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Big Ten Football: Who Gives the B1G the Best Chance at Winning the Bednarik Award?
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11 Jul 2017 01:29 PM EST

-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Michigan defensive end Rashan Gary. (Image Source: Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

On Monday, the Maxwell Football Club released their preseason Bednarik Award watch list, which included 15 players from the Big Ten. Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald won the award in its inaugural two seasons, followed by Michigan’s Charles Woodson. The Big Ten produced four of the first five winners and seven of the first 13, however the conference has hit a dry spell (no, Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh in 2009 doesn’t count). Here’s a look at which players give the B1G the best chance at snagging the award for the first time since Penn State’s Dan Connor in 2007:

1. DE Rashan Gary, Michigan:

The Wolverines saw three of their four linemen selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, but don’t expect a significant drop off up front thanks in large part to this true sophomore who is ready to creak the starting lineup and emerge as the lynchpin of Don Brown’s attacking defense. Everyone has Rashan Gary, the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2016 class, high on their list of breakout players. With good reason. Supremely physically gifted, Gary has the size, athleticism, and explosiveness to be an All-American, with the ability to play inside or out. He has the potential to be downright unblockable at the point of attack. As good as last year’s defense was, Gary could be the best defender to come through Ann Arbor since the aforementioned Charles Woodson two decades ago.

2. The OSU Quartet (LB Jerome Baker, DE Nick Bosa, DE Tyquan Lewis, CB Denzel Ward):

Along with Florida State, the Buckeyes top all teams with four members on the preseason watch list. Leading the best group of defensive ends in the country, junior Tyquan Lewis is coming off a season which saw him pace the Buckeyes with eight sacks and three forced fumbles. Simply a terror off the edge. Sophomore Nick Bosa is the lone projected “backup” on the watch list from the B1G, but he earned that respect by busting through with five sacks off the bench as a true freshman. You can be sure the Buckeyes staff will be creative and get him on the field along with Lewis and Sam Hubbard, who was snubbed. Respect is something the Buckeyes as a whole have earned which is why first-year starter Denzel Ward is on the list. The junior corner played behind a pair of first round picks but saw enough of the field to tie for the team lead in pass break ups with nine. OSU’s best all-around defender could be junior linebacker Jerome Baker, who plays the run well, can drop back and cover, as well as rush the passer as a blitzer.

3. MLB Josey Jewell, Iowa:

He may not have the upside that Rashan Gary or Ohio State’s top defenders do, but Iowa’s Josey Jewell should not be counted out. What he has over them is pedigree. Jewell is coming off a junior season, which saw him finish as a Butkus Award Finalist. The other four finalists have moved onto the NFL, as have last year’s three Bednarik Award finalists. So, Jewell is among the more decorated defenders entering the 2017 season. His 124 tackles were second in the Big Ten last season, just two behind Indiana’s Tegray Scales, who is also on the watch list. An excellent pass defender, it was Jewell (not 2015 Thorpe Award winner Desmond King) who led the Hawkeyes with nine pass breakups. If he can add some picks to his resume (think Manti Te’o) and turn some of his quarterback hurries into sacks, the MIKE could emerge as a sleeper candidate.

Other Big Ten Players on the Bednarik Award Watch List: S Marcus Allen, Penn State; LB Jason Cabinda, Penn State; LB Jermaine Carter Jr., Maryland; LB Jack Cichy, Wisconsin; DT Maurice Hurst, Michigan; S Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern; DT Steve Richardson, Minnesota; LB Tegray Scales, Indiana; DE Conor Sheehy, Wisconsin

Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards. You can reach him via email: danmogollon@gmail.com.

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