Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU, Jr.
He's a sleek (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) and strong standout for one of the nation's best defenses. Last season, he had nine sacks (the fourth-best single-season total in school history) and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Even beyond his physical ability and eye-opening statistics, Montgomery displays the mental discipline and toughness of a great one.
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah, Sr.
Utah failed to register a double-digit victory season for the first time since 2007 and its Pac-12 debut was more so-so than spectacular, but Lotulelei held up his end of the bargain. It's difficult for any program to assimilate into a new conference culture. Lotulelei, though, was named the league's best defensive lineman - by vote of the league's offensive linemen. At 6-foot-4, 325 pounds, Lotulelei should be even better with a renewed commitment to conditioning.
Johnathan Hankins, DT, Ohio State, Jr.
Hankins has only teased coaches with hints of his vast potential. After a productive spring under new coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes might feature the nation's scariest interior defender, a package of size (6-foot-4, 317 pounds) and athleticism that can disrupt opposing offenses.
Brandon Jenkins, DE, Florida State, Sr.
When Florida State had its unprecedented era of college-football success, it was defensive players who showed the way. Now that the Seminoles are again knocking on the door of the sport's elite, that theme has been renewed. Jenkins has helped the resurgence with a career 36.5 tackles for a loss. He's poised to make a name for himself as one of the best-ever Seminole defenders.
Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia, Jr.
Last season was a breakout effort - 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss - for Jones, a transfer from USC. It's easy to classify him as a splashy, big-play man, but coaches also love his consistency. He rarely gets caught out of position. He never takes a play off.
Manti Te'o, MLB, Notre Dame, Sr.
Te'o had an opportunity to enter the NFL draft, but said he still has room for improvement. His production thus far has been enviable. As a junior, Te'o had 128 tackles and 13.5 for a loss, continuing to build on the reputation that saw him enter Notre Dame as the nation's No. 1 high-school prospect.
Chase Thomas, OLB, Stanford, Sr.
At 6-foot-4, 245 pounds, he's an exceptional-looking player even coming off the bus. But he also displays the athleticism and tenacity to wreck Pac-12 offenses as he speed-rushes off the edge. Thomas, always up for a challenge, said he will become more of a vocal leader this season.
David Amerson, CB, North Carolina State, Jr.
Thirteen interceptions. It requires skill, anticipation and some good fortune, too. Amerson may never have another 13-pick season - he eclipsed the ACC record of UNC great Dre Bly - particularly now that his reputation has made him someone to avoid. But with a great knack for the ball and soft hands, Amerson should again be a game-altering factor for the Wolfpack.
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State, Sr.
Once, he was destined to be known as the only Mississippi State player ever with two interception returns for touchdowns in the same game (off Tim Tebow, no less). Banks, left, has since added to his resume as the SEC's best pure corner (after Honey Bear's defection) and an excellent performer in run support.
T.J. McDonald, FS, USC, Sr.
Like his father Tim McDonald, a former NFL player, he's a Trojan, through and through. His hard-hitting ability is well-known throughout the Pac-12. His sound technique and leadership ability probably don't get enough attention, but they are well-appreciated by his USC teammates.
Bacarri Rambo, SS, Georgia, Sr.
There's a cloud over Rambo's year as he serves an early season suspension due to a reported failed drug test. But once in the lineup, Rambo's skills are unquestioned. He's excellent in run support and pass coverage.
Brad Wing, P, LSU, Soph.
The Australian has the No. 1 quality for a punter. His efforts are practically unreturnable. In the regular season, his punts were returned only 17 times for 6 total yards. Twenty of his kicks were downed inside the 20-yard line. Overall, he averaged 44.4 yards per punt. Against Alabama in the SEC regular-season showdown game - that led to a rematch in the BCS title game - Wing's 73-yard punt pinned Alabama deep in its territory. It helped to force OT and led to LSU's defensive-minded 9-6 victory.
Jamal Miles, PR, Arizona State, Sr.
First Florida State's Greg Reid was booted ... then LSU's Tyrann Mathieu was let go ... so, let's go with Miles, who led the Pac-12 in punt returns (16.6), establishing himself as an elusive and dependable player who could flip the Sun Devils into favorable field position. Miles had a 78-yard TD and also scored twice on kickoff returns.