Big Ten rankings: No. 7, Max Bullough

We're counting down our rankings of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2013 season. This list is based on past performance and potential for the upcoming season only. We do not consider NFL potential for purposes of these rankings.

Up next is a guy who provides the backbone for one of the nation's best defenses ...

No. 7: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State, senior, 6-foot-3, 245 pounds

2012 postseason ranking: No. 15

2012 numbers: Had 111 tackles, including 12.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks, plus one forced fumble and an interception.

Why he's here: Michigan State has had the Big Ten's top defense and a Top 10 national unit each of the past two seasons. Not so coincidentally, the man making the on-the-field calls from the middle linebacker position each of those seasons was Bullough.

If Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi could design a robot to carry out his plans and schemes, it would probably look a lot like Bullough -- size, strength, speed and smarts. If not for the fact that just about every person born in Michigan with the last name Bullough seems to play football in East Lansing, we might be checking Max for wires and batteries, so encyclopedic is his understanding of this defense.

Bullough set a career high in tackles last season, which included a particularly disruptive game in the win at Wisconsin. He was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and by ESPN.com. He is on the preseason watch list for virtually every major defensive award, and should contend for All-America honors. Michigan State's outstanding team defense has oddly not created a lot of individual superstars. But Bullough is the straw that stirs the drink.

The countdown

No. 25: Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois

No. 24: Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa

No. 23: James White, RB, Wisconsin

No. 22: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

No. 21: John Urschel, G, Penn State

No. 20: Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern

No. 19: Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State

No. 18: Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State

No. 17: Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska

No. 16: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin

No. 15: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

No. 14: Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern

No. 13: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

No. 12: Spencer Long, G, Nebraska

No. 11: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan

No. 10: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

No. 9: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

No. 8: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State