Big Ten: 2013 postseason player rankings

The Big Ten postseason player rankings are based solely on performance during the previous year, not on future potential. The next man up always had the potential to be great, and he finally put it together last fall.

[+] EnlargeRa'Shede Hageman
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsRa'Shede Hageman was a disruptive force all season long for Minnesota.
Defensive tackle has recently been a position of strength in the Big Ten, but only one player makes our Top 25. He played a big role in Minnesota's 8-win campaign.

No. 18: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

Previous ranking: No. 15

Making the case for Hageman: It can be hard to identify defensive tackles in the morass of bodies at the line of scrimmage, but you noticed Hageman every time he took the field for the Gophers. The big man contributed in several ways, from a field-goal block that led to a touchdown in the season opener to four drive-killing plays (interception, three pass breakups) in a breakthrough win at Northwestern.

Hageman's overall numbers are notable, as he led all Big Ten defensive tackles with 13 tackles for loss (ninth in the league overall) and finished second on the Gophers with nine passes defended. But the stats didn't illustrate his full impact on games. Opposing offenses had to identify No. 99 and try to avoid him, which proved to be challenging. Hageman had two or more tackles for loss in five games, including the Texas Bowl against Syracuse. His presence helped Minnesota finish fourth in the Big Ten in scoring defense (22.2 ppg) and first in red-zone defense.

At 6-foot-6 and approximately 315 pounds, Hageman has a unique frame and skills for an interior defensive lineman, and after elevating his game as a senior for the Gophers, he's poised for big things at the next level.

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
  • No. 20: Michigan State QB Connor Cook
  • No. 19: Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis
The postseason Top 25 countdown has reached the teens now. As a reminder, this list takes into account 2013 performance only and not any other factors such as NFL potential.

This next guy definitely has pro possibilities, though, after an outstanding career that somehow began without a scholarship ...

No. 19: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin

Previous ranking: No. 16

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJared Abbrederis had a career-defining game at Ohio State.
Making the case for Abbrederis: The Twitter handle for the Badgers star is @abbrecadabra, suggesting some sort of magical reason for his sustained success. But there really is no trick to his game.

"You get what you see with Jared," head coach Gary Andersen said last fall. "There are no secret agendas, no hidden agendas."

The only thing resembling a sleight of hand with Abbrederis would be his underrated speed, which seemed to continually catch defenders off guard. Or hopelessly chasing him toward the end zone.

A precise route-runner with sure hands, Abbrederis put up career-highs with 78 catches for 1,081 yards and nine total touchdowns in 2013. He did that despite being the only Wisconsin receiver that other teams ever worried about. Sure, Abbrederis benefited from all the attention opposing defenses focused on the Badgers' outstanding running game, but he also could have had even bigger numbers had quarterback Joel Stave hit him in stride on all the many times Abbrederis worked to get wide open.

The highlight of Abbrederis' season came early, when he destroyed the single-coverage plan Ohio State had for him with star cornerback Bradley Roby. Abbrederis finished with 10 catches for 207 yards that night, and afterward Urban Meyer said he'd vote for Abbrederis for every receiving award.

He won the 2013 Burlsworth Award as the nation's top former walk-on and ended his career tied for the most career receptions and second-most career receiving yards in Wisconsin history. There's only one thing left to say:

Ta-da!

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
  • No. 20: Michigan State QB Connor Cook

The postseason top 25 player rankings have reached the summit. Your final reminder: these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season.

Our pick for the Big Ten's top player blossomed at quarterback for the Big Ten's best team last season. His next task is to take Ohio State all the way to ...

No. 1: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State, sophomore, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller threw 15 touchdown passes last season.
Preseason ranking: No. 19

2012 numbers: 227 rushes for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns; completed 148 of 254 pass attempts (58.3 percent) for 2,039 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions; averaged 275.8 yards of total offense per game.

Why he's here: Miller wasn't the only reason Ohio State ran the table in 2012, but he carried the team early and continued to sparkle during Big Ten play as the entire Scarlet and Gray operation came together. The sophomore backed up the big talk from coach Urban Meyer, who in July called Miller "the most dynamic athlete I've ever coached," and continued to make big plays week after week. He seamlessly fit Meyer's offense en route to earning Big Ten Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Miller's athleticism certainly jumped out as he recorded six 100-yard rushing performances, including 186 yards against Nebraska, a team single-game record for quarterback rushing. He had 14 runs of 20 yards or more and four runs of 55 yards or more. Miller eclipsed 135 rush yards in five of the first seven games this past fall, putting himself very much in the mix for the Heisman Trophy. His natural playmaking skills jumped out as a freshman, even though he lacked experience and a functional offense, and he took things to the next level.

Ohio State's offensive line came together during Big Ten play, and other weapons like Carlos Hyde emerged around Miller, but the quarterback made the offense go early on, especially when the Buckeyes were struggling defensively. Even later in the season, when Miller's production dropped off, he made impact plays like this that left everyone buzzing. Miller's passing numbers don't jump off of the page and he'll need to improve his accuracy going forward, but he stretched the field well, as receiver Devin Smith averaged 20.8 yards per reception.

The sophomore earned the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football Award as Big Ten MVP and finished fifth in the Heisman voting. He was a finalist for the Davey O'Brien award and claimed the Big Ten's Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year award. He'll enter 2013 as one of the top candidates for the Heisman as he leads an Ohio State team that many expect to contend for the national championship.

We've never had a player end up No. 1 in the postseason countdown in consecutive seasons, but Miller certainly has a chance.

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
No. 3: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
No. 2: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
The postseason player rankings wrap up Monday with the No. 1 selection, so you're getting a double dose today. If you haven't figured out who the top two are, you probably weren't paying attention this season. As a reminder, the rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 campaign.

Our next player is no stranger to the top of the rankings. We've known him as Montee, Mon-tay and, my personal favorite, MoneyBall. You can typically find him in opposing end zones and he checks in at ...

No. 2: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin, senior, 5-foot-11, 215 pounds

Preseason ranking: No. 1

2012 numbers: 356 rushes for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns; 10 receptions for 72 yards; set a single-season team record for rushing attempts; set the NCAA career touchdowns record with 83.

Why he's here: Ball was the only Big Ten player to earn a major national individual honor as he claimed the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. He had a much tougher road in 2012 than in 2011, when he put up statistics that might not fully be appreciated for years, but he fought through adversity to finish strong.

After Ball surprised many by returning to Wisconsin for his senior season, the team launched a Heisman Trophy campaign complete with the slogan, "This fall belongs to Ball." But things got off to a rough start even before the season when a group of men attacked and beat Ball in downtown Madison, sending him to the hospital with a concussion. Ball recovered but had to fight for every yard early on as Wisconsin's offense struggled with coaching transition, particularly along the offensive line, typically the team's strongest and most reliable unit. In Week 4, Ball had his first career lost fumble and sustained another concussion. The following week, a mix-up between Ball and quarterback Danny O'Brien led to another fumble that ended Wisconsin's comeback attempt at Nebraska.

But Ball never let the obstacles defeat him, and that's the biggest reason why he's here in the rankings. He surged down the stretch in Big Ten play, recording two 200-yard performances, four performances of more than 190 rush yards and seven 100-yard efforts in his final eight league contests. Ball had a career-high 247 rush yards -- and a career-long 67-yard run -- against Purdue, tied Ron Dayne's touchdowns record during a 198-yard performance at Indiana and broke Travis Prentice's NCAA career touchdowns mark in the regular-season finale at Penn State.

The senior racked up 202 rush yards and three scores as Wisconsin ran all over Nebraska in the Big Ten championship. He had exactly 100 yards in the Rose Bowl against Stanford, becoming the first player to ever record three consecutive 100-yard efforts in the Rose Bowl and the first to score touchdowns in three different Rose Bowls. In addition to the Doak Walker Award, Ball earned AP first-team All-America honors, consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors, the Grange-Griffin Big Ten Championship MVP award and the Ameche-Dayne Big Ten Running Back of the Year award.

"Sometimes you've got to go through some things in life to become better and they're not really pleasant all the time," former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said in November. "So take those setbacks. He's championed them individually and it's obviously put him in the position he's at today to be one of the premier players in college football, not only in our conference, but throughout the country."

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
No. 3: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
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

Big Ten rankings: No. 4, John Simon

February, 21, 2013
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Our postseason Big Ten player rankings, based solely on 2012 performance, have advanced to the final four.

Everyone from this quartet has an argument to be ranked No. 1, though only one can win that honor. Leading off our fantastic foursome is a guy who Buckeyes fans won't soon forget ...

No. 4: John Simon, DE, Ohio State, senior, 6-foot-2, 263 pounds

Preseason ranking: No. 3

2012 numbers: Collected 44 tackles, including nine sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss in 11 games.

Why he's here: First, let's allow Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to shower praise on the heart and soul of his undefeated 2012 team.

From the preseason: "He’s a freak. I’ve not been around a guy like that, other than my quarterback -- that left-handed kid at Florida, Tebow."

From a September win over Cal: "If we have another child I want to name him, what is it, Urban John Simon Meyer or something like that. That's how much I love that guy. I'm not ashamed to say I love him.”

What did Simon do to earn such high regard from his new coach? Well, he was one of the hardest-working, most dedicated players Ohio State had seen in some time. His work in the weight room was legendary. And he became the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes, battling through injuries and leaving everything he had on the field.

But that alone wasn't enough for Simon to win Big Ten defensive player of the year honors. He also led the league in sacks per game and was among the tops in tackles for loss despite dealing with several aches and pains throughout the season. It had to kill him to miss the finale against Michigan because of a knee injury, and you know he would have played if there was any way he could have. But he still had a huge impact on the undefeated season, including his five tackles for loss and two sacks against Nebraska in a signature performance.

Pro scouts will wonder this week whether Simon is too small or too stiff to be an effective player at the next level. But if NFL personnel call asking for Meyer's opinion -- or anyone associated with Ohio State, for that matter -- they'll all be told the same thing: Dude is a warrior.

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
Our Big Ten postseason player rankings, based on 2012 performance only, have reached the rarefied air of the top 5. These are the best of the best.

Kicking off the fab five is a man known to create a little magic ...

No. 5: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska, junior, 6-foot-1, 200 pounds

Preseason ranking: No. 25

2012 numbers: Completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns, with 12 interceptions. Ran for 1,019 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Why he's here: Nebraska fans have come to know both Good Taylor and Bad Taylor during Martinez's first three seasons in Lincoln.

The Good Taylor does stuff that few other players in college football could, like his insanely ridiculous 76-yard touchdown scramble against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. The Bad Taylor does things like throw three interceptions at Ohio State.

But Good Taylor was mostly on display in 2012, and even during those times when Bad Taylor appeared, the other version was often good enough to make up for it, as in the Northwestern comeback. Does Martinez still make too many mistakes? Yes, as his 10 interceptions and his still too-heavy dose of fumble-itis prove.

Yet Martinez still managed to lead the Big Ten in total offense while setting career highs in completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns. And though we expected him to run less last season, he also set new career marks in rushing attempts (195) and yards. While I still believe the league coaches wrongly voted for him as the All-Big Ten first team quarterback over Braxton Miller, Martinez certainly made a strong case for the honor.

Many of his turnovers still come from trying to force things in big games, a problem exacerbated by the Huskers' poor defensive showings. You can't blame Martinez too much for sometimes thinking he has to win the game himself when so much is asked of him already. But if he can simply learn to let the game come to him at all times and keep Bad Taylor locked away somewhere, we could be talking about Great Taylor as a senior in 2013.

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
The postseason players march on with the best of the best. As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season.

Our next selection found the end zone quite a bit during his Michigan State career, so it's fitting he checks in at ...

No. 6: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State, Jr., 6-foot-2, 242 pounds

Preseason ranking: No. 17

2012 numbers: 382 carries for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns; 32 receptions for 167 yards and a touchdown

Why he's here: Whether he was jumping over, running around or plowing through defenders, Bell carried Michigan State's offense on his broad shoulders in 2012. While the Spartans struggled elsewhere on offense, Bell proved to be one of the nation's most productive backs.

No FBS player recorded more carries than Bell's 382, and he led the Big Ten and finished third nationally in rushing average (137.9 ypg). His 1,793 rush yards marked the second-highest single-season total in team history. He eclipsed 120 rush yards in eight games and recorded three 200-yard rushing performances. The ultimate workhorse back, Bell had eight games with at least 32 carries for the Spartans, including each of the last four contests.

Bell earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors and was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award. According to STATS, he recorded more than half of his yards (922) after contact and recorded 82 first-down runs for an offense that badly needed them. Bell won Offensive Player of the Game honors in MSU's Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl win against TCU after rushing for 145 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries. The bowl performance ended up being Bell's last as a Spartan as he decided the next carries he'll take will come for an NFL 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
Our Big Ten postseason player rankings creep closer toward the top 5. Every player left on the list is either the league's best or second best at his position, in our estimation. As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season.

Let's keep it on the line for the next selection, who wears two "7s" across his chest for the Michigan Wolverines but checks in at ...

No. 7: Taylor Lewan, LT, Michigan, junior, 6-foot-8, 309 pounds

Preseason ranking: No. 10

2012 numbers: Started all 13 games at left tackle for the second straight season; earned the Big Ten's Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award, first-team AP All-America honors and consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors; anchored a line that surrendered only 18 sacks (tied for 28th nationally).

Why he's here: In a season where little went as expected for Big Ten offensive lines or individual linemen, Lewan delivered the goods for Michigan. He cemented himself as one of the nation's top tackles, earning first- or second-team All-America honors from numerous outlets and being named the Big Ten's top offensive lineman. He has been a mainstay for Michigan, making his 28th consecutive start in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina.

Michigan's offense endured its ups and downs in 2012, and the line struggled with run-blocking for anyone not named Denard Robinson. But Lewan held his own against the league's top defensive linemen and limited South Carolina superhuman Jadeveon Clowney in the bowl game. He did little to hurt his draft stock as a likely first-round pick.

And that's the best part. Despite the lofty projections, Lewan surprised many by deciding to remain at Michigan for his senior season. He'll provide leadership for a line enduring some significant personnel turnover. He'll also aim to become the first Michigan player to win the Outland Trophy.

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

Big Ten rankings: No. 8, Jordan Hill

February, 14, 2013
2/14/13
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Our postseason Big Ten player rankings, based on 2012 performance only, march on today with the first member of our Elite Eight.

Up next is a guy whose hometown of Steelton, Pa., pretty accurately describes what he brought to the field ...

No. 8: Jordan Hill, DT, Penn State, senior, 6-foot-1, 292 pounds

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2012 numbers: Registered 64 tackles, including 8.5 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Also had an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Why he's here: Hill had large shoes to fill in trying to take over the leadership and playmaking duties in the middle of the line from 2011 Big Ten defensive player of the year Devon Still.

While he may not have matched Still's monster numbers, Hill carved out his own legacy. Thanks to a motor that was always switched to high, Hill had his best season as a senior while earning first-team All-Big Ten honors. In fact, while Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins drew more attention for his pro potential, most Big Ten coaches would tell you there was not a better defensive tackle in the Big Ten in 2012 than Hill.

He saved his finest moment for last. In the season finale against Wisconsin, Hill was a monster while recording 12 tackles and two sacks in the overtime win. That he did so despite sharp pain in his knee spoke to Hill's desire, effort and intensity.

NFL scouts wonder if he's big enough to make an impact at the next level. But there's no doubting the size of Hill's heart or his contributions to Penn State.

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

Big Ten rankings: No. 9, Venric Mark

February, 13, 2013
2/13/13
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Our Big Ten player rankings, which are based on last year's performance only, roll on today. From now on, every player named will have one of those coveted single digits next to his name.

Next up is a guy who didn't exactly come out of nowhere but certainly one who exceeded all reasonable preseason expectations to become an All-American ...

No. 9: Venric Mark, RB/KR, Northwestern, junior, 5-foot-8, 175 pounds

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2012 numbers: Carried 226 times for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns. Caught 20 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. Averaged 19.8 yards on 21 kickoff returns and 18.7 yards on 15 punt returns, with two punts returned for scores.

Why he's here: Before 2012, Mark was known as a speedy return man and not much else. He had rushed for a total of 167 yards his first two seasons, and he didn't appear to have the size to be effective as an every-down back.

That's why Mark's junior season was so surprising. He proved himself as a tailback, all right, in compiling Northwestern's first 1,000-yard rushing season since Tyrell Sutton in 2006. His diminutive frame was not a problem, as defenses had trouble catching up with him long enough to deliver a hit. He put up eight 100-yard rushing days, including 182 at Minnesota and 162 against Iowa.

While doing all that, Mark remained as dangerous a return man as the Big Ten had to offer. He needed one more punt return to qualify among the national leaders, but he would have finished second in the FBS on punt return average if he had. He conjured up punt return touchdowns of 75 and 82 yards, becoming just the second Wildcat ever to score on two punt returns in the same season. The FWAA named him its first-team All-America punt returner, and he led the Big Ten in all-purpose yards with 2,166.

So, yeah, Mark is more than just a speedy return man. A whole lot more.

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
We have reached the top 10 in our Big Ten player rankings, which account solely for 2012 performance. These are the best of the best, and we're getting closer to the summit.

Appropriately enough, No. 10 on this list also wears No. 10, and he left his mark on quite a few Big Ten offensive players last season ...

No. 10: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State, sophomore, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2012 numbers: Led the Buckeyes with 115 tackles, including five sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Also forced three fumbles and had an interception he returned for a touchdown.

Why he's here: It takes a wholly collaborative effort to go undefeated in college football. But we feel confident in saying Ohio State would not have gone 12-0 without Ryan Shazier.

Always a great athlete and a big hitter, Shazier cut down on his tendency to overrun plays near the middle of the season. That's not-so coincidentally the time when the Buckeyes' defense rounded into one of the best in the league after some early struggles. Shazier also had to carry a linebacker corps that was depleted because of an injury to the unit's only other veteran, senior Etienne Sabino.

Carry it he did, along with creating some of the best highlights by any defensive player in the Big Ten. It's tough to pinpoint just one signature moment for Shazier in 2012, so we'll go with two. First was his interception and 17-yard return for a touchdown that helped change the game at Penn State, all while Shazier was wearing the number of his late high school friend. And then there was the unforgettable midair collision with Wisconsin's Montee Ball on fourth down at the goal line in Madison. Like two satellites crashing in orbit, there was expected debris -- in this case, the football out of Ball's hands, which Ohio State recovered.

Shazier finished second in the Big Ten in tackles, led the league in tackles for loss and was fourth in forced fumbles. Inexplicably, that wasn't enough for the coaches to name him a first-team all-conference performer, although at least the media got it right. There's little doubt in our mind that Shazier was one of the best linebackers -- and players -- in the Big Ten in 2012. He may enter 2013 as the favorite for defensive player of the year honors.

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
The Big Ten postseason player rankings are full of surprises, and our next player certainly qualified as one in 2012. As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the past season. This guy caught 11 touchdown passes for Penn State, so it's fitting he checks in at ...

No. 11: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State, sophomore, 6-foot-3, 201 pounds

Preseason rank: Not ranked

2012 numbers: Had 77 receptions for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns, leading the Big Ten in all three categories and setting a team single-season record for receptions. Named the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year.

Why he's here: If you had Robinson in the Big Ten’s best wide receiver of 2012 pool before the season, hop on the next flight to Vegas. Although wide receiver certainly was a mystery position around the league entering the fall after so many key departures from 2011, Robinson had recorded only three catches for 29 yards as a freshman and played in an offense that had struggled mightily to do much of anything.

But Robinson quickly won over new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien with his practice performance, and O'Brien labeled the sophomore as a potential difference-maker in 2012. Was he ever. Robinson turned heads from Game 1, when he had nine receptions for 97 yards. He was by far the league's most consistent wideout, finishing with four games of nine or more receptions, 10 games of five or more receptions, seven games of more than 80 receiving yards and two games with three touchdown catches (Navy, Indiana). He had four more touchdowns than any other Nittany Lions player. Robinson not only proved to be a red-zone threat but stretched the field with nine catches of 30 yards or longer and 16 catches of 20 yards or longer.

Thanks to Robinson, quarterback Matt McGloin, tight end Kyle Carter and others, Penn State’s pass offense went from one of the league’s most questionable to one of its best (273.2 ypg). Robinson set the team receptions record and finished with the second-highest touchdowns receptions total and third-highest receiving yards total (trailing former star Bobby Engram in both categories). He had nine more receptions, 150 more receiving yards and three more touchdown catches than any other Big Ten player in 2012.

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
The Big Ten postseason player rankings have reached the dandiest dozen.

As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance from the 2012 season. Checking in at No. 12 is a guy who might go in the first 12 picks of the April NFL draft ...

No. 12: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State, junior, 6-foot-3, 322 pounds

Preseason rank: No. 18

2012 numbers: Had 55 tackles, including one sack and five tackles for loss. Named a second-team All-American by the Associated Press.

Why he's here: With all the focus on recruiting this past week, you have to wonder again how Michigan and Michigan State let "Big Hank" get out of Detroit. He was ranked only a three-star recruit at the time by ESPN.com, but Hankins has far exceeded that projection.

Though his numbers don't leap off the page, Hankins' huge frame allowed him to become one of the best run-stuffers in the Big Ten. That's why he's being pegged as an early first-round pick after leaving Ohio State a year early.

Some scouts question Hankins' motor, a criticism that seems to plague a lot of players his size at his position. And others would like to see him create more negative plays in opponents' backfields. But there was a reason why Ohio State ranked second in the league in rush defense this season, and that reason had a lot to do with big ol' No. 52. The Buckeyes will have a hard time replacing him, and the Michigan schools must still be kicking themselves over the one who got away.

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
The Big Ten postseason player rankings march on with a familiar name. Linebacker has been a theme so far in the rundown, and our next man up has been one of the Big Ten's best 'backers for quite some time. As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance from the 2012 season.

Wisconsin's do-it-all defender checks in at ...

No. 13: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin, junior, 5-foot-11, 242 pounds

Preseason rank: No. 8

2012 numbers: Recorded 104 tackles, including 10 for loss and 4.5 sacks; forced and recovered three fumbles; recorded six pass breakups and a quarterback hurry

Why he's here: It's hard not to respect the way Borland plays the game. Described by some as a throwback, he would have been a star in any era, primarily because he does so many different things to help his team.

Borland once again proved to be the biggest difference-maker on Wisconsin's defense, forcing or recovering a fumble in five different games, including the Badgers' romp against Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. He's one of only three players in team history to record three forced fumbles in a season, and he has done so twice (2009, 2012). A first-team All-Big Ten selection from the coaches, Borland has recorded 13 forced fumbles in his career.

Despite knee issues and a hamstring injury that forced him to miss two games, Borland eclipsed 100 tackles for the second straight year and, along with fellow linebacker Mike Taylor, triggered a Badgers defense that finished 15th nationally in yards allowed, 17th in points allowed and 24th against the run. Borland had at least seven tackles in 11 of the 12 games he played, including 13 in the Big Ten championship. There's no doubt No. 44 is the cornerstone for Wisconsin's defense entering the 2013 season, and new coach Gary Andersen and the staff can't wait to work with Borland.

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

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