Michigan freshman Denard Robinson wasn't projected to start when the season began, with Tate Forcier supposedly the man in Ann Arbor. Robinson was inserted into the lineup in time for the opener and quickly led the Wolverines to wins over UConn and Notre Dame. He electrified the country with his ability to both run and throw. It's hard to believe now in the wake of Cam Newton's emergence, but in September it was Robinson that would've run away with the Heisman. And run away is what he did from Big Ten defenses. The shifty little signal-caller couldn't be contained in space and he piled up 150-200 yard rushing games with ease. And it wasn't at the expense of the pass--he threw for 239 yards against Wisconsin and 291 against Michigan State. Only Ohio State shut him down in the air. What makes it even more impressive is that Robinson is literally all Michigan has. They have no conventional running game, and the defense is a sieve. Denard Robinson put this proud program on his back and led them to a bowl game for the first time since Lloyd Carr was chased out of town. If Rich Rodriguez saves his job he'll know who to thank and it isn't Josh Groban.
If you think this is leading up to my anointing Robinson the Big Ten's Player of the Year, you would be correct. There are other good candidates to be sure. Mikel Leshoure at Illinois was the top running back and rolled up 330 yards against Northwestern at Wrigley Field. The problem with Leshoure is that it wasn't until the latter part of the league schedule that he really got cranking. Ohio State's more heralded Terrelle Pryor doesn't pile up the rushing yardage that Robinson does, though Pryor has improved as a passer as he concludes his junior season. Ricky Stanzi had a good year at Iowa, but he had problems getting the ball downfield during the Hawkeyes' late-season tailspin that saw them first barely escape Indiana and then lose their final three games. Scott Tolzien at Wisconsin is very high-efficient, but it's hard to say the league MVP is a quarterback from a team whose offense is run-first. Let's also give a nod to defensive ends Ryan Kerrigan at Purdue and J.J. Watt at Wisconsin, both game-changers with their ability to get after the quarterback. Fine players all, but here's to you Mr. Robinson.
For Coach of the Year the choice has to be Michigan State's Mark Dantonio. Both Ohio State and Wisconsin were Top 10 teams to start the season--in the case of Ohio State, #2 in the preseason polls, so of the three tri-champions, Michigan State's emergence was the biggest surprise and there wasn't much reason to expect it. Down the ladder, the conference was actually quite disappointing. Penn State and Michigan underachieved and Illinois faded late. That leaves the field to Dantonio to join Robinson in the winner's circle.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.