Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com’s senior Big Ten blogger and someone who has been a good friend to the Hlog, is inadvertently giving this blog some material on an otherwise slow news day.
(By saying it’s a slow news day, I virtually guarantee a monster story will break out just as I’m about to go home for the night.)
Rittenberg wrote Monday that he expects Wisconsin running back Montee Ball to be the Big Ten’s preseason football Offensive Player of the Year. As good as other players in the league are, you can’t dispute that. Ball was a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, with 1,923 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns last season.
Rittenberg picked four other league players and asked “Which Big Ten player is most likely to challenge Wisconsin’s Montee Ball for offensive player of the year honors this fall?”
He cited a couple of slam-dunks in Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (4,931 passing yards and 3,229 rushing yards in three seasons) and Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead (1,357 rushing yards in 2011, 2,657 in his career). A fourth was running back Silas Redd of Penn State (1,241 rushing yards last season).
He wrote this: The fourth choice was tough, and I considered several candidates, including Ohio State QB Braxton Miller, Iowa QB James Vandenberg and Michigan RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Any of them could contend for offensive player of the year honors, as could several others. But I’ve always thought Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell could be a potential superstar in this league. As Michigan State transitions back to a run-heavy offense behind an improved offensive line, Bell will have a chance to shine.
Bell rushed for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns last season on a team that had an excellent passing game and also had a 665-yard rusher in NFL-draft pick Edwin Baker.
I’m guessing Iowa campers would have tossed Vandenberg into those four choices and omitted Bell or Silas. Vandenberg is coming off a junior season in which he threw 25 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions, and threw for 3,022 yards.
But I’m not ripping Rittenberg, because he’s right about Bell possibly becoming a superstar. And Vandenberg has to beat a good team on the road before he can go from solid quarterback to excellent one in many minds. He’ll get his chances, at Michigan State and Michigan.
As Rittenberg duly notes, no preseason Offensive Player of the Year has ended up winning that award since Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006. Iowa running back Shonn Greene wouldn’t have been on anyone’s preseason Top Five list in 2008, but he was the postseason OPOY, the award that matters considerably more. And I don’t know who would have picked Ball to win the 2011 OPOY before last season began.