Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard didn't pile up big stats because no one would throw his way, but make no mistake about it, the Jim Thorpe Award winner was a dominating presence.
Making the case for Dennard: Consider this Exhibit A -- his highlight tape from the past season. Watch, then come back. We could close the case right there … but we'll expound for the visually impaired.
No defensive back in the country played better than Dennard, and none was more decorated. He earned the Jim Thorpe Award, became the Spartans' first cornerback to be a unanimous All-American and was this blog's Big Ten defensive MVP. He was even a finalist for the Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the nation's top defensive player.
He anchored the "No-Fly Zone" secondary that allowed just 165.6 passing yards a game, the third-lowest rate in the country. And, put simply, he was virtually unstoppable at cornerback. He showed awareness that allowed him to make a team-high 10 pass breakups, he showed toughness that allowed him to pry the ball from an OSU wideout for a pick, and he showed leadership that pushed the Spartans toward a Rose Bowl.
Dennard didn't boast the best numbers -- four interceptions, 62 tackles, two forced fumbles -- but the mark of a good defensive back isn't how many picks appear next to his name. It's what happens when quarterbacks throw his way. And quarterbacks knew better than to throw in Dennard's direction.
"Because I'm the safety to his side, I don't even get balls thrown my way because of that," Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis said before the Rose Bowl. "They don't want to throw in that area at all."
Dennard wasn't just one of the best players in the Big Ten. He was one of the best players in the nation. And his ranking here is well-deserved.