The college football season begins on Sept. 2 for 12 of the 13 FBS teams in the state of Texas. The lone exception in the Lone Star State is UTEP, which face Jacksonville State in Week 0 to begin Conference USA play.
As we approach the start of another season, we'll count down the 50-most important players in college football. We'll go one-by-one until Sept. 1 as we enter the top 20.
No. 10: Sam Houston OLB Markel Perry
Technically, this will be Perry's seventh and final collegiate season, but the 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound edge rusher has plenty of gas left in the tank. He missed all but one game of his 2017 freshman year with an injury, and then head coach KC Keeler had him and about a dozen other impact players redshirt for Sam Houston's 2022 season to preserve a final year of eligibility for the transition to Conference USA. In between those gaps, Perry has been a dominant force with double-digit tackles for loss in every season from 2019-21. He was an All-WAC performer when Sam Houston went a combined 21–1 in the spring and fall football seasons of 2021. He enteres this year eighth in program history with 16.5 career sacks.
Even with Perry and a bevy of defenders relegated to the sidelines, Sam Houston's defense finished 2022 allowing merely 20.78 points per game and 3.2 rushing yards per attempt. But the defense will need to be even better in 2023 to aid an offense that stumbled to 18 points per game. Perry's return, along with All-American defensive end Jevon Leon, should bolster the pass rush and make life easier for a stacked linebacker room. Kavian Gaither stepped into the starting mike linebacker role last year for the redshirting Trevor Williams and Sincere Jackson and earned WAC Defensive Player of the Year. He and Jaylan Phillips, who also started last season, will now rotate in with Williams and Jackson.
The defense has playmakers across the board and the offense should improve now that wide receivers Noah Smith and Ife Adeyi return from their redshirts, but Sam Houston will need to shake off the rust quickly to make an adjustment to its FBS schedule. The non-conference slate brings Big 12 matchups with BYU and Houston, and the Bearkats have five consecutive games in the middle fo the year on either Wednesday or Thursday. It'll be challenging to compete for a Conference USA championship in 2023, but Sam Houston will be a tough out week in and week out.
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