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.
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. 25: Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan