The Nation's Best Defender

Is Greg Jones the country's top defensive player? The Editors debate.

Is Greg Jones the country's top defensive player? The Editors debate.

Athlon editors Steven Lassan, Mitch Light and Braden Gall debate five burning questions about Week 9 in college football:

Follow us on twitter: @AthlonBraden / @AthlonSteven / @AthlonMitch

1. Did the Pac-10 (12) get it right in how they divided their divisions?

Braden: I personally believe that, for branding purposes, conferences need to be defined easily and clearly (take notes, ACC). The SEC and Big 12 (for now) have easy-to-remember alignments, and I think it helps fans, media, coaches, recruits alike. In that sense, the Pac-10 nailed it. The North and South are clearly defined. Cal and Stanford got what they wanted in playing the two SoCal schools every year (be careful what you wish for), and the each of the paired rivarlies were sustained. I also agree with lumping the four Northwest programs together. To top it all off, the balance of power is fair — today and over time.

Mitch: I think so. The Arizona and Southern California schools really wanted the Bay Area schools in the South, but I think Cal and Stanford are a good fit in the North. Being in the South will really help Colorado and Utah because both of those schools recruit so heavily in Southern California. Just to see how things would shake out, I took a look at our ‘Ranking the Programs Feature’ in our preseason magazine, and I averaged the ranking of each division. For a little background, we ranked all 120 FBS programs based on how attractive each school would be to a free agent head coach. And we did this pre-expansion, so Utah, which ranked 40, would probably be higher now. The teams in the South Division averaged a ranking of 28, and the teams in the North averaged a ranking of 41. So, according to us, the teams in the South are the better ‘football schools.’

Steven: Only time will tell how close the divisions are in terms of competitiveness, but I think the Pac-12 made the best decision for its conference. Dividing the schools by geography should make it a little easier for fans to remember which teams are in which division. Separating the California schools was a big point of discussion for the conference, but California and Stanford are guaranteed games against USC and UCLA every year, which preserves those rivalry matchups. I think you could argue the North might be better in the first year, but once USC is off probation and Colorado turns things around, the divisions seem to be pretty equal.

2. Should Auburn have jumped three other unbeatens to No. 1 in the BCS?

Braden: No. If Auburn wins out and beats Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama, they would easily land in the BCS title game. Yet, every tough game they have played has come at home and every one has been close. They have played only two road games (Miss. St, Kentucky) and they were both close. Oregon, in particular, has  put together a much more impressive body of work. What a game that would be come January!

Mitch: Auburn moved up to No. 1 because it made a big jump in the computers, up to No. 1. The Tigers only moved up two spots in both the Harris and coaches’ poll, from No. 5 to No. 3. So in the human polls, Auburn only passed one undefeated team, TCU. To answer the specific question, I’d say no, Auburn should not have passed any undefeated team. In the Athlon Sport top 25, we have Auburn No. 4 behind Oregon, Boise State and TCU.

Steven: I have no problem with Auburn becoming the No. 1 team in the BCS standings. The victory over LSU was impressive, especially how easily they carved up one of the SEC's best defenses. The Tigers also have wins good wins over Clemson, Mississippi State, South Carolina and Arkansas. Oregon has a case to be No. 1 in the BCS standings, but I will continue to mention, nothing with the BCS actually matters until late November. Auburn still has to play Alabama, and Oregon still has a couple of tough games remaining too. With a month of the season still to go, a lot is going to change between now and when the national championship game participants are decided in early December.

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3. Who is the best defensive player in the nation?

Braden: There are so many names that would fit here that I am sure someone will get left out, but here it goes. Clemson's DaQuan Bowers is leading the nation in sacks and is arguably the nation's best defensive lineman, although Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, Auburn's Nick Fairley and Iowa's Adrian Clayborn would have something to say about that. LSU's Patrick Peterson might be the most dynamic athlete on that side of the ball, but he has a tendancy to gamble too much and give up big plays. Virginia Tech's Jayron Hosley, who is leading the nation in INTs, and UCLA's Rahim Moore would give him a nice run for his money at DB too. I will go with Michigan State's middle linebacker Greg Jones. He is leading the Big Ten in tackles (69) while adding 5 TFLs, 3 forced fumbles, a pair of INTs and a sack for a top-5 unbeaten team.

Mitch: That is very tough. Nick Fairly, the defensive tackle at Auburn, is having a great year. Adrian Clayborn of Iowa came in with a ton of hype and has been very good. LSU’s Patrick Peterson is an outstanding cornerback, and his teammate, Drake Nevis at defensive tackle, is having a great year. 

Steven: I could mention a handful of players here, including Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, but I'm going to say Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones is the best in the nation. Jones is an outstanding leader for this defense, along with anchoring a solid run defense. With the Spartans undefeated and the defense playing a key role in this run, it's hard to argue with Jones as the best defensive player in the nation.

4. Does anyone mean more to his team than Robert Griffin does to Baylor?

Braden: I racked my brain for another single athlete in college football who might be more valuable to his team than Robert Griffin is to Baylor. Colin Kaepernick at Nevada maybe? Cameron Newton? No, it is definitely Griffin. The dynamic passer is leading the Big 12 in passer efficiency and total offense (third nationally in total off.). He has the Bears bowl-eligible for the first time in more than a decade.

Mitch: Griffin has obviously been huge for Baylor. It’s great to see him back after tearing his ACL last year. I’d say Cam Newton is just as important to Auburn as Griffin is to Baylor.

Steven: It's hard to argue that anyone means more to their team than Robert Griffin. The only other player I could make an argument for is Auburn's Cameron Newton. If Newton doesn't go to Auburn, the Tigers are probably a seven- or eight-win team, but certainly not in the mix for a national title. Without Griffin, Baylor is probably looking at three or four victories, but the sophomore has elevated his program into a bowl team and one that currently sits atop the Big 12 South standings. I don't expect Baylor to win the Big 12 South, but Griffin is certainly a difference maker and one of the nation's most exciting players to watch.

5. Undefeateds Missouri, Oregon, Michigan State and Auburn all have tough road tests this weekend. Who is left standing after the dust clears?

Braden: Auburn has the easiest test, but any road game in any conference is difficult. Michigan State and Missouri will be hard-pressed to stay unbeaten after this weekend. The Ducks are the wild card. The USC Trojans will be at home, coming off a bye and are playing very well on offense. Matt Barkley has shown why he was the No. 1 recruit in the nation two year ago and will seriously test the Ducks secondary. I like Auburn to be the only unbeaten of the group come next week.

Mitch: Well, since I’ve already picked Iowa to beat Michigan State and Nebraska to beat Missouri, I’m going with both Oregon and Auburn as the two teams that will remain undefeated. Oregon has the tougher test, but I think the Ducks will have enough on offense to outscore USC. Auburn might have some trouble at Ole Miss, but I can’t see the Rebels slowing down Cam Newton enough to win the game.

Steven: Expect the four undefeated teams on the road to be cut in half. I like Oregon and Auburn to win, but think Missouri and Michigan State will fall short. Nebraska has struggled in its last two home games, but there's too much on the line for Big 12 North positioning for the Huskers to have another bad performance in Lincoln. Michigan State's last win in Iowa City was 1989, and the Spartans have lost three out of their last four to the Hawkeyes. Don't expect Iowa to win by much, but with quarterback Ricky Stanzi playing well and a stingy defense, the Hawkeyes will find a way to spoil Michigan State's undefeated season.

Campus Challenge

Year Three of the Campus Challenge returns as Mitch returns to defend his championship. The rules: Each person picks a quarterback, running back and wide receiver to make up his "team" for the week in an effort to amass as many passing yards, rushing yards, receiving yards and total touchdowns as possible. Whoever has the best stats as the end of the year wins. All players selected must be from a BCS conference team playing an FBS opponent, and each editor can only use a player once during the season.

Note: Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles and Louisville's Bilal Powell are the only two players that have been used by all three editors.

Week 9 Selections
QuarterbackLandry Jones, Okla.Terrelle Pryor, OSUDan Persa, NW
Running backKendall Hunter, Ok. StStepfan Taylor, Stan.Jacquizz Rodgers, Or. St
ReceiverJeremy Ebert, NWAlshon Jeffery, S. Car.Lyle Leong, TT


Week 8 ResultsStevenMitchBraden
Passing Yards270113404
Rushing Yards8084131
Receiving Yards108142183


Cumulative ResultsStevenMitchBraden
Passing Yards2,251 (1)1,826 (3)1,884 (2)
Rushing Yards1,326 (2)1,313 (3)1,431 (1)
Receiving Yards1,112 (1)785 (3)1,029 (2)
Touchdowns47 (1)30 (3)44 (2)

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