We have reached the top 10 in our Big Ten player rankings, which account solely for 2012 performance. These are the best of the best, and we're getting closer to the summit.
Appropriately enough, No. 10 on this list also wears No. 10, and he left his mark on quite a few Big Ten offensive players last season ...
No. 10: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State, sophomore, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds
Preseason rank: Not ranked
2012 numbers: Led the Buckeyes with 115 tackles, including five sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Also forced three fumbles and had an interception he returned for a touchdown.
Why he's here: It takes a wholly collaborative effort to go undefeated in college football. But we feel confident in saying Ohio State would not have gone 12-0 without Ryan Shazier.
Always a great athlete and a big hitter, Shazier cut down on his tendency to overrun plays near the middle of the season. That's not-so coincidentally the time when the Buckeyes' defense rounded into one of the best in the league after some early struggles. Shazier also had to carry a linebacker corps that was depleted because of an injury to the unit's only other veteran, senior Etienne Sabino.
Carry it he did, along with creating some of the best highlights by any defensive player in the Big Ten. It's tough to pinpoint just one signature moment for Shazier in 2012, so we'll go with two. First was his interception and 17-yard return for a touchdown that helped change the game at Penn State, all while Shazier was wearing the number of his late high school friend. And then there was the unforgettable midair collision with Wisconsin's Montee Ball on fourth down at the goal line in Madison. Like two satellites crashing in orbit, there was expected debris -- in this case, the football out of Ball's hands, which Ohio State recovered.
Shazier finished second in the Big Ten in tackles, led the league in tackles for loss and was fourth in forced fumbles. Inexplicably, that wasn't enough for the coaches to name him a first-team all-conference performer, although at least the media got it right. There's little doubt in our mind that Shazier was one of the best linebackers -- and players -- in the Big Ten in 2012. He may enter 2013 as the favorite for defensive player of the year honors.
No. 12: Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State
No. 11: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State