Ranking the Top 25 Seniors Heading into the 2014 College Football Season

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistApril 23, 2014

Ranking the Top 25 Seniors Heading into the 2014 College Football Season

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    As kids, we were all taught to respect our elders. In college football, that means making sure to honor the seniors.

    Through drive and dedication, this class of players has stuck it out through three (or four) years to get to this point: to be the most experienced and battle-tested of them all. Some passed up a chance to start a professional career already, while others are finally reaching their stride in their final year of college ball.

    Whatever the case, the senior class shouldn't be ignored. Plenty of great college football seniors are set to take the field in 2014, and we've ranked the 25 best in ascending order.

    Click through to pay homage to these champions of perseverance.

25. Ty Montgomery, Stanford

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    Matt York

    Position: Wide receiver

    Ty Montgomery had more receptions (61), yards (958) and touchdowns (10) last year than in his first two seasons at Stanford combined, and when the Cardinal took to the air, he was the go-to option on nearly every play. But that was just the tip of what he offered in terms of being a scoring threat.

    The 6'2" wide receiver also scored twice on runs while averaging more than 36 yards per kickoff return and bringing back two kickoffs for touchdowns. All told, Montgomery was ninth nationally in all-purpose yards at 157.7 per game.

24. Ramik Wilson, Georgia

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Position: Linebacker

    Ramik Wilson is only the third Georgia player in school history to lead the SEC in tackles, collecting 133 last year as a junior. It was a breakout season for the 6'2", 232-pound inside man, who had been used sparingly in his first two years but is now considered the No. 2 prospect at the inside linebacker position in the senior class, according to CBS Sports.

    He never gave much thought to leaving after his junior year, and the move should pay off. With Georgia's defense now under the guidance of former Florida State coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, Wilson has a chance to add technique that should help him rise in the 2015 NFL draft.

23. Jordan Richards, Stanford

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Position: Safety

    Don't let Jordan Richards' 5'11" frame fool you: He'll find a way to get into the play and either make a hit or get the ball. It's what he's done successfully for Stanford since his freshman year, including last season when he had 40 solo tackles, four tackles for loss, three interceptions and three pass breakups.

    He is listed as the top senior strong safety by CBS Sports, and with the Cardinal replacing several key players in front of him on defense, look for him to find his way into the mix on as many plays as possible this fall.

22. Denzel Perryman, Miami (Fla.)

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    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    Position: Linebacker

    At 6'0" and 240 pounds, Denzel Perryman has the look of a potential NFL linebacker. But in spring ball, he showed some of the hits he plans to make as a pro player, particularly on unsuspecting running backs like his teammate from Miami's spring game.

    He won the Hurricanes' defensive MVP and "hard hitter" awards after a junior year of notching 108 tackles, five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. His decision to return for one more season was based on a feeling that Miami's history of player development would help him out for the pros. That just means we get another year of vicious hits on Saturdays before he moves over to Sundays.

21. Hayes Pullard, USC

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    Steve Dykes/Getty Images

    Position: Linebacker

    Hayes Pullard is a fifth-year senior who brings plenty of experience and versatility to the Trojans defense this season. He's spent two years as a starter on the outside and then was an inside linebacker in 2013. According to the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein, he refuses to come off the field to nurse minor injuries.

    That kind of dedication should bode well for the Trojans this fall, as Pullard is one of just two seniors (along with cornerback Josh Shaw) who are projected to start on a young defense.

20. Rakeem Cato, Marshall

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    Gail Burton

    Position: Quarterback

    Rakeem Cato is the FBS active leader in career passing yards with 10,176 yards, and in three years with Marshall, he has thrown 91 touchdown passes. Yet according to Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer, he is a relative unknown because of who he plays for.

    Cato has led the Thundering Herd to 18 wins in his last 30 starts. That included a 10-4 mark last season, when he threw for 3,916 yards and 39 touchdowns with just nine interceptions.

19. Karlos Williams, Florida State

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    John Raoux

    Position: Running back

    Karlos Williams began his college career at safety, playing as a true freshman and spending two years as a reserve in Florida State's secondary before moving to the backfield in 2013. That's when he got to show his true potential, but he still only scratched the surface with 730 yards and 11 touchdowns on just 91 carries.

    Now he isn't behind other players, like Devonta Freeman last season, and despite the arrival of 5-star true freshman Dalvin Cook, this is Williams' year to shine.

18. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

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    Lenny Ignelzi

    Position: Quarterback

    In his two years as Arizona State's starter, Taylor Kelly has shown near-constant improvement in both his throwing accuracy and efficiency, but he's made the biggest strides as a runner. He scored nine touchdowns with his feet last season compared to one as a sophomore.

    He became the Sun Devils' de facto No. 1 running back option after Marion Grice was injured late in the year, and though that affected his passing numbers, it made him more of a diverse threat. As a senior, he'll be one of the nation's toughest quarterbacks to game-plan against.

17. Brandon Scherff, Iowa

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    Charlie Neibergall

    Position: Offensive tackle

    Brandon Scherff was a guard in his freshman season, but since being moved to left tackle in 2012, he's become a fixture on Iowa's offensive line. Now entering his redshirt senior year, he is positioning himself for a high draft selection in 2015.

    By coming back for another year, he'll give the Hawkeyes continued stability on the line and a strong chance to contend for the Big Ten's West division.

16. Derron Smith, Fresno State

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    Dean Hare

    Position: Safety

    Derron Smith can best be described as a hidden gem. It's what happens when you put together a great year in 2013 amid a defense that was regularly torched by opposing offenses.

    But Smith, a fifth-year senior who has been the Bulldogs' starting free safety the past two seasons, has 14 career interceptions. According to his online bio, that's the most of any active player in FBS. Despite Fresno's defensive reputation, he steps up in big games, such as when he had a sack and an interception and broke up a touchdown in the Mountain West title-game win over Utah State.

15. Cedric Reed, Texas

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    Eric Gay

    Position: Defensive end

    Cedric Reed has a nose for the ball, whether he aims for the person carrying it or where it's headed. All of this was on display during his junior year when he had 10 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups.

    With long arms that he uses to push away blockers and get into the passing lanes, Reed is quickly developing into a strong NFL prospect. Coming back for one more year will give him more time to beef up his 6'6" frame while chasing down Big 12 quarterbacks from the edge.

14. Nick Marshall, Auburn

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    David J. Phillip

    Position: Quarterback

    Nick Marshall was an unknown quantity before the 2013 season, a junior college transfer who had previously been a defensive back at Georgia before first-year coach Gus Malzahn tabbed him as the pilot of the Tigers' new spread offense. The rest is history.

    He had more than 3,000 yards of total offense, including 1,068 on the ground, and accounted for 26 touchdowns at the helm of the nation's most creative and efficient offense. With more emphasis on being a passer this season, Marshall could follow in the steps of a recent Auburn quarterback and have a Cam Newton-type of impact in the NFL.

13. Antwan Goodley, Baylor

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    Rick Scuteri

    Position: Wide receiver

    Baylor had so many different skill weapons last season that it was hard for one person to stand out above all others. Yet Antwan Goodley still managed to make a name for himself with 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns after managing just 19 receptions in his first two seasons with the Bears.

    At 5'10", he's on the short side, but his stocky frame makes it hard to bring him down. His moves and power would make him a good running back as well, but instead he's Baylor's best returning wideout option.

12. Trey Flowers, Arkansas

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    John Raoux

    Position: Defensive end

    Lost amid Arkansas' worst season in its SEC history was the play of Trey Flowers, who despite having better numbers each year, has seen his notoriety dip as the Razorbacks have gone from good to really bad the last three years.

    He is well-known within the league as one of the fiercest edge-rushers around, and CBS Sports has him listed as the third-best senior at that position in the 2015 NFL draft. His return for one last year could be just what Arkansas needs to get back to a respectable level, while at the same time he could move further up draft boards.

11. Hroniss Grasu, Oregon

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    Kevin Casey/Getty Images

    Position: Center

    A first-team All-American on multiple lists and a two-time first-team selection in the Pac-12, Hroniss Grasu could have jumped to the NFL after his junior year and gone high enough in the draft to make the move worthwhile. But he chose to come back to Oregon for one more year, and both sides should benefit from this move.

    He told The Oregonian's Jason Quick it was a "no brainer" to come back to a Ducks team that will be a legitimate College Football Playoff contender. His familiarity with quarterback Marcus Mariota and a nearly intact offensive line will be evident throughout the season.

10. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

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    Nati Harnik

    Position: Running back

    Ameer Abdullah is the nation's top returning running back in terms of yards gained from last season, after he rushed for 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns. Normally such a designation would go to a player who wasn't draft-eligible, but Abdullah passed up on the NFL to play one more year of college.

    At 2,977 career yards, he's ninth on the Cornhuskers' all-time rushing list, a prestigious group that includes Eric Crouch, Ahman Green and Mike Rozier. With another year like he had in 2013, he has a shot at passing Rozier for the top spot, and that kind of production would likely mean another solid year for Nebraska. 

9. Michael Bennett, Ohio State

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    Darron Cummings

    Position: Defensive tackle

    Two years of getting time when he could as a reserve on Ohio State's defensive line paid off in spades this past season, when Michael Bennett rose to become one of the most imposing interior rushers in college football. He had seven sacks and 42 tackles, despite being on the lighter side for his position at 285 pounds.

    He opted to return for his senior year, and as a result sits as the top-rated senior defensive tackle for the 2015 draft, according to CBS Sports. With some capable running backs and passers to chase down behind the line of scrimmage this year, Bennett has a great chance to beef up his stock even more in 2014.

8. Cameron Erving, Florida State

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    Phil Sears

    Position: Offensive tackle

    Cameron Erving has a knack for keeping defensive linemen away from his backfield, maybe because he was one for the first two years of his Florida State career. But since converting to offensive tackle in 2012, he's made a steady rise as one of the country's top blockers.

    In 2013, he deserved as much credit as anyone on the Seminoles for the national championship run, as his play on the left side enabled Jameis Winston to put up his Heisman-winning numbers. He'll again be protecting Winston's blind side while also showing off to scouts what he might do in the NFL.

7. Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M

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    Rogelio V. Solis

    Position: Offensive lineman

    Despite receiving a first-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, Cedric Ogbuehi decided to stick around for his senior year and help protect whoever plays quarterback at Texas A&M. That move could pay off big time and propel Ogbuehi toward the top of the 2015 draft as he continues the Aggies' recent trend of top-tier offensive linemen.

    He is expected to start at left tackle this fall, taking the place of likely first-rounder Jake Matthews. He'd previously been a right guard but shifted over to tackle on that side in 2013 after Luke Joeckel left for the NFL and went No. 2 in the draft. If he excels at yet another position, he'll no doubt join Matthews and Joeckel as high picks.

6. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Position: Cornerback

    The top-rated senior corner in the country, according to CBSSports.com, was also one of the most highly regarded defensive backs as a junior and sophomore. So why did he decide to come back for one more season with Oregon?

    So he could ensure being a top pick, according to a statement his school released back in January. Ekpre-Olomu has put up good numbers throughout his career, but another season of coming out ahead against top-tier receivers will lock down his place on draft boards. And he'll try to do it by being as complete a corner as possible, which means more work up on the line.

5. Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

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    Ross D. Franklin

    Position: Wide receiver

    The son and nephew of two of Kansas State's greatest pass-catchers, Tyler Lockett came to the school with far more fanfare than is normally reserved for a 3-star recruit, especially one with only offers from the Wildcats and Kansas. But after what he did in 2013, he is finally getting noticed for more than his lineage.

    He had 81 receptions for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, getting into that unguardable category down the stretch in games against West Virginia, Oklahoma and Michigan. In those three contests he averaged 10 catches, 168 yards and three TDs. And he's a solid year away from passing his father Kevin for No. 1 on the school chart in several categories.

4. Braxton Miller, Ohio State

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    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    Position: Quarterback

    Braxton Miller can't avoid being compared to past dual-threat quarterbacks at Ohio State like Terrelle Pryor and Troy Smith, and the numbers seem to bear that out. But where Miller has a leg up on his predecessors, which might lead to a more productive pro career, was his decision to come back as a senior.

    He threw for a career-best 2,094 yards last season, but injuries kept him out of two games and led to rough outings in others. His rushing total was on pace to surpass previous years before getting hurt, but that mobility hasn't been the question. With this extra year of school, Miller has a chance to tune up in the necessary areas to become a far more complete quarterback than Pryor and Smith.

3. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State

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    Danny Moloshok

    Position: Running back

    Two years stuck on special teams gave us no real idea of what to expect from Jeremy Langford when he became Michigan State's starting tailback in 2013. But after seeing what he did in that role—1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns—it's hard not to get excited about what he can do for an encore.

    He was the most consistent part of the Spartans offense last season, serving as the beacon while Connor Cook and others slowly came around. But he also found a second gear as MSU drove toward a Big Ten title, rushing for 100-plus yards in eight straight games while collecting 13 TDs in that stretch. Now with his school firmly in the spotlight, what he accomplishes as a senior might make or break the Spartans' playoff hopes.

2. Vic Beasley, Clemson

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    Rainier Ehrhardt

    Position: Defensive end

    Despite playing in the same state as the most talked-about defense player in the nation last year, Vic Beasley managed to make a name for himself as one of the best speed-rushers in the college game. And now he'll back up his breakout junior year with a lot more attention put on him.

    He was in the top 10 nationally in sacks (13), tackles for loss (23) and forced fumbles (four) despite being a very undersized end at 235 pounds. He's projecting more as a linebacker in the NFL, which might have contributed to him returning to school despite getting a lot of buzz as a possible first-round pick.

    Now he'll get a chance to play through a season's worth of double-teams.

1. Bryce Petty, Baylor

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Position: Quarterback

    Bryce Petty sat behind senior quarterbacks for two seasons before finally getting his shot in 2013, and within a few games, the nation got to see what he could do. He threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns with just three interceptions while showing off deceptive speed and elusiveness for a 6'3", 230-pound passer by scoring 14 rushing TDs.

    A crowded quarterback crop for the 2014 NFL draft helped contribute to his return for a senior season, and he'll enter this fall among the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy as he pilots the nation's most explosive offense. Petty will get to do so in Baylor's new stadium, and with plenty of weapons at his disposal, his numbers should be just as good as last year's.

     

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.