The time has come.
During the next five weeks, Bennett and I will break down the top 25 players in the Big Ten entering the 2011 season. Trust us, this proved to be very difficult. The Big Ten now has 12 teams, quite a few proven standout players and several others likely on the brink of big things this fall. Whittling it down to 25 was extremely challenging. There are a lot of very good football players who didn't make our list.
Keep in mind the 2010 postseason top 5 featured only one player in the preseason top 10 (Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan) and three unranked players (Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Northwestern QB Dan Persa and Illinois DT Corey Liuget).
These rankings are based in part on past performance, but we also tried to identify players who will make the most significant impact on their teams this season. This is not a list of the Big Ten's top 25 NFL draft prospects.
OK, let's kick things off with ...
No. 25: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin, So., 5-11, 244
2010 numbers: Appeared in only two games because of shoulder problems, recorded seven tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack; in 2009 he recorded 54 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, a punt block, an interception, six kickoff returns and three made extra points.
Why he's here: Borland is a bit of a risky pick, given his recurring shoulder problems. But if he stays healthy, he'll make a major impact for the Badgers defense this fall. Borland showed tremendous playmaking ability in 2009, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He's always around the football -- he tied for the league lead in fumble recoveries as a freshman and tied for second in forced fumbles -- and could be the game-changer Wisconsin needs after the departure of All-American defensive end J.J. Watt. Borland shows the ability to penetrate the backfield and can be effective as a blitzing linebacker. His rehab from surgery has gone well and he has spent the summer rebuilding his strength. As long as he holds up, Borland provides Wisconsin a major boost in the defensive midsection.