August 28, 2009

Oklahoma defensive front second to none


Today, we continue unveiling our national unit rankings with defensive lines. We'll unveil one per day and end Tuesday with overall coaching staffs.

The No. 1 team in the defensive line rankings returns all four starters and has a wealth of experienced and talented backups as well. It also boasts perhaps the nation's best defensive lineman.

Here are the defensive line unit rankings. Next up: linebackers.


1. Oklahoma
: All four starters and most of the reserves return. T Gerald McCoy might be the most physically gifted lineman in the nation – and could be the best overall, too; he's a force against the run and as a pass rusher. The Sooners also have three solid ends, headed by Jeremy Beal.

2. Ohio State
: The Buckeyes have a solid starting four plus a lot of talented and experienced depth. E Cameron Heyward – the son of former NFL running back Craig "Ironhead" Heyward – should be a breakout star, making the pass rush potentially lethal.

3. Florida
: The Gators return all four starters off a line that helped win a national title, but two look likely to lose their starting jobs. That just means depth is exceptional. Es Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham have the potential to combine for 20 sacks.

4. Ole Miss
: The Rebels will miss T Peria Jerry, but this still is a deep, experienced and talented unit. E Greg Hardy can be a devastating pass rusher when he wants – and given the amount of money he can earn in the pros with a big senior season, expect him to be motivated.

5. Virginia Tech
: E Jason Worilds is one of the best pass rushers in the nation, and the tackle tandem of Cordarrow Thompson and Demetrius Taylor is solid against the run.

6. California
: All three line starters return in the Golden Bears' 3-4 scheme. E Tyson Alualu is the standout for a unit that helped Cal rank 25th nationally in run defense.

7. Pittsburgh
: You may not have heard of E Greg Romeus, but you will know of him by the end of the season. He and Jabaal Sheard form a productive duo. T Mick Williams is solid in the middle.

8. North Carolina
: Potential abounds with this group. All four starters are back, plus there is good depth. UNC had 22 sacks last season. Expect that number to grow by at least 10 this season.

9. Georgia
: The return of Jeff Owens, who blew out his knee in the opener and missed the rest of last season, gives the Bulldogs the best tackle rotation in the nation. Owens, Geno Atkins and Kade Weston are a nice mix of size, speed, strength and tenacity. The question is whether any ends will step up and provide a consistent pass rush.

10. Alabama
: T Terrence Cody is an immovable object in the middle of the line. He requires a double-team and enables the Tide's linebackers to frequently flow unimpeded to the ball. The ends need to prove they can get after the passer as well as they hold up against the run.

8 OTHERS TO WATCH: Arizona State (E Dexter Davis and T Lawrence Guy are a formidable tandem); Clemson (The Tigers should have the best pass rush in the ACC); East Carolina (E C.J. Wilson is the best defensive player in Conference USA, and the tackle duo of Jay Ross and Linval Joseph could end up being one of the best in the nation); Nebraska (Ndamukong Suh is one of the best tackles in the nation, but a pass rusher must emerge); Penn State (Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu are tough in the middle, but the Nittany Lions are searching for some productive ends); TCU (E Jerry Hughes is the only returning starter, but he's a great pass rusher; the new starting tackles are experienced); USC (Just one starter returns, but the Trojans have too much talent here to suffer); Utah (This is an aggressive unit, and look for E Derrick Shelby – who played tackle last season – to emerge as a star now that he's playing his natural position).

(Rankings by staffers Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.)

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