College Football Units That Will Dominate in 2018

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2018

College Football Units That Will Dominate in 2018

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    Mike Comer/Getty Images

    Anyone who watched Georgia this past season can tell you how dominant its run game was, a three-headed monster that produced nearly 3,200 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns to help the Bulldogs reach the national championship game.

    The same goes with Alabama's front seven, a who's who of future NFL draft picks who ate opposing ball-carriers and quarterbacks for lunch.

    Many of the players in those position groups have either graduated or left early for the pros, but quite a few strong units are still intact for 2018. Which ones will be the most unstoppable? Follow along for our predictions.

Alabama Running Backs

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    Damien Harris
    Damien HarrisTom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Squad: Damien Harris, Najee Harris, Josh Jacobs

          

    The Headliner

    Alabama's running-back-by-committee approach the past two years makes naming a headliner difficult, but Damien Harris is the closest thing to it. While carries were spread out among several rushers, he's managed to hit the 1,000-yard mark in consecutive seasons, averaging more than seven yards per carry in 2016 and 2017.

    The 5'11", 221-pound Harris passed up a chance to turn pro after his junior year, unlike Bo Scarbrough, who entered the NFL draft. If Harris can reach 1,000 yards again, he'd be the first Alabama senior to do so since Shaud Williams in 2003.

         

    What Makes Them Special

    The Crimson Tide basically have three No. 1 rushers who opted to be part of a group than be the primary ball-carrier somewhere else. This should bode well for their pro futures since they'll lack wear on their tires, and it also means none will wear down during the course of a college season.

    The 327 carries Damien Harris has logged to this point are 68 fewer than Derrick Henry had by himself in 2015. Josh Jacobs has only run it 131 times in two seasons, albeit for 851 yards and five touchdowns, and Najee Harris—who was the No. 2 overall player in the 2017 recruiting class—was limited to 61 carries in his freshman year.

Clemson Defensive Line

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    Christian Wilkins
    Christian WilkinsRichard Shiro/Associated Press

    The Squad: Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins

         

    The Headliner

    Christian Wilkins has been an unstoppable force in the middle of Clemson's defensive line for three years, even as a true freshman when he only started one game. His surprise decision to come back for his senior year meant the Tigers retained its entire quartet from a defense that allowed 13.6 points per game in 2017.

    "Clemson's defense is going to be terrifying in 2018," CBS Sports' Barrett Sallee tweeted after Wilkins' return was confirmed.

          

    What Makes Them Special

    This is as close to an NFL-level front four as you'll find in college football in 2018 since every starter figures to have a promising pro career ahead of him. Bleacher Report NFL draft expert Matt Miller had three of them—Wilkins and defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant—among his top 40 draft-eligible players in his post-regular-season rankings.

    Yet all three chose to play another season with Clemson, not wanting their final college games to be the Sugar Bowl loss to Alabama.

    The only reason Dexter Lawrence wasn't on that list was because he wasn't eligible. The 6'4", 340-pound defensive tackle was just a sophomore in 2017, but he could be one of the first players drafted in 2019 if he comes out.

Florida Atlantic Secondary

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    CB Jalen Young
    CB Jalen YoungRob Foldy/Getty Images

    The Squad: Shelton Lewis, Andrew Soroh, Chris Tooley, Jalen Young

           

    The Headliner

    Jalen Young tied for second in FBS last season with seven interceptions, one behind Iowa standout Josh Jackson (who is headed for the NFL draft). He had three of those in a midseason win over Marshall and added two more against North Texas in the Conference USA title game. The 5'11", 185-pound junior safety was also third on the Owls in tackles with 77.

            

    What Makes Them Special

    Florida Atlantic was best known in 2017 for its offense, which under first-year coach Lane Kiffin averaged 40.6 points and 498.4 yards per game. But that defense wasn't too shabby either, particularly because of the back line that pulled in 20 interceptions, tied for second-best in the country.

    Cornerbacks Shelton Lewis and Chris Tooley and safeties Andrew Soroh and Jalen Young combined for 16 of those picks as well as 16 pass breakups, contributing to a 55.9 percent opposing completion rate that ranked 41st in the FBS.

Miami (Florida) Linebackers

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    LB Shaquille Quarterman
    LB Shaquille QuartermanJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Squad: Zach McCloud, Darrion Owens, Michael Pinckney, Shaquille Quarterman

           

    The Headliner

    Shaquille Quarterman was the highest-rated defensive player from Mark Richt's first recruiting class at Miami in 2016, though he'd been pledged to the Hurricanes long before Richt replaced Al Golden. He's been nothing but solid since debuting, starting all 26 games with 167 tackles including 17 for loss and 5.5 sacks.

    Entering his junior year, Quarterman will be one of the highest-rated draft-eligible linebackers.

            

    What Makes Them Special

    Miami's strong defense loses most of its defensive line, and its secondary suffered a major blow with the news that cornerback Malek Young's career is over following a neck injury in the Orange Bowl. That means Hurricanes linebackers are going to have to be the focal point, even more so than in 2017.

    Miami's "Turnover Chain," which came out 31 times last year, may be worn most often by the guys in the middle.

Oklahoma Running Backs

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    RB Rodney Anderson
    RB Rodney AndersonHarry How/Getty Images

    The Squad: Rodney Anderson, Kyler Murray (QB), Trey Sermon

             

    The Headliner

    Injuries limited Rodney Anderson to only two games in his first two Oklahoma seasons, but when finally healthy in 2017 he showed his potential with 1,161 yards and 13 touchdowns. He had 201 yards and two TDs in the Rose Bowl loss to Georgia.

    Anderson is also a weapon in the passing game, catching five TDs on 17 receptions with two of those scores coming in the regular-season win over TCU.

          

    What Makes Them Special

    Quarterback Baker Mayfield is graduating and mobile Kyler Murray is taking over, so Oklahoma may find itself more run-heavy than normal. That means Rodney Anderson as well as capable second option Trey Sermon (744 yards, five TDs) should get a lot more touches, in addition to the runs Murray will have.

    The group won't be nearly as deep as it could be after Abdul Adams transferred to Syracuse on Monday. Adams ran for 542 yards and averaged 9.2 yards per carry last season.

    As much as Mayfield and his throwing ability were at the forefront the last few years, consistent rushing has been just as important to Oklahoma's success. In the three seasons Lincoln Riley has been with the program, either as offensive coordinator or head coach, the Sooners had never lost when rushing for at least 200 yards until the Rose Bowl.

West Virginia Wide Receivers

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    David Sills V
    David Sills VJustin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The Squad: Gary Jennings, David Sills V, Marcus Simms

         

    The Headliner

    David Sills V caught 18 touchdown passes as a junior in 2017, tied for most in the FBS. Not bad for someone who grew up playing quarterback and even spent a year at junior college in 2016 in order to take one last crack at that position. He came back to West Virginia last year and instantly became the Mountaineers' top receiving target as 30 percent of his receptions went for scores.

    Sills' decision to return for his senior year, combined with quarterback Will Grier's return for another season, keeps one of the best pass-and-catch combos in the country intact.

           

    What Makes Them Special

    While Sills is the main threat, he isn't the only one West Virginia has at its disposal. Gary Jennings is the possession receiver, having caught 97 balls as a junior in 2017, while Marcus Simms was the deep threat with an 18.9 yards-per-reception average as a sophomore.

    West Virginia will miss Ka'Raun White, who had 61 catches for 1,004 yards and 12 touchdowns, but with three of the top four options set to return, the Mountaineers figure to improve on their No. 13 ranking in passing offense.

Wisconsin Offensive Line

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    The Squad: Beau Benzschawel, Tyler Biadasz, Michael Deiter, Jon Dietzen, David Edwards

          

    The Headliner

    Four of Wisconsin's five starting linemen in 2017 were draft-eligible, but of that group only redshirt junior Michael Deiter gave serious consideration to turning pro. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had him as the fourth-best center in the 2018 draft class, even though he started at left tackle all season.

           

    What Makes Them Special

    It's an interchangeable group, as Deiter has also played guard and center while others have moved around as well. It's also a decorated group; Deiter was named first-team All-Big Ten, while Beau Benzschawel and David Edwards appeared on national All-American teams. It's an experienced group too, as everyone has started in multiple seasons other than Tyler Biadasz, who started all 14 games at center in 2017 as a redshirt freshman.

    As great a freshman year as running back Jonathan Taylor had (1,977 yards, 13 touchdowns), it stands to reason he might not have done nearly as well without that line. It's also a safe bet he'll produce just as much, if not more, in 2018 with that group once again set to block and open holes.

            

    Statistics are provided by CFBStats unless otherwise noted. Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.