The college football season is rapidly approaching, so we’re ramping up our season previews. We’re just about a month away from kickoff. Whereas past decades featured the need for defensive lines and linebackers to be the most dominant players on a defensive unit, the nature of the game has changed. Teams love to spread the field on offense and pass the ball aggressively. Defensive backs have never been more important to a team’s defense than now. It’s not as though they were irrelevant in the past. They are simply asked to do a lot more in the modern era. They are more central to a defense’s and a team’s success. Which college football teams have the best secondaries?
Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes lost the Fiesta Bowl to Clemson, but their defense did not play poorly. The Buckeyes gave up fewer points to Clemson than what Alabama allowed in the national championship game a week later, despite the fact that Ohio State’s offense was shut out and never gave the defense any help or support. Ohio State’s secondary held up well in man coverage on downfield routes against Clemson’s very talented array of wide receivers and other targets. Secondary was a strength of the Ohio State roster last season. Even though multiple members of that secondary have moved to the pros, the Buckeyes have recruited better at secondary than just about any other position or unit on their roster, a big reason why they continue to make the College Football Playoff and contend for national championships. This year’s group should be the best in a very tough Big Ten Conference.
Alabama Crimson Tide
The Crimson Tide don’t have the absolute best secondary in the country, because as Clemson showed, teams can win when challenging Alabama’s back four. The limitation, though, is that not every team can do that. Deshaun Watson of Clemson was a special player. Most quarterbacks, especially in the SEC, could not figure out the Crimson Tide last year, and in the NFL prospect factory that is Tuscaloosa, Nick Saban makes sure that members of his secondary can punish people. Alabama defensive backs and safeties are vicious hitters and formidable run stuffers. They handle multiple assignments well. This secondary might have to deal with one or two very tough matchups in 2017, but it should dominate every other matchup it faces.
The Gators live in an SEC East Division with talented quarterbacks such as Georgia’s Jacob Eason and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley. Yet, Florida’s defense has been good enough to win the SEC East each of the past two years, so it can be trusted to keep the momentum going in 2017. Defense has been Florida’s strength under current coach Jim McElwain; the offense is what has lagged behind. Florida sets a high standard with its pass defense, and that identity should continue into the coming season.
The Hoosiers contained Michigan and battled Ohio State last season, showing how much they had grown on the defensive side of the ball. Their 2016 defensive coordinator, Tom Allen, has dramatically improved the Hoosiers’ defense. The offense is what failed to do its part in 2016, at least to the extent that Indiana couldn’t become much more than a break-even team. Allen is now head coach, so Indiana’s commitment to defense should be even stronger this coming year.
Virginia Tech Hokies
The Hokies have Bud Foster, one of the best defensive coordinators in all of college football, at the helm of their defense, so it should be no surprise that Virginia Tech fared very well against most passing offenses last season. The Hokies were very strong against No. 2 NFL Draft pick Mitchell Trubisky when he played for North Carolina, and they also performed well against Brad Kaaya and Miami. The core should be highly skilled again in 2017, enabling Virginia Tech to contend for an ACC Coastal Division title. They won the Coastal last year, going 10-4 overall and 6-2 in conference play. The 319 points allowed by the defense was the second-best in the Coastal next to Miami. Expect more of the same in 2017.
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