Are Ohio State and Michigan headed toward back-to-back showdowns this fall?
That’s the pick in the third annual Big Ten Newspaper Poll, though most don’t expect much of a contest if the rivals meet in a novelty championship game.
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After a weekend filled with bad news for the Buckeyes, a panel of 26 voters predicted only good for them in the fall. Pick a category — best team, best offensive player, best defensive player, best coach — and OSU ran away with it.
Leaders Division: 1. Ohio State 155.5 points (26 first-place votes); 2. Wisconsin 128 (1); 3. Penn State 104; 4. Indiana 74½; 5. Purdue 52½; 6. Illinois 31½
Legends Division: 1. Michigan 135½ (14); 2. Nebraska 132½ (14); 3. Michigan State 101½ (4); 4. Northwestern 95½; 5. Iowa 43; 6. Minnesota 38
Big Ten Championship picks: Ohio State over Nebraska (12); Ohio State over Michigan (11); Ohio State over Michigan State (2); Michigan over Ohio State (1)
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: 1. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State 16; 2. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin 4; 3. Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State 3; 4. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State 2; 5. Tyler Scott, DL, Northwestern 1
Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: 1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State 24; 2. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska 1; 2. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan 1
Will the Big Ten champ play for national title?: NO - 17 YES - 9
Big Ten team that will be most disappointing: 1. Michigan State 6; 2. Michigan 5; 3. Northwestern 4; 3. Iowa 4
Big Ten team that will be the most surprising: 1. Indiana 13; 2. Northwestern 6; 3. Michigan State 2; 4. Purdue 2
— 26 voters. Two beat reporters per school and two writers who cover league.
Though votes were taken before their recent wave of arrests and suspensions, the Buckeyes are a unanimous pick to win the Leaders Division and projected by all but one writer to capture the the conference title.
The lone dissent went to Michigan, which was the favorite to win a tightly waged Legends Division.
Michigan and Nebraska both received 14 first-place votes, with the Wolverines getting the slight edge overall. UM had 135½ points and Nebraska finished with 132½.
The Big Ten newspaper poll reached out to two beat reporters per team and two writers who cover the conference. The poll, which includes The Blade, was organized before the 2011 season after coaches requested the Big Ten do away with its traditional preseason voting.
Ohio State also cleaned up the major player predictions.
Braxton Miller, who will begin his junior season with loud Heisman buzz after becoming the first OSU quarterback to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 last year, received first 24 first-place votes as the near-unanimous pick for offensive player of the year.
The defensive player of the year race was more democratic, though still lopsided. OSU junior linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had 115 tackles last season, got 16 first-place votes. Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland was second with four votes.
Also represented was Buckeye All-American cornerback Bradley Roby with four votes. Roby led the Big Ten in passes defended last year and, despite a weekend arrest on misdemeanor battery charges, is expected to be an anchor.
Other poll questions inquired about the conference’s best coach — OSU’s Urban Meyer got 21 first-place votes — and whether the Big Ten champion will become the first league team since Ohio State in 2007 to crash the BCS title game. Seventeen voters said no.
The most popular championship matchups were Ohio State against Michigan or Nebraska.
If the former happens, it may be a once-in-a-life-time occurrence. The Buckeyes and UM will be in a remodeled seven-team East division next year, in part because of concerns it would detract from the rivalry if the schools played on the final regular season week, then the Big Ten championship game.