The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is the most prestigious award for college football defensive players. The trophy was introduced in 1993 and is rewarded to the nastiest, meanest and most productive defender in the country. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o took home the award last season.
The Football Writers Association of America has announced this year's candidates with a watch list that includes 81 players. Nearly every great defender you can think of has been included. It is an abundance of linebackers, defensive linemen and defensive backs.
Who has the best shot to win the award this season?
It really comes down to one SEC pass-rusher and then everybody else.
Dominique Easley, DL, Florida
Easley is highly ranked on most NFL draft boards and is expected to have a breakout season. His skill set is elite. He'll be a strong candidate if he can finally begin tapping into his potential.
Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
Fields is suspended for the first two games this season. Even then, he is still one of the more talented pass-rushers in the country. He finished his freshman season with 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss.
Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Jeffcoat has the skill set to become an elite pass-rusher and a difference-maker for Texas. The problem is that he is made out of glass and has a hard time staying healthy. Much like Easley, Jeffcoat has first-round NFL draft potential and could be in for a huge season.
Aaron Lynch, DE, USF
Lynch is back on the field after missing last season following his transfer from Notre Dame. He had 5.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss in 2011 as freshman with the Irish. Lynch has pure pass-rushing skills and could put up incredible numbers in the watered-down AAC.
It's tough for a cornerback to win an individual award because they usually don't have the eye-popping statistics. But Bradley Roby is the best corner in the country, and he has that flair that gains attention.
Roby is a shutdown corner who led the Big Ten last season with 19 passes defended. He also had 62 tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery.
He is an aggressive player who attacks the ball and is always looking to make a play. He's an athletic freak who should be watched closely.
Couldn't have a list of the best defenders without including at least one Alabama player. Linebacker C.J. Mosley is the heart and soul of the defense.
He led the Tide last season with 107 tackles. He also added eight tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions.
Mosley could have left early for the NFL draft, but he is obviously looking to help his team win a third straight national championship.
He is the brain behind the defense. He also has the best chance to become the first Alabama player to win the Bronko Nagurski Trophy.
Anthony Barr is an interesting player since last season was his first playing defense.
The former running back finished with 82 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, 13 sacks and four forced fumbles. His playmaking skills helped UCLA surprise in the Pac-12 and will give the team a chance this season to make a run at a conference title.
Barr is now near the top on most NFL draft boards. Winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy is a realistic possibility now that he has gained the attention of most.
USC defensive end Morgan Breslin didn't disappoint in his first season.
The JUCO transfer was tied for first in the Pac-12 with 13 sacks. He also produced 62 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and defended four passes. He proved to be a pure pass-rusher and could be the best transfer college football has seen since Georgia's Jarvis Jones.
Breslin will continue to be the engine on the defensive line. A similar performance as last season will provide a solid case for the award.
A Notre Dame player won the award last season. Why not this year?
While Manti Te'o was receiving all the praise, Stephon Tuitt was quietly leading the team with 11 sacks. He consistently got to the quarterback each week and displayed his overwhelming athleticism.
Tuitt's quickness off the ball and relentless pursuit make him one of the best pass-rushers in college football. He will now get the credit he deserves as the leader of the defense.
He'll also have a chance to keep the Bronko Nagurski Trophy in South Bend.
Will Sutton is the best defensive lineman the nation isn't familiar with. Maybe it's the fact that he only has one great season under his belt or that he plays for Arizona State.
Either way, get familiar with him.
Sutton had 12 sacks and led the Pac-12 with 23.5 tackles for loss. He was the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and proved to be the best interior pass-rusher in the country. He is a key member of an Arizona State defense that finished second in the Pac-12 with 51 sacks.
Sutton will continue to impress NFL scouts and help the Sun Devils win games.
Kyle Van Noy is a ball of energy defensively. He flies all over the field and can make plays whenever needed. He has that clutch gene that last year's award winner, Manti Te'o, had.
Van Noy had 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, two interceptions, six forced fumbles and two blocked kicks last season. The only reason he didn't win the Bronko Nagurski Trophy is probably because BYU wasn't that successful.
The playmaking ability and flashy statistics are covered. Van Noy has a great chance to win this award, especially if he can duplicate last year.
Jadeveon Clowney is the best defensive player in the country. It wouldn't be far-fetched to consider him the best overall player—just ask NFL draft scouts what they think.
Clowney can't be blocked by one offensive lineman, and sometimes, even two blockers have a difficult time with this freight train. He had 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks last season.
What's scary is that he is likely just scratching the surface and could improve once he strengthens his upper body.
Clowney hopes to win the Heisman Trophy this season, according to ESPN's Chris Low. While that may be out of reach, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy certainly is not.