By a handful of measures, the Big Ten had a successful season. The league produced a College Football Playoff team, a Heisman finalist, one of the top defensive players in the country and one of the nation’s biggest surprise teams.
The conference just took an interesting path to reach the finished product.
Writing off the league in Week 2 couldn’t have been more foolhardy, but at the time, the hopes for the Big Ten were dim.
By then, the power programs all lost non-conference games — Ohio State to Virginia Tech, Michigan to Notre Dame, Michigan State to Oregon and Wisconsin to LSU. Some teams recovered (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State). Some did not (Michigan). Minnesota lost early to TCU, too, but the Horned Frogs turned out to be better than we anticipated. So did the Gophers.
If seasons are judged by playoff appearances and Heisman contenders, the Big Ten recovered from that week. J.T. Barrett emerged as a star, and Ohio State never lost again. Melvin Gordon was largely absent from the second half against LSU, but he went on to set the national single-game rushing record (for a week) and then broke the Big Ten rushing record held by Ron Dayne.
League newcomers Maryland and Rutgers will finish the season in bowl games. So will Illinois, which saved the job of coach Tim Beckman. So will Penn State, which saw its bowl ban lifted.
But power programs in this league finished where they started the season — looking for answers. Michigan is out of a bowl and still looking for a coach. Nebraska is in a bowl but has one eye on the Mike Riley era.
2014 Season Awards and All-Conference Teams:
2014 Big Ten Season Awards
Coach of the Year: Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Minnesota’s trophy case is more full than it’s been in years as the Gophers won both the Little Brown Jug (Michigan) and Floyd of Rosedale (Iowa) in the same season for the first time since 1967. The Gophers, picked by Athlon to finish fifth in the West, came within one game on the last day of the season of playing in the Big Ten championship game. With an 8-4 finish, Kill has led Minnesota to back-to-back eight-win seasons for the first time in more than a decade.
Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
This can go to no one else. It’s hard to think what Wisconsin would be without Gordon. The junior put himself into Wisconsin running back lore — not an easy task given the tradition — by rushing for a then-FBS record 408 yards against Nebraska and breaking Ron Dayne’s Big Ten rushing record. Gordon’s 2,336 rushing yards is the fourth-highest total in FBS history.
Defensive Player of the Year: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
Bosa built upon a standout freshman season to become the most disruptive defensive player in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-5, 278-pound defensive end from St. Thomas Aquinas finished in the top five nationally with 13.5 sacks and 20 tackles for a loss. His four forced fumbles this season contributed to 30 Ohio State points.
Newcomer of the Year: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota
Boddy-Calhoun is a junior college transfer and a player making a return from injury. The wait was worth it as the Gophers cornerback finished the season with four interceptions and eight pass breakups.
Freshman of the Year: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Unless you’re a die-hard Ohio State fan, you probably didn’t know much, if anything, about J.T. Barrett before Aug. 20. That’s when Braxton Miller was lost for the season and Barrett went from unknown to the quarterback of a College Football Playoff contender. The redshirt freshman struggled in his second career start, a home loss to 6-6 Virginia Tech, but led the Buckeyes to an unblemished Big Ten season. His 45 total touchdowns was an Ohio State record and more than Johnny Manziel, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston during their redshirt freshman seasons.
Coordinator of the Year: Tom Herman, Ohio State
Ohio State entered the season with one sure bet on offense, and that cornerstone, Braxton Miller, never started a game. The 39-year-old coordinator prepped J.T. Barrett to take an unexpected starting role for the season, set the stage for a 1,400-yard season from running back Ezekiel Elliott and then won a Big Ten championship game with another backup quarterback in Cardale Jones. Simply put, Ohio State isn’t in they playoff if the Buckeyes quarterbacks aren’t in position or prepared to flourish on short notice.
Breakout Player of the Year: Tevin Coleman, Indiana
Coleman had a heck of a time overcoming not only Melvin Gordon in publicity or a 1-7 season by Indiana in the Big Ten. Becoming only the third 2,000-yard running back since 2008 was enough to put him on the fringe of the Heisman hunt. At one point, Coleman had rushed for a touchdown in 15 consecutive games dating back to the 2013 opener against Indiana State. Coleman finished with 2,036 yards, more than double his total from a year earlier.
Big Ten 2014 All-Conference Team
QB J.T. BarrettOhio State
QB Connor CookMichigan State
RB Melvin GordonWisconsin
RB Ameer AbdullahNebraska
RB Tevin ColemanIndiana
RB David CobbMinnesota
WR Tony LippettMichigan State
WR Devin SmithOhio State
WR Leonte CarrooRutgers
WR Mike DudekIllinois
TE Maxx WilliamsMinnesota
TE Josiah PriceMichigan State
OT Brandon ScherffIowa
OT Jack ConklinMichigan State
OT Rob HavensteinWisconsin
OT Taylor DeckerOhio State
OG Kyle CostiganWisconsin
OG Pat ElfleinOhio State
OG Zac EppingMinnesota
OG Travis JacksonMichigan State
C Jack AllenMichigan State
C Dan VoltzWisconsin
DE Joey BosaOhio State
DE Randy GregoryNebraska
DE Shilique CalhounMichigan State
DE Andre MonroeMaryland
DT Anthony ZettelPenn State
DT Carl DavisIowa
DT Michael BennettOhio State
DT Maliek CollinsNebraska
LB Mike HullPenn State
LB Derek LandischWisconsin
LB Vince BiegelWisconsin
LB Taiwan JonesMichigan State
LB Jake RyanMichigan
LB Damien WilsonMinnesota
CB William LikelyMaryland
CB Doran GrantOhio State
CB Trae WaynesMichigan State
CB Briean Boddy-CalhounMinnesota
S Kurtis DrummondMichigan State
S Nate GerryNebraska
S Michael CaputoWisconsin
S Frankie WilliamsPurdue
K Brad CraddockMaryland
K Sam FickenPenn State
P Peter MortellMinnesota
P Cameron JohnstonOhio State
KR Jalen MyrickMinnesota
KR R.J. SheltonMichigan State
PR De'Mornay Pierson-ElNebraska
PR Jalin MarshallOhio State