LSU cornerback Tre’Davious White has no problem stating he thinks his school should still be referred to as DBU, or Defensive Back University, the mythical title associated with the school best known for having premier players in the secondary.
“I would say so and with confidence,” he said. “Florida has great players, we all know that, and great players in the past, but I feel like what we do off the field as well as the bond that we share and look out for each other, that’s what should put us over the top.”
Is it really, though?
A few years ago, no other program could touch LSU’s secondary that featured the likes of Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid, who were all named consensus All-Americans. Mathieu, known as the “Honey Badger,” was even a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2011.
Three of them went on to be first-round selections in the NFL draft, while Mathieu fell to the third round in 2013 due to off-field issues.
But LSU hasn’t had a first-team All-American—or even a first-team All-SEC selection—since those four players left. With numerous early departures, it’s somewhat expected while also fueling the debate about which program really is DBU.
You may remember a year ago when Florida not only challenged LSU’s claim but put out a video declaring itself the new DBU.
It obviously didn’t sit well with the Tigers.
Regardless, when determining DBU, a lot obviously depends on the parameters used. Just what should be the criteria?
“I couldn’t say,” White said.
History has to play a part, but those reputations don’t necessarily carry over to recent times. You’re talking Florida State in the late 1980s with Deion Sanders, LeRoy Butler and Terrell Buckley, and Miami around 2000 with Ed Reed, Sean Taylor and Antrel Rolle, plus programs like Ohio State (Jack Tatum) and Southern California (Ronnie Lott).
Yet here are a few ways DBU can be claimed:
The Jim Thorpe Award
Named in memory of the multisport legend, the trophy for college football’s best defensive back has been handed out since 1986 and is voted on by the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame.
So which school has had the most recipients? You guessed it: Oklahoma with three, the most recent being Derrick Strait in 2003.
With back-to-back winners in 2010-11, Peterson and Claiborne, LSU is one of six other schools to have multiple winners, the others being Arizona, Colorado, Florida State, Ohio State and Texas.
In 1965, the NCAA began designating offensive and defensive All-Americans, and since then, the school with the most selections among defensive backs is Michigan with 12. Miami and Notre Dame are second with 10 each, while Alabama and USC have both had nine.
However, Michigan’s most recent consensus All-American defensive back was Leon Hall in 2006. Miami’s was in 2004, and Notre Dame’s was in 2002.
Over the past 10 years, LSU’s led the way with six selections, barely edging Alabama’s five, while Florida is third with three. Florida State and Tennessee are the only other programs with more than one (all with two).
Among Ohio State’s jaw-dropping 12 draft picks this year, all selected in the first four rounds, were cornerback Eli Apple (first round) and safety Vonn Bell (second). Bradley Roby was a first-round pick in 2014, but Urban Meyer‘s numbers aren’t quite on par with the SEC powers or Texas just yet.
The Longhorns have had 10 defensive backs drafted over the last 10 years, with four first-round selections (Kenny Vaccaro, Earl Thomas, Michael Griffin and Aaron Ross).
That’s impressive, but LSU’s had 15 defensive backs selected over the same time period, while Alabama’s had 13 (compared to Florida’s 10).
Going back to 1965 again, LSU has had 44 defensive backs drafted, the most of the three SEC teams, but Alabama is tops in first-round selections with nine.
It should be noted that former LSU players Peterson and Mathieu were named All-Pro last year, along with former Tennessee safety Eric Berry, but according to the Detroit News the Crimson Tide had the most active NFL defensive backs at the end of the last season with nine.
When Florida and LSU finally met in Baton Rouge on Oct. 17 after months of buildup, neither secondary really stood out, as the key play in the game was a fake field goal that led to the Tigers’ decisive touchdown in the 35-28 victory.
The best play by a defensive back was LSU’s Dwayne Thomas knocking the ball out of Antonio Callaway’s hands as he was trying to make a touchdown reception in the middle of the fourth quarter, but both teams had a 100-yard receiver.
No one had an interception, either. Florida finished with 14 for the season, while LSU had just 10, the third fewest in the Southeastern Conference.
Despite playing three freshmen in its dime package (six defensive backs), Alabama led the league with 19 interceptions, four more than the next-best team. The Crimson Tide were only sixth in passing defense, although that’s considered more of a total-team statistic, and a lot of teams were forced to throw because they couldn’t run. Alabama was first in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense.
When the smoke cleared, SEC coaches named two Florida defensive backs to the All-SEC team, cornerbacks Vernon Hargreaves III and Jalen Tabor (who recently changed his first name to Teez), while Alabama’s Eddie Jackson was chosen at safety. LSU’s White and Jamal Adams were both second-team selections.
Hargreaves was later named a unanimous All-American and, along with Gators safety Keanu Neal, was a first-round draft selection. Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones was a second-round pick, while LSU’s Rashard Robinson was taken in the fourth round and Jalen Mills in the seventh.
Although Florida seems preoccupied with Tennessee—and annoyed with the preseason attention the Volunteers have been getting even though they haven’t beaten the Gators since 2004—numerous DBU showdowns loom.
Among them, the Tigers visit The Swamp on Oct. 8, and LSU hosts Alabama on Nov. 5. The four preseason All-SEC selections at media days were Jackson, Tabor, Tennessee’s Cameron Sutton and White, who passed on an opportunity to leave early for the NFL.
“My decision to come back was one of the best decisions in my life,” White said. “Being one of the first in my family to graduate from college was a big deal, too.”
But all three SEC secondaries have something to prove, with Florida determined to demonstrate that last year’s showing wasn’t a fluke or only due to the strong play of Hargreaves, an All-SEC selection all three years he was in Gainesville.
“I feel like we’re just as talented as last year,” Gators safety Marcus Maye said. “Obviously, Vernon Hargreaves is Vernon Hargreaves. He’s one of the best to come through our program. But Jalen is right there. He’s going to be the next one.”
Nevertheless, Florida could be looking at a drop-off. In the position rankings listed in Phil Steele’s 2016 College Football Preview, LSU is No. 1, followed by Alabama, with the Gators ninth. Similarly, they haven’t been able to keep up in recruiting.
In the 2016 signing class, LSU landed 5-star cornerback Kristian Fulton along with high 4-star talents Saivion Smith and Eric Monroe. Alabama signed three 4-star players (Nigel Knott, Shyheim Carter and Jared Mayden), while Florida added just one (Chauncey Gardner).
In the two previous classes, the advantage went to Alabama. Last year, it landed two 5-star cornerbacks, Kendall Sheffield (although he has since departed) and Minkah Fitzpatrick, while LSU added one, Kevin Toliver II. In 2014, 5-star corners Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey joined the Crimson Tide, while Adams said yes to the Tigers.
“We think we’re one of the best [secondaries] in the country,” Fitzpatrick said.
So in trying to proclaim which program is DBU, Florida would have been last year’s answer, but LSU still holds the crown, albeit very tentatively, with Alabama poised to try to pull off a coup and Ohio State lurking.
All recruiting ratings are from 247Sports. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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Source: Bleacher Report-CFB News