College football has changed and it's not going back anytime soon. Offense is king. It used to be when a great defense met a great offense, the D typically won. That no longer holds true. Similarly, you can field an elite defense these days and still end up with a so-so season. That never used to happen. But it's the new reality.
I love defense, more than I do offense. Alas, you don't need a top ten defense in today's climate to be successful. Indeed, only one team this past season in the Associated Press' final top ten also ranked in the top ten in total defense (Michigan State).
The teams in the AP final top ten were a combined 41st in total defense this past season, 33rd in scoring defense.
Those seem like reasonable goals for the Cougar D to aspire to in 2015.
In order to accomplish those numbers, the biggest improvement needs to come from the defensive secondary and up front on the defensive line.
As much as the Cougs need improved play from the safeties, they need it more from the cornerbacks.
Last season, when the Cougar cornerbacks got beat, it wasn't due to a lack of athleticism or speed. The group was and is young, and they made mistakes. It's also worth noting highly regarded Sebastian LaRue spent this past season (mostly) out of sight, sitting out the season due to transfer rules. Late last season, Mike Leach said LaRue would be challenging for a starting job on Saturdays if he would have been eligible.
We don't know if LaRue, Marcellus Pippins (pictured above) and Charleston White will become lock down types, there's not enough data in yet. But all showed glimmers this past season and spring drills, which begin Thursday, will offer the first clues. Spring will also give Jeff Farrar, who also spent last year redshirting, and Patrick Porter the chance to show they belong in the starting conversation.
On the d-line, the Cougs will see an influx of youth. Regardless of how much new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch sticks with the 3-4 base and/or decides to blitz, the Cougars simply need to get more pressure from their front on a regular basis than they did last year.
It will be intriguing this spring how effective Robert Barber and Ngalu Tapa are at the nose, and what kind of pressure Destiny Vaeao, Daniel Ekuale, Jeremiah Mitchell, Darryl Paulo, Hercules Mata’afa, Kingston Fernandez and others generate from the tackle and end spots.
Also, will Grinch and new outside linebackers coach Roy Manning get BUCKs Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan to the next level. That, like everything else, starts this spring.
Clemson, Penn State and Stanford finished 1-2-3 in total defense last year. They posted a collective record of 24-14. Ten years ago, Virginia Tech, Alabama and LSU were the top three in total defense. They finished a collective 32-6.
What are reasonable expectations for Coug D?
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