And then there were three.
We've reached the best of the best in our Big Ten top 25 player countdown, and all of our final three players had outstanding years that could have earned them the top spot. Once again, we're basing these rankings on 2011 performance and impact, and not on other factors like NFL potential.
At No. 3 is a guy who spent only one year in the league, but he sure made the most of it.
No. 3: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin, Sr., 5-11, 210
Preseason rank: No. 18
2011 numbers: Completed 72.8 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards, with 33 touchdowns and four interceptions. Also ran 79 times for 338 yards and six scores.
Why he's here: We weren't sure how to rank Wilson in the preseason. Here was a guy transferring in from NC State and arriving at Wisconsin in the summer time. How would he adjust to a new team and a new system, and could he assert himself as a leader among players he didn't know that well?
Turns out Wilson exceeded every expectation. He had a spectacular season that saw him set a new FBS record for pass efficiency, edging out Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Wilson broke just about every Badgers single-season quarterbacking record and was a legitimate Heisman candidate himself for most of the season.
Maybe even more impressive than all his heroics on the field was the way Wilson instantly commanded the Wisconsin locker room and helped keep the team together after crushing defeats at Michigan State and Ohio State. He was everything and more Bret Bielema could have possibly hoped for, and he was quite simply one of the very best players in the Big Ten and the country.
No. 4: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
No. 5: David Molk, C, Michigan
No. 6: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 8: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 13: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 17: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
No. 18: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
No. 19: Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State
No. 20: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
No. 21: Marcus Coker, RB, Iowa
No. 22: Silas Redd, RB, Penn State
No. 23: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
No. 24: Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin
No. 25: Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan