The SEC's best 25 players: No. 1

We've arrived at the No. 1 player in our countdown, and you've probably seen a few of his highlights (one, in particular) over the last six months.

No. 1: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina, Jr.

2012 summary: Clowney finished second to Jarvis Jones in the SEC with 13 sacks and also had 23.5 tackles for loss -- both school records. He won the Hendricks Award as the nation's top defensive end and joined George Rogers as the only other player in South Carolina history to be named a unanimous All-American. Clowney finished sixth in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

Most recent ranking: Ranked No. 2 in the 2012 postseason countdown.

Making the case for Clowney: Really, not much of a case needs to be made. The 6-foot-6, 272-pound Clowney is the most feared defender in the college game with the kind of size, speed and athleticism that is nothing short of “freakish.” His helmet-flying hit against Michigan in the bowl game last season generated mega hype and has been replayed countless times. But it’s that kind of play that defines Clowney as a football player. He’s the ultimate game-changer. Even when he’s quiet for a stretch, he has a knack for coming up with a play that completely changes the complexion of a game. Case in point: The late strip that saved the game against Tennessee last season. Of course, there are other times when he completely takes over a game the way he did against Clemson last season with his 4.5 sacks. The scary part is that Clowney has become a more dedicated student of the game and has a much better feel for how opposing offenses are trying to block him now. The Gamecocks will move him around this season to keep teams from sliding the protection to his side. Clowney said during the offseason that he left a lot of plays on the field last season and has vowed to be even more dominant on a down-by-down basis in what will surely be his final season of college football. He’ll almost certainly be the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft next April, but first has some unfinished business at the college level ... and maybe even a few more helmets to send flying off.

The rundown