The first wave of conference matchups is in the books. So, in addition to the Big Ten races starting to take shape in the race for the league title, the jockeying for individual awards is getting more meaningful as well.
Heading into October, some clear favorites have emerged on both sides of the ball after some early volatility in the voting. Here's how the Big Ten reporting crew sums up the competition after four weeks of action, with the bonus category this week focusing on the most important position on the field.
Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett (five first-place votes): The guy with the keys to Urban Meyer's explosive offense has been playing the best football of his career early in the season, breaking records and bringing along the young talent around him to give the Buckeyes the look of a national-title threat. After a bye week, Barrett will be trying to pick up where he left off against Rutgers.
2. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.: The Cornhuskers look to be back in the mix for a conference championship, and there's really no secret what has fueled their transformation after a difficult first season under Mike Riley. Armstrong has improved his decision-making and cut down on the turnovers, and with just one interception through four games, it's not a surprise Nebraska hasn't lost yet.
3. Ohio State H-back Curtis Samuel: While Barrett might dominate the spotlight, the versatility Samuel brings to the Ohio State offense might actually make him every bit as valuable as the quarterback. The Buckeyes can use him as a receiver, they've increased his role as a more traditional running back and they've also let him take snaps as a Wildcat quarterback as he's emerged as one of the most dangerous weapons in the Big Ten.
4. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley: The Nittany Lions didn’t put up much of a fight on the road against Michigan, but Barkley's talent was still put on display even if he had to scratch and claw for every yard. Barkley accounted for 136 yards on 20 offensive touches in the losing effort -- and Penn State would really be in trouble without him.
5. Michigan QB Wilton Speight: The Michigan signal-caller hasn’t been all that flashy early in the season, but Speight looks like the right choice to lead Jim Harbaugh's offense so far. With nine touchdown passes and just a single interception, Speight is giving the Wolverines exactly what they need from the position and putting a talented supporting cast to work for him.
Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Ohio State S Malik Hooker (four first-place votes): The only thing keeping the Buckeyes from nabbing more interceptions and returning them for touchdowns last weekend was the schedule. Fresh off the bye week, Hooker and the dynamic Ohio State secondary will be hungry to build on its impressive start when Rutgers visits the Horseshoe.
2. Michigan LB/DB Jabrill Peppers: Peppers' new role in the Michigan defense is suiting his diverse set of skills quite well so far. No matter where he lines up on the field, he's become a presence behind the line of scrimmage and leads the Big Ten with 9.5 tackles for loss already this season.
3. Ohio State CB Marshon Lattimore (one first-place vote): The Buckeyes have long raved about Lattimore's potential, but injuries have largely kept him from showing the rest of the country what he's capable of at full strength. With three interceptions and a touchdown already to his credit this season, Lattimore is clearly living up to the hype.
4. Wisconsin LB T.J. Watt: The family business is alive and well with the Badgers. The junior linebacker and little brother of a pretty well-known former Wisconsin star is making a name for himself, earning defensive player of the week honors after piling up 3.5 tackles for loss -- 2.5 of them sacks -- in the impressive win at Michigan State.
5. Michigan State DT Malik McDowell: Drawing no shortage of attention from opposing blockers, McDowell is off to a relatively slow start statistically with just 8 total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. But his reputation and potential to change games up front continues to earn him a place among the league's best defenders.
Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year
1. Barrett (five first-place votes): As long as the Buckeyes keep winning and Barrett continues to have so many weapons available to him, the numbers are going to pile up and make him hard to beat for this honor -- one he's already claimed in his career.
2. Armstrong: The natural talent in his arm has never been a question, but both Armstrong and the Huskers go to another level when he's smart with the football. Mike Riley indicated the improvement was all about repetition, and Armstrong seems to have made the most of his offseason.
3. Speight: When the rushing attack is rolling for Michigan like it was in the rout of Penn State, all Speight really has to do is keep the train on the tracks. But, even with a lighter load, he still was efficient as a passer, completing 21 of his 34 throws for 189 yards and a touchdown.