Is it Josh Jackson vs. Josey Jewell for top Big Ten defensive honor?
Josh Jackson's remarkable 2017 season is continuing to get better, and Josey Jewell finally is getting his all-Big Ten Conference due.
Both Iowa football players were named first-team all-conference Tuesday by the league's coaches and media. Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson was a third-team choice by the media.
The question now will be whether Jewell or Jackson win the honor as Big Ten defensive player of the year when that's announced Thursday. Both standouts could make cases.
Let's start with Jackson. The junior's morning began Tuesday by being named the winner of the Jack Tatum Award, given annually by the Touchdown Club of Columbus to college football's top defensive back.
The Tatum Award is often a pre-cursor to who wins the Jim Thorpe Award, for which Jackson is one of three finalists. Five of the last eight Tatum winners (including Iowa's Desmond King in 2015) also won the Thorpe.
Jackson (6-foot-1, 192 pounds) is tied for the FBS lead with seven interceptions and is the sole No. 1 with 25 passes defended. The first-year starter at left cornerback combined to create six turnovers — five interceptions, one fumble recovery — and scored two touchdowns in back-to-back weeks against top-five opponents Ohio State and Wisconsin.
If he is to become Iowa's second-ever Big Ten defensive player of the year (Leroy Smith, in 1991, is the only Hawkeye to win in), he'll probably have to beat out his teammate.
Jewell (6-2, 236) has already been honored with the Jack Lambert Award as the nation's top linebacker. The senior from Decorah missed one game (and played through an injured shoulder in several others) but still led the Big Ten with 123 tackles. His 13½ tackles for lost yardage led an Iowa defense that ranked 22nd nationally in points allowed (19.9 per game) and tied for first in interceptions (19).
Jewell also had two interceptions and 11 pass breakups; those 13 passes defended tying for fourth in the Big Ten.
Tuesday's first-team honor was not a surprise, but it validated some internal motivation for Jewell after he was named a Butkus Award finalist as a junior but was a second-team all-conference pick by the coaches and media at linebacker.
It'll now be interesting to see if Jackson, Jewell or someone else is named the Big Ten's top defensive player. There isn't another player with the sheer numbers of either Hawkeye. The Big Ten leader in sacks had eight.
But it's hard to ignore what the Wisconsin defense accomplished this season on the way to a 12-0 record. First-team linebacker T.J. Edwards would be a deserving choice, too; he had four interceptions and 67 tackles for a Badgers defense that led the country in total yards allowed (236.9 per game).
The Big Ten will reveal the first, second and third offensive teams Wednesday. Iowa's top candidates to make those teams include offensive linemen James Daniels and Sean Welsh; running back Akrum Wadley; and tight end Noah Fant.