Pac-12 Football: 10 Most Terrifying Defensive Players of the BCS Era
Thankfully, for college football fans, the BCS era has come to an end with the completion of the 2013 season.
Now we can take a look back at the past 15 years and some of the BCS's greatest moments.
For the Pac-12, formerly the Pac-10 until 2011, when Utah and Colorado joined the conference, there were plenty of memorable developments, most notably, USC's dominance in the mid-2000s.
In recent years, Stanford and Oregon have become the top teams in the Pac-12. These two programs are built differently, though. Oregon is an offensive juggernaut, while Stanford is a bit of a throwback. The Cardinal are a run-first team on offense, complemented by an outstanding defense.
Speaking of defense, with the end of the BCS, now is a good time to look back at some of the most dominant defensive players of the last 15 years in the Pac-10 and Pac-12.
Keep in mind, this list is based off what players did while they were in college. So NFL standouts such as Clay Matthews or Richard Sherman will not be on this list.
10. Taylor Mays, USC (2006-2009)
Taylor Mays was supposed to be a top-10 pick in the NFL draft and the next great safety.
Suffice to say, that hasn't quite worked out, but you would not have known it by watching Mays during his four years as a Trojan.
Mays made an impact as a true freshman when Josh Pinkard went down, and he was suddenly the team's starting free safety. He would go on to be the Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and was a freshman All-American.
Mays would go on to be a first-team All-American in each of his three remaining years and was arguably the Pac-10's most-feared defensive back of the BCS era.
9. Sedrick Ellis, USC (2003-2007)
Sedrick Ellis was Pete Carroll's most dominant defensive linemen during the Trojans' excellent run in the mid-2000s.
In three years as a starter, Ellis amassed an amazing 144 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks from the defensive tackle position. Seventy-four of those tackles were of the solo variety.
Ellis was a two-time winner of the Morris Trophy, which is given annually to the top offensive and defensive lineman in the Pac-12.
Ellis would win Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. In addition to that he was a unanimous All-American in 2007 and a two-time first-team All-Pac-10 selection.
8. Rien Long, Washington State (1999-2002)
Rien Long was one of the more dominant interior defenders in college football in the early 2000s.
At 6'6", 286 pounds, the Washington State defensive tackle would become a consensus All-American in 2002. In 2002, Long also won the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation's top interior lineman.
Long was a nightmare to defend for opposing offensive linemen. His height gave him great leverage, and he would sometimes move outside to rush the passer.
In Long's three years of playing for the Cougars, he totaled 36.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks.
Sadly, injuries and a car accident cut short Long's NFL career.
7. Troy Polamalu, USC (1999-2002)
Troy Polamalu is one of the best safeties in the history of the NFL and is still going strong after 11 seasons.
But before Polamalu was a Pittsburgh Steeler, he spent four years terrorizing opposing Pac-10 offenses as USC's strong safety.
A three-year starter, Polamalu was a two-time first-team All-American for the Trojans. While Polamalu started for most of his career at strong safety, he also played free safety and linebacker. His versatility and durability allowed him to move around on defense and create plays.
Polamalu, along with and Carson Palmer and Pete Carroll, are the primary reasons for USC's resurgence in the BCS era.
6. Trent Murphy, Stanford (2009-2013)
Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy will likely go down as one of the most underrated and underappreciated defenders in Pac-12 history.
Murphy, at 6'6", 261 pounds, completed his Stanford career with 52.5 tackles for loss and 32.5 sacks. Not only was Murphy a dominant pass-rusher, he excelled in all areas.
A two-time first-team All-Pac-12 selection, Murphy was also a consensus All-American in 2013.
As good as Murphy was during his time with the Cardinal, he was never named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. However, opposing coaches feared and respected Murphy. He was all over the place, tipping balls, chasing down ball-carriers, intercepting passes, sacking the quarterback and scoring touchdowns.
You name it, Murphy did it.
5. Rey Maualuga, USC (2005-2008)
Yes, another Trojan, but no USC player was as dominant during his time in the program as Rey Maualuga was.
A three-year starter at middle linebacker, Maualuga was the Trojans' top linebacker on teams that at different times featured Keith Rivers, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews.
Maualuga finished his career with 273 tackles, was a three-time first-team All-Pac-10 performer and a unanimous All-American selection in 2008.
Maualuga won the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the top collegiate defensive player, and was named the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
Maualuga was the heart and soul for USC's defense during his four years on campus.
4. Haloti Ngata, Oregon (2003-2005)
All it takes is just one look at former Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and you see why opposing ball-carriers fear the big defensive tackle.
During his three years at Oregon, Ngata was as dominant for the Ducks as he has been for the Baltimore Ravens over the past eight seasons.
In his junior season, Ngata was a consensus first-team All-American, winner of the Morris Trophy and co-Pac-10 defensive player of the year.
In three years on campus, Ngata finished with 151 tackles (83 solo), 24.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. Ngata also blocked three kicks in 36 games with Oregon.
3. Will Sutton, Arizona State (2009-2013)
A prototypical 3-technique defensive tackle, Will Sutton is one of the most dominant defensive linemen of the BCS era in all of college football.
In 2012, Sutton recorded 23.5 tackles for loss and 13 sacks—from the defensive tackle position, which is remarkable.
Sutton returned for his senior season in 2013, adding some extra weight, hoping to impress NFL scouts, but he wasn't quite as dominant. With that being said, Sutton repeated as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.
A two-time All-American, Sutton finished his ASU career with 157 tackles, 43.5 tackles for loss and 20.5 sacks.
Pac-12 coaches are surely elated that Sutton will no longer be around.
2. Anthony Barr, UCLA (2010-2013)
The amazing thing about former UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr is that he didn't begin playing linebacker until coach Jim Mora arrived in 2012.
The 6'4", 245-pound Barr played running back during his first two seasons in Westwood.
Once Mora had the foresight to move Barr to defense, the rest was history.
In just two years on defense, Barr finished with a total of 23.5 sacks. If Barr had started out on defense, he potentially could have challenged Terrell Suggs' record of 44 career sacks.
Pac-12 offensive tackles were no match for Barr's tremendous athleticism. His quick rise in the last two years is indicative of the impact he made on the Pac-12 and all of college football.
1. Terrell Suggs, Arizona State (2000-2002)
As many great defensive players as the Pac-12 has had over the past 15 years, none was better or more impactful than former Arizona State Sun Devil Terrell Suggs.
During his three years in Tempe, Suggs finished with 44 career sacks. In his junior season of 2002, Suggs posted an NCAA record of 24 sacks.
Suggs wasn't just dominant in his junior season, though. As a freshman in 2000, Suggs had 10 sacks. As a sophomore, Suggs also had 10 sacks.
One of the most consistently dominant performers in the history of the conference, Suggs is arguably the greatest Sun Devil of all time.
In 2002, Suggs won the Ted Hendricks Award, Lombardi Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Morris Trophy. He was also a consensus first-team All-American.
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