You have probably heard the names Linebacker U or Tailback U associated with college football programs with perhaps more than one school proclaiming to be a position U. Which schools truly deserve that distinction?
I used the following criteria to determine which school is truly a position U:
- One can certainly debate how good a player was in college. However, when it comes to being named an All-American, there is no debate. If a player was named an All-American, he had to be very good. Rather than add to a school’s claim of being “position U” with players who weren’t All-Americans, and debate how good they were, such as the University of Miami’s quarterbacks Jim Kelly and Bernie Kosar or Auburn’s running backs William Andrews, Joe Cribbs, James Brooks, Lionel James, and Ronnie Brown, only 1st, 2nd and 3rd-team All-Americans factored into the selection and evaluation process.
- Only a player’s collegiate performance was taken into account and considered, and not what they accomplished as a professional. If a Heisman Trophy winner or an All-American was a bust in the NFL, that doesn’t diminish what they accomplished at the collegiate level. Their performance as a pro does not factor in or influence this selection process.
Also, occasionally a position change occurs for a player from his college to professional career so which position does the school get credit for? For example, should Terrelle Pryor count as a wide receiver for Ohio State? That’s absurd. That’s why only their college career should count towards a being a position U.
In comparing each school’s All-Americans from the past 50 years, obviously some were greater than others. Past and recent greatness as well as consistency through the years are what constitute a school being chosen as a position U.
This is my look at the defensive secondaries in my series on which school should be known as Secondary/DB U.
When you think about the last line of defense and what makes a great secondary, it’s speed, speed, speed. It should come as no surprise then that three of the top five schools to be considered as Secondary/DB U are SEC schools.
LSU ranks fifth on the list for Secondary U with 17 All-Americans (nine cornerbacks and eight safeties) over the past 50 seasons. In 12 of the last 15 seasons, LSU had a safety or cornerback named All-American. Those players were: Covey Webster ’03 & ’04, LaRon Landry ’06, Chad Jones ’07, Craig Steltz ’07, Patrick Peterson ’09 & ’10, Morris Claiborne ’11, Tyrann Mathieu ’11, Eric Reid ’11 & ’12, Tre’Davious White ’14 & ’16, Jalen Mills ’15, Jamal Adams ’16, Donte Jackson ’17 and Andraez Williams in ’17 as well.
Peterson won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in 2010 and Clairborne won it in 2011. One can see how in the past 15 seasons, LSU could possibly be Secondary U. However, prior to 2003, the Tigers only had defensive backs Tommy Casanova ’69-’71, Mike Williams ’74, James Britt ’82, and Greg Jackson ’88 be named to an All-America team.
Some might wonder why isn’t Miami or Texas in the top five for Secondary U. Neither Miami nor Texas have the numbers of All-American cornerbacks the past 50 seasons to make the top five. Miami had only five and Texas six which doesn’t measure up to LSU at number five with nine.
Number four on our list for Secondary U are the Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles had 19 All-American defensive backs in the past 50 seasons (13 cornerbacks and six safeties with Jalen Ramsey counting as two since he was All-American at both positions).
The Seminoles defensive backs that have been All-American were: James Thomas ’72, Monk Bonasorte ’79 & ’80, Bobby Butler ’80, three-time All-American Deion Sanders ’86, ’87 & ’88, LeRoy Butler ’89, Terrell Buckley ’90 & ’91, Corey Sawyer ’92 & ’93, Clifton Abraham ’94, Tay Cody ’00, Chris Hope ’00, and Myron Rolle in 2008. Sanders and Buckley both won the Thorpe Award, Sanders in 1988 and Buckley in 1991.
For the past six seasons, the Seminoles had at least one defensive back named All-American. Those players were: Xavier Rhodes ’12, Terrence Brooks ’13, Lamarcus Joyner ’13, P.J. Williams ’14, Jalen Ramsey in 2014 as a safety and as a cornerback in 2015, Tarvarus McFadden ’16 and Derwin James in 2016 & 2017. Having only six safeties named All-American keeps Florida State from being higher on the list. Florida State’s six All-America safeties cannot match the 10 of our number three school as Secondary/DB U, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The Buckeyes are number three as Cornerback U (https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/which-school-is-cornerback-u/) and number four as Safety U (https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2018/06/09/which-school-is-safety-u/) which adds up to make Ohio State number three on our countdown to Secondary/DB U. It’s that balance of 10 All-American safeties and 11 All-American cornerbacks that has the Buckeyes at number three and not that long ago at number one.
Those Ohio State All-American defensive backs were: Ted Provost ’69, Jack Tatum ’69 & ’70, Tim Anderson ’70, Mike Sensibaugh ’70, Neal Colzie ’74, Tim Fox ’75, Ray Griffin ’77, Shawn Springs ’96, Antoine Winfield ’97 & ’98, Damon Moore ’98, three-time All-American Mike Doss ’00, ’01 & ’02, Will Allen ’03, and Donte Whither in 2005.
In eight of the last 10 seasons, an Ohio State defensive back has been named All-American. Those Buckeyes are: Malcolm Jenkins ’08, Kurt Coleman ’09, Chimdi Chekwa ’10, Bradley Roby ’12 & ’13, Vonn Bell ’15, Malik Hooker ’16, Marshon Lattimore ’16, and Denzel Ward in 2017.
A pair of Buckeyes have won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, Winfield in 1998 and Jenkins won it in 2008.
With a total of 22 All-American defensive backs in the past 50 seasons, the University of Florida is number two on our list as Secondary/DB U. Florida’s 10 All-American safeties earned Florida the number five spot as Safety U and their 13 All-American cornerbacks has them at number two for Cornerback U which added up to the number two spot as Secondary/DB U.
Florida’s 22 All-American defensive backs were: Steve Tannen ’69, Tony Lilly ’83, Adrian White ’86, Jarvis Williams ’86 & ’87, Louis Oliver ’87 & ’88, Richard Fain ’89 & ’90, Will White ’90, Lawrence Wright ’95, Antoine Lott ’96, Fred Weary ’97, Lilo Shepard ’00 & ’01, Kaiwan Ratliff ’03, Reggie Nelson ’06, and Ryan Smith in 2006.
Interestingly, Wright won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1996, a year he wasn’t named All-American.
In eight of the last nine seasons, the Gators have produced an All-American defensive back. Those players were: Joe Haden ’09, Ahmad Black ’10, Janoris Jenkins ’10, Matt Elam ’12, three-time All-American Vernon Hargreaves III ’13, ’14 & ’15, Jalen/Teez Tabor ’15 & ’16, Marcus Maye ’15 & ’16, and Duke Dawson in 2017.
One must consider the balance and combination of All-American cornerbacks and safeties, and by doing so the choice here for Secondary/DB U is Alabama. Over the past four decades plus, Alabama exemplifies balanced excellence in the secondary with 11 All-American cornerbacks and 12 All-American safeties.
The Crimson Tide were number two as Safety U and number four as Cornerback U which added up to be number one as Secondary/DB U. Alabama’s 23 All-American defensive backs with Minkah Fitzpatrick counting as two since he was All-American at both positions were: Mike Washington ’73 & ’74, Don McNeal ’79, Tommy Wilcox ’81 & ’82, Jeremiah Castille ’82, Kermit Kendrick ’88, John Magnum ’89, George Teague ’92, Antonio Langham ’92 & ’93, and Kevin Jackson in 1996. Langham won the Thorpe Aware in 1993.
Nick Saban’s first year at Alabama was in 2007 and it didn’t take long to see Saban’s defensive influence paying dividends for the Crimson Tide. For the past 10 seasons, Alabama had at least one defensive back, and some years two, named All-American. Those players were: Rashad Johnson ’08, Javier Arenas ’09, Mark Barron ’09, ‘10 & ’11, Robert Lester ’10, Dre Kirkpatrick ’11, DeQuan Menzie ’11, Dee Millner ’12, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix ’13, Landon Collins ’14, Eddie Jackson ’15 & ’16, Marlon Humphrey ’16, Ronnie Harrison ’16 & ’17, and Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2016 as a cornerback in 2016 and as a safety in 2017. Fitzpatrick won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back in 2017.
It is that remarkable & unmatched run of excellence that has propelled Alabama past Florida and Ohio State as Secondary/DB U.
Interesting fact: USC, Miami and Notre Dame had fewer All-America defensive backs in the past 50 seasons, 14, 14 and 15 respectively than Colorado did with 16.
Alabama Cap photo credit courtesy of Lisa Zins and can be found at: https://visualhunt.com/f2/photo/38902198311/f5b8b9b956/
John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/.