the career record-holder for completion percentage (67.6%).
The key to reaching the next level? Limiting interceptions. He leads the B1G with 19 of them over the past 2 seasons. But with a talented receiving corps headed by a healthy Dontay Demus Jr., he’ll have all the tools he needs to break out in 2022.
Michigan: RB Blake Corum
If you believe receiver Ronnie Bell should occupy this spot, you won’t get a very fierce argument from me. It’s certainly a toss-up. But given how Jim Harbaugh likes to lean on the run to set up the pass, I’m going with Corum as Michigan’s offensive MVP.
After sharing carries with Hassan Haskins last year, Corum will have the opportunity to play more of a lead back role this season. The fact he still made 3rd team all-B1G while in a carry-share means big things could be in store.
Michigan State: WR Jayden Reed
Reed gets bonus points for how vital he is to the Spartans on special teams. He averaged 21.6 yards per punt return with a pair of touchdowns on the 11 instances opponents were foolish enough to punt to him last year. (Cough, Nebraska.)
But this is more about what he can do with the ball in his hands as a wideout. Reed was 2nd in the B1G last year with an average of 17.4 yards per catch, and 4th with 10 touchdowns. His connection with quarterback Payton Thorne goes back to high school, and the duo will continue the magic for Michigan State this year.
Minnesota: C John Michael Schmitz
The Gophers actually have a pretty good stable of running backs and wide receivers, so this isn’t meant as an insult to them. Indeed, there’s a chance Mo Ibrahim will be the best back in the entire B1G if he’s healthy again.
But no one is more important than John Michael Schmitz.
Minnesota is losing 4 starting offensive linemen, leaving Schmitz as the lone veteran presence. His leadership will be vital to what the Gophers are capable of accomplishing this season. If the offensive line can minimize the drop-off from last year, Minnesota can win the B1G West. Schmitz is the player capable of making sure that happens.
Nebraska: QB Casey Thompson
Nebraska’s offensive MVP has yet to play a down for the Cornhuskers. There’s precedent for that, though. Last year’s top player was receiver Samori Toure, who played just 1 season in Lincoln after transferring from Montana.
Of course, it’s a lot easier for a receiver to plug right in to an offense than a quarterback. And technically speaking, Thompson hasn’t even been named Nebraska’s starter yet. But he will be.
Thompson had 3 games with at least 5 combined touchdowns at Texas, which was a program record. Pretty remarkable when considering how unstoppable a dual-threat Vince Young was for the Horns.
We don’t know if Scott Frost is going to save his job, but he at least found a quarterback who gives him a chance.
Northwestern: OT Peter Skoronski
Skoronski could potentially be the top offensive tackle in the Big Ten this year, which gives him a shot at becoming a first-round draft pick next spring. The question seems not whether Skoronski will be an all-American, but whether it will be 1st, 2nd or 3rd team.
Ohio State: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
Quarterback CJ Stroud is the more conventional choice here, but my thinking is this: regardless of who plays quarterback for the Buckeyes, Smith-Njigba is capable of making that player look good. And that theoretical backup quarterback is easier to find than a backup Smith-Njigba. (No one knows this better than Ohio State fans, who have watched their 3rd-stringer win a national title.)
With Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave in the NFL, Smith-Njiba is on the verge of an all-time great season for a college wide receiver. His 15-catch, 347-yard performance against Utah in the Rose Bowl is a mere taste of what’s to come in 2022.
Penn State: WR Parker Washington
Washington, the wide receiver, elevates to Penn State’s WR1 now that Jahan Dotson is playing in Washington, District of Columbia.
Washington is only the 2nd player in program history with 100 receptions in his first 2 seasons. And while a lot of that can be attributed to Joe Paterno’s philosophies, it’s still a harbinger of what we’re likely to see this season.
The Nittany Lions have an experienced quarterback in Sean Clifford, and he will make certain Washington stays well-fed.
Purdue: QB Aidan O’Connell
After rotating the starting job with Jack Plummer over the course of 3 seasons, O’Connell finally took firm grasp of the position and never let go in the second half of 2021. Now he’s on the precipice of being Purdue’s best quarterback since Kyle Orton in 2004.
O’Connell threw 16 touchdowns and no interceptions in Purdue’s final 5 regular-season games. Turnovers were an issue at the Music City Bowl, where Tennessee picked him off 3 times. But he more than made up for it, passing for 534 yards and 5 touchdowns in the 48-45 Boilermaker win.
It is unlikely to be his last time over 500 yards in a game.
Rutgers: WR Taj Harris
Harris joins Thompson in making our list as a program newcomer.
Rutgers’ passing offense was downright grotesque in 2021. The Scarlet Knights were 13th in the B1G in passer rating and yards per attempt, and tied for last with 9 touchdown passes.
The arrival of Harris, a Syracuse transfer, will improve the situation. Harris was 3rd team all-ACC in 2020, ranking 6th in the conference in receiving yards per game. Harris entered the transfer portal just 3 weeks into last season as Syracuse transitioned to a more run-oriented offense.
Wisconsin: RB Braelon Allen
What are the odds that Wisconsin’s offensive MVP is 1 of the Big Ten’s best running backs?
As has been the case for most of the 21st century (Russell Wilson season excepted), the Badgers are led by a back. Somehow, Allen might be the best of the entire bunch.
He finished his freshman season ranked 13th nationally in yards per carry (6.8) and yards per game (105.7) even though he didn’t start until Week 5 at Illinois. With a full season as the main guy, he will have chance to join Johnathan Taylor in crossing the 2,000-yard mark for the Badgers.