No other player in college football can compare to South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney
As college football fans prepare for the long offseason that awaits them, it seems like those beautiful images of crisp fall Saturdays spent watching their favorite teams and players are light-years away.
Soon enough, however, spring ball will arrive, and everyone will begin counting down the days until opening weekend.
The 2013 college football season is certainly shaping up to be one of the most interesting and unpredictable seasons that we’ve seen in years.
Many of the top teams in the country have been affected by the record number of underclassmen who have chosen to declare for the 2013 NFL draft.
Most of the biggest stars from this past season may be headed to the pros. Still, there are plenty of terrific returning players to get excited about.
Here’s an early look at college football’s top 200 impact players for the 2013 season.
Jadeveon Clowney has made plenty of incredible plays during the first two years of his collegiate career. But there was one play in particular that will remain etched in the minds of fans for years to come.
Clowney's devastating hit on Michigan RB Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl demonstrated just how much of a true game-changer he is. The explosive edge-rusher possesses a rare combination of speed, power and natural playmaking instincts that separates him from every other defender in the country.
After arriving at South Carolina as one of the most highly touted high school football recruits of all time, Clowney had plenty of pressure and expectations to deal with. However, he's certainly had no trouble living up to the hype so far.
The 6'6'', 256-pound pass-rushing phenom has totaled 21 sacks, 35.5 tackles for loss and eight forced fumbles in his first two seasons.
He's also made plenty of opposing offensive linemen look downright foolish.
Not only will Clowney enter next season as the early front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, he'll also be a serious contender to win the Heisman Trophy as well.
USC may have been the most disappointing team of the 2012 season, but one Trojan player who certainly didn't disappoint is WR Marqise Lee.
Lee followed up his breakout freshman campaign in 2011 with an even better performance as a sophomore.
He emerged as the top wide receiver in all of college football, as he led the nation with 118 total catches for 1,721 yards and scored 14 touchdowns.
It will be interesting to see how Lee will handle having to deal with a new quarterback in 2013. It will also be interesting to see how he fares now that fellow receiver Robert Woods won't be around to take some of the defense's focus off of him.
Although Lee's production may take a bit of a hit next season, the star pass-catcher should still be able to show off his elite skills on a consistent basis, and he should once again be one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in all of college football.
Johnny Manziel's rise to national stardom in 2012 may have been a bit surprising, considering it was his first year as a starter and his first year adapting to new coach Kevin Sumlin's offense. However, the dynamic dual-threat quarterback turned out to be a perfect fit for Sumlin's system.
Manziel put together one of the best seasons that we've seen from a freshman in college football history. He completed 68 percent of his passes for over 3,700 yards, ran for over 1,400 yards and accounted for 47 total touchdowns.
Ultimately, he helped lead the Aggies to a surprising 11-2 record, which included a huge upset win over eventual national champion Alabama on the road.
He topped off his remarkable debut performance by winning college football's most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy, becoming the first freshman to ever take home the special hardware.
"Johnny Football" won't have an easy time replicating his fantastic first season. But it's certainly going to be a lot of fun to see what Manziel has in store for an encore.
Johnny Manziel may be college football's main cover boy this summer. But there are a few other quarterbacks out there that could steal his thunder in 2013.
The most capable challenger is Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater.
Bridgewater has built up a ton of momentum going into the offseason after putting together a huge statement performance in a shocking upset victory over Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
It certainly wasn't his only great game of the season. The sophomore signal-caller completed 68 percent of his passes for over 3,700 yards and threw 27 touchdowns, as he led the Cardinals to 11 wins, a Big East title and a top-15 national ranking.
The Miami native, who originally committed to the Hurricanes before switching to come play for Charlie Strong, has turned out to be the type of savior that the Louisville program desperately needed.
Last spring, when it was announced that RB Isaiah Crowell, Georgia's leading rusher in 2011, had been booted from the team, it was obviously a bit disconcerting. However, any panic that Bulldogs fans may have had about the team's running game instantly disappeared once they got their first look at Todd Gurley in the team's season-opener.
In his first ever collegiate game against Buffalo, Gurley totaled 227 all-purpose yards, scored three touchdowns, and he demonstrated amazing natural physical ability and rushing instincts.
The 6'1'', 218-pound freshman never slowed down after that. He ended up finishing his first season with 1,385 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Gurley still has plenty of work to do if he wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as former Georgia great Herschel Walker. Nevertheless, if he can put together another campaign in 2013 like the one he had this past season, you're going to start hearing those type of lofty comparisons.
Kyle Van Noy
If you didn't watch the Poinsettia Bowl between BYU and San Diego State, then unfortunately you missed one of the most dominant individual defensive performances we've seen in years from LB Kyle Van Noy.
Van Noy completely took over the game, finishing with an eye-popping stat line, which included eight total tackles, including five solo stops and 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two touchdowns, an interception, a forced fumble and a blocked punt.
Following that exceptional performance against the Aztecs, it looked like the highly athletic 6'3'', 235-pound junior was destined to be a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. But the outstanding outside linebacker instead chose to return to Provo for his senior year.
After totaling 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries and six forced fumbles this past season, Van Noy will now enter the 2013 season as one of the most feared defensive players in all of college football.
Rich Rodriguez helped turn RB Steve Slaton into a star, when he coached at West Virginia. Now, it looks like he's going to help Ka'Deem Carey do the same thing at Arizona.
This past season, Carey looked like a perfect fit for Rodriguez's spread offense. He turned out to be the most productive running back in college football, as he totaled 1,929 yards on the ground, caught 36 passes for 303 yards and scored 24 touchdowns.
The 5'10'', 197-pound junior was one of just seven running backs in the country who carried the ball over 300 times in 2012, yet he still managed to average a whopping 6.3 yards per carry.
Carey may have some off-the-field issues to take care of during the offseason. But if he can maintain his focus, he could definitely make a serious run at the 2000-yard rushing mark in 2013.
If it wasn't for a pectoral injury that kept Jackson Jeffcoat sidelined for the second half of the 2012 season, there's a good chance that we would probably be talking right now about the disruptive defender as a potential top-15 pick for the 2013 NFL draft.
Before experiencing the injury, Jeffcoat had established himself as one of the premier pass-rushers in the country, totaling four sacks, five quarterback hurries and 9.5 tackles for loss in just six games.
The son of former first-round NFL draft pick Jim Jeffcoat has begun to step out of his father's shadow. He's certainly proven that he was worthy of the "blue-chip prospect" label that was bestowed upon him during his days as a coveted 5-star recruit at Plano West High School in Texas.
Jeffcoat may be a bit undersized for a traditional 4-3 defensive end role. But he has the type of explosive speed off the edge and agility to get around any offensive tackle he goes up against. He also possesses the strength to overpower would-be-blockers, penetrate into the backfield and make key stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Tajh Boyd received a lot of criticism for his poor play during the stretch run of the 2011 season, since it clearly had a direct effect on Clemson's disappointing 2-4 finish to the year.
Boyd was able to quiet all of his critics this past season, however, as he came out and had a tremendous performance in 2012.
The junior signal-caller wasn't able to lead the Tigers to another ACC championship. But he was able to cement his status as one of the best overall passers in college football.
He completed 67 percent of his passes for over 3,800 yards and threw 36 touchdowns. He also added 514 yards and 10 scores with his legs as well.
Although Boyd will miss some of his key weapons such as RB Andre Ellington and WR DeAndre Hopkins, he and WR Sammy Watkins should still form one of the most dangerous passing combinations in the country in 2013.
Alabama has produced plenty of great running backs in recent years such as Trent Richardson, Mark Ingram and Eddie Lacy. But don't be surprised if the Tide's latest budding star rusher T.J. Yeldon turns out to be better than all of them.
During his first season in Tuscaloosa, Yeldon was forced to split carries with Lacy. However, any time he did get the ball in his hands, he always seemed to make something special happen.
The powerfully-built 6'2'', 216-pound freshman rushed for over 1,100 yards on just 175 carries (6.3 average yards per carry), and he scored 13 total touchdowns in 2012.
While he'll have to deal with some new starters in front of him along the offensive line next season, Yeldon should still flourish now that he's got the chance to be the main man in Alabama's backfield.
Many Ohio State fans thought that QB Braxton Miller would be a perfect fit for Urban Meyer's spread offensive system, and as it turned out, they were exactly right.
Meyer seemed to know exactly how to use Miller's diverse skill-set, and Miller seemed to know exactly how to create plenty of big plays in the coach's offense.
The speedy sophomore signal-caller wasn't just one of the most productive running quarterbacks in the country; he was one of the most productive rushers period, regardless of position.
Miller had six 100-plus-yard rushing games, and he ended up finishing with 1,271 total rushing yards and 13 rushing scores.
Not only did Miller produce plenty of highlight-reel worthy runs in 2012, he also developed into a true team leader, as he guided the Buckeyes to an undefeated 12-0 season.
After witnessing what Miller was capable of doing during his first season spent in Meyer's offense, there's simply no telling what he's going to do in 2013, now that he has a much better grasp on the system.
You won't find many other players in college football that are as versatile and as dangerous as Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas.
Although Thomas was forced to take a backseat to fellow running back Kenjon Barner in 2012, he still found a way to make a major impact in a variety of different ways.
The explosive sophomore averaged 7.6 yards per carry, caught 45 passes for 445 yards, averaged a whopping 17 yards on punt returns, and he scored 18 total touchdowns.
At just 5'9'', 176-pounds, Thomas may not have the desired size you look for in an every down back. But he makes up for it with his game-breaking speed and his knack for coming up with huge home-run plays.
Following the departures of key veteran defensive standouts such as Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Dont'a Hightower and Dre Kirkpatrick after the 2011 season, Alabama needed a new defensive leader to emerge in 2012. Luckily for the Tide, LB CJ Mosley proved that he was ready for such an important role.
Mosley took his game to the next level this past season, as he led the team with 107 total tackles, including 66 solo stops and eight tackles for loss, racked up four sacks and picked off two passes.
The athletic and instinctive inside 'backer was a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the Tide's top-ranked defense. What's really so scary is that he could easily be even better as a senior in 2013.
It's a shame that Will Sutton was injured early in a Thursday night game against Oregon, because it cost the star defensive tackle the chance to show off his skills in front of a national audience against one of the best teams in the country.
Even though Sutton may not have been able to prove himself against the Ducks' powerful offense, he still managed to establish himself as one of the Pac-12's best defenders in 2012. The dominant defensive tackle took home the conference's Defensive Player of the Year award after totaling 12 sacks, 23.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
Although the 6'1'', 267-pound junior may be undersized, Sutton makes up for his smaller stature with his toughness, tenacity, power and quickness.
Jake Matthews could have followed his fellow Texas A&M teammates Luke Joeckel and Damontre Moore and declared for the 2013 NFL draft and been a guaranteed top-15 pick. But instead, Matthews made the decision to return to College Station for his senior year.
Matthews, the son of hall-of-fame lineman Bruce Matthews, comes from a family full of football greats.
The 6'5'', 305-pound junior appears destined to be the next coveted franchise offensive tackle prospect, as he possesses all the desired skills and physical tools that NFL scouts are looking for.
Not only will Matthews enter next season as the favorite to win the prestigious Outland Trophy, he'll also be one of the top early candidates to be the No. 1 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
Aaron Murray could have made the decision to declare for the 2013 NFL draft and no one really could have blamed him. But instead, Murray chose to return to Georgia for his senior year in order to chase a national title and a Heisman Trophy.
Murray had the best season of his career in 2012. He completed 64 percent of his passes for over 3,800 yards, threw 36 touchdowns and finished the year with a 174 passer rating, which was the second highest rating in the country.
Most importantly, he led the Bulldogs to 12 wins and their second straight SEC East division title, and he very nearly led them to the BCS championship game.
The 6'1'', 210-pound junior's lack of size may concern some NFL scouts. But as far as pure quarterback skills are concerned, there aren't many other signal-callers in the country that can compare to Murray.
Stephon Tuitt may have been overshadowed by LB Manti Te'o during the 2012 season, but it's impossible to overlook the consistent contributions he made to Notre Dame's defense.
Tuitt made Irish fans forget all about Aaron Lynch, as he racked up 11 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries.
The ferocious 6'6'', 303-pound sophomore is one of the scariest "physical freaks" in college football.
The former 5-star recruit possess an incredible combination of size, speed and power, and he plays the game with a real nasty streak.
Jadeveon Clowney may be the best defensive end in the country, but Tuitt isn't that far behind.
Ohio State has had plenty of great linebackers in recent years such as James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Brian Rolle.
Now, the Buckeye 'backer that has has everyone in Columbus excited is Ryan Shazier.
Shazier is coming off a superb sophomore campaign in 2012, in which he totaled 114 tackles, including 69 solo stops and 17 tackles for loss, and also notched five sacks, 10 pass breakups and three forced fumbles.
The 6'2'', 230-pound sophomore is already playing like a seasoned veteran. He's got as much pure talent and physical ability as any other linebacker in the country.
At just 5'8'', 195-pounds, Lamarcus Joyner obviously doesn't have the prototypical size that you look for in an elite safety. However, Joyner's the type of standout defensive playmaker and ball-hawk who doesn't let his lack of height stop him from making crucial impact plays on a regular basis.
This past season, Joyner was one of the key pieces of a Seminole secondary that finished the season ranked first in the nation in pass defense, allowing an average of just 161 yards through the air per game.
The fast and physical free safety will once again be counted to be one of Florida State's key defensive leaders in 2013.
Vanderbilt had one of its best seasons in school history in 2012. The Commodores won nine games for the first time since 1915, and they won just their second bowl game since 1955.
There were a lot of players that contributed to the team's overall success, but none of them stood out quite like WR Jordan Matthews did.
Matthews emerged as one of the premier pass-catchers in the country. He led the SEC with 94 catches for 1,323 yards and he scored nine touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 205-pound junior is a big, athletic playmaker who can stretch the field and create long, explosive plays in the passing game.
The surprising early departure of QB Darron Thomas following the 2011 season left a huge hole to fill in Oregon's offensive huddle. Chip Kelly didn't seem to be too concerned, however, as he likely had a feeling for just how good Marcus Mariota could potentially be.
Although Mariota had never played in a game before, Kelly still chose him to be his starting quarterback for the 2012 season.
The young redshirt freshman signal-caller didn't let his coach down. He stepped into the offense and showed tremendous poise and leadership ability right away.
Mariota completed 68 percent of his passes for over 2,600 yards, ran for 752 yards and accounted for 38 total touchdowns, as he led the Ducks to a 12-1 record and a No. 2 national ranking.
Although Mariota won't have Kelly to guide him next season, he should still be one of the most productive offensive players in the country in 2013.
Sammy Watkins became a national star during his first season at Clemson. As a true freshman, Watkins totaled 2,200 all-purpose yards, scored 13 touchdowns and produced plenty of highlight-reel plays.
Before the 2012 season started, many were calling Watkins the best receiver in college football. However, he just never seemed to be able to recapture the magic he had as a freshman in 2011.
After sitting out the first two games of the season due to a suspension, the 6'1'', 205-pound sophomore took a backseat to fellow receiver DeAndre Hopkins and finished the year with just 57 catches and four touchdowns.
Watkins may have had a down year this past season. But he's the type of player who is clearly capable of putting together a big bounce back campaign in 2013. When he's playing at his best, Watkins is one of the most exciting and entertaining players in all of college football.
Devonte Fields was one of the biggest recruits that Gary Patterson ever signed during his tenure at TCU.
The former 4-star recruit from nearby Martin High School in Arlington was expected to make an immediate impact for the Horned Frogs defense. However, no one could have foreseen just how dominant he would actually be.
Fields was arguably the best freshman defender in the country in 2012. The ferocious edge-rusher led the Big 12 with 18.5 tackles for loss, and he finished third in the league with 10 sacks.
Patterson surely has to be excited about the future potential of his young budding star defensive end.
Ohio State has a history of producing defensive backs that end up being high picks in the NFL draft. CB Bradley Roby looks like he's going to be the next in that long line.
This past season, Roby displayed the type of athleticism, ball skills and playmaking ability that NFL scouts are looking for in a top-tier cornerback prospect.
The 5'11'', 190-pound junior totaled 62 tackles, including 40 solo stops, he picked off two passes, broke up another 17 throws and scored three touchdowns in three different ways (interception return, fumble return and punt-block return).
Roby still has to work on his overall coverage skills, but he's clearly one of the most naturally gifted defenders in all of college football.
AJ McCarron was tagged with the "game-manager" label after leading Alabama to a BCS title in his first season as a starter in 2011. However, McCarron shed that label in 2012, as he developed into a true team leader and one of the most consistent passers in the country.
The junior signal-caller completed 67 percent of his passes for over 2,900 yards, and he threw 30 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions. He also finished the season with a 175 passer rating, which was the best rating in the nation.
McCarron's stats were certainly solid. But it's the intangibles and leadership ability he displayed on the field, especially during a key last-minute game-winning drive to beat LSU, that was really impressive.
Obviously, McCarron benefits a great deal from playing on the most talented team in the country. But the bottom line is—he's 25-2 as a starter and he's already got two BCS championship rings on his fingers.
Miami was seemingly in need of a big boost of energy following a mediocre 6-6 season in 2011, and the Hurricanes got just that in the form of RB Duke Johnson.
Following an outstanding career at nearby Miami Norland High School, Johnson arrived in Coral Gables as a highly touted 5-star recruit.
It didn't take long for him to live up to his high school hype.
Johnson gave Miami the type of versatile and explosive weapon it needed. He found numerous ways to carve up opponents, as he rushed for 947 yards, caught 27 passes for 221 yards, averaged 33 yards on kickoff returns and accounted for 14 total touchdowns.
The freshman back seems like he's destined to be Miami's next great star rusher.
After spending two years being underutilized as a fullback in UCLA's offense, Anthony Barr made the switch to outside linebacker last spring. He turned out to be a natural for the position.
Barr ended up being one of the most dominant and disruptive defenders in the country in 2012. The athletic 6'3'', 235-pound edge-rusher totaled 13 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and four forced fumbles during his first season on the defensive side of the ball.
Even though he likely would have been at the very least a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Barr decided to return to UCLA for his senior year, which is absolutely terrible news for Pac-12 quarterbacks.
Before the 2012 season started, David Fales was an unheralded JUCO transfer just looking to prove himself as a starter at San Jose State.
By the end of the season, Fales was one of the most productive and successful signal-callers in all of college football.
The 6'3'', 220-pound junior completed 72 percent of his passes, which was the best completion percentage in the country, threw for over 4,100 yards and 33 touchdowns and he finished the year with a 170 passer rating, which was the third highest rating in the nation.
Fales guided the Spartans to their first double-digit win season since they moved up to the FBS level in 1996, and he guided them to just their second bowl win since 1990.
There are few other quarterbacks in college football that can make all of the type of throws that Fales can. He's arguably the best pure passer in the country.
Ed Reynolds didn't waste much time introducing himself to the Pac-12 during his first season as Stanford's starting safety.
After barely playing in 2010 and then missing the entire 2011 season with an injury, Reynolds was eager to prove himself in 2012. That's exactly what he did, as he turned out to be one of the top defensive playmakers in the conference.
Reynolds finished second in the league with six interceptions, three of which he returned all the way for touchdowns.
The 6'2'', 207-pound sophomore has the size, speed, instincts and playmaking ability that you look for in a true game-changing defensive back.
Only 10 receivers in college football finished the 2012 season with at least 100 catches.
BYU's Cody Hoffman was one of them.
Hoffman finished the year with a nice, even 100 receptions for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'4'', 215-pound junior made things look easy this past season, as he routinely embarrassed any cornerback that tried to contain him.
The Cougars will be playing in plenty of big games in 2013, including matchups with Texas, Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Boise State. That means Hoffman will have a number of chances to show off his tremendous skills for a national audience to see.
After sitting out a year following his transfer from Oregon, Lache Seastrunk got off to a slow start in his first season playing for Baylor.
Seastrunk was mostly a non-factor in the first half of the year. However, he looked like a completely different player in the second half of the 2012 season.
The former blue-chip recruit from Temple High School in Texas put together 100-plus yard rushing efforts in five out of his last six games.
The explosive sophomore back finished the year with over 1,000 rushing yards and an outstanding 7.7 yards per carry average.
With QB Nick Florence and WR Terrance Williams both gone, the Bears will likely turn to Seastrunk to carry the offense in 2013, which means he should have plenty of opportunities to create big, explosive plays.
When trying to come up with a player to compare Michigan LB Jake Ryan to, it seems like Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews is almost too obvious of a choice.
Like Matthews, Ryan is a 6'3'' outside linebacker who has long blond hair that hangs out of his helmet, and he wears the No. 47, the same number Matthews donned during his days at USC.
Their similarities run much deeper than surface level stuff such as that, though.
They both share the same type of determined and aggressive playing style, and they both know how to constantly break into the backfield and create key stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Over the last two seasons, Ryan has totaled 125 tackles, including 77 solo stops and 37.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and six forced fumbles.
Soon enough, the Wolverine 'backer will be a first-round NFL draft pick just like Matthews was in 2009.
Quarterbacks didn't seem to test Jason Verrett very often during the 2012 season. But on the rare occasions that they did throw in his direction, they usually regretted it.
Verrett picked off six passes and broke up another 16 throws, and he displayed top-notch coverage skills during his first season going up against Big 12 receivers.
The 5'10'', 180-pound junior earned All-American honors for his performance this past season, and he established himself as one of the top overall defenders in the country.
After sitting out the entire 2011 season due to academic issues, Dri Archer returned to the field with something to prove this past season.
Not showing any signs of rust at all, Archer looked like he was simply playing at a different speed than everybody else that he went up against in 2012.
Whether it was as a runner, a receiver or a returner, the explosive junior reeled off plenty of big plays and picked up a ton of yards. He finished the year ranked fourth in the nation with 2,577 all-purpose yards and tied for sixth with 23 total touchdowns scored.
Archer was the main reason that Kent State had its best season in school history in 2012. Unfortunately for the rest of the MAC, he'll be back in 2013 to try to top his remarkable performance.
Stanford lost its two best offensive linemen, OG David DeCastro and OT Jonathan Martin, early to the NFL following the 2011 season.
The Cardinal needed to find a new leader up front, and luckily, they had OT David Yankey to fill that role.
Yankey was the anchor of an offensive line that allowed just 19 sacks in 2012, and he helped open up some huge holes for RB Stepfan Taylor to run through.
The agile and powerful 6'5'', 301-pound junior excels as both a pass-blocker and a run-blocker. He'll surely enter the 2013 season as one of the top contenders to win the prestigious Outland Trophy.
CJ Mosley isn't the only Alabama linebacker that NFL scouts will be paying close attention to in 2013. Mosley's teammate Adrian Hubbard also has a future playing on Sundays as well.
In his first season as a full-time starter, Hubbard showed tremendous pass-rushing skills from his outside linebacker position. The 6'6'', 248-pound sophomore led the Tide with seven sacks in 2012, and he also totaled 41 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles.
Hubbard seems to be a perfect fit on the edge of Alabama's 3-4 defense. He's clearly got the skills it takes to compete for All-American honors next season.
Maryland pulled off a major recruiting coup when it landed Stefon Diggs, a native of the state, who played for Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in nearby Olney, Maryland.
Diggs was one of the most highly touted prospects of the 2012 recruiting class, and it certainly didn't take long for him to make a huge impact for the Terrapins.
The supremely gifted young freshman was the most consistent and productive player on the team in his first season. He hauled in 54 catches for 848 yards, averaged 28 yards on kickoff returns and scored eight touchdowns.
Although Maryland may be one of the most boring teams to watch, Diggs is the type of must-watch player that's always worth tuning in to see.
DE Bjoern Werner and CB Xavier Rhodes may have been Florida State's 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.
In fact, 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, and he's one of the most linebackers in the country
Jones looks like he's going to be the next great linebacker prospect that the Seminoles will send to the NFL ranks.
Oregon's offense usually generates most of the headlines and receives most of the publicity. But this past season, the Ducks defense deserved plenty of recognition as well. The unit allowed just 4.9 yards per play and just 21 points per game.
Although the defense has lost key contributors such as DE Dion Jordan, linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay and safety John Boyett, there's still plenty of talent to be found on that side of the ball.
The Duck defender to really keep a close eye on in 2013 is CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Ekpre-Olomu displayed outstanding coverage ability, toughness and ball skills in 2012. He totaled 63 tackles, four interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, 16 pass breakups and six forced fumbles.
The budding sophomore star is one of the best cover corners in the country, and he's got the ability to consistently create game-changing plays.
Last year, Amari Cooper arrived at Alabama as one of the most highly touted wide receiver prospects of the 2012 recruiting class.
It didn't take long for Cooper to show why he received so much praise during his days at Miami's Northwestern High School.
The talented freshman receiver became a critical piece of the Tide's offensive success. He led the team with 58 catches for 999 yards and scored 11 touchdowns in his first season.
Cooper has the type of physical ability to become just as big of a star in Tuscaloosa as Julio Jones was.
Northwestern had one of the best seasons in school history in 2012. Not only did the Wildcats win 10 games for the first time since 1995; they also ended a bowl win drought that had lasted over 60 years.
There's no question about who the team's undisputed MVP was. RB Venric Mark really put the offense on his back and carried the team to success.
Mark enjoyed a breakout campaign this past season, and he was one of the most productive players in all of college football.
The 5'8'', 175-pound junior totaled over 1,300 yards on the ground, caught 20 passes, averaged an amazing 18.6 yards per punt return, and accounted for 15 total touchdowns.
LSU's defense lost basically every one of its key underclassmen defenders when defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, LB Kevin Minter, FS Eric Reid, CB Tharold Simon and DT Bennie Logan all announced that they were declaring for the 2013 NFL draft.
The Tigers will certainly have plenty of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball this offseason. But luckily, they've got an emerging star in safety Craig Loston, who should be able to handle being the defense's new leader.
Loston didn't receive the type of notoriety that many of his fellow Tiger defenders like Mingo, Montgomery, Reid and Minter did in 2012. However, he still had a very impressive overall campaign.
The 6'2'', 205-pound junior totaled 55 tackles, picked off three passes and he laid some truly vicious hits on opposing ball-carriers.
Notre Dame's defense may have gotten torched by Alabama in the BCS championship game. But the Irish did shut down basically every other rushing attack they faced in 2012.
They finished the year ranked 11th in the country in rushing defense, allowing just 105 yards on the ground per game and just four rushing touchdowns the whole season.
NT Louis Nix had a lot to do with the team's success in stopping opponents' running games. Nix totaled 50 tackles, including 20 solo stops and 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and five pass breakups in 2012. He also occupied plenty of blockers, which freed up LB Manti Te'o to make a ton of tackles.
The 6'3'', 326-pound middle man is the type of big, powerful tackle that can cause chaos in the interior.
Kevin Hogan only started five games this past season. But it's what Hogan did during those five starts that was so impressive.
Hogan stepped into the starting role and helped guide the Cardinal to five straight wins, which included an upset of a top-ranked Oregon team on the road, a win in the Pac-12 championship game and a victory in the Rose Bowl.
The former 4-star recruit from Virginia clearly has all the physical skills and intelligence needed to excel in David Shaw's pro-style offense.
It's obviously much too early to start comparing Hogan to former Stanford star signal-caller Andrew Luck. But you still have to be very impressed by what the redshirt freshman was able to accomplish in 2012.
Taylor Lewan seemed like he was set to be a a guaranteed first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. That's why it was so surprising when Lewan announced that he would return to Michigan for his senior year.
The 6'8'', 309-pound junior is a huge left tackle who knows how to use his size and strength to knock smaller defenders around in the run game.
If Lewan continues to develop and improve in 2013, he has a chance to earn All-American honors and potentially be a top-20 pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
Before the 2012 season started, most analysts and media outlets predicted Ole Miss would finish in the basement of the SEC once again. However, the Rebels turned out to be one of the surprise success stories of the season, winning seven games, including a victory in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The team's best overall player was WR Donte Moncrief, who hauled in 66 catches for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Moncrief is one of the most impressive-looking physical specimens in all of college football. The 6'3'', 216-pound junior has the size and speed to create major matchup problems for opposing cornerbacks.
As far as pure natural athleticism is concerned, there aren't many other players in college football that can compare to Justin Gilbert.
Gilbert is one of the fastest and most athletic players in the country. The big question is, can he finally put all his physical tools to good use and become an elite lock down corner next season?
The 6'0'', 194-pound junior has shown flashes of his enormous potential over the past two years. But he's still a relatively raw corneback.
If Gilbert can continue to improve his technique and overall fundamentals this offseason, he's got a chance to be one of the biggest breakout defensive stars of 2013.
Scott Crichton has led Oregon State in sacks in each of his first two seasons, totaling 15 sacks over the past two years. It seems like Crichton is destined to once again be the team's top pass-rusher in 2013, as he looks to continue his rise to stardom in the Pac-12.
The 6'3'', 263-pound sophomore faced plenty of double-teams and chip blocks this past season. But he still managed to break his way into the backfield on a routine basis, finishing the year with 17.5 tackles for loss.
Crichton will again team up with fellow defensive end Dylan Wynn next season to give the Beavers one of the most dangerous defensive end duos in the nation yet again.
Justin Hardy wasn't offered a single scholarship from an FBS school when he was a senior at West Craven High School in North Carolina. But after choosing to walk-on at East Carolina, his perseverance has now paid off in a big way.
Hardy has developed into one of the top wide receivers in the nation. This past season, he caught 88 passes for 1,105 yards and hauled in 11 touchdowns.
The 6'0'', 185-pound sophomore may not be the biggest or fastest wide receiver in the country. But he's proven that he can produce at a high level, and he always seems to find a way to get the job done.
Michigan State was one of the most disappointing teams of the 2012 season. After starting the year ranked No. 13 in both polls, the Spartans finished just 7-6.
The team's struggles could largely be blamed on an inefficient and inconsistent offensive attack. The defense was actually one of the strongest units in the country, ranking fourth in total defense, eighth in rushing defense and ninth in scoring defense.
The Spartans should once again have a stout defense in 2013, and the leader of that unit will once again be middle linebacker Max Bullough.
Bullough is a tough, gritty run-stopper, who loves to mix it up and get physical.
This past season, the 6'3'', 252-pound junior led the team with 110 total tackles, including 51 solo stops and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Jim Mora raised a few eyebrows when he announced that inexperienced redshirt freshman Brett Hundley would be UCLA's starting quarterback for 2012, instead of experienced seniors such as Kevin Prince or Richard Brehaut.
Hundley turned out to be the perfect choice, however, as he became one of the biggest breakout stars in the Pac-12 this past season.
The athletic dual-threat quarterback totaled over 4,000 yards of offense and accounted for 38 touchdowns, as he guided the Bruins to nine wins, a Pac-12 South division title and a huge win over crosstown rival USC.
With Hundley leading the way, there's now finally a reason for Bruins fans to be excited about the future.
This past season, the SEC was home to the best offensive guard in the country, Alabama's Chance Warmack. Next season, the conference will once again feature the premier player at the position, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson.
Like Warmack, Jackson is a big, physical mauling guard, who is capable of opening up gaping holes in the run game.
The 6'4'', 320-pound junior passed up the chance to be a guaranteed Day-2 pick in the 2013 NFL draft in order to return to Starkville and try to improve his already high draft stock.
If he plays up to his potential next season, Jackson could end up being a top-20 pick in the 2014 draft.
Florida State had the most improved rushing attack in college football this past season. After averaging just 112 yards on the ground per game in 2011, the Seminoles made a drastic improvement in 2012, averaging 205 rushing yards per game and scoring 40 rushing touchdowns.
One of the key backs who helped make the ground game so strong was Devonta Freeman.
Freeman averaged 5.9 yards on 111 carries and scored eight touchdowns.
The 5'9'', 209-pound sophomore is a former 4-star recruit, who possesses the combination of speed, strength, toughness and vision to develop into a standout offensive playmaker in 2013.
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.
If it wasn't for the fantastic play of Rutgers LB Khaseem Greene, there's no doubt that Yawin Smallwood would have been the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2012.
Smallwood was one of the most productive and disruptive linebackers in the country. He totaled 120 tackles, including 59 solo stops and 15 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
The 6'3'', 235-pound sophomore has the size, speed and instincts that you look for in a standout defender, and he's proven that he can make plenty of key stops when it counts.
This past season, Boise State's offense didn't come close to living up to the standards we've come to expect from the Broncos. However, the team's defense still remained the strongest unit in the Mountain West, allowing just 15 points and 315 yards per game.
The team's best defender was DE Demarcus Lawrence.
In his first season after transferring from Butler County Community College, Lawrence turned out to be a disruptive force coming off the edge. The explosive 6'3'', 242-pound sophomore led the team with 8.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles.
If Lawrence can learn how to follow team rules and not get suspended, he's got the potential to be one of the biggest star pass-rushers in the country in 2013.
Wisconsin's passing game fell apart in 2012 following the departure of QB Russell Wilson. Wilson left a gaping hole behind center that neither Danny O'Brien, Joel Stave nor Curt Phillips could properly fill.
Due to the inconsistencies at quarterback, the team's top receiving threat, Jared Abbrederis, saw his production suffer.
Although Abbrederis only caught 49 passes, he did do his best to make things happen when he did get the ball in his hands. He averaged 17 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns, and he finished the year ranked third in the Big Ten with 16 catches of over 20 yards.
If he gets more consistent play from the quarterback position in 2013, Abbrederis has a legitimate shot to lead the conference in receiving next season.
When you play on the same defensive line as highly touted NFL prospects such as Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery and Bennie Logan, it can be hard to get a whole lot of individual attention. However, that won't be a problem for Anthony "The Freak" Johnson anymore, now that all three of his teammates have moved on to the pros.
Although he may have been overshadowed by his more heralded line mates in 2012, Johnson still put together a solid sophomore campaign. He totaled 30 tackles, including 11 solo stops and 10 tackles for loss, and notched three sacks.
The former 5-star recruit from New Orleans has the skills to be the SEC's next big star defensive tackle.
Oklahoma's offensive line experienced two big losses before the 2012 season even started, when both center Ben Habern and guard Tyler Evans went down with injuries.
Luckily for the Sooners, center Gabe Ikard was able to step up and keep the interior of the line strong.
Ikard was the centerpiece of an offensive line that allowed just 15 sacks and paved the way for 30 rushing touchdowns this past season.
The 6'3'', 288-pound junior is an intelligent, strong, tough and agile center, who is exactly the type of player you want leading the way in the trenches.
Malcolm Mitchell showed off his versatility during the 2012 season, lining up at cornerback early in the season before making the move back to his more natural position at wide receiver a few games into the year.
It's clear which side of the ball Mitchell really belongs on, though.
In his first two seasons, the 6'1'', 192-pound sophomore has combined to catch 85 passes for 1,237 yards and eight touchdowns.
Mitchell should have his most productive season yet in 2013, as the athletic pass-catcher will now assume the role of being QB Aaron Murray's go-to target.
Texas' pass defense was far from stellar in 2012. The Longhorns gave up an average of 7.9 yards per pass attempt, which was surprising, considering how much talent they had in the secondary.
Although the team's pass coverage as a whole may have been lacking, CB Quandre Diggs did display some intriguing skills.
Diggs finished the season with 53 tackles, including 38 solo stops, and he picked off four passes and broke up another six throws. Still, obviously, more was expected from him and the rest of the defense.
The 5'10'', 200-pound sophomore has the talent to be the best defensive back in the country.
He just has to show more consistency in coverage and he has to prove that he can handle being a true leader for the Longhorns defense in 2013.
Going into the 2012 season, we already knew that Taylor Martinez was one of the best running quarterbacks in college football.
What we didn't know was if Martinez was really a true dual-threat quarterback, who could challenge a defense with both his legs and his arm.
The junior signal-caller proved that he had indeed taken that next step as a passer.
Martinez completed 62 percent of his passes for over 2,800 yards and 23 touchdowns, while also adding over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
After watching him lead the Cornhuskers to 10 wins and a Big Ten Legends division title this past season, it will be interesting to see what Martinez has in store for his senior season in 2013.
Tennessee's defense was an utter disaster in 2012. However, you certainly can't blame the unit's struggles on LB A.J. Johnson.
Johnson was one of the few Volunteer defenders, who actually looked like he belonged in the SEC.
The junior had over 50 more tackles than his next closest teammate, finishing the season with 138 tackles, including 63 solo stops and 8.5 tackles for loss.
If Johnson can get some more help from his supporting cast in 2013, the Volunteers defense should be able to make a drastic improvement next season.
Antone Exum made the switch from safety to cornerback last offseason. But judging from the way Exum played in 2012, you would probably think he's been playing the position his entire collegiate career.
Exum finished first in the ACC with five interceptions and 16 pass breakups, and he displayed the type of coverage awareness that you expect to see from a top-flight cornerback.
The 6'1'', 224-pound junior is a big, physical corner, who can intimidate any receiver he lines up against.
If you watched any Stanford games this past season, then you know that LB Shayne Skov obviously wasn't 100 percent recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him for most of the 2011 season.
Even though Skov wasn't at full strength, he still managed to lead the Cardinal with 80 total tackles, including 42 solo stops and eight tackles for loss.
The physical 6'3'', 242-pound inside 'backer knows exactly how to shut down opposing ball-carriers, and he was a major factor and reason why Stanford ranked fifth in the nation in run defense in 2012.
Skov should be fully recovered from the knee injury in 2013, which means he'll be even more disruptive next season.
Receivers that are 6'6'', 220-pounds aren't supposed to be able to run like Brandon Coleman can.
Not only is Coleman one of the most physically imposing players in the country, he's also one of college football's most naturally gifted athletes as well.
The former 4-star recruit hauled in 43 passes for 718 yards (16.7 yards per catch average) and scored 10 touchdowns in 2012.
Coleman isn't just an ultimate red zone threat. He can make huge plays anywhere on the field.
Matt Elam may have been the most talked-about player in the Florida secondary in 2012. But the most talented overall defensive back that the Gators had this past season was clearly CB Loucheiz Purifoy.
No, Purifoy didn't have any interceptions this past season. But that had a lot to do with the fact that he often blanketed whoever he was covering, which forced quarterbacks to look elsewhere before throwing the ball.
The 6'1'', 189-pound sophomore is one of the best pure cover corners in college football, and he has the size, speed and coverage skills to match up with any receiver in the SEC.
Whoever ends up as Florida State's starting quarterback in 2013, whether it's Clint Trickett or Jameis Winston, they'll be lucky enough to have one of the most dangerous receivers in the country, Rashad Greene, as their No. 1 target.
Greene is coming off a strong sophomore campaign, in which he totaled 57 catches for 741 yards, averaged 15 yards on punt returns and scored nine touchdowns.
He'll be the leader of one of college football's best and deepest wide receiver corps for the 2013 season.
Wisconsin lost its leading tackler from 2012, LB Mike Taylor. But fortunately for the Badgers, they've still got another linebacker, Chris Borland, who knows a thing or two about tackling.
Over the last two years, Borland has racked up 247 total tackles, including 120 solo stops, 28.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
The 5'11'', 242-pound junior bears a strong physical resemblance to former Dolphins great Zach Thomas, and he plays the game with the same type of intensity, passion and commitment.
Josh Stewart had some big shoes to fill, replacing star WR Justin Blackmon as Oklahoma State's new top receiving threat in 2012. But Stewart ended up handling the role better than anyone could have expected.
The 5'10'', 178-pound sophomore stepped up and put together a huge breakout campaign. After catching just 19 balls in 2011, Stewart became a much bigger part of the offense this past season, catching 101 passes for 1,210 yards and scoring eight touchdowns.
The explosive speedster is a big play threat who will cause plenty of stress for opposing secondaries in 2013.
Since Wyoming went just 4-8 this past season, QB Brett Smith didn't exactly receive a ton of national publicity. But Smith was actually one of the most productive quarterbacks in all of college football.
Following a solid freshman campaign in 2011, Smith looked even better as a sophomore in 2012. He completed 62 percent of his passes for over 2,800 yards, threw 27 touchdowns compared to just six interceptions and he also added 268 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.
If the Cowboys can surround Smith with at least a decent running game and a decent defense, they could end up being a dark horse contender in the Mountain West next season.
Smith may not be a true household name just yet, but he's a quarterback that's capable of putting together a big breakthrough campaign in 2013.
Going into the 2012 season, Penn State had to replace its two most talented offensive players, RB Silas Redd and WR Justin Brown, who both transferred during the offseason.
Luckily, the Nittany Lions found a new star playmaker in WR Allen Robinson.
Robinson took his game to another level in 2012, catching 77 passes for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 201-pound sophomore is the type of reliable and dangerous weapon that coach Bill O'Brien will try to build his offense around in 2013.
LSU had one of the deepest and most talented stables of running backs in the country in 2012. Before the season started, many wondered how the quartet of Michael Ford, Spencer Ware, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue would handle splitting carries.
As it turned out, though, the running back that emerged as the Tigers' top rushing threat was Jeremy Hill.
Hill may not have received the same type of publicity as fellow freshman SEC backs such as Alabama's T.J. Yeldon or Georgia's Todd Gurley. However, he still put together a very impressive first season. The 6'2'', 235-pound freshman averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored 12 touchdowns.
Florida State will have to replace its three terrific pass-rushers, defensive ends Bjoern Werner, Tank Carradine and Brandon Jenkins. But the Seminoles will still have plenty of talent to work with inside at defensive tackle.
Now that Werner's gone, it will be DT Timmy Jernigan who will become the leader of the defensive line in 2013.
Jernigan played a key role in helping the Seminoles finish the 2012 season ranked third in the country in rushing defense after allowing just 2.7 yards per carry.
The 6'2'', 298-pound sophomore possesses a rare combination of size,strength and quickness, and he's capable of embarrassing any lineman that tries to block him one-on-one.
Stanford TE Zach Ertz was the Pac-12 tight end that everyone seemed to be talking about this past season. However, Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins had just as productive of a season in 2012 as Ertz did.
Like Ertz, Seferian-Jenkins hauled in 69 total catches, and he finished with one more touchdown reception (seven total) than his more heralded conference counterpart had.
Now that Ertz has moved on to the NFL, the highly athletic and sure-handed 6'6'', 266-pound sophomore will have his chance to shine in 2013.
Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwu were initially expected to be Texas A&M's two top receivers in 2012. But it didn't take long to realize which receiver QB Johnny Manziel trusted the most.
Manziel built a special connection with fellow freshman Mike Evans, who played a big role in the quarterback's rise to glory.
Evans led the Aggies with 82 catches for 1,105 yards and scored five touchdowns in his first season.
The athletic 6'5'', 218-pound pass-catcher is a huge target that definitely isn't hard to find.
Fresno State's offense was dealt a big blow when WR Jalen Saunders announced that he was leaving the program last offseason. However, Saunders' departure actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it opened up room for Davante Adams to step up and flourish in 2012.
Adams turned out to be the most productive freshman receiver in the country. He caught 102 passes for 1,312 yards and scored 14 touchdowns in his first season.
The highly athletic 6'2'', 200-pound freshman possesses a dangerous combination of size, speed, hops and hands.
LB Kevin Reddick and DT Sylvester Williams were the two North Carolina defensive players that everyone was talking about before the 2012 season started. However, the Tar Heels' most valuable defender actually turned out to be safety Tre Boston.
Boston led the team with 86 tackles, including 49 solo stops, and he picked off four passes and also broke up another six throws.
The 6'1'', 190-pound junior is a converted cornerback who seems to be a natural at the safety position due to his combination of size, athleticism, physicality and instincts.
This offseason, Florida will have to replace plenty of standout defenders such as DT Sharrif Floyd, linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic and safety Matt Elam. However, the Gators still have plenty of talent to work with on the defensive side of the ball.
One defender to really keep an eye on in 2013 will be versatile defensive lineman Dominique Easley.
Easley was one of the gems of Florida's top-ranked 2010 recruiting class, and he's clearly got the type of talent it takes to be a defensive force.
The 6'2'', 280-pound junior is a quick and powerful lineman, who is capable of causing havoc in the trenches.
Utah State had its most successful season in school history in 2012. The Aggies won 11 games, a WAC championship and they capped the year off with an impressive victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Leading the way was QB Chuckie Keeton, who put together a huge breakout campaign. Keeton totaled over 4,000 yards of offense and accounted for 35 total touchdowns.
The athletic dual-threat quarterback may only be 6'1'', 200-pounds. But he's an extremely gifted playmaker, who can do major damage to an opposing defense with both his arm and his legs.
Texas Tech had the second-ranked passing offense in the nation in 2012, averaging 355 yards through the air per game.
WR Eric Ward played a major role in the Red Raiders' potent passing attack, as he hauled in 82 passes for 1,053 yards and scored 12 touchdowns.
Ward will miss QB Seth Doege in 2013. But he should still be able to put together a strong senior season.
New head coach Kliff Kingsbury will look for ways to get the ball in his best receiver's hands as often as possible next season.
Many fans and analysts chose to focus on the struggles of USC's QB Matt Barkley this past season. That was unfortunate, because it meant that the Trojan players who were actually performing at a high level such as DE Morgan Breslin got overlooked.
Breslin may not have received anywhere near the type of attention as the team's star signal-caller did, but he definitely deserved a lot of credit for his performance.
In his first year after transferring from Diablo Valley College, the 6'2'', 250-pound junior turned out to be one of the Pac-12's premier pass-rushers. He totaled 13 sacks and 62 tackles, including 19.5 tackles for loss.
It will be very interesting to see what Breslin can do in new defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast's 3-4 defensive system in 2013.
LSU had to replace two All-American cornerbacks, Tyrann Mathieu and Morris Claiborne, this past season. Luckily, the Tigers had a talented young freshman, Jalen Mills, to stick in the secondary.
Mills stepped into the starting lineup in 2012 and showed plenty of flashes of his enormous potential.
The 6'0'', 185-pound freshman certainly didn't look like an inexperienced first-year starter.
In his debut campaign, Mills finished fourth on the team with 57 tackles, including 38 solo stops, and he picked off two passes and broke up another five throws.
This offseason, Alabama will have to replace three great offensive linemen—Chance Warmack, Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker. But luckily, the Tide will have one of the best guards in the country, Anthony Steen, who will take over as the unit's new leader and linchpin for 2013.
Steen played a key role in opening up huge holes for Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon this past season, as he helped Alabama average 5.5 yards per carry and score 37 rushing touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 303-pound junior is a terrific run-blocker, who has proven himself against some of the best defensive linemen that college football has to offer.
Alabama's Amari Cooper and Maryland's Stefon Diggs were the two most talked-about freshman receivers of the 2012 season. However, there was another young pass-catcher, Quinshad Davis, who looked just as impressive.
The former 4-star recruit instantly became the Tar Heels' go-to receiver in his first year. He led the team with 61 catches (which was more than both Cooper and Diggs) for 776 yards and five touchdowns.
The 6'4'', 185-pound freshman has the type of size, athleticism and sure hands that you look for in a potential future star receiver.
Before the 2012 season started, James Morris and Christian Kirksey were the two Iowa linebackers that everyone was talking about. However, once the season got underway, it was clear who the Hawkeyes' best linebacker truly was.
Anthony Hitchens stepped out of the shadows of his teammates Morris and Kirksey and he turned out to be one of the top impact defenders in the Big Ten. Hitchens led the conference with 124 total tackles, including 56 solo stops.
The 6'1'', 224-pound junior is a tough, instinctive and intelligent defender, who obviously knows how to find the football and track down ball-carriers.
Deshazor Everett came up with one of the most memorable plays of the 2012 season when he picked off Alabama QB AJ McCarron at the goal line on 4th down to help preserve Texas A&M's huge upset win over the top-ranked Tide.
That was obviously Everett's biggest play of the year. But it certainly wasn't the only big play he had this past season.
The 6'0'', 181-pound sophomore displayed very intriguing skills in his first year as a starter.
Everett finished the season with 56 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Going into the 2012 season, it looked like Jesse Callier was set to be Washington's main featured back following the departure of Chris Polk. However, once Callier went down for the season with a knee injury in Week 1, the team turned to Bishop Sankey to carry the rushing load.
Sankey, who had just 28 carries as a freshman in 2011, was far from a proven commodity. But it didn't take long for him to show Huskies fans that he was capable of putting the offense on his back.
The 5'10'', 200-pound sophomore carried the ball 289 times for 1,493 yards, caught 33 passes and scored 16 touchdowns.
Now that he's gained the trust of the coaching staff, Sankey should continue to get plenty of touches in 2013.
Texas had one of the most inconsistent defenses in the country in 2012. The Longhorns had plenty of talent and plenty of future pro players on that side of the ball. But for whatever reason, the unit just seemed to lack the proper cohesiveness.
The defense as a whole was inconsistent. But LB Steve Edmond tried his best to serve as a stabilizing force.
Edmond was a true rock in the middle of the defense, as he totaled 89 tackles, including 51 solo stops.
There have been plenty of great linebackers that have come through Austin in recent years such as Keenan Robinson, Sergio Kindle and Derrick Johnson. Now it appears that Edmond is destined to be the Longhorns' next big star 'backer in 2013.
This offseason, Alabama will have to replace two key members of its defensive backfield—CB Dee Milliner and safety Robert Lester. However, the Tide will have a new potential star in the secondary in 2013, safety Vinnie Sunseri.
Sunseri finished fourth on the team with 54 tackles in 2012, and he displayed the type of toughness, physicality, athleticism and instincts that we've come to expect from Alabama DB's during Nick Saban's tenure.
The 6'0'', 215-pound sophomore will be asked to step up and take on a key leadership role for Alabama's defense in 2013.
Oklahoma lost its best defensive back, safety Tony Jefferson, a year early to the NFL. But luckily for the Sooners, CB Aaron Colvin decided to return to Norman for his senior year.
Colvin earned first-team All-Big 12 honors in 2012 after totaling 61 tackles, four interceptions, two sacks and 11 pass breakups.
The 6'0'', 181-pound junior is one of the best cover corners in the country, and he's shown that he isn't afraid to come up and make plays in the run game as well.
Derek Carr's 2012 season may have ended on a down note, as Fresno State got crushed 43-10 by SMU in the Hawaii Bowl. However, it's what Carr was able to accomplish in the regular season that was so impressive.
After suffering through a 4-9 campaign in his first season as a starter in 2011, the junior signal-caller helped the Bulldogs make a huge turnaround this past season, leading them to nine wins.
Carr was one of the most efficient and productive passers in the country. He completed 67 percent of his passes for over 4,100 yards and threw 37 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions.
RB Ka'Deem Carey may have been the star of Arizona's offense in 2012. But the Wildcats also got a big breakout performance from WR Austin Hill as well.
Hill looked like a perfect fit for Rich Rodriguez's offensive system, as he hauled in 81 passes for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The 6'3'', 211-pound sophomore showed that he was capable of creating plenty of big explosive plays. His 16.8 yards per catch average ranked second in the Pac-12, and he led the conference with 23 catches of over 20 yards.
For the second straight year, South Carolina had to deal with losing star RB Marcus Lattimore to injury in the middle of the season. However, the Gamecocks still managed to win 11 games yet again.
The player that really helped keep the team glued together, even after the loss of Lattimore, was QB Connor Shaw.
Shaw developed into one of the most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in the country this past season. The junior signal-caller completed 67 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 158. He also added 435 yards on the ground and accounted for 20 total touchdowns.
It will be interesting to see if Shaw can now take a big step up and lead the Gamecocks to an elusive SEC title in 2013.
Louisiana Tech was known for its explosive passing attack in 2012. The Bulldogs ranked third in the nation, averaging 350 yards through the air per game. That's why the two players that everyone seemed to talk about were QB Colby Cameron and WR Quinton Patton.
While there's no disputing that Cameron and Patton both had terrific seasons, you could make the argument that RB Kenneth Dixon played just as big of a role in the offense's success.
As just a true freshman, Dixon stepped into the starting lineup and put together a tremendous introductory campaign, rushing for 1,194 yards and scoring 28 total touchdowns, which was the most in the country.
Since both Cameron and Patton are gone, Dixon will now become the focal point of the offense in 2013.
In recent years, North Carolina has had a few highly touted defensive ends such as Robert Quinn and Donte Paige-Moss, who failed to reach their full potential at the collegiate level.
Hopefully, the team's current standout edge-rusher, Kareem Martin, won't fall into that same category.
Martin put together a solid junior campaign in 2012, racking up four sacks, eight quarterback hurries and 15.5 tackles for loss, and it looks like he's in store for an even better senior season.
The athletic 6'6'', 260-pound defensive end is definitely a player that NFL scouts will be paying close attention to in 2013.
Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater is primed to be one of the top Heisman candidates in the country in 2013. But in order for Bridgewater to make a legitimate push to win the award, he's going to need the help of his surrounding cast.
Luckily, he'll have his favorite target from 2012, WR DeVante Parker, back to assist him.
Parker was one of the most underrated receivers in the country this past season.
The 6'3'', 205-pound sophomore may have only had 40 catches, but it's what he did when he got the ball in his hands that was so impressive. He averaged a whopping 18.6 yards per reception and he finished tied for first in the Big East with 10 total touchdown catches.
Virginia Tech's offense may have turned in a disappointing performance in 2012. But the Hokies defense still remained strong, ranking second in the ACC in both scoring defense and total defense.
One of the unit's top performers was DE James Gayle, who totaled five sacks, nine quarterback hurries and 11 tackles for loss.
The 6'4'', 269-pound junior has all the physical tools to be a dominant pass-rusher, and he could be in store for a monster campaign in 2013.
Andrew Jackson wasn't a very highly touted recruit when he played for Kathleen High School in Lakeland, Florida. However, there's probably plenty of big BCS schools that regret not offering him a scholarship after seeing the way he's played over the past two seasons.
Jackson is the top defensive player in the Sun Belt conference. Over the last two years, he's totaled 231 tackles, including 121 solo stops and 34.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks.
The 6'1'', 265-pound inside linebacker has been called an "SEC-caliber player" by Alabama coach Nick Saban, and there's no doubt that he would be a much bigger star if he played for a more prominent program.
The Collin Klein era at Kansas State has come to an end. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the Wildcats offense will be doomed in 2013.
Sure, Klein's playmaking ability will certainly be missed. But luckily, the team brings back one of the most talented rushers in the Big 12, John Hubert.
Hubert may have been overshadowed by his more highly touted backfield mate this past season. However, he still totaled 952 yards on the ground and scored 16 touchdowns.
Now that he'll be the offense's featured player in 2013, the Darren Sproles clone should have plenty of opportunities to prove just how valuable he really is.
101. Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia
102. Trent Murphy, LB, Stanford
103. Kerry Hyder, DT, Texas Tech
104. Odell Beckham, WR, LSU
105. Leonard Williams, DT, USC
106. Carrington Byndom, CB. Texas
107. Hakeem Smith, SS, Louisville
108. Brandon Carter, WR, TCU
109. Trey DePriest, LB, Alabama
110. Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo
111. Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
112. Dion Bailey, LB, USC
113. Tevin McDonald, SS, UCLA
114. Bene Benwikere, CB, San Jose State
115. Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
116. Joe Bergeron, RB, Texas
117. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
118. Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech
119. CJ Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
120. Jeremy Smith, RB, Oklahoma State
121. Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State
122. Damien Williams, RB, Oklahoma
123. Roosevelt Nix, DT, Kent State
124. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
125. James Wilder, RB, Florida State
126. Derrick Matthews, LB, Houston
127. Ty Zimmerman, SS, Kansas State
128. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
129. Trai Turner, OG, LSU
130. Ed Stinson, DE, Alabama
131. Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
132. Mario Edwards, DE, Florida State
133. C.J. Barnett, FS, Ohio State
134. Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson
135. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
136. Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska
137. Boseko Lokombo, LB, Oregon
138. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
139. Alfred Blue, RB, LSU
140. Karl Joseph, FS, West Virginia
141. Hayes Pullard, LB, USC
142. Chris Burnette, OG, Georgia
143. Brian Blechen, SS, Utah
144. Storm Woods, RB, Oregon State
145. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
146. Tyler Johnstone, OT. Oregon
147. Bennett Jackson, CB, Notre Dame
148. Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State
149. Calvin Barnett, DT, Oklahoma State
150. Mike Davis, WR, Texas
151. Jordan Lynch, QB, Northern Illinois
152. Denzel Nkemdiche, LB, Ole Miss
153. Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech
154. Andrew Buie, RB, West Virginia
155. Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
156. Silas Redd, RB, USC
157. Isaiah Lewis, SS, Michigan State
158. Ja’Wuan James, OT, Tennessee
159. Trey Watts, RB, Tulsa
160. Prince Shembo, LB, Notre Dame
161. Michael Bennett, WR, Georgia
162. Johnathan Gray, RB, Texas
163. Ibraheim Campbell, SS, Northwestern
164. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama
165. Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
166. Erick Dargan, FS, Oregon
167. Isaiah Bruce, LB, West Virginia
168. Demetruce McNeal, SS, Auburn
169. Jeremy Grove, LB, East Carolina
170. Kasen Williams, WR, Washington
171. Demetrious Nicholson, CB, Virginia
172. Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
173. Hroniss Grasu, OC, Oregon
174. James Morris, LB, Iowa
175. Ladarius Perkins, RB, Mississippi State
176. Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
177. Will Clarke, DE, West Virginia
178. Matt Miller, WR, Boise State
179. Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
180. Kain Colter, QB, Northwestern
181. James White, RB, Wisconsin
182. Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
183. Xavier Su’a-Filo, OG, UCLA
184. Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
185. Jake Fischer, LB, Arizona
186. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
187. Tim Scott, CB, North Carolina
188. Adolphus Washington, DE, Ohio State
189. Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor
190. Trey Flowers, DE, Arkansas
191. Daytawion Lowe, FS Oklahoma State
192. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
193. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
194. Sean Parker, SS, Washington
195. Keith Marshall, RB, Georgia
196. Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
197. Deandre Coleman, DE, California
198. Lamin Barrow, LB, LSU
199. Cody Fajardo, QB, Nevada
200. Denico Autry, DE, Mississippi State
Blake Bell, Oklahoma
Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Bryn Renner, North Carolina
Casey Pachall, TCU
Devin Gardner, Michigan
James Franklin, Missouri
Jeff Driskel, Florida
J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State
Stephen Morris, Miami
Zach Mettenberger, LSU
Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
Beau Blankenship, Ohio
Charles Sims, Houston
David Fluellen, Toledo
Henry Josey, Missouri
James Sims, Kansas
Lyle McCombs, Connecticut
Malcolm Brown, Texas
Mark Weisman, Iowa
Zach Zwinak, Penn State
Austin Franklin, New Mexico State
Darius Jennings, Virginia
Devin Smith, Ohio State
Jamison Crowder, Duke
Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa
Kofi Hughes, Indiana
Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest
Noel Grigsby, San Jose State
Shaquelle Evans, UCLA
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Chris Coyle, Arizona State
Clive Walford, Miami
Colt Lyerla, Oregon
Devin Funchess, Michigan
Eric Ebron, North Carolina
Jacob Pedersen, Wisconsin
Jake McGee, Virginia
Kyle Carter, Penn State
Nick O’Leary, Florida State
Xavier Grimble, USC
Austin Wentworth, Fresno State
Brandon Thomas, Clemson
Cameron Fleming, Stanford
Chaz Green, Florida
Cornelius Lucas, Kansas State
Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
James Hurst, North Carolina
Quinton Spain, West Virginia
Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
Seantrel Henderson, Miami
Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
Antwan Lowery, Rutgers
Brandon Linder, Miami
Jack Allen, Michigan State
Josue Matias, Florida State
La’El Collins, LSU
Marcus Martin, USC
Mason Walters, Texas
Spencer Long, Nebraska
Zach Fulton, Tennessee
Andrew Miller, Virginia Tech
B.J. Finney, Kansas State
Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern
Bryan Stork, Florida State
Jonotthan Harrison, Florida
Russell Bodine, North Carolina
Travis Swanson, Arkansas
Tyler Larsen, Utah State
Weston Richburg, Colorado State
Zac Kerin, Toledo
Angelo Blackson, Auburn
Beau Allen, Wisconsin
Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
Demonte Mcallister, Florida State
Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech
Ego Ferguson, LSU
George Uko, USC
Leon Orr, Florida
Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest
Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
Anthony Chickillo, Miami
Ben Gardner, Stanford
Cassius Marsh, UCLA
C.J. Johnson, Ole Miss
Darryl Cato-Bishop, NC State
Garrison Smith, Georgia
Jibreel Black, Michigan
Josh Shirley, Washington
Ronald Powell, Florida
Taylor Hart, Oregon
Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
Andrew Wilson, Missouri
Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
Christian Kirksey, Iowa
Corey Nelson, Oklahoma
Dyshawn Davis, Syracuse
Glenn Carson, Penn State
Jonathan Brown, Illinois
Jordan Jenkins, Georgia
Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College
Bryce Hager, Baylor
Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State
Chase Garnham, Vanderbilt
Damien Proby, Northwestern
Denzel Perryman, Miami
Jabari Hunt-Days, Georgia Tech
Jake Holland, Auburn
Jake Fely, San Diego State
Mike Marry, Ole Miss
Preston Brown, Louisville
Andre Hal, Vanderbilt
Blake Countess, Michigan
Charles Sawyer, Ole Miss
Damian Swann, Georgia
Jimmy Legree, South Carolina
L.J. Jones, Fresno State
Merrill Noel, Wake Forest
Ricardo Allen, Purdue
Ronald Darby, Florida State
Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
Brison Williams, South Carolina
Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Dezmen Southward, Wisconsin
Isaiah Johnson, Georgia Tech
Jaylen Watkins, Florida
Nickoe Whitley, Mississippi State
Rashaad Reynolds, Oregon State
Tanner Miller, Iowa
Tra’Mayne Bondurant, Arizona
1. Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson
2. Trevor Romaine, Oregon State
3. Chris Boswell, Rice
4. Andre Heidari, USC
5. Cairo Santos, Tulane
6. Austin Lopez, San Jose State
7. Carey Spear, Vanderbilt
8. Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
9. Kyle Brindza, Notre Dame
10. Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma
1. Kyle Christy, Florida
2. Will Monday, Duke
3. Kirby Van Der Kemp, Iowa State
4. Ethan Perry, TCU
5. Mike Sadler, Michigan State
6. Richie Leone, Houston
7. Will Hagerup, Michigan
8. Brian Schmiedebusch, Bowling Green
9. Steven Clark, Auburn
10. Pat O’Donnell, Cincinnati