Work in Sports
Rating nation's top defenses no small chore
Posted: Thursday July 13, 2000 04:37 PM
By Stewart Mandel, CNNSI.com
Here's why rating defenses isn't quite the bubble-gum fun as offense.
Offense: Big-name stars like Drew Brees and Michael Vick, with eye-popping stats and highlight-reel credentials.
Defense: Guys like USC's Sultan Abdul-Malik, universal All-America candidate despite only 27 tackles last season.
When it comes to defense, you can't rely on stats. To begin with, each school has different criteria for counting a tackle or sack ("Uh ... I think I saw 99 touch him."). And if you're the strong safety, rather than a D-lineman, having 120 tackles isn't necessarily a good thing.
So to compile our rankings we relied as much on team defensive numbers as individual stats, factored in criteria like size and experience, and, of course, threw in our two cents on measuring talent. As with our offensive rankings last week, the top five teams at each position are listed below, followed by a composite Top 10 defenses for 2000.
LineWisconsin: Big Ten offensive coordinators must be shaking their heads at how DE John Favret and DT Wendell Bryant can still have eligibility. Along with fellow returning starters NT Eric Mahlik and DE Ross Kolodziej, they led a Badger charge that surrendered only 13 points a game last year.
Florida: When he's on -- and many Gators fans lament that's not as often as desired -- Alex Brown is the fiercest pass rusher in the country. Brown, who had 13 sacks in '99, teams with the imposing Gerard Warren and Thaddeus Bullard.
Alabama: Here's a scary thought: Kenny King, who's sure to be in the mix for All-SEC honors after notching 14 tackles-for-loss last season, is only a sophomore. His counterpart at end, Kindal Moorehead, had 13 of his own.
USC: The Trojans earn this ranking more on potential than production. Tackle Ennis Davis is a projected NFL first-rounder but was plagued by injury much of last year. But Sultan Abdul-Malik's move up from linebacker makes it a formidable crew.
Georgia: Marcus Stroud and Richard Seymour are arguably the best pair of defensive tackles in the country, though last year were a bit disappointing. The real boon will be at end if last year's freshman sensation, Charles Grant, is fully recovered from an ACL tear.
Others: Florida State (Jamal Reynolds, David Warren, Roland Seymour), Texas (Casey Hampton, Shaun Rogers), Southern Miss (Cedric Scott, Daleroy Stewart), Cal (Andre Carter, Jacob Waasdrop)
LinebackersGeorgia: There's no LaVar Arrington here, but the 'Dawgs are as deep at the position as Penn State's remarkable crew last year. Boss Bailey, younger brother of Champ, is the brightest talent, but Adrian Hollingshed, Kendrell Bell and Will Witherspoon bring vast experience.
Florida State: Star Tommy Polley (109 tackles last year) is expected to be fully recovered from a Sugar Bowl knee injury. He's joined on the outside by senior Brian Allen (101 tackles), and the emergence of freshman Kendyll Pope during spring practice only strengthens the linebacking corps.
Texas A&M: Granted, the "Wrecking Crew" often gets considered for honors out of habit. But this is another stellar crop, with four returning starters. OLB Roylin Bradley already has 20 career sacks, and he's joined by both the equally athletic Cornelius Anthony inside and Jason Glenn outside.
Colorado: This group would likely rate higher if the chronically injured Ty Gregorak was sure to be healthy. But Jashon Sykes, sure preseason All-American, is a beast in the middle, collecting 120 tackles last year, and transfer Anwawn Jones may see time as a pass rusher as well.
USC: Despite Abdul-Malik's move to the line, this group is solid. It includes two highly rated NFL prospects, middle backer Zeke Moreno and Markus Steele, and junior Kori Dickerson is an emerging star.
Others: Oklahoma (Rocky Calmus, Torrance Marshall), Arizona State (Adam Archuleta, Solomon Bates), Nebraska (Carlos Polk), Clemson (Keith Adams, Chad Carson)
SecondaryKansas State: This unit is fast, experienced and hungry -- stars Jarrod Cooper (strong safety; 77 tackles in '99) and Dyshod Carter (cornerback; five INTs) have each suffered through at least two major bowl snubs in their careers.
Wisconsin: Two words: Jamar Fletcher. The best cover-corner in the country two years running returns, along with not-too shabby counterpart Mike Echols. Fletcher, a junior, has 14 career interceptions and has shone in both Rose Bowls. Jason Doering is an underrated safety.
Alabama: All four starters return from a team that stifled Florida's usually dangerous receivers in the SEC championship. Cornerback Milo Lewis and free safety Reggie Myles each netted five picks last year.
Miami: Many in Coral Gables think this year's secondary will rank alongside some of the great ones of the late '80s/early '90s. Perhaps that's because they have a legacy in free safety Al Blades, younger brother of Bennie and Brian. CB Leonard Myers and SS Edward Reed are super athletes.
Florida: Inconsistency, mainly due to youth, plagued this group last season, but there's no denying their talent. Cornerback Bennie Alexander may be the fastest player on the Gators. Starters Marquand Manuel, Daryl Dixon and Robert Cromartie -- all underclassmen -- return as well.
Others: Michigan (DeWayne Patmon, Cato June), Texas (Ahmad Brooks, Quentin Jammer), Florida State (Derrick Gibson, Tay Cody), TCU (Russell Gary, Curtis Fuller)