College Football Power Rankings: Top 25 Defensive Players

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College Football Power Rankings: Top 25 College Football Defenders of 2012

Clowney
Jeff Blake - USA TODAY Sports

Every college football season’s highlight reel is full of amazing offensive plays, but what about defenders? Can’t a linebacker get a little love?

With penalty flags being thrown far more often in the name of safety, some of the bone-crushing hits that littered the past decade would probably be cause for ejection after what’s been witnessed this season. Think about some of the best defenders you’ve seen over the past five years, some of their biggest and best hits. How many times would they have been either penalized or chucked to the sideline, if not the showers this year?

There once was a simpler time when anyone with a few hours to kill and a digital copy of P.O.D.’s “Here Comes The Boom” could slap together a hard-hitting highlight film. Okay, perhaps your taste in music is somewhat more refined, but the point stands.

The controversy surrounding head injuries has not only bumped up ticky tack penalties, but it’s deprived the players themselves from being able to enjoy the physical nature of the sport. Football is a physical game, that’s part of the attraction. Fans don’t show up for salad and mineral water. They want meat and potatoes.

Defense as a whole was largely neutered this year. Fortunately, that didn’t stop several defenders from making their mark on this season (and a number of opponents).

Despite the extra padding and water wings, 25 defenders managed to show superiority over all others this season. Here are your baddest of the bad for 2012.

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No. 25: DE Eric Martin - Nebraska

Martin
Douglas Jones - USA TODAY Sports

The Nebraska Cornhuskers' defense hasn't had much consistency this year, but if there's one guy that fans of the Huskers were waiting to see show up to the party, it was Martin. Affectionately dubbed "Caveman," Martin flew around the field with reckless abandon. Offensive lineman could only hold onto his jersey so long before he finally slips through.

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No. 24: DT Will Sutton – Arizona State

Sutton
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

The first consensus All-American since Terrell Suggs, Sutton has the opportunity to skip town and dive into the NFL talent pool. He's got a tough decision to make thanks to his fantastic year. Being an interior defensive lineman in the Pac-12 is like chasing Usain Bolt. You can do it, you're just probably going to get really tired for nothing. Sutton bucked the trend.

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No. 23: DE Stephon Tuitt – Notre Dame

Tuitt
Matt Cashore - USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish's pass rush helped Brian Kelly's squad get to the biggest game of the season. Tuitt was a key element to the success of said swarm.

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No. 22 LB Michael Mauti – Penn State

Mauti
Evan Habeeb - USA TODAY Sports

Despite the absolute horror show surrounding Penn State Nittany Lions football, Mauti's a shining example of playing for school pride, despite the circumstances. That's saying something, too, because these are some pretty extreme circumstances.

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No. 21: LB Ryan Shazier – Ohio State

Shazier
Greg Bartram - USA TODAY Sports

If offensive coordinators wanted to get through The Ohio State Buckeyes' second defensive level, they had to find a way to get past Shazier, a task far easier said than done. His work was became a walk in the park thanks to a teammate on this list.

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No. 20: CB Bradley Roby - Ohio State

Roby
Pat Lovell - USA TODAY Sports

No, Roby wasn't the teammate being referred to. A truly outstanding cornerback, he had the extra gear necessary to not only put himself in the elite category of defensive backs in the Big Ten, but all of college football.

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No. 19: S Ed Reynolds – Stanford

Reynolds
Ed Szczepanski - USA TODAY Sports

After losing a playmaker like Andrew Luck, the Stanford Cardinal had to rely on their defense to pick up the slack at times while the opposite 11 got humming. That's where guys like Reynolds came in. Something looks off about those black uniforms, though.

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No. 18: LB Chris Borland – Wisconsin

Borland
Brace Hemmelgarn - USA TODAY Sports

An absolute beast in the middle, Chris Borland not only anchored the Wisconsin Badgers' defense, he was able to use a focused rage to dominate his assignments. Forget Jerry Seinfeld, Borland is a very bad man.

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No. 17: CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu - Oregon

Ekpre-Olomu
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

Did you know the Oregon Ducks play defense? They're actually pretty good at it, too. Ekpre-Olomu's overall lockdown abilities coupled with his ballhawking skills made him an invaluable part of the Ducks' secondary.

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No. 16: DE Scott Crichton – Oregon State

Crichton
Douglas C. Pizac - USA TODAY Sports

If I were to tell you that the Oregon State Beavers would have one of the better defenses in the country, how fast would you have whipped out your smartphone to find the nearest psychologist? Crichton's work on the outside was a huge part of making that salty defense possible.

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No. 15: LB Anthony Barr – UCLA

Barr
Mark J. Rebilas - USA TODAY Sports

Barr was under plenty of radars coming into the season, but so were the UCLA Bruins as a whole. He could leave for the NFL and no one would blame him, but if he returns to hone his skills, he'll be far higher than No. 15 on this list in 2013.

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No. 14: CB Jordan Poyer – Oregon State

Poyer
Scott Olmos - USA TODAY Sports

Not only do the Beavers crack the Top 20, but the Top 15. While Scott Crichton played an important role, Poyer's seven picks didn't hurt Oregon State's defensive efforts.

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No. 13: S Phillip Thomas – Fresno State

Phillips
Troy Babbitt - USA TODAY Sports

The only player in FBS to have more interceptions than anyone else on this list (or anyone at all), Thomas shined for a Fresno State Bulldogs team that needed a spark. Not only did he yank eight passes out of the air, he returned three for touchdowns. That's worth a Top 15 spot.

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No. 12: S Matt Elam – Florida

Elam
Jake Roth - USA TODAY Sports

Elam walked the tightrope of violence this season as he introduced himself to wide receivers in brutal fashion. More impressive than any statistics was how ruthlessly he went after his opponents. The scariest part for them: he laughed like a maniac while doing so. That's a safety I can appreciate.

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No. 11: S Eric Reid

Reid
Crystal Logiudice - USA TODAY Sports

This year's premiere safety is setting up for a steady career as an eventual NFL starter. While returning for more work against SEC offenses and a shot at the national title is my personal advice to Reid, I won't chastise the guy for taking the money and running.

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No. 10: LB C.J. Mosley – Alabama

Mosley
Daniel Shirey - USA TODAY Sports

One of two members of the Alabama Crimson Tide defense in the Top 10, Mosley's speed, strength and overall athleticism proved once again that Nick Saban doesn't start scrubs.

Honestly, Saban might sit a starter for looking at him wrong and you'd notice no difference between No. 1 and No. 2 on the depth chart.

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No. 9: LB Barkevious Mingo - LSU

Mingo
Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

It's getting really SECish up here. Mingo's your standard stud LSU Tigers linebacker. Fun to watch, physical as a freight train, a specimen, really. Look for him to be the one of the first few players at his position taken in the next NFL draft.

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No. 8: DT Johnathan Hankins – Ohio State

Hankins
Pat Lovell - USA TODAY Sports

Who says the Big Ten doesn't get any love? Hankins is a defensive tackle that has a presence larger than life. As previously mentioned, thanks to teams having to account for him (and often failing), teammate Ryan Shazier could knock down who Hankins set up for him to take out.

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No. 7: DE Bjoern Werner – Florida State

Werner
Melina Vastola - USA TODAY Sports

Aside from being able to correctly identify a football (see above), Werner ended the regular season tied with No. 15 Anthony Barr and yet to be named list member in sacks. Sure he plays in the ACC, but considering teams had to stop short of conjuring mythical beasts to stop him, his work remains impressive.

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No. 6: DE Damontre Moore - Texas A&M

Moore
Thomas Campbell - USA TODAY Sports

You were waiting for one of these boys, weren't you? Anyone who watched the Texas A&M Aggies' game against Alabama can testify to their defense's ability. Moore helped shatter the confidence of many a ball-carrier and quarterback.

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No. 5: CB Dee Milliner - Alabama

Milliner
Derick E. Hingle - USA TODAY Sports

The top cornerback on this list, Milliner is going to be a challenge for whoever's under center for Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game. He's yet another member of the Crimson Tide looking to make a tidy sum at the next level.

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No. 4: DT Star Lotulelei – Utah

Star
Steven Bisig - USA TODAY Sports

A consensus All-American and with a name demanding excellence, Lotulelei's Utah Utes had a poor season, but he still showed up every week, lunch pail in hand and got the job done.

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No. 3: LB Jarvis Jones - Georgia

Jones
Dale Zanine - USA TODAY Sports

Jarvis Jones and his teammates could've been playing Notre Dame for the national championship if not for a complete brain fart in the final seconds of the SEC Championship Game. Instead, the Georgia Bulldogs have to avoid a letdown against Nebraska. Jones doesn't have letdowns. He puts you down and recommends you stay there.

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No. 2: DE Jadeveon Clowney - South Carolina

Clowney
Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

Four words describe Clowney best: freak on a leash. As a freshman, he was amazing. As a sophomore, he was downright scary. I suggest the South Carolina Gamecocks start the Clowney for Heisman campaign now. They can probably get a great bulk discount. Just cross out Johnny Manziel's name.

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No. 1: LB Manti Te’o – Notre Dame

Te'o
Jerry Lai - USA TODAY Sports

You were expecting, maybe, Brad Wing? Te'o has been the cornerstone of a fantastic defensive unit for the duration of 2012. Forget the critics. To discover that both your grandmother and the love of your life pass within six hours before pulling yourself together to effectively play quarterback of the defense tells me all I need to know.

He belonged in New York, he earned every trophy (including my vote for the Nagurski Trophy) and he's earned everyone's respect. He is 2012's ultimate defender.

Brandon Cavanaugh is a college football columnist for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter: @eightlaces

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