2012 CFN Preview - Unit Rankings, Defenses

Posted Aug 24, 2012

CFN 2012 Preview Unit Rankings from top to bottom - Defenses

Preview 2012 - Unit Rankings


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2012 CFN Preseason Rankings 
1 to 5 | 6 to 10 | 11 to 20 | 21 to 30 | 21 to 30 | 31 to 40 | 41 to 50
51 to 60 | 61 to 70 | 71 to 80 | 81 to 90 | 91 to 100 | 101 to 110 | 111 to 124 

CFN 2012 Unit Rankings
- Offenses | Quarterbacks | Running Backs | Receivers | Offensive Lines
- Defenses | Defensive Lines | Linebackers | Secondaries | Special Teams  
- 2011 Unit Rankings | 2010 Unit Rankings

Note: This is based on talent, returning starters and skill. It’s not necessarily based on what the final order will be.
1. Alabama

Alabama’s defense didn’t play anyone with a passing game other than Arkansas – giving up 209 yards through the air in the blowout win – but it was still a dominant season no matter what finishing No. 1 in total defense, scoring defense, run defense and pass defense. While there might be a slight step back after losing Dont’a Hightower, Mark Barron, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick and Josh Chapman, this is still going to be among the nation’s best defenses with a who’s who of superstar prospects across the board. Everything starts up front with future NFL anchor Jesse Williams on the nose to go along with very strong, very tough run stoppers on the front three. The linebacking corps will be every big as dominant with a swarming group of athletes who’ll keep the big plays to a bare minimum. There might be a few question marks in the secondary, but don’t expect much of a drop-off, if any, with Dee Milliner one of the nation’s top corners and a nice influx of JUCO transfers and star recruits to help fill in the gaps.

2. Texas

If this isn’t the best defense in America, it’ll be in the running to be the fastest and most athletic. The Big 12’s No. 1 defense of 2011 gets back six starters and will enjoy an upgrade in athleticism at almost all the openings after leading the league in run defense, pass defense and finishing second in scoring D. The defensive front is stunningly quick for its size helped by a pair of NFL defensive ends in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat. The line is big and fast, and so is the linebacking corps that might be even better and will be far more athletic despite losing leading tacklers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson; Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs bringing jaw-dropping speed. And then there’s the secondary with warp wheels at all four spots.

3. Florida State

Mark Stoops’ coaching plus Jimbo Fisher’s recruiting has Florida State on the short list of top defenses in the country heading into the summer. From a unit that ranked no lower than No. 8 nationally in run defense, scoring defense, sacks and total D, the ‘Noles return just about every one of last year’s starters. Each level boasts an all-star caliber defender, and the rotation is SEC deep. Up front, ends Brandon Jenkins, Bjoern Werner and Cornelius Carradine form a downright scary trio of pass rushers for opposing tackles to handle. Athletic linebackers Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Vince Williams are poised to step outside of the shadow of Nigel Bradham, who has graduated. And the secondary is virtually air-tight. SS Lamarcus Joyner and corner Xavier Rhodes are ball-hawks, with a nose for the back on running downs. Not only does Stoops have no holes on this side of the ball, but his kids have now had the time to fully digest and adopt his coaching philosophy. The potential is there for this to be the kind of vintage ‘Noles D that builds a bridge to the glory days when coordinator Mickey Andrews was a coaching icon in Tallahassee.

4. LSU

The LSU defense has been among the best in the nation over the last several years, and last season it took things to another level with a dominant defensive front, a phenomenal secondary, and a solid linebacking corps with it all adding up to a group that allowed just 262 yards and 11.3 points per game. There are some massive losses, including Thorpe-winning corner Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and star tackle Michael Brockers, but defensive coordinator John Chavis is locked up with a whopper of a contract to keep him around. If the outside linebackers can shine early, the starting 11 will be as good as any in college football, but there are experience and depth issues everyone except at tackle. No one’s running on this line, and the secondary will be terrific if everyone can stay healthy, but the linebackers are a bit thin. This won’t be the defense it was last year, but it won’t be too far off.

5. Georgia

It might be hard for a defense to stand out in the SEC, but Georgia’s was able to do it last year finishing fifth in the nation in yards allowed. It wasn’t always great at keeping the better offenses under wraps – allowing 75 points to LSU and Michigan State to close things out – but overall it was a good D. Now it should be even better. The front seven in the 3-4 alignment has the potential to be a killer with a loaded line led by the tackle rotation of John Jenkins and Kwame Geathers. Pass rushing terror Jarvis Jones is one of the nation’s top outside linebackers in an athletic and active corps. And then there’s the secondary. After losing a slew of young players to suspensions and transfer, there were even more problems with three starters getting hit with suspensions for a variety of reasons. After the first few weeks all will be fine, but it could take a bit of adjusting early on to find the right combination.

6. Michigan State

After finishing sixth in the nation and first in the Big Ten in total defense, the Spartans should be even better. Even with the loss of DT Jerel Worthy and FS Trenton Robinson, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has a heater of a defense to work with. The linebacking corps should be dominant with three terrific starters returning led by big-hitter Max Bullough in the middle and pass rushing terror Denicos Allen on the outside. The loss of Worthy up front hurts, but there’s plenty of size in the interior and a dominant pair of ends on the outside in William Gholston and Marcus Rush to get excited about. Johnny Adams should be one of the nation’s top corners as part of a great-looking secondary, but unlike the front seven, the depth in the defensive backfield is a concern.

7. Oklahoma

Welcome back, Mike Stoops. The defense didn’t exactly fall off the map after Stoops left to take the Arizona job in 2003, but it seemed to lose its killer instinct. That should be back now as he takes back his old defensive coordinator gig inheriting a loaded defense full of veterans. Finding a sure-thing pass rush from the ends is a must after losing most of the key parts, but the tackles are strong and deep and there’s plenty of athleticism and promise on the outside. The veteran linebacking corps is fast, fast, fast led by tone-setter Tom Wort in the middle, but it’s the secondary that should be the biggest strength with five good veterans and an outstanding corner tandem in Demontre Hurst and former safety Aaron Colvin to work around. Overall, the defense has to be consistent and has to avoid the meltdowns in key moments like it suffered in losses to Baylor and Texas Tech, but Stoops should turn this group into a killer.

8. USC

For good reason, the offense is making a lot of offseason headlines and watch lists. The D has a chance to be pretty special, too. The Trojans have decent depth, but a terrific first line of defenders, especially along the back seven. The trio of sophomore linebackers Dion Bailey, Hayes Pullard and Lamar Dawson is oppressive, covering the field with the range of safeties. Bailey was All-Pac-12 in 2011, while Pullard and Dawson have the skill set to join him in coming years. Although the defensive backfield lacked consistency—and takeaways—last fall, it’s far too talented to underachieve for a second straight year. Lockdown corner Nickell Robey and FS T.J. McDonald are returning all-stars, with All-American potential. Strong safety is a battle between Jawanza Starling, Demetrius Wright and JUCO star Gerald Bowman when he arrives. The other cornerback position will come down to Isiah Wiley, Torin Harris or Brian Baucham. All eyes will be on the defensive line, the same one that lost three key players. On the outside, the time has arrived for ends Devon Kennard and Wes Horton to finally fulfill all of their potential. The Trojans need the seniors to deliver as steady pass rushers. The defense could be especially vulnerable on the inside, where underclassmen George Uko and J.R. Tavai don’t yet have the experience to match their considerable responsibility.

9. Ohio State

Co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers are about to take a good defense and make it special. It’s not like the young D was bad last season – it finished 19th in the nation and allowed just 21 points per game – but it was inconsistent and didn’t seem to be able to put the clamps down in close games. That shouldn’t be a problem this season with nine returning starters led by a deep and loaded secondary that should be among the best in the country, and a defensive front with two future NFL stars in tackle Johnathan Hankins and end John Simon. The underwhelming linebacking corps might not be up to normal Ohio State snuff, but it’s experienced and has young talents in Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant to get excited about.

10. Virginia Tech

Bud Foster is at it again. The longtime Hokies’ coordinator led a sophomore-dominated D to seventh nationally in points allowed in 2011. Now that all of those second-year players are gradually becoming upperclassmen, Virginia Tech expects to be one of the nation’s nastiest units. Only two starters are being replaced, both from the secondary. Cornerbacks Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller are back, looking to reprise their roles as All-ACC performers. The newcomers on the last line of defense will be FS Detrick Bonner, a converted corner, and rover Kyshoen Jarrett. The front seven is going to be mentioned right there with Florida State as the most dominant in the ACC. The defensive line rotation is deep and oppressive, slapping opposing lines with explosiveness from the inside and the outside. Ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins are lightning quick, combining for 13 sacks a year ago. On the inside, Derrick Hopkins, Luther Maddy and Antoine Hopkins are undersized and extremely hard to block. Besides the safeties, linebacker is the other pressing concern. Oh, the unit has talent, but it also has durability issues after Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Bruce Taylor couldn’t finish the 2011 season, and Tariq Edwards missed spring following surgery. If the linebackers can stay healthy all year, this team has the ingredients to become Foster’s best D in years.

10 is high in the unit ranking number.

Illinois Big Ten 24
Missouri SEC  24
Oregon Pac-12  24
South Carolina SEC 24
Oklahoma State Big 12 23.5
Stanford Pac-12  23.5
Wisconsin Big Ten 23.5
Florida SEC 23
Louisville  Big East 23
Michigan Big Ten 23
Mississippi State SEC 23
Penn State Big Ten 23
Rutgers  Big East 23
South Florida Big East 23
Utah   Pac-12  23
BYU Ind 22.5
Texas A&M SEC  22.5
Boston College ACC 22
California Pac-12  22
Connecticut Big East 22
Maryland  ACC 22
NC State ACC 22
Nebraska Big Ten  22
North Carolina ACC   22
Arkansas SEC 21.5
Clemson ACC 21.5
Notre Dame Ind 21.5
Purdue Big Ten 21.5
UCLA  Pac-12  21.5
Boise State M-West 21
Georgia Tech ACC 21
Kansas State Big 12 21
Arizona State Pac-12  20.5
Auburn SEC 20.5
Cincinnati Big East 20.5
Iowa Big Ten 20.5
Miami   ACC   20.5
Ole Miss SEC 20.5
Oregon State Pac-12  20.5
Pitt Big East 20.5
TCU Big 12 20.5
Tennessee SEC 20.5
Virginia   ACC 20.5
West Virginia Big 12 20.5
Iowa State Big 12 20
Kent State MAC 20
Wake Forest ACC 20
Washington   Pac-12  20
Colorado   Pac-12  19.5
Kentucky SEC 19.5
Minnesota Big Ten 19.5
Northwestern Big Ten 19.5
Syracuse Big East 19.5
Vanderbilt SEC 19.5
Arizona Pac-12  19
Temple Big East 19
Texas Tech Big 12 19
Air Force M-West 18.5
Indiana  Big Ten 18.5
Tulsa C-USA  18.5
FIU Sun Belt 18
Houston C-USA  18
Northern Illinois MAC 17.5
Ohio   MAC 17.5
Southern Miss C-USA  17.5
Washington State Pac-12  17.5
WKU Sun Belt 17.5
Baylor Big 12 17
Fresno State M-West 16.5
Nevada M-West 16.5
Wyoming M-West 16.5
Kansas Big 12 16
Louisiana Tech WAC 16
Marshall C-USA  16
San Diego State M-West 16
Bowling Green MAC 15.5
Buffalo MAC 15.5
Duke ACC   15.5
East Carolina C-USA  15.5
Eastern Michigan MAC 15.5
Hawaii M-West 15.5
New Mexico   M-West 15.5
Toledo MAC 15.5
Tulane C-USA  15.5
UL Monroe Sun Belt 15.5
Western Michigan MAC 15.5
Colorado State M-West 15
Florida Atlantic Sun Belt 15
Miami Univ. MAC 15
Middle Tennessee Sun Belt 15
North Texas Sun Belt 15
San Jose State WAC 15
UL Lafayette Sun Belt 15
UNLV M-West 15
Utah State WAC 15
Arkansas State Sun Belt 14.5
Idaho WAC 14.5
Navy Ind 14.5
South Alabama Sun Belt 14.5
Troy Sun Belt 14.5
UAB C-USA  14.5
Akron MAC 14
Massachusetts MAC 14
Rice C-USA  14
Memphis C-USA  13.5
New Mexico State WAC 13.5
Texas State WAC 13.5
Army Ind 13
Central Michigan MAC 13
Ball State MAC 12.5