ESPN.com is finishing its countdown of the Big Ten's top 25 players -- the league's Player of the Year only ranks No. 2, with No. 1 still to come -- and for the second straight season, there are no Gophers on the list. (Nor were there any on a similar postseason list last winter, hardly surprising after a 3-9 season.)
It's not an absence that Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com's terrific Big Ten blogger takes lightly -- it's probably better for readership if all programs are represented -- but the list loses meaning if artificial factors are introduced. This ranking takes into account "past performance and potential impact for the 2011 season," so it's no surprise that Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is No. 3 and Ohio State center Mike Brewster is No. 4, while Minnesota and Indiana are not represented.
The addition of Nebraska to the Big Ten also crowded out a handful of players. With one more slot to go, there are four players from Wisconsin on the list, topped by James White at No. 7, and three each from Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Had the list numbered 30 or so, though, the Gophers would probably have been represented. "One guy who was close from Minnesota was Da'Jon McKnight, who is a legitimate NFL prospect," Rittenberg said Friday. "He's a guy they will really rely on for offense."
There are a lot of good receivers who didn't make the list, Rittenberg said, including Michigan's Roy Roundtree, Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham, and Indiana's Damarlo Belcher. "Had the list been based mainly on the potential for an NFL career," as it once was, Rittenberg said, "Da'Jon would have been in there for sure."
The weight given to past performance eliminated MarQueis Gray, probably the Gophers' most critical player this season, from the list, since he has never been a starting quarterback in college before. He's an intriguing story to watch, Rittenberg said. "It's a tough transition from wide receiver to quarterback, but he's a guy who at least has the athleticism to rely on," Rittenberg said. "It's going to be an interesting game at USC, because they haven't handled dual[-threat] quarterbacks that well."