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College Footballs top 10 impact players


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We all know that the offensive players get most of the hype, but this week's Top 10 list is a nod to the biggest impact defenders.

1. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, LB: The heady Buckeye is already a two-time All-American and has won the Nagurski and Butkus awards and probably has more hardware coming this year. Opponents marvel at Laurinaitis' balance and ability to maneuver through trash to get to plays most other linebackers can't. Laurinaitis excels against both the run and the pass and he is just so smart and instinctive, he has been making big plays for OSU since he burst onto the scene three years ago when the Buckeyes beat Texas in Austin on a prime-time Saturday night stage.

2. George Selvie, USF, DE: The one-time Bulls center is the king of the negative-yardage play. Last year as a sophomore, he led the nation with 31.5 TFLs and was second with 14.5 sacks despite getting increased attention from offenses as the season wore on. USF coaches are expecting Selvie to have a similar impact after an off-season of adding 10 more pounds to his lithe frame, up to 245.

3. Kevin Ellison, USC, S: It's hard for any USC Trojan to be underrated these days, but when you play on a defense with Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, uberfreak Taylor Mays and DT Fili Moala, you can sneak under the radar. But the truth is, no one on the USC defense plays faster, makes fewer mistakes or gets more praise from the Trojan coaches. Ellison, a 225-pound heavy hitter, is the leader of what may be the best defense in the country. Some of his more hyped teammates might prove to be better NFL players years from now, but at this point, he'd be the guy many inside the program would pick first today.

4. Greg Middleton, Indiana, DE: Like Selvie, this is another big-play DE who came out of nowhere last season. As a first-year starter, Middleton piled up a nation's best 16 sacks, which is even more impressive when you consider he did so in a league with some very good O-linemen. Middleton, a 275-pound junior, could be even scarier this fall. Word is the guy has been unblockable in camp now that he's gotten better at using his hands.

5. Eric Berry, Tennessee, DB: The dynamic sophomore is creating plenty of buzz these days thanks in large part to his work as a QB with the Vols offense, but it's Berry's skills on defense that already have Vol insiders saying he'll be the best DB this program has produced in decades. "When you put it all together -- talent, knowledge of the game and worth ethic -- he's the best I've ever coached," UT secondary coach Larry Slade told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "And the great thing is that Eric is just getting started. Last year, he was just doing it on sheer talent. But now he's had a year to study the game and learn what works. He's very special."

6. Scott McKillop, Pittsburgh, LB: He's been called a huge overachiever, but that actually takes some credit away from just how instinctive and tough the Panther middle linebacker really is. He led the nation in tackles in 2007, averaging 12.6 tackles per game and sparked the Panthers to be the country's fifth-ranked defense. The latter point is pretty amazing when you consider the injury-ravaged Panthers (5-7) were the only team among the nation's top 14 defense to win fewer than nine games in 2007.

7. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State, CB: Jenkins is athletic and sharp enough to play both the corner and safety for OSU and make big plays at both spots. If there is a knock on him, rival coaches say he can get a little overly aggressive and get out of position.

8.Brandon Spikes, Florida, LB: By far, the biggest bright spot in a very down 2007 for the young Gators' D was the emergence of Spikes. He was second in the SEC with 131 tackles and also ranked sixth in the SEC with 16 tackles for loss.

9. Rey Maualuga, USC, LB: The biggest hitter in college football, Maualuga is a highlight waiting to happen. He delivers more violent hits than any player in the country. There are times when he dominates like no other linebacker as he did in last year's Rose Bowl. Other times his aggressiveness gets the best of him and he ends up running himself out of plays, but he has gotten a lot better at sniffing out plays and staying disciplined in the last year.

10. Gerald McRath, Southern Miss, LB: A tackling machine who flies all over the field for the Golden Eagles. I'd asked new USM running back coach Frank Wilson just how good McRath is last week. Wilson, a former Ole Miss assistant, evoked the name Patrick Willis, saying he's instinctive, tough and explosive just like the NFL Rookie of the Year, although he may not be quite as fast. As McRath gets better at using his hands, he should give opponents even more fits.

Just Missed the Cut: Maurice Evans, Penn State, DE; Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest, CB; Patrick Chung, Oregon, S; Ricky Jean-Francois, DT, LSU; Brian Orakpo, Texas, DE; Nic Harris, Oklahoma, S; Jan Jorgenson, BYU, DL; SenDerrick Marks, Auburn DL; Brian Cushing, USC, OLB; Macho Harris, VT, CB; Jason Phillips, TCU LB; Greg Hardy, Ole Miss, DE; William Moore, DB, Mizzou; Michael Hamlin, DB, Clemson and Mike Mickens, Cincy CB.

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I hope Ricky Jean-Francois lives up to the hype. The guy barely played last year. Sure, he was unstoppable when in, but for him to make this list with that limited playing time means he should be better than Dorsey

or it means he has too much hype and IMO he has.. for a guy that barely played to be in the list that is a joke.. a guy like reshad jones is more deserving than ricky jean.

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they should have at least added him to the "just missed the cut" list. Even if he hasn't had amazing numbers yet, there's no denying that he's going to have a breakout year.

Been in that time machine yet? I'd have to see a backup do that before I'd call him a impact player, sorry, seeing is believing in this case.

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or it means he has too much hype and IMO he has.. for a guy that barely played to be in the list that is a joke.. a guy like reshad jones is more deserving than ricky jean.

thats pretty much what i meant when I said I hope he lives up to the hype...they guy has gotten too much attention for the little bit of time he has been on the field.

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Laurinaitis is by far the most overrated player in the country. Every time he's matched up against an offense with speed, he comes up short. See Illinois and LSU last year.

agreed.. i have seen him miss a number of tackles because of his lack of speed.. he is fine in the big 10, but even against illinois he looked lost.

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yeah i was agreeing with you on the hype part of it.. I however disagree with you on hoping he lives up to it.. ;) :P

I think he will be a dominant force. If LSU is as good as people say, with QB being the question mark, they should at least get another SEC West title

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