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Published: June 18, 2015 at 12:02 p.m.

15 for '15: College football's strongest players

» Complete 15 for '15 series

For years, college programs have engaged in an arms race for the biggest, best and most modern facilities. It's not only a recruiting tool to have the finest weight room, it fosters an environment for stronger, better athletes as well. It's not surprising that heavier iron is getting pushed around all over the country. CFB 24/7's "15 for '15" series continues with a look at some of the strongest players. We're not declaring these 15 as the undisputed strongest around -- in fact, some are smaller players whose strength is impressive in more relative terms -- but all 15 are as powerful as anyone on their teams and are expected to make significant contributions this fall.

15 Photos Total

  • The Mean Green's transfer from New Mexico bench presses 355 pounds -- nothing spectacular -- except that Jackson isn't a massive lineman like most listed here. Rather, he's a smallish defensive back (180 pounds) whose pound-for-pound strength is undeniable. You want muscle stamina? Jackson can rip off 45 pullups in a row, or 107 pushups. 15

    Rick Yeatts / North Texas Athletics

    15. Vershad Jackson, DB, North Texas

    The Mean Green's transfer from New Mexico bench presses 355 pounds -- nothing spectacular -- except that Jackson isn't a massive lineman like most listed here. Rather, he's a smallish defensive back (180 pounds) whose pound-for-pound strength is undeniable. You want muscle stamina? Jackson can rip off 45 pullups in a row, or 107 pushups.

  • There's no knocking the weightlifting program at East Mississippi Community College. That's where Jones came from, and the new Rebels transfer stepped onto the Oxford, Miss., campus as one of the team's strongest players from Day 1. He bench presses 440 pounds, squats 650, and has a clean max of 330. At 6-0, 324 pounds, he could be an anchor inside for Ole Miss. 14

    Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

    14. D.J. Jones, DL, Ole Miss

    There's no knocking the weightlifting program at East Mississippi Community College. That's where Jones came from, and the new Rebels transfer stepped onto the Oxford, Miss., campus as one of the team's strongest players from Day 1. He bench presses 440 pounds, squats 650, and has a clean max of 330. At 6-0, 324 pounds, he could be an anchor inside for Ole Miss.

  • Although Carter's individual maxes were unavailable, the Hurricanes safety can lift a combined 1,233 pounds between the bench press, squat and power clean. However the imagination cares to break that up, it's awfully strong for a guy who weighs just 209. Carter, a junior this fall, has gone from a special-teams guy as a freshman to a contributing backup last year (21 tackles, five pass breakups). 13

    Steve Mitchell/USA Today

    13. Jamal Carter, DB, Miami

    Although Carter's individual maxes were unavailable, the Hurricanes safety can lift a combined 1,233 pounds between the bench press, squat and power clean. However the imagination cares to break that up, it's awfully strong for a guy who weighs just 209. Carter, a junior this fall, has gone from a special-teams guy as a freshman to a contributing backup last year (21 tackles, five pass breakups).

  • The Owls' team captain with 33 consecutive starts can rep 225 pounds on the bench press 43 times. That's stronger than 2015 combine bench champion Ereck Flowers (37), and the most reps the combine has seen since Dontari Poe got 44 reps in 2012. Friend, a center, has been named to the Rimington Trophy watch list as the nation's top player at the position. 12

    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    12. Kyle Friend, OL, Temple

    The Owls' team captain with 33 consecutive starts can rep 225 pounds on the bench press 43 times. That's stronger than 2015 combine bench champion Ereck Flowers (37), and the most reps the combine has seen since Dontari Poe got 44 reps in 2012. Friend, a center, has been named to the Rimington Trophy watch list as the nation's top player at the position.

  • Zettel -- who <a href="http://www.nfl.com/photoessays/0ap3000000495904/15-for-15-college-footballs-most-physical-players" target="new">earned some acclaim</a> for <a href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000493069/article/penn-states-anthony-zettel-uproots-tree-with-tackle" target="new">uprooting a tree with a tackle</a> this summer -- didn't max out on the squat rack this spring, but he cleaned 365 and improved his bench press to 430 pounds. He's also pressed four reps at 385. On the field, the 6-4, 280-pound defensive tackle did something usually reserved for ends and linebackers: He led the team in tackles for loss with 17 (with eight sacks), indicative of uncanny penetration ability inside. 11

    Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

    11. Anthony Zettel, DL, Penn State

    Zettel -- who earned some acclaim for uprooting a tree with a tackle this summer -- didn't max out on the squat rack this spring, but he cleaned 365 and improved his bench press to 430 pounds. He's also pressed four reps at 385. On the field, the 6-4, 280-pound defensive tackle did something usually reserved for ends and linebackers: He led the team in tackles for loss with 17 (with eight sacks), indicative of uncanny penetration ability inside.

  • The Hokies' returning starter at offensive guard boasts a 440-pound bench press, a 575-pound back squat and can power clean 390 pounds. On a team that always seems to have a physical presence on the line of scrimmage, he's the weight-room standout. Does it translate to the field? Well, against Ohio State's vaunted defense, in an upset Hokies win, he had six knockdown blocks. 10

    Charles LeClaire/USA Today

    10. Augie Conte, OL, Virginia Tech

    The Hokies' returning starter at offensive guard boasts a 440-pound bench press, a 575-pound back squat and can power clean 390 pounds. On a team that always seems to have a physical presence on the line of scrimmage, he's the weight-room standout. Does it translate to the field? Well, against Ohio State's vaunted defense, in an upset Hokies win, he had six knockdown blocks.

  • Dixon ripped through Conference USA defenses last year for 1,299 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns, more scores than all but five running backs in the nation. And it's no wonder he has a nose for the goal line. Dixon, at just 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds, can squat 615. That <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDBxke153kQ" target="new">lower-body power was on full display</a> last season. 9

    LM Otero/Associated Press

    9. Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech

    Dixon ripped through Conference USA defenses last year for 1,299 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns, more scores than all but five running backs in the nation. And it's no wonder he has a nose for the goal line. Dixon, at just 5-foot-10 and 212 pounds, can squat 615. That lower-body power was on full display last season.

  • The 400-pound bench, 700-pound squat club is a small one. Colvin (405 and 705) can also hang clean 385 as the top performer in the Falcons' weight room. His career is on the rebound from an illness that cut his season short after just one game last year. At 6-3, 287 pounds, he should re-take his role as a starting defensive end this fall. 8

    Marvin Gentry/USA Today

    8. Zach Colvin, DL, Bowling Green

    The 400-pound bench, 700-pound squat club is a small one. Colvin (405 and 705) can also hang clean 385 as the top performer in the Falcons' weight room. His career is on the rebound from an illness that cut his season short after just one game last year. At 6-3, 287 pounds, he should re-take his role as a starting defensive end this fall.

  • If you weigh 300 pounds and stand just 6-1, you don't lead the nation in blocked field goals (three) with leaping ability. Sarra did it instead by overpowering blockers -- something for which his whopping 500-pound bench press no doubt came in handy. He chipped in 38 tackles defensively as well. A senior this fall, Sarra will be a co-captain along with star quarterback Keenan Reynolds. 7

    Doug McSchooler/Associated Press

    7. Bernard Sarra, DL, Navy

    If you weigh 300 pounds and stand just 6-1, you don't lead the nation in blocked field goals (three) with leaping ability. Sarra did it instead by overpowering blockers -- something for which his whopping 500-pound bench press no doubt came in handy. He chipped in 38 tackles defensively as well. A senior this fall, Sarra will be a co-captain along with star quarterback Keenan Reynolds.

  • The Bears' 410-pound tight end, the first of two Baylor players listed here, can bench press 500 pounds. But his stamina on the bench press is proven as well -- his 37 reps at 225 pounds would have tied for the best effort at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Where the NFL is concerned, McGowan will have his detractors at 400-plus pounds, but his strength won't be among the negatives. 6

    Tim Heitman/USA Today

    6. LaQuan McGowan, TE, Baylor

    The Bears' 410-pound tight end, the first of two Baylor players listed here, can bench press 500 pounds. But his stamina on the bench press is proven as well -- his 37 reps at 225 pounds would have tied for the best effort at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Where the NFL is concerned, McGowan will have his detractors at 400-plus pounds, but his strength won't be among the negatives.

  • There might be players who can bench press more and squat more than Michigan State's Darien Harris, but how many of them can bench double their weight and squat about triple their weight? At 220 pounds, Harris comes in at 450 and 650 on the bench and squat rack, respectively. And if his effort in the weight room had anything to do with his emergence on the field last year, it certainly paid off. After two years on special teams, he finally cracked the lineup last year in the Spartans' vaunted defense to make 48 tackles and two forced fumbles. 5

    Raj Mehta/USA Today

    5. Darien Harris, LB, Michigan State

    There might be players who can bench press more and squat more than Michigan State's Darien Harris, but how many of them can bench double their weight and squat about triple their weight? At 220 pounds, Harris comes in at 450 and 650 on the bench and squat rack, respectively. And if his effort in the weight room had anything to do with his emergence on the field last year, it certainly paid off. After two years on special teams, he finally cracked the lineup last year in the Spartans' vaunted defense to make 48 tackles and two forced fumbles.

  • He's just coming off his freshman season at Marshall, yet McManus is already the biggest receiver on the Thundering Herd roster at 6-2 and 227 pounds. The way he lifts, it should come as no surprise. McManus is already bench pressing 385 and squatting 550, with goals of 400 and 570 by the time the season starts. He can bench press 225 pounds 24 times. That's one more than the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine's <a href="http://www.nfl.com/combine/top-performers#year=2015&workout=BENCH_PRESS&position=WR" target="new">strongest wide receiver</a>, Sammie Coates of Auburn. 4

    Robert Leifheit/USA Today

    4. Deon-Tay McManus, WR, Marshall

    He's just coming off his freshman season at Marshall, yet McManus is already the biggest receiver on the Thundering Herd roster at 6-2 and 227 pounds. The way he lifts, it should come as no surprise. McManus is already bench pressing 385 and squatting 550, with goals of 400 and 570 by the time the season starts. He can bench press 225 pounds 24 times. That's one more than the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine's strongest wide receiver, Sammie Coates of Auburn.

  • A 2014 transfer from Butler (Kan.) Community College, Williams (6-2, 290 pounds) quickly established himself among his new teammates as a workout warrior. He can squat 710 pounds and bench presses 510 (36 reps at 225). He made 21 tackles and two sacks last year, and figures to be an even more effective presence in the interior for the Volunteers this fall as a senior. 3

    Wade Payne/Associated Press

    3. Owen Williams, DL, Tennessee

    A 2014 transfer from Butler (Kan.) Community College, Williams (6-2, 290 pounds) quickly established himself among his new teammates as a workout warrior. He can squat 710 pounds and bench presses 510 (36 reps at 225). He made 21 tackles and two sacks last year, and figures to be an even more effective presence in the interior for the Volunteers this fall as a senior.

  • The Tigers' starting offensive lineman with tackle-guard versatility has put on 50 pounds of muscle since arriving on campus in 2011. At 310 pounds, he can now bench press 470 pounds, squat a whopping 750, and hang clean 400-plus. His max of 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench would have ranked among the strongest players on hand at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. Missouri's season opener against Southeast Missouri will be his 29th start in a row. 2

    Kim Klement/USA Today

    2. Conner McGovern, OL, Missouri

    The Tigers' starting offensive lineman with tackle-guard versatility has put on 50 pounds of muscle since arriving on campus in 2011. At 310 pounds, he can now bench press 470 pounds, squat a whopping 750, and hang clean 400-plus. His max of 39 reps of 225 pounds on the bench would have ranked among the strongest players on hand at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. Missouri's season opener against Southeast Missouri will be his 29th start in a row.

  • The All-Big 12 defensive lineman can lift so much weight, the Baylor strength and conditioning staff <a href="http://www.kwtx.com/_254sports/home/headlines/Behind-The-Green--Gold-Billings-Strong-As-A-Bear-254837831.html" target="new">limits him in the weight room</a>. He broke a 22-year-old Texas state high school weightlifting record with 2,010 pounds (805 squat, 500 bench press, 705 deadlift) before even coming to Baylor. He can now clean 400 pounds, and on the field, he notched 11.5 tackles for loss last season at nose guard. 1

    Jerome Miron/USA Today

    1. Andrew Billings, DL, Baylor

    The All-Big 12 defensive lineman can lift so much weight, the Baylor strength and conditioning staff limits him in the weight room. He broke a 22-year-old Texas state high school weightlifting record with 2,010 pounds (805 squat, 500 bench press, 705 deadlift) before even coming to Baylor. He can now clean 400 pounds, and on the field, he notched 11.5 tackles for loss last season at nose guard.