As expected, the Buckeyes bring the most feared group of defensive backs to Oregon State’s schedule, even with a not as proven unit as they’ve previously had on the field. Former Alabama player and JUCO transfer Kendall Sheffield could be the best (and fastest) cornerback in all of college football, while Damon Arnette and Jeffrey Okudah are both more than reliable pass-defending talents. Keep in mind that redshirt freshman Shaun Wade could also make an impact in the secondary as well, if he develops as expected. At the safety spot, Jordan Fuller is a potential all-league player, who finished with 70 tackles and 3 interceptions last season, while Isaiah Pryor is a more than capable second option. The Buckeyes are deep, athletic and superbly talented.
“The M Gang” as they could aptly be known (if awful nicknames were a thing), Washington has a trio of big-time defensive play-makers in their secondary, who could play a pivotal role in another potential Pac-12 title run for the Huskies. Safety JoJo McIntosh is the undoubted leader of the group, who as an upperclassmen should control the game from the back of the defense. He’s a bit of a hard-hitting enforcer, but he hasn’t let that slow up his production, where he’s tallied 155 career tackles. In front of him, the oft-injured duo of cornerbacks Byron Murphy and Jordan Miller are two potential NFL early round picks down the line, who need to just work their way back into being on the field each week to show their worth. Safety Taylor Rapp rounds out the group with a former Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year.
3. USC Trojans
Senior safety Marvell Tell should emerge for USC as one of the best all-around defensive players in the conference, as 6’ 2”, 195-pounder tallied 89 tackles a season ago, while also snagging three interceptions. He alone could make any defense worth it’s while, but make no mistake about it, there’s more than enough talent still surrounding Tell to make USC a dangerous group. The trio of cornerbacks that head coach Clay Helton has at his disposal in Ajene Harris, Iman Marshall and Isaiah Langley are simply as solid as any unit in the country puts forth. And while USC may need some younger pieces like safety Bubba Bolden to find their way as the season progresses, the initial depth chart favors the Trojans liking.
A veteran-laden group which just screams Stanford football, head coach David Shaw has his prototypical core of seasoned defensive backs, who will be ready to help the Cardinal attempt another run at a Pac-12 crown. At the cornerback spot, Stanford is led by a slew of steady and reliable pieces in Alijah Holder, Alameen Murphy and Malik Antoine Jr.. The trio all have great size, solid ball skills and a firm grasp on the team’s defensive concepts, which through the grind of the Pac-12 will pay for itself multiple times over. At the safety spot, the duo of Brandon Simmons and Frank Buncom are both seniors who appear finally ready to step into the spotlight. Simply put, it’ll be hard to find a weakness to consistently pick apart in the Cardinal defensive secondary.
5. Oregon Ducks
For some reason, I narrowly picked Oregon over the likes of Arizona, simply probably because the defensive emphasis put forth by new Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal and defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, is easier to get behind than anything new Wildcats head coach Kevin Sumlin may throw on the field in year one. The good news for the Ducks is that they have an impressive mix of new and old play-makers that will given a chance to prove their worth. A duo of sophomore cornerbacks in Thomas Graham and Deommodore Lenoir and another second-year talent in Brady Beeze lead the youth movement, while safety Ugo Amadi and Mattrell McGraw should be the veteran-savvy leaders.