Well, those of you who have read my content before know how this goes. I get a little too into a spreadsheet and all of a sudden we've got a long-form article on our hands. It's defense. It's almost always defense - and this is no exception for either of these guidelines.
Some information, like the points-per-game and player stats I was too lazy to update manually, will be current up to week 11. Everything else (rushing and passing yards per attempt (YPA), record) was calculated by spreadsheet.
I won't belabor the point: let's rank ourselves some college defenses.
#1 – Texas Longhorns (5-7)
15.2 ppg (#1 as of wk. 11) | Rush YPA – 4.1 (T#2) | Pass YPA – 6 (#1)
LB Ekong Okafor @JaysFan26 – 68 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 INT, 6 PD
LB Gser @Ty3– 67 tackles, 4 TFL, 1 FF, 4 sacks, 1 INT, 3 PD
FS Sanchez @Quik – 56 tackles, 3 FF/2FR (#2), 4 PD
The Longhorns’ heartbreaking loss to Miami earlier today left most Texas fans with a bitter taste in their mouths; they’re just one game behind the Trojans (6-6), but a three game deficit to the Fighting Irish (8-4) saps any hope they have of winning the conference.
Rest assured however, that the Texas defense will do its job. Led by a hard-hitting, grounded linebacking and safety corps, Texas pretty safely takes our first spot in the S12 NCAA defensive rankings. They had a few marquee performances this season, suffocating Miami’s offense in Week 5 by holding them to just 119 passing yards; SS Skipper Williams @ManningTypeAim picked off Jordan Jones for a touchdown, but it proved to be for naught as Miami won, 13-12. Unfortunately, this seemed to be the M.O. for the Longhorns, who suffered tight losses to Michigan [14-10, twice], Oregon [16-7], and their most recent game at Miami [20-19].
One significant blip that works against them is a strangely-awful loss to USC in Week 7, where they allowed QB Anderson Muller to hit a 124.2 QB rating with 4 passing touchdowns. Texas allowed a whopping 45 points in that game, but have very slowly returned to form over the following four weeks.
They’ve managed to hold potent offenses to under 14 points multiple times this season – but inopportune turnovers and less-than-ideal offensive performances at the wrong times produced losses, especially early in the season. The Longhorns’ pass defense was a bit shaky in a Week 11 game against LSU, but for now they occupy the #1 spot for the season overall.
#2 – Miami Hurricanes (9-3)
17.1 ppg (#2 as of wk. 11) | Rush YPA – 4.1 (T#2) | Pass YPA – 6.2 (T#2)
LB Marques Hampton-Hill @solas – 82 tackles (#5), 8 TFL (#4), 1 sack, 2 INT, 4 PD
CB McCorn @Cornholio – 57 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 14 PD (#1)
It almost seems a little cruel to stick Miami right after the Longhorns – but it’s pretty hard to drop them much lower than second in the league for defense. They had a stretch of three excellent performances between weeks 9 to 11 – they allowed under 150 yards passing in each game over that stretch, in fact holding star WR Palom Mysidia to just 57 yards in a game against USC. In spite of being upset by Oregon in week 11, they held QB Hingle McCringleberry to a miserable 127 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, and a 36 QB rating. Beyond that, they held Oregon RB and offensive star Jan Karol Chodkiewicz under 100 yards on 29 attempts.
As heartbreaking as the week 12 Miami victory was for Texas, it was a pretty poor performance for a typically-staunch Miami defense. In fact, it was their worst run and pass defensive performance all season – they let through 5.3 yards per carry on the ground, and 8.6 yards per attempt (not completion!) through the air. QB Matt Saracen had an incredibly efficient game (20/27 for 231 yds, 1 TD) and hit TJ Hendrix for 102 yards on just 6 receptions. If Miami has another average or below-average performance this week, it’s likely they’ll drop in these rankings – but for now, one anomaly isn’t enough for me to force them down.
#3 – Oregon Ducks (6-6)
17.8 ppg (#3 as of wk. 11) | Rush YPA – 4.1 (T#2) | Pass YPA – 6.9 (#5)
LB Cooper Irwin @Patdatass – 78 tackles, 8 TFL (T#4), 1 FF, 5 sacks (T#6)
LB Vincent van Boom @Kirby – 75 tackles, 4 TFL, 6 sacks (#4), 2 PD
LB Roman Sanguszko @majesiu– 62 tackles, 8 TFL (T#4), 3 sacks, 5 PD, 1 safety
With their recent winning streak, Oregon has a real shot at making the playoffs in spite of starting 0-5 – frankly, it may come down to their week 13 game at USC. On both offense and defense, Oregon’s rankings particularly benefit from their last three games – which include upset victories over Michigan and Miami.
But let’s not suggest that Oregon’s wins against these two teams were complete surprises – Oregon lost to Miami in week 8 by just 1 point [20-19], and their defense held ND to just 10 points in spite of that week 9 loss. They held picked off Miami QB Jordan Jones three times in week 11 off of an immaculate performance by Tyroil Smoochie-Wallace @Homeskillet (8 tk, 2 PD, 2 INT). Their win over LSU was consistent with their improving defense, holding the ailing Tigers to just 7 points off of 221 yards of offense.
Because we’re near the middle of the rankings, however, I’ll point out that Oregon’s pass defense is a little below-average, and they’ve had rushing defense lapses too. They may have held Michigan RB Ricky Razor to 91 yards in week 10 – but that doesn’t excuse that the Wolverines ran for 5.1 yards/carry; nor does it excuse the Ducks’ eyesore 8.4 yards/pass against Notre Dame in week 9. Oregon’s defense is a little above average overall, has an excellent linebacking corps, and benefits from recency bias to an extent – but it still has exploitable weaknesses and a young-ish secondary.
#4 – USC Trojans (6-6)
18.6 ppg (#4 as of wk. 11) | Rush YPA – 4.9 (#5) | Pass YPA – 6.2 (T#2)
LB Lukas Cold @Sova – 85 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 FF, 3 sacks, 8 PD (T#6)
FS Jean Christophe @Enorama – 55 tackles, 1 FR, 6 INT (T#1), 8 PD (T#6), 1 TD
FS Will Austin @Cooltruth20 – 48 tackles, 1 sack, 5 INT (T#3), 5 PD
Well, the Trojans are pretty terrifying up the middle, huh?
Like the Ducks, the Trojans benefit from some promising recent weeks’ performances – and even have a similar Jordan Jones 3-pick game – except it was in week 10 as opposed to week 11. They also held a potent Michigan offense to just 13 points in week 11, with Lukas Cold tacking on 9 tk, 3 PDs, and 1 forced fumble; they also forced an uncharacteristically poor performance from Notre Dame QB Shawn Brady (17/26, 224 yds, 2 TD/2 INT). The Trojans showed obvious improvement from their week 8 loss to Michigan [31-21], but didn’t do as great a job preventing large volume stats in the aforementioned Notre Dame game.
While the top two defenses seemed relatively clear-cut, you could certainly make an argument for the Trojans to be in the top 3, especially with reasonable defensive performances over the past 4 weeks. Similar to the Ducks, they were gouged by Michigan’s rushing attack in week 8, allowing Ricky Razor to run wild (163 yds). We can’t exactly discount the fact that Oregon’s defense has held opponents to 10 or fewer points the last 4 weeks, so they get the very slight nod over USC.
#5 – Michigan Wolverines (10-2)
19.6 ppg (#6 as of wk. 11) | Rush YPA – 4.0 (#1) | Pass YPA – 7.5 (#7)
CB Jax Byrd @KGR – 63 tackles, 4 INT (#5), 11 PD (#2), 2 TD (#1)
SS Shawn Polamalu @TheLastOlympian – 92 tackles (#1), 3 TFL, 3 INT, 3 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR
LB Mike McBuckets @Garappogoat – 70 tackles, 7 TFL, 12 sacks (#1), 3 PD
On the other end of recency bias is the Wolverines, who suffered two uncharacteristic losses to the Ducks [20-9] and Trojans [51-13] in weeks 10 and 11 before manhandling Alabama [31-7] in week 12. Now, don’t get me wrong – Michigan has an excellent offense that readily competes for top two in the league, and there’s a good reason why they have 10 wins. Their defense is a little below average, however, and the 51-13 blowout at the hands of USC QB Anderson Muller kind of makes it hard to say otherwise.
Do-It-All SS Shawn Polamalu seems to glue the defense together, leading the league in tackles in addition to a nice chunk of fumble and interception involvement – but fellow DB Jax Byrd is the only player in the league with two defensive TDs. In spite of their standouts coming in the secondary, however, the Wolverines aren’t great at defending the pass overall: they’ve allowed several receivers, like Alabama wideouts Trotzki and Karter, to catch for over 100 yards. Offensive standards like USC’s Palom Mysidia and Notre Dame’s Dewey Jackson are regular offenders, and ultimately Michigan’s pass defense has led to some closer-than-expected wins over their 9-game win streak starting in week 2.
Where the Michigan defense excels is in the box, where they’ve allowed barely more than 100 rushing yards a game for a league-leading 4 yards per rush. That’s thanks in large part to Mike McBuckets, who has a startling 12 sacks and 7 TFLs – it’s clear he gets into the backfield more-or-less at will, and is a big contributor to the league-best rushing defense. If the Wolverines make it to the championship game, it’ll be because of a high-quality, consistent offense and a staunch run defense with plenty of chances for turnovers.
#6 – Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4)
18.7 ppg (#5 as of wk. 11) | Rush YPA – 5.1 (#8) | Pass YPA – 6.8 (#4)
FS Lamarcus Oshiomogho @brenstl– 85 tackles, 1 FF, 2 sacks, 6 INT (T#1), 6 PD, 1 TD
CB Djibril Kabore @Pandar– 68 tackles, 2 FF/1 FR, 1 sack, 5 INT (T#3), 9 PD (T#4)
Like Michigan, Notre Dame’s standouts are at defensive back positions – but these two defenses couldn’t be different enough from a rushing defense standpoint. It’s not unusual to see backs run for >5.5 yds/carry against Notre Dame – in fact, it’s happened in a third of the Fighting Irish’s games thus far. Strangely, it hasn’t led to many losses (victories vs. USC, Miami, Oregon in weeks 5, 7, and 9, respectively) – so the coach seems content to follow a ‘bend but don’t break’ philosophy to defense.
The two above standouts – Oshiomogho and Kabore – are the biggest defensive contributors to Notre Dame’s record, and they’re the reason why the team led the NCAA in interceptions (16) through 11 weeks. The Fighting Irish are ostensibly the league’s best turnover machines in general, as they’ve forced and recovered (9 and 8, respectively) more fumbles than anyone in the league and have the most overall passes deflected of any defense in the league, too. This team’s yardage numbers aren’t great all around – as they’re third in passing and a paltry seventh in rushing on offense – but the turnover game seems to be what clinches Notre Dame’s wins.
An anomalous 34-31 loss to LSU in week 10 was a big cause for concern – especially provided the Tigers’ offensive struggles this season – but the Notre Dame defense is just volatile and unpredictable enough to give them what they need. They’ll need to step it up against the Trojans – who have the best pass offense in the league – and the Hurricanes if they want any momentum going into the playoffs.
#7 – LSU Tigers (3-9)
26.3 ppg (#7 up to wk. 11) | Rush YPA – 4.9 (#5) | Pass YPA – 7.0 (#6)
LB Lawrence King @ShouldHaveRanIt– 79 tackles, 7 TFLs (T#7), 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 INT, 1 PD
CB David Marino @TheNano74 – 63 tackles, 3 INT, 9 PD (T#3), 1 TD
CB Ja’fron Judge @Wally – 56 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 FF/3 FR (#1), 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 TD
There’s a legitimate argument for the Tigers’ defense to be a spot or two higher, but a lack of consistency ultimately dooms this defensive unit to the seventh spot. There was a five-week stretch where LSU allowed a 100-yard rusher, broken only by USC’s runningback-by-committee approach in week 9. They’ve also allowed multiple games with 100+ QB rating, including outings by Notre Dame’s Shawn Brady and USC’s Anderson Muller. Oregon RB Jan Karol Chodkiewicz ran amok in both LSU-Oregon games, hitting 125 yards in one game and 160 in this week’s game.
There are some glimpses of excellence in the Tigers’ defense – particularly Marino’s 6 tackle, 2 PD, 2 INT game with a pick-six in the close loss to Notre Dame, and a penchant for turnovers similar to Notre Dame’s defense. But unfortunately, LSU’s defense is most certainly in the bottom half of the league; this leaves only…
#8 – Alabama Crimson Tide (1-11)
27.0 ppg (#8 up to wk. 11) | Rush YPA – 5.0 (#7) | Pass YPA – 8.0 (#8)
LB Trustworthy Dan @AdamS– 65 tackles, 5 TFL, 8 sacks (#2)
CB D’Quez Farquaad @KG21 – 68 tackles, 1 FF, 1 INT, 9 PD (T#3)
Well, someone’s got to bring up the rear – and this season, Alabama seems to be the league’s whipping boy. The Tide have a few players to be excited about going pro this season – and the top among them might very well be aptly-named Trustworthy Dan, as well as the Lord himself D’Quez Farquaad – who may very well go in the first couple of rounds in the draft.
Unfortunately, defense is very much a team effort, and as a unit, the Tide just haven’t performed. They were basically eaten alive by Michigan back Ricky Razor (178 yds) in Week 5, allowed 40 points with 5 pass TDs against USC in week 6, and allowed over 10 yards per attempt from Texas QB Matt Saracen – not completion, attempt. It’s pretty hard to be inspired by a defense that ranks dead-last or second-to-last in pass and rush defense, and that’s why they occupy the bottom of our ranking here today.
So, did I get it right? NCAA ADs - how offended are you by your defense's spot in the rankings? Let me know down below.
[Claiming as ranking + MS]