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Opinion: Was Malik Hooker a defensive award snub?

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OSU redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker (24) and OSU sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker (17) celebrate Hooker's pick-six in the first half of the Buckeyes 30-27 overtime win against Michigan on Nov. 26. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

OSU redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker (24) and OSU sophomore linebacker Jerome Baker (17) celebrate Hooker’s pick-six in the first half of the Buckeyes 30-27 overtime win against Michigan on Nov. 26. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo Editor

On Tuesday, the Big Ten Conference announced it’s winners for the All-Conference teams, as well as individual defensive honors. Ohio State’s own defensive stars, redshirt sophomore safety Malik Hooker, redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis, junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan and redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore were all selected as first-team all-defensive picks for the Big Ten Conference.

Senior punter Cameron Johnston was also selected as the first team All-Conference punter. Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers and Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt, younger brother of star NFL defensive end J.J. Watt, were among other stars selected to the first team. Hooker, who was one of the standout defensive backs in the country this season, with six interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns, was a player many believed had a shot at winning the Nagurski-Woodson award for the Big Ten’s best defensive player.

Watt had a chance at winning it as well. In some earlier polls by ESPN, Hooker was the unanimous decision to win the award but fell short to Peppers when the awards were announced on Big Ten Network on Tuesday evening. The statistics show Hooker may have indeed been snubbed for the award.

He finished the regular season with 67 total tackles, five tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, six interceptions, three touchdowns, 181 interception return yards, and four passes defended. Not only were Hooker’s stats impressive, but they seemed to come at some very opportune times for the Buckeyes including his pick-six against Michigan to get OSU on the board as its offense struggled early.

Peppers, who also won two other awards, the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year and Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year, undeniably had an impressive season. His versatility to play multiple positions in all three phases of the game was a huge asset to the Wolverines this season. He finished the regular season with 72 tackles, five sacks, and one interception that came off a tipped pass from OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Peppers, however, did rank below some of his defensive counterparts in a number of categories including being 34th in the conference in sacks, 35th in interceptions and 32nd in tackles. This leads one to wonder what the Big Ten saw in giving him the DPOY award over other talented and deserving players such as Hooker or Watt. His versatility on defense as well as his star-power name was likely a factor in winning the award. The Big Ten Conference offensive awards are set to be announced Wednesday evening on Big Ten Network.

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