Kirk Herbstreit was asked on his ESPN special called “The Herbies” who he thought had the best defense heading into the 2018 College Football Season.
His answer was simple, Clemson.
The Tigers return eight starts on defense, including six of its front seven and all four across the defensive line. They also return safety Tanner Muse and cornerback Trayvon Mullen, as well as safety K’Von Wallace, who started six games, and Mark Fields, who started four games at cornerback.
“There are a number of teams you could throw out there. I ended up selecting Clemson,” Herbstreit said via a teleconference call with the media on Friday. “They were a team that ended up allowing thirteen points per game last year and, other than Dorian O’Daniel, who led the team in tackles, everybody else is back, for the most part, from that defense.”
The Tigers, who are ranked second in both the Associated Press and the Coaches Poll heading into the new season, allowed just 13.6 points in 2017, second to Alabama nationally. They also ranked fourth in total defense and passing defense nationally, while leading the country in sacks.
Clemson led the ACC in scoring, total, rushing and passing defense, the first time that has ever happened in the program’s storied history. Now, just about everyone who played last year as a starter and as a reserve player is back for another season.
“There is no reason to believe there should be any let up or anything, especially with that defensive line that they have,” Herbstreit said.
The defensive line consists of three First-Team All-Americans in Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins, as well as Second-Team All-American Dexter Lawrence. The four combined for 25 of the Tigers’ 46 sacks a year ago.
As for those who think the four might pack it in because they could all be potential first-round draft picks in next April’s NFL Draft, Herbstreit believes that can’t be further from the truth.
“Those guys are not going to play not to get hurt,” he said. “They are going to play with a veracity that is unparalleled. I think they are going to have a huge year and I think that defensive line is going to be a tough thing to deal with every single week, no matter what offense or offensive line they go up against.”