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Wednesday's college football: SEC building some of nation's top defenses

Associated Press
Defensive lineman Zachary Carter, left, and defensive back Trey Dean III, right, are part of a Florida defense that leads the country in sacks with 16.

While defenses are still a work in progress around the Southeastern Conference, they still rank as some of the best in college football.

Florida leads the nation with 16 sacks, including 10 in the opener against rival Miami. Missouri, Tennessee and Georgia combined to shut out overmatched opponents 150-0 last weekend, helpful tuneups toward taking on schools their own size this week.

The Gators rank 33rd at 300.7 yards. Not bad considering they have played without cornerback CJ Henderson and lost defensive end Jabari Zuniga, both because of ankle injuries.

“We knew what we wanted to accomplish coming into the year,” linebacker Jonathan Greenard said, crediting defensive line coach David Turner. “We wanted to establish ourselves as the No. 1 defensive line in the SEC. Once we understood that and the coaches understood what we trying to do as well, that’s how he coaches us. He coaches really hard and emphasizes the small details.”

It’s also working at Missouri, which ranks fourth nationally in FBS total defense (218 yards allowed per game) to lead a trio of SEC teams in the top 20 nationally — Georgia is tied for ninth and Texas A&M is 18th. Five more are in the top 40.

Missouri’s early standing might be surprising considering they ranked 10th in the league last season, though not as much as Alabama rounding out that impressive group at No. 40. Then again, the second-ranked Crimson Tide are grooming new personnel at some positions following a larger-than-usual exodus of talent to the NFL along with injuries.

The bar still remains high in Tuscaloosa, especially since they’re trying to bounce back from their championship-game humbling by Clemson.

“It’s always going to be the same,” Alabama defensive end Raekwon Davis said of the expectations. “We play to a standard. We just have to do it.”

SEC defenses seem to be getting it done differently than in previous years.

Alabama (3-0, 1-0) hasn’t had its typically dominant defense, allowing 308.3 yards per contest. That hasn’t mattered much since the Tua Tagovailoa-led offense is still putting up huge numbers.

Defensive end LaBryan Ray has joined linebackers Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon among starting defenders now out indefinitely, leaving the Tide with possibly four freshman starters on defense. The upside is they’ve beaten South Carolina in SEC play along with ACC member Duke, and the youngsters get a chance for seasoning in Saturday’s nonconference meeting against Southern Mississippi.

That matchup should create an opportunity for the statistics to be skewed somewhat, a common occurrence against lower-tier schools that adds a caveat to reading too much into many teams’ performances. On the other hand, those so-called cupcakes allow teams to break in new players and schemes ahead of the grueling conference schedule, which this week features No. 8 Auburn (which ranks 31st at 292 yards allowed) at No. 17 A&M among five matchups.

A lot of attention this week will be focused on the nonconference showdown between No. 7 Notre Dame and third-ranked Georgia (3-0), which boasts the nation’s fifth-best run defense at 60.7 yards allowed per contest. The Bulldogs’ pass rush is also pretty stout with 12 sacks to tie for ninth nationally.

HBO to follow four schools

HBO Sports is going behind the scenes with the football programs at Arizona State, Florida, Penn State and Washington State for four episodes of its “24/7” documentary series.

HBO announced it will run an hour-long episode for each team, starting Oct. 2 with Florida preparing for its Sept. 28 game against Towson. The Penn State episode will debut Oct. 9 and chronicle its preparations for Purdue on Oct. 5.

The Arizona State episode will debut Oct. 16 and follow the Sun Devils as they prepare for Washington State on Oct. 12. The Washington State episode will debut Oct. 23, following coach Mike Leach’s team up to its game against Colorado.

The series will be narrated by Liev Schreiber, who is the voice of HBO’s popular NFL training camp series, “Hard Knocks.”

McNair to be honored

Alcorn State University says it will officially retire the No. 9 jersey worn by former quarterback Steve McNair later this season.

The Vicksburg Post reports the ceremony will occur during its home football game on Oct. 26 against Southern University.

The festivities will be part of a larger three-day celebration honoring McNair, including a fundraising gala hosted by McNair’s Tennessee Titans teammate Eddie George.

McNair set career records in the Football Championship Subdivision with 14,496 passing yards and 16,823 total yards from 1992-94. He finished third in the 1994 Heisman Trophy voting. In 1999, McNair led the Titans to Super Bowl XXXIV.

McNair, who played 13 seasons in the NFL, died in 2009.