You know it, you love it, you can't live without it. That's right; it's time once again for our biannual Big Ten Top 25 player rankings.
We did this before the season began, of course, taking into account past performance and potential for the year ahead. You can review our preseason list here and figure out who we underrated, overrated or properly rated. With a full season in the books, we don't have to concern ourselves with potential any more. So our postseason player rankings are based only on 2013 performance and not on any other factors such as NFL prospects or congeniality.
As always, this list was tough to pare down and order because of the many standout players in the league. But we did our resolute best. And it begins with:
No. 25: Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
Previous ranking: Not ranked
Making the case for Scheelhaase: The Illini quarterback had appeared on our top-25 lists in previous years, but after an injury-filled junior campaign as part of a crummy offense in 2012, we weren't sure what to expect of Scheelhaase this season. Luckily, with the help of Bill Cubit's new offense, he got back to form. And then some.
Scheelhaase led the Big Ten in passing yards with 3,272, the only league player to top 3,000 yards. He also added 21 touchdown passes against 13 interceptions and completed 66.7 percent of his attempts. That last number was also the highest of any regular starting quarterback in the conference, and he paced the league in total offense by tacking on 271 rushing yards and four runs for scores.
He announced himself early this season with 416 passing yards in the opener against Southern Illinois, a four-touchdown day in the victory over Cincinnati and a five-touchdown performance vs. Miami (Ohio). After slowing down a bit in the middle of the season, the senior picked things right back up with 321 passing yards vs. Penn State, 450 at Indiana and 288 against Ohio State.
Yes, Scheelhaase's interception total was a bit high, but so much of Illinois' offense -- and really, the entire team's hopes, given the state of the defense -- depended on his right arm. And he delivered by exceeding his previous career-best season by more than 1,100 yards. That's good enough to kick off our top 25.