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.
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. 15: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
No. 16: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
No. 25: Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan