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Big Ten 2015 Season Awards and All-Conference Team

Connor Cook

Connor Cook

Most offseason predictions hinted January 2015 could be a turning point for the Big Ten. Ohio State’s national championship victory over Oregon and the arrival of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan signaled the Big Ten was ready to take a step forward and push the SEC and Pac-12 for the best conference in college football. Fast forward almost one year and it’s safe to say those offseason predictions held true.

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Ohio State fell just short of preseason expectations, but Michigan State ensured the Big Ten had a playoff representative, while Iowa was one of the nation’s biggest surprises. The Hawkeyes finished 12-1 and clinched a Rose Bowl appearance after a close loss against the Spartans in the Big Ten Championship. As expected, Michigan showed immediate improvement under new coach Jim Harbaugh, while Northwestern and Wisconsin combined for a 19-5 record this season. The bowl season is still ahead, but 2015 was a good year for the Big Ten – and the future looks even more promising. 

With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 19, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2015 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first and second all-conference teams for the Big Ten:

Big Ten 2015 Season Awards

Offensive Player of the Year: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State

Elliott’s strong 2015 season was lost on the national scene with a deep pool of Heisman contenders at running back, but the junior was consistent and the best offensive weapon for coach Urban Meyer. Elliott rushed for 1,672 yards and 19 scores, which included 214 yards in the season finale at Michigan. He also caught 26 passes for 176 yards and was regarded for his blocking ability in pass protection.

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Runner Up: Michigan State QB Connor Cook

Defensive Player of the Year: Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State

Nassib joined Penn State as a walk-on in 2011 and finished his career as one of the top defensive players in the Big Ten and in the nation in 2015. That’s quite a career for the Pennsylvania native, as he finished 2015 with 15.5 sacks (the most in the Big Ten), 19.5 tackles for a loss (tied for first) and forced six fumbles.

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Runner Up: Ohio State DE Joey Bosa

Related: Predictions for Every 2015-16 Bowl Game

Coach of the Year: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Kirk Ferentz version 3.0 was a huge hit in Iowa City. After a 19-19 record from 2012-14, Ferentz made a few tweaks and rallied the Hawkeyes to a 12-1 record and a Big Ten West Division title in 2015. Ferentz didn’t drastically alter his approach or make huge changes, but inserting C.J. Beathard as the full-time quarterback and being more aggressive with on-field calls were two changes that paid big dividends for Iowa. As a result, the Hawkeyes finished No. 5 in the final College Football Playoff rankings and are making their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1991.

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Runner Up: Mark Dantonio, Michigan State

Freshman of the Year (Offense): Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

Barkley provided a spark to Penn State’s ground attack, rushing for 1,007 yards and seven touchdowns on 165 attempts. He also added 15 catches for 148 yards and one score, while his 6.1 yards per carry ranked sixth among Big Ten rushers. Barkley finished the regular season with two 100-yard games over his last three contests.

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Runner Up: Clayton Thorson, QB, Northwestern/LJ Scott, RB, Michigan State

Freshman of the Year (Defense): Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan

Not only was Peppers a standout performer for Michigan’s defense, but the redshirt freshman also emerged as an all-purpose threat by the end of the season. Peppers recorded 45 tackles (5.5 for a loss) and finished second on the team with 10 pass breakups. He also accumulated 417 return yards, eight receptions for 79 yards and 72 rush yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Peppers will be an even bigger part of the gameplan for coach Jim Harbaugh in 2016.

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Runner Up: T.J. Edwards, LB, Wisconsin

Coordinator of the Year: Dave Aranda, Defensive Coordinator, Wisconsin

Aranda returned seven starters and a solid core to build around in 2015, but this unit featured a few preseason question marks on the defensive line and at linebacker. However, Aranda quickly found the right answers and proved once again why he is one of the top defensive coaches in the nation. Wisconsin surrendered only 4.39 yards per play (tied for Ohio State with first in the Big Ten), held opponents to 13.1 points per game and ranked second in the conference in third-down defense.

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Runner Up: D.J. Durkin, DC, Michigan/Greg Davis, OC, Iowa

Newcomer of the Year: Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana

Tevin Coleman’s early departure to the NFL was a huge loss for Indiana, but the rushing attack for coach Kevin Wilson never missed a beat with Howard as the go-to running back. The UAB transfer rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games and caught 11 passes for 106 yards and one score. A knee injury limited Howard late in the year, as he recorded only three carries against Maryland did not play in the regular season finale against Purdue.

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Runner Up: Jake Rudock, QB, Michigan

Breakout Player: C.J. Beathard, QB, Iowa

Choosing Beathard over Jake Rudock was just one of the many decisions coach Kirk Ferentz got right this season. In his first year as the Hawkeyes’ full-time starter, Beathard passed for 2,570 yards and 15 touchdowns and added 270 yards and six scores on the ground. Most importantly, Beathard tossed only four interceptions and completed 61.4 percent of his passes.

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Runner Up: Clayton Fejedelem, S, Illinois

Big Ten 2015 Postseason All-Conference Team





Connor CookMichigan State 

QB Nate SudfeldIndiana 


Ezekiel ElliottOhio State 

RB Justin JacksonNorthwestern 


Jordan HowardIndiana 

RB Saquon BarkleyPenn State 


Aaron BurbridgeMichigan State 

WR Michael ThomasOhio State 


Leonte CarrooRutgers 

WR Alex EricksonWisconsin 


Jehu ChessonMichigan 

WR Jordan WesterkampNebraska 


Jake ButtMichigan 

TE Dan VitaleNorthwestern 


Jack AllenMichigan State 

C Austin BlytheIowa 


Dan Feeney

OG Jordan WalshIowa 


Pat ElfleinOhio State 

OG Brian AllenMichigan State 


Taylor DeckerOhio State 

OT Jason SpriggsIndiana 


Jack ConklinMichigan State 

OT Alex LewisNebraska 





Carl NassibPenn State 

DT Adolphus WashingtonOhio State 


Joey BosaOhio State 

DE Yannick NgakoueMaryland 


Shilique CalhounMichigan State 

DT Maliek CollinsNebraska 


Austin JohnsonPenn State 

DT Malik McDowellMichigan State 


Anthony WalkerNorthwestern 

LB Darron LeeOhio State 


Joe SchobertWisconsin 

LB Raekwon McMillanOhio State 


Joshua PerryOhio State 

LB Josey JewellIowa 


Desmond KingIowa 

CB Nick VanHooseNorthwestern 


Jourdan LewisMichigan 

CB Eli AppleOhio State 


Vonn BellOhio State 

CB William LikelyMaryland 


Michael CaputoWisconsin 

S Jabrill PeppersMichigan 





Griffin OakesIndiana 

K Drew BrownNebraska 


Sam FoltzNebraska 

P Peter MortellMinnesota 


Janarion GrantRutgers 

KR Solomon VaultNorthwestern 


William LikelyMaryland 

PR Jalin MarshallOhio State