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January 4, 2013

The Big Ten's top 25 players of 2012

The bowl season has officially ended for the Big Ten, and with it, the entirety of the 2012 campaign. In the preseason, we looked at who we expected to be the best players this year, and here is a final ranking of the conference's Top 25.

1. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: The Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year, Miller deserved it after leading the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 record. The sophomore signal-caller ranked second in the conference in total offense with 275.8 yards per game, rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing for 2,039 yards and 15 scores in boasting a pass efficiency rating of 140.46.

2. Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier: A coaches' second-team all-league performer, Shazier made a bigger impact than Penn State's Michael Mauti and should have been named the Big Ten's top linebacker this past season. In 12 games, he accumulated 115 stops, leading the league in TFL with 17.0 and ranking first among 'backers with five sacks. He also had an astounding 11 pass break ups.

3. Wisconsin RB Montee Ball: With 100 yards on the ground in Wisconsin's bowl game, Ball led the Big Ten in rushing for the second consecutive season, finishing with 1,830 yards and a conference-high 22 touchdowns in averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Named the conference's top running back and a first-team all-league selection, Ball had 10 100-yard efforts this season and excelled down the stretch for the Badgers, averaging 160.4 yards per game and scoring nine rushing TDs over UW's final five games.

4. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: Arguably the conference's top offensive player in September, Bell wore down some but would finish his junior season with a flourish, rushing for 732 yards and four touchdowns in State's final four games. A consensus all-conference first-team pick, Bell led the Big Ten in rushing yards per game (137.9) and was second in total rushing with 1,793 yards.

5. Northwestern RB Venric Mark: The Big Ten's surprise team this year - the Wildcats were of three league members to hit double digit wins - was led by the diminutive Mark, who ranked first in the league with 167.0 all-purpose yards per game. The junior resurrected a dormant running game, rushing for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns, including eight 100-yard efforts. He was also the conference's most dangerous returnman, averaging 20.0 yards on punt returns with two TDs.

6. Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez: With 2,871 yards passing and 1,019 yards rushing, the junior would finish the year as the Big Ten leader in total offense with 3,890 yards and 277.9 per game. Martinez led Nebraska to a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game and a 10-4 overall record, completing 62.0 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns through the air and 10 on the ground. He was named the league's second-team quarterback.

7. Northwestern QB Kain Colter: An honorable mention all-conference performer, Colter likely surpassed Michigan's Denard Robinson as the most versatile athlete in the Big Ten. The junior signal-caller excelled as a runner, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 68.8 yards per game while scoring 12 touchdowns. He also completed 67.8 percent of his pass attempts for 872 yards with eight TDs, and he dabbled at receiver too, with 16 receptions on the year.

8. Michigan OL Taylor Lewan: The Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, Lewan was a unanimous first-team selection by the league's coaches and media. Michigan's starting left tackle in all 13 games, Lewan went head-to-head with the Big Ten's best defensive ends and almost always came out on top. In his much-hyped matchup with South Carolina's Jadevean Clowney, Lewan did not allow a sack, and that was the norm all year.

9. Ohio State DE John Simon: The Big Ten's Defensive Lineman of the Year and a first-team all-league pick by the conference's coaches and media members, Simon led the league in sacks (nine) and was sixth in tackles for loss (14.5). He was the most feared pass rusher in 2012, and helped spearhead a defense that ranked second in the conference in both sacks and rush defense.

10. Penn State QB Matt McGloin: The Big Ten's top passing quarterback, McGloin was the only QB in the league with more than 3,000 yards (3,271) while throwing for a conference-best 24 TDs. He rescued the Nittany Lions from what was expected to be a poor season but became an 8-4 campaign. The former walk-on threw for 250 yards or more in seven contests, and also scored five rushing touchdowns to boost PSU's cause.

11. Wisconsin LB Chris Borland: The heart and soul of the Wisconsin defense, Borland followed up his 143-tackle sophomore campaign with 104 stops in his junior season, including 4.5 sacks among 10 tackles for loss. He also had six pass breakups, forced three fumbles and recovered three en route to All-Big Ten first-team honors.

12. Penn State LB Gerald Hodges: An All-Big Ten second-team selection, Hodges spearheaded a PSU unit that ranked in the top 30 nationally in total defense, scoring and rush defense. He would list fourth in the league with 9.1 tackles per game, finishing with 109 on the year to lead Penn State. He also made 8.5 tackles for loss and posted nine passes defended, including two picks.

13. Michigan State LB Max Bullough: The Spartans' vaunted defense did not disappoint in 2012, ranking fourth nationally in total yards allowed and ninth in scoring thanks to its middle linebacker. The MSU junior is the key cog to everything the Green and White want to do, and he would clean up every chance he had, totaling 111 tackles on the year, including 12.5 behind the line of scrimmage.

14. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Injured late in the year, Robinson would miss two games and would attempt only one pass in the final three games of his career, but his impact was still felt as he rushed for 320 yards and a score in those three contests. He would finish his senior year U-M's leading rusher for the third straight season, totaling 1,266 with seven scores as he ranked third in the Big Ten in yards per game (115.1). He also listed fifth in total offense (235.0 yards per game) after throwing for 1,319 yards.

15. Penn State WR Allen Robinson: There was only one great receiver in the Big Ten this year, and fittingly, he was named the league's best. Robinson led the conference in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,018) and receiving touchdowns (11). The 6-3, 201-pound sophomore had a pair of 100-yard efforts and caught a TD in six contests. He was named a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten performer.

16. Wisconsin OL Rick Wagner: One of only two offensive linemen named by both the league's coaches' and media's a first-team All-Big Ten performer, Wagner started 12 of 14 games at left tackle for the Badgers (missing two due to injury). The 6-6, 317-pound senior was dominant in the running game, helping UW finish the year with 236.4 yards rushing per contest and 38 touchdowns.

17. Penn State LB Michael Mauti: The Big Ten's Linebacker of the Year, Mauti may have benefited a little too much from his reputation and less from his actual play in 2012 in taking home the hardware, but he was still a very good linebacker. The senior leader rallied the Nittany Lions to overcome their 0-2 start to win eight of their final 10 games. Mauti listed second among PSU defenders with 95 stops, but did a little bit of everything, accruing 2.5 sacks, three interceptions, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles.

18. Wisconsin LB Mike Taylor: A first-team all-conference pick of the league's media, Taylor finished with 123 stops, falling one shy of the Big Ten lead in 2012. The tackling machine, good for 150 stops a year ago, also racked up a Wisconsin-best 15 tackles for loss and finished his career with 38.5 TFL.

19. Michigan LB Jake Ryan: The emerging sophomore was a second-team all-conference selection, and should be one of the Big Ten's top defenders in 2013. He led Michigan with 88 stops, was second among league linebackers with 4.5 sacks, and was third in the Big Ten with 16.0 tackles for loss. Ryan also forced four fumbles, recovered one and broke up three passes.

20. Northwestern DL Tyler Scott: It wasn't always pretty, but the Northwestern defense held its own during the 2012 season, doing its part in leading the Wildcats to a 10-3 record. An honorable mention all-conference selection, Scott shared the Big Ten lead in sacks with nine and also had a NU-high 12.5 tackles for loss while forcing three fumbles and breaking up five passes.

21. Ohio State CB Bradley Roby: A unanimous first-team all-conference selection, Roby stepped into the shoes of the proud OSU defensive backs that came before him with a prolific sophomore campaign in which opposing quarterbacks learned it was no good even looking in his direction. Roby led the league with 17 pass breakups and 19 passes defended (two picks). He also had 63 tackles.

22. Nebraska WR Kenny Bell: The Cornhuskers' surprising aerial attack this year - they ranked fifth in the Big Ten with 207.4 yards per game and their 24 TDs were second among conference programs - took advantage of, and showcased the immense talent of, Bell. The sophomore ranked second in the league with eight TD receptions, among his 50 grabs, while his 863 receiving yards also ranked second. Bell was a second-team all-conference selection.

23. Nebraska DL Eric Martin: A first-team all-league selection by the conference's media, and a second-team pick by the coaches, the 6-2, 250-pound Martin made himself into one of the Big Ten's top pass rushers, finishing with 8.5 to rank third. He listed second in the conference, and first among defensive linemen, with 16.5 tackles for loss while totaling 59 stops.

24. Iowa CB Micah Hyde: The league's Defensive Back of the Year award went to the Iowa senior cornerback. Hyde ranked fourth in the Big Ten in passes defended with 15, including 14 pass breakups. Fourth among Hawkeyes with 78 tackles, including four for loss, Hyde also had three fumble recoveries and forced two.

25. Michigan State CB Johnny Adams: Billed as the Big Ten's top defensive back coming into the season, Adams wasn't a dominant shutdown corner, but still, few quarterbacks wanted to throw his way. The senior earned all-conference first-team distinction from the league's coaches after racking up seven pass breakups and three interceptions, while also notching 35 tackles in 2012.


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