Power Ranking the 50 Best College Football Players West of the Mississippi
For those of you who are already curious just from the headline, there are only three teams from the SEC on the west side of the Mississippi River. Two of them (Texas A&M and Missouri) were new additions in 2012, and the third is Arkansas.
There are thousands of college football players on either side of the river, but there are completely different styles of play as well. From Oregon's fast-paced offense to Stanford's own version of "defense wins championships," there are likely some players on this list whom you haven't heard about in a few months.
Here are the 50 best college football players west of the Mississippi River.
*All standings not linked were taken from this ESPN.com page.
Honorable Mention: Austin Lopez (K, San Jose State Spartans)
Austin Lopez didn't get a ton of opportunities to make his case for best kicker in the nation, but he made the most of the ones he got.
He went 17-of-17 on field goals in 2012, and he hit three from over 40 yards out. Unfortunately, circumstances would hold his season-long hit to 45 yards.
Had he demonstrated the ability to hit from over 50, he would have easily made the list. However, with 14 of 17 field goals coming from within 40, it's too close to call.
50. Chuckie Keeton (QB, Utah State Aggies)
Chuckie Keeton went 275-of-407 for 3,373 yards, 27 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He led the Aggies to an 11-2 record with a bowl victory over the Toledo Rockets.
He'll have his hands full in the Mountain West Conference in 2013, but he should easily be good enough to contend for the title. Fresno State, Boise State and San Diego State will all be fighting to maintain conference supremacy, and Nevada will have a year of conference experience under its belt as well.
Keeton may or may not be the best quarterback in the Mountain West this coming year, but he's definitely one of the 50 best players west of the Mississippi.
49. Derek Carr (QB, Fresno State Bulldogs)
Derek Carr is a very good quarterback. He led Fresno State to a share of the Mountain West Conference championship along with Boise State and San Diego State.
Carr is highly underrated, but that's largely due to his playing in the MWC. He completed over 67 percent of his passes last season, throwing 37 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.
Those are great stats, but he will still reap the consequences of playing in a non-BCS AQ conference, just like Chuckie Keeton.
48. Johnathan Gray (RB, Texas Longhorns)
If Gray builds on that rookie performance, then Texas may have a future Doak Walker Award winner on its hands. If he does really well, he could move himself up this list throughout the 2013 season.
47. Adam Muema (RB, San Diego State Aztecs)
Adam Muema is one of the most underrated running backs in the country. He plays for San Diego State, and the Aztecs finished in a three-way tie at the top of the MWC.
He rushed for 1,458 yards and 16 touchdowns via 237 carries last season. He was a major part of the San Diego State success story, and he will try to be that again in 2013.
He will be just fine, and his name will get just a little bit bigger with another great year. He may even make it up some draft boards before the dust settles.
46. Morgan Breslin (DE, USC Trojans)
Morgan Breslin is a JUCO-transfer defensive end for the USC Trojans. Despite the Trojans' underwhelming performance as a team last season, Breslin was anything but disappointing.
He totaled 62 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in 2012 alone. If Breslin can improve in 2013, he will make the All-Pac-12 First Team this time around. (He made the second-string last season.)
45. Austin Seferian-Jenkins (TE, Washington Huskies)
Austin Seferian-Jenkins really needs to do just one thing to ensure his success for Washington: Stay out of trouble.
Working under the assumption that he will successfully complete his return to the team before 2013 kicks off, here are his positives.
Seferian-Jenkins hauled in 69 passes for 852 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Sure, that's a far cry from Bishop Sankey's 16 scores, but Jenkins was still the team's second-leading scorer.
Jenkins has an incredibly high ceiling, but he's going to have to work hard to prove that he belongs higher than the bottom of the top 50.
He will help Washington succeed if he maintains his focus, but Washington is also going to have to find ways to work him into the offense more. Not targeting him is simply wasting the talent he does have.
44. Storm Woods (RB, Oregon State Beavers)
Storm Woods rushed 192 times for 940 yards and 13 touchdowns. He made it ahead of Bishop Sankey on this list because he's a year behind the Washington stud.
Woods earned a 4.9 yards-per-carry average as a freshman for the Oregon State Beavers, and he'd love to at least match that performance in 2013.
With another year of conditioning and experience under his belt, expect to see him in an even bigger role this fall.
43. Jordan Hicks (LB, Texas Longhorns)
Jordan Hicks is among the best linebackers in the country if he can stay healthy. Last season, he played three games before going down for the rest of the season with an injured hip.
During his most recent full season, 2011, he amassed 55 tackles, four tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and four pass breakups. He was a sophomore at the time.
If he can stay healthy in 2013, all those stats are going to look like child's play.
42. Quandre Diggs (CB, Texas Longhorns)
Quandre Diggs was a sophomore cornerback in 2012, and he was one of the best defenders on the Longhorns squad. He tallied 53 tackles (38 solo), three tackles for loss, a sack, four interceptions and six pass breakups.
Diggs could be one of the best corners in the country, but if Texas continues to show inconsistency on defense, teams will simply avoid Diggs' side of the field entirely.
Diggs hopes that isn't the case.
41. Ty Zimmerman (S, Kansas State Wildcats)
Ty Zimmerman was elected First-Team All-Big 12 last season, and there's no reason to believe that he'll have a bust season in 2013.
Zimmerman recorded 50 tackles (39 solo), three tackles for loss, five interceptions and one fumble return during Kansas State's run to the Fiesta Bowl in 2012.
Zimmerman is a potential All-American, but it will depend on how the season plays out for K-State. It's difficult to get your name in lights if the lights aren't trained on your team every once in a while.
40. Richie Leone (P, Houston Cougars)
Houston's punter, Richie Leone, is statistically the second-best punter in the country returning in 2013. Only Kyle Christy of Florida performed better than he did, and that was only by a 0.3 yards-per-punt margin.
Leone is a stellar punter who booted 60 balls for a total of 2,730 yards. He is a huge field-flipper for the Houston Cougars. If Houston needs field position, it has one of the best deliverers on its roster.
39. Josh Stewart (WR, Oklahoma State Cowboys)
Josh Stewart caught 101 passes for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He's an excellent go-to receiver who is a first-down threat any time he is targeted.
Whoever comes out as Oklahoma State's top quarterback needs to recognize the talent he has running routes for him.
Stewart could be the key to winning a down Big 12 next season. If all the chips fall correctly, a perfect season isn't completely out of the question.
38. Cornelius Lucas (OT, Kansas State Wildcats)
Cornelius Lucas anchored an offensive line that paved the way for two 900-plus-yard rushers, including Heisman hopeful Collin Klein in 2012.
The Kansas State Wildcats rolled opposing defenses over for 2,522 yards en route to the Fiesta Bowl that didn't quite turn out as expected.
Regardless of how two of the games finished last season, the Wildcats still have Bill Snyder at the helm. Snyder has worked magic at Kansas State during his tenure, and losing a great quarterback isn't going to stop him from winning a lot.
He might slow down a bit in 2013, but his new quarterback should do just fine behind guys like Lucas. The Wildcats can still contend for another conference title.
37. David Fales (QB, San Jose State Spartans)
David Fales commanded San Jose State all the way to a Military Bowl win over the Bowling Green Falcons. The Spartans finished the season with an 11-2 record with losses to only Stanford and Utah State.
The Stanford loss was by just three points. A win in that game could have changed the face of the Spartans' season, and you can bet that they will be out for revenge in the MWC this coming season.
Fales simply needs to repeat his 327-of-451 performance from 2012. He racked up 4,193 yards, 33 touchdowns and nine interceptions with that completion rate, and he can win his new conference with numbers like that.
36. Eric Ward (WR, Texas Tech Red Raiders)
Eric Ward logged 82 receptions, 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, and he was one of Seth Doege's favorite targets throughout the year.
While Texas Tech will be replacing Doege under center, it's guys like Ward who will make the transition as smooth as possible. Ward is an excellent receiver, and he's simply waiting for the stars to align so that more people can know that.
Ward will be a bright spot on the Texas Tech offense next season, and he may be one of the brightest stars in the entire Big 12.
35. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (CB, Oregon Ducks)
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was a sophomore last season, and he put up some great numbers during the run to the Fiesta Bowl. He racked up 63 tackles (44 solo), 16 pass breakups, six forced fumbles and four interceptions (one for a touchdown).
He's as underrated as Oregon's scoring defense, which finished the season ranked No. 25 in the nation. Oregon's defense may not get the respect it deserves due to the offense that gets all the headlines, but that doesn't mean that there aren't serious All-American contenders on the depth chart.
Ekpre-Olomu is one of those names that will be much more familiar to college football fans at the end of 2013.
34. Su'a Cravens (S, USC Trojans)
USC disappointed a lot of fans with its performance last season, and a little bit of defense would have gone a long way to fixing its final win-loss ratio.
Even in a season as heartbreaking as 2012, every one of the six losses came by 14 or fewer points. USC doesn't need a lockdown defense to take the Pac-12.
It simply needs to develop talent like Cravens. If Cravens performs to his talent level, then he could be All-Pac-12 as a true freshman.
33. Jason Verrett (CB, TCU Horned Frogs)
Jason Verrett is a stellar athlete on a squad that is poised to take its new conference by storm in 2013. TCU held its own in the Big 12 in its first season, and the Frogs finished with a 4-5 record in conference play.
Verrett totaled 63 tackles (46 solo), five tackles for loss, 16 pass breakups and six interceptions last season. If he can repeat that performance, it can usher in a brand-new Big 12 champion in 2013.
TCU ranked 30th in scoring defense for the 2012 run, and Verrett was no small part of that accomplishment. Look for his name again in 2013; it will come up frequently.
32. Cody Hoffman (WR, BYU Cougars)
Cody Hoffman was BYU's most potent offensive weapon in 2012. He caught 100 passes for 1,248 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The closest player on the team to his production was 775-yard running back Jamaal Williams. Hoffman managed to make a name for himself while playing on the same team as linebacker Kyle Van Noy, and that's an accomplishment in and of itself.
Hoffman crossed the 100-yard mark in eight of BYU's 13 games last season, and he scored a season-high five touchdowns in the final regular-season matchup against New Mexico State.
Hoffman may have been outplayed by Van Noy in the Poinsettia Bowl, but his accomplishments on offense are not to be overlooked.
31. Ed Reynolds (S, Stanford Cardinal)
Ed Reynolds stood in Stanford's defensive backfield and simply didn't let anything happen for the enemy. He threw down 47 tackles (28 solo), five pass breakups and six interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) on the season.
Reynolds is a force in the Cardinal secondary, and he will certainly enter the 2013 season as a favorite for the All-Pac-12 First Team.
30. Scott Crichton (DE, Oregon State Beavers)
Scott Crichton is one of the country's best defensive linemen, and he's a big reason that the Oregon State Beavers finished 2012 with a 9-4 record. The Beavers started the season 6-0 with huge wins over Wisconsin and UCLA before falling victim to the interception bug against the Washington Huskies.
As a sophomore, Crichton rang up 44 tackles (23 solo), 17.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks, one pass breakup, one forced fumble and one blocked kick this past season.
If the Beavers can count on him to cash that same stat paycheck in 2013, then they will be contenders for the Pac-12 again. Although a long shot for a conference title, Oregon State will still comfortably land in the postseason next winter.
29. Xavier Su'a-Filo (OL, UCLA Bruins)
Xavier Su'a-Filo is another Pac-12 standout from the trenches. He blocked for Johnathan Franklin and his 1,700-plus-yard performance. The Bruins, as a unit, rushed for 2,671 yards and 29 touchdowns behind Su'a-Filo's offensive line.
UCLA earned an unexpected trip to the Pac-12 title game behind this offensive line this past season, and there will be more experienced players at a lot of the most important positions this go-round. Franklin's absence will be noticeable, of course, but this line can certainly make a name for another tailback, even if he doesn't end up being as good as Franklin was.
28. David Yankey (OL, Stanford Cardinal)
David Yankey is a preseason candidate for the upcoming Outland Trophy, and he earned All-American status last year as an offensive tackle. He led the line that blocked for Stepfan Taylor, who rushed for 1,530 yards and 13 touchdowns on his way to the NFL.
Yankey will be on preseason watch lists for any award that an offensive lineman is eligible for, and Stanford will be counting on him to anchor yet another run to a BCS bowl.
27. Hroniss Grasu (OL, Oregon Ducks)
Hroniss Grasu is part of an offense that heavily relies on its offensive line, so his ability to anchor a line that important speaks to his level of talent.
Oregon has a reputation for its high-flying, point-a-minute offense, but that is a slight misconception. Oregon's offense accounted for 4,098 yards on the ground last season and 2,888 yards through the air, so it's not as high-flying as it is fast-moving.
The Ducks have wings, but they have chosen to strap them to their feet, not their backs. Oregon's line directs each and every play within the zone-read offense, and it has taken Oregon to a top-four finish in each of the last three seasons.
There is every reason to expect Grasu to lead his team back to BCS and Pac-12 contention in 2013. He'll get the recognition he deserves if the Ducks can produce yet another superstar running back.
26. Spencer Long (OG, Nebraska Cornhuskers)
Spencer Long started college life as a walk-on defensive lineman for Nebraska's scout team. Times have drastically changed for the 'Huskers. Long is now an All-American scholarship player with one year of eligibility left before he likely turns pro in some capacity.
Long was a Second-Team All-American last season, and he paved the road to a 3,547-yard performance by his team's rushers. He also helped the country figure out that Taylor Martinez has the potential to become a premier dual-threat quarterback.
Long's line has protected Nebraska's backfield with a vengeance, and if the rest of the line can get to Long's level, Nebraska could be the team that takes the SEC off its current pedestal.
25. Cody Fajardo (QB, Nevada Wolf Pack)
Cody Fajardo is a stellar quarterback who could have thrived in any one of many conferences across the country. He completed 246 of his 367 passes for 2,786 yards, 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions last season.
It was Nevada's first year in the Mountain West after years in the now-defunct Western Athletic Conference, and the Wolf Pack made a fine adjustment to life amongst the bigger boys.
Boise State, San Diego State and Fresno State all tied for the crown, but Nevada was not far behind them. Air Force finished higher in the standings, but Nevada came out of the postseason with the fourth-best overall record in the conference.
Things will be a little more difficult with San Jose State and Utah State entering the mix in 2013, but Fajardo's skill can carry them back to at least a fourth-place finish even with the strength of the new additions.
24. Jackson Jeffcoat (DE, Texas Longhorns)
In 2011, he amassed 63 tackles (34 solo), 17 tackles for loss, eight sacks, three pass breakups and seven quarterback hurries. He was a pass-rushing monster from the defensive end slot, and Texas could have put him to good use during the final stretch of 2012.
Even having been knocked out in early October, Jeffcoat had already logged 28 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, one pass breakup, five quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles in 2012.
Jeffcoat has the talent and the experience to earn a spot on any one of the All-America teams. If he can simply stay healthy for an entire season, the rest should just fall into place.
23. Anthony Barr (LB, UCLA Bruins)
Offense wasn't the only reason that UCLA made it to the conference championship game in 2012. UCLA had a lot of help from the defense.
Anthony Barr was one of the best linebackers in the nation, and he ranked No. 2 in sacks on the season with 13.5.
Barr had 82 tackles (60 solo), 21 tackles for loss, five pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, four forced fumbles and one blocked kick to go along with his 13.5 sacks as well.
Barr was ridiculously good in open space, as his 60-to-22 solo-to-tandem tackle ratio loudly asserts. If UCLA can get a few more defenders like him into the program, then it will proudly join the elite of the Pac-12.
Guys like Barr don't come along too often, but UCLA needs to find a way to land them when they do.
22. Chris Coyle (TE/HB, Arizona State Sun Devils)
Chris Coyle is an underrated tight end-halfback hybrid for the Arizona State Sun Devils. His stats weren't incredible in 2012, but he was the team's leading receiver by 20 receptions, with 57.
He took those 57 catches for 696 yards and five touchdowns. He was the single most productive member of the Arizona State offense outside of quarterback Taylor Kelly.
Kelly was adept at spreading the ball around fairly evenly, but that isn't always the right thing to do. If given the opportunity, Coyle can contend with Oregon's Colt Lyerla for recognition and awards.
Also, if Arizona State can put more trust into Coyle, the Sun Devils may just find themselves in the mix for the conference title. After all, they were already close last season.
21. Kenny Bell (WR, Nebraska Cornhuskers)
Kenny Bell is a wide receiver for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, not to be confused with the other Kenny Bell (WR, Alabama Crimson Tide).
Bell was Nebraska's most productive receiver. He reeled in 50 passes for 863 yards and eight touchdowns. The next-best receiver had 42 catches, but he (Quincy Enunwa) gained only 470 yards with them.
Bell is a great wide receiver, and he did not tend to disappear when Nebraska needed him most. In the losses to UCLA and Ohio State last season, Bell averaged 18 and 26.6 yards per catch, respectively. He also had 15 yards per catch against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl loss.
No matter how much Nebraska uses Bell, it will never be enough. While there are other difference-makers on the field with Bell, none are quite as explosive as he is. Well, at least not yet.
Nebraska could surprise a lot of people in 2013 if it does as well as its roster suggests it can.
20. Ameer Abdullah (RB, Nebraska Cornhuskers)
Speaking of Nebraska's other potential game-changers, running back Ameer Abdullah will definitely not be playing second chair to Rex Burkhead in 2013.
Abdullah wasn't outperformed by Burkhead in 2012, but Burkhead's name will no longer come up in pertinent conversation at Nebraska anymore.
Abdullah carried the rushing load for the 'Huskers last season to the tune of 226 carries, 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns. (He wasn't the only 1,000-yard rusher on the team, but we will get to the other one in a minute.)
Abdullah should have been more prominently featured in the media last season, but Nebraska just kept on getting shafted out of the conversation. People should not be finding out in May that Nebraska's rushing attack was No. 8 in the country last season.
Unfortunately for the 'Huskers, the upset loss to UCLA and the blowout given by Ohio State really took the wind out of their sails.
In 2013, expect big things from Nebraska. With the bitter taste of the Ohio State, UCLA and Wisconsin (Round II) games in its mouth, Nebraska may just look like an entirely different beast this fall.
Abdullah will be the battering ram of the new outfit, and he may work his way into the Heisman conversation if things run smoothly.
19. Ben Malena (RB, Texas A&M Aggies)
Ben Malena is another player who was constantly overshadowed throughout the 2012 season. Granted, the guy that overpowered him also won the Heisman, but Malena still didn't get as much recognition as he should have for gouging SEC defenses for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.
Malena averaged more than five yards per carry against Florida, Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State, and that was just conference opponents. He did the same thing to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl as well.
Malena is in a run-heavy conference, so he may not end up on an All-Conference team. However, he is still one of the best on the west side of the Mississippi.
18. Bishop Sankey (RB, Washington Huskies)
Bishop Sankey was the shining example of consistency and success for the Washington Huskies' offense last year.
He had 289 attempts for 1,439 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground in 2012. He proved that he's an every-down back and capable of five yards per carry. He was also the team's leading scorer by a nine-touchdown margin.
In fact, he was three scores away from tying the quarterback's number of passing touchdowns. He is Washington's offense.
17. Lache Seastrunk (RB, Baylor Bears)
Lache Seastrunk gouged the Big 12 for 7.7 yards per carry in 2012. He touched the ball 131 times for 1,012 yards and seven touchdowns.
He wasn't as effective a scorer as Glasco Martin (15 touchdowns off 179 carries), but he was certainly the more lethal tailback of the two.
While Martin was a scoring threat, Baylor could go to Seastrunk whenever it needed a first down, and Seastrunk was apt to deliver. Seastrunk was a sophomore last season, and he's still got a couple of years left in college...if Baylor is lucky.
The Bears have had success recently, and there have been many people involved. The 2013 season will be Seastrunk's year. He could have a record-breaking season for the Bears, and Baylor could theoretically take the Big 12 in the process.
16. De'Anthony Thomas (RB/PR/KR, Oregon Ducks)
De'Anthony Thomas is a wild card for Oregon, and he proved it well against Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl by returning the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown.
Assuming he moves from No. 2 to No. 1 on the depth chart at running back, Thomas is about to campaign heavily for a slot in the 2014 NFL draft.
In 2012, Thomas carried the ball 92 times for 701 yards and 11 touchdowns. He caught 45 passes for 445 yards and another five scores. As a returner, he took back 13 punts for 222 yards and a touchdown and 16 kickoffs for 389 yards and yet another touchdown.
He had at least one score as a rusher, receiver, punt returner and kickoff returner. The only way he didn't score for Oregon was on defense.
Thomas is a special guy to watch. Even if you aren't an Oregon fan, you should take some time to catch a game or two. Odds are good that you'll see him score, even if you only flip to the game for five minutes.
15. Cyril Richardson (OT, Baylor Bears)
Lache Seastrunk's performance was already covered, and Cyril Richardson was a big part of everything Seastrunk was able to accomplish.
Richardson has protected quarterbacks dating back to 2010. He was the starting left tackle throughout Robert Griffin III's entire 2011 Heisman campaign, and he helped Nick Florence tie Griffin's nine-win mark this past season.
Nobody knows what the ceiling is for Baylor, but Richardson will be a preseason All-Big 12 selection and possibly a First-Team All-American when the season comes to a close.
He was already First Team All-Big 12 at the end of 2012, and Baylor is simply thankful that he's going to be around another year.
14. Gabe Ikard (OL, Oklahoma Sooners)
Gabe Ikard is an offensive lineman for the Oklahoma Sooners. Naturally, he's the returning starting center, but he could be moved around the line if injuries call for it.
He was a First-Team Freshman All-American back in 2010, and he followed that up with back-to-back selections to First Team All-Big 12 in 2011 and 2012.
Ikard has been one of the best linemen in the country for the past three seasons. Now that Alabama's Barrett Jones is out of college, Ikard is poised to claim the title of best in 2013.
Oklahoma has a lot of work to do to make up for the loss of Landry Jones, but there's at least one position the Sooners don't need to stress about.
That position is "Wherever Ikard is lined up."
13. Mike Evans (WR, Texas A&M Aggies)
Mike Evans might be up against some competition for recognition, but he's also one of the reasons that Johnny Manziel was so successful in 2012.
Evans was a freshman wide receiver last year, and he notched 1,105 yards and five touchdowns off just 82 receptions. Evans did all that as a freshman, and he would have had a ton of attention if not for the man standing behind the center. (There will be more on him later.)
Evans is entering 2013 as a probable All-SEC selection, and he's also a possible All-America selection. On top of all that, Evans won't be competing with Ryan Swope for Manziel's passes all season.
Expect Evans' numbers to rise sharply this fall.
12. Colt Lyerla (TE, Oregon Ducks)
Colt Lyerla will be on the preseason watch list for the John Mackey Award. He is one of the best in the country anyway, but 14 tight ends were just drafted in the 2013 cycle. That's 14 of Lyerla's competitors that were whisked out of the competition.
If you have watched Lyerla play, you know that there probably weren't 14 tight ends better than he was last season. Not only should he be on the watch list, but he should be the favorite to win the award.
Lyerla caught just 25 passes for 392 yards and six touchdowns last season, and he added 13 carries for 77 yards and another trip to the end zone. Lyerla's stats don't look as impressive as he does when he's on the field.
He's a valuable part of Oregon's blocking scheme, and he's highly talented at what he does, too. If Oregon can work him into the offense a little more, then he will take the Mackey Award with what looks like little effort.
He really does make his job look easy.
11. Brett Hundley (QB, UCLA Bruins)
Brett Hundley was a freshman in 2012, and he took the Bruins to the Pac-12 title game and a bowl. While other freshmen were getting most of the attention, Hundley was more than content to give his team the opportunity to go to the Rose Bowl before anyone even noticed they were in the hunt for it.
Hundley went 319-of-479 for 3,745 yards, 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. While he could use fewer interceptions, that is true of most freshmen. They all have to endure growing pains before achieving their potential.
If Hundley's growing pains were losing a few games, including the conference title game, then UCLA is in for some serious success over the next few seasons. That will begin in 2013.
10. Will Sutton (DT, Arizona State Sun Devils)
Sutton was the anchor of the entire Sun Devils defense last season, and he will return in 2013 for his senior season. He did all that, and he missed the game against UCLA in the middle of the season.
Sutton would comfortably make a national top 15 list, and he was an easy choice for the top 10 here.
9. Casey Pachall (QB, TCU Horned Frogs)
Casey Pachall could be the starting quarterback for the TCU Horned Frogs this fall, and the Frogs are in prime position to take the Big 12 by surprise in 2013.
With TCU's defense and the lack of experience under center at Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Kansas State (just to name a few), the Horned Frogs could be justified as a preseason Top 10 team.
Pachall missed a lot of last season, but he was given a chance to turn his life around and rebound from his mistakes.
If Pachall starts against LSU in the season opener (as mentioned in the first link), then he will prove that he belongs right here at No. 9.
8. Devonte Fields (DE, TCU Horned Frogs)
Devonte Fields, if he can stay out of trouble, is the best individual player at TCU. He will be missing against LSU in the season opener, but he will be back to play all the conference matches if he keeps his nose clean.
Fields amassed 53 tackles (34 solo), 18.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles during his freshman run of 2012.
He's an excellent pass-rusher, and his absence will be felt against LSU. The suspension may or may not cost TCU a shot at a national title, but the important thing is that is won't cost the Horned Frogs a chance to win the Big 12.
7. Kyle Van Noy (LB, BYU Cougars)
Kyle Van Noy is an amazing linebacker, and he proved his game-changing potential in the Poinsettia Bowl against San Diego State.
Van Noy logged 52 tackles (37 solo), 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, two interceptions (one for a touchdown), five pass breakups, eight quarterback hurries, six forced fumbles and two blocked kicks in 2012. That's right, those are single-season marks, not career.
Van Noy is one of the best defenders in the country. West of the Mississippi, he is the best.
6. Taylor Martinez (QB, Nebraska Cornhuskers)
Taylor Martinez is going to be a breakout star in 2013. He showed that he had gobs of potential in 2012, but the consistency wasn't there.
At times, it was Martinez who looked flustered and inconsistent, but it was mostly the support staff on the field around him.
That shouldn't be an issue in 2013. The 'Huskers have another year under their belts, and 2013 could be the season that Nebraska takes the Big Ten.
Of course, Ohio State and others will have something to say about that, but Nebraska might just be good enough that their opinions don't matter.
Martinez passed for 2,871 yards, 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season, and he added 1,019 rushing yards and 10 more scores to that total.
One more offseason of accuracy and timing drills should push him from above-average to great. The fall is coming soon, and everyone will know for sure.
5. Marqise Lee (WR, USC Trojans)
Marqise Lee is regarded by many (subscription required) as the best wide receiver in the nation. Lee caught 118 passes last year for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. He added 13 carries for 106 yards on the ground as well.
Lee has the ability to be a great receiver in 2013, but he will be playing with a new quarterback. Whether that's Max Wittek or someone else, Lee will have to take offseason timing drills very seriously if he wants to confirm the "best receiver" tag.
Lee does have more than enough talent to back up this No. 5 ranking, but his stats may not look as good as they did last season. Wittek is not Barkley.
Regardless of what happens, he will still be the best receiver west of the Mississippi.
4. Ka'Deem Carey (RB, Arizona Wildcats)
Ka'Deem Carey was the nation's leading rusher in 2012, and he came within 71 yards of breaking the 2,000-yard barrier on the ground.
Carey gained 1,929 yards and scored 23 touchdowns for the 2012 Arizona Wildcats via 303 carries. He also caught 36 passes for 303 yards and another score.
Carey will enter the season on at least the Doak Walker watch list, but the Pac-12 had better be careful. With a rushing attack this lethal, Arizona's quarterback doesn't have to be excellent to win the South Division; he just has to be good.
3. Jake Matthews (OT, Texas A&M Aggies)
Jake Matthews is taking over for the NFL-drafted Luke Joeckel on Texas A&M's offensive line. Luckily for the Aggies, he's more than capable of filling Joeckel's shoes.
Matthews helped block for the Heisman winner last season, and even without Joeckel, the Aggies will be contenders in the SEC West.
A&M rushed for 3,146 yards and 46 touchdowns last season, and Johnny Manziel tacked on 4,114 passing yards and 28 touchdowns in the air.
Matthews helped the offensive line protect Manziel long enough so that he could figure out what sort of football spell to cast over his enemy. Matthews won't be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but Manziel can't get to the Big Apple without Matthews and the rest of his line.
2. Marcus Mariota (QB, Oregon Ducks)
Marcus Mariota is the second-best quarterback on the west side of the river. During the 2012 season, Mariota went 230-of-336 for 2,677 yards, 32 touchdowns and six interceptions.
He added 106 rushes for 752 yards and another five touchdowns on the ground. Mariota is the Johnny Manziel of the Pac-12.
Furthermore, if Manziel and the Aggies drop more than a couple of games this coming season, Mariota may be in for more than just a trip to New York.
1. Johnny Manziel (QB, Texas A&M Aggies)
Johnny Manziel ended the 2012 regular season as the best player in college football. When his bowl game came around, he defended that title with a massive beatdown of the Oklahoma Sooners in the Cotton Bowl.
As the reigning Heisman winner with no evidence that it was an unjustified prize, Manziel remains firmly entrenched in the No. 1 spot until he is overthrown.
The last game he lost was almost a month before he beat the eventual national champion, Alabama. He decimated Oklahoma 41-13 in the Cotton Bowl just to put the exclamation point on the end of his team's season.
Manziel is the best player in college football.