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College Football's 7 Most Clutch Performers

Andrew CoppensContributor IMarch 20, 2014

College Football's 7 Most Clutch Performers

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    College football seasons and often the names of players aren't defined by the mundane; rather, it is the spectacular that matters most. It's the stars who come up biggest when their team needs them the most. 

    How many people knew who Chris Davis of Auburn was before he returned a game-winning touchdown against rival Alabama in the Iron Bowl? Now his name is forever an answer to a trivia question. 

    The 2013 season provided plenty of opportunity for clutch performers to emerge, but a lot of them are off to the riches of the NFL.

    As we enter 2014, who can the college football world turn to when the chips are down? Let's explore seven of the most clutch players returning to the world of college football.

    Why only seven players? Well, luck can sometimes help a player be clutch, so why not go with the lucky number seven.

     

    All stats are courtesy of CFBstats.com. 

7. Bryce Petty (Baylor)

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Chances are you aren't thinking about Bryce Petty and "clutch" in the same sentence, especially given the loss to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl. However, the truth is, Petty was one of the most clutch players the Big 12 had this past season. 

    Perhaps the greatest example of this came in the most important game of the season against Texas. After entering halftime tied at 3-3, Petty led the Bears out of the half with two passing touchdowns in the third quarter to seal the victory. 

    According to an article by Brandon Chatmon of ESPN.com, Petty was 21-of-35 for 344 yards and six total touchdowns in what it determined as "clutch situations." 

    You also can't go wrong with a quarterback who threw 32 touchdowns to three interceptions all season long. Petty finished the year with 4,200 yards and completed 62 percent of his passes too.

    What is different about Petty is that he really didn't have many opportunities to have that "moment," if you will, because often his team was pulling away from teams very quickly. 

6. Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Running back and "clutch" aren't often associated with each other, but when that running back comes from Wisconsin, it just makes sense. The Badgers are one of the last bastions of power football, and Gordon has been their home run hitter over the last two years. 

    It all started with a nine-carry, 216-yard performance as a redshirt freshman against Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten championship game, and he hasn't slowed down since. 

    When Wisconsin was winning games or making comebacks, Gordon was usually the reason for it this past year. Exhibit A was the Arizona State game, where Gordon took the first carry of the second half 80 yards for a touchdown. It totally changed the momentum and helped give Wisconsin a 21-13 lead after ASU had pulled within a point at the half. 

    Overall, Gordon did most of his damage with the game in the balance. He had 798 yards and five touchdowns in situations where the game was tied or within a score one way or the other. It was nearly 50 percent of his total production for the season, and that's all you can ask from your star running back. 

    With James White not behind him in 2014, Gordon is likely to get more carries and even more opportunities to be Wisconsin's most important player.

5. Devante Davis (UNLV)

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    Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

    Yes, you are reading this right—UNLV and "clutch" are in the same sentence. That's what happens when you have one of the most under-the-radar receivers helping your team become bowl-eligible for the first time in 14 years. 

    There was a big reason it happened in the form of 6'3", 210-pound wide receiver Devante Davis.

    UNLV played a lot of close games in 2013, but it figured out how to use the talents of players like Davis to flip from 2-11 to 7-6 in just one season's time. 

    Davis did his damage in helping his team win those close games, too. He had 59 of his 87 receptions for 796 of his 1,290 yards and 11 of his 14 touchdowns while the game was within a score or tied.

    Put another way: Davis had 67.8 percent of his receptions, 61.7 percent of his yards and 78.5 percent of his touchdowns in those close games. If that's not being clutch, then the definition needs some tweaking. 

    He could end up being one of the biggest names at wide receiver in 2014, especially if UNLV continues its progression as a winning football team. 

4. Connor Cook (Michigan State)

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    Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

    Sometimes being clutch isn't all about crazy last-second comebacks or flashy plays. In the case of Connor Cook, his presence and poise is what makes him clutch. 

    Without him, Michigan State's 2013 season could've looked a lot different. Sure, he came up big in the big situations, but his steady nature all season long was the real difference-maker for the Spartans offense. 

    As far as moments, just look at the last two games of Cook's season for all the proof needed. He saved his two best passing performances of the season for games against No. 2-ranked Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game and No. 5-ranked Stanford in the Rose Bowl. 

    He topped the 300-yard mark for the first time in his career against OSU, and the Spartans needed every bit of it for the comeback win. But he wasn't done, as Cook came back out and topped his previous career high with a 332-yard, two-touchdown performance to lead MSU to the Rose Bowl title. 

    Cook's most clutch stat may be what happened when his team was barely winning, because he threw for 924 yards and seven of his 22 touchdowns with his team up by seven or fewer points. He threw for nearly 400 more yards in that situation than any other this past season. 

    There are things Cook needs to work on, and that's why he's not higher on the list. But, for a first-year starter, it was a heck of a start.

3. Nick Marshall (Auburn)

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    Dave Martin/Associated Press

    While everyone may remember the incredible play of Chris Davis in the Iron Bowl, it was quarterback Nick Marshall who really kept Auburn in the national title hunt. 

    Not only did Marshall engineer the comeback against Mississippi State, where he led a 12-play, game-winning touchdown drive with just 1:56 left to play, but he went 6-of-8 passing for 88 yards in the final drive, including the 11-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Uzomah with 10 seconds left to play. 

    It wasn't just that instance where Marshall was clutch either, as he was very efficient when his team was down in 2013. With Auburn trailing by one to seven points, Marshall completed 63 percent of his passes for 778 yards (both highs in any scenario for his team) and nine touchdowns. 

    He was also better in the second half than the first, with a rating of 152.2 to 133.8, respectively. Marshall completed 63.6 percent of his second-half passes for 1,112 yards and six touchdowns to three interceptions. He had over 400 more yards in the second half versus the first, despite throwing just three more attempts overall. 

    The only thing that keeps him from being higher on this list is his touchdown-to-interception ratio is pretty low in the second half of games. Improve that number, and Marshall may be a contender for the top spot. 

2. Tyler Lockett (Kansas State)

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    For all the talk of quarterbacks in 2013, the guys who caught all those passes weren't too shabby either. They were so good that every one of the top 10 in receiving yards per game is off to the NFL. 

    At some positions, that may mean a lot of unknown players coming back, but don't tell that to Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett. While 10 other players left, he's the best of the returning crop based on 2013 stats. It doesn't hurt that Lockett also proved to be the go-to receiver when the Wildcats needed it most. 

    He came up the biggest for his team when they needed points in the worst possible way—pulling in 41 percent of his receptions (33 of 81) for 513 yards and six of his 11 touchdowns with his team tied or trailing by seven points or less. 

    For a receiver, there's nothing more clutch than coming up big in those situations. It's even more telling when it's not a one-year thing, as Lockett caught the most passes of any game situation with his team down by a score or less (11 receptions for 199 yards and one touchdown) in 2012. 

    Lockett's history and status among returning wide receivers make him one of the best clutch players coming back in all of college football. 

1. Jameis Winston (Florida State)

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Clutch would be winning the national championship over a team who was clutch all season long. Clutch usually surrounds a quarterback who wins the Heisman Trophy as well. In Jameis Winston, you got both in 2013. 

    Winston's Florida State team didn't spend a lot of time behind or tied in 2013, but when it was, the redshirt freshman played like a senior. In games that were tied or when the team was down by a touchdown or less, Winston showed his prowess, completing nearly 80 percent of his passes for 916 yards and throwing eight touchdowns to just one interception. 

    Of course, he only needed 89 attempts to compile those numbers, but they were impressive nonetheless. 

    There's no need to believe my writing. Just flip on the fourth quarter of the 2014 BCS National Championship Game. For Winston and the Seminoles, it was a giant game of "anything you can do, I can do better." 

    FSU scored a touchdown to pull within a point at 21-20 with 10:55 left to play thanks to an 11-yard touchdown pass from Winston to Chad Abram. Winston then topped it all off with a game-winning touchdown drive that started with 1:19 left to play. 

    He hooked up with Kelvin Benjamin for a two-yard touchdown, and the Seminoles were on top 34-31 with just 13 seconds left to play. The national championship was FSU's thanks to some big-time fourth-quarter heroics—from a redshirt freshman.

    It's hard to top just how clutch Winston was for a team that few saw as a national title contender to start the season. 

     

    Andy Coppens is a college football featured columnist. You can follow him on Twitter: @AndyonCFB

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