They may have less Twitter followers than Braxton Miller or Denard Robinson, but several of the Big Ten conference's lesser-known players are quietly emerging as stars in 2012.
If you're a fan of a Big Ten school, my guess is you're already aware who a couple of these players are.
Take Northwestern running back Venric Mark, for example. The junior ball-carrier with just 164 rushing yards to his name heading into this season broke out in a big way, becoming the Wildcats' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2006 in addition to leading the team with 12 total touchdowns.
That's with a quarter of the 2012 season yet to be played.
Mark is far from the conference's only breakout player, though. The following slides will power rank the 10 biggest surprise stars of Big Ten football thus far in the season.
Note: All player statistics were collected from the official website of the Big Ten Conference.
Defensive end Deion Barnes is making a name for himself with a breakout season in 2012.
The heart of the Nittany Lions' defense is at linebacker with Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, but redshirt freshman Deion Barnes is doing all he can to steal a share of the spotlight.
The 6'4", 246-pound defensive end's breakout game came in Week 2, when Barnes sacked Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco twice on the day. Barnes has a total of four sacks thus far in 2012.
In addition to a handful of QB takedowns, the youngster has also forced three fumbles. No defensive player in the Big Ten has more.
The former 3-star recruit (per ESPN.com) added about 20 pounds during his redshirt season, which has only helped him become an immediate force on the Nittany Lions' defensive line.
Sophomore WR Cody Latimer has emerged as a reliable pass-catcher for the Hoosiers in 2012.
Only one Big Ten receiver can claim they've hauled in three TD passes against a single conference foe in 2012.
That man is Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer, and his 113-yard, three-score day led the Hoosiers to a 24-21 upset win over the Iowa Hawkeyes in Week 10. The victory was Indiana's second in conference play this year, which is the first time they've beat more than one Big Ten opponent in a season since 2007.
Latimer's clutch play did not go unnoticed, however. The sophomore earned co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors (via the official site of Indiana athletics), along with Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez.
At 6'3", 208 pounds, Latimer gives the Hoosiers a big-bodied threat at the wideout position. With an average of 16.5 yards per catch in 2012, it's evident he can get down the field, too.
Latimer's 645 receiving yards is also the third highest total of any Big Ten receiver.
Feichter leads the Boilermakers in both tackles and interceptions in 2012.
Landon Feichter joined the Boilermakers' football team as a walk-on in 2010. In 2011, he appeared in all 13 games, making one start.
This season, though, the ball-hawking sophomore safety has taken his game to a whole new level.
Not only is Feichter leading Purdue's defense in tackles with 51, the 6', 189-pounder is tied with Ohio State's Travis Howard atop the Big Ten with four interceptions. He took his first pick of the season to the house, returning it 34 yards for the score against Eastern Kentucky.
In addition to the picks, Feichter's defended seven passes. The Boilermakers are on the verge of their fifth losing season in six years, but this emerging talent will give Purdue a stud in the the secondary for the near future.
Anthony Hitchens leads the Big Ten in tackles with 106 on the season.
Anthony Hitchens was recruited by Iowa as a safety, but the Hawkeyes moved him to linebacker in 2012. Needless to say, the move has paid immediate dividends.
The 6'1", 224-pounder recorded double-digit tackles in five of Iowa's first six games of the season, including 19 in Week 2 against Iowa St—the highest single-game total of any Big Ten defender this year.
Hitchens is an athletic specimen who the coaching staff even tried out at running back before finally penciling him in as a starter at linebacker.
It's a good thing they did.
Hitchens' 106 tackles in 2012 are the most of anyone in the conference. He's averaging 11.8 per game, which is even more impressive when you take into account how raw he is to the position.
Say hello to the Big Ten's leader in both receiving yards and touchdowns.
Penn State's senior QB Matt McGloin is having a monster season, and his main target in 2012 has been 6'3", 201-pound WR Allen Robinson. McGloin has 18 touchdown passes in the Nittany Lions' nine games. The sophomore receiver has caught eight of them.
Robinson is an excellent route-runner, and despite only catching three passes as a freshman, many in Happy Valley envisioned a breakout year in the talented wideout's future (per Bob Flounders of pennlive.com).
The Nittany Lions have been able to overcome a tumultuous offseason and an 0-2 start to win six of their last seven games. Robinson, who has 689 yards receiving on 57 catches in 2012, has been a huge factor in the team's turnaround.
Led by Tyler Scott, the Wildcats' defense is playing some solid football.
Speaking of Big Ten leaders, no player in the conference has more sacks than junior defensive end Tyler Scott.
With seven sacks and three forced fumbles in 2012, Scott's breakout year is one of the main reasons Northwestern has a 7-2 overall record and is only allowing 22.3 points per game on the season.
Scott emerged as a starter for the Wildcats in 2011, but needed to improve his pass-rush skills to take that next step. The 6'4", 265-pounder definitely raised his game this season, which is something head coach Pat Fitzgerald saw coming all along.
Fitzgerald offered some high praise for Scott this past spring, per Chris Emma of PurpleWildcats.com
"Tyler Scott to me is on the cusp of being a breakout guy nationally," Fitzgerald said to the media following a spring scrimmage. "He's got some special qualities."
Bradley Roby has been a force to be reckoned with in the Buckeyes' secondary.
No one in the Big Ten has more passes defensed than cornerback Bradley Roby, who's batted down 18 balls throughout nine games in 2012.
The Buckeyes' sophomore defensive back is doing it all, really. Roby scored a TD after a botched snap in Ohio State's season opener and came up with a crucial play against Michigan State by blocking a punt.
Against Nebraska in Week 6, Roby hauled in his first two interceptions of the season—returning one of them for his second score of the year.
The 5'11", 190-pound corner made a sizable impact as a freshman, so it may be a stretch to consider him one of this year's "surprise players." Even so, 18 passes defensed, two interceptions, a blocked punt and two touchdowns in just 10 games?
I wouldn't believe anyone who said that saw all that coming.
Linebacker Jake Ryan has been one of the Wolverines' best players in 2012.
If Jake Ryan closes out the 2012 season the way he's played in the first nine games, don't be shocked if he's named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
The redshirt sophomore linebacker is averaging 7.2 tackles per game and, more importantly, leads the Big Ten with 12 tackles for loss.
Ryan's stat line for the season reveals a total of 3.5 sacks, but that actually underrates his abilities as a pass-rusher. The 6'3", 242-pounder has amazing closing speed, and opposing quarterbacks have made it a point to avoid him in 2012.
The long-haired beast is relentless in pursuit and merciless when he latches on to opposing ball-carriers. The best part? He never takes a play off.
Michigan's defense is No. 13 in the nation with 16.8 points allowed per game. Like Roby, Ryan emerged in his freshman season, particularly in the Sugar Bowl against Virginia. But few expected him to breakout the way he has in 2012.
Venric Mark has emerged as the Wildcats' top rusher in 2012.
Venric Mark's breakout season has been one of the best in all of the Big Ten in 2012.
In addition to his dominance out of the backfield, the junior has been coming up big for the Wildcats in the return game. Mark has 480 return yards on the season, with two scores on punt returns.
Throw in 100 receiving yards and you've got the Big Ten's leader in all-purpose yardage—averaging 184.7 per game.
With the duo of Mark and versatile junior Kain Colter making plays out of the Wildcats' backfield, it's no wonder Northwestern is averaging 236.4 YPG on the ground. Together, the two have combined for 20 rushing touchdowns in 2012.
The fact that the two shifty playmakers are both juniors bodes extremely well for the Wildcats in 2013.
Ameer Abdullah is a key reason Nebraska controls its destiny in the race to reach the Big Ten Championship Game.
Meet Ameer Abdullah, your No. 1 surprise star from the Big Ten conference in 2012.
The sophomore running back's time to shine in the Cornhuskers' backfield came a little earlier than expected. Nonetheless, he was prepared to take over the starting role when he got the call.
Rex Burkhead, who ran for 1,357 yards and 15 TDs a year ago, has missed all or part of seven games in 2012 with an injured left knee. Thanks to Abdullah's emergence, Nebraska's season didn't take a turn for the worse like some may have predicted.
In addition to five 100-yard performances, Abdullah has reached the end zone eight times on the ground. Like Mark, he's also a dynamic threat in the return game.
Abdullah leads the Big Ten with 209 punt return yards, including an 81-yard touchdown. He's also totaled 135 receiving yards and two scores in the passing game. Altogether, the 5'9", 185-pound speedster is averaging 140 all-purpose yards per game.
The leader of Nebraska's offense is without a doubt Taylor Martinez, but the Cornhuskers wouldn't be 7-2 overall and in sole possession of first place in the Legends Division had Abdullah not emerged as a breakout star.