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Friday, February 22, 2013
Big Ten rankings: No. 2, Montee Ball

By Adam Rittenberg

The postseason player rankings wrap up Monday with the No. 1 selection, so you're getting a double dose today. If you haven't figured out who the top two are, you probably weren't paying attention this season. As a reminder, the rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 campaign.

Our next player is no stranger to the top of the rankings. We've known him as Montee, Mon-tay and, my personal favorite, MoneyBall. You can typically find him in opposing end zones and he checks in at ...

No. 2: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin, senior, 5-foot-11, 215 pounds

Preseason ranking: No. 1

2012 numbers: 356 rushes for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns; 10 receptions for 72 yards; set a single-season team record for rushing attempts; set the NCAA career touchdowns record with 83.

Why he's here: Ball was the only Big Ten player to earn a major national individual honor as he claimed the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. He had a much tougher road in 2012 than in 2011, when he put up statistics that might not fully be appreciated for years, but he fought through adversity to finish strong.

After Ball surprised many by returning to Wisconsin for his senior season, the team launched a Heisman Trophy campaign complete with the slogan, "This fall belongs to Ball." But things got off to a rough start even before the season when a group of men attacked and beat Ball in downtown Madison, sending him to the hospital with a concussion. Ball recovered but had to fight for every yard early on as Wisconsin's offense struggled with coaching transition, particularly along the offensive line, typically the team's strongest and most reliable unit. In Week 4, Ball had his first career lost fumble and sustained another concussion. The following week, a mix-up between Ball and quarterback Danny O'Brien led to another fumble that ended Wisconsin's comeback attempt at Nebraska.

But Ball never let the obstacles defeat him, and that's the biggest reason why he's here in the rankings. He surged down the stretch in Big Ten play, recording two 200-yard performances, four performances of more than 190 rush yards and seven 100-yard efforts in his final eight league contests. Ball had a career-high 247 rush yards -- and a career-long 67-yard run -- against Purdue, tied Ron Dayne's touchdowns record during a 198-yard performance at Indiana and broke Travis Prentice's NCAA career touchdowns mark in the regular-season finale at Penn State.

The senior racked up 202 rush yards and three scores as Wisconsin ran all over Nebraska in the Big Ten championship. He had exactly 100 yards in the Rose Bowl against Stanford, becoming the first player to ever record three consecutive 100-yard efforts in the Rose Bowl and the first to score touchdowns in three different Rose Bowls. In addition to the Doak Walker Award, Ball earned AP first-team All-America honors, consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors, the Grange-Griffin Big Ten Championship MVP award and the Ameche-Dayne Big Ten Running Back of the Year award.

"Sometimes you've got to go through some things in life to become better and they're not really pleasant all the time," former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said in November. "So take those setbacks. He's championed them individually and it's obviously put him in the position he's at today to be one of the premier players in college football, not only in our conference, but throughout the country."

The countdown

No. 25: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
No. 24: Michael Carter, CB, Minnesota
No. 23: Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
No. 22: Spencer Long, G, Nebraska
No. 21: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
No. 20: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
No. 19: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
No. 18: Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin
No. 17: Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
No. 16: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
No. 15: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State
No. 14: Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State
No. 13: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
No. 12: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
No. 11: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
No. 10: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
No. 9: Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern
No. 8: Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State
No. 7: Taylor Lewan, LT, Michigan
No. 6: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
No. 5: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska
No. 4: John Simon, DE, Ohio State
No. 3: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State