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Top 5 scoring defenses heading into 2016

Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster (No. 10) making a tackle against Auburn in 2015: Cedric Mason- Touchdown Alabama Magazine

While it lost A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Reggie Ragland and others to the National Football League, Alabama’s defense will still be viewed as the group to beat next season.

With only a few experienced quarterbacks returning to the Southeastern Conference, it gives defensive minds like Nick Saban, Les Miles, Kirby Smart, Derrick Mason and Will Muschamp an opportunity to generate more negative plays. Facing Calvin Ridley, Christian Kirk, Malachi Dupre, Cavin “Riley” Ridley and Antonio Callaway won’t be easy for SEC defenders, nevertheless, it can neutralize their impact by limiting the run game and generating sacks on quarterbacks.

Listed below is a breakdown of the top five scoring defenses for next season.

5. Tennessee Volunteers

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and defensive linemen Derek Barnett and Corey Vereen led a defense that allowed 20 points/game last season. Reeves-Maybin was the high man in tackles (105), while adding 14 tackles for loss, six sacks, four pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles. Barnett led the Volunteers in sacks with 10, and added 12.5 tackles for loss, seven quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and a forced fumble to go with 69 total tackles.

Todd Kelly returns as a leader in Tennessee’s secondary with Brian Randolph gone.

He posted 46 tackles a year ago with two pass breakups and an interception. Cameron Sutton will enter his senior campaign at cornerback at next season. He totaled 28 tackles, three tackles for loss, six pass breakups, two forced fumbles and an interception.

As a whole, the Volunteers allowed 362 total yards, 151.6 rushing yards and 210.4 passing yards in 2015. Coach Butch Jones understands that much is expected from his group in the fall.

4. Florida Gators

Florida’s offense left a lot to be desired in its first year under Jim McElwain, but its defense proved to be an elite squad. It allowed 18.3 points/game in 2015, which was good for fourth-best in the SEC.

Jarrad Davis returns as its senior leader at linebacker, after having 98 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, seven quarterback hurries, four pass breakups and a forced fumble in 14 games.

Bryan Cox (Jr.), Caleb Brantley and CeCe Jefferson represent the trio of athletes returning to the Gators’ defensive line. Cox led the group in tackles (45) and put in 10.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup in 14 games last year.

Jalen Tabor played beside Vernon Hargreaves, III last season, but now he will be called upon to captain the secondary. Tabor amassed 40 tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack, 14 pass breakups (team-high), four interceptions and two defensive touchdowns in 13 games as a sophomore.

Overall, the Gators allowed 310.2 total yards, 128.1 rushing yards, 182.1 passing yards and a completion percentage of 54.4 percent during its 10-4 run in the 2015 season.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

Gone are the eras of Mark Richt and Jeremy Pruitt, but Bulldogs’ fans are excited for the potential of what could be for Kirby Smart and Mel Tucker in Athens, Ga. Smart enters a Georgia program where the norm is to win at least 10 games a year. Ten-win seasons are nice, but fans want championships.

The return of Tim Kimbrough at linebacker starts the foundation of Georgia’s defense. He anchored a group that allowed 16.9 points/game in its 10-3 mark during the 2015 season.

Kimbrough brought in 67 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a pass breakup and a forced fumble in 12 games. He along with the combination of Devin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter have the Bulldogs solid at linebacker. Bellamy finished with 33 tackles, three sacks and eight pressures.

After improving Alabama’s secondary, Tucker now has a chance to mold something special out of Georgia’s defensive backfield. The quartet of Quincy Mauger, Dominick Sanders, Malkolm Parrish and Rico McGraw is what he’ll have to develop. Mauger led the secondary in tackles (58), while Sanders was the high man in interceptions with six for 205 yards and a touchdown.

In conclusion, Georgia managed to limit opponents to 305.9 total yards, 149.5 rushing yards, 156.5 passing yards and a 51.7 percent completion rating in Richt’s final season at head coach.

2. Missouri Tigers

Gary Pinkel resigned after the 2015 season, ending a 14-year tenure as Missouri’s head coach.

The Tigers, like Florida, had a solid defense but a woeful offense. Behind leaders like Kentrell Brothers and Ian Simon, Missouri’s defense stood second in the SEC (16.2 points/game).

With Barry Odom taking over, he inherits a pillar in Michael Sherer at linebacker.

The rising senior finished 2015 with 93 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three pass breakups and two quarterback hurries. His production stemmed from the work of defensive linemen Charles Harris and Walter Brady. The pair combined for 14 sacks (seven each), while Harris led the duo in tackles (56), tackles for loss (18.5) and quarterback pressures (10).

Strong safety Anthony Sherrils will assume a leader role in the secondary. He tallied 64 tackles, four tackles for loss, three pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and an interception last year.

Despite a 5-7 record, Missouri’s defense surrendered 302 total yards, 132.8 rushing yards, 169.3 passing yards and a 61.9 percent completion rating in 12 games during the 2015 campaign.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, Reggie Ragland and D.J. Pettway were all headline names, but it was Alabama’s depth along its defensive front that made it special for fans and a nightmare for opposition. While it led the SEC in scoring defense (15.1 points/game), it dominated college football in sacks with 52. The creatures on that side of the ball won Alabama a championship.

Linebacker Reuben Foster returns as the new “ringleader” in the middle of the defense.

He shook off the injury bug last season and totaled 73 tackles (second on team), eight tackles for loss, a sack, nine pass breakups and three quarterback hurries in 15 games.

Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson will play alongside Foster. Both combined for 16.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, while Anderson led the pair in tackles (37) and quarterback hurries (10).

Jonathan Allen was a force at defensive end, recording 36 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, six quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles last year. He comes back with Dalvin Tomlinson, Da’Ron Payne and Da’Shawn Hand—who put in 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2015.

Depth in the secondary will play a role in the Tide’s journey to repeat as national champions.

It lost Cyrus Jones, Geno Matias-Smith, Bradley Sylve and Jabriel Washington, nevertheless, it returns a star-studded line up. Free safety Eddie Jackson led the back five in interceptions (six) and return yards (230), while finishing second in defensive touchdowns with two. Marlon Humphrey ended last season with three interceptions, and the duo of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison fell next with two picks each. Fitzpatrick accounted for three defensive touchdowns.

Overall, Alabama allowed 276.3 total yards, 75.7 rushing yards, 200.6 passing yards and a 50.5 percent completion mark in its journey to a College Football Playoff national title in 2015.

Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @Smsmith_TDALMag.

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Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 10+ years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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