This week's guest bloggers are Peter Bean from the Texas blog Burnt Orange Nation, CGB from the Virginia Tech blog College Game Balls and Patrick Stevens from The Washington Times Blog D1Scourse. This week's question is as follows: Offensive fire power seems to have stolen the show entering the 2009 college football season as dangerous scorers like Jevan Snead and Zac Robinson boost their teams into the national spotlight. With that said it has been proven that defense is what wins conference and national championships; entering 2009 which elite defensive unit is poised to have a the most dominating performance?
Michael Felder: I’m going to do a little bit of a 180 this week after saying that Alabama was somewhat of an overrated #5 just a week ago and peg them as my defensive pick. Nick Saban is a defensive wiz and with nine starters returning there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll have the squad ready to dominate the SEC. With the three biggest keys from a season ago all returning the Tide has elite athletic talent at all three levels of defense; Terrence Cody upfront, Rolando McClain at the linebacker position and Javier Arenas in the secondary.
Although they’ve lost coordinator Kevin Steele this unit is still Nick Saban’s baby as he takes relatively pretty hands on approach to getting his 3-4 running smoothly. I expect a slimmed down Mount Cody to anchor a defensive unit that will confuse and smother opponents. Their suffocating run defense only gave up 74 yards per game a season ago, the thought of that number going even lower is scary enough for them to be the preseason favorite as the nation’s best defense.
Peter Bean: The easy answer here is Florida, right? All the focus is on Jesus Christ and the offense, but the real reason the Gators are rightfully the consensus favorites is the return of their top 165 defensive players. You have to ask yourself, too: just how good is the SEC going to be offensively? The conference has a dearth of outstanding quarterbacks right now, with two excellent players at UF and Ole Miss, and question marks (or demonstrated mediocrity -- Hi, Jonathan Crompton!) pretty much everywhere else. Looking at the army of talent Florida returns, and what looks like a conference full of inconsistent offenses, you have to like Florida to dominate more than a few times during league play.
The better question, perhaps, is whether any of the year's "dangerous offense" teams will field a competitive defense. Last year, Oklahoma State coughed up a staggering 7.2 yards per play (117th nationally), while Ole Miss allowed 6.2 (99th nationally). It seems to me the popular favorites this year -- Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, and USC -- each will feature very strong defenses, but if there's to be a surprise team in the mix for the BCS Title, it would be one of the high-powered offense up-and-comers putting together a much better defense than they have in recent past.
Finally, then, a surprise pick for a defense that could surprise people with its effectiveness -- California. They have one of the five best secondaries in the country, and they're experienced up and down the defensive roster. The question for Cal is on offense: can Kevin Riley take a big step forward as a junior? If so, Javhid Best (8.1 yards per carry in '08) and the Bears will compete with USC for the Pac 10 title.
Ron Juckett: While the sexy pick is Florida and their eleven returning starters, offense seems to have the advantage in the SEC right now and it will be hard for any one team to dominate on the defensive side in that conference. So I'm going with Ohio State. They return seven starters on defense.
With the exception of Southern Cal, they play a relatively easy schedule until November and by the time they play Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan three straight weeks to close out the season, they should be a very cohesive unit. Their secondary is strong. The linebackers are almost as good as Penn State's and the line should get better. Ohio State is a well coached team and they will be prepared for their big games this year. Speed kills and OSU's secondary should do a good job in shutting down most offenses.
Patrick Stevens: It seems for as much as some folks utter Tim Tebow's name with reverential tones accompanied by a heavenly strum of a harp, the Florida defense gets just a bit overlooked at times. And that's just silly because everyone on a defense that limited opponents to less than two touchdowns a game is back. Everyone. That group yielded more than three touchdowns on one occasion, and held the half-a-hundred scoring outfit from Oklahoma to 14 points in the national title game.
As a result, there's no reason to look past the preseason No. 1 to find Brandon Spikes, Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden and friends to pick out the defense best suited to haul home a championship come January.
Adam Nettina: When I think of great defenses I think of Gary Patterson and Dick Bumpas and the tradition that they've built at Texas Christian. While many teams see their defensive statistics fluctuate on a yearly basis because of factors such as experience and talent, the Horned Frogs have consistently fielded one of the NCAA's best defenses in each of the past four seasons.
While TCU might not be able to hold opponents to the ridiculously low 11.3 points per game that they allowed last year, Bumpas remains one of the best when it comes to teaching his players how to force turnovers. What I like about TCU this year is that they have talent at the cornerback position with Nick Sanders and Rafeal Priest back for their senior seasons, meaning Bumpas should be able to take even more chances with bringing pressure in 2009. Factor in the returning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year in end Jerry Hughes, and you have the most talented and best schemed unit in any non-BCS conference.
CGB: I hate to be drab, but the answer is Florida. The Gators return their ENTIRE defense from 2008's championship team. Last year they led the SEC in pass efficiency defense, scoring defense and turnover margin.
Nationally they ranked ninth in total defense. The only thing they didn't excel at was making plays in the backfield (32nd sacks, 88th TFL). But with the entire two-deep returning this year, including Carlos Dunlap, the Gator's front four could be the best in all of college football. On 9/5 Charleston Southern is going to be abused.
To spice things up I'll go out on a limb and peg Miami to have a top ten defense. The 'Canes return 7 starters from a young, so-so squad. But Randy Shannon has been hauling in a plethora of talented recruits and I have a feeling this is the year he molds them together.
Brian Sakowski: When I think about defenses, I tend to look at the men behind the boys, meaning the defensive coordinators and head coaches. Pete Carroll is one of the most innovative defensive minds in the college game today. The USC Trojans may have lost 3 great linebackers to the NFL, but they will plug Michael Morgan, Malcolm Smith, and Chris Galippo in and not miss much. Heck, the group this year has the potential to have more speed.
We all know about the great Taylor Mays at safety and with Josh Pinkard and Will Harris, the Trojans have one of the most feared secondaries in the country. The only issue may be on the defensive line, but knowing the fact that Pete Carroll has recruited some of the best players in the country for that position, I expect the Trojans to be strong in that position as well.
Special thanks to Peter Bean from the Texas blog Burnt Orange Nation, CGB from the Virginia Tech blog College Game Balls and Patrick Stevens from The Washington Times Blog D1Scourse for answering this week's question.