Noted baseball analyst Bill James writes in Gold Mine 2008 that "it appears to be unquestionably true that championship teams are strong up the middle."
James is talking about baseball, of course, and while to our knowledge no such analysis exists in football, you could certainly make a case for the same axiom applying to the gridiron. In fact, in the months leading up to the NFL draft there's almost as much talk about building teams "from the inside out" as there is about "upside" and "skill sets."
The spread-formation craze in college football has placed a bit more emphasis on offensive perimeter talent, yet the most stout defenses in the nation are still the ones with dominant play up the gut. Look no further than Alabama for proof, where Nick Saban's bunch ranks in the top five nationally in most major defensive categories, including No. 2 in run defense (64.9 ypg) and pass efficiency defense (88.8), No. 4 in total defense (240.9 ypg) and No. 5 in scoring defense (11.25 ppg).
It takes a full 11-man effort to put up those stingy numbers on defense. But make no mistake, the tandem of NT Terrence Cody and ILB Rolando McClain is what makes this a championship-caliber unit, and team, for that matter.