On Thursday, we looked at the nation's best offensive duos. Today, we're doing the same on defense. We spotlight the teams with the best tandems at end, tackle, linebacker, cornerback and safety.
We do a position-by-position look, then at the end, list the 10 best defensive duos.
Best in nation: Texas. There are four candidates for this spot, with Florida State, LSU and South Carolina joining the Longhorns. We went with Texas because of the slightly better overall production from Jackson Jeffcoat (7.5 sacks, 16.5 tackles for loss, 54 tackles) and Alex Okafor (seven sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, 47 tackles), both of whom could go in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
ACC: Florida State. Brandon Jenkins, who grew up in Tallahassee, and Bjoern Werner, who grew up in Germany and graduated from high school in Connecticut as an exchange student, are a terrific duo. They combined for 15 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and 13 quarterback hurries last season.
Big East: Connecticut. Trevardo Williams was fifth nationally with 12.5 sacks last season. Jesse Joseph slumped a bit last season but had 8.5 sacks in 2011.
Big Ten: Michigan State. William Gholston and Marcus Rush terrorized Georgia's offensive line in the Outback Bowl, and perhaps that was a sign that Gholston, who will be a junior this fall, finally is ready tofulfill his vast potential. He is a huge man (6 feet 7/280 pounds) with freakish athletic ability. Gholston could earn himself a lot of NFL money if he has a big season.
Big 12: Texas.
Conference USA: UCF. This is based on the presumption that junior Victor Gray, who started at tackle in each of the past two seasons, plays more at end this fall; end is his natural position, and his size/quickness parlay will make him tough off the edge. The other end is Troy Davis, a converted linebacker who is small (6-2/249) but fast.
Mid-American: Northern Illinois. Sean Progar should vie for all-conference honors, and running mate Alan Baxter is talented as well.
Mountain West: None. Most league teams don't even have one proven end, much less two.
Pac-12: USC. Wes Horton and Devon Kennard haven't lived up to their high school hype, but both have had their moments. They combined for six sacks last season and should at least double that total this fall.
SEC: LSU. The Tigers' duo of Sam Montgomery (a South Carolina native) and Barkevious Mingo edge out South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. Montgomery and Mingo combined for 17 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss last season. Both have excellent speed off the edge.
Sun Belt: FIU. Tourek Williams and Greg Hickman combined for nine sacks last season and could get into the mid-teens this fall. Williams has gained needed weight and is tough to handle off the edge.
Western Athletic: Louisiana Tech. I.K. Enemkpali has done good work as a reserve and now will be counted upon as the main pass rusher. Kendrick James also will have to make the jump from key reserve to productive starter.
Best in nation: LSU. Imagine how good LSU's line would have been had T Michael Brockers not turned pro a year early. The Tigers still are loaded in the middle. Underrated senior Bennie Logan should vie for All-America honors, and he will team with freakishly athletic Anthony Johnson to make it tough to run on the Tigers again. Ego Ferguson and Josh Downs also will be in the hunt for playing time.
ACC: Florida State. Sophomore Tim Jernigan and senior Everett Dawkins do a nice job of clogging up the middle and providing occasional pressure on the quarterback. Depth is good, too. Special mention should be made of Virginia Tech brothers Antoine and Derrick Hopkins at tackle; in keeping with our duo theme, they might be the best sibling tandem in the nation.
Big East: USF. Senior Cory Grissom is heading into his third season as a starter and is a stout force against the run. Sophomore Elkino Watson, meanwhile, will be a first-time starter. But he saw ample time last season and finished with 33 tackles and nine tackles for loss.
Big Ten: Ohio State. Junior Johnathan Hankins made 67 tackles last season and is a likely first-round pick should he go pro after this season because of his combination of size (6-4/317), strength and first-step quickness. Running mate Garrett Goebel is a steadying influence on the line and tough against the run.
Big 12: Oklahoma. Seniors Jamarkus McFarland and Stacy McGee haven't been as productive as expected out of high school, but they are experienced and hold up well against the run.
Conference USA: Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane were stout against the run last season, ranking 33rd nationally, and senior Ts Daeshon Bufford and Derrick Jackson were a big reason. Bufford is a former end and possesses good quickness for an interior player.
Mid-American: Kent State. Junior Roosevelt Nix was phenomenal as a freshman (20 tackles for loss, MAC defensive player of the year) but was less effective last season; still, he had 17 tackles for loss and was a first-team all-league pick. Dana Brown plays alongside him and is a squatty (6-0/281) run-stuffer.
Mountain West: Boise State. The Broncos lost both starting tackles, but this is a team that simply reloads on defense now. Senior Michael Atkinson and junior Ricky Tjong-a-Joe, a native of The Netherlands, have seen a lot of time in recent seasons, and should prove to be active forces in the middle.
Pac-12: Utah. Senior Star Lotulelei is the best tackle in the nation. He is a big guy (6-4/325) who is a monster against the run but also possesses the quickness to be a pest with his pass rush. Dave Kruger should benefit from playing alongside Lotulelei this season, as his running mate will see all the double-teams. Kruger also will be playing next to his brother, Joe, who is a starting end. Their older brother, Paul, plays for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens.
Sun Belt: FIU. The biggest reason FIU is the Sun Belt favorite is its defense, and the Golden Panthers have the best defensive line in the league. Isame Faciane came on strong as a sophomore last season, and is a large and physical presence in the middle of the line. Senior Andre Pound seems likely to start alongside him. He is another guy who can get into the backfield and cause problems. FIU also could turn to Jerrico Lee or Josh Forney, both of whom have started in the past. That kind of depth at tackle in the Sun Belt should be illegal.
Western Athletic: Louisiana Tech. Ts Justin Ellis and Shakeil Lucas are the only returning starters in the front six for Tech, which runs a 4-2-5 set. But they are a nice duo to have back. They hold up well at the point of attack and can make the occasional foray into the opposing backfield.
Best in nation: Stanford. Shayne Skov was primed for a huge season in 2011 before tearing his ACL in Game 3. He has great instincts and plays with a mean streak. Running mate Chase Thomas should be one of the best pass rushers in the nation. Thomas will be a four-year starter for the Cardinal. He led Stanford with five forced fumbles, 9.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss last season, and added four quarterback hurries. He has 20 sacks and eight forced fumbles in his career.
ACC: Virginia. Seniors Steve Greer and LaRoy Reynolds will be starting alongside each other for the third season in a row. They combined for 191 tackles last season.
Big East: Rutgers. Senior Khaseem Greene was a revelation last season, his first at linebacker after two seasons as a safety. He led the Big East and was tied for 10th in the nation with 141 tackles; he also had 3.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Steve Beauharnais made 77 tackles and added five sacks, 16 tackles for loss and three interceptions.
Big Ten: Wisconsin. Chris Borland and Mike Taylor are potential first-team all-league selections. Taylor led the Big Ten in tackles (150) and Borland was second (143). Taylor had three forced fumbles and twointerceptions, while Borland had five forced fumbles and two picks.
Big 12: Iowa State. Seniors A.J. Klein and Jake Knott are going into their third seasons as starters. They combined for 231 tackles last season, with Klein making one more (116) than Knott. Knott also had four forced fumbles and two interceptions.
Conference USA: SMU. Ja'Gared Davis is a big-play performer for the Mustangs. A senior, Davis has 16.5 sacks and 30 tackles for loss in his career to go along with 226 tackles. Taylor Reed made 101 tackles last season and added four sacks and three pass breakups.
Mid-American: Buffalo. Junior Khalil Mack has made 35 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his first two seasons with the Bulls. He also has an interception, seven forced fumbles, 12 pass breakups and a blocked kick. Lee Skinner was the Bulls' No. 2 tackler as a redshirt freshman last season, finishing with 80 stops. He had six games with at least eight tackles.
Mountain West: Colorado State. Shaquil Barrett, who spent his final two years of high school at Boys Town in Omaha, Neb., and James Skelton were 1-2 in tackles for the Rams last season. Barrett made 99 in his first season at CSU after transferring from Division II Nebraska-Omaha, and Skelton had 91, including a career-high 13 against Boise State.
SEC: Georgia. Jarvis Jones had a monster season with the Bulldogs after transferring in from USC. He finished with 13.5 sacks, 70 tackles and seven quarterback hurries. Alec Ogletree moved from safety last season and thrived at his new position, finishing with 52 tackles despite missing six games with an injury. Ogletree proved to be stouter than expected against the run and also has some pass-rushing skills.
Sun Belt: FIU. This is another defensive position where FIU shines. Winston Fraser led the Golden Panthers with 108 tackles, and added four sacks and an interception, which he returned for a TD in FIU's upset of Louisville. Jordan Hunt was signed out of junior college and plugged right into the starting lineup; he had 85 stops, including 11.5 for loss.
Western Athletic: Idaho. Two Hawaii natives should help the Vandals this season. Robert Siavii was a first-team All-WAC performer in 2010 but missed last season with a knee injury. If healthy, he could be the WAC defensive player of the year. Conrad Scheidt made 93 tackles last season, including eight tackles for loss.
Best in nation: Texas. Quandre Diggs was one of the best freshman defenders in the nation last season, finishing with four interceptions and 13 pass breakups to go along with 48 tackles. But the headliner in Texas' secondary is junior Carrington Byndom, who had two interceptions, 15 breakups and 53 tackles.
ACC: Florida State. FSU will miss Mike Harris but still has one of the nation's best tandems in Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes. The aggressive Reid, who doubles as a dangerous return man, had two interceptions and five pass breakups. Rhodes was tremendous as a redshirt freshman in 2010 but took a step back last season. He still made 43 tackles and had a pick and four breakups.
Big East: Rutgers. Junior Logan Ryan was superb in his first season as a starter, with 67 tackles, three interceptions and 14 pass breakups. Senior Brandon Jones had two picks and four breakups in his first season as a starter last fall.
Big Ten: Michigan State. Johnny Adams could be the best corner in the league this fall. He had three interceptions and six pass breakups last season, and also was a force on blitzes, finishing with three sacks and four quarterback hurries. Darqueze Dennard had three picks and three breakups, and returned one of his interceptions for a TD in the Spartans' Outback Bowl win over Georgia.
Big 12: Texas.
Conference USA: Houston. D.J. Hayden was the C-USA defensive newcomer of the year last season after transferring in from a junior college; he had 66 tackles, two interceptions and 11 pass breakups and also provided a steady, veteran influence on the rest of the secondary. Junior Zach McMillian, like Hayden a Houston-area native, did a nice job in his first season as a starter, with 44 tackles, one interception and seven breakups.
Mid-American: Buffalo. Sophomore Cortney Lester and junior Najja Johnson are both 6-0 and willing defenders against the run. Johnson led the league with 15 pass breakups last season and also had an interception. Lester had two interceptions and four breakups.
Mountain West: Boise State. Jamar Taylor is the only fulltime starter returning for the Broncos this season; he had 27 tackles, two picks and six pass breakups last season. Jerrell Gavins started the first three games before being lost with a knee injury suffered during practice. He had three interceptions and three pass breakups in his three games.
Pac-12: UCLA. Seniors Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price are experienced (this will be Hester's fourth season as a starter, Price's third) and physical, and the new staff should get increased production out of the duo. They combined for 104 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
SEC: LSU. Junior Tyrann Mathieu was a Heisman finalist last season, thanks to a ton of big plays. He made 76 tackles and had two picks, nine pass breakups, six forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries, not to mention two TDs on punt returns. Tharold Simon spent most of his time last season as the nickelback, but he will move into the starting lineup at corner now that Morris Claiborne is in the NFL. Simon had two interceptions and 10 pass breakups last season.
Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette. ULL had a cornerback taken in the NFL draft (Dwight Bentley), but there really is no reason for the coaches to worry. Jemarlous Moten and Melvin White were a productive duo last season and should be so again this fall; they combined for 114 tackles, five interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
Western Athletic: Utah State. Nevin Lawson and Jumanne Robertson combined for 121 tackles and 22 pass breakups for the Aggies last season.
Best in nation: Georgia. If there's a safety duo that hits any harder than seniors Bacarri Rambo and Shawn Williams, it's in the NFL. Rambo, especially, lives up to his last name; he lacked consistency untillast season, when he put it all together and had eight interceptions, eight pass breakups and 55 tackles at free safety. Williams led the Bulldogs with 72 stops and added four picks and six breakups.
ACC: North Carolina State. Senior FS Brandan Bishop will be a four-year starter; senior SS Earl Wolff will be a three-year starter. They combined for 212 tackles, eight interceptions and three pass breakups last season. Bishop has nine picks in his career, Wolff four.
Big East: Louisville. Coach Charlie Strong and his staff have done a nice job of upgrading the Cardinals' talent level and it shows at safety. Junior SS Hakeem Smith will be a third-year starter and has 172 tackles, 10 pass breakups and four forced fumbles in his career. Sophomore FS Calvin Pryor earned a starting role as a true freshman last season and had two picks, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups.
Big Ten: Ohio State. FS C.J. Barnett and SS Christian Bryant will start alongside each other for the second season in a row. They combined for 143 tackles, two interceptions and 14 pass breakups last fall.
Big 12: Oklahoma. Mike Stoops' return as coordinator and secondary coach is a welcome sign for OU fans. Junior FS Tony Jefferson, who also has seen time at linebacker in his Sooners career, should vie for All-America honors. He is a big-time playmaker and has 6.5 sacks, six interceptions, 10 pass breakups and 14.5 tackles for loss in his career. SS Javon Harris is solid against the run and had three picks last season.
Conference USA: UCF. UCF annually is one of the best defensive teams in the league, and the Knights always have a strong secondary. Sophomore SS Clayton Geathers has NFL size (6-3/204) and made 67 tackles last season. Senior FS Kemal Ishmael is heading into his third season as a starter and has 244 tackles, three interceptions, nine pass breakups and three forced fumbles in his career.
Mid-American: Central Michigan. SS Jahleel Addae made 107 tackles last season to go along with four interceptions and four pass breakups. FS Avery Cunningham is a former corner who brings good coverage skills to the position. He made 79 tackles last season.
Mountain West: Nevada. SS Duke Williams was one of the best defensive backs in the WAC and will continue that in his new league. Marlon Johnson is an active player at free safety.
Pac-12: USC. Senior FS T.J. McDonald, whose dad, Tim, was an All-America safety at USC before playing 13 years in the NFL, will vie for All-America honors himself. McDonald had 67 tackles and three interceptions last season. SS Jawanza Starling, who is from Tallahassee, Fla., is a big hitter who had 48 tackles and two breakups in 2011.
Sun Belt: Western Kentucky. Western welcomes transfer Jonathan Dowling, a former five-star recruit at Florida who left Gainesville before ever playing a game. He should team with SS Kareem Peterson in what should be an active and productive pairing. Peterson had three interceptions, five pass breakups and 50 tackles last season.
Western Athletic: Louisiana Tech. Seniors Chad Boyd and Jamel Johnson are a solid last line of defense for the Bulldogs. They combined for 164 tackles, five interceptions and seven pass breakups last season.
The 10 best duos
1. Texas ends
2. LSU ends
3. Stanford linebackers
4. South Carolina ends (2nd in their league but still deserving of national ranking)
5. Florida State ends
6. Wisconsin linebackers
7. Texas cornerbacks
8. LSU tackles
9. Iowa State linebackers
10. Michigan State ends
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