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Tuesday countdown: MAC's top 10 defensive players

Year of the strong safety?

Welcome to the second edition of the Tuesday countdown. Every Tuesday, all the way up until the start of the season when Northern Illinois travels to Wisconsin for a 6 p.m. game on Sept. 5, we'll be counting down some aspect of college football.

Today, we'll take a look at the top 10 defensive players in the Mid-American Conference.

Just missed the cut: P.J. Mahone, SS, Bowling Green; Justin Winters, LB, Buffalo; Brandon Bice, DE, Northern Illinois; Josh Gordy, CB, Central Michigan.

10. Noah Keller, LB, OhioLast season: 104 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 2 pass breakups Keller might not be a name you've consistently heard, but pay attention to him when you get the chance to see him. His numbers speak for themselves.

9. Almondo Sewell, DL, AkronLast season: 37 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 blocked kick He has the potential for monster games and no offense wants to run at the Akron big man. Sewell is the first player opposing offenses gameplan against when they face Akron.

8. Brian Lainhart, SS, Kent StateLast season: 106 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 6 interceptions, 5 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles It's the year of the strong safety in the MAC. Lainhart is one of the best defensive players in the conference, but might be relegated to honorable mention status with the glut of talented safeties in front of him.
David Bryant, SS, Northern IllinoisLast season: 83 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 3 pass breakups, 3 passes defended Who saw this coming a year ago? NIU coach Jerry Kill believes Bryant is the next NFL Draft pick to come out of DeKalb and if Bryant turns in another year like last season it will be hard to argue with that. Bryant is still raw with only one season of experience at safety, but his explosive hitting and athleticism has rocketed him up this list.

6. Austin Pritchard, LB, Western MichiganLast season: 86 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 3 passes defended Pritchard is one of the most productive linebackers in the MAC but for whatever reason doesn't get a whole lot of love. Expect him to start more than nine games this season provided he's healthy.

5. Andre Neblett, DT, TempleLast season: 36 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles Neblett has been and will be a force on the defensive line for the Owls.

4. Davonte Shannon, SS, BuffaloLast season: 121 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 4 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick Shannon has next-level potential. All he did last season was produce and anchor a Bulls defense that won the MAC title game.

3. Nick Bellore, LB, Central MichiganLast season: 148 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles Bellore has a great shot to win the MAC's Defensive Player of the Year Award with his speed and tackling ability. It's very hard to ignore 73 solo tackles.

2. Frank Zombo, DE, Central MichiganLast season: 51 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 1 forced fumble Not only does Zombo have the best name in the MAC, he's the the best returning defensive lineman period. With Larry English gone from NIU, Zombo takes over as the player who will cause the most havoc from the defensive line in the MAC.
Barry Church, SS, ToledoLast season: 93 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 6 pass breakups, 3 forced fumbles Church is better than former Ohio safety Michael Mitchell, who was a second-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in this year's NFL Draft. His 4.5 speed, range and the intelligence with which he plays makes him the best defensive player in the conference.

So, what do you think? What does your list look like?

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