Column: What defensive back unit is the best in the country?

American football game
American football game

There was a lot of debate over who the real DBU (Defensive Back University) was during the offseason, most notably some Twitter trash talk between the Florida and LSU secondaries. The debate probably won’t be settled until the two teams play each other in October, but here’s an early stab at the top five:

No. 5: Clemson — If the Tigers’ secondary has half the season it had last year, the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference better stick to the ground game. Clemson only allowed 157.4 passing yards per game in 2014, good for second in the nation and first among Power Five conference schools. While the unit did suffer key departures in starting safety Robert Smith and First Team All-ACC defensive back Garry Peters, there is still plenty of talent returning. A few veterans give the group some experience, but the majority of the talent is young, headlined by redshirt sophomore Mackensie Alexander, who was a Freshman All-American in 2014 and is on preseason watch lists for both the Bednarik and Thorpe Awards.

No. 4: Ole Miss — The Rebels suffered significant losses from a ball-hawking secondary that picked off opposing quarterbacks 22 times in 2014, but after hitting the recruiting trail hard, Hugh Freeze has another talented aerial defense to look forward to this season. All-Americans Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt are gone and graduated, but there is plenty of talent to replace them. Safety Tony Conner, who was voted preseason Second Team All-Southeastern Conference, returns to lead a group of new faces in pass coverage that is headlined by Tony Bridges, considered by many to be the top junior college cornerback in the country. Freeze also added three of the nation’s top 75 high school cornerbacks as well as incoming freshman Armani Linton, a four-star safety. And on top of that, the Landshark defense also gets four-star cornerback Tee Shepard back from a season-ending toe injury he suffered last year.

No. 3: Virginia Tech — Vernon Hargreaves aside, the Hokies may have the best cornerback in college football in Kendall Fuller. The junior and 2014 Third Team All-American certainly has the pedigree of a lockdown corner — his brothers Vincent, Corey and Kyle have all played in the NFL, and Corey and Kyle still do. While Fuller essentially locks down his side of the field, the other side looks to be taken care of if junior Brandon Facyson remains healthy. Facyson has had an injury-filled career that included missing most of last season with a stress reaction in his left shin, ultimately leading to a broken leg in December. But coaches say the junior is back to his old self, an old self that had four interceptions in his first five games as a freshman before injuries took hold.

No. 2: LSU — The Tigers have a strong case for the title of DBU. Last season, LSU ranked third in the nation in pass yards allowed, giving up only 164.2 yards per game. Three returning members of that secondary are on this year’s preseason All-SEC team — safety Jalen Mills (first team), cornerback Tre’Davious White (second team) and safety Jamal Adams (third team). Mills will miss the first few games of the season with an ankle injury, but the Tigers’ depth will allow them to simply insert safety Rickey Jefferson in his stead, a junior who played in all 13 games last season and tied for a team-leading two interceptions. And just to add to the riches, LSU adds freshman Kevin Toliver this season, a five-star recruit who was ranked the third best high school cornerback in the nation and the 27th best player overall.

No. 1: Florida — Despite his shortcomings, former Gators head coach Will Muschamp built a frightening secondary.

As good as all of the previously mentioned units are, there’s only one in the country that has six guys likely headed for the NFL. For Florida, it begins and ends with junior Vernon Hargreaves, a unanimous First Team All-SEC selection and a Second Team All-American a year ago. He’s the best in college football and will easily be a top 15 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

But it’s far from a one man show. Sophomores Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson played in all 12 games as true freshmen last year and would likely challenge for the No. 1 spot on most other teams. Instead, they’ll compete for the No. 2 spot on the Gators, although both will play consistently. Senior Brian Poole led the team with four interceptions in 2014 and ranked fifth in the conference with 1.17 passes defended per game, starting in 10 contests at both the corner and nickel position. Veterans Keanu Neal and Marcus Maye add experience and leadership in the safety positions and can play the hard-hitting enforcer role with ease.

Another plus: The entire group has a wealth of experience playing together and has its communication figured out.

In terms of both talent and experience, the Gators are simply the best.

This article was from University of Florida / Independent Florida Alligator and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.