South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney is college football's top returning player
For the past few weeks, many of the stories surrounding college football have been focused on which underclassmen are staying in school and which are leaving early for the NFL.
By this point, we've now learned about the future intentions of many of the most prominent underclassmen prospects. That means it's time to begin looking at the players returning for the 2013 season.
The sport has lost plenty of marquee stars, such as Jarvis Jones, Manti Te'o, Damontre Moore, Tavon Austin and Barrett Jones. However, there are still a bunch of great young players who look like they're ready to prove themselves next season.
Here's a look at the best returning player on every BCS team for the 2013 season.
C.J. Mosley has played an integral role for an Alabama defense that has been the key to two straight BCS championship runs.
The question is, can Mosley and the Tide make it three straight in 2013?
The 6'2'', 232-pound junior was the MVP of a defense that ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense in 2012. He led the team with 107 tackles, including 66 solo stops and eight tackles for loss, to go along with four sacks and two interceptions.
Mosley, Adrian Hubbard and Trey Depriest will form the best linebacker trio in the country next season.
Ka'Deem Carey flourished in his first year spent in Rich Rodriguez's offensive system.
Not only was Carey one of the biggest breakout stars in the Pac-12 this season, he was also one of the most productive rushers in the country, finishing as the national leader with 1,929 total rushing yards.
We'll have to wait and see if the reported domestic violence charges that Carey's facing will have an effect on his playing status. Nevertheless, there's no doubt that if he does suit up for the Wildcats, he'll be one of the most feared running backs in the country in 2013.
Will Sutton could have made the jump to the NFL after this season and likely ended up being a second-round pick in the 2013 draft. But Sutton instead chose to return to Arizona State and continue to work on improving his already soaring stock.
The reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year is coming off a monster junior campaign in which he racked up 63 total tackles, including 40 solo stops and 23.5 tackles for loss, as well as 12 sacks, five pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
At 6'1'', 267 pounds, Sutton may be undersized, but he makes up for his lack of bulk with his strength and his explosive burst off the ball.
Arkansas loses a ton of talent on offense, but the Razorbacks will have a few intriguing players returning on defense, including potential star pass-rusher Trey Flowers.
Because his team was just 4-8 and a total afterthought in the SEC, Flowers didn't receive much attention in 2012. But he still had an impressive overall performance.
The 6'4'', 243-pound sophomore totaled 50 tackles, including 13 tackles for loss, and he also had six sacks and 11 quarterback hurries.
Auburn's defense lost its two top impact players, LB Daren Bates and DE Corey Lemonier. However, the unit does return some other key veterans, most notably safety Demetruce McNeal.
This season, McNeal finished second on the team with 90 total tackles, including 53 solo stops, and he also broke up four passes.
The Tigers are going to need the big, rangy, 6'2'', 187-pound junior to step up in a big way next season if they want their defense to improve after a lousy showing in 2012.
Take a second and imagine how insane Oregon's backfield would have been this season if Lache Seastrunk had decided to stay in Eugene with Kenjon Barner and De'Anthony Thomas.
Instead, the former 5-star recruit from Texas chose to leave the Ducks after just one year in order to play in his home state at Baylor.
After a sluggish start to the 2012 season, Seastrunk looked unstoppable in the second half of the year, finishing with five 100-plus-yard rushing performances in his final six games.
With Nick Florence and Terrance Williams both gone, the explosive rusher will now be the focal point of the offense in 2013.
For the second year in a row, Boston College's defense will have to replace its leading tackler.
Last offseason, it was Luke Kuechly, the No. 9 overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft, who had to be replaced. This offseason, it will be Nick Clancy, who totaled 145 tackles as a senior.
While the Eagles will certainly miss Clancy's presence, they do still have two solid linebackers in Kevin Pierre-Louis and Steele Divitto.
Divitto may have had more tackles in 2012, but Pierre-Louis, a 6'1'', 215-pound junior, will be the true leader of the BC defense in 2013.
Kyle Van Noy
BYU may not technically be apart of a BCS conference, but the Cougars are an independent team that will have aspirations of making it to a BCS bowl game in 2013.
If they want to actually reach that goal, they're going to need another great season out of LB Kyle Van Noy.
After a phenomenal performance against San Diego State in the Poinsettia Bowl, Van Noy probably could have been a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft if he didn't decide to return for his senior year.
It's rare that scouts see a college linebacker take over a bowl game like Van Noy did that night, when he scored two touchdowns, picked off a pass, forced a fumble, blocked a punt and totaled five solo tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
The 6'3'', 235-pound junior has the size of a linebacker, but he has the speed and explosion of a wide receiver. Van Noy is a nightmare matchup for any offensive tackle who ends up being given the unfortunate task of trying to contain him.
Cal will likely be throwing the ball more often in 2013 now that Sonny Dykes is running the show in Berkeley. But don't be surprised if RB Brendan Bigelow still manages to have a big year.
At Louisiana Tech, Dykes ran an offense that averaged 44 passes per game. However, he also utilized RB Kenneth Dixon as a perfect complementary piece. As just a freshman, Dixon finished the season as the national leader with 28 total touchdowns scored.
Bigelow, a 5'10'', 190-pound sophomore who averaged 9.8 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns in 2012, could play a similar role as Dixon in the Golden Bears' offensive attack.
Ralph David Abernathy IV
Cincinnati has to replace highly productive RB George Winn, who led the Big East with 1,334 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns this season. Fortunately for the Bearcats, they have another potential breakout star back, Ralph David Abernathy IV, waiting for his shot to prove himself in 2013.
Abernathy averaged 5.3 yards on 69 carries, caught 28 passes for 341 yards, averaged 25 yards on kickoff returns and scored seven total touchdowns in 2012.
The 5'7'', 161-pound sophomore may be small, but he's got the speed to create a game-changing play any time he touches the ball.
Tajh Boyd folded down the stretch run of the 2011 season, and Clemson struggled right along with its quarterback, losing four of its last six games after an 8-0 start.
Boyd had the chance to show his resiliency this season, and he took full advantage of the opportunity.
The junior signal-caller was one of the top offensive performers and one of the top team leaders in the country. He threw for over 3,800 yards and 36 touchdowns and rushed for over 500 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading the Tigers to an 11-2 record.
Boyd will go into the 2013 season as one of the top Heisman favorites and one of the must-watch quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL draft.
WR Paul Richardson was forced to sit out the entire 2012 season with a knee injury. His absence was certainly felt, as the Colorado Buffaloes finished the year ranked 120th in the nation in scoring offense.
Richardson was expected to be the team's featured offensive weapon this season after catching 39 passes for 555 yards and five touchdowns in 2011.
It remains to be seen how the 6'1'', 175-pound sophomore will bounce back from his injury. Nevertheless, whether he's truly playing at full strength or not, Richardson's presence out on the field will be enough to keep opposing defenses honest in 2013.
If it wasn't for the great performance of Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene this season, Yawin Smallwood would have likely taken home the 2012 Big East Defensive Player of the Year award.
Smallwood definitely made a strong case as to why he deserved the honor.
After a fantastic debut season in 2011, the 6'3'', 235-pound sophomore took his game to another level in 2012. He finished the season with 120 tackles, including 59 solo stops and 15 tackles for loss, to go along with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
Now that fellow 'backers Sio Moore and Jory Johnson are both gone, Smallwood will be expected to once again raise his level of play in 2013. He should respond well to the challenge.
Duke won't have an easy time replacing one of the most productive players in school history, WR Conner Vernon. But fortunately for the Blue Devils, they do have an emerging No. 1 receiving threat in Jamison Crowder to help fill the void he left.
After catching just 14 passes as a freshman in 2011, Crowder really became a crucial part of the offense this season, catching 76 passes for 1,074 yards and eight touchdowns.
The 5'9'', 175-pound sophomore is one of the best athletes that Duke has had in years. Plus, he's the type of dangerous threat that no opposing defense wants to deal with.
Florida has lost plenty of key defensive players early to the NFL, including DT Sharrif Floyd, LB Jelani Jenkins and safety Matt Elam. However, the Gators are still returning some potential standout players on defense for 2013.
The one Gator defender to really watch out for is CB Loucheiz Purifoy.
Although Elam got much of the credit and attention in 2012, it was actually Purifoy who was the secondary's most consistent player.
Opposing quarterbacks made the wise decision of not testing the 6'1'', 189-pound sophomore very much, because he oftentimes had his receiver completely locked down.
Florida State lost two of its best defensive players this offseason when DE Bjoern Werner and CB Xavier Rhodes both declared for the 2013 NFL draft.
Werner and Rhodes may have been the Seminoles' two biggest defensive stars in 2012.
But LB Christian Jones was also a critical member of a unit that ranked second in the nation in total defense. Jones led the team with 95 tackles, including 48 solo stops and seven tackles for loss.
The 6'4'', 232-pound junior is an outstanding physical specimen. He might just be the best linebacker that Florida State has had since Ernie Sims.
No one would have blamed Aaron Murray if he had left Georgia a year early and entered the 2013 NFL draft.
Murray has already cemented his legacy as one of the best players in school history after leading the Bulldogs to back-to-back double-digit win seasons, which both included SEC East division titles.
What Murray hasn't done yet, however, is win a Heisman Trophy or an SEC championship, which is likely why he chose to stay in Athens.
The 6'1'', 210-pound junior will be the centerpiece of one of the best offensive trios in the country in 2013, comprised of him, RB Todd Gurley and WR Malcolm Mitchell.
Georgia Tech didn't have any true stars in 2012, but LB Jeremiah Attaochu is one player who certainly impressed with his performance.
Attaochu ranked third in the ACC with 10 sacks, and he also totaled 44 solo tackles and 12 tackles for loss.
The athletic and powerful 6'3'', 240-pound junior is capable of exploding off the edge, and he knows how to fly into the backfield and make key stops behind the line of scrimmage.
The Illinois defense had the talent to be successful in 2012, but for some reason, the unit just didn't get the results it should have.
Now, following the losses of future NFL draft picks such as DE Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence and CB Terry Hawthorne, the Illini will have plenty of holes to fill on defense.
Luckily, the unit will have a leader in LB Jonathan Brown to rally around in 2013.
Brown is an athletic and instinctive defender who can make key stops at crucial times.
Indiana's defense was absolutely terrible this season, ranking last in the Big Ten in both scoring defense and total defense. But the team's offense was a different story. The Hoosiers ranked second in the league in total offense and fourth in scoring.
The team's best offensive player was RB Stephen Houston.
Houston was a versatile and valuable contributor, rushing for 749 yards and 12 touchdowns and catching 37 passes for 381 yards and four touchdowns.
The junior's 1,130 total yards from scrimmage were the ninth-most in the conference.
Iowa's defense has holes to fill on the defensive line and in the secondary this offseason. But there are certainly no holes that need to be filled in the linebacker corps.
The Hawkeyes will once again have one of the best linebacker trios in the country for the 2013 season, comprised of Anthony Hitchens, James Morris and Christian Kirksey.
Hitchens will again be the leader and the face of the group next season.
The 6'1'', 224-pound junior enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2012. He led the Big Ten with 124 total tackles.
For the past three years, Iowa State's defense has featured two of the best linebackers in the Big 12, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein.
Knott and Klein both enjoyed tremendous success in Ames, combining to rack up over 700 career tackles between them.
Obviously, the Cyclones are going to miss both players dearly. But at least they'll have a linebacker like Jeremiah George to pick up some of the slack.
George still has a long way to go to prove that he belongs in the same conversation as Knott and Klein. However, he did have a strong junior campaign in 2012, finishing third on the team with 87 total tackles.
Expectations certainly weren't high for Charlie Weis' first season at Kansas. Nevertheless, a 1-11 overall record certainly wasn't what Jayhawks fans wanted to see in 2012.
In order for the team to improve next season, Kansas is going to have to get a big-time performance out of its best offensive player, RB James Sims.
Sims was one of the lone bright spots in Lawrence this last season. He was one of just three Big 12 backs who rushed for over 1,000 yards, and he also scored 10 touchdowns.
The 6'0'', 200-pound junior may not be an elite back, but he's certainly capable of producing when called upon.
Kansas State is going to have a very tough time trying to replace dual-threat QB Collin Klein.
Klein was one of the most productive and successful players in school history, leading the Wildcats to 21 wins in his two years as a starter.
Luckily, the offense will have a tough, physical workhorse running back like John Hubert to lean on in 2013.
Hubert may have been overshadowed by his more heralded backfield mate this season, but he still ran for 952 yards and scored 16 touchdowns.
New Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops is taking over a team that has won just five of its last 22 games. But the good news for Stoops is that the cupboard isn't completely bare in Lexington.
The Wildcats do have some intriguing young talent on both sides of the ball that can be developed. One of the most interesting players is LB Alvin Dupree.
Although it was fellow linebacker Avery Williamson who led the team in tackles in 2012, Dupree was arguably just as impressive. The athletic 6'4'', 249-pound sophomore finished the year with 91 tackles, including 54 solo stops and 12.5 tackles for loss, and he also had 6.5 sacks.
Teddy Bridgewater capped off his extremely impressive sophomore campaign with a huge statement performance against Florida in the Sugar Bowl in front of a national prime-time audience.
Bridgewater led the underdog Cardinals to their 11th victory of the season with a shocking 33-23 win over the Gators down in New Orleans.
The budding star sophomore signal-caller will now enter the 2013 season as one of the most talked-about quarterbacks in the country.
If Bridgewater can handle the hype, he'll definitely be in the Heisman conversation next season.
It's not that shocking that two of LSU's top running backs, Michael Ford and Spencer Ware, declared for the 2013 NFL draft, even though both had subpar seasons in 2012.
Ford and Ware obviously both realized that they would have to take a backseat to Jeremy Hill in 2013.
This season, Hill worked his way up a crowded depth chart and turned out to be the Tigers' most consistent offensive player.
The Baton Rouge native led the team with 755 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns in his first season of action.
Stefon Diggs became one of the most highly-touted high school football recruits to ever sign with the University of Maryland when he announced that he would play for the Terrapins last winter.
It didn't take long for Diggs to show why he was such a coveted commodity during his days at Maryland's Our Lady of Good Counsel High School.
Diggs took the ACC by storm in his first season. He caught 54 passes for 848 yards, averaged 28 yards on kickoff returns, averaged 10 yards on punt returns and scored eight total touchdowns.
The explosive 6'1'', 185-pound freshman is the type of elite young playmaker that Maryland will try to build around for the future.
Miami has had plenty of great running backs in recent years, such as Lamar Miller, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee, Clinton Portis and Edgerrin James.
Now, Duke Johnson is the running back that has Hurricanes fans so excited following his brilliant debut campaign in 2012.
Johnson had one of the best seasons by a freshman in school history. He averaged 6.8 yards on 139 carries, caught 27 passes for 221 yards, averaged 33 yards on kickoff returns, scored 13 touchdowns and he even threw a touchdown pass.
The Miami native can certainly do it all. He's the type of star that can turn the Hurricanes back into a national power over the next few years.
Taylor Lewan surprised the college football world when he announced that he would forgo the opportunity to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft in order to return to Michigan for his senior year.
It was definitely a pleasant surprise for Michigan fans, who are happy to have their offensive line leader back for another season.
The gigantic 6'8'', 309-pound junior may not be as polished as former Wolverine tackle Jake Long was when he was selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft. However, Lewan clearly possesses all of the tools and traits that scouts are looking for in a potential franchise offensive tackle prospect.
Michigan State lost one of its top defenders when DE William Gholston declared for the 2013 NFL draft. Luckily, the Spartans have plenty of talent coming back to make up for the loss of the powerful edge-rusher.
The key defensive leader will once again be LB Max Bullough.
Bullough led the team with 110 tackles in 2012 and was one of the most dominant defenders in the Big Ten.
The 6'3'', 252-pound junior is one of college football's premier run-stoppers.
Ra'Shede Hageman will be the Minnesota player that NFL scouts will keep a very close eye on in 2013.
Hageman didn't put up the type of stats that fellow defensive lineman D.L. Wilhite did this season, but he did make plenty of key stops behind the line of scrimmage, racking up six sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss.
The explosive 6'6'', 301-pound junior is developing into a true monster in the middle of the Minnesota defense.
Mississippi State's defense experienced some key losses with the departures of DT Josh Boyd, LB Cameron Lawrence, CB Johnthan Banks and safety Corey Broomfield.
The Bulldogs won't exactly have to start over from scratch on the defensive side of the ball, though.
They'll be especially strong up front, where Denico Autry and Preston Smith are developing into a dynamic defensive end duo.
In his first year after transferring from the JUCO ranks, Autry flashed great pass-rushing ability. He racked up 4.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries and 9.5 tackles for loss.
The scary part is that the 6'5'', 255-pound junior has only truly started to tap into his true potential.
It's too early to start calling Kony Ealy the next Aldon Smith. But it certainly isn't too early to start getting excited about his potential.
Ealy may have been overshadowed by fellow defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson in 2012, but he still put together a very solid sophomore campaign. He totaled 3.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups and five quarterback hurries.
The highly athletic 6'5'', 265-pound sophomore could be ready to have a breakout season in 2013, much like the one we saw Smith have back in 2009.
NC State maybe losing starting quarterback Mike Glennon, but whoever ends up being the new signal-caller for the Wolfpack (Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas is the favorite) will be fortunate to have an explosive receiving weapon in Bryan Underwood.
Underwood is the type of speedy field-stretching receiver that is capable of creating a big play any time the ball gets thrown his way. He proved that in 2012 by catching 44 passes and taking 10 of them to the end zone for touchdowns.
The 5'11'', 174-pound sophomore should create plenty more big plays for NC State's offense in 2013.
Before the 2012 season started, everyone already knew that Taylor Martinez was one of the best running quarterbacks in the country. What they wanted to see was if Martinez was also a consistent passer and a true team leader.
He silenced all of his skeptics with his performance. Martinez completed 62 percent of his passes for over 2,800 yards, rushed for over 1,000 yards and accounted for 33 touchdowns, leading the Cornhuskers to 10 wins and a Big Ten Legends division title.
Martinez still has to show that he can win big games, but there's no doubt that what he showed us as a junior was definitely very encouraging to see.
North Carolina's secondary returns all four starters from 2012.
None of them are anywhere near as important, however, as strong safety Tre Boston.
Boston led the Tar Heels with 86 tackles, including 49 solo stops, picked off four passes and broke up another six throws in 2012.
The 6'1'', 190-pound junior is one of the best cover safeties in America, but he also loves to mix it up in run support as well.
Northwestern relied on its powerful rushing attack to have one of the best seasons in school history in 2012.
The main figure of the powerful ground game was RB Venric Mark.
Mark totaled over 1,400 yards of offense and scored 15 touchdowns in 2012.
The 5'8'', 175-pound junior may not overwhelm opponents with his size, but he packs plenty of power and toughness into his small frame.
Like BYU, Notre Dame isn't technically a BCS school, but the Irish are another independent team that will have aspirations of making it to a BCS bowl game next season.
The defense may have lost its star, LB Manti Te'o, but the unit will still have a few standouts in the front seven, most notably DE Stephon Tuitt and DT Louis Nix.
This season, Tuitt made fans forget all about Aaron Lynch, putting together a breakout campaign and totaling 11 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries.
The 6'6'', 303-pound sophomore moves incredibly well for his size. He has the type of speed-size-power combination that you look for in a potential top-10 NFL draft pick.
Ohio State got some bad news when DT Johnathan Hankins announced that he was declaring for the 2013 NFL draft. But then the Buckeyes got some great news when CB Bradley Roby confirmed that he was returning to Columbus.
Hankins and Roby were two of the stars of Ohio State's defense in 2012. However, the unit's real MVP was actually LB Ryan Shazier.
Shazier developed into a dominant defensive difference-maker this season. He led the team with 114 tackles, including 69 solo stops and 17 tackles for loss. He also racked up five sacks, broke up 10 passes, forced three fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown.
The 6'2'', 230-pound junior has to be considered the early favorite to win the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award.
Oklahoma's offensive line lost one of its key cogs, OT Lane Johnson, who will likely be a Day 2 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. However, the Sooners will bring back their best overall offensive lineman from this season, center Gabe Ikard.
Ikard was the linchpin of a line that allowed just 15 sacks and paved the way for 30 rushing touchdowns in 2012.
The athletic, intelligent and physical 6'3'', 288-pound junior earned first-team All-Big 12 honors for his performance this season. He's widely considered to be the conference's best returning offensive lineman.
Josh Stewart had some big shoes to fill, taking over for WR Justin Blackmon, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, as the team's new No. 1 receiver.
Stewart didn't seem to care about trying to live up to what his former teammate accomplished, though. All he seemed to care about was making as many big plays as possible.
Ultimately, the sophomore speedster finished the season with 101 catches for 1,210 yards and eight touchdowns.
With RB Joseph Randle now gone, Stewart will likely have even more opportunities to shine in 2013.
The play of QB Bo Wallace certainly helped the Ole Miss Rebels put together a surprisingly successful 7-6 season in 2012. However, it was the play of WR Donte Moncrief that really allowed Wallace to be so successful in his first year as a starter.
Moncrief was one of the SEC's most underrated players this season. The 6'3'', 216-pound sophomore hauled in 66 catches for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Now that both Moncrief and Wallace have spent a full season getting used to one another, they should form an even more lethal passing combination in 2013.
Kenjon Barner may have been the Oregon running back who carried the ball the most in 2012, but the Ducks' electric and exciting runner/receiver/returner De'Anthony Thomas still found ways to create plenty of big, explosive plays as well.
Thomas followed up his huge freshman season in 2011 with a solid sophomore effort, even though he had to play second fiddle to Barner.
The explosive and versatile playmaker totaled 1,146 yards of offense, averaged a whopping 17 yards per punt return and scored 18 touchdowns in four different ways.
Oregon State has some exciting young offensive players to build around in RB Storm Wood and WR Brandin Cooks. But you have to turn to the defensive side of the ball in order to find the team's best overall player, DE Scott Crichton.
Crichton was one of the most disruptive defensive ends in the country in 2012. The 6'3'', 263-pound redshirt sophomore totaled nine sacks, 17.5 tackles for loss and was responsible for 125 total negative yards.
With fellow defensive end Dylan Wynn coming back to complement Crichton on the other side of the defensive line, the Beavers will once again have one of the sport's best pass-rushing tandems for 2013.
Penn State finally started to become a true passing team during Bill O'Brien's first season as head coach. The increased focus on airing it out allowed the team's most talented wide receiver, Allen Robinson, to put together a breakout performance in 2012.
Robinson finished the season with 77 catches for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 201-pound sophomore has shown O'Brien and the rest of the coaching staff that he can be trusted to make big plays. That means Robinson should once again have plenty of balls thrown his way in 2013.
In recent years, Pittsburgh has been home to some of college football's most talented wide receivers, such as Larry Fitzgerald and Jonathan Baldwin. Now, it's Devin Street, who is the Panther pass-catcher who has caught everyone's attention.
Street gave us plenty of glimpses of his outstanding ability in 2012, as he caught 73 passes for 975 yards and five touchdowns.
Like his predecessors, Fitzgerald and Baldwin, the 6'4'', 190-pound junior has the type of size and speed combination to create matchup problems against any defense he goes up against.
Josh Johnson was Purdue's most productive cornerback in 2012. However, you can make the argument that Johnson saw more action and had more opportunities to make plays this season, because teams shied away from throwing at fellow CB Ricardo Allen.
Allen is certainly not the type of cornerback that you want to test on a regular basis. The 5'9'', 186-pound junior makes up for his lack of height with his tenacity, his toughness, his coverage skills and his natural recognition instincts.
Gary Nova is probably one of the most average and mediocre quarterbacks that you're going to find in college football. However, that didn't stop Rutgers' best receiver, Brandon Coleman, from producing at a high level in 2012.
Coleman caught 43 passes for 718 yards, and he hauled in 10 touchdowns, which was tied for the most in the Big East.
The 6'6'', 220-pound sophomore has the size, smooth route-running skills and sure hands to be an extremely dangerous red-zone weapon.
Jadeveon Clowney's rattling hit on Michigan RB Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl is the type of play that shows you just how powerful and explosive the young physical phenom really is.
Clowney is the kind of rare and special defensive player that doesn't come along very often. He proved that with a spectacular sophomore campaign in 2012.
The former No. 1 overall prospect of the 2011 recruiting class showed why he received so much hype when he was coming out of South Pointe High School. The freakishly athletic 6'6'', 256-pound edge-rusher totaled 13 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and forced three fumbles.
Looking back, you have to wonder if Heisman voters regret sending Notre Dame LB Manti Te'o to the Heisman ceremony instead of Clowney, who was the sport's real defensive MVP of 2012.
South Florida is going to need its defense to step up after its poor showing in 2012.
The Bulls ranked second-to-last in the Big East in both scoring defense and total defense this season, giving up an average of 27 points and 408 yards per game.
They should be able to do better next season, however, as long as key defenders such as LB DeDe Lattimore begin playing up to their potential.
Lattimore has totaled 239 tackles in his first three years. But he's yet to become a truly dominant defender.
Stanford has plenty of talent coming back on defense with the return of standouts such as linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov and safety Ed Reynolds. However, the player that everyone will be talking about during the offseason is QB Kevin Hogan.
It's way too early to start mentioning Hogan in the same breath as former Stanford star signal-caller Andrew Luck, but it's definitely not too early to start getting excited about the seemingly limitless potential that the current Cardinal QB offers.
Hogan shined after taking over for struggling starter Josh Nunes after eight games. The strong-armed and intelligent redshirt freshman completed 71 percent of his passes and threw nine touchdowns, guiding Stanford to six straight wins, a Pac-12 title and a Rose Bowl victory.
A lot of players tore up West Virginia's porous defense in 2012, but that doesn't diminish what Syracuse RB Prince-Tyson Gulley was able to do against the Mountaineers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
On a snow-covered field at Yankee Stadium, Gulley had the best performance of his career, rushing for 208 yards, catching five passes and scoring three touchdowns in the 38-14 victory.
The 5'10'', 192-pound junior is a versatile back who can run and catch the ball out of the backfield with equal effectiveness.
Now that QB Ryan Nassib is gone, the Orange will likely turn to Gulley to be the focal point of the offense in 2013.
TCU fans were expecting DE Devonte Fields, a former 4-star recruit from nearby Martin High School in Arlington, Texas, to make an impact early in his collegiate career. But not even the most optimistic Horned Frogs fan could have expected Fields to be so good so quickly.
The 6'4'', 240-pound true freshman broke onto the Big 12 scene in a big way, racking up 10 sacks, 18.5 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in 2012.
Fields now faces the pressure of having to be one of the Big 12's most productive pass-rushers yet again in 2013. But he should be ready to handle the challenge.
Nate D. Smith
There weren't many freshman in the Big East that made the type of instant impact that Temple LB Nate D. Smith did in 2012.
Smith quickly developed into one of the unit's key leaders in his first season of action.
The 6'0'', 230-pound middle linebacker totaled 75 tackles, including 51 solo stops and 6.5 tackles for loss, as well as 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
The Owls may have plenty of work to do on defense, but they at least have a young standout player to build around for the future.
Tennessee's defense was statistically the worst defense in the SEC this season, ranking dead last in the league in both scoring defense and total defense. The unit gave up an average of 35 points and 471 yards per game in 2012.
Still, it's hard to blame the team's defensive woes on its star linebacker, A.J. Johnson.
Johnson was one of the few bright spots on defense, as he led the Vols with 138 tackles, including 63 solo stops and 8.5 tackles for loss.
The 6'2'', 240-pound sophomore will play a key role in Tennessee's defensive improvement in 2013.
Jackson Jeffcoat still has a long way to go to match the career of his father, former first-round NFL draft pick Jim Jeffcoat. But he's definitely on his way to becoming a big-time player at the NFL level.
Although a pectoral injury sidelined Jeffcoat for the second half of the 2012 season, he should be back and ready to hunt down quarterbacks at full speed in 2013.
In 19 career games, the highly athletic junior edge-rusher has totaled 12 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss.
If Jeffcoat has the type of senior season he's capable of, he could easily end up being a top-10 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
At this time last year, many Texas A&M fans were wondering who the team's starting quarterback would be for the 2012 season following the departure of Ryan Tannehill.
At the time, they obviously couldn't have expected to witness the type of performance that QB Johnny Manziel gave them this season.
Manziel became the biggest breakout star in college football in 2012. The explosive dual-threat signal-caller dazzled onlookers with dozens of highlight-reel plays. He threw for over 3,700 yards and 26 touchdowns and ran for over 1,400 yards and 21 touchdowns, guiding the Aggies to an 11-2 record.
After becoming the first ever freshman to win college football's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy, it will be fun to see what Manziel has in store for his encore performance in 2013.
New Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury may not have the opportunity to work with QB Seth Doege, who threw for over 4,000 yards in each of his final two seasons. However, Kingsbury will have plenty of talented receivers at his disposal, most notably Eric Ward.
Ward was one of the Big 12's most productive pass-catchers in 2012. He hauled in 82 passes for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns.
You can bet that Kingsbury will design plenty of plays to get No. 18 the ball in 2013.
QB Brett Hundley will likely be the UCLA player who receives the most publicity this offseason. However, the Bruins player that truly deserves the most attention is LB Anthony Barr.
Barr put together a remarkable breakout campaign in 2012. The converted fullback proved to be a natural at outside linebacker, as he totaled 13 sacks, 21 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.
The 6'4'', 235-pound junior possesses the type of power, speed and natural pass-rushing instincts to be a dangerous and destructive defensive force in 2013.
USC QB Matt Barkley was the one who received all of the recognition before the 2012 season actually started, but it didn't take long for his teammate and favorite receiver, Marqise Lee, to steal his spotlight.
Lee made plenty of huge plays this season. He had 58 catches that went for over 10 yards, which was tied for the highest total in the nation.
He also had 20 catches for over 20 yards, 13 catches for over 30 yards, 11 catches for over 40 yards and eight catches for over 50 yards—which was the most by any receiver in America.
Overall, the star sophomore finished with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 15 total touchdowns.
If he was eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, Lee would likely be one of the top contenders to be the No. 1 overall pick.
Utah's defense lost its biggest star, DT Star Lotulelei, who will likely be a top-15 pick in the 2013 NFL draft. The Utes also lost their second best defensive lineman, Joe Kruger, who followed Lotulelei into the draft.
While the defense will have to fill some huge holes up front, luckily, the unit has a supremely talented playmaker, safety Brian Blechen, patrolling the back end.
Blechen is a linebacker/safety hybrid who has the speed and playmaking skills to come up with tackles all over the field.
This season, the 6'2'', 218-pound junior totaled 58 tackles and broke up five passes.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin received a late Christmas gift when WR Jordan Matthews announced that he would return to school for his senior year.
Following the type of huge breakout performance he had in 2012, Matthews was smart to explore his NFL options. But ultimately, coming back to prove himself for another full year will likely be a decision that pays off in the end.
After catching 94 passes for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns this season, the 6'3'', 215-pound junior will go into the 2013 season as one of the most feared receivers in college football.
Virginia lost the heart and soul of its defense, LB Steve Greer, who led the team in tackles three out of the past four seasons. However, the Cavaliers still have a few potential studs to watch out for on the defensive side of the ball in 2013.
The player that NFL scouts will be keying in on is CB Demetrious Nicholson.
Nicholson wasn't tested very often in 2012, but when he was, he displayed terrific coverage ability and ball skills. The 5'11'', 170-pound sophomore finished the season with 15 pass breakups, which was the second most in the ACC. He also had 56 total tackles.
Virginia Tech's offense may have been a disaster in 2012, but the defense still remained strong, just like in years past.
The Hokies finished the season ranked second in the ACC in both scoring defense and total defense after allowing an average of just 22 points and 333 yards per game.
One of the unit's most important contributors was DE James Gayle.
Even though he consistently faced double-teams and chip blocks all season long, Gayle still totaled five sacks, 11 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries this season.
Merrill Noel did not have the type of follow-up season to his tremendous freshman year that many Demon Deacons fans were hoping for. He finished the year with only 33 tackles, no interceptions and just three pass breakups in nine games of actions.
It certainly wouldn't be surprising, though, to see the talented cornerback have a big bounce-back campaign in 2013.
The 5'10'', 180-pound sophomore looked like he was on his way to becoming a star after the 2011 season. But in order to reach his full potential, he needs to stay healthy and handle himself properly away from the field.
Washington QB Keith Price certainly didn't have the type of big season in 2012 that many were expecting. But it definitely wasn't because Price didn't have anybody to throw to.
Price quickly found a reliable and consistent target that he could trust in TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
Seferian-Jenkins ended up with 69 catches for 852 yards, and he had seven receiving touchdowns, which was the highest total on the team.
The 6'6'', 266-pound sophomore moves extremely well for his size, and he's built more like a power forward than a true football player.
Deone Bucannon has suffered through plenty of ugly losses during his career at Washington State. But he's still never shown any signs of quit or giving up.
Instead, the physical strong safety always seems to be flying around the field, looking to make as many tackles as he possibly can.
This season, Bucannon led the team with 106 tackles, including 64 solo stops, and he also picked off four passes and broke up another four throws.
The Cougars clearly need a key defensive leader like Bucannon to step up next season if they want to turn things around in 2013.
West Virginia's offensive attack certainly won't be the same in 2013 without the deadly passing trio of QB Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.
Smith, Austin and Bailey helped the Mountaineers average 329 passing yards per game and score 44 passing touchdowns in 2012.
Without them, the offense is going to look very different. But that may not necessarily be such a bad thing.
The Mountaineers will likely rely more on their running game next season, which should finally give explosive RB Andrew Buie a true chance to shine.
Wisconsin lost its leading linebacker from 2012, LB Mike Taylor, who finished second in the Big Ten with 123 total stops. However, the Badgers are lucky enough to have another standout linebacker, Chris Borland, coming back to lead the defense next season.
Like Taylor, Borland totaled the 100-tackle mark for the second straight year in 2012. He also caused plenty of key turnovers, as he picked off two passes and forced five fumbles.
The 5'11'', 245-pound junior is a tough, instinctive and physical inside 'backer who loves to bang around inside the box.