Who is the so called Defensive Back U? Florida and LSU fight over the title and other schools also claim the honor including Ohio State and Texas. Then, there’s Linebacker U and Tight End U. Who are the schools that claim these titles? Penn State claims to be LBU, and rightfully so. But, Ohio State has a claim, also.
Who can claim Defensive Line U? Maybe Alabama has had the best Defensive Linemen in recent years.
But, what about Clemson?
Since finishing 6-7 in 2010, the Clemson Tigers under Dabo Swinney have been one of the hottest
football programs in the country.
In 2011, the Tigers improved to 10-4. Then, Clemson finished 11-2 for two seasons in a row in 2012 and 2013. The 2014 season was something of a disappointment when they finished 10-3 and behind Florida State in the ACC.
Clemson’s defense had a lot of talent up front in 2014 which was led by Defensive End Vic Beasley and Defensive Tackle Grady Jarrett. But, there were plenty of others like Corey Crawford, DeShawn Williams, Josh Watson and Tavaris Barnes in the Defensive Line that were seniors in 2014.
Then, there were Linebackers Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward, plus Defensive Back Garry Peters.
Those were some big losses and the experts all agreed that the defense was not going to be good in 2015.
They were wrong.
A lot of guys stepped up. The losses along the front 7 were especially severe, but Kevin Dodd, Shaq Lawson, Carlos Watkins, true freshman Christian Wilkins, Roderick Byers and DJ Reader were all there. Linebackers BJ Goodson, Ben Boulware and Travis Blanks rose to the occasion.
The Defense was a large part of the Clemson Tigers making a run at their first national title since 1981 when they barely lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide, 40-45.
Their 14 wins set a record for the most in program history and left everyone involved with Clemson wanting more.
Carlos Watkins and Ben Boulware decided to return for their senior seasons. BJ Goodson was a
senior, but juniors Dodd, Lawson and Blanks left for greener pastures and big bucks. They also lost three starters in the secondary that were all under classmen.
There was no way that Clemson could recover from losing that many starters again.
Yet, once again, they did.
It helped tremendously that the Tigers’ coaching staff had signed 5 star Defensive Tackle prospect Dexter Lawrence. Carlos Watkins coming back for his senior season was a huge plus and he teamed up with Lawrence to form one of the better Tackle tandems in the country. Sophomore Christian Wilkins was a star the previous season at Tackle, but he was moved outside to Defensive End to make up for injured players there.
Redshirt Freshman Clelin Ferrell came on strong late and Austin Bryant did as well. Scott Pagano was the top replacement inside with Albert Huggins, Richard Yeargin, Chris Register, Sterling Johnson and Jabril Robinson also getting playing time.
These Defensive Linemen played well enough to help the Clemson Tigers win their first national championship in decades when they beat Alabama with a last second Touchdown.
With the 2017 season coming up, the Tigers are fortunate enough to have sophomore Dexter Dexter Lawrence
He’s possibly the best true freshman Defensive Tackle I’ve ever seen.
Christian Wilkins can slide back in to Tackle and the duo of Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant should dominate at Defensive End.
Pagano graduated and is transferring somewhere that offers more playing time. But, Huggins, Yeargin and any number of others offer quality depth. Clemson had the luxury to redshirt some quality Defensive Linemen like Xavier Kelly and Nyles Pinckney.
Perennial powers in college football don’t rebuild, they reload constantly. Since Dabo Swinney got his own program rolling, the Clemson Tigers have reloaded at every position. But, none more impressively than along the Defensive Line. If there is a Defensive Line U, it very well could be the Clemson Tigers.