We've reached the end of our Top 60 Countdown and by now you've figured out Sean Spence is the player No. 1 on my list. When I set out to rank these players, I factored in what they've already accomplished, what they mean to the team and what they are expected to do in 2009. Spence ranked No. 1 in two of those categories (accomplished, expectations) and thus earned the top overall spot.
> What we heard about him on Signing Day '08: The leader and three-year captain of Miami Northwestern's defense, which won back-to-back Class 6A state titles. An Under-Armour All-American, he made more than 250 tackles in his final two season combined and was ranked the 13th best outside linebacker in the country by Rivals.com and the second best by ESPN.com.
> What he's done as a Cane: Spence wasn't the biggest name UM landed from Miami Northwestern or even the best linebacker in his class (Arthur Brown was rated higher). But he's certainly risen through the ranks quickly. He heard ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 2008 after finishing third on the team in tackles (65) and starting in nine games. He returned his first interception for a touchdown against Florida State and made a SportsCenter Top 10 hit on Tim Tebow and Gators running back in the loss at Florida. But his biggest play was coming up with the fumble at Virginia in UM's overtime come-from-behind victory.
> What Eye On The U expects from him in '09: Spence climbed to No. 1 on my list because he embodies all three characteristics I set out when I began ranking players. He's already made a huge imprint win Freshman All-American honors, he's the bonafide leader of UM's defense (say what you want about Randy Phillips, Spence is the man) and without question he's talented enough to be a first round pick in two seasons. At 6-feet, 212-pounds, some people may question if he's big enough to handle the strongside linebacker position. Spence (4.55-speed, 425 squat) is more than qualified. What has always been his strength aside from desire and play making ability is his understanding of the game. This a kid who was breaking down film for seniors at Miami Northwestern when he was a sophomore. Now, he's doing the same at Miami. Players who make it big aren't just physically talented, but they're smart and they're great leaders. Spence embodies it all. And he's just a sophomore. Without him, Miami's defense is at a huge disadvantage. With him a junior, Miami's defense could once again become one of the best in college football. He should not only be top three in tackles again (Colin McCarthy will lead in tackles if he's healthy), but biggest defensive plays (he won that one last year). That's why he's No. 1.
FYI... I decided to take this week off (knowing the Canes start prepping for Florida State next week). So, there updates here from practice later this week. Our Susan Miller Degnan will be out there covering it all when practice resumes this morning. I'll be back out at UM beginning Monday.