College football always reloads, because college football has Nick Saban. There are also other reasons, but Nick Saban. There are tons of productive players who are returning for 2013, and many more ready to step into the limelight with breakthrough seasons.
For our purposes here, we're focused on the former group. Below you'll find the top 10 returning players in a handful of major raw statistical categories. (All stats courtesy cfbstats.com.)
|J.W. Walsh||Oklahoma State||FR||QB||10||163||109||66.9||1564||9.6||13||3||170.11|
|Taylor Kelly||Arizona State||SO||QB||13||360||241||66.9||3040||8.4||29||9||159.45|
|Connor Shaw||South Carolina||JR||QB||11||228||154||67.5||1956||8.6||17||7||158.06|
The list of the most efficient returning quarterbacks is led by a pair of SEC signal callers who played against each other in the conference title game last season and could do so again in 2013. McCarron wasn't asked to carry the load for Alabama, and he didn't need to - the Crimson Tide finished last season ranked sixth nationally in yards per carry. McCarron made the most of this run support and took care of the football, averaging an interception for every 100 pass attempts or so. Murray, meanwhile, led the conference in both yards per attempt and touchdown passes, and finished in the top five nationally in both categories.
Noticeably absent from this list is Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, but he didn't miss the top 10 by much. Manziel ranks No. 12 among returnees in this category and was the nation's third-most efficient freshman quarterback in 2012.
Rushing yards per game
|Kasey Carrier||New Mexico||JR||RB||12||255||1469||5.76||15||21.25||122.42|
Ka'Deem Carey thrived in Rich Rodriguez's offense last season and broke out in a huge way, leading the FBS in rushing yards; he also finished among the nation's top five in rushing touchdowns.
Aside from the running backs, there are several 1,000-yard quarterbacks returning, including Jordan Lynch and Johnny Manziel. Lynch carried the ball more often last season than any other quarterback, and by a wide margin.
Receiving yards per game
|Davante Adams||Fresno State||FR||WR||13||102||1312||12.86||14||7.8||100.9|
|Nick Harwell||Miami (OH)||JR||WR||9||68||870||12.79||8||7.6||96.7|
Southern Cal's Marqise Lee is the nation's leading returning receiver, but he faces some uncertainty heading into the 2013 season -- the situation at quarterback is unsettled following Matt Barkley's departure, and just how it shakes out will affect Lee's production to some extent.
Elsewhere on the list, there are some impressively productive players who may have flown under the radar last season. Alex Amidon is one such case, buried as he was by the sadness machine otherwise known as Boston College football. He's the most prolific returning wide receiver in the ACC, and he should be Chase Rettig's favorite target again in 2013.
All-purpose yards per game
|Name||Team||Yr||Pos||G||Rush||Recv.||Punt Ret.||Kick Ret.||Yards/G|
|Dri Archer||Kent State||JR||RB||14||1429||561||-4||591||184.1|
Antonio Andrews did a little bit of everything for Western Kentucky, and his heavy workload allowed him to lead the nation in all-purpose yards; he was the only FBS player to accumulate more than 3,000 all-purpose yards in 2012.
Lee makes another appearance here, and pair of ACC players with bright futures ahead of them figure prominently as well. Some of these players do most of their damage in one particular aspect of the game, while others, like Stefon Diggs, are pure terror in multiple roles.
Tackles for loss per game
|Will Sutton||Arizona State||JR||DL||12||23.5||124||1.96|
|Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina||SO||DL||12||23.5||113||1.96|
|Kyle Van Noy||BYU||JR||LB||13||22||120||1.69|
|Carl Bradford||Arizona State||SO||LB||13||21.5||88||1.65|
|Scott Crichton||Oregon State||SO||DL||13||17.5||76||1.35|
There is plenty of talent represented by these numbers, but they are overshadowed by memories of Jadeveon Clowney, who was last seen destroying Michigan running back Vincent Smith. Clowney may be the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, and he certainly will be the most prominent defensive player in the SEC this year. That hit on Smith will be tough to top, though.
Interceptions per game
|Derron Smith||Fresno State||SO||DB||13||6||127||1||0.46|
|Ty Zimmerman||Kansas State||JR||DB||11||5||67||0||0.45|
Only one player picked off more passes in 2012 than Benwikere, who also returned one of his picks for a score. He was part of an 11-win San Jose State team, and he could be one of the top defensive back prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft.
A trio of players led BCS-conference defensive backs with six interceptions, including the very opportunistic Ed Reynolds, who returned three picks for touchdowns. No one in the nation had more pick-sixes, and no one had more interception return yardage.
Those are just some of the players to keep an eye on this season. If there is one takeaway from these lists, it's that Western Kentucky is one action-packed place. The Hilltoppers manufacture excitement, though few might be around to witness it.
If there's a second takeaway, it's holy cow let's just watch that Clowney hit again.