Lou Miller started seriously stepping over the competition in 2008 (Credit: Columbia Athletics)
So what was the best defensive line of the 2000's at Columbia?
The answer may surprise you.
Despite the fact that the 2008 season saw the Lions win just two games, there's little doubt that the front four that year was the best of the last decade.
First you have to discuss the personnel that year, starting with Lou Miller '10.
Miller simply had the greatest season for any Columbia defensive lineman since they started tabulating full defensive stats. He had 19.5 tackles for a loss and eight sacks, leading the Ivies in both categories for the season. In addition, and maybe most amazingly, Lou had 68 tackles... a huge number from the defensive line. Miller was named 1st Team All Ivy for his efforts.
At defensive tackle, 2008 freshman Owen Fraser also made a huge impact. Fraser had just one sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss, but his presence was felt especially on runs up the middle. Columbia had been blatantly pourous defending runs up the middle in 2007, and Fraser was an immediate solution to that problem. He was named Honorable Mention All Ivy, but a lot of league-watchers thought he deserved 2nd Team or better.
Phil Mitchell '09 was another standout player even though 2006, not 2008, was his finest year. Mitchell never really recovered from a slew of nasty nagging injuries in 2007. But he still managed to have an impact his senior season and he finished with 32 total tackles and two sacks.
An unsung member of that 2008 starting D-line was Conor Joyce '09.
He finished with 37 tackles, and 1.5 sacks. Eli Waltz '09, contributed nicely at nose tackle although he too was battling injuries. Matt Bashaw, a great pass rusher in 2006 and 2007, was out most of 2008 with an injury.
But that core group of Miller, Fraser, Mitchell, and Joyce allowed just 1,043 net rushing yards, which was by far the fewest of the 2000's for a Columbia defense, (the 1,523 yards allowed in 2000 was a distant second). They also recorded 20 sacks, which trailed only the 25 recorded in 2002 and the 21 made in 2009, for best in the decade.
For those of you who are gluttons for punishment, the worst defensive lines of the decade were probably the 2005 squad, which allowed a whopping 2,363 yards rushing and the 2007 team which allowed 2,311 rushing yards and recorded just 14 sacks.
But let's focus on the positive as we look to the future:
-Owen Fraser will hopefully be back in 2010 and return to his 2008 form. A lot of Columbia's hopes for the immediate future rely on that.
-Bruce Flemming and Chris Groth, two rising juniors who both first got on the field with that great 2008 unit as freshmen, are both very promising potential starters.
-Rising sophomore Will Patterson burst onto the scene at the end of last season and may be the rightful heir to the role of the speedy linebacker-sized defensive end the Lion program has used since Darren Schmidt '07 and perfected by Lou Miller.
-Shea Selsor also made a nice move into notoriety late in the season and looks to make another move higher in 2010.
-Who isn't awed by the physical condition Seyi Adebayo is in?
-I also like the chances of highly-sought-after 2009 recruit Josh Martin, who spurned Wyoming to come to Columbia last year and is getting better and he learns more of the ins and outs of the game and gets bigger.
Replacing Miller is going to be a massive job. But sounding the alarm bells for 2010, especially with Fraser hopefully returning at 100%, is just not necessary.