August 24, 2008

Foster knows how to reload Va. Tech defense

Player Power Rankings: RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST
Head coaches | Offensive coordinators | VIDEO: Defensive breakdown

Virginia Tech ranked third in the nation in scoring defense and fourth in total defense last season. And that represented a down year by Hokies standards.

Who can blame the Hokies for their high expectations? This is the same team that led the nation in total defense and scoring defense in 2006. One season earlier, the Hokies ranked first in total defense and second in scoring defense.

Virginia Tech's uncanny ability to stop opposing offenses on a year-in, year-out basis made Bud Foster the easy choice as the No. 1 defensive coordinator in the Power Rankings, which measure the nation's top players and coaches at each position.

During Foster's 12 years as Tech's coordinator, at least one Hokies defensive player has made an All-America team each season. That trend continued last season when linebacker Xavier Adibi and cornerback Brandon Flowers earned All-America honors.

Adibi, Flowers and standout linebacker Vince Hall have moved on to the NFL. The loss of those three stars could make this season particularly challenging for Foster, who must break in seven new starters. But history indicates Foster somehow will find a way to make Tech's defense rank among the nation's best by the end of the year.

The rating of a player and coach can fluctuate each week during the season depending on how they fared the previous week, but the power rankings measure overall career performances as well as their most recent results.

1. Bud Foster, Virginia Tech
THE BUZZ: Virginia Tech ranked third in the nation in scoring defense last season after leading the nation in that category in 2005 and '06. The Hokies also topped the nation in scoring defense two years ago. No wonder Foster won the 2006 Frank Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant after being a finalist for that honor in 1999, 2001 and 2005.
2. Will Muschamp, Texas
THE BUZZ: This marks the well-traveled Muschamp's first year at Texas after a two-season stint at Auburn. He also worked as the defensive coordinator for the 2003 LSU team that won a BCS national title. Muschamp's teams ranked in the top 10 in total defense each of his five seasons as a coordinator at LSU and Auburn. Muschamp was a finalist for the 2007 Broyles Award.
3. DeWayne Walker, UCLA
THE BUZZ: The hiring of offensive coordinator Norm Chow garnered much more attention, but new UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel's best staff move may have been his ability to convince Walker to remain with the Bruins. UCLA ranked second in the nation in tackles for loss per game and third in third-down conversion defense last season.
4. Tom Bradley, Penn State
THE BUZZ: Is he the heir apparent to Joe Paterno ? What kind of head coach could he be? The answers to those questions remain uncertain, but there's no doubting Bradley's prowess as a coordinator. Penn State has ranked among the nation's top 15 teams in total defense and scoring defense four consecutive seasons.
5. Jeff Casteel, West Virginia
THE BUZZ: Casteel was named's national defensive coordinator of the year last season after overseeing one of the greatest improvements of any unit in the nation. West Virginia ranked seventh in the nation in total defense, eighth in scoring defense and ninth in turnover margin last season after giving up at least 24 points in each of its last six games in 2006.
6. Nick Holt, USC
THE BUZZ: Holt specializes in coaching defensive linemen, so it should come as no surprise that the Trojans ranked third in the nation in sacks per game last season. USC also ranked second in the nation in total defense and scoring defense, fourth in run defense and sixth in pass efficiency defense.
7. Frank Spaziani, Boston College
THE BUZZ: The performance of quarterback Matt Ryan earned most of the attention around Chestnut Hill last year, but the defense played nearly as big a role in getting the Eagles to the ACC Championship Game. BC ranked second in the nation against the run even though star defensive tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Brian Toal sat out the entire season. Now that Raji and Toal are back, look for Spaziani to put together another outstanding defense.
8. Jim Heacock, Ohio State
THE BUZZ: Heacock had the luxury last season of working with a defense that featured plenty of star power (end Vernon Gholston, Butkus Award winner James Laurinaitis, cornerback Malcolm Jenkins). And it's hard to argue with Heacock's results. Ohio State led the nation in total defense and scoring defense last season.
9. Matt Eberflus, Missouri
THE BUZZ: Eberflus serves as coordinator and safeties coach, and he mentored two of the best safeties in the nation last season. Strong safety Pig Brown was having a sensational season before going down with a knee injury. Free safety William Moore picked up where Brown left off and earned first-team All-America honors from Eberflus' defense capped the 2007 season with an exceptional performance in a 38-7 Cotton Bowl drubbing of Arkansas.
10. Ellis Johnson, South Carolina
THE BUZZ: Johnson is a veteran assistant who will have his hands full rejuvenating a South Carolina defense that ranked last in the SEC against the run a year ago, but his track record indicates he will get the job done. Johnson's performance as Mississippi State's coordinator last season played a major role in helping the Bulldogs earn their first bowl bid since 2000.
11. Mickey Andrews, Florida State
THE BUZZ: Florida State's defense took a big step backward last season. The Seminoles ranked 42nd in the nation in yards allowed and 34th in points allowed. Of course, that's a good year for many defenses - just not at Florida State. We've grown accustomed to seeing Andrews consistently put together top-10 units. Don't be surprised if Florida State's defense bounces back this fall and Andrews starts moving up this list.
12. Willie Martinez, Georgia
THE BUZZ: Georgia has ranked in the top 20 in total defense and scoring defense in each of Martinez's three seasons as the Bulldogs' coordinator. Georgia ranked eighth in the nation in sacks and 14th in total defense. He has produced nine draft picks in the past six years.
13. Vic Koenning, Clemson
THE BUZZ: Clemson has ranked in the top 25 in scoring defense, total defense, run defense and pass efficiency defense in each of Koenning's three seasons as coordinator. Clemson had ranked in the top 25 in all four defensive categories in a single season just twice before Koenning took over the unit.
14. Wally Burnham, South Florida
THE BUZZ: Burnham gained plenty of national attention the past two years when USF managed to hold West Virginia's offense in check in back-to-back victories over the Mountaineers. His defense is built on creating big plays. USF led the nation with 19 fumble recoveries last season and tied for the NCAA lead with 42 takeaways.
15. Mark Banker, Oregon State
THE BUZZ: Banker's defense might not include many big names, but the Beavers sure make plenty of big plays. Oregon State ranked fourth in the nation in sacks and sixth in tackles for loss last year. Two seasons ago, the Beavers were third in the nation in sacks and ninth in tackles for loss.
16. Brent Venables, Oklahoma
THE BUZZ: The Big 12 wasn't exactly known for its overpowering defenses last season, but Oklahoma represented an exception to the rule. The Sooners ranked fifth in the nation in scoring defense despite facing Missouri twice and battling Texas Tech's high-powered passing attack. In fact, the Sooners held the potent Missouri offense to its two lowest point totals of the season.
17. Nick Aliotti, Oregon
THE BUZZ: Aliotti's defense led the nation last season in tackles for loss and ranked third in red-zone defense. Oregon also topped the Pac-10 in turnover margin. During his 17 years on Oregon's staff, Aliotti has coached 22 defensive players who were drafted. He also has his own NFL experience after serving as an assistant with the St. Louis Rams from 1995-97.
18. Bill Young, Miami
THE BUZZ: Young is entering his first season at Miami after playing a big role in Kansas' Orange Bowl championship campaign last season. Kansas ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense, eighth in run defense and ninth in pass efficiency defense under Young's tutelage.
19. Todd Orlando, Connecticut
THE BUZZ: Connecticut's defense helped the Huskies win a share of the Big East title last season despite having a suspect offense. The Huskies ranked 10th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and 14th in scoring defense. Only three of Connecticut's 13 opponents scored more than 17 points against the Huskies. The Huskies also ranked seventh in the nation in turnover margin.
20. Norm Parker, Iowa
THE BUZZ: Don't blame the defense for Iowa's recent fade into mediocrity. Iowa's defense might not be quite as good as it was in the glory years of the Kirk Ferentz era, but the Hawkeyes still know how to stop people. Iowa led the Big Ten in turnover margin and red-zone defense under Parker, a two-time Broyles Award finalist.
21. Dick Bumpas, TCU
THE BUZZ: TCU ranked 10th in the nation in scoring defense and 15th in total defense despite losing star end Tommy Blake for a large portion of last season. The Horned Frogs ranked second in the nation in run defense and total defense two years ago, and they had the nation's best turnover margin in 2005.
22. Scott Shafer, Michigan
THE BUZZ: Few assistants in the nation have made as meteoric a rise as Shafer. After moving from Western Michigan to Stanford last year, Shafer now is beginning his first season at Michigan. Western Michigan led the nation in interceptions and sacks during Shafer's final season there. Stanford placed fifth in the nation in tackles for loss last year.
23. Charlie Strong, Florida
THE BUZZ: Florida's defense endured a disappointing season while playing several first-year starters last fall, but we can't ignore what Strong's defense accomplished a year earlier. Florida's domination of Ohio State in the BCS Championship Game two years ago shows what Strong can deliver when he has plenty of weapons.
24. Paul Rhoads, Auburn
THE BUZZ: The former Pitt coordinator made himself a hot commodity by shutting down West Virginia in the Panthers' 13-9 upset last season, but Rhoads is no one-game wonder. Pittsburgh ranked fifth in the nation in total defense last year.
25. Pat Narduzzi, Michigan State
THE BUZZ: Narduzzi made a major difference in his first season as the Spartans' coordinator. Michigan State's sack total went from 16 in 2006 to 40 last season. The Spartans showed that same big-play ability that Cincinnati had displayed during Narduzzi's tenure as the Bearcats' coordinator.

Player Power Rankings: RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB | ST
Head coaches | Offensive coordinators | VIDEO: Defensive breakdown

Steve Megargee is a national writer for He can be reached at

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