September 1st – Southern Mississippi
Last year Southern Mississippi’s secondary finished No. 62 in the country in passing yards allowed and with six of their top eight defensive backs returning, the year could be even brighter for the Golden Eagles. Jacorius Cotton will be entering into his junior year and is expected to be an all-conference player. In 2011, he recorded 98 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, five pass break ups, and two interceptions.
Last year UCLA’s secondary was plagued by injury and at one point were playing multiple third string players (one of which was Tevin McDonald). This year they are returning seven players who received playing time last year and should be one of the Pac-12’s better secondaries. Last year, McDonald recorded 56 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, nine pass break ups, and three interceptions. His three interceptions all came in one game against California (tied a school record).
This year Arkansas State team has the difficulty of replacing three all-conference defensive backs and will have a very young secondary. Sterling Young (51 tackles, one sack, 2.5 tackles for a loss, two pass break ups, and one interception) will have to step up his game even more in 2012. He is one of the few returners in the secondary and his fellow safety (Don Jones) is being moved to safety from the nickel back position.
September 22nd - Idaho State
In 2011 Greg Melendez recorded a career high nine tackles in two different games. In total he recorded 51 tackles and two interceptions. Look for him to have the biggest season of his career, since this is his senior year and he has shown improvement in every year thus far.
Last year Wisconsin’s secondary was plagued with inconsistency and had a habit of giving up big plays at inopportune times. Dezmen Southward will have the difficult job of replacing first-team All-Big Ten free safety Aaron Henry (67 tackles, four interceptions, and four pass break-ups). Southward, understandably did not play a ton, but he still recorded 35 tackles and two pass break-ups. Southward is known as a hard-hitting safety with blazing speed that also has an incredible vertical.
Last year Ohio State’s secondary had their worst year since 1999; do to starters leaving, suspensions, and injuries. This year they are returning all four starters and should have a much-improved season. Last year CJ Barnett led his team in tackles (75, one for a loss). He also recorded six pass break ups and two interceptions. Burnett is predicted to earn a first-team All-Big Ten honors.
After underachieving last year the Northwestern secondary will have difficulty improving in 2012, as they are losing three out of their four starters - including first-team All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters. Ibraheim Campbell is the only returning starter from the 2011 team. He recorded a team high 100 tackles, along with, 3.5 tackles for a loss, four pass break ups and two interceptions.
Last year Michigan’s secondary improved greatly from where they were in 2010. This year they lose one of their starters, Troy Woolfolk (30 tackles and two pass break ups), but return the other three starters. Last year, Thomas Gordon recorded 67 tackles (third on the team), 1.5 tackles for a loss, two pass break ups, and one interception. Look for him and strong safety Jordan Kovacs to have a great season in the secondary.
Michigan State’s secondary is expected to have their first top 20 finish since 1998, according to Phil Steele. They are returning seven of their top eight defensive backs, but are loosing first-team All-Big Ten safety Trenton Robinson (80 tackles, two tackles for a loss, two pass break ups, and four interceptions). Kurtis Drummond will have the responsibility to replace Robinson for the 2012 season. Drummond is not the most experienced player (17 tackles, one sack, abd two interceptions in 2011), but should benefit greatly having projected first-team All-Big ten strong safety Isaiah Lewis playing with him.
Penn State has the difficult task of replacing all four starters in the secondary this year. Malcolm Willis (33 tackles, one interception), himself, has to replace second-team All-Big ten safety Nick Sukay (66 tackles, eight pass break ups, and three interceptions). Though PSU has shown the ability to replace its starters in the secondary in the past, look for them to drop in production in 2012.
Minnesota will be returning two starters in 2012 and will also be adding three junior college players to the secondary. Brock Vereen (67 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss, seven pass break ups, and one interception) will have the difficulty of replacing free safety Kim Royston (123 tackles, one sack, 2.5 tackles for a loss, two pass brake ups, and one interception). Royston was the best player in the secondary for Minnesota in 2011 and his 123 tackles were the best among Big Ten defensive backs.
Iowa’s secondary, much like last year, does not have a lot of experience, but look for them to improve on there poor performance last year. One bright spot last year came from free safety Tanner Miller, who had a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown (tied longest in school history). In 2011 Miller recorded 76 tackles, three tackles for a loss, three pass break ups, and three interceptions. Look for Miller to be one of the leaders in the Hawkeye’s secondary since he is one of the returning starts.
- Josh Harvey -