Game plan-changing defenders are hard to come by. In fact, there typically are only a few per conference in a given season. But make no mistake -- offensive coordinators know one when they see one. A game-changer is a defender blessed with the rare combination of physical and mental skills to throw off the rhythm of an entire offense. Spotting such a talent is the easy part. Designing a scheme to neutralize him is the challenge.
Here's a look at the 10 defenders who cause the most game plan-changing in college football:
1. Chris Long, DE, Virginia
Long has notched just seven career sacks in three seasons, which is largely why he's overlooked on most preseason All-America teams. However, no defender requires more attention than Howie's son. Long spends most of his time lined up across from the offensive tackle's inside shoulder as defensive end in Virginia's 3-4 defensive scheme. Instead of working off the edge -- like most ends on this list -- Long's job is to maintain "gap discipline" inside. Most players at his position simply take on blockers and allow others to clean up the mess. But Long regularly performs both jobs on his own. He constantly requires at least double-team attention (usually from the guard and tackle), and Long often uses his exceptional combination of power and quickness to split the double team and penetrate the backfield. Once he does, no defensive lineman in the country gives a better effort in pursuit of the ball carrier.