30 days, 30 topics inside the world of LSU football.
TSD is previewing and analyzing the 2014 edition of the Tigers from every angle, bringing you a daily dose of "Summer Session" each weekday through July 11, three days before the unofficial kickoff to football season at SEC Media Days.
TODAY'S SESSION: BEST OPPOSING DEFENSES
Continuing a thread from yesterday, when I gave my picks for the five best quarterbacks LSU will face in 2014, I'll turn my attention to the other side of the ball.
The Tigers will, as always, go through a gauntlet of top defenses this fall, navigating the best and nastiest the SEC has in store for its conference brethren.
So as TSD continues our LSU season preview, here's a brief scouting report on the five best defenses (in one man's view) that Cam Cameron's offense will encounter this season.
- Just because the Gators were abysmal on offense in 2013, causing a precipitous fall from 11-2 the season prior to 4-8, doesn't mean Florida was lacking for much of anything on defense. Head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin pieced together the nation's eighth-best total defense a season ago, allowing only 314.3 yards per game. They were also outstanding at getting off the field, allowing an NCAA-best (low) of 712 plays. In 2014 many of the top performers return, including stud DB Vernon Hargreaves, Buck DL Dante Fowler and veteran LB Neiron Ball. With five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor joining the mix, defense will again reign supreme in Gainesville . . . whether the offense is ready to join the party or not.
- The Tide makes a strong case for the top spot on this list, but Alabama lost too much firepower – not that that's ever held Nick Saban back – to be the slam-dunk number one. That hesitation, predicated on several new faces stepping into key roles, slips ‘Bama to number two. But, wherever you slot them in your rankings, know they're going to be awfully good (no surprise there). Minus Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama will turn to Landon Collins, a projected top 10 pick next NFL Draft, as the star of the secondary at safety. There's also a good deal of quality in the front seven, led by linebackers Trey DePriest and Denzel Devall and senior noseguard Brandon Ivory. Maybe the other difference between Alabama and Florida this year? LSU welcomes the Tide into Death Valley but must travel to The Swamp.
3. Ole Miss
- All that young talent in the Rebels' defense got a year's experience under its collective belt last season. In 2014 defensive coordinator Dave Wommack's group is poised to break out, improving on a unit that finished 2013 ranked in the top 40 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense. Back are defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche and brother Denzel at linebacker, after the latter missed a chunk of '13 with a knee injury. So too are safety Cody Prewitt, an All-American a season ago, and senior linebacker Serderius Bryant, who led Ole Miss in tackles in the previous campaign. After Alabama this will be the best opposing defense to take the field in Tiger Stadium this fall.
- Of course the third-best defense coming to Baton Rouge this season isn't too far behind. The Bulldogs, coming off another outstanding defensive season in 2013, will be formidable this fall, but they sustained bigger losses than Ole Miss did in defensive lineman Denico Autry (6.5 tackles for loss, eight QB hurries) and safety Nickoe Whitley (team-high five interceptions). Still, there's a lot of returning talent to game-plan for, including linebacker Benardrick McKinney, MSU's leading tackler from '13, and senior corner Jamerson Love. Then of course there's defensive line stud Chris Jones, who enters his sophomore season fresh off a memorable freshman campaign in which he led the Bulldogs with seven tackles for loss and 10 QB hurries. There are no plans for the defense to rest in Starkville this fall.
- This is the definition of a reluctant pick, one made virtually by default. I mean, really, there just seemed to be no other viable selection when you peep LSU's schedule. Auburn? Texas A&M? Kentucky? Please. Two of those teams are putting almost all their eggs into the offensive basket while the other hasn't won an SEC game since Nov. 24, 2011. Then there are the non-conference foes. Sam Houston State? UL-Monroe? New Mexico State? No, no and no. The only other defense I really remotely considered was Wisconsin (perhaps the Bret Bielema feel was just in the air), but the Badgers' front seven has been absolutely decimated from a season ago. So congrats, Arkansas, you get the nod. But you'll notice I provided not a single word on the Hogs' defense. That, my friends, is how you begrudgingly ring in a reluctant pick.