Believe it or not, BTN will celebrate its fifth anniversary later this month. The big day is Aug. 30, to be exact. As a way to celebrate – not to mention kill time before the 2012 season kicks off – I’m spotlighting some of the great careers during our time on the air. I’ll do it in the mold of “Big Ten’s Best,” our popular countdown show that returns this fall for another season of ranking the best in Big Ten history. My fifth list ranks the top five individual seasons of the BTN era.
Editor’s note: This list only includes football and basketball players who competed during the BTN era, and it ranks the best individual seasons, taking into account overall numbers and team success. Pro success and pro potential have no impact.
1. Montee Ball, Wisconsin – 2011 season: 307 car., 1,923 yards, 33 TDs; 24 rec., 306 yards, 6 TDs; 2-2, 57 yards, 1 TD.
A 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist, Ball tied Barry Sanders’ single-season record for TDs (39) and led the NCAA in rushing yards (1,923) and yards from scrimmage (2,229) during his record-breaking junior season. Ball, who helped lead the Badgers to their second consecutive Big Ten crown and Rose Bowl appearance, was a consensus first-team All-America and won the Big Ten’s inaugural Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year and the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year, in addition to the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football Award.
2. Evan Turner, Ohio State – 2009-10 season: 52%, 20.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 6 apg, 1.7 spg, 0.9 bpg.
In Turner’s third and final season in Columbus, Ohio, the do-it-all star compiled one of the better seasons in Big Ten history. The junior contributed across the board, registering just the second and third triple-doubles in Ohio State annals, but most importantly, he took home the ultimate prize, the John R. Wooden Award. Turner became the first Big Ten player to win the prestigious award since 1993-94 (Purdue’s Glenn Robinson). The awards didn’t stop there, though, as Turner also won Naismith Player of the Year, Big Ten Men’s Basketball Player of the Year and the Jesse Owens Award, handed out every year to the best male athlete in the Big Ten.
3. Russell Wilson, Wisconsin – 2011 season: 225-309, 3,175 yards, 33 TDs, 4 INTs; 79 car., 338 yards, 6 TDs; 3 rec., 56 yards, 1 TD.
There may never be a more efficient season from a Big Ten quarterback than the one Wilson compiled in his one season at Wisconsin. The year was that good. Wilson not only completed 73 percent of his passes and set the single-season national record for pass efficiency rating (191.8), he threw a miniscule four interceptions and 84 incompletions in 14 games, including the 2011 Big Ten Football Championship Game and 2012 Rose Bowl. Also, the inaugural Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year threw a touchdown pass every 9.4 attempts. By comparison, Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III threw a score every 10.8 attempts.
4. Shonn Greene, Iowa – 2008 season: 307 car., 1,850 yards, 20 TDs; 8 rec., 49 yards.
Here’s a trivia question: Name the Big Ten’s only Doak Walker Award winner during the BTN era? Nope, it isn’t Wisconsin’s Montee Ball. It was Greene, the terrific bruising back who eclipsed the 100-yard rushing barrier in all 13 of Iowa’s 2008 games. Greene averaged a ridiculous 142.3 yards per game, never rushing for fewer than 103 and topping out at 217 yards. Maybe even more impressive, Greene scored in all but one game – a game in which he torched Michigan State for 157 yards. In addition to winning the Doak, Greene was a unanimous first-team All-America.
5. Draymond Green, Michigan State – 2011-12 season: 16.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 3.8 assists, 1.5 spg, 0.9 bpg.
A lot like Evan Turner a couple seasons earlier, Green showcased his vast array of skills the best in his final season. A rare point-forward, by the time Green was a senior, he turned himself into a plus ball-handler, passer and defender, and a dominant rebounder. And he also could score. Add it all up, and it’s no wonder Green joined Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the only player to ever record two triple-doubles in NCAA tourney history. The 2011-12 Big Ten Player of the Year led the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten crown and to the Big Ten tourney title on his way to earning first-team AP All-America honors.
Next five (in alphabetical order of school): Whitney Mercilus, Illinois (2011 season); James Hardy, Indiana (2007 season); JaJuan Johnson, Purdue (2010-11 season); Jared Sullinger, Ohio State (2010-11 season); Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (2010 season).