Power ranking the top 10 players in the Big Ten after Championship Week
There were weeks during this season when scraping together a top 10 list of players felt like a chore.
How worthy were the seemingly good players on epically bad teams? How much stock should one put in a star player such as Justin Fields posting video game statistics against said awful opponents? Did 4 WRs belong in the top 10 but only 1 QB? What to do about season-ending injuries or long lapses in play due to COVID issues? Were Rutgers’ defensive stats padded by the vagaries of official scoring?
But suddenly, after Championship Week in the B1G — even though only 4 games were played — this top 10 seems tightly packed.
I had to find a spot for Trey Sermon after his 331-yard rushing effort rescued Ohio State. I hated to keep Penn State’s Jahan Dotson at honorable mention after his career day moved him to the top of the B1G in receiving yards. And Rutgers’ Christian Izien might have cracked the top 10 for a one-week stay if his 4-takeaway day (2 picks, 2 FRs) vs. Nebraska had happened in midseason.
Now that it’s (almost) all said and done, the Big Ten player pool appears as deep as it has been all year.
Here’s how our top 10 shakes out after Championship Week in the B1G:
Honorable mention: Chris Bergin, LB, Northwestern; Wyatt Davis, OL, Ohio State; Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State; Olakunle Fatukasi, LB, Rutgers; Paddy Fisher, LB, Northwestern; Blake Gallagher, LB, Northwestern; Tyler Goodson, RB, Iowa; Christian Izien, DB, Rutgers; Micah McFadden, LB, Indiana; Rondale Moore, WR, Purdue; Josh Myers, C, Ohio State; Wan’Dale Robinson, WR, Nebraska; Antjuan Simmons, LB, Michigan State.
10. Ty Fryfogle, WR, Indiana
The 6-2, 214-pound senior ranks 1st in the B1G at 20.2 yards per catch and 5th in yards per game (98.1). He remains the only receiver in the B1G with a 200-yard receiving game this season, and he had two of them — in a row.
His best game this season (7 catches, 218 yards, 3 TDs) helped QB Michael Penix Jr. and the Hoosiers scare the crap out of Ohio State with a rally that came up just short in Week 5.
With the Old Oaken Bucket game called off 2 weeks in a row, Fryfogle and the Hoosiers will be well rested heading into their meeting with Ole Miss in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 2. Fryfogle will be itching to get back in the mix after snaring only 3 passes for 45 yards from backup QB Jack Tuttle in the past 2 games. Tuttle will start again for the injured Penix against the Rebels.
9. Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
The 6-0, 193-pound sophomore didn’t step up in the absence of tag-team partner Chris Olave, managing only 4 catches for a season-low 49 yards in the B1G title game.
That’s two relative duds in a row for Wilson, who topped 100 yards receiving in each of OSU’s first 4 games. He’ll have to pick it up if the Buckeyes are to have a chance against Clemson in their CFP semifinal on New Year’s Day.
8. Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
A redshirt sophomore, Linderbaum has started at center every game for Iowa over the past 2 seasons, getting better and better as he goes along. In recent weeks, Pro Football Focus has rated the nimble 6-3, 289-pounder the best center in the FBS and a potential first-round NFL selection. He is PFF’s highest-graded pass blocker, regardless of position.
This week, he was named the AP’s first-team all-Big Ten center and one of three finalists for the Rimington Award. He’s up against Ohio State’s Josh Myers and Alabama’s Landon Dickerson for recognition as the top center in the college game.
He and his line mates — left tackle Alaric Jackson in particular — make Iowa’s ball-control offense go, a major reason the Hawkeyes are on a 6-game winning streak heading into their Music City Bowl matchup with Missouri on Dec. 30.
7. David Bell, WR, Purdue
The 6-2, 205-pound sophomore still leads the B1G in receptions (53) even though the Boilermakers haven’t played the past 3 weekends. He leads the conference by a wide margin in receptions per game (8.8) and ranks second in yards per game (104.2).
Bell — an AP first-team all-Big Ten selection this year after being Freshman of the Year in the B1G in 2019 (86-1,035, 7 TDs) — is a perfect fit for Jeff Brohm’s pass-happy offense and should return for at least one more season in West Lafayette.
6. Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
Olave posted season highs with 10 catches for 139 yards, including a 41-yard TD reception, the last time he played, 2-plus weeks ago vs. Michigan State.
He was sorely missed Saturday, as QB Justin Fields and fellow WR Garrett Wilson struggled — and had to be bailed out by the running game — in OSU’s 22-10 victory over Northwestern for the B1G title.
The 6-1, 188-pound junior leads the B1G at 105.6 receiving yards per game, and Buckeyes fans should be crossing their fingers that he can return from COVID in time for the national semifinal vs. Clemson.
5. Trey Sermon, RB, Ohio State
Wow! Raise your hand if you saw that coming. Sermon, the redshirt senior transfer from Oklahoma, saved the B1G Championship day for Ohio State, going off for a program-record 331 yards on 29 carries against Northwestern.
Since emerging from the transfer portal, the 6-1, 215-pound Sermon had shared the running duties with Master Teague before taking over in Saturday’s 22-10 victory.
He displayed vision, balance, agility and an absolute determination to stay on his feet until the not-at-all-bitter end on Saturday.
With his record day following a 112-yard effort in OSU’s regular-season finale, Sermon jumped to 3rd in the B1G at 112.5 rushing yards per game.
4. Brandon Joseph, DB, Northwestern
Northwestern has three outstanding senior linebackers who are the team’s top three tacklers. But Joseph, a 6-1, 192-pound redshirt freshman, is the guy who makes the Wildcats’ defense truly special.
With an amazing one-hand snare in the end zone, he stopped a would-be go-ahead Ohio State score and notched his nation-leading 6th interception of the year. He also made 5 tackles in Saturday’s B1G title game loss, keeping his average above 6 per game — 4th best on the team. OSU quarterback Justin Fields and receiver Garrett Wilson both had their worst games of the season against Joseph and the Wildcats.
Based on the numbers and the eye test, it’s hard to argue that he’s not the best defensive back in the Big Ten. The AP made him a first-team all-Big Ten selection at safety. He’ll be stalking Auburn QB Bo Nix’s throws in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.
3. Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State
Good thing for OSU, the program is so loaded with talent that it can overcome a bad day from its superstar quarterback.
And make no mistake, Fields stunk it up Saturday, going 12-of-27 for 114 yards with no TDs and 2 INTs. Unlike against Indiana, when he produced monster stats to mitigate 3 INTs, Fields didn’t do much to help the Buckeyes beat Northwestern outside of securely handing off to Trey Sermon.
Fields remains far and away the best quarterback in the B1G and an almost-certain first-round NFL pick. And he still has his shot at a national championship. But there will be no Heisman, and no national record for completion percentage (he’s now 4th in the country at 72.6).
This season’s true tests are just starting for the 6-3, 228-pound junior, starting with OSU’s national semifinal rematch with Clemson on New Year’s Day. He’ll look to avenge his only loss in 20 starts as a Buckeye, and he’ll need a better effort than he produced against the Wildcats.
2. Daviyon Nixon, DT, Iowa
Nixon produced stats this season that aren’t possible for most interior defensive linemen, and he also produced arguably the most entertaining, amazing interception return TD of the year.
Here it is, one more time, the 6-3, 305-pound Nixon going 71 yards to the house against Penn State:
You can see this guy playing tight end, or even power forward, right?
He’s one of three finalist for the Outland Trophy, which goes to the best interior lineman in college football. The other two both play offensive tackle, Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg and Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood.
Nixon leads the B1G in tackles for loss (13.5) and shares the lead in sacks (5.5) with teammate Chauncey Golston. He’s a major reason the Hawkeyes carry a 6-game winning streak into the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30.
1. Mohamed Ibrahim, RB, Minnesota
Going up against the best run defense in the B1G to wrap up the season, Ibrahim proved his toughness and endurance one more time with 151 yards on 26 carries against Wisconsin.
With the effort, he topped 1,000 rushing yards for the 2nd time in 3 seasons, this time doing it in only 7 games. That works out to 153.7 yards per game, 3rd best in the country.
The Big Ten’s Running Back of the Year, Ibrahim carried the load every game for the Golden Gophers (3-4), who otherwise sputtered on offense and often played severely shorthanded because of COVID issues and injuries.
He topped 100 yards in every game and went over 200 twice while averaging a nation-leading 28.7 carries per game. With 15 rushing TDs, he’s one of three backs in the country averaging better than 2 rushing scores per game.