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CFB Fantasy: Team Defenses/Spt Profiles

Athlon continues its release of the 2010 college fantasy draft kit with a look at the top 20 team defenses and special teams.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes, Bye: 10
Despite the loss of linemen Thaddeus Gibson and Doug Worthington, the Buckeyes still boast one of the nation's elite defensive lines. And with the returning talent in the linebacking corps — the Big Ten's top unit — to back them up, few teams should be successful at running the football. End Cameron Heyward was a monster against the vaunted Oregon attack in the Rose Bowl and will put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. At the back end, three starters return to the secondary including one of the nation's top covermen in Chimdi Chekwa.

Schedule: There isn't an obvious bench situation for this fantasy defense. The non-conference schedule is a breeze other than Miami — who had a quarterback finish second in the nation in INTs a year ago. Two road games at Iowa and Wisconsin might be the two least productive outings of the year for this unit. However, the Buckeyes posted a huge fantasy number against UW in '09 and should easily harass Ricky Stanzi as well.

INT: 24
Sack: 30
Fumble recoveries: 11
Ret TD: 1

Returning Starters: 6
Pass Def: 171.5 ypg (13th)
Rush Def:  90.8 ypg (7th)
Scoring Def: 12.5 ppg (5th)

2. Texas Longhorns, Bye: 6
A large chunk of the fantasy production from this unit has moved on with the departure of return guru Jordan Shipley and sack master Sergio Kindle. But the Horns are not hurting for talent, so the special teams unit should still be strong even if they do not score seven times in '10. Ends Alex Okafor and Sam Acho will replace Kindle and should be almost as effective coming off the edge. The linebackers will be fast and physical as usual and the secondary is nasty. Aaron Williams is one of the most talented cornerbacks in the nation while Curtis Brown locks down the other side. Look for plenty of talented freshmen — Jordan Hicks, Jackson Jeffcoat, Eryon Bennett for example — to make an impact on the field this season as well.

Schedule: The Horns will face some potent offenses this season but should be in the lineup nearly every time. Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech can all score points but only one of those games is on the road and the Red Raiders have replaced their scoring-centric head coach. The first two weeks of the season, against Rice and Wyoming, should offer decent, if somewhat underwhelming, tests for a unit that will see a lot of young contributors this fall. After a mediocre performance on defense against the Aggies last season, the A&M rivalry game might be the only fantasy speed bump on this schedule.

INT: 25
Sack: 44
Fumble recoveries: 12
Ret TD: 7

Returning Starters: 6
Pass Def: 179.6 ypg (19th)
Rush Def: 72.4 ypg (1st)
Scoring Def: 16.7 ppg (12th)

3. Iowa Hawkeyes, Bye: 6
This unit features the Big Ten's best defensive line and secondary. Toss in senior stud Jeremiha Hunter at linebacker and fantasy owners should be very happy to land the Hawks D. The defensive line completely stuffed the powerful Georgia Tech rushing offense in the Orange Bowl a year ago and should be just as stout this fall. All eight returning starters are upperclassmen and all can make big plays. Adrian Clayborn is a future NFL star and should post big sack totals while tip-drill master Tyler Sash will patrol the back end of the defense. This is a well-rounded unit that will stymie most rushing attacks they face.

Schedule: This group of games is no cake walk, but there is some good news. Other than a trip to the desert to take on Arizona, the non-conference slate is juicy. And the top Big Ten offenses, namely Penn State, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State, all have to travel to Iowa City to play the Hawkeyes. There might be one or two times this season where a better match-up might be found, but few teams will be a strong up front as this Iowa team.

INT: 21
Sack: 31
Fumble recoveries: 9
Ret TD: 2

Returning Starters: 8
Pass Def: 152.9 ypg (4th)
Rush Def: 123.6 ypg (34th)
Scoring Def: 15.4 ppg (8th)

4. Nebraska Cornhuskers, Bye: 5
Yes, losing the nation's most dominant defensive player will hurt. But Bo and Carl Pelini have these guys ready to roll again in 2010. Jared Crick will anchor the defensive line with some help from end Pierre Allen while a name Husker fans know well, Baker Steinkuhler, should help clog up the middle. This unit will feature a lot of nickel back sets (with only two LBs) as "rover" hybrid Eric Hagg will play a lot in the box. He can be a playmaker. A pair of strong corners help slow the passing game and will offer time for those stellar lineman to get pressure on the quarterback.

Schedule: The path to a Big 12 title game will be interesting for the Big Red. A trip to Washington could test a revamped unit early on (Week Three) but two of the three other tough match-ups — Missouri and Texas — both come in Lincoln. The lone benching may come in what will be most fantasy league's semi-finals when Nebraska travels to College Station to take on the high-powered Aggie attack on November 20th.

INT: 20
Sack: 44
Fumble recoveries: 8
Ret TD: 2

Returning Starters: 6
Pass Def: 178.9 ypg (18th)
Rush Def: 93.1 ypg (9th)
Scoring Def: 10.4 ppg (1st)

5. TCU Horned Frogs, Bye: 12
One would think losing Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington would knock a defense down a peg or too. But not the Horned Frogs. TCU still sports the best defensive line, linebackers and secondary in their conference. The line returns everyone but Hughes, while free safety Tejay Johnson will help an inexperienced five-man secondary develop quickly. Gary Patterson will have the unit in the national rankings once again.

Schedule: The schedule might be the best of all the elite fantasy defenses this season. The top test probably comes in Week One against Oregon State — but even that one comes in Arlington, Texas. Owners should play the rebuilding unit at their own perfil at Jerry's World, but after that it is clear sailing. BYU is breaking in a new group of offensive players while road trips to Utah and SMU look like the toughest  fantasy tests. There are at least eight must-starts on this schedule with a few more that are all but sure things.

INT: 14
Sack: 32
Fumble recoveries: 11
Ret TD: 3

Returning Starters: 7
Pass Def: 159.5 ypg (6th)
Rush Def: 80.2 ypg (3rd)
Scoring Def: 12.8 ppg (6th)

6. Alabama Crimson Tide, Bye: 9
Not many defenses could lose essentially every starter and return as a top-10 fantasy option. But Nick Saban has recruited like a maniac and has loads of talent stepping into starting roles this fall. Names like tackle Marcell Dareus and linebacker Dont'a Hightower are technically not returning starters but might as well be. The linebacking corps is completely new and is still the SEC's best. The lone starter from '09 is safety Mark Barron, and along with a host of elite recruits, he leads a secondary that will always be great under former defensive back Saban.

Schedule: An early test against Penn State in Week 2 is made much easier by the departure of three-year starter Daryll Clark. A trip to Arkansas and a visit by Florida in two consecutive weeks, however, will be the early test for the reworked defense. Ryan Mallett and John Brantley may force owners to bench the Tide in those two, but after that, its must-starts the rest of the way. Auburn is the only offense that should put a scare into anyone after Week Five.

INT: 24
Sack: 32
Fumble recoveries: 7
Ret TD: 1

Returning Starters: 1
Pass Def: 166 ypg (10th)
Rush Def: 78.1 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Def: 11.7 ppg (2nd)

7. North Carolina Tar Heels, Bye: 2
This team is a tricky one to pin down at the moment. This could be the best defense in the entire nation — arguably the best at all three levels nationally. However, recent rumors and off the field transgressions have placed some huge names — Marvin Austin, Quan Sturdivant, Deunta Williams and Bruce Carter — at risk of missing serious time in '10. Sturdivant looks like he won't miss too much time but suspensions could be handed down for the other three at any moment. And not just for one or two games either — Austin could miss the entire year. If any of these four miss for an extended period of time, this unit takes a small step back in the fantasy ranks. If they all play, this goes back to being one of the nation's best units.

Schedule: LSU (Atlanta), Georgia Tech and at Rutgers to start the season is brutal. Toss in Clemson and Virginia Tech at home with road trips to Miami and Florida State, and the Tar Heels are facing a tough road to hoe. With a full compliment of players, these are mostly manageable, with potential benchings coming in Tallahassee and Coral Gables. Without their stars, however, UNC might fall back into fantasy mediocrity.

INT: 19
Sack: 33
Fumble recoveries: 10
Ret TD: 1

Returning Starters: 9
Pass Def: 174 ypg (14th)
Rush Def: 95.6 ypg (10th)
Scoring Def: 17.1 ppg (13th)

8. Boise State Broncos, Bye: 2, 8
The Broncos lose very little on the field. Kyle Wilson is really the only missing piece from a unit that was outstanding a year ago. The biggest loss was on the sidelines, as the bright lights of the SEC lured defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to Knoxville. The good news is there are a lot of bodies. The front four returns entirely intact — a unit that shut down two of the top six rushing teams (Oregon #6, TCU #5) in the nation last season. The continuity and experience will make this unit one of the nation's best again this fall.

Schedule: A virtual road trip to Virginia Tech (FedEx Field) and a home test against Oregon State in the first three weeks will be tough. The Broncos could struggle against the power rushing attacks those two offer. However, only a road trip to Reno to take on Nevada even gives pause the rest of the way. Boise State should roll through its WAC conference slate once again and post big fantasy numbers along the way.

INT: 24
Sack: 25
Fumble recoveries: 11
Ret TD: 2

Returning Starters: 9
Pass Def: 179.9 ypg (21st)
Rush Def: 120.4 ypg (28th)
Scoring Def: 17.1 ppg (14th)

9. Clemson Tigers, Bye: 4
Arguably the nation's top safety tandem, led by future NFL star DeAndre McDaniel, returns to lead the Tiger defense. It helps, of course, to have a loaded defensive line to pressure opposing quarterbacks. Will this be the monster, breakout campaign we have all been looking for from end Da'Quan Bowers? Tiger fans are hoping the answer is yes. The linebackers are the clear issue but coordinator Kevin Steele proved in one year that he will find productive pieces and Clemson is not hurting for talent. Losing special teams dynamo C.J. Spiller does hurt their value a bit.

Schedule: The first two should be gimmies but a trip to Auburn in Week Three provides an interesting test. The home slate is dotted by Miami and Georgia Tech while the road schedule features trips to Chapel Hill, Tallahassee and Chestnut Hill. Only one of which makes fantasy owners nervous. Keep an eye on the linebackers early in the season. If they gel quickly, this could be a devastating fantasy defense. If not, those rushing attacks start to look more daunting.

INT: 21
Sack: 36
Fumble recoveries: 9
Ret TD: 6

Returning Starters: 7
Pass Def: 162.8 ypg (7th)
Rush Def: 151.5 ypg (67th)
Scoring Def: 20.4 ppg (25th)

10. Oklahoma Sooners, Bye: 6
Losing Gerald McCoy will certainly hurt, but end Jeremy Beal and linebacker Travis Lewis return as potential Big 12 Defensive P.O.Y. candidates. Look for second year players and new starters Tom Wort, Ronnell Lewis and Jamarkus McFarland to blossom into big-time stars. The return of safety tandem Sam Proctor and Quinton Carter provides stability at the back end. Finding some corner help will be key early on.

Schedule: Utah State, Florida State, Air Force and Cincinnati is a powerful offensive foursome in non-conference play. However, all but Cincy is at home and OU should be able to handle them without mad genius Brian Kelly calling plays anymore. Road trips to Dallas (Texas), Missouri, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State might force owners to consider better options, but by then, the Sooner youngsters might be grizzled, talented, dominant veterans. This is not an ideal slate of action, but it affords plenty of solid match-ups.

INT: 18
Sack: 38
Fumble recoveries: 12
Ret TD: 1

Returning Starters: 5
Pass Def: 179.7 ypg (20th)
Rush Def: 92.9 ypg (8th)
Scoring Def: 14.5 ppg (7th)

Best of the Rest:

11. USC Trojans, Bye: 8 (Ret. Starters: 6)
12. Florida Gators, Bye: 8 (Ret. Starters: 5)
13. Penn State Nittany Lions, Bye: 7 (Ret. Starters: 5)
14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Bye: 3, 9 (Ret. Starters: 6)
15. UConn Huskies, Bye: 7, 10 (Ret. Starters: 8)
16. Virginia Tech Hokies, Bye: 9 (Ret. Starters: 3)
17. Oregon Ducks, Bye: 7, 12 (Ret. Starters: 8)
18. LSU Tigers, Bye: 9 (Ret. Starters: 4)
19. Miami Hurricanes, Bye: 3 (Ret. Starters: 8)
20. Pittsburgh Panthers, Bye: 3, 10 (Ret. Starters: 6)