The Big Ten dominated the Heisman Trophy in the 1990s.
From 1991 to '99, the Big Ten claimed four Heisman Trophies — Desmond Howard (1991), Eddie George ('95), Charles Woodson ('97) and Ron Dayne ('99). However, since the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher won the award 14 years ago, only one Big Ten player has claimed the most coveted trophy in sports (Troy Smith, 2006).
That trend could change this year. If one league is going to knock the SEC off its recent Heisman pedestal — it’s won four of the last six — it might be the Big Ten.
Elite national championship-caliber quarterbacks and productive, extremely versatile All-American tailbacks fill the list of potential Big Ten Heisman Trophy contenders in 2013 (complete with updated Vegas odds):
1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (13/2)
The Buckeyes' quarterback was easily the biggest finalist snub this past season, as he ended up finishing fifth in the voting. As the unquestioned leader of an unbeaten Ohio State squad, Miller single-handedly carried the Bucknuts to victory week after week. He was fourth in the Big Ten in rushing (105.9 ypg), second in passing efficiency and second in total offense. Few players on this list can improve their numbers like Miller will in his second year in Urban Meyer's unstoppable spread scheme. His electric, playmaking ability, raw toughness and perfect fit in the system make him a virtual lock as a Heisman contender next season — as well as a potential top overall NFL Draft pick.
2. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska (18/1)
Few players make the eye-popping plays in the backfield like Martinez. He showed marked improvement in efficiency and decision making this fall, leading the Big Ten in total offense (277.9 ypg) and passer rating (141.59). He finished with 2,871 yards passing, 1,019 yards rushing and accounted for 33 total touchdowns. A pair of potential showdowns with Braxton Miller will likely determine T-Magic’s Heisman fate. Four more losses for the Big Red and Martinez will find it hard to get to New York without elite statistics.
3. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan (33/1)
Fans in Ann Arbor have been waiting for Gardner for years and 2013 will be his chance to shine. In just five starts last year, the former elite recruit accounted for 18 touchdowns, just five interceptions and 264 yards of offense per game. He fits Brady Hoke's scheme better than Denard Robinson yet Gardner has similar athletic ability. His ability to pass the football could set him apart from his former teammate and could make him the Big Ten Player of the Year.
4. Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
The Northwestern offense is as dynamic as any in the nation and Mark will be the centerpiece. He rushed for 1,366 yards, caught 20 passes and scored on two punt returns. He can do everything for a team looking to win its first Big Ten title since 1995. With exciting players returning around him, Mark's only negative heading into the season will be the losses along the offensive line. That said, the Wildcats normally plug in the next guy on a roster that isn't ever overloaded with talent.
5. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (25/1)
Nebraska has always loved to run the football and the explosive back will finally be the full-time starter in Lincoln. After then-incumbent Rex Burkhead went down with an injury last season, Abdullah stepped in and the sophomore provided big support in the running game. He posted six 100-yard efforts over a nine-week span in place of Burkhead and he should get the lion's share of carries this fall.
6. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
As a redshirt freshman a year ago, Gordon rushed for over 600 yards on more than 10 yards per carry. His 216-yard effort against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game was a glimpse of his elite upside. And he did all of that as the third stringer behind Montee Ball and James White. With Ball gone, it should be the bigger, more physical Gordon not the smaller more all-purpose White who gets the feature back workload for new Badgers coach Gary Andersen in 2013.
7. Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
Not many players can boast a stat line like Colter’s. In 2012, he threw for 872 yards and eight touchdowns and also rushed for 894 yards and 12 touchdowns. And over the last two seasons, he has caught 59 passes for 635 yards and three scores. He will continue to split time with the more pro-style Trevor Siemian and that will impact Colter's Heisman upside. But make no mistake, Colter has electric athletic ability and he will be at his best now with two full seasons under his belt.
8. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
If Hyde can stay on the field and hold off a deep and talented depth chart of running backs, he has a chance to be one of the league’s most productive players. He averaged nearly 100 yards per game a year ago (97.0) and scored 16 touchdowns, including at least one score in each of the final seven games of the year. He is a perfect fit for the Miller-led, Urban Meyer-designed spread offense.
9. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
He will have to break in a new quarterback (who could be a true freshman) but Robinson established himself as the league’s premier wide receiver in 2012. He was the only Big Ten player to top 1,000 yards receiving (1,018), 70 receptions (77) or 10 touchdown receptions (11). If this offense can find some consistency at quarterback, Robinson could post an All-American season for Bill O’Brien’s potent and creative offense.
10. Indiana’s Quarterback
Tre Roberson appears to be the frontrunner here, but it may not matter who gets the snaps. Roberson is an electric athlete who was off to a huge start last year through six quarters — 368 yards, 2 TD, INT, 133 yards rushing, 3 TD — before being lost for the season with an injury. That said, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld helped this offense lead the Big Ten in passing (311.2 ypg). As long as Kevin Wilson is calling the plays, whoever is under center for the Hoosiers will have a big season.
11. James White, RB, Wisconsin
The former high school teammate of Giovani Bernard, White may be destined to be the greatest backup running back in amateur football history. He posted 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman behind John Clay. He then rushed for 713 yards and six scores behind Montee Ball. Last year, he posted 806 yards and 12 scores behind Ball again. With Gordon taking over as the primary back, White is once again in a supporting role.
12. Taylor Lewan, OL, Michigan
A big body and a big personality make this offensive tackle one of the most high-profile hog mollies in the nation. Lewan will be the heart and soul of this Michigan offense in 2013 — one that could win the Big Ten championship. His first-round NFL Draft potential helps his case as well.
13. Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
Bell has one major advantage over Penn State’s Robinson in the race to be the Big Ten’s best wide receiver. He has a great quarterback in Taylor Martinez. Bell has the speed and big-play ability to land in the national conversation. He just needs to build on his 50-catch, 863-yard, 8-TD sophomore season.
14. Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa
The guy whose name rhymes with Heisman was forced into action last year and quickly became an Iowa cult hero. The burly, blue-collar runner stepped into the lineup and rushed for four consecutive 100-yard games before getting nicked up late in the year. Should he stay healthy and get the carries, Weisman will post big numbers.
15. Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
It will be very interesting to see how the new offensive coaching staff impacts the production in the passing game for the Badgers. Abbrederis figures to be the most dependable and most consistent receiver in the league once again and could see a boost in his production in the new scheme.
Big Ten Team Previews
Best of the Rest:
16. Zach Zwinak, RB, Penn State
17. Derrick Green, RB, Michigan
18. Donnell Kirkwood, RB, Minnesota
19. Michigan State’s Running Back
20. Akeem Hunt, RB, Purdue
21. Spencer Long, OL, Nebraska
22. Stephen Houston, RB, Indiana
23. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
24. Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan
25. Jacob Pederson, TE, Wisconsin
Five Defensive Players to Watch:
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
Ra’Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
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