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Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Big Ten rankings: No. 9, Venric Mark

By Brian Bennett

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. 25Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan
No. 24Michael Carter, CB, Minnesota
No. 23Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
No. 22Spencer Long, G, Nebraska
No. 21: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
No. 20: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
No. 19Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
No. 18Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin
No. 17: Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
No. 16: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
No. 15: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State
No. 14Matt 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