Dienhart: My top candidates for end-of-the-year Big Ten individual honors

Dienhart: My top candidates for end-of-the-year Big Ten individual honors

It’s only August, but our preseason coverage has me looking into my crystal ball to predict which stars will be hosting Big Ten hardware come season’s end.

Here are my top three candidates for the Big Ten’s end-of-the-year superlatives:

QUARTERBACK OF THE YEAR
1. Trace McSorley, Penn State. The perfect fit for OC Joe Moorhead’s offense, McSorley is the ultimate weapon and leader under center.
2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State. The arrival of new OC Kevin Wilson may help Barrett become an even better weapon, especially in the passing game.
3. Clayton Thorson, Northwestern. He tweaked his mechanics after 2015 and really developed last year. Can he take his game to an even higher level?

RUNNING BACK OF THE YEAR
1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State. The junior is poised for perhaps a 2,000-yard rushing season.
2. Justin Jackson, Northwestern. He is looking for a fourth 1,000-yard season in a row and to become NU’s all-time leading rusher.
3. L.J. Scott, Michigan State. The physical back could be a lynchpin for the Spartans if the line develops.

WIDE RECEIVER OF THE YEAR
1. DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State. He is poised to become the school’s all-time leader in receptions.
2. Nick Westbrook, Indiana. A rangy target who emerged last year, Westbrook is a tough red zone matchup.
3. D.J. Moore, Maryland. He is one of the Big Ten’s most underrated wideouts. Can the Terps deliver him the ball?

TIGHT END OF THE YEAR
1. Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin. The 6-6 Fumagalli has soft hands and the grit to excel as a blocker, too.
2. Mike Gesicki, Penn State. When it comes to moving the chains, the 6-6 Gesicki has few peers. Not many linebackers can cover him.
3. Garrett Dickerson, Northwestern. NU’s “superback” is a terrific athlete who works the middle of the field like few others.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE YEAR
1. Sean Welsh, Iowa. The tough, physical guard is the lead man on a Hawkeye front that is as good any front out there.
2. Michael Deiter, Wisconsin. Big, tough and strong, Deiter is a classic Madison mauler for a top o-line.
3. Mason Cole, Michigan. The versatile Cole is a classic combination of smarts, strength and technique.

DEFENSIVE LINEMAN OF THE YEAR
1. Rashan Gary, Michigan. The ballyhooed Gary looks primed to emerge as the Big Ten’s top force off the edge.
2. Tyquan Lewis, Ohio State. The reigning Big Ten d-lineman of the year is an anchor of what may be the top defensive front in the nation.
3. Steven Richardson, Minnesota. The 6-0, 300-pound Richardson is almost impossible to wedge out from the interior of the line.

LINEBACKER OF THE YEAR
1. Josey Jewell, Iowa. An unmatched combination of skill and leadership, Jewell does it all for the Hawkeyes.
2. Tegray Scales, Indiana. One of the nation’s most underrated players makes the Hoosiers’ sneaky good defense go.
3. Jerome Baker, Ohio State. Few can match his sideline to sideline effectiveness, as Baker is a gifted athlete.

DEFENSIVE BACK OF THE YEAR
1. Marcus Allen, Penn State. He is listed as a safety, but Allen is more like a linebacker. This guy can lay the lumber.
2. Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern. A savvy veteran who is equally adept in coverage as he is playing the run.
3. Nick Nelson, Wisconsin. The transfer from Hawaii may quickly become the top cover man in the Big Ten.

KICKER OF THE YEAR
1. Emmit Carpenter, Minnesota. He emerged last season as the Big Ten’s top kicker, as few can match his consistency.
2. Drew Brown, Nebraska. It’s difficult to rattle this veteran, who will be a steady force for an offense in transition.
3. Tyler Davis, Penn State. He has kicked in big games, as few things can rattle this veteran kicker.

PUNTER OF THE YEAR
1. Blake Gillikin, Penn State. He was sensational as a freshman. What will he do for an encore?
2. Ryan Santoso, Minnesota. The 6-6, 250-pounder is a former kicker who has a huge leg.
3. Joe Schopper, Purdue. When the Boilermakers need the field flipped, Schopper delivers. He is so steady.

RETURN SPECIALIST OF THE YEAR
1. Janarion Grant, Rutgers. He is coming off injury, but his eight returns scores (five kickoff, three punt) are tied for first in FBS history.
2. De’Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska. The diminutive Husker has speed to burn and shiftiness that breaks ankles.
3. Parris Campbell, Ohio State. He has the speed to jet by defenders and the size to lower the boom if needed.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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