Best Athletes Of The BTN Era

The Big Ten Network, recently rebranded as BTN, is about to enter its fifth year of bringing you the greatest in Big Ten athletics. Before we enter our fifth year, I wanted to take a look back at the Big Ten’s best football and basketball players during the BTN era, according to the conference’s end-of-the-year accolades, and consider who’s the best of the best.

First, let’s take a look at football. Below, you will find the conference’s last four Big Ten Offensive/Defensive Players of the Year:

FOOTBALL

2007: Rashard Mendenhall, Illinois – 262 car., 1,681 yards, 17 TD, 34 rec., 318 yards, 2 TD; James Laurinaitis, Ohio State – 121 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 2 INT

2008: Shonn Greene, Iowa – 307 car., 1,850 yards, 20 TD, 8 rec., 49 yards; James Laurinaitis, Ohio State – 130 tackles, 7 TFL, 4 sacks, 2 INT

2009: John Clay, Wisconsin – 287 car., 1,517 yards, 18 TD, 9 rec., 61 yards; Jared Odrick, Penn State – 43 tackles, 11 TFL, 7 sacks; Greg Jones, Michigan State – 154 tackles, 14 TFL, 9 sacks

2010: Denard Robinson, Michigan – 182-291 for 2,570 yards, 18 TD; 256 car., 1,702 yards, 14 TD; Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue – 70 tackles, 26 TFL, 12.5 sacks, 5 FF

At first look, Greg Jones’ 2009 defensive dominance and Denard Robinson’s unworldly 2010 offensive numbers stick out the most. But if you look at the numbers closer and consider team success and overall impact to the team, I’m forced to select the two guys from our first season as the best of the BTN era.

Offense: Without Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield, there’s no way Illinois sniffs the Rose Bowl, or possibly any New Year’s Day Bowl. He was a dynamic runner, rushing for 1,681 yards, second-best among the three running backs to win the award during our time, and he averaged 6.4 yards per carry, 0.4 better than Greene and 1.1 better than Clay. He also was, by far, the group’s best receiver out of the backfield, providing Juice Williams with a reliable and dangerous safety valve.

Defense: The choice of James Laurinaitis is a rather simple one. He’s the only two-time winner of the group, the only one to lead his team to the BCS National Championship Game (2007), and he’s got the stats, to boot.

BASKETBALL

2007-08: D.J. White, Indiana – 17.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg, 0.8 spg, 60.5 FG %

2008-09: Kalin Lucas, Michigan State – 14.7 ppg, 4.6 apg, 2.1 rpg, 1 spg

2009-10: Evan Turner, Ohio State – 20.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 6 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.9 bpg, 52 FG %

2010-11: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue – 20.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1 apg, 2.3 bpg, 0.9 spg

This one isn’t even a contest. The Big Ten has had one player win the coveted John Wooden Award since the mid-90s, and that’s Evan Turner. Turner’s 2009-10 was nothing short of remarkable, as he led the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding and finished second in assists, all while playing out of position as a point-forward. Despite fracturing his back early in the year, Turner managed to tally a pair of triple-doubles — Dennis Hopson owns the program’s only other such performance — and win an unprecedented seven Big Ten Players of the Week.

Now that you have my choices, what are yours? Tell me on Twitter.

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