Big Ten rankings: No. 14, Max Bullough

The Big Ten preseason player rankings march on, and for the second time, we head back to Sparta to profile another Michigan State linebacker.

We're not done with the Spartans' decorated defense in these rankings, but this next player has established himself as the leader of the unit.

No. 14: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State, junior, 6-foot-3, 252 pounds

2011 postseason rank: Not ranked

2011 numbers: Led Michigan State with 89 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, while starting all 14 games. He also had two forced fumbles, an interception and six quarterback hurries.

Why he's here: Bullough took control of the middle linebacker position as a true sophomore, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches for his efforts. He helped lead a Michigan State defense that finished in the top 15 nationally in most major statistical categories. Bullough produced some of his best performances in key Big Ten games against Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa.

While Bullough's size and football bloodlines stand out, his best attribute is his intelligence. He knows exactly what's going on around him and can be coordinator Pat Narduzzi's "computer" on the field. Narduzzi recently said of Bullough, "He's the most unbelievable middle linebacker that I've coached, just because of the mental aspect of the game." That's high praise from a coach who recently mentored another star linebacker, Greg Jones, the 2009 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Bullough once again will be at the helm of a nationally elite defense in 2012. Don't be surprised if he finishes several spots higher in the postseason rankings.

The countdown

No. 25: Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska

No. 24: MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota

No. 23: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue

No. 22: Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin

No. 21: Jared Abbrederis, WR/KR, Wisconsin

No. 20: Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State

No. 19: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State

No. 18: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State

No. 17: Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State

No. 16: Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois

No. 15: Fitzgerald Toussaint, RB, Michigan