Postseason all-conference teams aren't a perfect way to evaluate a player’s season. But it would be incorrect to say that these postseason lists don't matter. They impact perception, which, as the College Football Playoff system underscores, matters a great deal in the sport. It matters in recruiting, bowl placement and more. It matters to the players who are being rewarded for their success.
If you've watched Northwestern football play this season, you'll know the Wildcats are one of the hottest teams in the country, in large part thanks to a ferocious defense. To a degree, the postseason All-Big Ten teams reflect that. Seven Northwestern players appear on the list, one at second-team (Godwin Igwebuike), three at third-team (Paddy Fisher, Joe Gaziano and Kyle Queiro) and three at honorable mention (Nate Hall, Tyler Lancaster and Samdup Miller).
Maybe it's a minor quibble, and maybe it doesn't matter all that much, but Hall, Fisher and Lancaster deserve to be higher. As a Northwestern student writing for a Northwestern-centric publication, I'm biased. But the numbers really support it.
Start with Hall, an honorable mention. Tackling stats are inexact, as Pat Fitzgerald noted earlier this season, but Hall is second in the conference with 16.5 tackles for loss. As a 4-3 linebacker, that's a remarkable total. What sets his case apart, though, is his versatility; he also has five sacks, eight passes defended and two interceptions this season.
He's a playmaker and has a nose for making big splash plays on defense, maybe none bigger than his game-saving, game-ending interception against Michigan State in triple overtime.
He ranks 1st among B1G LBs with 16.5 TFL.— NorthWWWWWWWestern Football (@NUFBFamily) November 28, 2017
He ranks 3rd with 2 INT.
He ranks 4th with 8 PBU.
He ranks 6th with 5.0 sacks.
He ranks 9th with 49 solo stops.
@NateHall32 not being 1st, 2nd or 3rd Team All-Big Ten (9 LBs) is:
Yet, he still isn't viewed as one of the nine best linebackers in the conference. Based on production, which should probably be the main criterion for this kind of evaluation, he should be.
Then there's Paddy Fisher, the Big Ten defensive freshman of the year according to BTN, who landed on the third team. Fisher's claim to being higher on the list rests on his ultra-consistent production. He has a whopping 110 tackles this season, which puts him near the top of the conference, and that's after he missed a large chunk of the second half against Penn State and all of the first half against Maryland.
At one point late this season, Fisher had the best run stop percentage among any inside linebacker in the country.
Northwestern LB Paddy Fisher fields the nation's highest run stop percentage among inside linebackers this season. pic.twitter.com/9VbhuMek5O— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) November 9, 2017
Individual numbers don't do as much justice to how good Tyler Lancaster is. As a defensive tackle in Mike Hankwitz's scheme, Lancaster often occupies multiple blockers, which is what opens up the space for Hall and Fisher to attack the line of scrimmage. He's a load to deal with and still finds a way to break into the backfield despite the double teams.
He doesn't put up the same numbers as defensive ends or some defensive tackles, but that isn't necessarily his job. In a league often defined by running the ball on offense, Lancaster has to be one of the top 12 D-linemen.
There are a lot of good defenders in the Big Ten, which is why players Fisher, Hall and Lancaster were pushed down a bit, but their bodies of work stack up with anybody's, especially on a defense that boasts a top-20 run defense nationally, per S&P+.
If anything, the all-conference team could provide some Danny Kanell-esque motivation for Pat Fitzgerald and his team going forward.
The B1G 10 clearly doesn't respect NU. Nobody can block Tyler Lancaster 1 on 1. Nate Hall has 17 TFL's. Both only honorable mention.Paddy Fisher is in the top of the Big 10 for tackles despite missing a game.Gets 3rd team. We are top 10 in the country in run defense SMH— Brett Walsh (@WalshBrett10) November 28, 2017
One way to earn that respect will be another bowl victory.
Regardless, it’s disappointing for these players. They deserved better.