- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2013 begins!
A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.
You can review our 2012 postseason top 25 here.
25. Ben Gardner, DE, Stanford
2012 numbers: Posted 49 tackles, including 14.5 for a loss which was tied for second on the team. He posted 7.5 sacks -- also good for second on the team. Last year Stanford led the nation in sacks per game and was second in TFL's per game. Gardner also broke up five passes, forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.
2012 postseason ranking: Unranked.
Making the case for Gardner: For far too long, Gardner has been left off these preseason and postseason lists. Playing for a defense that has been one of the best in the nation, his work has been overshadowed by names like Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy. But his contributions should not be overlooked -- because they are significant. The 6-4, 277-pound Gardner is as strong against the run as he is disrupting the passing game. He's feared by quarterbacks, running backs and offensive coordinators alike and his decision to return is a massive boost to an already stalwart defense. Starting all 14 games last season, Gardner put up big numbers in some of Stanford's biggest games -- including a six-tackle performance against USC where he had 3.5 tackles for a loss and a sack. The key to Stanford's defensive success is the sum of its parts. The Cardinal ranked fifth nationally against the run last year, allowing 97 yards per game despite not having a player ranked in the top 20 in sacks or tackles for a loss. Yet Murphy, Thomas and Gardner all averaged better than one TFL per game. In a conference that is brimming with talented pass rushers and run stoppers, Gardner, a second-team all-conference performer last year, should not be overlooked.
20hChantel Jennings and Ted Miller