This Week in the Big Ten

Nebraska's Rex Burkhead was one of seven Big Ten football players to earn Academic All-America honors this past week.

Dec. 11, 2011

[ONE // december madness?  hoosiers upset top-ranked kentucky]
In a sold-out Assembly Hall Saturday, the Indiana Hoosiers shook up the college basketball world by upsetting top-ranked Kentucky, 73-72, in dramatic fashion. Down 72-70, junior Christian Watford nailed a 3-pointer as time expired to give the Hoosiers their first win over a No. 1 team since beating Duke in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.  The victory also marked IU’s first over a top-ranked team in Assembly Hall since Jan. 7, 2001 when Kirk Haston hit a 3-point buzzer-beater to knock off No. 1 Michigan State, 59-58.  The Big Ten closed the week 14-5 in men’s basketball and 15-8 on the women’s side.

[TWO // continuing to have a ball]
Already recognized as the Big Ten’s top running back and the league’s top offensive player, Wisconsin’s Montee Ball status as the best player in the Big Ten was made official this past week.  On Friday, Ball was named winner of the 2011 Chicago Tribune Silver Football, which has been bestowed upon the Big Ten’s best player since 1924. To do so, Ball beat out his own teammate, senior quarterback Russell Wilson, who finished second in the voting of league coaches.  Michigan State senior quarterback Kirk Cousins was the other finalist.  Ball was named on the ballots of all 11 eligible coaches -- excluding UW’s Bret Bielema, as coaches cannot vote for their own players -- and received four first-place place votes and seven second-place nods.  On Saturday, Ball represented the Badgers and the Big Ten in New York City as he finished fourth in voting for the college football’s most prestigious award – the Heisman Trophy.  Ball garnered 22 first-place votes and 348 points overall.

[THREE // pair of football standouts named national award winners]
A pair of Big Ten football standouts were honored this past week as the top college player at his respective position.  Michigan's David Molk was named the winner of the Rimington Trophy, honoring the nation's outstanding center, while Illinois junior Whitney Mercilus was named the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year.  Molk and the offensive line helped pave the way for two 1,000-yard rushers, the first time since 1975 Michigan has had two players eclipse 1,000 rushing yards.  He is the second Wolverine to earn the Rimington Trophy after David Baas was honored in 2004. Six players from current Big Ten schools have now claimed the Rimington Trophy - Nebraska's Dominic Raiola in 2000, Ohio State's LeCharles Bentley in 2001, Baas in 2004, Minnesota's Greg Eslinger in 2005, Penn State's A.Q. Shipley in 2008 and Molk.  The Ted Hendricks Foundation announced Mercilus was the 2011 recipient of the Ted Hendricks Defensive End of the Year Award, after leading the nation in sacks, sacks per game and forced fumbles while ranking sixth nationally in tackles for loss per game. He becomes Illinois' first major national award winner since Dana Howard (1994) and Kevin Hardy (1995) won the Butkus Award in back-to-back years. Mercilus is also the second Big Ten standout to win the Hendricks Award since it was first awarded in 2002, joining 2006 honoree LaMarr Woodley of Michigan. Mercilus garnered over 50 percent of the vote from current and former college coaches, former players, media members and pro football personnel professionals. On-field performance, leadership abilities and contributions to school and community are some of the criteria used to determine the award winner.

[FOUR // all-american boys]
A total of 17 All-America honors were handed out by three organizations to Big Ten football players this past week. Six student-athletes were named to the 2011 American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) All-America teams, including three each on offense and defense. The Big Ten and SEC were the only conferences with six or more All-Americans named to the AFCA team. On offense, three Wisconsin players earned AFCA honors - running back Montee Ball, center Peter Konz and offensive lineman Kevin Zeitler. The three Big Ten standouts on the AFCA All-America team defense were defensive linemen Whitney Mercilus of Illinois and Jerel Worthy of Michigan State and linebacker Lavonte David of Nebraska. Seven Big Ten stars were named to the 2011 Walter Camp All-America teams, including four first-team honorees from four different schools. The Big Ten's first-team Walter Camp All-Americans are Michigan center David Molk and three of the four defensive linemen - Illinois' Mercilus, Michigan State's Worthy and Penn State's Devon Still.  Second-team honorees are Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David and the Wisconsin duo Ball and Zeitler.  In addition, four Big Ten standouts were named to the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) All-America team, including two each on offense and defense. On the offensive side of the ball, Michigan’s Molk and Wisconsin’s Ball were named honored as All-Americans, while Illinois' Mercilus and Penn State's Still were honored on the defensive side.

[FIVE // michigan man nominated for top coaching honors]
Congratulations to Michigan’s Brady Hoke, who was named a finalist for two major college football coach of the year awards this past week.  The Football Writers Association of America named Hoke as one of five finalists for the 2011 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award, after he posted a 10-2 record with the Wolverines to collect the Big Ten's Hayes-Schembechler and Dave McClain Coach of the Year honors. Michigan earned a Bowl Championship Series berth and will face Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The winner of the FWAA's 55th annual coach of the year award will be announced on Dec. 15 after balloting by the entire FWAA membership.  In addition, Hoke was tabbed a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year. Created in 2006, the award recognizes one college football coach from each NCAA division (I-FBS, I-FCS, II and III), rewarding them for their sportsmanship, integrity, responsibility and excellence.  Winners will receive $50,000 to donate to a charity of their choice, a $20,000 grant to each school's alumni association and the Coach of the Year trophy.

[SIX // a new illini leader]
As one Big Ten coach is being touted as one of the nation’s top mentors, another coach is being welcomed into the conference.  This past Friday, Tim Beckman was named the 23rd head football coach at Illinois by director of athletics Mike Thomas. Beckman comes to Illinois after three years as head coach at Toledo, where he led the Rockets to two bowl appearances and a Mid-American Conference West Division co-championship.  The former Ohio State assistant coach engineered an impressive turnaround at Toledo in his three years at the helm after inheriting a team that went 3-9 in 2008. The Rockets improved to 5-7 in 2009 before going 8-5 with a 7-1 record in the MAC, and a berth in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2010. Toledo posted an 8-4 record this season, including another 7-1 MAC record, a share of the MAC West Division title and a berth in the Military Bowl. In the last two seasons, Beckman has compiled a 14-2 record in MAC games, second-best in the conference over that span.

[SEVEN // great on the gridiron, even better in the classroom]
The Big Ten led all conferences with seven student-athletes named to the Capital One Academic All-America first or second teams in football as announced Thursday by CoSIDA. The Big Ten has now led all Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences in Academic All-Americans for seven straight seasons, with 55 honorees over that time span.  The Big Ten's total of seven Academic All-Americans topped all conferences, as no other conference produced more than four honorees. The Big Ten also led all conferences with four first-team selections, and Nebraska was one of only three schools with two first-team Academic All-Americans.  The Academic All-America first-team honorees from the Big Ten were the Nebraska duo of Rex Burkhead and Austin Cassidy, Northwestern's Patrick Ward and Purdue's Joe Holland. Cassidy was one of four players to earn first-team accolades for the second straight year while Holland was a second-team Academic All-American last season. The Big Ten's second-team All-Americans were Michigan State's Mike Sadler, Nebraska's Sean Fisher and Northwestern's Jacob Schmidt.

[EIGHT // all fall sports honored for academic success]
The Big Ten on Wednesday recognized a total of 788 fall sports student-athletes who have been named to the Academic All-Conference team. The list of honored student-athletes features 68 field hockey players, 215 football players, 76 men’s and 134 women’s cross country runners, 58 men’s and 160 women’s soccer players and 77 volleyball players. To be eligible for Academic All-Big Ten selection, student-athletes must be letterwinners who are in at least their second academic year at their institution and carry a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.  At least 14 of these student-athletes have maintained unblemished GPAs.  For a complete look at those who have achieved perfection in the classroom, including the rest of the honorees, click here for the Big Ten’s official release.

[NINE // illinois volleyball heads to national semifinals]
Congratulations to the Illinois volleyball squad, which advanced to its first trip to the NCAA Championship National Semifinals since 1988 after defeating Florida, 3-1 (25-22, 23-25, 25-14, 25-20) to win the Gainesville Regional on Saturday night. Colleen Ward posted a season-high 23 kills to lead the third-seeded Illini, who are the highest-seeded team and the lone Big Ten squad remaining in the tournament. Illinois will take on the winner of No. 7 USC and No. 15 Pepperdine in the national semifinals next Thursday, Dec. 15.  The Illini earned a trip into the regional finals after beating Big Ten rival Ohio State 3-1, which marked the conference’s first head-to-head NCAA match since 2007.  Four other Big Ten teams fell in the regional semifinals on Friday.  No. 13 Minnesota fell to No. 4 Iowa State 3-1, Michigan was eliminated by Florida 3-0, No. 5 Purdue was defeated 3-1 by No. 12 Florida State, and No. 8 Penn State dropped a 3-0 decision to No. 9 UCLA, which ended the Nittany Lions’ run of four straight NCAA Championship titles.

[TEN // volleyball reels in regional awards]
Big Ten volleyball standouts collected numerous AVCA Division I Regional Awards this past Tuesday, with 12 players earning All-Region honors. Purdue head coach Dave Shondell was named the Mideast Region Coach of the Year, while Penn State newcomer Micha Hancock reeled in Mideast Region Freshman of the Year laurels. Earning All-Mideast Region accolades were Illinois' Michelle Bartsch and Colleen Ward, Michigan State's Jenilee Rathje, Minnesota's Tori Dixon and Ashley Wittman, Nebraska's Gina Mancuso, Ohio State's Mari Hole, Penn State's Deja McClendon, Ariel Scott and Katie Slay, and Purdue's Tiffany Fisher and Ariel Turner. Additionally, six players received Honorable Mention status -- Nebraska's Morgan Broekhuis, Lauren Cook and Hannah Werth, Northwestern's Stephanie Holthus, Ohio State's Emily Danks and Purdue's Rachel Davis.

[ELEVEN // honored for their performance on the pitch]
Four Big Ten soccer players were honored as All-Americans this past week.  On the women’s side, Illinois' Vanessa DiBernardo and Penn State's Maya Hayes and Christine Nairn were named Friday to the 2011 NCAA Women's Soccer All-American Team.  DiBernardo was named Second Team All-America after finishing the season with 39 points on 17 goals and 5 assists en route to an All-Big Ten First Team selection.  Hayes, who is also a finalist for the Hermann Trophy, earned First Team honors after leading the nation in points (70) and goals (31) this season. Nairn joined DiBernardo on the Second Team after tallying 19 points on 13 assists and three goals on the season. This is the second year that Nairn has earned All-America honors.  On the men’s side, Indiana's Chris Estridge was named Friday to the 2011 NCAA Men's Soccer All-America Team as a first-team selection. The First Team All-Big Ten selection was part of a Hoosier defense that allowed only 19 goals in 22 contests.

[TWELVE // region honors 25 soccer standouts]
Finally this week, while four Big Ten soccer stars were tabbed All-Americans, a total of 25 student-athletes were named to the All-Great Lakes Region Team. Sixteen Big Ten women's soccer players were named to the 2011 NCAA Women's Division I All-Great Lakes Team, as announced on Thursday. First Team honorees included Illinois' DiBernardo and Jenna Carosio, Michigan State's Laura Heyboer, and Penn State's Hayes and Nairn. The Second Team included Illinois' Marissa Mykines, Nebraska's Morgan Marlborough, Ohio State's Danielle Scoliere and Danica Wu, Penn State's Taylor Schram, and Wisconsin's Michele Dalton and Lindsey Johnson. The Third Team recipients were Iowa's Morgan Showalter, Michigan State's Anne Steinlage, and Penn State's Lexi Marten and Erin McNulty.  Nine Big Ten student-athletes were named Friday to the All-Great Lakes Team. First Team selections included Indiana's Chris Estridge and Eriq Zavaleta, Northwestern's Oliver Kupe and Ohio State's Matt Lampson. Second Team honorees were Indiana's Nikita Kotlov, Northwestern's Tyler Miller, Ohio State's Chris Hegngi and David Tiemstra and Wisconsin's Tomislav Zadro.