Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Martinez would make the list, but for a technicality.
Beau Allen, Wisconsin DL
With the other star lineman, David Gilbert, deciding to retire from the sport, Beau Allen remains as the big anchor on the Wisconsin Badgers defensive front. Allen has 75 tackles and 6.5 sacks in his career, and those numbers may be doubled in 2013. Despite the change in scheme, Allen has a chance to be the next J.J. Watt, which would easily make him a defensive player of the year, if nothing else.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State CB
If Darqueze Dennard can improve his numbers (50-plus tackles, three interceptions) while Michigan State stays tough on defense, then the Spartans just might find themselves back in Indianapolis playing for a conference title.
If that happens, look for the leader of the defense to receive more honors than anybody on Mark Dantonio's offense. Dennard will have to earn it against the best receivers in the Big Ten.
Taylor Lewan, Michigan OL
The Big Ten Network is having a field day showing recent bowl games in the past couple of weeks, and if you can catch last year's Outback Bowl, do yourself a favor and focus on Taylor Lewan going against Jadeveon Clowney.
These two players will anchor NFL lines for years to come and look for Michigan to exploit mismatches and double-teams caused by Lewan when running the 2013 offense. An offensive lineman is a long shot, but it has happened in the Big Ten when another great talent, Orlando Pace, was around in the mid-1990s.
Venric Mark, Northwestern RB
If last season is any indication, the serious threats to win the Legends Division in 2013 will be Nebraska, Michigan and Northwestern (yes, Northwestern).
If the Wildcats make the leap that was so close in 2012, Mark will be the driving force on the field the most as the quarterback rotation is planned to continue. Mark could very well end up near 2,000 yards if everything breaks right.
Taylor Martinez, Nebraska QB
Taylor Martinez is the first of two casualties of the "single player from any offensive or defensive unit" rule I established on the last slide.
Martinez is likely the second-most likely quarterback to win player of the year, but he could very well be outshined by another star on the Nebraska Cornhuskers offense. Martinez will be dynamic in his senior season, and if Nebraska breaks through and wins the first conference title since 1999, then Martinez will be in the mix for the award.
Allen Robinson, Penn State WR
Penn State, just like Ohio State a season ago, is that outlier team that can only win the division title but certainly has more than a puncher's chance to do so.
Thus, the best player on the Penn State Nittany Lions and a driving force of their offense has to be on the watch list for player of the year. Robinson led the league with 1,013 receiving yards and over 75 receptions in 2012.
Ryan Shazier, Ohio State LB
He has 115 tackles—17 for loss—in 2012 (the numbers speak for themselves). This young man hits harder and faster than pretty much anybody else in the conference.
However, he gets disqualified because another star on the Ohio State Buckeyes defensive unit has just a bit more big-play potential, and therefore, makes the list. However, Ryan Shazier will be one of the most fun players to watch, and he could end up at the top by the end of 2013.