South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney entered the season with the spotlight shining bright, and Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley has earned plenty of attention—including Heisman consideration from Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples—but another SEC defensive player deserves some postseason accolades.
Missouri defensive end Michael Sam.
The redshirt senior from Hitchcock, Texas has exploded onto the SEC scene this season, seemingly out of nowhere, leading the conference in sacks (10) and tackles for loss (16) and has led a defensive resurgence that has the Tigers in control of their own SEC East destiny with two games to play.
Sam was recently named as a semifinalist for the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, along with 10 quarterbacks, one wide receiver, one running back and two other defensive players—Mosley and UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.
While the high-octane Tigers offense has drawn the headlines, it's the defense that's done the dirty work, and nobody's doing more than Sam.
His ability to beat double teams, get after the quarterback and force mistakes has vaulted Missouri to the top of the division and is a big reason why it is leading the SEC with 25 turnovers gained and destroying the division with a 1.40 turnover margin.
"I think Michael Sam has upped his game from what he's done in the past, and that's a bit contagious," head coach Gary Pinkel said last month on the weekly SEC coaches' teleconference. "He's kind of raised the bar for a high, high level effort and technique every play. Other players see him play, and they're competitive."
Without Sam, the Missouri defense would be without a leader and wouldn't be nearly as intimidating as it has been this year.
Alabama has made a habit of replacing 5-star studs with other 5-star studs. That isn't a knock against Mosley but is an indication that Sam is more valuable to his particular team. Alabama would be competitive and likely in the BCS National Championship mix without Mosley.
Without Sam, Missouri would be lost.
He's been the lynchpin for the Tigers turnaround, and if Missouri can run this gauntlet down the stretch, top Ole Miss, Texas A&M and play for the SEC Championship Game, he'll have to be a major contributor.
Get used to the idea of Sam being named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, because he's earned it.