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Six MAC Defensive Players To Watch In 2013

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Kent State defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix aims to cap one of the best careers in Golden Flashes history with a strong senior season. Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images.
Kent State defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix aims to cap one of the best careers in Golden Flashes history with a strong senior season. Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images.

The Mid-American Conference has a number of defensive stars returning who have racked up some stellar statistics and awards in previous seasons.

These are the top six defensive players you should watch when the 2013 season kicks off in late August.

SR S Jerry "Boo Boo" Gates, Bowling Green: Gates earned first-team All-MAC honors in 2012 after recording 47 tackles, 1.5 tackles for losses, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Gates has started 25 games in the first three years of his career, earning second-team All-MAC honors as a kick returner during his sophomore season. In that year, he established a school record for kickoff return yardage. He is the only Falcons player in history to score touchdowns on a kickoff and punt return and an interception. Gates had a season-high eight tackles and a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown against Miami in 2012. He also had six tackles and grabbed an interception against UMass.

SR LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo: Mack ranks fifth in a school history in tackles for loss (34) and is tied for school record in forced fumbles (7) going into his senior year. He is coming off back-to-back first-team All-MAC honors. He had 65 tackles, including 20.5 tackles for loss, third most in the nation, during his sophomore campaign, including 5.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hurries. He established his reputation as a strong defender his freshman season where recorded team highs in sacks (4.5) and tackles for losses (14.5). His 68 total tackles were third-best on the team that year.

JR LB Gabe Martin, Bowling Green: Martin enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore in 2012 with a team-high 70 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. He was named team captain and earned academic All-MAC honors along with first-team All-MAC distinction for his play on the field. He recorded six tackles at Toledo and had three tackles, a QB hurry and a pass breakup at Virginia Tech. In a Falcons victory against Rhode Island, he had nine tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss. Against UMass, he had seven tackles and one tackle for a loss. Martin was coming off a freshman year where he played in all 11 games and made 25 tackles and had one sack.

SR DE Jonathan Newsom, Ball State: After beginning his college career at Ohio State, Jonathan Newsom quickly made a name for himself in his first full season at Ball State, earning second-team All-MAC honors and starting 10 games, including the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl. Newsom led the Cardinals in tackles for loss and sacks. He ranked third in the Mid-American Conference and tied for 36th in the nation with 1.2 tackles for loss per game. Newsom was second in the MAC and 20th in the country with 0.85 sacks per contest. Newsom had a career-high eight tackles against Northern Illinois, Ohio and Army. He also had two tackles for losses against the Black Knights.

SR DL Roosevelt Nix, Kent State: When opponents talk about the Golden Flashes' defense, the conversation usually begins (and sometimes even ends) with defensive lineman Roosevelt Nix. Few MAC players have had the career Nix has: named first-team All-MAC in his first three seasons. Nix ranks fourth in sacks at the school with 20.5. His 52 tackles for loss place him second on Kent State's all-time list. Last season he made 59 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and six sacks. He had his best game statistically against Akron last Nov. 3, collecting nine tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and a tackle for a loss. Expect Nix to be on the Outland and Nagurksi Trophy watch lists.

SR S Jimmie Ward, Northern Illinois: Jimmie Ward earned first-team All-MAC honors by leading the Huskies secondary with 90 tackles and three interceptions during the regular season. He also had 10 pass breakups and 13 pass deflections. He had one of his best games against Tennessee-Martin, where he collected 10 tackles and grabbed the team's first interception. He earned second-team All-MAC honors as a sophomore, seeing action in all 14 games the Huskies played. Ward ranked second on the team with a career-high 100 tackles and 48 solo stops. Ward had at least five tackles in 12 different games. He had one sack, 2.5 tackles for loss, an interception, four pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

Do you know of MAC defensive players who are better than these six? Comment and let us know about it.