The SEC's 25 best players: No. 25

We kick off our countdown today of the SEC’s 25 best players from the 2010 season.

I believe it was harder this year than a year ago, and I appreciate everyone’s feedback.

As I stated last week, this list is based almost entirely on what the players did during the 2010 season and includes outgoing seniors and anybody else who’s leaving early for the NFL draft. In those situations where it was close, I considered a player’s entire career.

Again, this is not a list of the top NFL draft prospects in the SEC, and it’s not merely a checklist of the players with the best statistics. My aim was to come up with a list of the 25 best and most productive football players from this past season -- the guys who had the most profound impact on their teams, the guys who delivered in the clutch and the guys who played their best in the biggest games.

Performance against SEC competition was weighted more heavily, and I also took into account how guys played in the postseason.

Yes, there are some very good players who didn’t make this list. And, yes, this is a subjective endeavor … but always a fun one.

Here’s a link to our 2010 preseason countdown. Keep in mind that we’ll also do a 2011 preseason countdown, consisting only of returning SEC players, in June and July.

Anyway, here goes with No. 25 on our list, a guy who ended the season on fire and may well find himself on some All-America lists in 2011:

No. 25: Courtney Upshaw, LB, Jr., Alabama

2010 numbers/honors: Led Alabama with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks. Also had a team-high four forced fumbles.

Preseason ranking: Not ranked in the 2010 preseason countdown.

Making the case for Upshaw: He was hindered early by a high ankle sprain, and it took him some time to get rolling. But no defensive player in the league finished the season any hotter than Upshaw, who had six tackles for loss and forced three fumbles in his last two games. The 6-foot-2, 263-pound junior had 11.5 of his 14.5 tackles for loss against SEC teams, which ranked him fourth in the league. Playing the Jack linebacker in Alabama’s 3-4 defense, Upshaw was at his best in three of the Crimson Tide’s biggest games -- Florida, Auburn and Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl. He had a combined 10 tackles for loss in those three games and collected three sacks against Auburn in the regular-season finale. Once he got healthier, Upshaw showed signs of being a dominant pass-rusher. He contemplated turning pro, but elected to return for his senior season and does so as one of the top big-play defenders in the league.