Players on the defensive side of the ball are changing the face of the college game. While some might not like the low-scoring SEC match-ups between LSU and Alabama, their effectiveness in keeping opposing offenses out of the end zone has been a winning formula in the face of the high-powered spread offenses. As the new season begins, here are the top defensive players at each position to keep your eye on.
1. Brandon Jenkins
Defensive End, Florida State
The Seminoles have led the nation in sacks over the last two seasons with 88, and Jenkins has accounted for nearly a quarter of them (21.5). No quarterback wants to see Jenkins bearing down on him.
[College Football Preview: Heisman Hopefuls]
2. Star Lotulelei
Defensive Tackle, Utah
At 6' 4", 320 pounds, Star shined brightly last season, winning the Morris Trophy as the Pac-12's top defensive lineman. Lotulelei overpowers offensive linemen and should be a top pick in the 2012 NFL draft.
Defensive Tackle, Ohio State
In his first year as a starter, Hankins finished second on the Buckeyes with 11 tackles for a loss in 2011. Many feel that the 6' 4", 317-pound junior is just beginning to reach his potential.
[College Football Preview: SI Kids Preseason Rankings]
4. Sam Montgomery
Defensive End, LSU
Nicknamed Sonic after the hedgehog in the video game, Montgomery is a fast pass-rusher who led one of the nation's best defenses with nine sacks last season. He will have the Tigers in the national title hunt.
5. Johnthan Banks
Cornerback, Mississipi State
This converted safety picked off five passes and forced three fumbles for the Bulldogs in his junior season in Starkville. He tested the NFL Draft waters in the spring, but decided to come back for his senior year and will look to impress pro scouts, who currently slot him as a first-round talent in the 2013 Draft.
6. Jarvis Jones
A consensus first-team All-America selection as a redshirt sophomore in 2011, Jones is the best pass-rushing linebacker in the country. Last season his 13.5 sacks ranked second among all FBS players.
7. Manti Te'o
Linebacker, Notre Dame
The top linebacker recruit in the class of 2009, Te'o was second-team All-America last fall. He led the team in tackles for the second straight season, with 128.
8. Chase Thomas
Thomas is a menacing pass-rusher in Stanford's 3–4 defense, piling up 17.5 tackles for a loss. With teammate Shayne Skov returning from injury this fall, the Cardinal will have one of the nation's top linebacking units.
9. David Amerson
Cornerback, North Carolina State
In his first season as a fulltime starter in 2011, Amerson set the ACC single-season interception record with 13 (second-most in FBS history). At 6' 3" with good leaping ability, Amerson can cover any receiver.
10. T.J. McDonald
The son of former NFL All-Pro safety Tim McDonald, T.J. had a team-high three interceptions in 2011.
11. Eric Reid
Best known for his pick against Alabama in November, Reid tied Mathieu for the team lead in tackles last season (76).