A few years back, the folks over at Tomahawk Nation came up with a startlingly simple yet powerful insight about modern defenses - the bigger they are, the more successful they tend to be. Well, the insight itself wasn't revolutionary but they took the time to go back and look at the numbers to try and quantify the idea. And what they found was pretty darned interesting.
They discovered that eighteen of the 20 best defenses in all of college football in 2009 had a front-7 (DL+LB) weight of more than 1,780 lbs. Furthermore all of the top ten defensive units were in excess of that mark. Now not only was Alabama the largest squad on the the list it was the only true 3-4 team.
Moreover, the Crimson Tide was the only team to best 1,900 lbs in consecutive seasons (primarily due to one now departed Terrence Bernard Cody, Jr.)
A look at Alabama's defensive front seven over the past five years seems to concur with Tomahawk Nation's findings. As the total weight of the Crimson Tide front seven increased, the total defense standing improved as well.
In terms of Alabama's defense, this concept makes a lot of sense. Coach Saban's 3-4 scheme requires very large linemen to clog up running lanes and control the point of attack. It also puts a premium on big linebackers who can put their hand down and play like a defensive end if need be. Here are the average weights of Crimson Tide Defensive Linemen and Linebackers since 2006.
If you take into account the immense size of Terrence Cody the average weight of the line has stayed pretty constant since Coach Saban has been in charge of the Alabama recruiting pipeline. Linebackers have varied a bit from year-to-year over that period but are noticeably larger than in the final year of the Shula regime.
Now while Tomahawk Nation's 1,780 lb weight limit suggests Alabama will remain among the nation's defensive elite in 2011 it doesn't provide any means of prognostication for exactly how the defense will fare. The drop of about 20lbs between 2009 and 2010 was accompanied by a two place slip in the defensive rankings.
So what does that mean for Alabama this season? Well, according to the 2011 roster the Crimson Tide front seven will add at least five pounds. That's certainly big enough to fit in the top five again just by this particular metric. Obviously though there are a lot of other factors involved that will allow the big men to succeed. As our own Todd pointed out last week, picking talented big men for the line is a less than scientific process.