The dirty little secret of major college football is that they really are the minor league of the NFL. One manifestation of this phenomenon is that colleges get called “Position U”. While that is the basis of the title, of course the players that performed well only in college are lumped in. The first example I remember is that Penn State was called linebacker U because of all the great NFL linebackers they produced. There was most probably a prior example. Ohio State has been touted by others as defensive backs U, while the Miami Hurricanes and others most certainly have a case. I am not a fan of those other teams. I am just going to make my case for Ohio State.
I am not going into the way back history. My journey starts when I started watching football as a kid. We’ll just call it “The 80s”. There were some pretty big names on pretty big NFL teams. Todd Bell, Shaun Gale, and William White, to name a few. Jack Tatum of the 1970s was routinely brought up as a measure of the “new” crop. That tough nosed style was ideal for the times.
Then came the 1990s and the John Cooper era at Ohio State. Speed was key. Coop brought a bunch of it, some with Ohio State ties. Shawn Springs, who’s father was a Buckeye, might have been the best. His career, while great, was marred by injury. Ahmed Plummer, Nate Clements, and others saw success in the NFL. My personal favorite was a tie to the old way and the new way, Antoine Winfield. A really good cover corner that tackled like a linebacker.
On to the 2000s and Ohio State has produced. What brought me to this story was that I was looking at the NFL statistical leaders and two buckeyes were near the top in interceptions. Rookie corner back Denzel Ward, and linebacker Darron Lee. The trash talker in me immediately thought, “OMG, Ohio State is so good at defensive back a linebacker is among the league leaders in interceptions.”
The truth is, there is an ebb and flow to sports, and at different times, different schools are at the top. There is no doubt that throughout the history of football, Ohio State has a claim to defensive backs U. Of course other schools do, too, depending on when you want to start that debate. What makes college athletics perpetually interesting is that we can keep that debate going.
If I had to put tags on Big Ten teams, I would put Ohio State as defensive backs U. I would call Purdue quarterbacks U, though I know Michigan has a case that I wont admit. Instead of a national perspective, let’s get the discussion going for solely the Big Ten. Name the position, name the team.