Thanks to an NCAA medical hardship waiver, Rouse will be playing his sixth season at Marshall in 2014. Rouse was so plauged by injury that he actually changed his jersey number in 2013 to avoid bad juju and further injuries. Rouse is an extremely interesting player; A 6'5", 255 pound defensive tackle, James came to Huntington as a scrawny 195 pound defensive end. Today Rouse is a first team all-conference defensive tackle and preseason Bednarik award watch list nominee. Rouse racked up 39 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks in 2013.
Christian Covington - DT, Rice
Probably the first time a Canadian has been arguably the best defensive player in Conference USA. Christian puts up crazy stats for a defensive tackle, including 59 tackls, 11.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, three passes broken up, four QB hurries, a forced and recovered fumble, and two blocked kicks. An extremely active and athletic 300 pounder, Covington has been mentioned as a threat to enter the NFL draft after this season as he projects as a three-tech defensive tackle in the NFL quite well. Accolades: All C-USA, All-America, Outland Trophy watch list, Lombardi watch list, Bednarik watch list, Nagurski watch list.
D'Joun Smith - CB, FAU
Why do teams keep throwing at D'Joun Smith? The physical corner ranked second in the nation in passes defended (20) and third nationally for interceptions (7), one of which was a 75 yard pick six. Smith also accounted for 35 tackles, two TFLs, one sack, and two forced fumbles. Ranked as the eighth best CB in the nation, per NFL Draft Scout, Smith was recognized as a preseason nominee for the Jim Thorpe award.
TT Barber - LB, MTSU
The heart and soul of MTSU, TT was voted as first team All-CUSA at Linebacker. A consistent producer, Barber totaled 119 tackles, 11.5 TFLs, three sacks, three interceptions, three QB hurries, three forced fumbles, two pass break ups, and three fumble recoveries. A relative unknown coming out of Coolidge, GA, Barber has elevated himself to the Lombardi watch list in just two short years. The only junior on this list, Barber still has his best days ahead of him at MTSU.
Cam Thomas - CB, WKU
A 6'1", 190 pound senior, Thomas was first team All-Sunbelt last year. With plus size and speed, Cam is a big time NFL prospect that is still improving his technique. A Jim Thorpe award watch list nominee, Thomas will need to have a big season to keep the Hilltoppers competitive against the three high octane offenses on their schedule (Bowling Green, ODU, Marshall). Thomas led the Sun Belt with five interceptions last season while playing for a Hilltopper defense that ranked 10th in FBS for passing defense.
Bryce Callahan - CB, Rice
Rice had to part ways with their best player in Phillip Gaines last season as the Redskins called his name in the third round of the NFL draft. Fortunately for the Owls, Bryce Callahan is more than capable of picking up the slack in Gaines' wake. Callahan joins Thomas and Smith on the Thorpe award watch list after racking up 10 pass break ups, 13 passes defended, and three interceptions in 2014. Callahan might see his numbers decrease in 2014 with Gaines gone to the NFL since opposing QBs would be wise to avoid his side of the field. Nonetheless, Bryce's talent is hard to deny. Callahan has spun an impressive career at Rice, with 101 tackles, one sack, 10 TFLs, 26 passes defended, and 11 interceptions through his first three seasons. Another great year should cement Callahan's names in the Rice record books.
I had to cut the poll to six names but there are several guys that were hard to leave off: Levander Liggins, Laramie Lee, Andrae Kirk, Triston Wade, and Robert Singletary to name a few. If you think someone I missed should be the top dog, give me your argument in the comments section