Defensive Backs
Let's do some simple math. First, the Tide finished 2004 with the nation's top ranked pass defense, giving up a meager 1282 yards passing to opponents through 11 games. No other defense held their opponents below the 1300-yard mark. Opposing QB's 43.4% completion rate (2nd-best in I-A) also proves what these DBs can do. Second, all four starters return for Bama. Need we say more? Shutdown corner Charlie Peprah successfully made the switch to strong safety, where he was a big factor in all phases. Ramzee Robinson's emergence as a legitimate shutdown corner allows the coaching staff to make such a move. Backup Simeon Castille is ready to become one of the SEC's top contributors and push last year's starter, super-quick Anthony Madison, which gives the Tide even more depth at the corner…whew! At free safety, '04 all-SEC selection Roman Harper is even more of a ball hawk than Peprah. Incoming safety Chris Keyes successfully represents two years of Shula's efforts to increase size/physicality here. This is a veteran group of upperclassmen (three seniors, one junior), making our decision for the top DB unit ranking a no-brainer.

Miami FL
The Canes have been known as "Defensive Back U." for a very long time. For years, NFL draft followers have witnessed player after player from Miami taken in the early rounds of the April draft, only to then see the Hurricanes respond the very next year with yet another top secondary unit, full of fresh names. Calling it a reloading process would be an understatement. Granted, one of the nation's best defensive backs/players has departed (Antrel Rolle was the 8th overall 2005 draft pick), but for those still wondering how this might effect the secondary - you must not have read the above statements. Who fills in for Rolle? A year ago, Marcus Maxey recorded the team's fastest 40-yard dash time - a grass-singeing 4.25 seconds. This year, it is all-American punt returner Devin Hester with a 4.29-recorded time. Hester also led the team with four INTs. Both will battle for Rolle's vacated corner spot. Depth is plentiful, with three players likely to see (equal) time at the safety spots (Meriweather, Threat and Reddick). Keep an eye on highly-touted freshman Kenny Phillips, a local (Carol City) strong safety who was named the USA Today Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 (prep teammate of standout linebacker Willie Williams). The hits just keep coming in Coral Gables.

Penn State
While all the talk around Happy Valley has mainly been focused on a great LB core, the secondary should, too, provide the spark needed to get this team back into bowl contention. Most of the group that formed the nation's No. 6 pass defense (No.4 in efficiency) is back, including second-team all-Big Ten corner Alan Zemaitis, a game-changing playmaker who has been a steady part of this defense since his 2002 sophomore campaign. Counterpart Anwar Phillips also blossomed into a shutdown corner in his first year as a starter, breaking up 10 passes and picking off four, both team-highs, as foes threw away from Zemaitis. Pittsburgh-area recruit Justin King (top CB in 2005's recruiting class) gives this secondary even more depth/playmakers. Calvin Lowry, one of the team's fastest, returns at HERO (fitting name, proven by his four fumble recoveries), and Chris Harrell (a 2003 co-starter with the now departed Andrew Guman) takes over at free safety after returning from a neck injury that forced him to sit out last fall. Harrell's return has been anxiously anticipated and solidifies this group as a sure fire Top 5 DB unit. Coaches loves to use those nickel schemes to stop high-powered passers, and they'll still have enough depth to do that, especially with these youngsters who know already how to keep the play in front of them effectively (only eight I-A teams allowed less than ten passing TDs, and PSU led the nation by allowing only five). Don't expect many big plays against this bunch.

Southern Miss
The Golden Eagles represent the first so-called "mid-major" team to break into any of our 2005 Top Five Unit Rankings. In large part, USM's inclusion has to do with the fact that top DB units are tougher to locate for this season. Moreover, all four starters return to this secondary, and they are led by NC.net preseason all-American dual-threat (at both DB and kick returner) John Eubanks. Other starter Caleb Hendrix can also be left on an island, so the corners are solid as they force most action over the middle. This ranking decision could be considered suspect if you consider how all-CUSA FS Trevis Coley has moved to weakside LB to join his twin brother (Kevis) in an effort to fill major LB vacancies. Expect the hard-hitting Trevis, however, to remain a key defender in this pass coverage clog as late spring decisions may place him floating from LB to DB. This same secondary was their defensive strongpoint in '04. With twin brothers truly representing the interchange-ability amongst this back seven, lots of nickel and dime looks will blur the lines between the speedy LBs that can drop back and how the DBs are plugged in for run support, and it will all have optimal affect.

Ohio State
In most seasons, the Buckeyes would have just missed with this unit. But, again, given the lack of quality secondaries for '05, they make our list based on possibilities/potential and experience. CB Ashton Youboty is a top-rate Big Ten defender…he is big and fast with NFL skills. He was the team's best pass defender a year ago and is likely to dot many post-season (all-whatever) lists. The key to this group will be locating a corner to play the opposite side. Thus far, former strong safety Tyler Everett has held down the position. Cleveland-native Jamario O'Neal is a true freshman who comes in as Rivals.com No.3-rated corner. All of the above-mentioned have apparently shown coaches enough so that any talk of sophomore sensation Ted Ginn playing both at receiver and cornerback appears to be curtailed. At FS, Nate Salley returns for his senior campaign after reaping all-Big Ten honors. He will be starting his third season and is one of the true Buckeye field leaders. OSU can do even better than last year's bend-but-don't-break mentality, a conservative approach which allowed a mere 5.6 yards per attempt and kept the longest pass play from an opponent to a measly 46 yards.

Just missed: Fresno State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Iowa State, Texas Tech, West Virginia


May 23- Wide Receivers
May 16 - Offensive Line
May 12 - Defensive Backs
May 4 - Linebackers
April 28 - Defensive Line