Preseason College Football Rankings 2011: Most Suspect Defenses in the Top 25

Carl StineCorrespondent IAugust 17, 2011

Preseason College Football Rankings 2011: Most Suspect Defenses in the Top 25

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    Offense wins games, defense wins championships.

    We've all heard it.

    So which teams in the Coaches' poll are a little questionable on the defensive side of the ball?

    The majority of teams listed here have some major potential and young talent, but that's not always enough to bring success, especially when the game is on the line in a hostile environment.

    Offenses get all the press, but the defense is the unit that really makes a difference.

    Which defenses might break, not bend?

    Which ones make us stop and take a second look when considering their outlook in the 2011 season?

    Read on for the defenses that give us pause going into 2011...

8. Georgia Bulldogs

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    Ever heard of "co-variance"?

    It's a way to measure how a team plays vs good teams against how well they play vs bad teams.

    The Bulldogs finished first in the country in this defensive statistic.

    To put it bluntly, they played well against poor teams and stunk up the joint against good ones.

    In 2011, Georgia has options everywhere, especially along the defensive line, and with another year to learn Todd Grantham's defense, they will be expected to show improvement.

    However, nobody has shown they can produce consistently for this unit.

    On top of that, only three returning 'backers logged major playing time last year, while five are gone.

    This is one unit that might surprise us, especially given their extremely manageable schedule, or they could tank totally.

    For now, the best adjective to describe the Dawgs' defense is "sketchy."

7. Penn State Nittany Lions

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    The Lions' 11 projected defensive starters are all either juniors or seniors.

    So why do they make this list?

    Because they are not aggressive, at all.

    They were on the wrong end of the turnover margin last season, and if that continues, they will struggle once again.

    Linebacker Michael Mauti is set to lead a squad of excellent athletes and tons of experience.

    However, if the unit as a whole does not produce more turnovers, JoePa might wish he had retired before this season started.

    The injury to end Pete Massaro in spring practice does not bode well for the pass rush, but potential is there.

    Now if only potential won ball games...

6. Auburn Tigers

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    The Tigers somehow managed to check in at No. 19 in the first edition of the Coaches' poll.

    Considering that they have only six starters returning, that's pretty amazing.

    There is no doubt that Gene Chizik has found a way to pull some of the premier talent in the country to Auburn, but talent only goes so far without experience.

    The hole left by the departure Nick Fairley will obviously be hard to fill, and that's the guy we hear about.

    But what about the losses of guys like Josh Bynes, Craig Stevens, Antoine Carter and Zac Etheridge?

    Etheridge's numbers alone will be missed, he posted 66 tackles and three interceptions in his senior season.

    Guys like Kenneth Carter and Craig Sanders might be able to step up, but too much production is gone from this team.

    Fairley's departure left a huge hole, but when you consider two other senior tackles are gone, the gap becomes even larger.

    While the end are going to be a bright spot for the defense, there is just to much inexperience elsewhere for this unit to really be counted upon...

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Oklahoma State has never been known for their defense.

    In 2010, they allowed 409 yards per contest, which checked in at 88th in the nation.

    Granted, the offense is ridiculously potent, so that helps out the defense immensely.

    However, if there is one constant all recent BCS champs have in common (other than conference affiliation), it is a stout defense.

    If you thought last season's version of the defense was bad, this season's will be worse.

    The front seven lost all but two starters from the team that allowed 26.4 points per contest, which, in case you were wondering, was 66th in the nation.

    The defense is not going to come even close to matching the production of the offense, keeping the Cowboys from being serious contenders this season.

4. Florida Gators

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    Last season Florida finished second in the conference against the pass.

    That's not likely to continue this season.

    They lost Ahmad Black, Janoris Jenkins and Will Hill.

    Who will step up to fill their shoes?

    New head coach Will Muschamp is a defensive wizard, but he can't work miracles in one season.

    Jelani Jenkins is a huge play-maker at linebacker, but the inexperience in the secondary will hurt the Gators in a conference with quarterbacks like Aaron Murray and Stephen Garcia.

    And the losses in the secondary aren't the only guys who are gone.

    The defense returns only four starters.

    Expect one more long year in Gainesville.

3. Michigan State Spartans

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    The Spartans' defense was very good last season, and the catalyst to their 11-2 record.

    This season, their defensive squad does not bear up under close scrutiny.

    Sure, Greg Jones didn't blow up last season, and the Spartans were still pretty effective.

    Nevertheless, the star linebacker still led the team in tackles, and was the unquestioned leader of the defense.

    Couple his loss with the departure of fellow star Eric Gordon, and even with a load of talent stepping in, it will be hard to replace the leadership that was present in the middle of the field.

    As if that isn't enough, the Spartans have no pass rush.

    Seriously.

    They ranked 90th in the country in sacks, and 91st in tackle for loss in 2010.

    Tackle Jerel Worthy is a talented run stopper, with explosive big-play ability, but will not produce many TFLs.

    William Gholston is a freak athlete, and Tyler Hoover has some potential, but neither of those guys has the physicality or body to produce double digit sack numbers...

    It's doubtful that this defense will sniff the same level of play we saw last season...

2. South Carolina Gamecocks

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    This defense is an enigma.

    At times last season, they were as hard to move the ball against as any squad in the country.

    And other games they were torched, repeatedly. (See SEC Championship Game)

    The addition of Jadeveon Clowney to an already talented line is exciting, as is the return of leading tackler Stephen Gilmore at cornerback.

    That being said, they need to develop some consistency.

    Plenty of talent returns in the secondary, but it remains to be seen whether that is a good thing.

    The unit allowed 23 passing touchdowns last season and 242 yards per game.

    If the line can continue it's relentless pressure of last season, and linebacker Shaq Wilson returns to form following his injury, this unit has potential.

    But those are some big "ifs", and consistency is more of a coaching issues than a talent issue...

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

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    This offseason has been like that horrible nightmare that won't go away for Buckeye fans.

    The season won't be much better.

    Last season, the Buckeyes ranked in the top ten of every major defensive statistic.

    Attrition hurts, however, and they return only four starters to said dominant unit...

    As has been mentioned, talent only goes so far without experience.

    The Buckeyes have some very talented guys taking over in the front seven, who have some limited experience, and have produced at a high level for short periods of time.

    Where they will be hurting is in the secondary.

    Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence and first-team All-Big Ten free safety Jermale Hines are gone, leaving only Orhian Johnson from a very talented group.

    While they will most likely be a solid unit by season's end, it's unlikely they gel soon enough to prevent at least two early season losses.