2011 CFN Preview - Unit Rankings, Defenses
TCU DE Stansly Maponga
TCU DE Stansly Maponga
Posted Aug 16, 2011

CFN 2011 Preview Unit Rankings from top to bottom - Defenses

Preview 2011 - Unit Rankings


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2011 CFN Preseason Rankings
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51 to 60 | 61 to 70 | 71 to 80 | 81 to 90 | 91 to 100 | 101 to 110 | 111 to 120

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CFN 2011 Unit Rankings
- Offenses | Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Receivers | Offensive Lines
- Defenses | Defensive Lines | Linebackers | Secondaries  | Special Teams  
- Preview 2011 | 2010 Unit Rankings

Note: This is based on talent, returning starters, and skill. It's not necessarily based on what the final total offense statistics will be.

1. Alabama
The 2010 Alabama defense lost the Butkus Award winner (Rolando McClain), three NFL-caliber defensive backs, a mountain of a nose tackle in Terrence Cody, and only returned three starters. How massive was the drop-off after finishing second in the nation in total defense and scoring defense? The Tide finished last year fifth in the country in yards allowed and third in scoring defense. Granted, the consistency wasn't always there, but whatever … the production was outstanding. The talent level is off the charts, especially in the defensive back seven where Dont'a Hightower might be the nation's best linebacker if it's not his running mate, C.J. Mosley. The secondary has an embarrassment of riches led by safety Mark Barron and corner Dre Kirkpatrick, who should both be in the NFL right now, along with at least four other Tide defensive backs. The front three doesn't have a Marcell Dareus, but it's big, tough, and won't be moved, while Courtney Upshaw will be the pass rusher in a hybrid JACK position. In all, eight starters are back on Kirby Smart's D, and it'll be a stunner if it doesn't finish among the top five in the country again, if not No. 1 overall.

2. Florida State
After just one year, coordinator Mark Stoops has already earned his keep in Tallahassee. Under his watch, Florida State turned the corner on defense in 2010, improving in just about every statistical category after hitting rock bottom under Mickey Andrews in 2009. Now, with returning starters and budding stars everywhere, the ‘Noles want to build a bridge to the glory days when defense was the fuel for championships. Sure, there's need for improvement, such as bolstering the middle of the D and making more stops on third down. However, there's also reason for unbridled optimism. Brandon Jenkins is one of America's top pass rushers, a safe bet to leave early for the NFL at the conclusion of the season. Nigel Bradham is the cover boy at linebacker after leading the team in tackles. And the secondary is gushing with young playmakers, like Xavier Rhodes, Greg Reid, and Lamarcus Joyner. This much talent plus a second year with Stoops at the controls is going to equal another big step in the right direction for the Seminole defense.

3. Georgia
The defense might have gone bye-bye in key moments against Arkansas, Florida, and Auburn, but for the most part the team's problems were on the other side of the ball. The star power might not be there going into the season, especially after losing pass rusher Justin Houston to the NFL, but there's a ton of very good, very promising players about to make the nation's 23rd best D shine. Linebacker Jarvis Jones comes in from USC and should be one of the team's top playmakers, while the addition of top JUCO transfer John Jenkins should anchor the 3-4 as a rock of a nose tackle. Kwame Geathers is good enough to also dominate on the inside, while the huge ends should be rocks against the run. The secondary should be a major strength with corner Brandon Boykin and safety Bacarri Rambo leading a veteran group won't allow too many big plays.

4. North Carolina
The swath of suspensions on defense was a body blow to the 2010 team ... and a boon to the 2011 squad. Carolina had no choice but to move on without the likes DE Robert Quinn, DT Marvin Austin, and CB Kendric Burney, who were shut down for all or part of the year. The result was the flowering of new stars who emerged from the wreckage. DE Quinton Coples went on to become an All-American, DE Donte Paige-Moss laid the foundation for a breakout junior year, and LB Kevin Reddick led the team in tackles. All are back, along with promising defensive backs Tre Boston and Jabari Price, who were thrust into the mix before their time. There's a growing sense that as long as Butch Davis is in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heel D is going to be salty. The front seven will once again be outstanding, leaving a suspect secondary to rebuild and begin doing a better job of pulling its weight.

5. LSU
LSU was ranked 12th in the nation in total defense and bailed out the offense time and again, and even though there are some key concerns at linebacker and tackle, everything should be just fine once again. The D loses three All-Americans in NT Drake Nevis, MLB Kelvin Sheppard, and CB Patrick Peterson, but there's talent waiting in the wings. The secondary is terrific, led by junior corner Morris Claiborne and burgeoning star Tyrann Mathieu, while others like Brandon Taylor, Craig Loston, Eric Reid, Ron Brooks, Tharold Simon provide a group so deep that hard-hitting safety Karnell Hatcher moved to linebacker this offseason. Ryan Baker is a big-time playmaker at linebacker, but he has to shine with an inexperienced group around him. The inexperienced but exceptionally talented defensive line should continue to live up to the expectations, but it might take a little time for the tremendous talent to play consistently well.

6. TCU
The TCU defense had to move on after losing some phenomenal NFL-caliber players in Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington, and everything turned out more than fine. The defense finished first in the nation in both points and yards allowed, so you'll have to forgive everyone around the program if no one appears too worried about another year with some major holes to fill. Tank Carder and Tanner Brock form a devastating linebacking tandem in the 4-2-5 alignment, and they should do a little bit of everything to eat up tackles. The defensive front should have a nice rotation on the inside, while Stansly Maponga has the potential to be the next great pass rusher on the outside. The secondary that led the nation in passing yards allowed has the most work to do, but Greg McCoy is a terrific corner to build around and, as usual, TCU is loaded with very big, very smart, very athletic safeties who won't miss a stop.

7. Texas
The defense might not have been a brick wall throughout the entire season, but it can't be blamed for the problems finishing sixth in the nation in yards allowed. No, this wasn't the nasty Texas D of previous seasons, but it was good enough to get by. This year it'll undergo a major overhaul and it starts at the top with new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz having to replace Will Muschamp, who was starting to get antsy and was ready to take over a head coaching job last year. He inherits a whale of a linebacking twosome in Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho to work around, and the pass rush won't be a problem with several star recruits from the last few years about to break out. Losing three NFL defensive backs in Aaron Williams, Chykie Brown, and Curtis Brown is a problem, but the safeties are experienced and can hit big, and there's speed and upside at corner. Call this a year of transition with all the youth and inexperience across the board, but few teams can match UT's defensive athleticism.

8. Oklahoma
The defense had a nice season, but not a stellar one. The pass rush was among the best in the nation, the secondary was effective, and there were enough big plays with 36 takeaways to get by. Now the run defense has to be stronger after allowing 149 yards per game and having issues with mobile quarterbacks like Baylor's Robert Griffin and Air Force's Tim Jefferson. The tragic death of Austin Box will be on the minds of everyone throughout the year, and on the field the hope will be for Tom Wort to handle the workload again in the middle. Travis Lewis is a star outside linebacker, but the defense lacks sure-thing superstars who'll get the NFL drooling. Even so, enough starters return, and there's enough talent and athleticism across the board, to expect more overall production.

9. South Carolina
Last year's defense had the potential to be the best yet in the Steve Spurrier era of strong defenses, and it came through with a phenomenal season against the run and rushing the passer. However, the secondary struggled too much and was a bit too inconsistent. This year's defense should be devastating up front with, arguably, the nation's best rotation of defensive ends led by underappreciated star Devin Taylor and with superstar recruit Jadeveon Clowney coming in. The linebacking corps might not be dynamic, but it's full of veterans and should be rock solid against the run. The big key will be the secondary that was full of talent and experience last year, but struggled against efficient passers. This year's group of defensive backs is potentially great, led by do-it-all corner Stephon Gilmore, but there needs to be far more production.

10. Florida
The 2010 Gators might have been a disappointment, but the defense can't be blamed after finishing ninth in the nation in yards allowed and 12th in pass defense. The run D had problems with South Carolina, South Florida, and Mississippi State, but it was decent overall. Now it's time for a youth movement, and that's not a bad thing considering the tremendous talent level across the board. The superstar-loaded recruiting class of last year is about to blow up, especially on the line, with end Ronald Powell leading the way. The secondary has to undergo some major changes, hurt by the loss of star safety Ahmad Black and the dismissal of NFL-caliber corner Janoris Jenkins, but the athletes are there including the star defensive back of last year's class, Matt Elam. The linebackers will be good, but they probably won't be spectacular even though Jonathan Bostic can do a little of everything and Jelani Jenkins will likely be an all-star.


Arizona State Pac-12
Boise State M-West
Miami ACC
Nebraska Big Ten
Oregon Pac-12
Penn State Big Ten


Arizona State Pac-12
Arkansas SEC
Auburn SEC
Boston College ACC
California Pac-12
Cincinnati Big East
Clemson ACC
Connecticut Big East
Georgia Tech ACC
Illinois Big Ten
Iowa Big Ten
Kentucky SEC
Maryland  ACC
Michigan Big Ten
Michigan State Big Ten
Mississippi State SEC
Missouri Big 12
NC State ACC
Northwestern Big Ten
Notre Dame Ind
Ohio State Big Ten
Oregon State Pac-12
Pitt Big East
Purdue Big Ten
South Florida Big East
Stanford Pac-12
Tennessee SEC
Texas A&M Big 12
UCLA  Pac-12
USC Pac-12
Utah   Pac-12
Virginia   ACC
Washington   Pac-12
West Virginia Big East
Wisconsin Big Ten


Air Force M-West
Arizona Pac-12
Baylor Big 12
Colorado   Pac-12
Duke ACC
Indiana  Big Ten
Iowa State Big 12
Kansas Big 12
Kansas State Big 12
Kent State MAC
Louisiana Tech WAC
Louisville  Big East
Marshall C-USA
Miami Univ. MAC
Minnesota Big Ten
Nevada WAC
Oklahoma State Big 12
Ole Miss SEC
Rutgers  Big East
Southern Miss C-USA
Syracuse Big East
Texas Tech Big 12
Tulsa C-USA
Vanderbilt SEC
Wake Forest ACC
Washington State Pac-12


Central Michigan MAC
Colorado State M-West
FIU Sun Belt
Fresno State WAC
Hawaii WAC
Houston C-USA
Idaho WAC
Middle Tennessee Sun Belt
Northern Illinois MAC
Ohio   MAC
San Diego State M-West
San Jose State WAC
Temple MAC
Toledo MAC
Tulane C-USA
Western Michigan MAC


Akron MAC
Army Ind
Ball State MAC
Buffalo MAC
East Carolina C-USA
Memphis C-USA
Navy ind
New Mexico   M-West
North Texas Sun Belt
Troy Sun Belt
UL Monroe Sun Belt


Bowling Green MAC
Arkansas State Sun Belt
Eastern Michigan MAC
Florida Atlantic Sun Belt
New Mexico State WAC
Rice C-USA
UL Lafayette Sun Belt
Utah State WAC
Western Kentucky Sun Belt
Wyoming M-West

CFN 2011 Unit Rankings
- Offenses | Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Receivers | Offensive Lines
- Defenses | Defensive Lines | Linebackers | Secondaries  | Special Teams  
- Preview 2011 | 2010 Unit Rankings