Every College Football Team's Most Clutch Performer for 2013

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIIApril 4, 2013

Every College Football Team's Most Clutch Performer for 2013

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    Great players are measured by straight stats. Whichever receiver gained the most yards against the toughest competition is the best.

    Clutch performers are different. They are measured in other ways. A clutch player can be good for three quarters but explosively great in the fourth.

    He could also be exceptional at converting third downs. Maybe that player needs a little pressure to perform because first and second downs aren't challenging enough already.

    He could also be consistent. As in, this player could average 3.5 yards per carry, but he gets at least three yards every time. If that's true, and you need three yards, he's your clutch performer.

    Sometimes they are tortoises and sometimes they are hares. Either way, consistent, explosive and specialty players have a list on which they belong.

    Here is the predicted top clutch performer for every FBS team, from Air Force to Wyoming.

Air Force Falcons

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    The Air Force Falcons had a lot of upperclassmen on the field in 2012, but running back Jon Lee held his own whenever he got the opportunity.

    Lee rushed for 545 yards on just 88 carries last season. His stats were average, but his third-down performance was stellar. He may have scored only four touchdowns last season, but he was behind seniors at his position.

    All four of his touchdowns were scored on third-down plays. Converting a third down into points is definitely one of the telltale signs of a clutch performer.

Akron Zips

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    Jawon Chisholm had 1,263 yards of total offense last season, and he had 953 of the team's 1,373 rushing yards.

    Chisholm averaged over five yards per carry, and he averaged a whopping 7.17 yards per carry in Akron's lone win. If Akron is going to be successful in the near future, Chisholm has to be at the center of the scheme.

    Consistency is the hallmark of a clutch player.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    AJ McCarron has displayed his ability to remain calm in the pocket on many occasions, but the most notable was likely the 2012 LSU game.

    He led under-one minute touchdown drives on two separate occasions in that game, and one of them he scored with his feet. That was the first of six games he would play with dislocated ribs.

    McCarron has tallied a record of 25-2 so far in Tuscaloosa, and he's got one season left before he leaves. You can bet that he'll have at least one clutch win before the 2013 season is over.

Arizona Wildcats

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    Ka'Deem Carey isn't just a clutch player, he is Arizona's offense. He rushed for nearly 2,000 yards last season, and over half those yards were gained in the second half of games.

    In fact, his entire stat line for second halves is better than his first-half performance totals. That is in spite of the fact that he played 13 first halves and only 12 second halves throughout the season.

    He's the go-to man on offense, and he proved throughout 2012 that there was a good reason for that. Don't expect anything different in 2013.

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Will Sutton is one of the best defensive tackles in the game today, and his 2012 stat line is impressive.

    Sutton had 40 solo tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and three forced fumbles last season. Sutton is the clear leader of the Arizona State defense, and he's a fierce competitor. In road games last season, Sutton racked up 27 of his solo tackles.

    That's more than double the 13 tackles he had at home. Playing well at home is expected, but playing almost twice as effectively on the road is clutch.

Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Jonathan Williams was a freshman running back for the Arkansas Razorbacks last season. He rushed for 231 yards off 45 carries for a 5.1 yards-per-carry average. He also added eight receptions for a massive 208 yards and two touchdowns.

    That's great news for Hogs fans, because there are multiple game-changing seniors leaving the program this spring. Tyler Wilson (QB), Cobi Hamilton (WR) and Dennis Johnson (RB) are just a few of them.

    Luckily, Williams will be there to do more than just pick up the slack.

Arkansas State Red Wolves

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    Rocky Hayes was a defensive back recruit for the Arkansas State Red Wolves. Despite his being tabbed as a defensive player, the Red Wolves clearly needed him more on offense.

    Hayes averaged almost 10 yards per carry as a running back, and he averaged almost five yards per reception as a target in 2012.

    If you toss in his 19 yards-per-return average on kickoffs, he's a threat whenever he touches the football. Red Wolves fans should be salivating at the thought of seeing him as a sophomore.

Army Black Knights

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    Raymond Maples finished second to only senior Trent Steelman in the rushing yards category last season, and the Black Knights will use him liberally in Steelman's absence.

    Maples averaged 5.4 yards per carry. While he scored only twice on the season, his potential to score was overshadowed by Steelman's nose for the end zone.

    That will not be the case in 2013.

Auburn Tigers

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    Tre Mason was the most productive member of the Auburn offense in 2012. He was also the most consistent.

    While the quarterbacks were playing musical chairs under center, Mason grabbed the ball and ran for 1,002 yards and eight touchdowns on 171 carries.

    Kiehl Frazier has a chance at becoming the most clutch performer on the Tigers squad, but Mason is the sure bet. Regardless of what your quarterback can or can't do, a steadfast rushing attack will always be the hallmark of a championship team.

    Mason is that tailback.

Ball State Cardinals

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    Ball State's go-to man in 2012 was Jahwan Edwards. The running back averaged over six yards per carry, and he broke the 100-yard barrier on six occasions last year.

    Edwards averaged 10 yards per carry in the season opener against Eastern Michigan, and he was the key to Ball State's 9-4 season. The Cardinals were 3-4 in games that Edwards failed to break 100, and they were undefeated when he crossed the century mark.

    Edwards gained more than half his yards in second halves last season, and he should be unleashed as much as possible next season.

Baylor Bears

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    Lache Seastrunk has already said that his goal is to win the Heisman Trophy in 2013. He won't win it with numbers like his 2012 campaign, but he will be used more in 2013 than he was in 2012.

    Baylor has lost a major quarterback following each of the last two seasons, and Seastrunk is going to have to carry the load for the offense in 2013.

    Luckily for Baylor, it doesn't have a running back that's just good. He's useful when it really counts. Last season, he rushed for 1,012 yards on only 131 carries (7.7 yards per carry). In the second half of games, he amassed 631 of those yards.

    In other words, Seastrunk rushed for 62.4 percent of his yards when games were on the line. The Bears are happy he's on their side, that's for sure.

Boise State Broncos

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    Demarcus Lawrence finished the 2012 season ranked first in the Mountain West in both tackles for loss and interceptions. He was tied for first in fumbles forced.

    Lawrence had 13.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles during his sophomore campaign, and he will be back in 2013 to help Boise State's defense shoot for another defensive top-10 finish nationally.

    When the game is on the line, teams let their stars shine. Lawrence will be counted on to come through defensively when it matters most.

Boston College Eagles

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    In 2012, Alex Amidon had as many receiving touchdowns as the entire Boston College team had rushing touchdowns. Plus, Amidon scored one of those rushing touchdowns.

    Amidon caught 78 passes for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns last season, and he was the most productive player on the Eagles' roster. In fact, the player with the second-most yardage (Andre Williams, RB) had less than half Amidon's total.

    Amidon is one of the few bright spots on Boston College's football field, but he's a heck of a bright spot.

Bowling Green Falcons

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    Anthon Samuel was a reliable tailback for the Bowling Green Falcons last year. He finished the season with 998 yards and 11 touchdowns on 202 carries. He led the team in all three of those categories.

    Samuel averaged 1.5 more yards per carry during second halves than he did in first halves last season. As the other teams' defenses wore out, he didn't.

    He took advantage of the other teams' lack of conditioning, and that will make him the go-to ball-carrier when the going gets tough in 2013.

Buffalo Bulls

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    Alex Neutz was the lethal change of pace that supplemented the Buffalo Bulls' three-headed monster of a rushing attack.

    While three different tailbacks gained over 500 yards, Neutz was steadily slashing defenses for 1,015 yards and 11 touchdowns off a mere 65 receptions.

    Neutz is yet another player on this list who proved himself repeatedly after halftime in 2012. He averaged over 19 yards per catch in third quarters and over 17 in the final 15 minutes of games.

    He caught 32 passes before halftimes last season and 33 after the breaks. As you can see from the photo, the quality of competition did not matter. He'd score on anyone.

BYU Cougars

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    Kyle Van Noy was the definition of the term "clutch player" in the Poinsettia Bowl against San Diego State in December. When the BYU offense failed to perform well enough to get the job done against the Aztecs, Van Noy entered beast mode.

    He forced and recovered a fumble in the end zone, and he had a pick-six to seal his fate as the Cougars' leading scorer that day. That game was at the end of a stellar season in which Van Noy totaled 22 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.

    Both those numbers were among the best in the country last season. He ranked second in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss. The only thing BYU fans should be wondering right now is what kind of show he'll give them in his final season this fall.

California Golden Bears

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    Chris Harper was a freshman wide receiver for California last season, and he finished second to only Keenan Allen in receiving yardage. That's not bad company to be in.

    Harper collected 41 passes for 544 yards and two touchdowns last season, and he will step up and be the marquee player for Cal in 2013.

    During 2012, his most productive quarters were the first and fourth. Without Keenan Allen on the roster, expect his overall production to increase exponentially.

Central Michigan Chippewas

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    Zurlon Tipton would not be out of place on a Heisman watch list. Though he may not start the season there, he could earn his way up the list under the right circumstances.

    Tipton was the star player for Central Michigan last season, and there is no reason to doubt his ability to repeat the feat. Tipton rushed for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns via 252 carries in 2012.

    He was also incredibly consistent, as his fourth-quarter performances were second only to his first-quarter numbers. Tipton will be Central Michigan's lethal weapon again in 2013.

Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Munchie Legaux wasn't the best quarterback in the country in 2012, but he was definitely a great second-half passer.

    His completion percentage on the season jumped from 46.2 to 60 after halftime. Also, out of his nine interceptions, six were thrown in the first half of games. (Four were tossed in first quarters.)

    Legaux has an incredibly high ceiling, and he can still help the Bearcats win the Big East in 2013. It's a tall order with Teddy Bridgewater over at Louisville, but it's absolutely possible.

Clemson Tigers

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    Tajh Boyd is the best Heisman candidate on the Clemson roster, and he took down the LSU Tigers in the Chick-fil-A Bowl to cap off a great season.

    In 2013, his consistency and talent are most likely going to bring the ACC crown back to Clemson. Boyd went 287-of-427 for 3,896 yards, 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in 2012, and he rushed for 514 yards on 186 carries as well.

    He's a threat for a first down, regardless of how he distributes the ball, and Clemson will be sad to see him go. On the bright side, the Tigers will have one more solid season to watch him work his magic.

Colorado Buffaloes

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    Christian Powell took the field as a fullback for the Colorado Buffaloes last season. Powell touched the ball 158 times for 691 yards and seven scores in 2012.

    While those numbers aren't exactly shocking, he did earn a first down on 30 of his 158 carries. He was a priceless part of the offense last season, even if the Buffs only won one game.

    He'll be back in 2013 to lead the rushing attack as a sophomore, and Colorado fans can bank on more wins than last year.

Colorado State Rams

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    Garrett Grayson may not have led the team in completion percentage or total yardage, but he was the cleanest quarterback at Colorado State. His touchdown-to-interception ratio was the only one on the stat sheet that was larger than 1.0.

    That was not a bad performance for a freshman, and he will have another year of development under his belt in the fall of 2013. Grayson was consistent, and a reliable quarterback is much more useful than a hot-and-clod one, no matter how hot he can get.

Connecticut Huskies

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    Lyle McCombs was a steady running back for the UConn Huskies last season, as he gained 860 yards on 243 carries. He tacked on another 230 yards off 24 catches as well.

    He's able to contribute in any way he's asked, and he does it at a high level. Sure, there are running backs with higher yards-per-carry numbers, but if you can bank on 3.9 yards each touch, your team can win any game it plays.

    In 2013, look for McCombs to become an even bigger part of the offense, much to the delight of UConn fans all over the nation.

Duke Blue Devils

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    Jamison Crowder had a little competition last season, and he tied with Conner Vernon for the leading receiver on the Blue Devils squad. Crowder did gain his 1,074 yards on fewer catches than Vernon, though.

    Crowder will take over the offense and put the team on his shoulders in the absence of quarterback Sean Renfree. Renfree won't be easy to replace, but having Crowder out there will make it easier.

    As far as being a clutch performer, he crossed the first-down marker on 43 of his 76 catches. If Duke is in a tight spot, he's the best shot at getting out of the situation.

    That won't change in 2013.

East Carolina Pirates

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    Vintavious Cooper rushed for 1,049 yards and seven touchdowns through 200 carries in 2012, and the ECU Pirates rode his skill to an eight-win season.

    Cooper tallied over 600 of his yards in second halves throughout the season, and he seemed never to wear out. He will be the anchor of the Pirates' 2013 offense, and he will be more than a little entertaining to watch.

Eastern Michigan Eagles

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    Bronson Hill was responsible for 1,113 yards and seven touchdowns for the Eastern Michigan Eagles in 2012. He gained 905 of them on the ground, and he was a staple of the Eagles' offense.

    In fact, in Eastern Michigan's five-point loss to Toledo, Hill gained almost 300 yards and scored four touchdowns. He showed up big-time when it counted the most. Unfortunately, Eastern Michigan couldn't convert his numbers into a win.

    Hill will make his presence known in 2013, and the Eagles would be smart to capitalize on the respect that opponents will have to give him.

Florida Gators

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    Florida is losing a lot of talent this offseason, and a lot of it is to the NFL draft. The Gators had an amazing defense last season, and they were ranked No. 5 in scoring defense.

    When powerful teams face each other, the field-position battle becomes the most crucial one on the field. Florida's punter, Kyle Christy, is one of the most consistently good punters in the country.

    He launched 66 punts for a total of 3,023 yards last season. That's an average of 45.8 yards per punt. This means that Florida can be trapped in the shadow of the end zone and still put the other team across the 50.

    Christy's best game last year was against then-No. 8 South Carolina. He punted seven times at a 54.3-yard average. If he can bring that kind of aggression to the table in every game next season, even Jeff Driskel won't be able to stop Florida from making it to the conference title game.

Florida Atlantic Owls

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    William Dukes was not only the leading receiver for Florida Atlantic last season, but he was also the leading offensive producer.

    He caught 63 passes for 979 yards and four touchdowns while the Owls managed only three wins. If the rest of the offense can step up and join him in consistency and skill, then Florida Atlantic can make a bowl game next season.

    Luckily, he will be there in all his glory to help bail the Owls out of sticky situations. After all, he earned first downs on 33 of his 63 receptions. He's definitely reliable.

Florida International Golden Panthers

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    Jake Medlock led Florida International with an exceptionally level head last season. Even though he didn't have the best completion percentage in the country, he did throw 13 touchdowns to just two interceptions.

    The Golden Panthers won only three games last season, and Medlock still didn't get desperate. He didn't start tossing the ball around hoping that it would land in the end zone.

    He stayed calm and performed solidly across all four quarters throughout the season. If he develops well during the spring and fall, he'll lead Florida International to brighter days in 2013.

Florida State Seminoles

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    James Wilder, Jr. missed out on being the team-leading rusher by one carry. However, he was the most productive in terms of points scored. He ran the ball 111 times for 635 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    He averaged a dependable 5.8 yards per carry, and he will be the go-to tailback as Florida State breaks in a new quarterback in place of the departed EJ Manuel.

    Wilder will be a household name in 2013, and his ability to get a first down will not go unnoticed.

Fresno State Bulldogs

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    Davante Adams' only competition on the field in 2012 was senior running back Robbie Rouse. Sadly, Rouse will not be back in 2013.

    However, Adams caught 102 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, so he's more than capable of becoming the favorite target in the clutch.

    Despite catching over 100 passes, Adams still averaged a first down on every other touch with a total of 52 on the season. Adams caught 26 passes on third down and crossed the first-down marker on 18 of those occasions.

    He's the player you want to have the ball when the game is on the line, because he's just explosive enough to take the game home.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Aaron Murray has a plethora of targets at his disposal that he can use to win games on the ground or through the air.

    He has led Georgia to both of the last two SEC title games, but he and the Bulldogs still haven't won one of those. If Murray's stats keep trending upward, 2013 could be the season that Georgia finally climbs to the top of the conference.

    Murray went 249-of-386 last season for 3,893 yards, 36 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He averaged over 10 yards per attempt.

    The best example of how good he is in the clutch was the 2012 SEC Championship Game against Alabama. If not for a tipped pass on the last play of the game, Murray would have moved the ball 85 yards in 1:08 for a game-winning touchdown.

Georgia State Panthers

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    Albert Wilson was the top receiver for the Georgia State Panthers in 2012, as he caught 48 passes for 947 yards and seven touchdowns.

    The Panthers won only one game last season, but Wilson did everything he could to raise that number. With an average of almost 20 yards per catch, you can bet he'll be the Panthers' top target when games are on the line in 2013.

    Granted, that won't help the defense get any better, but Georgia State is still a developing team that played its first football game in 2010.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Jeremiah Attaochu is a devastating linebacker for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, and he led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss.

    Attaochu racked up 44 solo tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and one forced fumble during his 2012 campaign. He's consistent, he's deadly, and he's going to be back to lead the defense in 2013.

    With him out there blowing up the enemy backfield, Georgia Tech has a legitimate shot at returning to the ACC title game.

Hawaii Warriors

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    Hawaii had a season to forget in 2012, but there was a breakout star on the field that should make Warriors fans hopeful for the future.

    That was freshman running back Will Gregory, who rushed for 691 yards and three touchdowns on 137 carries. At 5.0 yards per carry, he was productive enough for use in any situation.

    Gregory will be a welcome face when he returns in 2013 to anchor the rushing attack. With numbers like that as a freshman, it will only get better as the team gels over the next couple of seasons.

Houston Cougars

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    The Houston Cougars had a potent running back on the roster in 2012, and he'll be back to lead the ground attack in 2013.

    Charles Sims was the leading scorer on the Cougars squad, as he ran for 851 yards and 11 touchdowns via 142 carries. He added 37 receptions for 373 yards and three more touchdowns as well, which brought him over the 1,000-yard mark for total offense.

    Sims was a powerhouse for the Cougars, and he was a first-down or scoring threat any time he got the rock. If he returns to form in 2013, he'll be the headliner for Houston all season.

Idaho Vandals

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    In 2012, the Idaho Vandals won only one game. They took down the New Mexico State Aggies 26-18. There were two players in that game who contributed greatly to the win: Trey Farquhar (senior, PK) and Najee Lovett (junior, WR).

    Lovett is the only one of the two who will be back, and Idaho will need to use him much more in 2013 than they did in 2012.

    Lovett caught 50 passes for 543 yards and six touchdowns, making him the Vandals' leading scorer for the less-than-stellar run.

    Lovett was a consistent player all season, and it didn't matter what quarter or what the circumstances on the field were. If he caught a pass, you knew he was getting yards.

    His 21 first downs were split evenly, with seven coming from first-, second- and third-down snaps. Lovett's touchdowns were also uniform throughout first through third downs. He scored two of his six from each situation.

    Lovett may not be a superstar wide receiver who's gunning for the Heisman, but he's definitely a solid rock on the field. He will be back in 2013 to help Idaho. Hopefully, the Vandals can pull off more than one win.

Illinois Fighting Illini

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    Ryan Lankford is a wide receiver for the Illinois Fighting Illini. He didn't have overly impressive numbers in 2012, but they were good enough to get him on this list.

    Lanford caught 37 passes for 467 yards and five touchdowns last season. If his numbers aren't that great, why is he on this list? Well, he took 21 of his 37 receptions for first downs. That's a 56-percent conversion rate.

    If Illinois wants to contend for the Big Ten, then using Lankford more would be step one.

Indiana Hoosiers

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    Stephen Houston carried the ball for Indiana in 2012, and he did it well. He was the leading scorer for the Hoosiers after finding the end zone 12 times last season.

    He rushed for 749 yards on 161 carries last season, and he is a big reason that Indiana was so close to winning eight games.

    If the Hoosiers rely a little more heavily on Houston, then the 2013 season can end in a bowl for them.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Mark Weisman tagged defenses for 815 yards and eight touchdowns on 159 carries last season, and he evenly split those touchdowns among all four quarters through the campaign.

    He had consistent numbers before and after halftime shows all season long as well. Weisman is a sure thing for Iowa, but only if the Hawkeyes can figure out how to free him up for more carries in 2013.

    The Hawkeyes have enough talent to move up in the Big Ten, they just need to figure out how to use it.

Iowa State Cyclones

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    Ernst Brun, Jr. is a tight end for Iowa State. He caught 26 passes for 330 yards and six touchdowns last year, and that's nearly a 25-percent touchdown rate.

    He also turned 13 of those receptions into first downs. Brun is a force on the field, and whoever ends up taking over at quarterback needs to recognize what an asset he is. If that happens, then Iowa State can contend for the Big 12 in 2013.

Kansas Jayhawks

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    James Sims was the brightest spot on the Kansas Jayhawks team last season. He scored as many touchdowns as the leading passer threw interceptions. Normally, that wouldn't be noteworthy, but Dayne Crist threw more interceptions than touchdowns last season.

    Sims gained 1,013 yards and scored nine touchdowns in 2012 off 218 carries. He proved that he could be the every-down tailback that could be counted on for five yards more often than not.

    He'll be a primary part of the offense due to his stability at the position.

Kansas State Wildcats

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    John Hubert didn't get a whole lot of attention in 2012 due to Collin Klein's stellar performance. Hubert did finish the season as Kansas State's leading rusher, though.

    Hubert collected 947 yards and 15 touchdowns on 189 carries last season. Most of his touchdowns (11 of 15) were scored in second halves during the season.

    When the Wildcats needed a score, Hubert was more than happy to deliver. If that continues in 2013, then Kansas State will have a much easier time replacing Klein.

Kent State Golden Flashes

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    Kent State has an unfair advantage at running back, but the Golden Flashes aren't going to give either Dri Archer or Trayion Durham up.

    As far as clutch performance goes, Archer barely edges out Durham for the slot here. Archer ran for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns via 159 carries last season. That's an average of 9.0 yards per touch, and he threw in 48 first downs for good measure.

    Archer is the golden boy for Kent State, and he can extend a drive as well as anyone in the country. He'll prove it again in 2013.

Kentucky Wildcats

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    Running back Raymond Sanders III finished 2012 with 669 yards and five touchdowns from 125 carries. He scored three of his five touchdowns while Kentucky was either tied or losing the game.

    When Kentucky was going down, Sanders was the last one to falter. While he did seem to tire a bit toward the end of games, he was fine throughout the first three quarters. Assuming he continues the strength and conditioning during the offseason, he will return as the clutch crutch for the Wildcats.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

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    The competition for most clutch player at Louisiana Tech isn't even close. Freshman running back Kenneth Dixon rushed for 1,194 yards and 27 touchdowns through 200 carries in 2012.

    Dixon didn't even really get going until the third quarter, and he gained 22 of his 58 first downs while the Bulldogs were either tied or losing. The same is true of 10 of his 27 touchdowns.

    Dixon is a machine for the Bulldogs, and he'll be used much later in games through the 2013 season. Without star quarterback Colby Cameron, Dixon will have to stay in the game late into the fourth quarter more often than not.

Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns

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    Alonzo Harris took the field for the now-regularly successful Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns. As far as grace under pressure, 27 of Harris' 30 first downs came when games were within two possessions.

    Harris sliced defenses for 881 yards and 10 touchdowns off his team-leading 170 touches. The Ragin' Cajuns were 7-1 in games where Harris ran the ball a minimum of 10 times.

    He was so consistently effective that it's a wonder he wasn't used even more than he was. Look for the Cajuns to go to him constantly in 2013, and look for them in the postseason.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks

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    Kolton Browning went 273-of-428 for 3,049 yards, 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions last season, and he was the undisputed leader of the Louisiana-Monroe offense.

    During the biggest win in ULM's history over then-No. 8 Arkansas, Browning tossed three touchdown passes and scored the winning touchdown on a 16-yard keeper in overtime.

    Browning will return in 2013 at the head of the offense, and the Warhawks can expect him to be at least as potent as he was in 2012. After taking two SEC teams to overtime in back-to-back weeks, that's got to put a smile on Warhawks fans' faces.

LSU Tigers

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    Zach Mettenberger is going to be the most clutch performer in 2013 because he simply has to be. After LSU's roster is decimated by the NFL draft for the second season in a row, he won't have the luxury of developing throughout the season.

    Mettenberger proved that he could play at an elite level against Alabama in 2012. He threw for a season-high 298 yards, and he only earned better efficiency ratings against Washington and Mississippi State.

    Mettenberger can be one of the best quarterbacks in the country. With the losses on defense for the 2013 season, he will have to be.

Louisville Cardinals

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    Teddy Bridgewater was a Heisman contender in 2012, and he did nothing but improve as the season progressed.

    At the end, he bested a Florida team that boasted the nation's No. 5 scoring defense. Bridgewater tagged Florida for 266 yards and a 20-of-32 completion rate.

    Bridgewater is the most formidable passer in the Big East for 2013, and he's as good as they come when games are on the line. When his team is down by eight or more points, his completion percentage rockets above 70.

    It's Louisville's Big East crown to lose in 2013, and Bridgewater won't let it get away easily.

Marshall Thundering Herd

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    Rakeem Cato led Marshall with a 406-of-584 performance that yielded 4,201 yards, 37 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions in his sophomore campaign last year.

    Cato performed best under pressure. When the game was within 14 points, his completion percentage went above 70. It was also over 70 when Marshall faced a third-and-medium. He completed 29 of his 40 passes in third-and-medium situations, and 26 of those completions went for first downs.

    Cato is a surgeon when he's on his game, and he's rarely off his game. Marshall will be one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2013.

Maryland Terrapins

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    Stefon Diggs is one of the most versatile players in the country. He gained yardage in almost every way possible as an offensive player:

    Receiving yards: 848

    Rushing yards: 114

    Punt-return yards: 221

    Kickoff-return yards: 713

    On top of that, he went 1-of-2 from under center for eight yards and a touchdown. Diggs was a staple, and there wasn't a single clutch situation in 2012 in which he wouldn't have been an asset.

    That will continue in 2013, and he may be up for the most versatile player award at the end of the season.

Massachusetts Minutemen

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    Joe Colton was a freshman defensive back last season, which makes his numbers even more impressive. As UMass tackled a new conference, the Minutemen lost lots of players to graduation between 2011 and 2012.

    Colton stepped up big-time and logged 50 tackles, one interception, one blocked kick and two forced fumbles during the season of adjustment to the new conference.

    When UMass needed a big play on defense, he was there to make it. While the Minutemen didn't contend for the Mid-American Conference title, they certainly showed that they have some serious players on the roster.

    Colton will be back in 2013 to once again wreak havoc on opposing offenses. If Massachusetts can develop some explosiveness on offense, this team could do a complete 180 in 2013.

Memphis Tigers

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    Jacob Karam is a transfer from Texas Tech who is currently heading into his senior season at Memphis. He led the Tigers to a four-win season in 2012, but the win over Rice proved that Memphis has a relatively high ceiling when it comes to FBS success.

    Karam went 176-of-274 for 1,895 yards, 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions last season. A massive 81 of his passes were completed for first downs, and 23 of those first downs were on third-down plays.

    Karam is more than capable of leading this offense, and he performs very well under pressure. If the rest of the Tigers team can step up, then Memphis can play a 13th game in 2013.

Miami Hurricanes

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    Duke Johnson was a freshman running back for the Miami Hurricanes last season. He burst onto the scene with huge numbers in his rookie season.

    Johnson rushed for 947 yards and 10 touchdowns via 139 carries, and he caught 27 passes for 221 yards and another touchdown.

    Johnson was reliable, and he was good for a score or a first down at the drop of a hat. To top things off for himself, he completed a touchdown pass during the one-point loss to Virginia.

    Obviously, the Virginia loss wasn't his fault, but Miami will also be better in 2013. Johnson will be the go-to guy when things get sticky, and Miami may actually appear in the ACC Championship Game.

Miami Redhawks

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    Dawan Scott led the Miami Redhawks in total offensive yardage in 2012. Scott had eight total touchdowns and 931 yards from scrimmage last year.

    Scott's most impressive stat is his third-down performance. On third down alone, the wide receiver caught just nine passes and took them for 155 yards, six first downs and two touchdowns.

    When the Redhawks needed someone to extend the drive, Scott did it well over half the time. The only thing Miami might regret is not using him more. That will be rectified in 2013, and Scott will have a banner year.

Michigan Wolverines

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    Taylor Lewan is undoubtedly the most clutch player on the Michigan football team. He might even be the best player in general that's currently wearing the maize and blue.

    Since offensive line stats aren't kept to the same extent that skill-position stats are (especially in college), let's take a look at his head-to-head matchup against Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl.

    Clowney's stats in that game were as follows: four tackles, two tackles for loss, zero sacks and one forced fumble. Lewan held Clowney, possibly the best defensive end in modern history, at or below his average in every category with the exception of the forced fumble.

    Don't hold Lewan responsible for the forced fumble, though. There were extenuating circumstances surrounding that feat, and for that one play, there was no one on either the NFL or collegiate level that would have been able to stop Clowney from getting the ball.

    Lewan is one of the brightest spots on Michigan's offense, and no single play can take that away from him, especially since it wasn't actually Lewan's fault that Clowney came through unblocked.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell played well in tight situations last season. While his touchdown-to-interception ratio left something to be desired, there was a major plus side to his performance.

    Maxwell completed 234 passes last season and 130 of them were for first downs. In fact, 49 of his 74 third-down completions were past the first-down marker. Maxwell did not like to see drives end, and he has an innate ability to keep that from happening.

    When 2013 rolls around, expect Michigan State to look a lot more like the Kirk Cousins-led Spartans than the 2012 edition. Maxwell will ensure that all those one-possession losses don't happen again.

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

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    Kevin Byard was a freshman last season, and he made a huge first impression at defensive back for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.

    Byard finished his rookie campaign with 48 solo tackles, four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns) and two forced fumbles.

    Nothing flips the momentum of a game as completely as an interception returned for huge yardage. Byard returned four picks for 167 yards and two touchdowns.

    The only question left for Byard is: How much better can he get?

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Donnell Kirkwood led Minnesota's rushing attack by a large margin. He rushed for 926 yards, and the second-place rusher had only 390 yards.

    Kirkwood gained 730 of his 926 yards while games were within 14 points, whether Minnesota was leading or not. He could be counted on in dire situations, and he was the best chance the Golden Gophers had to get bailed out of bad circumstances.

    The 2013 season is coming soon, and Kirkwood will be relied upon yet again. He will not disappoint the Gophers' faithful.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    LaDarius Perkins rushed for 1,024 yards and eight touchdowns off 205 carries. He rushed for first downs consistently, and 34 of his 45 first downs came while games were within seven points.

    He was always productive when the game was on the line and still winnable, but he was most productive on second down. Twenty of his first downs came on second-down carries.

    Perkins may not be the most memorable player on Mississippi State's squad, but the two best defenders are leaving the program. The marquee slot is his for the taking, and he'll need every bit of skill he's got in order for the Bulldogs to win in 2013.

    With the two biggest defensive contributors gone, the offense will have to pick up the slack. Perkins will be happy to oblige.

Missouri Tigers

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    James Franklin missed a lot of the 2012 season due to injuries, but he will come back healthy and ready to command the Missouri Tigers through the SEC in 2013.

    No, the Tigers aren't going to win the SEC outright in their first healthy season, but they will definitely finish much further up the ladder than they did in 2012.

    Franklin's 2011 numbers are going to be more pertinent for this argument than his 2012 stats, so here they are:

    Passing: 239-of-377 for 2,872 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions

    Rushing: 217 attempts for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns

    Franklin also has Dorial Green-Beckham as a target, and even though DGB was a limited contributor in 2012, the 2013 season will provide him a healthy quarterback and much more opportunity to shine for the Tigers.

    Franklin will be the most clutch player on the team, but look for DGB to make a statement with his sophomore year.

Navy Midshipmen

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    Keenan Reynolds got off to a hot start at Navy as a freshman. He completed 61 of his 108 pass attempts for 898 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 649 yards and another 10 touchdowns on 162 attempts.

    The Midshipmen operate a run-first offense that relies on misdirection and shiftiness to get the job done. Reynolds' second-best average rushing distance came on third down throughout the season, but it's important to note that 39 of his 61 completions were for first downs.

    This is largely due to the fact that Navy takes what defenses offer it. Reynolds did what he was supposed to do by avoiding high-risk plays and forcing the ball down opponents' throats.

    This resulted in an eight-win season with a freshman at the helm. Don't look for fewer than eight wins in 2013, as Reynolds' development in the offseason will put Navy in pole position for the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Taylor Martinez was a huge clutch performer in almost every game Nebraska played. Even in the 70-31 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten title game, Martinez still managed to rip off a 76-yard touchdown run. (For the record, he ran closer to 120 yards than 76 for that score.)

    Granted, it was in the first quarter, but it was also a conference championship game and a 3rd-and-11 that he was facing. Martinez is going to improve in the offseason and come back a better passer in 2013.

    That says a lot, because he completed over 60 percent of his passes in 2012. He threw for 2,871 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, and he also rushed for 1,019 yards and another 10 touchdowns.

    Martinez also put on his greatest displays when the 'Huskers were losing by one possession. Almost 900 of his passing yards came while Nebraska was trailing the competition by seven or fewer points.

Nevada Wolf Pack

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    Cody Fajardo will take Stefphon Jefferson's place as the most clutch performer in 2013. Jefferson will take off for the NFL, and Fajardo will be left to handle business in the Mountain West.

    Fajardo passed for 2,786 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions while also rushing for 1,121 yards and another 12 scores. He rushed for 63 first downs, 25 of which came off third-down snaps.

    He's not on this list solely for his ability to lead an offense. He's on it because he knows how to rescue a play with his feet after it has broken down. Who knows, with Jefferson gone in 2013, Fajardo may just step up and completely make up for his absence.

New Mexico Lobos

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    Kasey Carrier broke the 100-yard rushing barrier on seven occasions last season. Regardless of the outcome of the game or the quality of the opponent, Carrier was a reliable tailback who constantly put up great yardage.

    His best performance was a 338-yard gouging of the Air Force Falcons. Unfortunately, Air Force still won, but it wasn't Carrier's fault.

    Out of Carrier's 1,469 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns, 969 of the yards and eight of the scores came while games were within one touchdown. As long as New Mexico had a shot at winning, Carrier was working toward that end at all times.

    Carrier didn't really slip up until the game was out of hand by three possessions.

New Mexico State Aggies

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    Austin Franklin caught 74 passes for 1,245 yards and nine touchdowns last year. The New Mexico State Aggies used him well, and he was the team's most productive member in both yards gained and touchdowns.

    His most productive quarter was the fourth, as 46 of his catches were for first downs, and he scored most of his touchdowns from between the 40s.

    Just in case nobody would admit that he was good in the clutch, he threw in three tackles (on offense) and a blocked kick. If something needed to be done while he was on the field, he did everything in his power to do it himself.

North Carolina Tar Heels

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    Bryn Renner led the UNC Tar Heels to what would have been an ACC Championship Game and a bowl game if not for sanctions in 2012.

    Last year, Renner went 276-of-422 for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Out of his 3,356 yards, he picked up 2,157 when games were within one possession.

    That proves that Giovani Bernard wasn't the only difference-maker on the field for the Heels last season. Renner will return in 2013 to attempt to lead UNC to a bowl game in his final year.

    He's got a good shot at it. He plays with an even temper, and that's the foundation of a clutch contributor.

NC State Wolfpack

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    Quintin Payton is a wideout for the NC State Wolfpack, and he's a rare breed. As each down passes, something inside him comes uncorked.

    He's great on first down, and he's not quite as good (but still great) on second down. However, when third downs come around, he transforms into this ghost that simply doesn't exist on the scrimmage side of the first-down marker.

    Out of his 33 first downs in 2012, 13 of them came on third- or fourth-down plays. Also worth mentioning: he caught only 51 passes to get those 33 first downs.

    Payton is a clutch receiver, and he proved it with a massive 43-yard reception on a third down with more than 10 yards to go. He will return in 2013 and be the new quarterback's favorite bailout plan.

North Texas Mean Green

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    North Texas linebacker Zachary Orr was a junior in 2012, so this coming season will be his last. Orr finished fourth in the Sun Belt conference with 108 total tackles.

    He racked up 56 of those by himself, and he also had 3.5 tackles for loss. What's even more impressive is that he performed better against higher-quality competition than he did against lesser teams.

    His average tackles per game went up against BCS AQ, ranked and FBS teams as opposed to BCS non-AQ, unranked and FCS teams.

    As Orr faced tougher competition, he got tougher. That's exactly why he should be on this list.

Northern Illinois Huskies

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    Jordan Lynch was a clutch performer all season, regardless of the fact that Northern Illinois lost two games. Northern Illinois' offensive and defensive lines were just not equipped to beat FBS teams from AQ conferences last season.

    Lynch passed for 3,138 yards, 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and he racked up 19 more touchdowns via 1,815 rushing yards. He added two punts at an average of 57.5 yards per kick, as well.

    Is there anything he can't do? Well, 2013 will give us the answer to that question. Maybe he'll kick a field goal.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    Venric Mark is the star running back for Northwestern. The Wildcats had a great season in 2012, and they were a mere 19 points from being undefeated.

    Mark rushed for 1,366 yards, 12 touchdowns and 59 first downs via 226 carries last year. He rushed for 38 of his 59 first downs while games were within seven points.

    He was a constant reminder to the Wildcats that they were able to compete with some of the best teams in the country. Northwestern has its work cut out for it in 2013, but Mark will be an excellent equalizer again.

    He's capable of starting on any team in the country, and Northwestern can't give him the ball too many times. He's come through for them on many occasions, and he'll do it again next season.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Louis Nix III will return to lead the Notre Dame defense in 2013. He was overshadowed by Manti Te'o in 2012, but he was still given respect as one of the best players in the country at his position.

    Nix had 50 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, five pass breakups and one forced fumble last season from the nose guard position, and he had some of his best games against BYU, USC and Alabama.

    He had his best game against Alabama with five unassisted tackles. That may not seem like a lot, but if you saw the national championship, you know how difficult it is to bring down any one of the Alabama players by yourself.

    Nix established himself as one of the best defenders in the game against the reigning national champion. If everyone on the Notre Dame defense played like Nix did that day, the Irish might be national champions right now.

    While Notre Dame has to wait to see what happens in 2013, having Nix back for his senior season is definitely the bright spot of the offseason for the Fighting Irish.

Ohio Bobcats

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    Tyler Tettleton is another rarity on the football field. He led the Ohio Bobcats to a 9-4 season that began with a major win over Penn State.

    He's not rare because he's good. He's rare because he becomes more consistently lethal when the game is in question.

    He had a completion percentage below 60 whenever the Bobcats were winning by more than a touchdown, but he became more accurate as the game began to turn.

    As soon as there was a hint of a possible loss, he entered survival mode and never threw for less than a 60-percent completion rate. In fact, most of his yardage came when the Bobcats only needed one score to take the lead or tie the game.

    He will do the same thing in 2013, but the win-loss record should be better. If he can bring his accuracy up while the Bobcats are in the lead, then next season might include 10 or more wins.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Braxton Miller spent some time in the Heisman discussion during his perfect 2012 season. Without a doubt, his name belonged there.

    Miller led the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record, and Ohio State was the only undefeated squad in FBS football after Notre Dame lost the national championship game to Alabama.

    Miller passed for 2,039 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 more touchdowns during Urban Meyer's first year as head coach.

    One of the most intriguing aspects of Miller's game came during times that games were within seven points. Whether Ohio State was up or down by a score, Miller tossed right at the 60-percent mark.

    When games were knotted, he completed only half of his passes. It was uncanny to watch. Even against UAB, Miller didn't explode until the second quarter, when the Buckeyes were down by nine. That second-quarter performance was enough to put Ohio State in front for the win, but he struggled until things started to look grim.

    While it's great to be a clutch player, Miller needs to spend the offseason with his receivers. If they can all eliminate some of the dropped passes, then Miller won't be in close games very often at all. He doesn't want to become a player that's only good when things are scary.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma has to replace Landry Jones at quarterback. Somebody on offense needs to assume the leadership role and ensure that the rest of the Sooners know they can win the Big 12.

    Damien Williams will have to be that man. Kenny Stills and Tom Wort are both leaving for the NFL draft, and Williams is the most effective second-half player on the 2013 roster.

    In 2012, Williams gained 946 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on 176 carries. He also crossed the first-down marker 34 times, with 18 of his first downs coming when games were close.

    His specialty was extending small leads, and Oklahoma needs to exploit that ability in 2013. He scored six of his 11 touchdowns while the Sooners were up by one possession. He was an expert at giving Oklahoma a cushion.

    Oklahoma can win the Big 12 in 2013, but it will take some serious discipline and offensive scheming. Williams had better be at the center of that offense, or it's going to be a long season.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Out of all the quarterbacks that stood under center for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, J.W. Walsh was the most balanced and level-headed of the trio.

    Walsh out-rushed both Clint Chelf and Wes Lunt, and he had the best touchdown-to-interception ratio as well. He didn't throw a single interception in the second half of any game, and he completed roughly half of his passes in second halves throughout the season.

    When it came to fourth down, he didn't attempt many passes, but he went 2-of-3 for two first downs. He also had his best efficiency rating when he was in the red zone.

    He may not have been the most successful quarterback in Oklahoma State history, but he certainly was the best freshman the Cowboys have seen in some time.

    He will be a major attraction during the 2013 season, and his rushing ability will help balance the Cowboys offense quite well. Oklahoma State could win the Big 12, especially if Walsh improves during the spring and fall.

Old Dominion Monarchs

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    Taylor Heinicke set an NCAA record last season during what can only be described as a 60-minute clutch performance. He threw for over 700 yards and needed every one of them to defeat New Hampshire by only three points.

    Heinicke was arguably the most clutch player in the FCS, and he won the Walter Payton Award for being the most outstanding offensive player in the division.

    While Old Dominion will face serious challenges on the recruiting trail, Heinicke certainly got more positive press than in-state rivals Virginia and Virginia Tech in 2012.

    Heinicke will return in 2013 to lead Old Dominion through its first FBS season, and Monarchs fans should be thrilled with the timing of the move.

Ole Miss Rebels

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    Bo Wallace took over at quarterback for Ole Miss in 2012, and he did a good job. He performed much better in second halves than first halves, and he threw only one interception in any fourth quarter.

    His highest rating across any game situation was when the score was tied. He completed 44 of his 73 pass attempts under that circumstance, and he threw only two interceptions against six touchdowns.

    Wallace may have some work to do before 2013 gets underway, but he got off to a great start in 2012. He will have some serious competition with the nation's No. 5 recruiting class coming to school for the 2013 season, but if he continues to improve, he can hold his position here.

Oregon Ducks

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    Marcus Mariota had a stellar season as a freshman quarterback in 2012. He passed for 2,677 yards, 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions. At the same time, he rushed for 752 yards and five more scores.

    He achieved his highest quarterback rating when the Ducks were behind. Not being in the lead lit a fire under Mariota, and he proceeded to go 11-of-16 for nine first downs and a touchdown.

    While the Ducks dropped a game to Stanford in overtime, Mariota cemented himself as a clutch player. After all, losing only one game as a freshman in the Pac-12 is astonishing.

    Mariota will battle De'Anthony Thomas for this title in 2013, but Mariota will win the war.

Oregon State Beavers

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    Storm Woods established himself early as the go-to offensive weapon for the Oregon State Beavers. He rushed for 940 yards and 13 touchdowns on 192 attempts in his freshman outing last season.

    Woods gained first downs like Halloween candy in 2012, and his most impressive displays came on third down. Woods found a way to get first downs on 11 of his 17 opportunities. He was 5-of-8 receiving and 6-of-11 rushing for first downs from third-down sets.

    Woods did all that as a freshman, and he will only get better over time. Beavers fans will be thrilled to see what he does in 2013.

Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Allen Robinson was a sophomore in 2012, and he was Penn State's leading receiver. He caught 77 passes for 1,018 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

    All season, his performance-enhancing drug was the scoreboard. Any time the game was within seven points, he was on fire. He scored eight of his 11 touchdowns during those times, and he caught 55 passes for 35 first downs in that same stretch.

    Robinson might not have been the most hyped wide receiver in the country last season, but he was easily the best wideout in the Big Ten. That says a lot when Ohio State had Urban Meyer at the helm of an undefeated ship.

Pittsburgh Panthers

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    Jason Hendricks is a defensive back for the Pittsburgh Panthers, and he's a beast. He racked up 90 tackles, six interceptions and 3.5 tackles for loss in 2012.

    While the Panthers won only six games in 2012, Hendricks had interceptions in five of those six games. He picked off three passes in road games and three passes in home games, and he had five picks against FBS teams to only one from the FCS passer he faced.

    Hendricks is overlooked a lot of the time, but he was a key player in the win over South Florida that sent Pitt to the postseason. When the season was on the line, Hendricks came up with one of his biggest interceptions.

Purdue Boilermakers

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    Landon Feichter is a safety for the Purdue Boilermakers, and he had some big moments in 2012. He tied for first in the Big Ten with four interceptions, and he was the only non-senior to earn that spot.

    Feichter nabbed one interception each in back-to-back games against Wisconsin and Ohio State. He also racked up a season-high 10 solo tackles against Wisconsin and a second-place six solos against Ohio State.

    He had two of his biggest performances against two of his best opponents, and that was a solid season for the sophomore. He will do even better in 2013.

Rice Owls

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    Taylor McHargue quarterbacked Rice to an Armed Forces Bowl win over Air Force after starting the 2012 season off 2-6. McHargue needed a four-game winning streak just to get to the postseason, and he decided that a five-game streak would look better on his resume.

    McHargue passed for 2,209 yards and 12 scores and rushed for 667 yards and another 11 touchdowns last year, and he performed best when he was one possession behind the enemy. The only exception was his quarterback rating, which improved as his team fell further behind.

    Out of his 111 first downs, 44 of them were earned when he was behind by a score. As the team needed him more, he simply got better. The 2013 season should bring exciting results for Rice fans.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Jamal Merrell was a huge part of Rutgers' No. 4 scoring defense in 2012. The Scarlet Knights had one of the best linebackers in the Big East.

    Merrell did almost everything that a linebacker could do to help Rutgers succeed last season. He ripped off 83 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, one forced fumble and two blocked kicks throughout the season.

    Merrell will return as a senior in 2013, and he will provide an excellent example of exactly what to do on the field. He's one of the most complete linebackers in the country, and he'll likely get a shot at the NFL after next season is finished.

San Diego State Aztecs

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    Adam Muema, the sophomore running back, was responsible for over half of San Diego State's No. 20 rushing attack in 2012.

    Muema had 1,458 yards and 16 touchdowns on the way to a shared MWC title with Boise State and Fresno State.

    Muema was a beast with the ball, and there was something special to him about a third-down opportunity. His yards-per-carry average jumped from around 5.5 all the way to 8.7 when the marker flipped to three.

    Muema got motivated whenever his team's drive was in jeopardy, and he took matters into his own hands. If he can do that again in 2013, then San Diego State has a real chance of taking down Boise State.

San Jose State Spartans

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    David Fales led the San Jose State Spartans to an 11-2 season with a No. 6 rank in passing offense. Fales went 327-of-451 for 4,193 yards, 33 touchdowns and just nine interceptions.

    He came on strong in the first quarter throughout the season, tapered a bit in the second quarter and completed almost 80 percent of his passes in the third quarter. Fales got stronger as the game went on, and he also got stronger as the game got closer.

    He scored 19 of his passing touchdowns when games were within seven points, and he completed most of his passes in the same window. Fales was not one to beat himself, and the Spartans rode him all the way to a postseason win over Bowling Green.

    Assuming he gets better during the offseason, he's in no danger of losing his spot on this list.

SMU Mustangs

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    The SMU Mustangs had a junior defensive back who was among the best in Conference USA last season. Kenneth Acker broke up 12 passes, intercepted three and logged 15 passes defended throughout the year.

    He returned one of those picks for a touchdown, and his other stats are even better. Out of 50 total tackles, 41 of them were solo. SMU put him out there in the secondary, and the Mustangs knew there was a whole section of field that they didn't have to worry about anymore.

    His season highs came against Houston, Tulsa and Fresno State, in other words: his toughest competition. He played best when the opponent was fiercest, and he will do the same in 2013.

South Alabama Jaguars

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    Jereme Jones is a wide receiver for the South Alabama Jaguars; last season he was a sophomore. Jones had consistent play throughout the season, but he became incredibly effective in the fourth quarter.

    He averaged 11.6 yards per catch over the whole season, but he averaged 14.3 yards per catch in the fourth quarter. He came out of the gate a little slow, but he progressed in each quarter until he became a lethal weapon in the fourth quarter.

    Over 33 percent of his total yardage came from fourth-quarter plays. If he can brush up his skills in the offseason and get his first quarter looking better, he'll be a whole-game threat all through 2013.

    Even if he can't, he will still be the go-to guy when the final minutes are ticking off the clock.

South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Jadeveon Clowney is clearly South Carolina's most clutch player on the roster. If you go look the definition up in a sports dictionary, you'll probably find a link to this video.

    Taylor Lewan of Michigan had kept Clowney in check for almost the entire game, but South Carolina was on the wrong end of a bad call on the play immediately before "the hit."

    Clowney proceeded to make the best play of the season, and he proved that he should be alone on a lot of lists. He wasn't just South Carolina's most clutch player that day; he was the best one in the country at that moment.

    If he can find a way to mine that aggression to the surface consistently in 2013, you may have just seen the banner highlight for his Heisman campaign.

    It will definitely be hard to top.

South Florida Bulls

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    Derrick Hopkins was not South Florida's leading receiver, scorer or most potent weapon for 60 minutes of any game at all.

    What he was, though, was a fourth-quarter, we-need-yards-right-now ball of black powder that was lit the instant he stepped onto the field.

    Out of his 278 total receiving yards, he gained 217 while the Bulls were behind. He gained 124 of them on third downs and 168 of them in fourth quarters.

    He may have been completely underused in 2012, but with all the seniors leaving the offense, he'll be just fine in 2013. He will be the player to watch all season, and his success will determine South Florida's fate in the Big East.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles

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    Southern Miss is going to lose a lot of senior talent this offseason. From running back Desmond Johnson to lethal defensive lineman Jamie Collins, the clutch performers are decimating the program with graduation.

    Jalen Richard, the freshman running back from 2012, will be the biggest contributor when it counts in 2013. He had an admirable 426 yards and four touchdowns on 87 attempts in the rushing game, and he added 39 yards and another score via eight receptions in the passing game.

    Where he really shone through was in the return game. He averaged 25.9 yards per kickoff return on 10 returns. If Southern Miss uses him correctly next season, the Golden Eagles can set themselves up for a four-win season.

    That would require the defense to replace some serious talent in a hurry, though.

Stanford Cardinal

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    Free safety Ed Reynolds was the interception leader for the Stanford Cardinal in 2012. He picked off six passes throughout the season, and he ran three of them back for touchdowns.

    Out of his six picks, three were game-changers. He nabbed passes against San Jose State, Washington State and against UCLA in the Pac-12 title game.

    All three of those games saw Stanford win by one possession, and the San Jose State and UCLA games were only three-point victories.

    Reynolds is highly underrated, but his presence will be felt in 2013. With all the offensive players in the draft, Stanford's defense is going to have to make sure it can withstand the drop-off.

Syracuse Orange

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    Prince-Tyson Gulley is a running back for the Syracuse Orange. He totaled 825 yards and nine touchdowns from his 157 attempts last season.

    That makes him good, but here's what makes him the go-to player in pressure situations: He scored six of his nine touchdowns in the red zone.

    The fourth quarter, third down and the red zone are all high-pressure situations, and if you can perform well in any one of them, you'll earn your scholarship at any university that recruited you.

    Gulley was overshadowed by a good passing game, but he'll get his shot at real recognition in 2013. Ryan Nassib won't be there to pass the ball anymore, so Gulley will take over as the centerpiece of the offense.

    If he continues to perform well at the pressure points, he'll stay right on this list.

Temple Owls

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    Nate D. Smith was a freshman in 2012, which make his performance at linebacker more impressive than it would be by stats alone.

    Smith had 51 solo tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, two pass breakups and 3 forced fumbles. Again, he was a freshman when he did all that.

    Smith is a consistent player who stepped up in big games, especially in the three-point win over UConn. He combined for 14 tackles in that game, which was a season high for him.

    He'll do it again in 2013, and Temple will begin yet another rise toward the top of its conference.

Tennessee Volunteers

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    Rajion Neal was a potent offensive weapon who was overshadowed only by Cordarrelle Patterson. Now that Patterson is gone, Neal will take his rightful place as Tennessee's go-to guy.

    Neal rushed for 708 yards and five touchdowns on 156 attempts last season, and he caught 19 passes for 149 yards and another four scores.

    All five of Neal's rushing touchdowns were scored from the red zone, and three of his four receiving scores were from the same distance. (His fourth was from 23 yards out.)

    Neal may have been helpful in specific situations last season, but he will be infinitely more useful now that he will be the best offensive player returning for the 2013 season.

Texas Longhorns

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    David Ash was a giant question mark for Texas throughout most of the 2012 season. He completely turned that around at the end of the Alamo Bowl against Oregon State.

    It's not that everyone in Texas is going to have complete faith in him, but he proved that he was capable of leading a game-winning drive when the coaches finally decided to see what he could do, regardless of the outcome.

    When Texas was down by 10 points in the fourth quarter, Ash responded with two touchdowns separated by only six minutes. He tossed the go-ahead score with less than 2:30 remaining, and the lead stuck.

    What happened in the Alamo Bowl was the birth of a clutch performer. Now, if he can keep himself from getting into a bind in the first place, then he'll be mentioned among the nation's best.

Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M has the first freshman Heisman winner on its roster, and he was the only quarterback to beat the eventual national champion last season as well.

    Manziel grew up quickly in the SEC, and he steadily improved after the heartbreaking losses to Florida and LSU early in the season.

    He became one of the most respected quarterbacks in the country, and he will need his entire bag of tricks in 2013. Every team he faces will give him 100 percent and leave everything on the field.

    He will have to pretend to play Alabama every single week. If he performs as well as he did against the Tide in 2012, then he's going to a BCS bowl at the end of the season.

TCU Horned Frogs

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    Devonte Fields was a freshman in 2012, and his stats prove that TCU could recruit on par with the best teams in the nation even before it was in the Big 12.

    Fields led the Big 12 in tackles for loss with 18.5 and came in third in sacks with 10. He forced a total of two fumbles last season against Iowa State and Texas Tech. The Horned Frogs lost both those games, but it wasn't Fields' fault.

    Fields did all that as a freshman. If you don't think that he's going to be one of the best defensive ends in the country, then you should watch some TCU in 2013. He will put on a show for you.

Texas State Bobcats

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    Terrence Franks was the most versatile player on the Texas State Bobcats roster apart from senior quarterback Shaun Rutherford.

    Franks made his presence known in opponents' red zones throughout the season, and he didn't hesitate to take on a screen or dump pass as much as a straight transfer.

    Franks rushed for 269 yards and five touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 150 yards and a sixth trip to the end zone.

    Out of 14 rushing first downs, Franks got seven while the game was within a score in either direction. He thrived on the adrenaline from the potential win, but the Bobcats slid only two games over to the win column in 2012.

    Franks will take his place near the top of the offensive totem pole in 2013, and he will continue to produce in the red zone while games are still in reach. If he can bring that intensity for a full 60 minutes, he may lose the "clutch" title in favor of a starting position.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Kenny Williams gained 824 rushing yards on 143 attempts, 163 receiving yards off 16 catches and scored six touchdowns (five on the ground) during the course of the 2012 season.

    Williams had a knack for showing up in the fourth quarter, where he gained 295 of his 824 rushing yards and averaged 7.2 yards per carry.

    Williams was a sort of secret weapon for the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and he will be much more heavily used in 2013. Since star quarterback Seth Doege is leaving, someone will have to pick up the slack.

    Most of the responsibility will fall on whichever passer earns the starting slot, but Williams will alleviate his burden as soon as the season kicks off.

Toledo Rockets

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    The Toledo Rockets lived and died by David Fluellen's performances last year. He ran the ball for 1,498 yards and 13 touchdowns via 259 carries, and he caught 32 passes for 246 yards as well.

    Fluellen was the most productive player on the roster, and his performance was at its highest when the game was close. He gained 978 of his rushing yards whenever there was a point differential of seven or fewer points (not counting tied games), and he helped extend Toledo's lead more often than not.

    He proved that he had the endurance to carry the ball for the entire game, but he did have a tendency to wear out late in the fourth quarter. If he pays attention to his conditioning coach, that will be an issue of the past, and he'll earn a trip to the NFL combine for the 2014 rotation.

Troy Trojans

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    When Troy needed a burst late in a game, the Trojans brought in wide receiver Eric Thomas. Thomas caught 55 passes for 667 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

    He gained more than two-thirds of his yardage in second halves throughout the year, and his yards-per-catch average was more than two yards better after halftime than it was before the break.

    Thomas may have been overshadowed by Chip Reeves in 2012, but Reeves is heading for a long shot at the NFL later this month. That will leave Thomas as the favorite target, and he's already the most consistently great receiver on the roster when games are on the line.

    Don't expect him to falter in 2013.

Tulane Green Wave

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    Cairo Santos is the most clutch kicker in the country. Santos hit all 21 of his attempted field goals in 2012, and some were from more than 50 yards away.

    Santos connected from more than 40 yards away on 12 occasions and from more than 30 yards away 19 times. Santos is one of the best kickers in the country, and three points is nothing to ignore.

    Many teams would have killed for Santos' leg in 2012, and Oregon would have had a national championship if Santos was its kicker.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane

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    In 2012, Trey Watts took 186 carries for 1,108 yards and three touchdowns. The most impressive part of his game was his ability to get a first down. He converted 55 of his 186 attempts to fresh series.

    In spite of touching the ball only 85 times in second halves last year, he still gained 60 more yards than in his 101 first-half attempts.

    If that weren't enough to get him on this list, he also caught 34 passes for 343 yards and 14 more first downs. His versatility helped him gouge defenses much better than anyone else on the depth chart.

    Tulsa will have him again in 2013, and the Golden Hurricane will take a shot at a repeat C-USA championship.

UAB Blazers

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    Darrin Reaves is the star running back for the UAB Blazers, and he is good at what he does. Reaves rushed for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns on 215 carries in 2012.

    He also caught 41 passes for 302 yards and another score. Reaves was almost a guaranteed first down whenever he touched the ball on third down. He had 25 third-down attempts, and he converted 15 of those to new sets of downs.

    Reeves also had a great fourth-quarter stat sheet. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, which was almost a whole yard per carry more than in any other quarter.

    Reeves was the clutch player for UAB last season, and there's nobody on the roster that has much of a chance at taking his throne.

UCF Knights

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    In 2012, Blake Bortles led the UCF Knights to a 10-win season capped by a win over Ball State in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.

    Bortles went 251-of-399 for 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He was only a sophomore last season, so he has plenty of time to improve.

    His only downside last season was that he tended to get a little ruffled when the game started slipping away. When the Knights were behind, Bortles' completion percentage dipped below 60. His saving grace was that, while they were down by one possession, Bortles didn't throw any interceptions.

    He faltered a bit, but that was mostly due to his being a sophomore. After an offseason of practice, he will come back in 2013 and prove he belongs on this list.

UCLA Bruins

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    Brett Hundley lead UCLA as a freshman quarterback last year, and he took them all the way to a Pac-12 South Division title. Hundley gave UCLA fans something they haven't had in a while: legitimate hope.

    Sure, everybody always has a general hope that their team will do better next season, but UCLA fans just saw the wind shift in the Pac-12 South last season.

    Hundley completed 318 of his 478 pass attempts for 3,740 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. On the ground, he gained 355 yards and scored nine times off 160 attempts.

    Hundley was a steady player throughout each quarter of every game. He wasn't a game-changer when time was running out; he was simply a steadfast, solid quarterback who didn't make mistakes when the game was coming to a close.

    His completion percentage by quarter was always above 60, and that's stellar for a freshman. As a sophomore in 2013, expect him to make some headlines in the Pac-12 with his talent and results.

UNLV Rebels

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    UNLV had one of the worst seasons possible in 2012, but there were still bright spots to evaluate. The brightest spot was Tim Cornett, who was UNLV's leading rusher by almost 600 yards over the second-place finisher.

    The other bright spot was Bradley Randle, who makes this list for his potency. He had roughly half the yardage of Cornett, but still scored one more touchdown than Cornett did.

    Randle rushed for 635 yards and eight touchdowns on 138 attempts. While those stats don't look stellar at first glance, Cornett took 1,200-plus yards to score seven times. Effectiveness isn't always measured by pure yardage.

    Randle will hone his skills during spring and fall practices, and he'll come back as the Rebels' hidden treasure.

USC Trojans

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    If there is an individual team award to be given out to a wide receiver at USC in 2013, Marqise Lee is going to get it. He will be in the running for many national awards as well, but this list is about each specific team.

    Lee caught 118 passes for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and that included a couple of games in which his starting quarterback was on the sideline. Lee was integral in many of the Trojans' wins last season, and he competed hard whenever games were close.

    When the Trojans were losing or they were ahead by one possession, Lee's yards-per-catch average was up around 15. When the Trojans were up by more than one score, his average went below 10.

    He wasn't one to help blow the other team out of the water, but he personally exploded when his team was in trouble. He will do the same thing in 2013, but his numbers will be much higher now that Robert Woods is gone.

Utah Utes

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    Travis Wilson was a freshman last season as he quarterbacked the Utah Utes just shy of a bowl game. Wilson threw almost as many interceptions as he did touchdowns, but he gets a pass as a freshman. (Plus, this list is about next season, and he hasn't thrown any in 2013 yet.)

    Wilson completed 128 of his 204 pass attempts for 1,311 yards, seven touchdowns and six interceptions. While his game needs work, the only major fault was his inconsistency. His passer rating during first and third downs was around 112.

    Compare that to his 148.8 rating in second-down situations, and you'll see what I'm talking about. There is plenty of talent in that kid, but he's got to spend the offseason working on his decision-making process.

    If he can treat every down like it's a 2nd-and-X, then he's about to launch Utah away from the bottom of the Pac-12 quickly. It will still take a couple of seasons, but Utah is coming up.

Utah State Aggies

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    Utah State had the No. 7 scoring defense in the country last year, so you can probably guess what side of the ball the Aggies' listed player comes from.

    Zach Vigil is a defensive lineman for Utah State. He collected 105 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one blocked kick in 2012.

    Vigil was a beast, and he did exactly what a defensive lineman is supposed to do: disrupt the enemy's play. From first down to fourth down, Vigil has a stat to go along with stopping a play.

    Will he becomes the team's clutch player in 2013 or not? It's definitely a safe bet.

UTEP Miners

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    Nathan Jeffery was the UTEP Miners' leading rusher last season, but he had one other major accomplishment that set him apart from anyone else on the team.

    Jeffery amassed 897 yards and seven touchdowns off 184 carries, but the mind-blowing part of the equation is this: Jeffery averaged almost two times more yards per carry during second halves last season than he did during first halves.

    That's right, his numbers went from three-to-four yards per carry to six-to-eight with no outside influence other than a trip to the locker room.

UTSA Roadrunners

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    Eric Soza led the UTSA Roadrunners to an eight-win season in 2012, and he did it with good-looking numbers, too.

    Soza went 149-of-253 for 1,811 yards, 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also rushed 58 times for 326 yards and another six scores.

    Soza is yet another player on this list who doesn't like it when games are close. His two highest situational quarterback ratings on the season were when his team was separated from the opponent by one score. If the lead extended in either direction, or the game was knotted, his QBR went down.

    He was definitely the right man to have in charge, and he will come back in 2013 with improved poise in all situations. If he can get all his ratings to look like that 174.87, then he's going to be a threat for a 10-win season.

Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Jordan Matthews is a wide receiver for the Vanderbilt Commodores, and he's incredible. He caught 94 passes in 2012 for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns.

    Vanderbilt went on a 7-0 run to end the season 9-4 last year, and the Commodores are on their way up the SEC East ladder. It will take a while for them to climb to the top, but they should breeze through the middle in a matter of two or three more seasons.

    Matthews will help the Commodores get over the loss of Jordan Rodgers at quarterback in 2013, and he'll do it the same way he did in 2012.

    Matthews averaged over 20 yards per catch through fourth quarters in 2012, and he'll be the first read on every play for the new starting quarterback. Matthews got better and better as each quarter passed in 2012, and his 2013 season will look eerily similar.

Virginia Cavaliers

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    Jake McGee is a tight end for the Virginia Cavaliers, and he was one of the most efficient players on the team as far as scoring was concerned.

    As  tight end, he usually ran a secondary read route and hoped that the quarterback bailed out on the primary targets.

    While that didn't happen as often as he would have liked, he turned what little opportunity he had into points. He caught only 28 passes in 2012, but he turned them into 374 yards and five touchdowns.

    That means he scored a touchdown almost 20 percent of the time he touched the ball. Although you would rather not see this stat from an offensive player, he also had four solo and eight total tackles on the season.

    If the tight end is making a tackle, he's most likely saving a touchdown, so at least that worked in his favor for this list.

Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Logan Thomas had a down season for the Virginia Tech Hokies last year, and he did not live up to his hype as a quarterback. Heck, he didn't even live up to his 2011 performance that took Virginia Tech to the ACC title game.

    Thomas will return to his true form in 2013, and he will be the clutch dual-threat quarterback that he was back in 2011. If the Hokies play their cards perfectly, then there is a national championship waiting on the other side of a perfect season.

    That's mostly due to the fact that an undefeated run would include a season-opening win over Alabama. It's a million-to-one shot, but nobody could argue against them if they were undefeated.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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    Michael Campanaro is a wide receiver for Wake Forest, but he does a little bit of everything as the needs of the team dictate.

    Campanaro caught 79 passes last season for 763 yards and six touchdowns and rushed 16 times for 82 yards and one score.

    While that made him the team's leading scorer, he wasn't done. He fired one shot from under center for 39 yards and a touchdown.

    Campanaro scored as a receiver, a running back and a quarterback. The only thing left to do is stick him on defense for a couple of plays to see if he can get himself a pick-six or a fumble return for points.

Washington Huskies

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    Assuming tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins returns to the team following his suspension, he handily earns Washington's slot on this list.

    In 2012, Seferian-Jenkins caught 69 passes for 852 yards, seven touchdowns and 33 first downs. Not only was he a severe third-down threat, but he was also a threat in the red zone. On third downs, he averaged 14.6 yards per catch, and he scored five of his seven touchdowns inside the red zone.

    If you don't cover Seferian-Jankins, you may as well hang up your cleats, forfeit and skip risking injury to your team. If Jenkins returns in 2013, he'll be pumped and ready to prove himself to the world after an offseason clouded by his poor judgment.

Washington State Cougars

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    Andrew Furney scored nine points in Washington State's three-point upset of the Washington Huskies at the end of the 2012 season. Furney is the kicker for the Cougars.

    He made 14 of his 20 field-goal attempts, and he has a leg that belongs in the NFL if anyone can fix his accuracy. His longest made field goal of the season was from 60 yards out. I don't care if it's for the win or not, a 60-yard field goal is clutch.

    So is a 45-yarder to send a rivalry game into overtime.

West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Andrew Buie was responsible for the biggest part of West Virginia's ground attack. Plus, he was a 300-yard contributor to the passing game even though Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey were both lined up on the same field.

    Buie rushed for 850 yards and seven touchdowns last season via 181 carries. He was incredibly consistent throughout the season, and he improved steadily throughout each series.

    On first downs, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry. On second downs, he gained 4.9. When he touched the ball on third down, his average was 5.2.

    While West Virginia was largely known as a passing squad due to Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, Buie kept defenses honest.

    Since Bailey, Smith and Austin will all be gone in 2013, Buie will take over as leader of the offense and as the only clutch performer left from this past season.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

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    Antonio Andrews is a running back for the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Well, he's listed as a running back.

    Andrews gained so many yards in so many different ways, that it's faster to list them out like this:

    Rushing: 304 carries for 1,733 yards and 11 touchdowns

    Receiving: 37 catches for 432 yards and three touchdowns

    Punt returns: 19 returns for 234 yards and one touchdown

    Kickoff returns: 28 returns for 767 yards

    Andrews also had two tackles, but that was due to the interception bug, not because he was playing defense.

    Andrews was a machine in second halves last season. Over 50 percent of his rushing yards came after halftime, and he scored eight of his 11 rushing touchdowns after the break as well.

    Andrews will return healthy and rested in 2013, and he will light up the Sun Belt for his senior season.

Western Michigan Broncos

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    Dareyon Chance wasn't just Western Michigan's best running back or player; he was the Broncos' best option in almost any tight situation.

    Chance rushed 176 times for 947 yards, four touchdowns and 48 first downs. He was consistent, and he improved from the beginning to the end of each game.

    At the end of the season, his second-half stats proved that he was rightly the go-to guy when crunch time came around. He earned 14 first downs in third quarters and 14 first downs in fourth quarters.

    He made first downs on 13 of his 17 third-down touches, and he was 2-for-2 on fourth down. If you needed someone to get past the marker, Chance was your best chance.

    He will be the same man when he comes back in 2013, too.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    James White is Wisconsin's next leading running back. He has been behind Montee Ball for the past couple of seasons, and it's his turn to shine.

    Based on what his 2012 numbers tell us, he's going to be just fine taking over for Ball. White rushed for 806 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and he caught eight passes for 132 yards and another score.

    White also completed one of his two passes for a three-yard aerial touchdown, proving that he was one of the most versatile players on the roster.

    White has some big shoes to fill, but he averaged more yards per carry last season than his predecessor did. If he's been using his extra energy in the weight room with his conditioning coach, White should put up even better numbers than Ball did.

Wyoming Cowboys

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    Brett Smith led the Wyoming Cowboys to a four-win season that was two touchdowns and two field goals away from being an eight-win season with a trip to a bowl.

    Smith needed more people to step up when games were close, but he did his part. Even with the nation's 99th-ranked scoring defense, Smith managed those four wins.

    He went 205-of-330 for 2,832 yards, 27 touchdowns and six interceptions last season as a sophomore. He also rushed 114 times for 248 yards and six more scores.

    Smith had very few issues last season, and this spring and summer will allow him to put that next coat of polish on his game. He'll come back as a great performer through all 60 minutes in 2013 and solidify his spot on the list.