Big Ten rankings: No. 3, Michael Mauti

There are only three players left on our Big Ten postseason player rankings, which are based on 2012 performance only. We'll unveil No. 2 later today and the No. 1 player on our list Monday.

Checking in at No. 3 is the man who might well have had the No. 1 inspirational story in the Big Ten in 2012 ...

No. 3: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State, senior, 6-foot-2, 232 pounds

Preseason ranking: Not ranked

2012 numbers: Recorded 96 tackles, including 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss, plus three interceptions and three forced fumbles in 11 games.

Why he's here: It was a startling image, in the season finale against Wisconsin, to see the normally plain Penn State helmets prominently displaying Mauti's No. 42 on them.

What made it odder was that Mauti hadn't died, or been paralyzed, or stricken with some life-threatening disease. He'd torn up his knee again, something he'd unfortunately become all too familiar with as a collegian, and thus was unable to play in his final game for the Nittany Lions. Yet his teammates and coaches thought so much of him that they made that bold gesture to honor him on senior day.

"He embodies, in my opinion, what Penn State is all about," head coach Bill O'Brien said last November.

And that's ultimately, why we rank Mauti so high on this list. He meant so much to the Penn State team and community all season long. It began in the summer, when he and Michael Zordich stood up and loudly declared their loyalty to the school on behalf of the players after the NCAA levied its historically harsh sanctions against the program. Mauti unwittingly became the face of the team, especially with his strong comments at Big Ten media day.

Though his troublesome knees again prevented him from playing a full season, he did perform at full strength for almost all of 2012, showing us what he could do when healthy. Simply put, he was a destructive force who always seemed to be in the middle of every big play defensively. That's why we chose him as our Big Ten defensive player of the year and why he made the ESPN.com All-America team.

If there were any doubt about Mauti's value to Penn State, just listen to what fellow star linebacker Gerald Hodges said after his friend injured his knee against Indiana: "If I could give him one of my knees, I would, man," Hodges said. "He's the heart and soul of this team."

The countdown

No. 25: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan

No. 24: Michael Carter, CB, Minnesota

No. 23: Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern

No. 22: Spencer Long, G, Nebraska

No. 21: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State

No. 20: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

No. 19: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

No. 18: Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin

No. 17: Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan

No. 16: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

No. 15: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State

No. 14: Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State

No. 13: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin

No. 12: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State

No. 11: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

No. 10: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State

No. 9: Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern

No. 8: Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State

No. 7: Taylor Lewan, LT, Michigan

No. 6: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

No. 5: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska

No. 4: John Simon, DE, Ohio State