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. To see the East edition, go here.
Here is the Big Ten West:
Record: 12-1, 9-0 In Conference
MVP: Running Back Jonathan Taylor
The flash out of Salem, New Jersey took the Big Ten by storm with a 1,847-yard season, finding the end zone 13 touchdowns and averaged a stunning 6.77 yards per carry.
Wisconsin was the epitome of old-school Big Ten football, marching into the title game behind their No. 1 defense and an offense that was predicated on running the ball.
Wisconsin winning a game required Taylor winning the game for them.
Record: 9-3, 7-2 In Conference
MVP: Linebacker Paddy Fisher
To lead a team in tackles is impressive. To lead a team in tackles, solo tackles and forced fumbles as a freshman is something special. Fisher collected 110 tackles – 62 solo – along with four forced fumbles and eight tackles for loss.
At linebacker, he was the core of a defense that would surprise more than a few people who slept on the Wildcats in the preseason. Fisher was crucial in clogging up the opponent’s ground attack, bouncing around to fill in any gap he that an offense would attempt to create. Fisher did not record a single sack, but racked up tackles and turnovers because he made the smart play instead of trying to make the highlight play.
Record: 6-6, 4-5 In Conference
MVP: Linebacker Marcus Bailey
The Purdue front was a group that came on early in the season, compiling 25 sacks and 75 tackles for loss, along with nine fumbles -seven of which were in the first six games. While the whole was impressive, Bailey stood out from the rest.
His team-best seven sacks and second best 11.5 tackles for loss, along with a pair of turnovers tell only half the story. Bailey produced plays in key spots, a perfect example being the fumble he grabbed against Louisville, nearly toppling the 16th ranked team at the time. Bailey was a key player over the season because he did not just take advantage of the opportunity, he forced his way into opportunity. He made his presence felt by taking control of the play as opposed to working around it, which made him very impactful for the Boilermakers.
Record: 7-5, 4-5 In Conference
MVP: Linebacker Josey Jewell
Jewell was not just the best linebacker on his team, he was the best in the conference. His 123 tackles led the Big Ten, while his 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks and two interceptions continue to pad an excellent resume.
Defense is a staple to most of the teams in the Big Ten, but the Hawkeyes are especially dependent on a sturdy unit, specifically up-front. The expectation is anchoring play form the middle of the front and Jewell delivered on an entirely different level: Averaging a ridiculous 11.2 tackles through the season. Iowa, by its very nature, has produced plenty of great linebackers and Jewell is no exception.
Record: 4-8, 3-6 In Conference
MVP: Wide Receiver J.D. Spielman
Nebraska has continually attempted to morph into a spread offense, but has never been able to recruit accordingly. This has resulted in quarterbacks who fail to run the system to the perfection of an Oregon, which in turn has produced a healthy amount of interceptions.
Through the mire of the Nebraska offense, he racked up 830 yards in the air and 73 on the ground. He translated his speed and shifty running to the return game for great success, with 669 yards. The disappointment for the freshman was only finding the promised land three times, but his 142.9 all-purpose yards every outing was consistency found nowhere else on the roster.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Record: 5-7, 2-7 In Conference
MVP: Running Back Rodney Smith
The entire offense struggled mightily to find consistency for the Gophers, throwing up 21 points in the fourth quarter against Michigan State or running up the score on Nebraska to the tune of 54 points. But in the same season, they laid eggs against Northwestern and Wisconsin.
In spite of it all, Smith was productive on the ground, through the air and on special teams. He had three 100-yard rushing games and averaged 4.27 yards per carry. He finished the season netting 1,447 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns. Smith is the only player on the roster to average 120.6 yards per game while also playing in every game this season, making him the best option every weekend.
Illinois Fighting Illini
Record: 2-10, 0-9 In Conference
MVP: Defensive Lineman James Crawford
This was a dismal team to find an MVP for, as it could have very easily been the end of the season, since that was the only thing that would stop the Fighting Illini from losing games. However, from a pool of mediocrity, Crawford rose to the top.
He led the team in tackles for loss with 5.5 and co-lead in sacks with four. He also led the team with three forced fumbles and was the only lineman on the roster to record four broken up passes. Amongst a fairly depressing grouping of stats, his were some of the few that could be highlighted.