San Jose State's David Fales is one of the top quarterbacks in college football
In today's current college football climate, there's a great disparity between the amount of attention BCS teams receive and the amount of attention that teams from the smaller mid-major conferences receive.
Basically, it doesn't matter how great a player may be; if he doesn't play for a big BCS program, it's doubtful he'll receive much national attention or publicity.
Still, that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of terrific players outside of the spotlight of the BCS who deserve just as much praise and recognition as their peers who play for bigger schools.
This fall, the four mid-major conferences—the Sun Belt, the Mountain West, the MAC and Conference USA—will feature plenty of exciting stars who will be worth watching.
Here's a look at the 20 best players from non-BCS conferences for the 2013 season.
David Fales started off the 2012 season as a relatively unknown first-year starter. By the time the season was over, though, he had become one of the most productive passers and one of the most successful quarterbacks in the country.
Fales led the nation with a 72 percent completion percentage, and threw for over 4,300 yards and 33 touchdowns, as he guided the Spartans to a surprising 11-win season and a victory in the Military Bowl.
The 6'3'', 220-pound senior signal-caller is undoubtedly one of the best pure passers in college football.
If he can build on his breakout 2012 campaign and replicate that type of success again in his final season, Fales should be a high pick in the 2014 NFL draft. He could even end up being the top overall quarterback in the class.
Going into the 2012 season, Adam Muema had some mighty big shoes to fill, replacing Ronnie Hillman, who led the Mountain West with 1,711 rushing yards and 19 rushing touchdowns in 2011.
Muema proved, however, to be a worthy successor to his highly productive predecessor.
In his first season as San Diego State's featured back, Muema ran for 1,458 yards and totaled 17 touchdowns and he helped the Aztecs rank 20th nationally in rushing offense.
The 5'10'', 205-pound junior is a similar type of back as former Aztec star Marshall Faulk.
Like Faulk, Muema has the speed, strength and natural playmaking ability to create big explosive plays anytime he touches the ball. He proved that in 2012, totaling 38 runs of 10 yards or more.
Fresno State had one of the biggest turnarounds in college football this past season, going from a nine-loss team in 2011 to a nine-win team in 2012.
The team's success was largely based on how well QB Derek Carr performed in new offensive coordinator Dave Schramm's system.
Carr completed 67 percent of his passes for over 4,100 yards and threw 37 touchdowns compared to just seven interceptions.
The younger brother of former No. 1 overall draft pick David Carr clearly has the talent that NFL scouts are looking for. With his best receiver, Davante Adams, returning, the 6'3'', 205-pound senior will have the opportunity to show scouts that he's got what it takes to be a top-flight pro prospect.
At 5'11'', 245 pounds, Roosevelt Nix obviously doesn't have the size that you look for in a typical defensive tackle. Nevertheless, that certainly hasn't prevented him from making a huge impact during his collegiate career.
Over the last three years, Nix has been one of the most consistently dominant and disruptive defenders in the nation.
After becoming the first freshman to ever be named MAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, Nix has managed to continue to improve and get better each and every year.
He put together another stellar season in 2012, totaling 56 tackles, including 34 solo stops and 13 tackles for loss, six sacks and three forced fumbles.
Kent State has had one of the top run defenses in the MAC since Nix's arrival. There's no reason that trend shouldn't continue in 2013.
Jordan Lynch may have had a rough outing in Northern Illinois' lopsided 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl, but that shouldn't diminish all the terrific things he was able to accomplish in the regular season.
Lynch was one of college football's most dynamic and dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks in 2012. He threw for over 3,100 yards, ran for over 1,800 yards and totaled 44 touchdowns, leading the Huskies to 12 wins and a MAC championship.
The 6'0'', 216-pound senior may not be the biggest or the fastest quarterback in the country, but he's a tremendous offensive leader who is capable of shredding opposing defenses with either his arm or his legs.
If Lynch can shake off his poor performance in the Orange Bowl and keep his focus on the upcoming season, the Huskies should once again be one of the top contenders to win the MAC championship.
Last season, Louisiana Tech was best known for its high-powered passing attack, which ranked third in the country. But the Bulldogs offense also featured one of college football's biggest breakout star running backs, Kenneth Dixon.
As just a true freshman, Dixon burst onto the scene with a statement performance in 2012. He rushed for over 1,100 yards on just 200 carries and led the nation with 28 total touchdowns scored.
Now that the most important pieces of that powerful passing attack—QB Colby Cameron and WR Quinton Patton, as well as the architect, head coach Sonny Dykes—are all gone, the Bulldogs will likely rely on Dixon even more in 2013.
The 6'0'', 215-pound sophomore should be able to put the offense on his back and carry the unit to success.
In recent years, there have been plenty of great defensive linemen who have emerged from the JUCO ranks, such as Jesse Williams, Tank Carradine, Bruce Irvin and Nick Fairley. Now, the latest JUCO product who's starting to cause quite a buzz is Boise State's Demarcus Lawrence.
After arriving from Butler County College last offseason, it didn't take long for Lawrence to make an impact. In his first season at the FBS level, the highly athletic 6'3'', 244-pound junior totaled 8.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and he even scored a touchdown on a fumble return.
If Lawrence can keep his head on straight and stay out of coach Chris Petersen's dog house, he has a chance to be one of the best edge-rushers in college football in 2013.
Buffalo isn't a program that's produced many notable NFL players. In fact, the Bulls have had just six players drafted in the last 15 years.
Now, though, the team will feature an intriguing prospect, LB Khalil Mack, that plenty of pro scouts will be interested in.
Mack is coming off a terrific junior campaign, in which he totaled 94 tackles—including 52 solo stops and 20 tackles for loss—eight sacks and four forced fumbles.
The 6'3'', 245-pound senior is a powerful and explosive edge-rusher who can overwhelm blockers with his combination of size, strength and speed.
Though the Bulls only managed to win four games last season, they actually had a solid defense, which ranked second in the MAC in total defense. With Mack back to lead the way, the unit should once again be one of the best defenses in the conference in 2013.
Few players in college football had as many huge home-run plays as Kent State's versatile and dynamic threat Dri Archer did in 2012.
Archer ranked second in the nation with 25 plays of 30 yards or more, and he also ranked second with 17 plays of 40 yards or more.
Overall, he managed to total 2,577 all-purpose yards, and he accounted for 24 total touchdowns (16 rushing, four receiving, three on returns and one passing).
The 5'8'', 175-pound senior can do some serious damage to a defense any time he gets the ball in his hands, whether it's as a rusher, a receiver or a returner. Archer's a true triple threat.
The reason that Fresno State QB Derek Carr was able to have so much success in 2012 is because he had a dangerous No. 1 receiving threat in Davante Adams.
In his debut campaign, Adams rose to stardom and became the most productive freshman receiver of 2012. He ranked eighth nationally with 102 catches for 1,312 yards and tied for third in the country with 14 touchdown receptions.
The 6'2'', 200-pound sophomore is an explosive athlete who has the type of size-speed combination that will scare any opposing secondary.
With Carr returning, Adams should once again be one of the most productive receivers in college football in 2013.
When Jonathan Dowling arrived at the University of Florida back in 2010 as a highly touted 4-star recruit out of Southeast High School, it seemed as if he was destined to develop into the Gators' next star defensive back.
Unfortunately, things didn't work out in Gainesville and Dowling ultimately ended up at Western Kentucky.
So far, he's made the most of his second chance.
In his first season as a Hilltopper, Dowling led the Sun Belt with six interceptions, racked up 68 tackles and broke up seven passes.
In terms of physical ability, the 6'3'', 198-pound junior is clearly a cut above every other defensive back outside of the BCS conferences.
Don't be surprised if Dowling turns out to be this year's version of former FIU standout Jonathan Cyprien.
Utah State may have lost head coach Gary Andersen, who did a fantastic job of resurrecting the program during his tenure. However, all hope is certainly not lost in Logan.
That's because the Aggies are bringing back one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the country, Chuckie Keeton.
All Keeton did in 2012 was lead the team to the most successful season in school history while putting up some truly impressive stats.
The athletic dual-threat QB completed 67 percent of his passes for over 3,300 yards and 27 touchdowns. He also added 619 yards and eight scores with his legs, leading the Aggies to an 11-win season and a WAC championship.
It will be fun to see how the budding young star signal-caller handles the step up in competition when Utah State makes the move to the Mountain West this fall.
In recent years, we've seen plenty of cornerbacks from outside of the BCS conferences, such as D.J. Hayden, Kyle Wilson and Leodis McKelvin, make a big rise up draft boards during their senior seasons.
There's a good chance that San Jose State's Bené Benwikere will follow in their footsteps and do the same thing this fall.
Benwikere put together an outstanding junior campaign in 2012. Not only did he finish the season ranked second in the nation with seven interceptions, he also totaled 67 tackles (including 44 solo stops and 7.5 tackles for loss), blocked a punt and scored two touchdowns.
The 6'0'', 192-pound senior is a natural playmaker who has the size, speed, coverage ability and ball skills to develop into a star shutdown corner in 2013.
Though there are plenty of BCS programs in the Carolinas, none of them showed any type of interest in Justin Hardy back when he was an unheralded and basically unknown recruit at West Craven High School in Vanceboro, North Carolina.
Hardy didn't let the lack of scholarship offers deter him, though. He eventually ended up walking on at East Carolina.
Now, he's making all those local schools who passed on him wish they hadn't.
After an impressive debut performance in 2011, Hardy really came into his own this past season. He ranked second in Conference USA with 88 catches for 1,105 yards and ranked first in the league with 11 touchdown receptions.
The 6'0'', 186-pound junior may not possess blazing speed. Nevertheless, he still knows how to create big plays in the passing game, which he demonstrated in 2012 when he totaled 37 catches of 10 yards or more.
Last year, Western Kentucky had the top-ranked run defense in the Sun Belt, giving up an average of just 136 yards on the ground per game.
The main reason the Hilltoppers were so stout against the run is because they had LB Andrew Jackson roaming around the field and hunting down ball-carriers.
Jackson displayed impressive instincts, strength, toughness and recognition skills, as he totaled 122 tackles, including 80 solo stops and 17.5 tackles for loss.
The 6'1'', 265-pound senior is clearly one of the best run-stuffing inside linebackers in the country.
It will be interesting to see how Nevada handles the loss of longtime head coach Chris Ault, who was one of the most innovative minds in college football.
Luckily for the Wolf Pack, they have a great leader in QB Cody Fajardo, who should be able to step up and keep the team together.
Not only does Fajardo possess all the intangibles you look for in a top-flight signal-caller, he's also one of the best playmakers at the position in the country.
Last season, the 6'2'', 205-pound dual-threat signal-caller totaled over 2,700 yards through the air, another 1,100 yards on the ground and accounted for 32 total touchdowns.
Though he'll miss the presence of highly productive running back Stefphon Jefferson, the former WAC Freshman Player of the Year should still be able to put together another terrific season in 2013.
Antonio Andrews didn't receive much national publicity in 2012, but he was quietly one of the most productive players in all of college football.
Andrews ranked eighth in the nation with 1,733 rushing yards, caught 37 passes for 432 yards and scored 15 total touchdowns.
The 6'0'', 211-pound senior is a determined and fearless runner who can either run around would-be-tacklers or run right through them.
The versatile playmaker is a complete back who possesses the total package as far as physical skills are concerned. Andrews proved in 2012 that he could handle a heavy workload, and he truly deserves the label of "workhorse."
All-American safety Phillip Thomas was the Fresno State defensive back who everyone wanted to talk about last season. However, fellow safety Derron Smith also put together an eye-opening breakout campaign in 2012.
Smith racked up 79 total tackles, including 61 solo stops, picked off six passes and he played a critical role in helping the Bulldogs rank second in the nation in pass defense.
Now that Thomas is a member of the Washington Redskins, Smith will take over as the new leader of Fresno State's secondary in 2013. It's a role that the 5'11'', 214-pound junior should thrive in.
Tulane's offense was statistically one of the worst units in college football last season.
The Green Wave ranked 99th in the nation in scoring offense and 112th in total offense, averaging just 21 points and 319 yards per game.
It's not going to be easy to turn things around after losing four-year starting QB Ryan Griffin. But there's still reason for optimism in New Orleans, and much of it centers around WR Ryan Grant.
Grant put together a big breakout campaign in 2012, catching 76 passes for 1,149 yards and six touchdowns.
If the talented 6'1'', 190-pound senior can get consistent play from his new quarterback, there's no telling what type of numbers he could put up in 2013.
If you judged Justin Ellis just strictly by his 2012 stats, you probably wouldn't be all that impressed, as Ellis totaled just 21 tackles. However, you have to take into account that a lingering ankle injury was a big reason for his lack of production.
Now that "Jelly Bean" is back to full health, he should emerge as one of the most dominant interior defenders in the country in 2013.
The 6'2'', 330-pound senior possesses remarkable agility and quickness for a player his size, and he also has the strength and power to control blockers and clog up running lanes.
Ellis is already on the NFL's radar. If he can put together a strong showing as a senior, he should solidify his status as one of the top defensive tackle prospects for the 2014 draft.
1. David Fales, San Jose State
2. Derek Carr, Fresno State
3. Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois
4. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
5. Cody Fajardo, Nevada
6. Brett Smith, Wyoming
7. Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
8. Terrance Broadway, Louisiana-Lafayette
9. Kolton Browning, Louisiana-Monroe
10. Rakeem Cato, Marshall
Honorable Mention: Terrance Owens, Toledo
1. Adam Muema, San Diego State
2. Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
3. Dri Archer, Kent State
4. Antonio Andrews, Western Kentucky
5. Trey Watts, Tulsa
6. Beau Blankenship, Ohio
7. Kasey Carrier, New Mexico
8. David Fluellen, Toledo
9. Zurlon Tipton, Central Michigan
10. David Oku, Arkansas State
HM: Jahwan Edwards, Ball State
1. Davante Adams, Fresno State
2. Justin Hardy, East Carolina
3. Ryan Grant, Tulane
4. Willie Snead, Ball State
5. Noel Grigsby, San Jose State
6. Nick Harwell, Miami (Ohio)
7. Matt Miller, Boise State
8. Tommy Shuler, Marshall
9. Alex Neutz, Buffalo
10. Jaime Wilson, Western Michigan
HM: J.D. McKissic, Arkansas State
1. Justin Jones, East Carolina
2. Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State
3. Zane Fakes, Ball State
4. Gator Hoskins, Marshall
5. Holden Huff, Boise State
6. Nexon Dorvilus, Florida Atlantic
7. Kivon Cartwright, Colorado State
8. Alex Bayer, Bowling Green
9. Rob Blanchflower, UMass
10. Kennard Backman, UAB
HM: Greg Hollinger, South Alabama
1. Weston Richburg, Colorado State
2. Austin Wentworth, Fresno State
3. Dominic Flewellyn, Bowling Green
4. Tyler Larsen, Utah State
5. Bryce Quigley, San Diego State
6. Charles Leno, Boise State
7. Zac Kerin, Toledo
8. Andre Huval, Louisiana-Lafayette
9. Tyler Loos, Northern Illinois
10. Joel Bitonio, Nevada
HM: Cyril Lemon, North Texas
1. Roosevelt Nix, Kent State
2. Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
3. Justin Ellis, Louisiana Tech
4. Tyeler Davison, Fresno State
5. Travis Raciti, San Jose State
6. Khyri Thornton, Southern Miss
7. Brock Hekking, Nevada
8. Jonathan Newsome, Ball State
9. Andy Jennings, Fresno State
10. Colby Way, Buffalo
HM: Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State
1. Khalil Mack, Buffalo
2. Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky
3. Keith Smith, San Jose State
4. Jake Doughty, Utah State
5. Shaquil Barrett, Colorado State
6. Jake Fely, San Diego State
7. Jeremy Grove, East Carolina
8. Cameron Nwosu, Rice
9. Chris Wade, Miami (Ohio)
10. Shawn Jackson, Tulsa
HM: Art Laurel, Hawaii
1. Jonathan Dowling, Western Kentucky
2. Bene Benwikere, San Jose State
3. Derron Smith, Fresno State
4. Dayonne Nunley, Miami (Ohio)
5. L.J. Jones, Fresno State
6. Levander Liggins, Louisiana Tech
7. Phillip Gaines, Rice
8. Nat Berhe, San Diego State
9. Jeremy Ioane, Boise State
10. Adonis Armstrong, East Carolina
HM: Marco Nelson, Tulsa
1. Austin Lopez, San Jose State
2. Cairo Santos, Tulane
3. Will Scott, Troy
4. Ty Long, UAB
5. Chris Boswell, Rice
6. Jeremiah Detmer, Toledo
7. Tyler Williams, Marshall
8. Nolan Kohorst, UNLV
9. Brian Schmiedebusch, Bowling Green
10. Tim Gleeson, Wyoming
HM: Vince Penza, Toledo