10 Best Candidates for 2013 College Football Comeback Player of the Year

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2013

10 Best Candidates for 2013 College Football Comeback Player of the Year

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    Comeback Player of the Year isn't an official award in college football—there are no bronze-plated figurines given out—but it's still a fun hypothetical distinction.

    Every year some of the best players in the nation go down with serious and unfortunate injuries. And every year some, though not all, of them fight their way through rehab and return to peak form.

    When they don't—when those injuries compound themselves—it's one of the saddest things a fan (or even an unbiased spectator) could ever watch.

    But when they do, few things in sport have quite as touching an effect.

Honorable Mentions

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    LB D.T. Shackelford (Mississippi) is finally back after missing all of 2011 and 2012 with injuries. He played in all 12 games for the Rebels in 2010 and led the team with five sacks and three quarterback hurries.

    S Brian Randolph (Tennessee) appeared on some freshman All-American teams in 2011 and led the Vols in tackles with 22 before tearing his ACL in Week 3 last season. He'll help stabilize a Tennessee secondary that was shredded in 2012.

    RB/WR Jordan Hall (Ohio State) is a Buckeye captain and one of the (seemingly infinite) candidates to take on a Percy Harvin-type role in Urban Meyer's offense. Even if/when Carlos Hyde is reinstated, he has a chance to play a big role despite just three real appearances last year. 

10. WR Chris Black, Alabama

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    Black's not making a "comeback," per se, since he's never actually played in a college game. But he's "coming back" from last year's season-ending shoulder injury and might be an immediate difference maker.

    Actually ranked one spot higher in the 2012 recruiting class than teammate Amari Cooper, Black was supposed to team up with the Biletnikoff candidate and form one of last year's best freshman duos.

    His injury obviously derailed that, but given the impressive form he's shown all summer, Black appears ready to fulfill that potential.

9. RB Alfred Blue, LSU

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    Alfred Blue may be opposed to having a gay teammate, but LSU has to be happy to have him back after starting last season with back-to-back 100-yard games before missing the rest of the season with a knee injury.

    In an offseason that saw running back Jeremy Hill compound his probation by punching a guy at a bar, Blue's return to health is even more important to LSU's success. He's talented enough to one of the best rushers Les Miles has ever coached.

    This isn't about personal credos or off-field conduct: It's about production. And Blue's return might make a big difference for the purple and gold.

     

8. WR Michael Bennett, Georgia

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    Bennett was the Bulldogs' leading receiver through five games last year, but he spent the rest of the season on the bench with a torn ACL. His absence helped Tavares King break through as one of the SEC's top pass-catchers.

    Now Bennett is back with a vengeance—and along with Malcolm Mitchell, JUCO transfer Jonathan Rumph and tight end Arthur Lynch, he will help give Aaron Murray one of the nation's deepest stable of receivers.

    That depth might limit Bennett's production (which might, in turn, keep him from standing out among the best comeback players), but his presence will be felt in Athens.

7. CB Blake Countess, Michigan

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    Countess is the forgotten man in Ann Arbor (at least for those outside of Ann Arbor), his comeback overshadowed by those of running back Fitzgerald Touissant and linebacker Jake Ryan.

    But Countess might have the biggest impact of the trio. He was the Wolverines' best cornerback as a true freshman before tearing his ACL in last year's season opener against Alabama.

    This year he's back with a chip on his shoulder and practicing at full speed in fall camp. He'll help repair a Michigan secondary that struggled in 2012.

6. QB C.J. Brown, Maryland

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    Maryland's struggles at quarterback are well-documented and absurd. After four other signal-callers bit the dust, fifth-stringer/redshirt freshman linebacker Shawn Petty had to take the offense's reins.

    The Terps had no business winning four games under that circumstance, but managed to do so anyway. Now, with C.J. Brown back in tow, it's bowl game or bust in College Park.

    Brown was fantastic in 2011 before tearing his ACL last August. Together with all-world playmaker Stefon Diggs, the Terps might have one of America's most underrated passing tandems.

5. LB/DE Devon Kennard, USC

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    Kennard was one of the nation's best recruits coming out of high school and proved his mettle with a dominant sophomore season in 2010. But injuries, including last year's chest surgery that forced him to miss the whole season, have cast a pall over his potential.

    That could change in a big way this season. Kennard is back, he's healthy and he's ready to thrive in his new role. He'll be lining up opposite Morgan Breslin in the Trojans' new 5-2 set, giving USC two of the nation's highest-upside (and most legitimate) tweeners.

    Opposing offenses beware.

4. RB Henry Josey, Missouri

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    Josey led the nation with 8.1 yards per carry in 2011 and didn't even inflate those numbers with a small sample size. He carried the ball 145 times and finished third in the Big 12 with 1,168 yards.

    His absence was one of the many reasons for Missouri's disappointing season last year, and his return from a torn ACL is one of the many reasons for optimism this fall.

    If he, quarterback James Franklin and receiver Dorial Green-Beckham all live up to their potential, the Tigers will have one of the best skill-position trios in America.

3. DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

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    Take away the Oklahoma game, when Jeffcoat left with a season-ending injury, and Texas' star defensive end has 26.5 tackles for loss in his last 15 games. Throw in the Oklahoma game where he had to leave early, and that number still become 27.5 tackles for loss in his last 16.

    Jeffcoat, put as simply as possible, is one of the most disruptive players in college football—at least when he's healthy. Only guys like Arizona State's Will Sutton or South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney (ever heard of him?) produce more consistent numbers.

    He'd rank even higher if he didn't appear in only six games last year.

     

2. LB/DE Ronald Powell, Florida

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    Powell began living up to the hype in 2011, posting four sacks and seven tackles for loss in the Gators' final four games. The consensus top player in the class of 2010 was finally starting to put it all together.

    But a torn ACL last spring derailed that momentum, ending his highly anticipated junior season before it even began.

    According to Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, "Word around the Gators' campfire is that Powell looks every bit as good in the preseason as he did in 2011."

    That's bad news for every team on Florida's schedule.

1. QB Casey Pachall, TCU

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    Pachall has won his last 12 starts for TCU and 15 of his last 16. After an impressive sophomore year in 2011, he led the Frogs to a 4-0 start last season but was forced to leave the team after a DUI in October.

    The only non-injury case on this list, Pachall is No. 1 because of both his potential impact and his personal redemption. After voluntarily checking himself into substance abuse rehab, he is back in Fort Worth and ready to win back his job.

    If he does, indeed, beat Trevone Boykin for the right to start, Pachall's gun-slinging attitude would bring a much-needed dimension to TCU's offense. And if he can do that, when combined with TCU's dominant defense, the Frogs might be legitimate BCS sleepers.