Rivals National Columnist Mike Farrell is here with five specific defensive units that needed fixing after the 2020 season, a tribute to Bobby Bowden and a look at the Mount Rushmore of Rutgers football since 1980.
1. HAVE BROKEN DEFENSES FROM 2020 BEEN REPAIRED?
There are a few defensive units that need to improve their play from last season in a big way for their teams to be successful. Here are five and my thoughts on which ones will be fixed and which ones won’t.
Florida — Not fixed — The Gators finished 74th in total defense last season and gave up more than 30 points per game so many felt defensive coordinator Todd Grantham would be fired. Well, he wasn’t and Dan Mullen could be too loyal. Units were confused with assignments last year and this was not a defense to fear. The Gators have talent with players such as Brenton Cox, Kaiir Elam and others but, overall, I don’t have trust in this unit. A lot of individual talent playing separately once again is what I see.
LSU — Fixed — The Bo Pelini experiment was an awful one as LSU finished 99th in total defense and gave up nearly 500 yards a game even with Derek Stingley Jr., Elias Ricks and others in a loaded secondary. Enter Daronte Jones from the NFL and a young core of defenders that have a chance to turn it around. True freshman Maason Smith and others will impact and B.J. Ojulari will be one of the best pass rushers in the conference. And Stingley Jr. should be healthier than last season. I love the potential here.
Ole Miss — Not fixed — I promise this isn’t all SEC schools but I can’t leave off Ole Miss because the offense under Lane Kiffin should be awesome. But that defense? Ugh. Last year the Rebels finished 118th in the country in total defense and gave up 519 yards a game and nearly 40 points per contest. And I don’t see things improving enough to make a difference. They will be better for sure with experience and I do like DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge as defensive minds but they are a couple of recruiting classes away from being good enough to compete.
North Carolina — Fixed — This is the key to the ACC I believe. I still have Clemson winning the whole thing but if the Tar Heels can improve greatly on defense it will be a battle. Last year they were weren’t horrible and were 65th in the county overall giving up fewer than 30 points a game. But they allowed 58 percent of passes against them to be completed and allowed nearly 4.5 yards per rush. Those numbers need to go down a bit, but with an experienced and talented secondary, and an influx of pass rushers in the freshman class, they will certainly improve.
Ohio State — Fixed — This seems weird to type but Ohio State fans know it was the defense that held the Buckeyes back last season. From a very average pass rush to a secondary that had holes we aren’t used to seeing, they finished 44th in the county in total defense and the passing game killed them. They allowed 66.1 percent of passes to be completed against them and gave up more than 300 yards per game through the air and that has to stop. And I think it will. This won’t be the best secondary around but Kerry Coombs knows his stuff and I look for guys such as Sevyn Banks and especially Ryan Watts to make big impacts.
2. BOBBY BOWDEN LEAVES BEHIND A TOWERING LEGACY
The great Bobby Bowden passed away on Sunday at the age of 91 and he leaves behind him an amazing legacy. From where Florida State was when he started to the power program it was when he left, he did a remarkable job.
But I’m not here to talk about wins and losses and consecutive top-five finishes. I’m here to pay tribute the coach himself who embodied college football better than any man I ever met. I didn’t know Bowden well and met him only once but that one time was like a religious experience for me. His “awww shucks” way was as legit at a football camp as it was on television and his personality shone through when you talked with him. Bowden’s recruiting style was fascinating to me as Florida State often finished strong down the stretch on the strength of his infamous in-home visits.
Watching the Seminoles during their peak under Bowden was similar to watching the Miami Hurricanes in their days of dominance. There was talent everywhere and players were developed. Florida State won fewer titles than those ‘Canes but when he finally broke through and won it all in 1993 against a formidable Nebraska team everyone outside of Lincoln had to smile a bit. And even when folks were pulling for the upstart Virginia Tech Hokies in 1999, you had to smile seeing Bowden raise the championship trophy.
He was quick with a compliment toward other coaches and opposing players, loved his own players with a passion and was never shy about bragging on his kids who went on to coach. It was family first for Bowden who was known to perhaps nudge a prospect the way of Tommy or Terry here and there. He had a quiet class about him and he was always defending his players from critics and taking blame rather than pointing fingers.
If there is one coach to me who epitomizes the college football coach in the South, it’s Bobby Bowden and he will be missed.
3. THE MOUNT RUSHMORE OF RUTGERS FOOTBALL
Finally I continue my look at the Mount Rushmores of the Big Ten programs from 1980 to now with Rutgers.
TE Marco Battaglia — The only consensus All-American for Rutgers since John F. Kennedy was President of the United States, Battaglia was a dominant tight end during one of the lowest stretches for the Scarlet Knights program. Battaglia twice led the Big East in receptions, and led the conference in touchdowns as a senior in 1995. He finished his career with the second-most catches and third-most yards in conference history, and was effectively their only source of offense. A great player who has since been forgotten.
RB Ray Rice — Remember, this is a list about their collegiate performance, not anything that happened subsequently. So while I’m not trying to diminish Rice’s domestic abuse history, I’m putting that to the side for the purposes of this list. As a Scarlet Knight, Rice set every rushing record for the team in only three seasons, accumulating nearly 5,000 yards on the ground and 49 touchdowns. His junior season was phenomenal – over 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns and earning a first-team All-American nod. An absolute workhorse, he had over 700 carries in his last two seasons on campus, yet still averaged over five yards per carry.
WR Kenny Britt — The Scarlet Knights’ all-time leading receiver, Britt had back-to-back 1,200-plus-yard seasons as a sophomore and junior, both years leading the Big East in yards while earning all-conference accolades, as well as being an All-American in 2008. That junior season, he finished fifth in the country with 1,371 yards, and was far and away the best receiver in the conference, helping Mike Teel break the school passing record along the way.
DB Devin McCourty — A four-year starter, McCourty was an All-conference selection as a senior, but excelled in all four years not only as a defensive back, but also as a special teams player. As a sophomore he blocked three kicks, and for his career averaged more than 25 yards per return on kickoffs. Supremely versatile, he lined up at both corner and safety, and teamed up with his brother Jason to form one of the most formidable CB duos in the conference.