Big Ten rankings: No. 5, Venric Mark

We're counting down our rankings of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2013 season. 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.

Kicking off our Top 5 is a guy who wears No. 5 and is coming off an All-America season ...

No. 5: Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern, senior, 5-foot-8, 175 pounds

2012 postseason ranking: No. 9

2012 numbers: Rushed 226 times for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns and had 20 catches for 104 yards and a score. Also averaged 19.8 yards on 21 kickoff returns and 18.7 yards on 15 punt returns, with two touchdowns.

Why he's here: Was there a bigger breakout star in the Big Ten last year than Mark? Well, maybe we shouldn't use the word bigger, because size questions have always lingered about the 5-foot-8 dynamo. But here was a guy who had rushed for 167 total yards his first two seasons suddenly emerging as Northwestern's go-to offensive weapon, finishing third among Big Ten running backs with 1,366 rushing yards and averaging more than six yards per carry.

That alone would have made Mark one of the league's top players. Then you throw in his status as an All-American returner. He exploded right out of the gate, returning a punt 82 yards for a score at Syracuse in the opener and finishing that game with 281 all-purpose yards. He also had a 75-yard punt return touchdown versus Penn State.

Mark worked hard this offseason at adding strength to his body, hoping to avoid getting knocked out of games early as he was at times last year. Despite his size limitations, he took an average of 17 carries per game last year, in addition to his other duties. He'd like to do even more this season after finishing 29 yards shy of the school record for single-season total yardage. The only difference is, this year we'll know what to expect from him.

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

No. 21: John Urschel, G, Penn State

No. 20: Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern

No. 19: Jack Mewhort, OT, Ohio State

No. 18: Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State

No. 17: Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska

No. 16: Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin

No. 15: Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota

No. 14: Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern

No. 13: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

No. 12: Spencer Long, G, Nebraska

No. 11: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan

No. 10: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

No. 9: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State

No. 8: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State

No. 7: Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State

No. 6: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin