Sizing Up The Stoutest Front Sevens In College Football For 2010

Welcome back to another installment of the "Defensive Size Matters" series.  Yesterday we looked at the top 20 defenses in the country from last season and cataloged their front-7 weights.  The results were very clear.  18 of the 20 best defenses had a front-7 (DL+LB) weight of more than 1780 lbs.  All of the best 10 were over the mark.  Having size in the front-7 will not guarantee a great defense.  Certainly there are examples of defenses having good size and failing to perform at an elite level.  But not having size is almost a guarantee that a defense will not be among the 20 best in college football.  That is to say that having a sizable front-7 is a necessary but not sufficient condition to having an elite defense.  We also looked at why Florida State's defense was not nearly as big as it could have or should have been last season. 

Today we're going to take things more in-depth.  We'll start by showing that small defenses do not do as well as large defenses.  After the jump, we'll look at how the elite defenses in college football have changed this year.  Then, we'll break down the changes by conference.  And finally, we'll look at how FSU can grow by 60 lbs in a single off-season.

2009_acc___sec_defenses_with_front-7_weights_large

Our readers suggested that we look at the size of all college defenses to determine how many defenses that did not make the best 20 were as big as those that did make the best 20.  We did not have time to do that.  Instead. we will look at the ACC and the SEC.  10 of college football's best 20 defenses came from those two conferences. 

Please refer to yesterday's article (linked at the top of the page) to see where in the best 20 these defenses fell and for a comment on each.  The chart at left shows the accurate weights for the starting front-7 of each SEC & ACC program.  Official media guides, magazines, and depth charts were used to compile the information.  In situations where two players started a significant number of games at the same position, an average of the two was used.  

As you can see from the chart at left, the conferences had 13 defenses that weighed in at more than 1786 lbs.  A staggering eight of those ended up being among the 20 best defenses in the country!  On the right side of the ledger you find teams like Maryland, Duke, and Kentucky, all of whom have big players, but not elite-level bigger players.  Even so, Maryland's defense was respectable last year until it lost multiple starters in the secondary.  Georgia Tech similarly had major injury issues.  Georgia had plenty of size and NFL talent.  It finished among the best 40 defenses, but rightfully fired its defensive coordinator as the defense continued to backslide for the third consecutive year.

Then we have the teams below the 1787 mark.  Only two were among the best 20 defenses.  Nine were not among the best 20 defenses.  It's probably helpful to show this as a percentage: 

62% of ACC/SEC defenses over 1787 lbs made the best 20 defenses in college football.  Only 22% of ACC/SEC defenses under 1787 lbs made the best 20 defenses in college football. 

One might argue that the line drawing is arbitrary here.  After all, just yesterday we drew the line at 1780 lbs.  Let's use that standard instead to keep things consistent:

50% of ACC/SEC defenses over 1780 lbs were among the best 20 defenses.  Only 25% of ACC/SEC defenses under 1780 lbs were among the best 20 defenses.  This seems pretty cut and dry.  Having a defense over 1780 lbs doubled a team's chance of fielding a best 20 defense!

Inside, we'll look at how the elite defenses in college football have changed this year.  Then, we'll break down the changes by conference.  And finally, we'll look at how FSU can grow by 60 lbs in a single off-season.  Click "continue reading"

2009_to_2010_elite_defense_size_changes_large

Now let's look at the changes in size of the elite defenses in college football.  Everyone wants to know what team(s) might falter, what teams will might maintain its position, and what team will take that next step to potentially dominate college football even more so than it did last season.

Several teams project to be at least 10 lbs larger this season.  Ole Miss, by virtue of adding some defensive linemen and bigger backers to its roster leads the group with a 39-lb gain.  Ohio State launches itself from barely above the threshold to significantly above the threshold by swapping a 240 lb DE for a 260 lb model.  Clemson pulls a similar trick and projects to be 26 lbs bigger as it swaps a very light pass rushing end for one that can play the run and the pass.  TCU and Miami both distance themselves from the 1780 threshold by some personnel moves and continued growth of young players.  We echo our critique of Virginia Tech from yesterday.  The Hokies are still very small and though they again dodge the best passing attack in the conference (FSU), it's unlikely they will stay in the top twenty for a second straight year with such a diminutive (and now less experienced) bunch.  

In the middle, Oklahoma, Boise, Iowa, and UNC all return most of their defenses intact and the changes in size should have little effect.  

On the bottom end, however, is where this gets really interesting.  Even with the return of Mark Herzlich, expect Boston College's defense to regress a bit as it is even smaller this year.  Nebraska loses DT Suh and falls from 15 lbs above the threshold to 5 lbs below.  Something tells us they will still be good.  Ditto the Gators, who saw the second largest drop, but whom were so large that the enormous weight loss didn't drop them outside the threshold! 

But three teams could see serious drops in production.  South Carolina (65 lbs lighter), Utah (-81), and LSU (-114!) all underwent changes that will undoubtedly change the way they play defense.  And those changes are born out of necessity, not luxury.  It is going to be interesting to see how South Carolina plays without a 280+ lb defensive and  a 250+ lb linebacker.  How will Utah adjust to not having monsters on the defensive line?  And what has happened to LSU's defensive line recruiting?  The Tigers lose two monsters in the middle and a talented defensive end, along with two starting linebackers.  But LSU's inability to replace those guys with anyone of size is shocking.  Our guess is that LSU goes with someone other than the slight Lazarius Livingston at defensive tackle.  Or equineroids.  Those could work as well.

At this point, it is important to note that some programs have vastly better strength and conditioning than other programs.  The weights listed here are Spring weights.  But they are Spring weights for every team, to keep it fair.

 

Now let's look at the projected weights for the ACC & SEC.  I've combined them to show that the SEC is not at all bigger than the ACC.  See for yourself:

2010_acc_sec_defenses_front_7_large

Let's address the 800 lb gorilla in the room.  And from the looks of it, you might think Mississippi State has somehow snuck that Gorilla onto the roster.  They didn't, but the Bulldogs came close.  State's defensive line has tackles of 345 and 300, along with ends of 285 and 255.  They also sport two 'backers of 245+.  This looks like the biggest defensive in college football and all eyes will be on Starkville.  Can the Bulldogs' defense go from about 55th best to one of the twenty best?  They certainly should improve. 

The 3-4 defense is king in the peach state as both Georgia and Georgia Tech are switching to the defense.  Georgia actually gets a bit smaller, but losing two all-conference types at defensive tackle will do that to a program.  Georgia Tech switches to a 3-4 defense and gets 24 lbs larger.  That added size could help under defensive mastermind Al Groh, although miracles should not be expected in his first season.

Arkansas and Aubrun are two western division teams who might see significant improvement on defense as both move from the cusp of the threshold to significantly above it.  The SEC West will have an astounding 5 of 6 members over 1800 lbs this season (assuming Arkansas picks up two lbs from its S&C program). 

Meanwhile back in the Carolinas, NC State gets back linebacker Nate Irving (car wreck '09), and should be much better against the run this year, despite massive personnel losses.  Wake Forest loses both defensive tackles and doesn't have any depth to speak of at the position.  That defense has come a long way since its amazing top-five unit in 2008.  Unfortunately for Deamon Deacs fans, it has come the wrong way. 

Perhaps we can now dispel the myth that Boston College's defense is really big?  It was huge in 2008.  Now, however, that is just not the case. 

If you want an awesome trivia question for your friends, ask them who the two lightest defenses are between the ACC & SEC.  We bet you they won't name one, much less correctly guess both South Carolina and LSU.  Ellis Johnson and John Chavis will have to do tremendous coaching jobs this season if those two units have a chance at remaining in the best 20.

 

Finally, let's look at FSU.  The chart above shows that FSU will be 40 lbs larger than it was last year.  That's great.  What it can't account for, however, is off-season growth.  I noted above that every team will experience off-season growth.  That is true.  But Florida State is different.  The 'Noles haven't had a decent strength program in years.  Now that Jimbo Fisher is the head coach isn't being rejected by coaches above him, he has implemented an elite strength program, quadrupling the number of strength coaches, adding nutritionists, psychologists, mental conditioning coaches, speed coaches, agility coaches, and flexibility instructors.  As we've profiled here, the results have been nothing short of remarkable.  Florida State now has a program that it can be proud of when comparing itself to Alabama, LSU, UF, and Nebraska.  No, one off-season of strength training in a real program will not afford the upperclassmen athlete the same gains another athlete achieved in three years at a program like Bama or Florida, but this upperclassmen will likely have a better single off-season than the athlete who has been in a program for 2-3 years, because the upperclassmen new to the program has greater gains to make before he plateaus.  I'll show why this matters in a second.  First, though, let's look at FSU's likely starting defense with weights from the Spring, and weights that we project FSU to play at based on progress already made over the Summer.

You're reading that correctly.  FSU's strength program was so ineffective that it's entirely probable that these defenders will make these incredible strength gains in a single off-season.  In fact, we project to be even bigger than 1800 lbs once camp starts, but every player loses some weight during camp.  We feel that 1800 lbs is very reasonable and conservative for this FSU defense to play at this season.  Here's why:

End of Spring Conservative Opening Day Estimate +/-
DE Markus White 262 266 4
DE Brandon Jenkins 234 244 10
DT Jacobi McDaniel 287 295 8
DT Everett Dawkins 269 279 10
LB Nigel Bradham 241 241 0
LB Kendall Smith 235 235 0
LB Nigel Carr 231 235 4
Total 1759 1795 36 lbs

We've recently learned that defensive tackle Everett Dawkins weighed in at 280 lbs as of yesterday.  While we don't know if this was with or without shoes, we do know that EDawk94 does not wear 11 lb shoes.  The bottom line is that Dawkins has gained 11 lbs of muscle since Spring practice.  Defensive end Brandon Jenkins has put on at least 8 lbs we were told a few weeks ago.  Markus White is already at 270 lbs.  Nigel Carr hit 240 lbs 3 weeks ago.  All Bradham and Smith need to do is maintain.

And that's the really interesting thing here.  Most of these guys are already at or within a lb or two of their playing weights!  All they need to do, with 5 weeks of training left (about 1/3rd of the program left to go) is add muscle at a very conservative pace so that they don't fall below their playing weight goal come opening day. 

We stress that this is a conservative projection.  We have not even included either 300 lb defensive tackle (Moses McCray and Anthony "Amp" McCloud).  And some close to the program believe the strength gains are being underreported.  Because our above estimate was quite conservative, let's field an aggressive progression:

Aggressive Projection
DE Markus White 274
DE Brandon Jenkins 248
DT Moses McCray/ Amp McCloud 302
DT Jacobi McDaniel 296
LB Nigel Bradham 245
LB Kendall Smith 235
LB Nigel Carr 240
Total 1840

This aggressive projection might not be as unrealistic as you might think.  Several of our authors believe this to be what FSU will actually play at this year.  The real size of the 2010 FSU defense won't be known for another 5 weeks.  In our estimation, however, it will be somewhere between 1795 lbs and 1840 lbs.  1815 sounds like a really nice number and would put FSU in the top third of the SEC or ACC. 

Whether FSU hits its low end or high end of the projection, the strength gains made under this program cannot be denied.  And while it will likely take two seasons for this unit to become elite, FSU can absolutely expect to return to competency in year one under new defensive coordinator Mark Stoops.  Florida State's starting line and linebackers will be at least 60 lbs and potentially as many as 105 lbs heavier than they were in 2009.  Perhaps FSU will become the poster child for the "don't sacrifice size for speed" argument?  All eyes will certainly be on Tallahassee to find out.

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