The Most Dominant College Football Position Units Heading into 2018 SeasonAugust 2, 2018
The Most Dominant College Football Position Units Heading into 2018 Season
Finding and developing a standout player is hard enough, but building nationally elite depth at one position is an immensely challenging task for college football programs.
Nevertheless, several of the teams expected to be highly ranked entering the 2018 season boast a particular unit among the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Previous production, experience and awards helped shape the cast of top-tier positional units. Potential, while important, was only a small factor in the list because of its subjective nature.
Note: All stats listed from 2017 season unless otherwise noted.
Key players: Jalen Hurts (60.6 COMP%, 2,081 YDS, 17 TD, 1 INT; 855 RUSH YDS, 8 TD), Tua Tagovailoa (63.6 COMP%, 636 YDS, 11 TD, 2 INT)
The star: Perhaps this answer is in the eye of the beholder, since Alabama is 26-2 with Hurts as the starter. Let's not discount that success simply because Tagovailoa sparked a comeback win during the national title game against the Georgia Bulldogs. But the Crimson Tide likely aren't the reigning champs without his contributions.
What to know: Whether its by the end of fall camp or mid-September, the competition should produce a clear starter. Either way, Alabama fans should hold a high level of confidence in their quarterback. Hurts offers a useful and productive—if predictable—mobile skill set, while Tagovailoa is the clear-cut better option as a thrower.
Clemson Defensive Line
Key players: Clelin Ferrell (18 TFL), Austin Bryant (15.5 TFL), Christian Wilkins (8.5 TFL), Dexter Lawrence (34 tackles)
The star: Ferrell, Lawrence and Wilkins all earned first-team All-ACC honors, so it goes to the first-team AP All-American? Ferrell has basically been an unblockable blur off the edge for two seasons, piling up 110 tackles with 30.5 takedowns for loss and 15.5 sacks.
What to know: The starters are Ferrell and Bryant at end, with Lawrence and Wilkins playing tackle. They'll hold the largest share of snaps in a rotation that also features experience in Albert Huggins and major promise in Xavier Kelly, KJ Henry and Xavier Thomas.
Key players: Shaquille Quarterman (83 tackles), Michael Pinckney (68 tackles, 11 TFL), Zach McCloud (48 tackles)
The star: In the center of the defense stands Quarterman, a two-time All-ACC linebacker. He posted 84 tackles as a true freshman and 83 last year, tallying a combined 17 stops in the backfield while leading defenses that ranked top-12 in yards per play allowed.
What to know: The Hurricanes are hoping for a bounce-back season from McCloud to complement Quarterman and Pinckney, both cerebral players and two of the ACC's most feared hitters. The addition of the Viper position (a hybrid linebacker/safety, likely No. 1 is Derrick Smith) will give them a more athletic personnel package.
Key players: Devin Bush (102 tackles, 9.5 TFL), Khaleke Hudson (82 tackles, 18 TFL)
The star: You couldn't go wrong picking between Bush and Hudson, but the former secured second-team AP All-America honors last year. In addition to his team-leading 102 tackles and 9.5 takedowns for loss, Bush had five sacks and eight pass breakups.
What to know: Bush showcases elite recognition and speed at middle linebacker, while Hudson—a third-team All-Big Ten linebacker in 2017—thrives at the hybrid Viper spot. Devin Gil, Josh Ross and Josh Uche should all contribute at the weak-side position.
Mississippi State Defensive Line
Key players: Montez Sweat (15.5 TFL, 10.5 sacks), Jeffery Simmons (60 tackles, 12 TFL), Gerri Green (11 TFL, five sacks)
The star: The interior pressure Simmons provides is essential to the success of Mississippi State's defense. Sweat, though, is a menace off the edge. He posted team-high marks of 15.5 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks and totaled 44 pressures, per Pro Football Focus.
What to know: As if there wasn't enough depth with Cory Thomas, Marquiss Spencer and Kobe Jones, the unit is getting a jolt from Green. The three-year contributor is moving to defensive end as the Bulldogs shift to a 4-3. As Alabama and Georgia reload up front, Mississippi State has the SEC's most established D-line for now.
Ohio State Defensive Line
Key players: Nick Bosa (34 tackles, 16 TFL), Dre'Mont Jones (20 tackles), Chase Young (six TFL), Robert Landers (five TFL)
The star: Named the Big Ten's Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2017, Bosa made 16 stops behind the line of scrimmage—including 8.5 sacks. He also ranked second in the country with 66 total pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
What to know: Bosa and Jones will start if healthy, and Young likely will too. Granted, Ohio State rotates so often that it won't much matter. Jonathon Cooper and Jashon Cornell will contribute at end, while some combination of Landers, Haskell Garrett and Antwuan Jackson will play valuable time alongside Jones.
Stanford Offensive Line
Key players: A.T. Hall (35 career games), Jesse Burkett (32 games), Brandon Fanaika (35 games), Nate Herbig (26 games), Walker Little (nine games)
The star: Little will probably hold this designation soon, but Herbig is the lone returning first-team All-Pac-12 member. After opening six games at left guard as a freshman, he shifted to the right side in 2017 and helped Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love crest the 2,000-yard mark.
What to know: Devery Hamilton and Foster Sarell are also competing for a starting job. The amount of talented depth—not simply familiar names—up front is remarkable. Little is the lineman to remember, but Stanford's impending excellence on the ground will be a product of this unit's collective experience.
Key players: Taylor Rapp (59 tackles), Myles Bryant (57 tackles), JoJo McIntosh (50 tackles), Austin Joyner (40 tackles), Jordan Miller (five pass defenses), Byron Murphy (seven pass defenses)
The star: During the program's breakout 2016 season, Rapp earned Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in the Pac-12. As a sophomore, he secured a first-team all-conference spot, collecting 59 tackles with one interception and one forced fumble.
What to know: Completions will be tough to find against this group. Miller and Murphy both had outstanding years cut short by injury, and their voids created an opportunity for Joyner—who will probably be a backup in 2018 after making 10 starts. The Huskies have a handful of trusted corners, and both Rapp and McIntosh are seasoned safeties.
West Virginia Wide Receivers
Key players: David Sills V (980 YDS, 18 TD), Gary Jennings (97 REC, 1,096 YDS), Marcus Simms (35 REC, 663 YDS)
The star: In an interesting way, Sills has matched expectations. Once considered a quarterback prodigy, he has successfully transitioned to receiver. His 18 touchdowns tied for the most nationally last year, and he nearly cracked the 1,000-yard barrier.
What to know: Not only did Sills lead the FBS in one category, but Jennings also has the most catches of all returning wideouts. West Virginia lost a 1,000-yard producer in Ka'Raun White, but Simms is already a proven target. Alabama transfer T.J. Simmons will pad the impressive group snaring passes from All-America candidate Will Grier.
Wisconsin Offensive Line
Key players: Michael Deiter (41 career games), Beau Benzschawel (36 games), David Edwards (26 games), Tyler Biadasz (14 games)
The star: All four players listed above were All-Big Ten honorees last season. Benzschawel landed on the first team and added third-team AP All-America recognition. The longtime right guard also has a 2016 second-team All-Big Ten mention on his Wisconsin Badgers resume.
What to know: Since the Badgers are returning a 20-game starter in Jon Dietzen, all five linemen are back. However, Deiter's move from left tackle to left guard may nudge Cole Van Lanen into a starting spot. Three more reserves—David Moorman, Micah Kapoi and Jason Erdmann—boast 28-plus career appearances, so the level of experience on Wisconsin's front line is unmatched in the FBS.
All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.