One of the most common “talking season” discussions is the debate over what school in college football is the real “DBU.”

A simple Google search for “the real DBU” reveals the intensity of the debate, as multiple pages of journalism and message board debates come up immediately, each arguing their own view of what program should rightly claim the mantle of “DBU.” It’s not just print and online journalism. SEC Network posed the question to its viewers in an analyst debate. College GameDay did a whole segment on the debate two years ago when the crew was in Baton Rouge for Florida-LSU. Lately, even college programs themselves have taken to social media, with Ohio State particularly aggressive in laying claim to the DBU title on Twitter.

The way some programs are embracing their claim to being “DBU” in social media circles demonstrates that the debate isn’t just a “talking season” water cooler and message board exercise, either.

In the age of name, image and likeness laws and player deals, the race to be right about being “DBU” could help enhance player marketability. A corner or safety that plays for “DBU” becomes more marketable, and while programs can’t, under the black letter of the law, use NIL as a mechanism to incentivize players to attend their school — they aren’t prohibited from discussing what current players are doing to earn money off their name, image and likeness.

What’s more, NIL means athletes can now use trademarks in commerce and protect their own brands, which includes words, logos and nicknames. In other words, if a star safety at LSU or Florida or Alabama wants to suggest they are the All-American safety at “DBU,” they can do that and profit off that moniker. The prospect of that type of revenue makes it distinctly possible that athletes seek to attend a school with a certain reputation to maximize their marketability.

In other words, being at a program that can earnestly stake a claim to “DBU” is big business.

At the University of Florida, the “DBU” business was booming for the better part of the past two decades. Florida has produced a host of All-Americans at defensive back in the past quarter-century and those players have gone on to become first-round NFL Draft picks and, in the cases of players like Lito Sheppard, Reggie Nelson, Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins, NFL All-Pros. As late as 2017, only Alabama had more guaranteed contract money going to defensive backs in the NFL, a testament to the reliability of Florida as a place to go play college ball as a defensive back and find a path to a payday in the NFL. Entering the 2021 season, Florida has 13 defensive backs on NFL rosters, a total that’s good for third in the country.

Along with Florida, conventional wisdom holds that 3 other SEC programs can honestly participate in the “DBU” debate. Alabama, which has the most guaranteed money being paid to defensive backs in the NFL at present; LSU, which leads the SEC in defensive backs drafted since 2000; and Georgia, which for years hung its hat on Hall of Famer Champ Bailey but has produced elite safeties for a decade and now recruits and develops defensive backs at such a high level that involvement in the DBU debate seems inevitable.

As Georgia has ascended into the conversation, Florida’s grip on a legitimate claim to being “DBU” has waned.

Florida’s secondary was very average in 2019 and had a miserable 2020, finishing in the bottom quarter of the country in passing defense (yards per attempt) and pass efficiency defense. Florida’s safeties, in particular, were dire, as the Gators finished 13th in the SEC in success rate defending passes of 20 yards or more. That rank wasn’t much better in 2019, when Florida finished 11th in the SEC and 83rd nationally.

“If you watch the film, it isn’t pretty,” a UF assistant texted me last week. “The secondary has been a real issue. It isn’t up to the program’s lofty standard and worse, it isn’t even decent. But that’s a proud group. They know what is expected at Florida. It will be better this year.”

Florida fans hope so.

Certainly, the pieces are in place. Kaiir Elam is a projected All-American in most preseason publications. He’s joined in the secondary by a host of former coveted recruits, including 5-star freshman Jason Marshall Jr and high 4-star redshirt freshman Avery Helm of Texas, who has shined early in camp. Elijah Blades, a former top 200 recruit, and Jadarrius Perkins, a top 5 JUCO signee, will also offer depth.

At safety, Florida will transition from playing 3-star overachievers like Donovan Stiner and Shawn Davis to playing blue-chip safety prospects who have yet to take the next step. If you believe in recruiting rankings, a bump in performance and consistency should be coming. Returning players like Rashad Torrence and Trey Dean offer starting experience on the backend too, and in 2020, Dean showed flashes of the immense talent that made him one of the jewels of Florida’s 2018 recruiting class.

The talent is worthy of “DBU.” But talent alone doesn’t assure better performance.

Elam was the lone member of Florida’s secondary to finish in the top 50 of the PFF cornerback rankings in 2020, and the only other member of the Florida secondary in the top 100, Jaydon Hill, is out for the season. Meanwhile, Dean and Torrence return with experience at safety, but have only 5 starts at the position between them. There are plenty of legitimate questions, and that was before losing Hill.

What isn’t a question is that if Florida hopes to defend its SEC East crown and take the next step in Atlanta, they’ll need to get back to being front and center in the “DBU” debate. This is a program that has churned out All-Americans and All-SEC talents like Vernon Hargreaves III, CJ Henderson, Marcus Maye, Reggie Nelson, Keanu Neal, Joe Haden, Matt Elam and others in the secondary throughout this century. They’ll have another in Elam this season. But the rest of the Gators want to show this is more than a one-man show.

“Those guys back there are hungry. They are accountable. And they come every day ready to work. It’s a joy to be around them and they push each other. They know what they put on film last year. It’s about pride,” a Gator assistant told me last week.

It is about pride — and restoring a program’s “DBU” legacy.