Big Ten 2015 Season Awards and All-Conference Team

Athlon hands out its awards from the 2015 season.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Runner Up: Clayton Fejedelem, S, Illinois

 

Big Ten 2015 Postseason All-Conference Team
 

First

Team

Second

Team

QB

Connor Cook

Michigan State 

QB Nate Sudfeld

Indiana 

RB

Ezekiel Elliott

Ohio State 

RB Justin Jackson

Northwestern 

RB

Jordan Howard

Indiana 

RB Saquon Barkley

Penn State 

WR

Aaron Burbridge

Michigan State 

WR Michael Thomas

Ohio State 

WR

Leonte Carroo

Rutgers 

WR Alex Erickson

Wisconsin 

WR

Jehu Chesson

Michigan 

WR Jordan Westerkamp

Nebraska 

TE

Jake Butt

Michigan 

TE Dan Vitale

Northwestern 

C

Jack Allen

Michigan State 

C Austin Blythe

Iowa 

OG Dan Feeney
Indiana 

OG Jordan Walsh

Iowa 

OG

Pat Elflein

Ohio State 

OG Brian Allen

Michigan State 

OT

Taylor Decker

Ohio State 

OT Jason Spriggs

Indiana 

OT

Jack Conklin

Michigan State 

OT Alex Lewis

Nebraska 

     
DE

Carl Nassib

Penn State 

DT Adolphus Washington

Ohio State 

DE

Joey Bosa

Ohio State 

DE Yannick Ngakoue

Maryland 

DE

Shilique Calhoun

Michigan State 

DT Maliek Collins

Nebraska 

DT

Austin Johnson

Penn State 

DT Malik McDowell

Michigan State 

LB

Anthony Walker

Northwestern 

LB Darron Lee

Ohio State 

LB

Joe Schobert

Wisconsin 

LB Raekwon McMillan

Ohio State 

LB

Joshua Perry

Ohio State 

LB Josey Jewell

Iowa 

CB

Desmond King

Iowa 

CB Nick VanHoose

Northwestern 

CB

Jourdan Lewis

Michigan 

CB Eli Apple

Ohio State 

S

Vonn Bell

Ohio State 

CB William Likely

Maryland 

S

Michael Caputo

Wisconsin 

S Jabrill Peppers

Michigan 

     
K

Griffin Oakes

Indiana 

K Drew Brown

Nebraska 

P

Sam Foltz

Nebraska 

P Peter Mortell

Minnesota 

KR

Janarion Grant

Rutgers 

KR Solomon Vault

Northwestern 

PR

William Likely

Maryland 

PR Jalin Marshall

Ohio State 

 

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