Every team has one player who rose to the occasion on a weekly basis, carrying the bulk of the workload and impacting the game throughout the season. This is a two-part dive into each Big Ten roster, determining each team’s MVP.
We’ll start with the Big Ten East.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Record: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
MVP: Quarterback J.T. Barrett
After starting the season as a potential Heisman candidate, Barrett essentially dropped off the face of the earth following an early loss to Oklahoma.
Still, Barrett put together 3,671 total yards and 45 total touchdowns in a season that elevated the Buckeyes offense to become Big Ten champions. He made it easy for running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber while opening up the passing attack in the middle of the field by forcing the safeties to cheat down.
Barrett took a beating from fans and the media for the confusing Iowa loss and a slew of tight games with poor teams. However, the Buckeyes signal-caller still made the biggest difference every game of the season. He made players around him great and put his squad in a position to take the conference.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Record: 10-2 (7-2 Big Ten)
MVP: Quarterback Trace McSorley
There is another player on the roster who would seem to be the shoo-in, but McSorley was unquestionably a bigger factor than running back Saquon Barkley.
McSorley finished the season with 3,228 passing yards and 431 rushing yards, doing a surprising amount on the ground and was an under-the-radar great read-option quarterback.
He accounted for 37 scores and was the propelling force for the offense every game. While Barkley disappeared for some games throughout the season, McSorley averaged 269 passing yards per game. McSorley’s efforts were clouded by the Heisman contending runner on his team, even though Barkley only averaged 94.5 yards per game. The quarterback was more underrated than Barrett, despite leading his team to double-digit wins for the second consecutive season.
Michigan State Spartans
Record: 9-3 (7-2 Big Ten)
MVP: Defensive lineman Kenny Willekes
The most convincing side of the Spartans was their defense, particularly their front seven. Amongst a good group, Willekes stands out as a destructive pass rusher who led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. When he did not get home in the backfield, he still made plays with seven quarterback hurries and a pair of pass blocks.
Record: 8-4 (5-4 Big Ten)
MVP: Defensive lineman Chase Winovich
Another man who stood out in a defensive front – this is the Big Ten, after all – was the Wolverines Winovich. For all of the Michigan woes, their front seven was seventh in the nation in sacks and Winovich was able to lead the group with a career year.
Winovich accounted for an impressive 17.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks, along with a pair of fumbles, all team-leading numbers. He made for an impossible assignment for opposing offensive lines, taking advantage of the stacked defense he played for to abuse one on one match-ups. But he was not just a sack master and backfield buster, he also tracked down plays, racking up the third most tackles on the team at 74.
Record: 5-7 (2-7 Big Ten)
MVP: Safety Chase Dutra
Seattle strong safety Kam Chancellor is an NFL standout because of how aggressive he is in the box, playing more like a hybrid linebacker than a safety. This allows Seattle the ability to load the box without sacrificing their coverage, as Chancellor is an elite defensive back in both areas.
This is the type of player that Dutra is; a baby Chancellor.
He led his team with 96 tackles and averaged out to eight per game. Of that impressive number, 65 of them were solo – also team-leading – and he consistently played down in the box, wrapping up running backs, receivers, tight ends, and quarterbacks. He swallowed up the opposition all season and is fast enough to play sideline-to-sideline but disciplined enough not to overpursue a play. Without him, Indiana’s defense is substantially worse with a massive hole in their front that hemorrhages big plays.
Record: 4-8 (2-7 Big Ten)
MVP: Wide Receiver D.J. Moore
Moore is not only the best player on his team, he is the best receiver in the Big Ten. The 5-foot-11 receiver racked up 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns on 80 receptions, all of which were career-highs. Somehow he pulled this off despite catching passes from four quarterbacks, with both the starter and backup tearing their respective ACLs in the opening three games.
He stayed consistent, averaging 6.7 receptions and 86.1 yards per game through the season of turnover at the sport’s most important position.
Not only was Moore a star in an absolutely broken offense, he also did whatever the team needed, compiling 153 punt return yards, rushing for 61 yards and even going 2 for 2 passing. Moore is a receiver who can play inside and out, win jump balls and make plays in space all while dealing with adversity and playing multiple positions.