Top 10 Big Ten Football Players of the Decade

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By Paul M. Banks

To conclude the 2006 Big Ten regular season, bitterest of rivals Ohio St and Michigan met as #1 vs. #2, and both undefeated for the first time in the well decorated history of the series. Basically, if you weren’t excited about that game, you were a terrorist. And unlike your typical game of the century, it actually lived up to the hype!  However, Big Ten football in the 2000s has been like the life story of Benjamin Button, it peaked somewhere in the late middle, and then descended horribly. Both the Wolverines and Buckeyes got utterly destroyed in their BCS bowl games that year, starting a nightmarish trend for the league.

The Big Ten keeps getting invited to BCS Bowls, and keeps looking like extremely undeserving when exercising those invitations. It all came to an ugly head in last year’s 1-6 postseason debacle, but at least the pathetic performance has helped wake up the conference’s brass. All this talk about league expansion is likely facilitated by their realization that they need a conference championship game badly. Because following suit with all the other major conferences (other than the Pac 10 of course) would help keep a couple of their teams as fresh as their opponents when January rolls around. And as you might have heard, the Big Ten could use a boost that time of year.

But that’s in the near future, and right now we’re focusing on how he got here, not where we’re going. There were lots of highlights in Big Ten conference play this past decade, Here are the guys who made many of those highlights.

1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio St.We kind of knew that the winner of the 2006 Heisman Trophy has skills that wouldn’t exactly translate to the next level, but he’s still hanging in there with the Baltimore Ravens for a third season. And he’s doing good things with his money and fame: Smith has advocated for the passage of the FIT Kids Act, federal legislation that would require school districts to report on students’ physical activity and to give youngsters health and nutritional information.

For more Ohio State coverage click here

2. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan- As dominating a college receiver as you’ll find, he took home the Fred Biletnikoff Award and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2004. It’s a shame he’s a total headcase with “underachiever” and “bust” written all over him in the NFL. The third pick overall in the ’05 draft keeps getting into trouble off the field and led the league in dropped passes last season with 16.

For more Michigan coverage, click here

3. James Laurinitis, LB, Ohio St.- The biggest knock you can make on Big Ten football is the fact that OSU wins the conference every year (therefore, making it rather predictable and somewhat boring, especially when the Buckeyes end up going to the national title game, where they usually get whomped by 40+ points) but guys like Laurinitis -who won won every award a linebacker can win, what seems like multiple times- are the reason OSU never has to rebuild, they just reload.

4. Will Smith, DE, Ohio St. In Queens, NY born and raised, terrorizing opposing backfields is how he spent most of his collegiate days. “The Fresh Prince of Columbus” got jiggy for the Buckeyes, and his currently tearing it up for the New Orleans Saints.

For more Ohio State coverage click here

5. Brad Banks, QB, Iowa- Another guy with skills that couldn’t translate to the next level (you’ll be saying the same thing about Tim Tebow in a few years) The 2002 Heisman Trophy Runner-Up and AP Football Player of the Year was a dual-threat QB: threw for 2573 yards, 26 touchdowns 5 interceptions,  ran for 435 yards and 5 touchdowns. Played for 3 different Canadian league teams before football was finished with him in 2007.

6. Jake Long, OT, Michigan- The only guy from the Big 10 to be taken 1st overall in a NFL Draft this decade was a dominant blocker during his days in Ann Arbor. He served up more “pancakes” than IHOP, Denny’s and Waffle House combined.

For more Michigan coverage, click here

7. Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn St- Sean Lee, Dan Connor, Navorro Bowman, Josh Hull, and all the other star LBs from Linebacker U in the 2000s will tell you the exact same thing I’m telling you here: Paul is the standard by which, if you play your best and meet all of your potential, you can try and compare yourself to.

8. Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana- The native of Harvey IL, (SICA!!) single-handedly carried Indiana football on his back for four years. Yes, they put him at WR and returning kicks (where he’s had a nice little NFL career since college) and he ended up in the “athlete” category of position designation by quasi-racist scouts and football “experts.” But he was a QB plain and simple in college! He made plays, he led his less than stellar supporting casts to greater glory, he got things done!

9. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois- Yes, he really only had one major season, but consider what he did in that season (took a program that has wretchedly squandered talent every season to the Rose Bowl) and also consider what has happened to Illini football since he left Champaign (nevermind, please don’t ask) And that 2007 season broke every school record of note for season rushing; at the school that produced  Red Grange.

For more Illinois coverage, click here

10. Drew Brees, QB, Purdue- Joe Tiller’s famous “basketball on grass” offense centered around Brees, the greatest of all his pass-happy triggermen. He led the program to its first Rose Bowl in a generation (we probably won’t see the Boilers back there any time soon either). The only reason he’s not higher on this list is because his career ended in Pasadena, 2001. It would really be something special if he led another cursed franchise wearing gold and black to the promised land this year! Just think a team who literally built their stadium on a graveyard, went decades before achieving a playoff win, and almost has their home field wiped out by a monstrous hurricane, winning the Super Bowl? Brees may be the perfect hero for that story, he’s already accomplished big things in West Lafayatte.

Could certainly make a case for (in no particular order):

Kurt Kittner- Illinois QB, Chris Perry- Michigan RB, Darryll Clark, Michael Robinson- Penn State QBs, Brandon Graham- Michigan DE, Laurence Maroney, MAarion Barber III- Minnesota RBs, Charles Rogers- Michigan St. WR, Jamar Fletcher- Wisconsin DB, Larry Foote- Michigan LB, Maurice Clarett- Ohio St. RB (Just kidding!!!), Mike Doss- Ohio St. S, Michael Haynes- Penn St. DE, A.J. Hawk- LB Ohio St., Lamar Woodley- DE Michigan, Erasmus James- Wisconsin DE

And I know I missed a few more, so please feel free to hit up the comment boxes below and add in those names. And of course, state your case…

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Comments

  1. o-linemen get no love ever… but Joe Thomas has to be the best Badger player of the decade… at least deserves honorable mention on this list…

  2. OSU whomped by 40+? Or got beat solidly by 27 and 14. Which together, just barely are over 40…solid work my friend.

  3. It’s an exaggeration…I was just emphasizing how non-competitive they were in both those games. And that 14 pt loss was nowhere near as close as that marin sounds. The Bucks had a lot of garbage time pts in that game

  4. I knew I left out a Wisc OL or two, they truly have been one of the best schools in the nation for producing the big beef eaters up front…and Joe Thomas was quite possibly the best of the bunch.

    btw, Dave when we made Thugs Passion on x-mas eve we didn’t use chrystal in the drink that would have been crazy expensive, we used regular champagne instead.

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