The Maxwell Club announced its first two watch lists for the upcoming season on Monday afternoon: The Maxwell Award and the Bednarik Award.
The latter distinction, the Bednarik, is given annually to the best defensive player in college football. Manti Te'o won in 2012, ending a two-year streak from LSU, who saw Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson land the honor in consecutive years.
All 75 men listed by The Maxwell Club enter 2013 with aspirations to bronze-plated grandeur. But of those 75, ten stick out above the rest as particularly good candidates for the award.
Here's a way-too-early look at where they stand:
It's important to note the way this list was made. It is not, necessarily, a list of the 10 best defensive players in college football. It's a list of the 10 guys most likely to win the Bednarik.
Those are not the same thing.
Louis Nix, for example, might be one of the 10 best defenders in the sport. But his primary contributions—plugging gaps, freeing up space for his linebackers—aren't often tangible. It's hard to quantify the massive difference he makes on Saturdays.
Whether or not it's right, players who don't put up stats are not strong candidates for this award. So a guy like Louis Nix, a guy who might have an All-American season, has been excluded from this list.
Just something to keep in mind as you read.
Joyner's versatility makes him one of the best players in college football. A compact 5'8'', he lacks ideal size, but hits hard enough to play effectively at both cornerback and safety.
With names like Timmy Jernigan and Christian Jones—fellow Seminoles who also made the Bednarik Watch List—in front of him, Joyner will lord over what is likely to be a top-10 defense in college football this year.
Depending on how far Florida State goes as a team, that success as a unit could translate into individual accolade.
Tuitt played in the shadow of Manti Te'o last year, but that hardly diminishes how effective he was on the line. Even in Notre Dame's 3-4 scheme—a tactic that usually creates more opportunity for pass-rushing linebackers than linemen—he racked up 12 sacks in 2013.
Now tasked with leading the Irish defense, Tuitt's sack numbers might be poised for regression. He has more responsibility against the run now that Te'o isn't there to clean up every mess.
That might hurt his Bednarik candidacy, but come year's end, it won't make Tuitt any less of an All-American.
Johnson led the SEC with 138 tackles last year, more than any other conference player even when you include their bowl games.
Johnson and Tennessee, of course, didn't make the postseason in 2012, but that's just how dominant of a tackler the then-sophomore was.
If he wants to make a serious run at the Bednarik, though, Johnson will need to do more than just bring people down. He has 218 tackles in his two years at Tennessee, but also just one sack, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and zero interceptions.
One of three returning semifinalists from 2012, Sutton should enjoy another fine season out in Tempe. Despite limited size, he has become one of the most technically proficient pass rushers in college football.
He might be hard-pressed, though, to repeat last year's gaudy sack total.
Thirteen takedowns from an interior rusher is hard to do in the first place, but even harder to re-create. Even with solid depth around him on the line, Sutton will face increased attention from blockers in 2013.
He should still be an All-American candidate, but the numbers might not be good enough to warrant another serious run at the Bednarik.
Now entering its third year of independence, BYU is facing, perhaps, its hardest schedule in school history.
]Games against Virginia, Texas, Utah, Utah State, Georgia Tech, Houston, Boise State, Wisconsin and Notre Dame should make for a difficult go, but also an increased national spotlight.
Which is perfect for Kyle Van Noy, who has been one of the best pass rushers in college football the past two years, but has largely gone unnoticed.
He spurned the NFL Draft to return for his senior season, and if he posts anything close to his 13 sacks from a year ago, Van Noy should be a Bednarik semifinalist—at the very least.
Reynolds was the nation's top defensive playmaker last season, leading the NCAA with 301 interception return yards and three interception return touchdowns.
While some of that was serendipity—big plays like that are inconsistent from year to year—some was also a result of Reynolds' incredible instincts.
With Stanford poised to make a serious run at the BCS National Championship, teams will be forced to throw against them late in games. If those opponents aren't careful, though, Reynolds could turn any pass into six the other way.
Braxton Miller gets the Heisman buzz, but Ohio State will go exactly as far as its defense takes it.
No one will play a more vital role in that endeavor than Ryan Shazier.
He racked up 115 tackles last season, third in the Big Ten, including a conference-best 17 tackles for loss. Now entering his junior season, though, Shazier might still just be scraping the surface of his potential.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah said he prefers Shazier to 2012 first-round draft pick Alec Ogletree. In 2013, as Ohio State begins demanding Alabama-esque levels of national attention, people will begin to see why.
Barr finished second in the NCAA with 13.5 sacks last season, trailing only Georgia's Jarvis Jones, a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, in that category.
No returning player in college football had more takedowns than Barr did last year.
His return to UCLA was surprising—Barr was considered a first-round lock—but could lead to great things in Los Angeles. With a pass-rushing talent like him coming of the edge, the Bruins defense, which had a good 2012 season, could be even better in 2013.
If UCLA has a breakthrough year in the Pac-12, Barr could reap some individual rewards.
Alabama has the best defense in college football, and C.J. Mosley is its best player.
The transitive property doesn't always translate to these cases—Mosley, as we'll see on the next slide, isn't the best defensive player in college football—but it's definitely worth noting nonetheless.
Offseason shoulder surgery is a minor concern, enough to limit him this Spring, but not enough to keep him from the top part of this list.
If Alabama's defense dominates the way it's capable of, Mosley could become the school's first ever recipient of the Bednarik.
There's no one like Clowney in all of college football, and if you listen to some of the NFL Draft evaluators, perhaps there never has been.
It all makes sense after Clowney's 2012 campaign, a year where he fought constant double-teams and still managed to post 13 sacks.
The former-top recruit is expected to see more of the same in 2013, but with another offseason of work under his belt, he should be ready to combat those double-teams once again.
No defensive end has won the Bednarik since 2001 when Julius Peppers, the player Clowney is most often compared to, took home the award.