BTN will air its fifth annual BTN Awards Show at 7:30 p.m. ET Monday. You also can watch it live on BTN2Go. On the one-hour special, we’ll announce the winners of the Big Ten’s prestigious Suzy Favor Award and Jesse Owens Award, in addition to crowning our picks for several different categories, including “Breakout Performer” and “Best Finish,” to name a couple.
See BTN.com web editor Brent Yarina’s superlative winners in this post, plus vote for your choices.
Breakout Performer: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois – The other three contenders here were known names entering last year — even Cody Zeller, who brought huge expectations with him to Indiana. Only the hardcore Illinois football fans, however, knew of Whitney Mercilus. Nowadays, the former Illini defensive lineman is a household name, thanks to leading the nation in sacks (16) and becoming a first-round NFL draft pick. No one predicted anything like this for Mercilus entering the 2011 season, and that’s the definition of a breakout performer.
Most Dominating Performance: Brandon Paul, Illinois – No, I’m not an Illinois alum. Paul’s 43-point performance against Ohio State and defensive stopper Aaron Craft was just THAT good. I mean, come on, the guy scored 43 points on only 15 field goal attempts. Paul made 11 of his shots, including eight from downtown, and added 13 free throws on his way to downing the Buckeyes. Oh, and for good measure, he also chipped in eight rebounds and four blocks. Incredible.
Best Finish: Kirk Cousins to Keith Nichol TD pass – Christian Watford’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer against top-ranked Kentucky has its own commercial (have you watched ESPN?), but nothing tops the magic that happened that October evening in Spartan Stadium. This play was as dramatic as they come. Prime time television? Check. Big Ten rivals and title contenders? Check. Result in doubt until the final tick of the clock? Check. A last-second Haily Mary? Check. And a controversial ending? Yes, once again, check. The play was unbelievable, the official review was dramatic, and the result was a season-changer for both teams.
Men’s Team of the Year: Penn State wrestling – Big Ten wrestling is loaded, so it’s never an easy task to hoist the hardware at the Big Ten Wrestling Championships. Now, think how difficult it must be to win the national title immediately after downing the Big Ten field. That’s exactly what the Nittany Lions did for the second consecutive season, and it’s the most impressive feat among Big Ten men’s teams during the 2011-12 year.
Women’s Team of the Year: Minnesota hockey – Not to devalue the Northwestern lacrosse team’s seventh national crown in the last eight seasons, but Minnesota’s 34-5-2 national championship run came as a much bigger surprise. It was the program’s first title since 2005, in fact, and it came in a thrilling victory over rival Wisconsin.
Game of the Year: Wisconsin at Michigan State, 10/22/11 – To save everyone’s time, scroll above to the “Best Finish” category.
Men’s Coach of the Year: Tom Crean, Indiana men’s basketball – Think about this for a second: Indiana went a combined 28-66 the three seasons before it stunned the basketball world with this past season’s 27-9 Sweet 16 campaign. Along the way, Crean’s Hoosiers knocked off then-No. 1 and eventual national champ Kentucky, then-No. 2 and eventual Final Four representative Ohio State and then-No. 5 Michigan State. Quite the feat for a struggling program that’s only significant addition from the previous season was freshman sensation Cody Zeller, huh?
Women’s Coach of the Year: Brad Frost, Minnesota hockey – Again, to save your time, scroll up to “Women’s Team of the Year” category.