Big Ten: 2011 Big Ten postseason Top 25

If you haven't figured out who's No. 1 in our Big Ten top 25 player countdown by now, you must not have watched much football last year. Of course, we based our rankings on 2011 performance and impact, and not on other factors like NFL potential. Few players in the country -- this year or any year -- matched this guy's performance.

A drum roll, please, for ...

No. 1: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin, Jr., 5-11, 210

Preseason rank: No. 11

2011 numbers: Carried 307 times for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns in 13 games. Also caught 24 passes for 306 yards and six touchdowns.

Why he's here: You were expecting, what? A long snapper?

There are great seasons, there are special seasons and then there are truly historic seasons. Ball had a truly historic 2011 campaign, tying Barry Sanders' FBS record for touchdowns in a season. True, Sanders' record came in fewer games and his bowl stats didn't count, but as Ball humbly put it whenever asked, just to be mentioned in the same breath as Barry Sanders is a remarkable achievement. And Ball sat out the fourth quarter of several games during his record chase.

Ball wasn't some plow horse, either, as he averaged 6.3 yards per carry. He had the most total rushing yards in the country, and his 39 touchdowns were more than 41 FBS teams scored last season. In many years, those numbers would have been good enough to earn Ball the Heisman Trophy. Because Wisconsin lost a couple games midseason and his candidacy really didn't take off until late, Ball finished fourth in the Heisman balloting. Still, he was the Big Ten's first Heisman finalist since Ohio State's Troy Smith in 2006.

He should enter 2012 as the leading preseason Heisman candidate, as he made the surprising decision to come back for his senior year. Not only does that make Wisconsin fans happy, it also makes our job of ranking the No. 1 player for 2012 pretty darn easy.

Previously

No. 2: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
No. 3:
Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
No. 4:
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
No. 5:
David Molk, C, Michigan
No. 6
: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 7: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 8
: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14
: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
We're almost there now.

Our Big Ten top 25 player countdown is down to its final two members, the absolute cream of the crop. As a reminder (we promise we'll only write this one more time), we're basing these rankings on 2011 performance and impact, and not on other factors like NFL potential.

Taking the silver medal is Big Ten's reigning defensive player of the year ...

No. 2: Devon Still, DT, Penn State, 6-5, 310

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2011 numbers: Started all 13 games for the Nittany Lions, finishing with 55 tackles, including 17 for loss and 4.5 sacks with one forced fumble.

Why he's here: One word describes Still's senior season: unblockable.

Or to use a few more words, as Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, Still "caused just complete and total chaos in the backfield." Rarely has a defensive tackle provided so many matchup nightmares as Still did in 2011. A light bulb seemed to go off for him before the 2011 Outback Bowl, and he carried that into his final season in State College. Still always had the strength and physical talents, but he married that with a nonstop motor and desire to be the best. That turned him into an All-American.

Teams had little choice but to double-team Still to try and slow him down, and that only opened up opportunities for the rest of Penn State's defense. Still was finally quieted in the final two games as he was banged up a bit. But by then he had already made his point: He was the best defensive player in the Big Ten.

Previously

No. 3: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
No. 4:
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
No. 5:
David Molk, C, Michigan
No. 6
: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 7: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 8
: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14
: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
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.

Previously

No. 4: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
No. 5:
David Molk, C, Michigan
No. 6
: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 7: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 8
: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14
: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
Most of you have figured out the top four names in the Top 25 postseason player countdown, but the suspense is still building. As a reminder, we're basing these rankings on 2011 performance and impact, and not on other factors like NFL potential.

Now it's time to recognize a defensive linemen who showed no mercy, or merci, at ...

No. 4: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois, Jr., 6-foot-4, 265

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2011 numbers: Started all 13 games at defensive end and recorded 57 tackles, including 22.5 for loss and 16 sacks. Added nine forced fumbles, six quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery.

Why he's here: For the second consecutive year the Big Ten watched a defensive end build on a decent season and take his game to nationally elite levels. Mercilus was the 2011 version of J.J. Watt, who went from solid pass rusher as a sophomore to a first-team All-American as a junior. The Illini standout led the nation in sacks, 2.5 more than any other FBS player, and ranked second in tackles for loss. His forced fumbles total set a Big Ten record and ranked second in NCAA history.

Mercilus recorded tackles for loss in 12 of 13 games, recorded sacks in 11 games and recorded multiple tackles for loss in eight contests. He forced two fumbles in a monster effort at Indiana and had forced fumbles in seven other contests.

While five Big Ten players earned consensus first-team All-America honors, Mercilus was the league's only unanimous selection. He won the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media. No Big Ten defender made more game-changing plays than Mercilus, who triggered an Illinois defense that ranked seventh nationally in yards allowed and 15th in points allowed. He opted to forgo his senior senior and enter the NFL draft.

Previously

No. 5: David Molk, C, Michigan
No. 6
: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 7: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 8
: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14
: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
At long last, the Big Ten postseason Top 25 player countdown has reached the final five names. In case you've been in a cave for the past few weeks -- or just don't read carefully -- we'd like to remind you that this list is based on 2011 performance and impact on a given team, and not any other factors like NFL potential.

It's time to recognize one of the toughest players in the country at ...

No. 5: David Molk, C, Michigan, Sr., 6-foot-2, 286

Preseason rank: No. 12

2011 numbers: Appeared in all 13 games and started 12 (he missed the first series in the Sugar Bowl because of injury but returned). Molk finished his career with 41 starts for the Wolverines.

Why he's here: Molk was regarded as the best center in college football, earning the Rimington Trophy among many honors. Yet his value to Michigan's 2011 breakthrough season went much deeper. He played an instrumental role in the transition from Rich Rodriguez's offense to Al Borges' offense, and Borges placed a heavy burden on Molk, which the senior had no trouble handling. As Borges said, "The center is the quarterback of the offensive line, and David Molk certainly fits that mold."

A co-captain, Molk was part of a senior class that guided Michigan through transition and to an 11-2 record and a Sugar Bowl championship. He showed his toughness in the bowl by playing all but one series after severing a tendon in his foot during warmups. Molk triggered an offense that ranked 13th nationally in rushing and 26th in scoring despite some bumps along the way.

He earned Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the league's coaches.

Previously

No. 6: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 7: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 8
: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14
: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
There's only a few more names to rattle off on the Big Ten postseason top 25 player countdown. In case you needed a reminder, these rankings are based on overall performance during the 2011 season and impact on a given team, and not on factors such as NFL potential.

Up next, a guy named David who played like Goliath for Nebraska at ...

No. 6: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska, Sr., 6-foot-1, 225

Preseason rank: No. 5

2011 numbers: Started all 13 games and led Nebraska in total tackles (133), solo tackles (65), tackles for loss (13), sacks (5.5), forced fumbles (3) and fumbles recovered (2); tied for team lead in interceptions (2) and added three quarterback hurries.

Why he's here: No Big Ten linebacker had a better mix of consistent production and impact plays than David, who played only two seasons in Lincoln but won't soon be forgotten. While some Nebraska defenders struggled with the transition to the Big Ten, David once again put up big numbers and earned the inaugural Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award for his efforts. He earned first-team All-America honors from the AFCA and appeared on several other All-America teams, including ESPN.com's. While his 2011 performance might not have resonated nationally as much as his 2010 showing, he was just as good.

David finished 18th nationally in tackles per game (10.23 tpg), finished ninth in the Big Ten in sacks and tied for 12th in tackles for loss. He played a major role in Nebraska's historic comeback against Ohio State, forcing and recovering a fumble that sparked the Huskers' rally. David also displayed growth as a leader in addressing his fellow defenders after a lousy first half against the Buckeyes.

He recorded eight or more tackles in nine games and was one of the few Huskers defenders who performed well even in the team's losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. While Nebraska admittedly was undermanned at linebacker, David did all he could to keep the defense afloat in its first Big Ten go-round. In two years David recorded 285 tackles, 28 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks.

Previously

No. 7: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 8
: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14
: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
The Big Ten postseason Top 25 player countdown is reaching the home stretch. As a reminder, we're basing these rankings on 2011 performance and impact and not other factors like NFL potential.

Now let's head back to Sparta for ...

No. 7: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State, Jr., 6-foot-3, 310

Preseason rank: No. 14

2011 numbers: Started all 14 games at defensive tackle and recorded 30 tackles, including 10.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks. He added two blocked kicks, a fumble recovery and three quarterback hurries.

Why he's here: Worthy entered the season with a lot of NFL draft hype, and backed it up with his play, solidifying the interior of the Big Ten's top-rated defense (No. 6 nationally). Like many standout defensive tackles, Worthy made an impact on games that went far beyond the numbers. He topped every opponent's scouting report, and regularly commanded the attention of multiple offensive linemen.

Worthy was one of five Big Ten players to earn consensus first-team All-America honors, and earned first-team All-Big Ten recognition from both the coaches and the media. He joined elite company at Michigan State as the first Spartans defensive lineman to earn first-team Associated Press All-America honors since the late Bubba Smith in 1966. He also was a semifinalist for both the Lombardi and Bednarik awards.

He recorded a tackle for loss in nine games and finished with five tackles and two tackles for loss in Michigan State's victory against Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Worthy anchored a defensive line that helped Michigan State rank ninth nationally in rush yards allowed (100.5 ypg). Not surprisingly, he decided to forgo his senior season and enter the 2012 NFL draft.

Previously

No. 8: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14
: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
Our Big Ten top-25 player countdown has reached the elite eight. Remember that these rankings are based on performance during the 2011 season and a player's impact on his team, and not on factors such as NFL potential.

At eight is an all-time Iowa great ...

No. 8: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa, Sr., 6-4, 215

Preseason rank: No. 23

2011 numbers: Caught 82 passes for 1,315 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Also carried six times for 58 yards.

Why he's here: McNutt was a very good receiver who achieved greatness as a senior. He led the Big Ten and finished 10th in the nation in receiving yards, while only five players in the country had more than his 12 receiving touchdowns. Though he was inexplicably snubbed as a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, he won the Big Ten's inaugural Richter-Howard trophy as the league's top wide receiver.

He finished his Hawkeyes career as the program's single-season and all-time leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, which isn't bad for a guy who started his career out as a quarterback. McNutt had eight 100-yard games in 2011 and posted 184 yards and three touchdowns on just six receptions against Indiana. He also came up with some ridiculous highlight grabs, like his reaching-behind, one-handed snare against Michigan State or his double-clutch touchdown catch against Purdue.

McNutt's season ended with a pair of off games against Nebraska and Oklahoma, the latter of which almost saw him crushed by a falling skycam. But he did enough in 2011 to be considered the league's best receiver and one of the Big Ten's top overall performers.

Previously

No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11
: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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

Big Ten rankings: No. 9, Kirk Cousins

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
9:00
AM ET
Our Big Ten top 25 player countdown rolls on, and we've reached the truly upper-echelon guys at this point, the ones with single-digit numbers next to their names. All together now: these rankings are based on performance during the 2011 season and a player's impact on his team, and not on factors such as NFL potential.

At No. 9 is a guy who wore No. 8 and started three years at quarterback for the team that finished No. 11 last season:

No. 9: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State, Sr., 6-3, 205

Preseason rank: No. 6

2011 numbers: Completed 267 of 419 passes (63.7 percent) for 3,316 yards, with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Named second-team All-Big Ten by the league coaches.

Why he's here: The main knock on Cousins going into 2011 was that he had a tendency to force things in big games, leading to turnovers and mistakes. That wasn't the case in his senior season, and as a result, there wasn't much at all to criticize about his play.

Cousins had at least 200 yards passing in 11 of Michigan State's 14 games and turned in big performances in both showdowns against Wisconsin (six touchdown passes combined, including the Hail Mary completion in the first meeting). He threw for 300 yards in the Outback Bowl win over Georgia, offsetting his three interceptions by leading a crucial late drive to tie the game at the end of regulation.

Cousins led the Big Ten in passing yards and finished his career as the Spartans' all-time leader in passing touchdowns, passing yards, completions, passing efficiency rating and total offense. And you can't underestimate the leadership he brought to the team as the face of the program, a big key in Michigan State's 11-win campaign.

There's not much more you could have asked from Kirk Cousins in 2011.

Previously

No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
No. 11
: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
As promised, this is today's second installment in our Big Ten top 25 player countdown. Once again, these rankings are based on performance during the 2011 season and a player's impact on his team, and not on factors such as NFL potential.

Our top 10 kicks off with "Superman:"

No. 10: Rex Burkhead, RB, Jr., 5-11, 210

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2011 numbers: Carried 284 times for 1,406 yards and 15 touchdowns. Also caught 21 passes for 177 yards and two scores. Named first-team All-Big Ten performer.

Why he's here: We dropped the ball by not ranking Burkhead in the preseason, but Burkhead almost never failed to come through for his team. As a junior, he was a true workhorse (his 284 carries were two shy of the Nebraska school record) and a major playmaker who turned in seven 100-yard games while finishing third in the league in rushing yards.

Burkhead had big performances in key wins against Washington, Ohio State, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa and cemented his status as a rock star among the Huskers fan base with his rugged, hit-you-before-you-hit-me running style. He even played a little quarterback in certain offensive sets, and teammates insist he has the arm to make things happen in the passing game.

We are anxious to see what Burkhead has in store for his senior season, when he could be a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate. One thing's for sure: We won't underestimate him in the preseason again.

Previously

No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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

Big Ten rankings: No. 11, Mike Martin

February, 28, 2012
2/28/12
9:00
AM ET
This is the first of a special batch of two installments in the Big Ten Top 25 player countdown today. As a reminder, these rankings are based on performance during the 2011 season and a player's impact on his team, and not on factors such as NFL potential.

Just outside the Top 10 is a guy who had a great career and a major impact on the 2011 season:

No. 11: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan, Sr., 6-2, 304

Preseason rank: No. 10

2011 numbers: Registered 64 tackles, including six for loss and 3.5 sacks. Named a second-team All-Big Ten performer.

Why he's here: Even when Michigan's defense was lousy during the Rich Rodriguez years, Martin provided a bright spot. In 2011, the defense shined, and Martin was again an anchor in the middle of the defensive front.

Strong and explosive for his size, Martin was nearly impossible to push backwards, and the Wolverines' defense excelled in short yardage situations in large part due to his play inside. He did more than just occupy blockers, too, coming up with big plays like in his 10-tackle showing against Virginia Tech in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win. A standout performance in the NFL combine earlier this week illustrated his physical gifts, and Martin also offered strong leadership as a team captain who gave teammates an excellent example on and off the field to follow.

He could easily have made our Top 10, and in other seasons he would have won postseason awards. But it was a very strong year for defensive tackles in the Big Ten.

Previously

No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 13
: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
The top 10 is getting closer, as the Big Ten postseason player rankings march forward. As a reminder, these rankings are based on performance during the 2011 season and a player's impact on his team, and not on factors such as NFL potential.

Let's head back to Husker Country for ...

No. 12: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska, Sr., 5-foot-10, 205

Preseason rank: No. 13

2011 numbers: Started 10 games at cornerback after being sidelined by a leg injury; recorded 31 tackles and six pass breakups

Why he's here: If you only look at the numbers, you're completely missing Dennard's value to the Huskers. He was the Big Ten's best shutdown cornerback and one of the best nationally. Dennard shut down arguably the Big Ten's top two wide receivers, Iowa's Marvin McNutt (4 receptions, season-low 29 receiving yards against Nebraska) and Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham (zero catches, zero yards). Opposing quarterbacks quickly discovered that throwing the ball in Dennard's direction led to bad things, so they focused on the other side of the field.

Dennard missed the first four games with a pulled muscle in his leg but buoyed Nebraska's pass defense upon his return, as the Huskers finished 18th nationally against the pass. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media — the lone defensive back to appear on both first teams — and was the league's first recipient of the Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award.

Previously

No. 13: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
The Big Ten postseason Top 25 player countdown keeps chugging along. As a reminder, we're basing these rankings on 2011 performance and impact and not other factors like NFL potential.

That said, it's time to spotlight an Iowa player who happens to have excellent NFL potential ...

No. 13: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa, Jr., 6-6, 300

Preseason rank: No. 8

2011 numbers: Reiff started all 13 games at left tackle and ended his career with 34 consecutive starts and 37 overall.

Why he's here: Offensive linemen are usually spotlighted for bad things like penalties or sacks allowed, so the fact we didn't hear much about Reiff in 2011 underscores his steady play. Although Iowa's offense had its good moments and its struggles, Reiff provided a consistent presence at left tackle. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media, and appeared on several postseason All-America squads. Reiff protected the Big Ten's No. 3 passer in James Vandenberg and helped running back Marcus Coker rush for 1,384 yards.

A physical player with polished fundamentals, Reiff contained several of the nation's top pass-rushers in his career. With little to prove, he declared for the NFL draft in early January. Like his Iowa predecessor Bryan Bulaga, Reiff will forgo his final season, and he's expected to be the first Big Ten player selected in April.

Previously

No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 15
: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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
It's time for another installment in our Big Ten Top 25 players countdown. Remember that we are basing these rankings on 2011 performance and impact and not other factors like NFL potential.

Now we turn to one half of the league's best receiver duo in 2011:

No. 14: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State, Sr., 6-2, 215

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2011 numbers: Caught 79 passes for 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Why he's here: Cunningham made the leap from good to great in 2011. A productive receiver from the time he started playing as a freshman in 2008, Cunningham more than doubled his previous career high for receiving yards in a season and blossomed into a true, No. 1 wideout.

Using his size, physicality and speed, Cunningham had eight games of more than 100 yards receiving last season, including a three-touchdown performance against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. He burned Ohio State for nine catches and 154 yards on a day when offense was hard to come by.

Cunningham finished his career as Michigan State's all-time leader in receptions and yards. His production and leadership will be hard to replace in 2012.

Previously

No. 15: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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

Big Ten rankings: No. 15, John Simon

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
11:00
AM ET
The Top 25 postseason player countdown has reached the final 15 names. Some tough choices here as we inch toward No. 1. As a reminder, this list is based on 2011 performance and impact on a given team, and not any other factors like NFL potential.

It's time to head to Buckeye Country for ...

No. 15: John Simon, DL, Ohio State, 6-foot-2, 270, junior

Preseason rank: No. 20

2011 stats: Started all 13 games along the defensive line. He led the team in both tackles for loss (16) and sacks (7), ranking seventh and fifth in the league, respectively. He also had a fumble recovery, three pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.

Why he's here: Ohio State's defense didn't deliver its typical dominance in 2011, but Simon did his part for a young defensive line. He played both end and tackle and at times dominated play, recording a combined nine tackles for loss, including five sacks, during Ohio State's three-game win streak against Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. Simon recorded multiple tackles for loss in four games.

In a league loaded with outstanding defensive linemen, Simon earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and second-team honors from the media. He also earned third-team AP All-America honors at defensive tackle. Simon triggered Ohio State's top defensive performance against Illinois with nine tackles, four for loss, and earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. He'll lead the Buckeyes in 2012 as a leading candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Previously

No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
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

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