Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
For the last several weeks we have taken a
look at the best offensive players in the country at the skilled positions.
Well, there are two sides of the ball and the star power on defense this year
in the college ranks is every bit as deep as that of the offense.
Starting this week, we will go through the defensive positions and give you
just a glimpse of the potential difference-makers this year, starting with the
glamour spot at defensive end.
David Pollack led the SEC in TFLs, sacks and QB hurries.
DAVID POLLACK: The Georgia Bulldogs have been blessed with an active defensive
line for some time now, but this year's unit could be one of the best. Sure,
Pollack benefited from having first-round draft pick Johnathan Sullivan inside
last year, but the 6-3, 278-pound Pollack probably helped Sullivan just as
much. The junior sack-master made the move to the outside last year and paid
immediate dividends, leading the SEC in TFLs (23), sacks (14) and QB hurries
(35). In addition, Pollack recorded two interceptions, while also blocking a
punt and a field-goal attempt. Don't be surprised to see him once again atop
the SEC in several statistical categories.
JASON BABIN: Not exactly a household name, this Western Michigan Bronco could
very well be the best downlineman in the college ranks this season. On the
preseason watchlists for the Lombardi Award, Outland Trophy and Bronco
Nagurski Award, the 6-4, 265-pounder is coming off a 2002 campaign in which he
was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year, after posting WMU single-
season records of 23 TFLs and 15 sacks, to rank second and fourth in the
nation, respectively. Yes, he plays in the MAC, but getting double and triple
teamed in any conference should slow you down, right?
CLAUDE HARRIOT: The job of replacing Pittsburgh All-American end Bryan Knight
was not supposed to be easy, but the emergence of the 6-4, 255-pound Harriott
last year certainly bridged the gap. Harriott led the Big East and ranked
second nationally by forcing a whopping seven fumbles in 2002. He also led the
Big East in three additional defensive categories, including TFLs (21), sacks
(9.5) and tackles amongst lineman (78).
WILL SMITH: Playmakers were not scarce on the defensive side of the ball for
last year's national champions, but one of the few returning this year, could
very well emerge as one of the best. At 6-4, 250 pounds, Smith showed the
ability to play against the run (59 total tackles last year) and the pass (5.5
sacks) last season. An overzealous defender with a non-stop motor, Smith is
sure to be a driving force for the Buckeyes in 2003 and could see his numbers
increase significantly. Imagine how dominant he could be if he added about 15
pounds to his frame.
NATHANIAL ADIBI: It is a pick-your-poison decision with the Virginia Tech
defensive line. If Adibi doesn't get to the quarterback, Cols Colas usually
does. However, Adibi has the better package when it comes to size at 6-3, 255
pounds, thus getting the nod over his active counterpart Colas (6-0, 230). A
terror on the outside for the Hokies, Adibi finished 2002 with 55 total
tackles, with 15 TFLs, while sharing the team-lead in sacks with Colas at
nine. He added 16 QB hurries, forced three fumbles and broke up two passes. A
physical player, Adibi has the ability to line up on either side and still get
to the QB.
*WILDCARD - GREG GATHERS: One of the premier pass rushers in the country in
2000 and 2001 (23 combined sacks), the Georgia Tech star had his 2002 season
come to an abrupt end, as he played in just three games due to a kidney
ailment. A two-time First-Team All-ACC selection and former All-American, the
6-1, 270-pound Gathers is already the school's career leader in sacks (31) and
TFLs (57). Granted a fifth year of eligibility in 2003, Gathers could once
again join the elite pass rushers in the country, if his strength and stamina
return this season.
Others to Watch: Antwan Odom (Alabama), Bo Schobel (TCU), Dave Ball (UCLA),
Kenechi Udeze (USC), Jason Kaufusi (Utah), Cols Colas (Virginia Tech), Bobby
McCray (Florida), Bill Swancutt (Oregon State) and Andrew Shull (Kansas