Best college football front-seven rooms: Clemson, Alabama loaded with talented defensive linemen, linebackers

Best college football front-seven rooms: Clemson, Alabama loaded with talented defensive linemen, linebackers


Georgia rode the nation’s top scoring defense all of the way to the national title last year thanks to a deep defensive line rotation and a fast, physical linebacking corps. Even though the sport has become driven by offense, the Bulldogs proved old-school football can still win at an elite level.

Which team is this year’s “Georgia?”

There are several teams that will enter the season with loaded front sevens that are well-equipped to lead to title contention. Which teams are they? Let’s break them down.

If coach Dabo Swinney’s crew is going to get back to the top of the college football world this year, it’ll be on the heels of one of the best defenses — personnel-wise — that he’s ever produced. Superstar Bryan Bresee will anchor the middle of the line of scrimage and, when healthy, is the top defensive lineman in the country. Add Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry at edge, and the line should be devastating. The linebacking corps will be led by Trenton Simpson, who had 64 tackles, 12.5 which were for a loss, last season. The only real question here is if the success former defensive coordinator Brent Venables had during his tenure in the upstate can be replicated by new defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin.

Surprise, surprise … Alabama lands on this list. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know all about star edge threat Will Anderson Jr. — who might be the best player in the country despite Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young’s presence on Anderson’s own team. Linebackers Henry To’o To’o, Dallas Turner and Jaylen Moody are just a few of the stars who comprise the best linebacking unit in the nation. Up front, DJ Dale will anchor a defensive line that will also feature Byron Young and Justin Eboigbe. That trio is well-versed on taking up blocks and letting the linebacking corps feast.

First-year coach Kalen DeBoer inherited one of the best defenses in the country, which should play well in a Pac-12 that is as wide open as it’s ever been. Zion Tupuola-Fetui should be back from an Achilles injury, and is a flat-out terror on the edge. He averaged 1.75 tackles for loss per game during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, and should be one of the top players in the conference if he stays healthy. Throw in hybrid linebacker/end Zion Tupuola-Fetui, and the speed of the Huskies will be as dangerous as any in the country. Carson Bruener will be the star of the linebacking corps in a defense that will be based in the 4-2-5 formation, and Edefuan Ulofoshio should emerge as a star once he’s fully recovered from a knee injury.

Coach Dave Aranda essentially has his entire two-deep defensive line returning after it helped the Bears finish 7th in the nation with 104 tackles for loss. Siaki Ika, Gabe Hall, TJ Franklin and Brayden Utley are just a few of the veterans up front, and Tulsa transfer Jaxon Player has the ability to fly up NFL Draft boards this season. The linebacking corps needs to be rebuilt a bit, but Dillon Doyle is a presence veteran, Matt Jones is back after 52 tackles last season and LSU transfer Josh White has the talent to be a breakout star.

Ex-defensive coordinator Jim Knowles left for Ohio State, but Derek Mason is stepping into a loaded defensive front that shouldn’t miss a beat. Sophomore Collin Oliver finished third in the Big 12 last season with 10.5 sacks, defensive tackle Brendon Evers is a monster in the middle, and ends Tyler Lacy and Brock Martin made huge impacts last season. The linebacking corps isn’t as experienced with the departures of Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper, but junior college transfer Xavier Benson has star written all over him and Mason Cobb has been waiting in the wings for his chance to shine.

Honorable Mention

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