- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.
You can see our preseason top 25 here.
No. 23: Michael Clay, LB, Oregon
2012 numbers: Led the Ducks with 101 tackles -- 20 more than the closest player behind him -- while posting 10 tackles for a loss for a team-high minus-45 yards. He also had three sacks (averaging minus-10 yards per sack) with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Preseason ranking: Unranked (though in all fairness, I did have him as my mythical No. 26).
Making the case for Clay: In a league loaded with speed-rushing outside linebackers (note that all three linebackers on the first-team all-league squad were OLBs), it was Clay who we felt was the strongest of the middle backers (we used four LBs on our all-league team, because we're edgy and anti-establishment). He was the emotional leader on a Ducks defense that ranked 25th nationally in points allowed (21.62) -- up from 52nd the season before when it allowed more than 24 points per game. He was at his best in big games -- posting a career-high 20 stops in the Ducks' only defeat of the season -- an overtime loss to Stanford. His team-high nine tackles -- including two for a loss and Oregon's lone sack -- were enough to earn him defensive MVP of the Fiesta Bowl. It was Oregon's second straight BCS bowl game victory, capping a 12-1 season.