2009 CFN Preview - Unit Rankings ... Defenses
Florida DE Jermaine Cunningham
Florida DE Jermaine Cunningham
Posted Aug 12, 2009

CFN 2009 Preview Unit Rankings - Defenses Ranked 1 to 120

Preview 2009 ... Unit Rankings


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CFN 2009 Unit Rankings
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- Defenses | Defensive Lines | Linebackers | Secondaries  | Special Teams

1. Florida
The defense had to all but start from scratch two years ago with nine new starters thrown into the fire. After a fantastic year when everyone seemed to grow up at once, this should be a brick wall of a D with 11 starters back, all the top reserves returning, and enough overall talent to keep the NFL stocked for years. The stars are at linebacker where Brandon Spikes should be off to the big league with tens of millions in his back account. The ends, Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap, will be ten-year NFL starters while the tackles should have a tremendous rotation. Corner Joe Haden makes a ton of tackles and can lock down on any receiver, while the safeties are ball-hawkers who make every play possible. The overall stats might not be quite as good as last year, mainly because teams will put up garbage-time numbers in blowouts, but the defense will be better.

2. Oklahoma
The defense will never get the spotlight like the high-octane offense, but there are areas that are just as strong as anything on the other side of the ball. The defensive line might be the strength of the team with too many great pass rushers to get on the field at the same time, and they're all going to work around tackle Gerald McCoy, who could start in the NFL right now. With the return of Ryan Reynolds in the middle, the linebacking corps is loaded helped by Travis Lewis, who made 144 tackles, and Keenan Clayton on the outside. The secondary isn't going to be a rock, but it'll get a ton of help from one of the nation's best pass rushes and has great potential with corners Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson good ones to rely on. The depth is lacking in the back seven, but there are great athletes across the board. On the flip side, the line is loaded with a second team good enough to start almost anywhere else.

3. USC
Losing seven starters at a place like USC can mean just one thing: It’s time to anoint a new wave of stars. The way the Trojans recruit and coach, even the departures of NFL types, like Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews, aren’t enough to derail this defense. Sure, it may not be historically good, like a year ago, but it’ll remain plenty stingy and ridiculously fast. It all starts with All-America FS Taylor Mays, the top cop in the nation’s top secondary. The linebackers will be young, but their talent and upside is indisputable. Up front, there are an unusual amount of question marks, putting pressure on DE Everson Griffen to deliver the season of his life. Tuck aside names, like Armond Armstead, Chris Galippo, Malcolm Smith, and Shareece Wright. They may be unfamiliar today, but odds are that they won’t be by Halloween.

4. Virginia Tech
If ever there was a time when the Hokie D was on its heels, it would’ve been 2008. Seven all-stars had run out eligibility and the two-deep was littered with unproven players. So what happens? Tech finishes No. 7 nationally in total defense and No. 9 in scoring defense. It’s no wonder long-time assistant Bud Foster is widely hailed as one of the nation’s premier defensive coordinators. His Hokies will be air-tight again this season, welcoming back starters at every level and a slew of key letterwinners. If there’s an All-America candidate in this no-name crew, it’s junior DE Jason Worilds, who toyed with opposing tackles throughout his first season as a regular. He’ll set the tone up front for a defense that doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses and faces a schedule that’s light on firepower.

5. LSU
The defense wore the LSU uniforms, and it had several players that were part of the team that won the national championship in 2007, but it didn't look like LSU. The pass rush was spotty, the secondary was a sieve, and there weren't nearly enough big plays all across the board. Welcome to 2009, and welcome to John Chavis, the former Tennessee defensive coordinator who's going to have this ultra-athletic group flying around. The line loses three starters, including Tyson Jackson, but it might be more productive with pass rushing terror Rahim Alem in a full-time role and Drake Nevis about to become a star on the inside. The linebacking corps is loaded with Perry Riley, Kelvin Sheppard, and possibly top-tackling safety Harry Coleman flanking Jacob Curtera, who should be an all-star caliber defender in the middle. The secondary has speed and experience, but someone has to pick off a pass now and then and there has to be more production against the better passing teams.

6. Alabama
Forgetting for a moment how the defense didn't wake up against Utah until it was too late, 2008 was a special season against the run and this season the defensive front should be even better. Terrance Cody should be a starting anchor in the NFL right now, while linebackers Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower will soon be there. The front three in the 3-4 is huge with tackle-sized players at each spot, and that includes the backups, while the fantastic linebacking corps, a major strength after being a concern going into last year, will clean everything up. The secondary is functional and will put up nice overall stats, but the better passing teams should be able to move the ball considering the front seven doesn't generate much pressure.

7. Pitt
As the defense goes, so goes the Pittsburgh program. Even after losing All-American LB Scott McKillop to graduation, the Panthers are loaded on this side of the ball, especially up front. With three legitimate All-Big East contenders, they’ll control the line of scrimmage most weekends, making life easier for the linebackers and defensive backs. On the outside, Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard form one of the top 10 or so scariest pass rushing tandems in the country. Add in DT Mick Williams, a disruptive force in his own right, and Pitt has a chance to dominate most games at the point of contact. If a suitable replacement can be found for McKillop in the middle, the Panthers will hold opponents to under 20 points a game this fall.

8. Iowa
The formula worked last year and it should be more of the same. Don't worry about the pass rush, don't get beaten deep, keep everything in front, and hit, hit, hit. The back seven should be fantastic, possibly the best in the Big Ten, with Pat Angerer leading a loaded linebacking corps and Amari Spievey a rising superstar at corner. The defensive front takes a huge, irreplaceable hit losing tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, but there's good size and experience on the outside and a promising, but inexperienced, rotation on the inside. Iowa was terrific last season against the run, finishing fifth in the nation, and it'll be a shock if it's not close to as strong again. While there won't be many plays behind the line and nothing fancy done to generate pressure on the quarterback, it shouldn't affect the overall production.

9. California
Outstanding defensive play is not the first thing that comes to mind when Cal football is the subject. Maybe it should be. Without much national pub, eighth-year coordinator Bob Gregory has done a fantastic job with this unit. A year ago, he installed the 3-4, which was an unbridled success. The Bears ranked no lower than 26th nationally in run defense, pass efficiency defense, and scoring defense. Much of that group returns, including a top-flight defensive line and one of the country’s most aggressive defensive backfields. The lone concern will be a corps of linebackers that lost Zack Follett, Worrell Williams, and Anthony Felder to graduation. Mike Mohamed is the next big thing at the position, but he’ll need plenty of help from a quartet that’s expected to roam the field and make plays wherever they’re needed.

10. Georgia
The strengths are tremendous while the potential weaknesses aren't all that bad. However, there's one glaring problem, the pass rush, which might require the coaching staff to get more creative. End Justin Houston appears to be on the verge of stardom, but he's suspended for the first two games of the year and there's no one on the outside who can get into the backfield on a regular basis. On the plus side, the tackles are tremendous and the linebackers are fast, athletic, and extremely talented. However, the concern, along with the lack of a pass rushing end, is the lack of a playmaking corner. Reshad Jones is one of the nation's best safeties, but he can't do it all. He was the only defensive back to pick off a pass, and with Asher Allen off to the NFL, star punt returner Prince Miller and Brandon Boykin have to be stars right away. As always, the defense will be more than fine, and while there might be a few meltdown moments, like there were against Alabama, Florida, and Georgia Tech, this will be one of the nation's top 20 statistical defenses.

11 Ohio State
12 Penn State
13 Ole Miss
14 Clemson
15 TCU
16 Tennessee
17 UCLA 
18 Texas
19 Florida State
20 West Virginia
21 Notre Dame
22 Miami  
23 South Florida
24 North Carolina
25 Auburn
26 South Carolina
27 Arizona State
28 Oregon
29 Georgia Tech
30 Michigan State
31 Nebraska
32 Utah  
33 Vanderbilt
34 Arizona
35 NC State
36 Boston College
37 Rutgers 
38 Connecticut
39 Northwestern
40 Missouri
41 Colorado  
42 Virginia  
43 Boise State
44 East Carolina
45 Purdue
46 Mississippi State
47 Oregon State
48 Kansas
49 Texas Tech
50 BYU
51 Illinois
52 Wisconsin
53 Michigan
54 Kentucky
55 Stanford
56 Oklahoma State
57 Cincinnati
58 Maryland 
59 Baylor
60 Wake Forest
61 Washington  
62 Wyoming
63 Arkansas
64 Duke
65 Troy
66 Minnesota
67 Kansas State
68 San Jose State
69 Louisville 
70 Southern Miss
71 Air Force
72 Indiana 
73 Arkansas State
74 Washington State
75 Nevada
76 Fresno State
77 Texas A&M
78 Northern Illinois
79 UCF
80 Iowa State
82 Louisiana Tech
83 Navy
84 Ohio  
85 Central Michigan
86 Toledo
87 Syracuse
88 Ball State
89 Hawaii
90 New Mexico  
91 Bowling Green
92 Marshall
93 Miami Univ.
94 San Diego State
95 Middle Tennessee
96 Temple
97 Houston
98 Colorado State
99 Western Michigan
100 Memphis
101 Army
102 Tulsa
103 Akron
104 Kent State
105 FIU
106 Rice
107 UL Lafayette
108 North Texas
109 Tulane
110 Utah State
111 UL Monroe
112 Buffalo
113 UTEP
114 SMU
115 Florida Atlantic
116 Eastern Michigan
117 Idaho
118 Western Kentucky
119 UAB
120 New Mexico State