The march toward No. 1 continues in the Big Ten postseason top-25 player rankings. As a reminder, these rankings are based on performance during the 2011 season and impact on the team, not on factors such as NFL potential.
Our next stop takes us to Linebacker U ...
No. 19: Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State, Jr., 6-2, 234
Preseason rankings: Not ranked
2011 numbers: Started all 13 games at outside linebacker. He led the team with 106 tackles and finished second on the squad in both tackles for loss (10) and sacks (4.5). Hodges added two forced fumbles, an interception and four pass breakups. He ranked eighth in the Big Ten in tackles per game (8.2) and tied for 14th in the league in sacks with teammates Devon Still and Sean Stanley.
Why he's here: After an injury-shortened 2010 season, Hodges emerged as a star for Penn State's defense, which carried the team to an 8-1 start. He combined natural play-making skills with increased production to help solidify the Nittany Lions' defensive midsection. Hodges had a brilliant two-game stretch against Northwestern and Illinois, becoming the first Penn State player since Navorro Bowman to earn back-to-back Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week awards. Against Northwestern he recorded a career-high 14 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and had a momentum-turning 63-yard interception return to set up a touchdown. The following week, Hodges eclipsed his personal best with 19 tackles, including a sack, and had a forced fumble and a pass breakup in a 10-7 victory against Illinois.
Hodges earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches and second-team honors from the media. He recorded seven games of eight tackles or more and had six or more solo tackles in five contests. He opted to return for his senior season and will anchor one of the nation's top linebacking corps in 2012.
No. 20: Kevin Zeitler, G, Wisconsin
No. 25: Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan