The thing with unofficial titles is that anybody can lay claim to them.
And in a competitive environment such as the big-time sports industry, where everybody is looking to own something that sets them apart from the pack, that means any attractive title you can imagine could have multiple entities claiming it as their own.
In college football, one such example is the unofficial moniker “Defensive Back University,” better known as “DBU.”
Generally defined as the football program that historically produces the best defensive backs and/or sends the most DBs to the pro level, “DBU” has been ascribed to no shortage of major-conference programs: LSU, Florida, Texas, Washington State, Miami, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State have all worn the mythical “DBU” crown in recent years.
(Ironically, one school that is definitely not in the running for the “DBU” title is Dallas Baptist University. The NCAA D-II school doesn’t have a football team.)
In a CBS Sports article posted back in April, Texas was given the distinction of being the “real DBU,” citing famous former Longhorns such as Earl Thomas, Michael Griffin, Kenny Vaccaro and Aaron Ross.
But even that article acknowledged that Alabama has had the most defensive backs (14) drafted by the NFL in the past decade going back to 2006 — headlined by Roman Harper and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, among others — which would lead many to give the Crimson Tide the nod.
South Carolina was ranked second in the CBS article, and according to another article posted by SEC Country this week, the Gamecocks are aiming to be universally viewed as “DBU” under new head coach Will Muschamp.
NFL first-round draft picks and starting cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore (Bills) and Jonathan Joseph (Texans) are South Carolina products, as well as Broncos’ starting safety Darian Stewart, who was undrafted. South Carolina has had 16 defensive backs drafted since 2000.
While it’s a fun exercise, I don’t think you need an official formula to bestow an unofficial title.
These things are best left to subjectivity, opinions, personal preferences, oral traditions, fond memories and well-earned reputations. That is part of what makes sports, music, movies, books and other forms of entertainment great. You often cannot come to an objective final answer. Seriously, how much of a bummer would it be to have an old-timer’s colorful recollection of the greatest band he’d ever heard interrupted by some stat geek pointing out that some other band is actually the official No. 1, according to their formula?
And so based on those subjective factors, in my opinion, the title “DBU” belongs to FSU.
The list of talent is loaded.
Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders is a Florida State product. The eight-time All-Pro and Pro Bowler, former NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1994) and two-time Super Bowl champion is, simply put, arguably the greatest defensive back in football history.
LeRoy Butler, a four-time All-Pro and Pro Bowl safety who also has a Super Bowl ring, also played for the Seminoles. Butler is considered by many to be Hall of Fame material. But for some strange reason, safeties have a hard time getting voted into the Hall.
Longtime NFL corner and Super Bowl champ Terrell Buckley is on the 2017 ballot for the College Football Hall of Fame. Sanders and Buckley share a piece of FSU history as winners of the Jim Thorpe Award, given annually to college football’s best defensive back. Buckley also copped the Jack Tatum Trophy during his college career, another award intended for the nation’s top DB.
Then there’s J.T. Thomas, a Pro Bowl CB who won three Super Bowls with the Steelers in the ’70s; Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson, who had two interceptions in the Buccaneers’ rout of the Raiders; four-time Pro Bowl CB Antonio Cromartie, All-Pro CB Samari Rolle, Pro Bowl safety Chris Hope, two-time Super Bowl champ Bryant McFadden and Super Bowl champ turned current Lions GM Martin Mayhew.
Jalen Ramsey, the fifth overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, was the highest-drafted DB since LSU’s Patrick Peterson went fifth in 2011. Ramsey is one of the five Seminoles’ starting defensive backs on the 2013 national championship team who are now in the NFL, along with Ronald Darby (Bills), Terrance Brooks (Ravens), P.J. Williams (Saints) and Lamarcus Joyner (Rams).
Other notable Florida State DBs past and present include Corey Sawyer, Xavier Rhodes, Bobby Butler, Myron Rolle, Corey Fuller, Walt Sumner, AFL star Bud Whitehead, CFL star Patrick Watkins, and Michael Boulware, who actually played linebacker at FSU but transitioned to strong safety in the NFL and was a starter on the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XL team.
On this year’s Florida State squad, senior safety Nate Andrews is projected as a future pro, while sophomore safety Derwin James is projected as a future star in the pros. Sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden is another five-star recruit who is expected to do big things at FSU and beyond.
In the national high school Class of 2017, top-10 overall player and No. 2 cornerback (according to Scout) Stanford Samuels III is committed to Florida State, as are top-15 safeties Cyrus Fagan and Daniel Wright. For the Class of 2018, top-10 corner Isaiah Bolden has already committed to the Seminoles.
All due respect to The U, LSU, Wazzu and the rest, but when I think college football’s best defensive backs, I think Florida State.