The unsung hero for each top 25 team

play
Washington State-Stanford meeting in Pac-12 showdown (0:43)

David Pollack previews No. 14 Washington State's game on the road against No. 24 Stanford. (0:43)

For once, let's forget about Tua and Kyler. We all know the superstars for the top teams, but who are the under-the-radar talents that keep them going?

Here are the unsung heroes for each top-25 team:


No. 1 Alabama: DL Quinnen Williams

It's as if we're living in the Upside Down, talking about the Crimson Tide's offense more than its defense. Who would have ever imagined that under the defensive-minded coach Nick Saban? Tua may be having a magical season at quarterback, but so is Williams, the breakout star with 33 tackles, a team-high nine quarterback hurries and 8.5 tackles for loss. -- Alex Scarborough


No. 2 Clemson: Offensive line

The hot takes are all about QB Trevor Lawrence and the Heisman hype is starting to build for RB Travis Etienne, but that all leaves out the guys making both look good -- the Tigers' O-line. During the Deshaun Watson era, the line was good, but made to look a bit better because of Watson's athleticism. This year's unit, however, is a no-joke monster. From senior star Mitch Hyatt to the unheralded beast Justin Falcinelli in the middle, this group is getting it done across the board, allowing the third-lowest rate of pressures and the second-best yards-per-carry before contact of any Power 5 program. -- David M. Hale


No. 3 Notre Dame: DE Julian Okwara

The Irish's defense is allowing less than 20 points per game this year, and a big part of that success comes from containing the passing game. Their mark of allowing 5.6 yards per passing attempt is tied for eighth-best in the FBS. The secondary is talented, but regularly creating pressure with only four pass rushers has been an underrated part of the equation in South Bend. Okwara, a junior, has only 1.5 sacks to his name this year but teammates and coaches are quick to say he regularly forces opponents into bad spots and puts Notre Dame players in position to make a big play. -- Dan Murphy


No. 4 LSU: K Cole Tracy

Where would the Tigers be without Tracy? The offense has moved the ball but hasn't been great at crossing the goal line, making Tracy invaluable. LSU has scored on 92.1 percent of its red-zone trips (35-of-38), which is second in the SEC, but the Tigers are next-to-last in touchdown percentage down there (18-of-38). Tracy is 21-of-23 on field goals (91.3 percent, second in SEC) and his only two misses have been attempts beyond 50 yards. -- Sam Khan Jr.


No. 5 Michigan: RB Karan Higdon

Is it possible for a top-10 running back to be unsung? Michigan's offensive line and new quarterback Shea Patterson deserve a good deal of the credit they're getting for pumping some life into the Wolverines' offense, but Higdon and his downhill, lowered-shoulder running style have been the foundation of that improvement. He may not do it with a ton of flash, but Higdon has quietly topped 100 yards in every game this year except for the season-opening loss to Notre Dame. -- Murphy


No. 6 Texas: TE Andrew Beck

Beck, a senior, has had a solid season for Texas both blocking and receiving. He has had a catch in every game this year, while providing the ball-control Longhorns a physical blocking presence on the edge. -- Jake Trotter


No. 7 Georgia: K Rodrigo Blankenship

If you're looking for the one thing Georgia has that top-ranked Alabama doesn't, don't get hung up on offense or defense. Instead, look to special teams, where Blankenship has become a weapon for the Bulldogs. Whether it's a projected SEC title game against the Tide or even this weekend's tilt against Florida, his ability to put points on the board when the offense stalls out is invaluable. No one has made more field goals between 40 and 49 yards in the SEC (6) than the redshirt junior. -- Scarborough


No. 8 Oklahoma: WR Lee Morris

A former walk-on, Morris has given the OU passing attack an added big-play boost, turning six of his 10 receptions on the season into TDs. Morris, a native of Allen, Texas, was high school teammates with QB Kyler Murray, and that familiarity has carried over into college.-- Trotter


No. 9 Florida: Special teams

Assistant coach Greg Knox has helped transform the Gators' special teams, and that unit deserves some credit for their fast start. Florida has blocked three punts and kicks this year, already its highest season total since 2012. One of those blocks went for a score, and Florida also has returned a punt for a touchdown this season. Freddie Swain ranks No. 10 nationally in punt return average. And true freshman kicker Evan McPherson, replacing the reliable Eddy Piniero, has made 11 of his 12 field goals so far. -- Andrea Adelson


No. 10 UCF: QB Darriel Mack Jr.

When the Knights announced they would not have McKenzie Milton start a game for the first time since 2016 against East Carolina last week, they turned to Mack to help them stay undefeated. Mack delivered in his first career start, rushing for a career-high 120 yards and a touchdown as UCF won its 20th straight game, the longest winning streak in the country. He didn't need to do much in the passing game, but he was able to execute a trick play to perfection early in the game, tossing a backward pass to true freshman quarterback Quadry Jones, who threw it to Adrian Killins Jr. for their first score of the game. -- Adelson


No. 11 Ohio State: WR Terry McLaurin

McLaurin hasn't gotten a ton of national attention, but he has been a huge part of this Ohio State offense. With eight touchdowns on the season, he already has two more than he had all of last season. If you ask any of his teammates, they will tell you McLaurin is unselfish. He is one of the better blocking receivers on the team and even blocked three defenders on teammate KJ Hill's touchdown catch against Penn State to help secure a win. -- Tom VanHaaren


No. 12 Kentucky: C Drake Jackson

Centers rarely get much ink, but Jackson has been outstanding this season. Behind Benny Snell Jr.'s fantastic 2018 has been a stout offensive line and Jackson is the anchor, directing traffic, consistently locking up defensive linemen on the first level and anchoring the line of scrimmage for the Wildcats. -- Khan Jr.


No. 13 West Virginia: WR Marcus Simms

On an offense that features a pair of big names at receiver, in Biletnikoff finalist David Sills V and 2017 conference receptions champ Gary Jennings Jr., unheralded junior Simms actually is leading the Mountaineers in receiving yards. Simms' continued emergence will be key as West Virginia attempts to bounce back from the disappointing loss at Iowa State. -- Trotter


No. 14 Washington State: RB James Williams

The running backs in Mike Leach's Air Raid offense often get overlooked, which is why James Williams isn't necessarily the most well-known name in Pac-12 circles despite playing a significant role for the Cougars for a third straight year. Williams' touchdown run from the quirky swinging-game formation against Oregon was one of the most impressive touchdown runs in college football this season and his 39 catches rank second on the team. -- Kyle Bonagura


No. 15 Washington: RB Salvon Ahmed

Behind four-year starter Myles Gaskin on the depth chart, the sophomore Ahmed (60 carries, 392 yards) has still carved out a meaningful role for himself. He's not going to get that much attention on an offense that also features a four-year starter at quarterback in Jake Browning, but Ahmed's time will come. This year, he's averaging 2 yards per carry more than Gaskin (6.5 to 4.5) and the same amount of touchdowns (5). -- Bonagura


No. 16 Texas A&M: P Braden Mann

He actually might get more attention than the traditional "unsung hero," but Mann has been exceptional for the Aggies this season. Mann is on a national-record pace this season, averaging 54.4 yards per punt. His net punting average (45.26 yards) is better than all but 18 punters' gross average nationally. His ability to flip the field has helped A&M's defense immensely this season. -- Khan Jr.


No. 17 Penn State: WR KJ Hamler

Quarterback Trace McSorley gets most of the attention when it comes to Penn State's offense, and for good reason. McSorley and running back Miles Sanders have been a big part of the Nittany Lions' offense this season, but Hamler has been a big contributor as well. He leads the team in touchdown receptions with five and also helps in the return game on kickoffs and punts. He ranks 16 of all FBS kick returners averaging 26.57 yards per return. Hamler has yet to break a return for a touchdown, but he is a big play waiting to happen. -- VanHaaren


No. 18 Iowa: TE T.J. Hockenson

Fellow tight end Noah Fant and quarterback Nate Stanley are receiving most of the national praise, but Hockenson has been a big part of the offense himself. It feels good that Iowa's unsung hero is a tight end, doesn't it? Hockenson has one less reception than Fant, but has 132 more receiving yards and ranks No. 4 in yards per reception for tight ends. He doesn't have as many touchdowns (3) as Fant (6), but he was named co-recipient of the John Mackey tight end of the week award after Iowa's game against Indiana. -- VanHaaren


No. 19 Oregon: RB Cyrus Habibi-Likio

Here's a name most people probably haven't heard: Cyrus Habibi-Likio. The redshirt freshman running back has just 13 carries for 16 yards this year, but he still leads the Ducks in scoring with six touchdowns. He scored a touchdown in each of the first five games, but hasn't received a carry since. -- Bonagura


No. 20 Wisconsin: S Eric Burrell

The Badgers have allowed fewer than 200 passing yards per game this season, and they've needed some unlikely assistance in the secondary to stay consistently stingy when opponents take to the air. Injuries have been a constant theme in the back end of the defense since training camp. Burrell, a redshirt sophomore who made 11 tackles in his first career start two weeks ago, has been a big part of holding that group together while bigger stars like D'Cota Dixon and Scott Nelson work through injuries. He added a fumble recovery this past week against Illinois as his role continues to grow. -- Murphy


No. 21 South Florida: WR Randall St. Felix

The Bulls lost their leading receiver from a year ago and needed someone to step in to fill the void. Enter redshirt freshman St. Felix, who leads the team in receiving yards (484) and 100-yard games (three). That includes the best receiving debut in school history, with 143 yards and a touchdown against Elon. St. Felix gives the Bulls an explosive downfield threat every time he's on the field; he is averaging 20.2 yards per reception, ranking No. 14 in the nation. -- Adelson


No. 22 NC State: Defensive line

After the Wolfpack had four defensive linemen taken in the first four rounds of this year's NFL draft, the assumption was the unit would take a huge step back. That hasn't been the case. Darian Roseboro, Eurndraus Bryant & Co. have been exceptional up front, with NC State ranking second in the league in rush defense and even holding Clemson's monster run game in check in a losing effort. -- Hale


No. 23 Utah: DE Bradlee Anae

Pac-12 fans know all about him, but it's probably time Anae starts getting mentioned among the best pass rushers in the country. He finished seventh in the Pac-12 with seven sacks a year ago and is on pace to blow by that number with five already this season, which ranks third in the conference. His 6.5 tackles for loss also rank in the top 10 in the Pac-12. -- Bonagura


No. 24 Stanford: WR Trenton Irwin

When it comes to the Stanford passing game, most of the attention goes to star receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside and big tight ends Kaden Smith and Colby Parkinson, but Irwin is quietly on pace for the biggest season of his career. He's second on the team with 34 catches after equaling his single-game career high (seven catches) in each of the past two games. -- Bonagura


No. 25 Appalachian State: LB Akeem Davis-Gaither

The offense gets most of the glory, but App State's defense has been excellent, and Davis-Gaither has led the charge. Davis-Gaither leads the Mountaineers with 54 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, but he also has broken up four passes and recorded a sack. He has been a jack of all trades on a defense that leads the Sun Belt in yards-per-play by a full yard. -- Hale