Big Ten rankings: No. 5, Gerald Hodges

Now we're getting somewhere in our Big Ten Top 25 players countdown. Specifically, we've reached the top five, as our rankings will meet the summit by the end of this week.

As a reminder, these rankings are based on past performance and 2012 potential. Penn State fans are mighty glad this guy is still around this fall ...

No. 5: Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State, senior, 6-foot-2, 237 pounds

2011 postseason rank: No. 19

2011 numbers: Led Penn State with 106 tackles, including 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Also forced two fumbles, broke up four passes and made one interception. Named first team All-Big Ten by the coaches.

Why he's here: In a league filled with great linebackers, it's hard to stand out as the best. But Hodges is our choice for the top of the position.

He's got everything you want in a linebacker: he's big, he's fast, he hits hard, he works hard and he has great instincts. Hodges won back-to-back Big Ten defensive player of the week honors in 2011, the second time after his 19-tackle masterpiece against Illinois. His interception and 63-yard return against Northwestern helped the Nittany Lions clinch the win the previous week.

Penn State suffered some personnel losses in the offseason but should still field one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. Hodges will lead that effort and has a chance to cement himself among the greats at Linebacker U.

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

No. 14: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State

No. 13: James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa

No. 12: Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin

No. 11: Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State

No. 10: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan

No. 9: Jonathan Brown, LB, Illlinois

No. 8: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin

No. 7: Kawann Short, DT, Purdue

No. 6: Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan