Big Ten postseason player rankings: No. 20

The postseason countdown rolls on, this time hitting on another surprise performer who wasn’t on the radar heading into the 2013 season. As a reminder, this list takes into account only what happened on the field last season and doesn’t rely on the preseason rankings, which in this case is good news for the quarterback of the Big Ten champions.

No. 20: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case for Cook: The Spartans had a hard time making up their mind on a quarterback during training camp, and that uncertainty spilled into the first few weeks of the season.

Back then, Cook was barely able to separate himself from the competition for playing time on the Michigan State roster, let alone impress when compared to his peers around the league. But by the end of the season, not only was he clearly the top choice for one of the nation’s best teams, his development as a passer made him one of the best QBs in the league and indispensable in MSU’s run to both the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl.

A guy who didn’t start the opener and threw for a combined total of 74 yards in the first two games capped his sophomore campaign with consecutive 300-yard outings in the postseason, carving up Ohio State for 304 yards and three touchdowns and then topping that with 332 and a couple more scores against Stanford in the Rose Bowl victory. Overall, his individual statistics rank in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, but that can be attributed, in some respects, to the slow start while the Spartans sorted through their options in a three-man battle for the job.

Once they settled on Cook, his confidence grew. He had command of the offense and made smart decisions with the football, throwing just six interceptions, which helped the offense pull its weight alongside the dominant defense. Cook’s 22 passing touchdowns wound up ranking second in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, and his 2,755 yards were good for fourth — even after he spotted the leaders a head start in September.

But after taking the reins for good, he made it quite clear there would be no uncertainty about the Spartans’ signal-caller heading into next season and no statistical hole to climb out of when conference play rolls around. And by the end of the 2013 campaign, Cook had also left no doubt that he belongs among the most valuable players in the Big Ten.

The countdown

No. 25: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase

No. 24: Indiana WR Cody Latimer

No. 23: Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford

No. 22: Iowa LT Brandon Scherff

No. 21: Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon

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