Where does Steve Spurrier's defense rank among the SEC's best?
Without question, most of the glory in college football goes to the players on offense.
However, in the Southeastern Conference—where the five most recent BCS National Championship trophies reside—it could be argued that defense is king.
Sure, Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy last year, but would Auburn have won it all without Nick Fairley? The same goes with Alabama, which had Marcell Dareus and Rolando McClain to go along with Heisman winner Mark Ingram, and Florida, which had defensive stalwarts like Brandon Spikes and Joe Haden when Tim Tebow was taking home the big stiff-arm.
And no doubt the SEC is once again loaded with talent on defense. Here is a look at arguably the best defensive player on each of the six ranked SEC teams in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
Tyrann Mathieu is a defender with a nose for the ball.
Name: Tyrann Mathieu
Height/weight: 5'9", 172 pounds
Of Note: The school that produced Patrick Peterson has another outstanding cornerback in Mathieu. A versatile playmaker, Mathieu has six career sacks, three career interceptions and twice this season has recorded double-digit tackle totals.
Courtney Upshaw took an interception 45 yards for a touchdown against Florida on Saturday night.
Name: Courtney Upshaw
Height/weight: 6'2", 265 pounds
Of Note: Projected as a likely first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Upshaw has 9.5 career sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and, on Saturday night at Florida, returned the first interception of his career 45 yards for a touchdown.
Jerry Franklin leads the Razorbacks in tackles.
Name: Jerry Franklin
Height/weight: 6'1", 245 pounds
Of Note: Franklin leads the Razorbacks with 36 tackles. He also has recorded 3.5 tackles-for-loss, three quarterback hurries and two pass break-ups. He had at least 80 tackles in each of his first three seasons at Arkansas.
Melvin Ingram might be the frontrunner for the SEC's defensive player of the year award.
Name: Melvin Ingram
Height/weight: 6'2", 276 pounds
Of Note: Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery get all of the publicity. Stephen Garcia gets all of the grief. But no one—no one—has had a better year for South Carolina than Melvin Ingram. Of his 26 tackles, 7.5 are for loss (including 5.5 sacks). He also has three passes defensed, three quarterback hurries, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Oh yeah, he also recovered an onside kick against Georgia for the Gamecocks' "hands team." Yes, a defensive end is on the hands team.
As former Florida State standout Christian Ponder can attest, Jaye Howard has been getting to quarterbacks for years.
Name: Jaye Howard
Height/weight: 6'3", 303 pounds
Of Note: For the season Howard has 20 tackles, eight of which came against Alabama. Included in that total is 2.5 tackles-for-loss (1.5 of which have been sacks). He also has two pass break-ups, a quarterback hurry and recovered a fumble for a touchdown.
Neiko Thorpe is a playmaker for Auburn and has been for a few years.
Name: Neiko Thorpe
Height/weight: 6'2", 185 pounds
Of Note: So far this season, Thorpe leads the Tigers in tackles (41) and interceptions (two). He also has broken up a pass and recovered a fumble. He has broken up 27 passes in his career.