Big Ten rankings: No. 21, John Urschel

We've started our preseason countdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2013 campaign. This list is based on past performance and potential for the upcoming season only. We do not consider NFL potential for purposes of these rankings.

The next man up is pretty good with numbers and comes in at ...

No. 21: John Urschel, G, Penn State, guard, 6-foot-3, 307 pounds

2012 postseason ranking: Not ranked

2012 numbers: Started all 12 games for Penn State

Why he's here: One of the smartest players in all of college football, Urschel's off-field accomplishments are well known. He's a three-time Academic All-Big Ten selection who earned first-team Academic All-America honors in 2012. He completed his undergraduate degree in mathematics in fewer than three years, and has started on his Master's degree in the same subject. He taught trigonometry and analytic geometry to Penn State undergrads in the spring semester, and has had a paper published in the "Celestial Mechanics and Dynamic Astronomy" journal.

Oh, and he can make a pretty good speech, too.

But Urschel can play a bit of football, too. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season after starting every game at right guard for the Big Ten's top offense and No. 2 scoring offense. Urschel paved the way for 1,000-yard rusher Zach Zwinak and protected quarterback Matt McGloin, the Big Ten's only 3,000-yard passer (3,266). Like many of his Lions teammates, Urschel has embraced the new strength program under Craig Fitzgerald and squats 500 pounds.

While Urschel has big plans for his academic future -- he aims to earn a Ph.D from MIT or Princeton -- a stop in the NFL likely for the do-it-all Penn State lineman. He's on the Outland Trophy watch list and could end up as one of the nation's top interior linemen as a senior.

The countdown

No. 25: Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois

No. 24: Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa

No. 23: James White, RB, Wisconsin

No. 22: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin