As football season inches closer it’s time to start looking at conference previews. This week we start with the Big Ten with five surefire conference MVP candidates.

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1. QB CJ Stroud, Ohio State

Stroud looks to be the guy who will start under center for the Buckeyes this fall, but Ryan Day has said it’s still an open competition heading into fall camp. Nonetheless, whoever wins this job will have some of the best weapons in the entire country. Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson form the top 1-2 punch at wide receiver by a good margin, Jaxon Smith-Njigba at WR3 and Jeremy Ruckert back again at tight end as a safety blanket. And the depth at the skill positions is off the charts and doesn’t end with them.

At this point, we’ve got to assume whomever is taking snaps for Ohio State is the prohibitive favorite for Big Ten MVP.

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2. RB Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota

The conference’s leading rusher last season, it took only seven games for Ibrahim to rush for more than 1,000 yards, and he averaged nearly 154 yards per game for the Gophers. With the loss of Rashod Bateman to the draft, even more of the offensive burden will lie on the shoulders of the junior tailback, especially because we really don’t know what to expect at this point out of Tanner Morgan.

However, if Minnesota is in the mix for the Big Ten West title, it will be because Ibrahim is churning out yards and carrying the team on his back.

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3. QB Michael Penix, Jr., Indiana

A breakout 2020 campaign ended with a torn ACL for Penix, who led upstart Indiana to some huge victories in his six starts. At Big Ten media days Penix said that he’s feeling good about his rehab progress and will be ready for the Hoosiers’ first game on Sept. 4.

One of the biggest things that impressed me about Penix last season was his accuracy, but it doesn’t hurt that he has one of the best 50-50 ball receivers in the conference coming back in Ty Fryfogle. If Indiana is able to compete near the top of the Big Ten East again, don’t be surprised if Penix is getting buzz for MVP.

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4. WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State

Far and away the most dangerous weapon for the Nittany Lions, Dotson returns for his senior season and will be the focal point of the offensive attack. Last fall, Dotson led the conference in receiving yards and touchdowns, and looks poised for a big final season in Happy Valley.

The biggest concern I have here is that with a lack of explosive weapons around him, he’s going to see a lot of double teams. But if he gets any space, there are not a lot of guys who can keep up with his pure speed and elusiveness in the open field.

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5. QB Graham Mertz, Wisconsin

The Badgers are the favorites yet again in the West, and if Mertz plays like he did in the opener last season against Illinois there’s good reason to believe that he could win the conference’s MVP. With a relatively unproven rushing attack, more of the offensive burden will lie with Mertz this season than we’re used to seeing in Madison.

Fortunately for him, he gets all of his top targets back, including tight end Jake Ferguson and receivers Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor and Chimere Dike. With Paul Chryst back calling plays again this fall, don’t be surprised if Mertz is able to put up some really big numbers and lead the Badgers back to the Big Ten title game.

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