Power Ranking the Top 25 Defenses in College Football 2012

David Fidler Correspondent IAugust 19, 2012

Power Ranking the Top 25 Defenses in College Football 2012

0 of 25

    Last year, the Alabama defense let up 8.2 points-per-game (PPG), which was the best defensive showing—in terms of PPG—in the BCS era.

    In fact, the only other AQ team since 1998 that has allowed fewer than double-digit points per game was the 2002 Miami Hurricanes.

    In effect, it will be difficult for Bama, or any team, to top last year's performance.

    Nevertheless, there will be plenty of good defenses.

    That said, the following is not an attempt to predict which teams will wind up as the top 25 scoring defenses at the end of the college football year.

    For example, it is a given that Florida International and will wind up amongst the top 10, but are the Golden Panthers really one of the top 25 most feared defenses in the country, let alone amongst the top 10?

    It is safe to say, "no."

    Ultimately, strength-of-schedule factors into the PPG quotient. In effect, this list will focus on which teams will field the toughest defenses in 2012, regardless of schedule or what their final PPG looks like.

25. Stanford Cardinal

1 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 21.9 PPG (30th)

    2011 Total Defense: 341.6 YPG (28th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.16 YPC (14th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 133.02 opposing passer efficiency rating (73rd)

    2011 Sacks: 39 (11th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 22 (t-59th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 31.10 percent (eighth)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 77.50 percent (43rd)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Four

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 30.3 PPG

    Returning Starters: Eight

    Key Returning Starters: DE Ben Gardner, OLB Chase Thomas, OLB Shayne Skov


    Overview

    The Cardinal will have one of the better run defenses in the country and one of the 10 best linebacker groups.

    Thomas is back for a big senior season, and Skov—who is the best linebacker on Stanford's roster—missed last season with an injury.

    The defensive line returns all but one key contributor, and his probable replacement got plenty of game time last year.

    The secondary will need help from the pass rush, as the Cardinal have to replace three of the back four.

24. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 20.7 PPG (24th)

    2011 Total Defense: 344.2 YPG (30th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.78 YPC (45th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 129.13 opposing passer efficiency rating (58th)

    2011 Sacks: 25 (t-56th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 14 (t-112th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 34.05 percent (20th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 81.40 percent (64th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Three

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 29.7 PPG

    Returning Starters: Six plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: OLB Prince Shembo, ILB Manti Te'o, ILB Dan Fox


    Overview

    The transfer of defensive end Aaron Lynch (per ESPN) hurts the Irish, but they still have a strong front seven—one of the 10 best linebacker groups in the country—and arguably the best individual linebacker in all of college football in Manti Te'o.

    There are a number of questions to be answered in the secondary with Notre Dame losing three full-time starters from a unit that wasn't overly impressive to begin with.

23. Mississippi State Bulldogs

3 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 19.7 PPG (16th)

    2011 Total Defense: 350.6 YPG (35th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.72 YPC (t-41st)

    2011 Passing Defense: 117.72 opposing passer efficiency rating (27th)

    2011 Sacks: 27 (t-45th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 20 (t-77th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 36.49 percent (37th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 73.91 percent (t-17th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Three

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 26.6 PPG

    Returning Starters: Seven plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DT Josh Boyd, CB Johnthan Banks, FS Nickoe Whitley


    Overview

    Last year, the Bulldog defense underachieved.

    On the other hand, it did hold LSU and Bama to their third-lowest point totals on the year, with the first and second-lowest point totals coming at the hands of each other.

    Next year, despite the graduation and early departure of two starting defensive linemen, MSU will still have one of the five best defensive fronts in the SEC—more impressive than it sounds, given that it is the SEC.

    The Bulldogs will also have one of the better cornerback tandems in the conference and the country.

    If the offense can pick up its share of the load, the defense will get the recognition it deserves.

22. Tennessee Volunteers

4 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 22.6 PPG (36th)

    2011 Total Defense: 340.5 YPG (27th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 4.39 YPC (t-74th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 125.56 opposing passer efficiency rating (48th)

    2011 Sacks: 15 (107th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 18 (91st) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 38.89 percent (57th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 80.00 percent (t-48th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Three

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 28.7 PPG

    Returning Starters: Nine plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: SLB Curt Maggitt, WLB A.J. Johnson, FS Prentiss Waggner


    Overview

    The Vols return eight of their top 10 tacklers and all but two players that recorded a sack last year.

    Moreover, due to the coaching turnover—three coaches in three years—Tennessee experienced a large amount of attrition that forced Derek Dooley to start a number of underclassmen in his first two years at the helm.

    This year, that decision will pay dividends. Tennessee has three-deep experience in the secondary as well as experienced players ready to step in for the departed senior defensive linemen.

21. Nebraska Cornhuskers

5 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 23.4 PPG (42nd)

    2011 Total Defense: 350.7 YPG (37th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 4.00 YPC (55th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 120.42 opposing passer efficiency rating (34th)

    2011 Sacks: 21 (t-81st)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 18 (t-91st) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 40.21 percent (64th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 82.05 percent (65th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Two

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 28.8 PPG

    Returning Starters: Eight plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE Cameron Meredith, DT Baker Steinkuhler, MLB Will Compton


    Overview

    Bo Pelini has been the head coach at Nebraska for four seasons, and before that he was the defensive coordinator (DC) at LSU for three years. In the two years previous to that, he was co-DC at Oklahoma and DC at Nebraska.

    In those nine years, he failed to field a top-25 scoring defense twice: 2008—his first year at Nebraska—and last year.

    Pelini has proven he can coach up a defense, and with eight starters back, 2012 should be no exception.

    The defense will have to replace playmakers Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard, but the Blackshirts will have a turnaround year in 2012.

20. Oklahoma State Cowboys

6 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 26.8 PPG (t-61st)

    2011 Total Defense: 456.8 YPG (107th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 4.39 YPC (t-74th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 114.67 opposing passer efficiency rating (20th)

    2011 Sacks: 30 (t-29th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 44 (first) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 41.78 percent (81st)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 72.92 (12th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Five

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 33.5 PPG

    Returning Starters: Eight plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: CB Brodrick Brown, CB Justin Gilbert, FS Daytawion Lowe


    Overview

    "Oklahoma State? In a defensive top-25 list? Are you sure this isn't the offense?"

    First of all, OSU's offense is not a ball-control offense, which puts a great deal of pressure on the defense. The Cowboys came in last in the Big 12 and 115th in the country in time of possession.

    Secondly, the Cowboys' defense—even by conventional standards—was better than it seemed based on its overall scoring defense. As mentioned above, it played five of the top-25 scoring offenses in the country. It held three of those offenses to their lowest point totals of the season.

    Next season, Oklahoma State will boast one of the three best secondaries in the country, as well as a solid linebacking crew, and—on the whole—there is easily top-25 talent on the defensive side of the field.

    The final numbers might not suggest it, but Oklahoma State will have one of the best 25 defenses in the country next season.

19. Oregon Ducks

7 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 24.6 PPG (52nd)

    2011 Total Defense: 390.1 YPG (67th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.65 YPC (38th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 123.31 opposing passer efficiency rating (40th)

    2011 Sacks: 45 (t-third)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 29 (t-19th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 38.91 percent (58th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 80.77 percent (56th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Five 

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 31.6 PPG

    Returning Starters: Eight plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE Dion Jordan, WLB Michael Clay, FS John Boyett


    Overview

    "Here we go again. Another offensive team in the defensive rankings."

    Nope. Oregon plays defense as well. Though, as with Oklahoma State, it's easy to forget given that the Ducks' offensive scheme—score quickly and score a lot—puts a huge amount of pressure on the defense.

    First of all, defensive end Dion Jordan is a legitimate All-American candidate, and his fellow-returning linemen will benefit tremendously by his presence.

    Secondly, the top two and three of the top five tacklers return.

    Finally, last year's secondary was devastated by injuries and off-the-field distractions that resulted in the Ducks starting two true freshmen at cornerback.

    That is behind them, and this year, the secondary—which was a liability last season—will be an asset. 

18. Wisconsin Badgers

8 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 19.0 PPG (13th)

    2011 Total Defense: 316.3 YPG (15th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 4.29 YPC (t-69th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 120.45 opposing passer efficiency rating (35th)

    2011 Sacks: 25 (t-56th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 26 (t-33rd) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 38.02 percent (48th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 84.38 percent (81st)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Two

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 26.8 PPG

    Returning Starters: Six

    Key Returning Starters: MLB Chris Borland, WLB Mike Taylor, SS Shelton Johnson


    Overview

    Last year, Bret Bielema fielded only his second top-20 scoring defense. His other one came in 2006, his rookie season as a head coach, during which the Badgers lost to the only quality opponents they played—Michigan and Ohio State.

    The issue was that last year's defense, much like the 2006 version, was also exposed by better opponents.

    Wisconsin played two top-25 scoring offenses, and one of those was non-AQ Northern Illinois.

    In the three games that the Badgers played against balanced offenses with a pulse—Oregon and Michigan State twice—UW allowed a whopping 40.3 PPG.

    In other words, last year's defense looked a lot better than it was due to a soft schedule and a ball-controlling offense.

    This year, the Wisconsin defense will live up to its billing.

    The pass rush will be stronger with the return to health of defense end David Gilbert. The health of cornerback Devin Smith will also help a secondary that only returns two starters.

    However, this defense's strongest level will be linebacker, where seniors Chris Borland and Mike Taylor will finish off what have been spectacular careers.

17. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

9 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 18.3 PPG (t-eighth)

    2011 Total Defense: 311.5 YPG (12th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.81 YPC (47th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 101.43 opposing passer efficiency rating (fifth)

    2011 Sacks: 36 (14th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 34 (third) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 31.89 percent (ninth)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 68.29 percent (t-third)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: One

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 27.5 PPG

    Returning Starters: Eight plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: WLB Khaseem Greene, CB Logan Ryan, SS Duron Harmon


    Overview

    The biggest question in New Brunswick this season will be if new head coach Kyle Flood and his defensive coordinator Robb Smith can continue with the success that Greg Schiano had with the Scarlet Knights.

    He has the talent, beginning with one of the best linebacking corps in the country, and specifically, one of the better linebackers in Khaseem Greene.

    The Knights also have a solid and deep secondary, though the front line has some holes it will have to plug up.

    If it can find those players, and if Flood can pick up where Schiano left off, RU will have a good chance of repeating as the Big East's best defense in 2012.

16. Southern California Trojans

10 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 23.6 PPG (45th)

    2011 Total Defense: 344.8 YPG (54th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.62 YPC (t-34th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 130.33 opposing passer efficiency rating (64th)

    2011 Sacks: 30 (t-29th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 17 (t-95th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 40.12 percent (63rd)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 76.09 percent (t-24th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Three

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 29.6 PPG

    Returning Starters: Seven plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE Wes Horton, SLB Dion Bailey, FS T.J. McDonald


    Overview

    The big question with USC is if the talent can live up to its potential.

    Specifically, the Trojans' lapses on pass defense are unacceptable given the talent in their secondary. That should improve this year with the defensive backfield returning en masse, three starting seniors and a ton of established depth.

    The rush defense had no problems last year, but three departed starters from the defensive front will hurt. However, Southern Cal has experience in ends Wes Horton and Devon Kennard.

    If the Trojans can find some big bodies to plug up the middle, the rush defense could be just as good as last year.

15. South Florida Bulls

11 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 22.7 PPG (37th)

    2011 Total Defense: 351.8 YPG (39th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 2.96 YPC (eighth)

    2011 Passing Defense: 123.64 opposing passer efficiency rating (41st)

    2011 Sacks: 38 (t-12th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 26 (t-33rd) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 35.53 percent (t-31st)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 73.91 percent (t-17th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: One

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 27.2 PPG

    Returning Starters: Seven plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE Ryne Giddins, WLB DeDe Lattimore, CB Kayvon Webster


    Overview

    Last season, the Bulls were a much better team than their 5-7 record indicated. This was especially true on the defense.

    In his second year at the helm, look for Skip Holtz to translate the individual accomplishments into team wins.

    South Florida returns all but two of the team's top ten tacklers and pass rushers.

    Because Holtz likes to rotate his players, there are a number of experienced underclassmen ready to step into more prominent roles.

    In 2012, look for the USF defense to dominate the Big East the way Cincinnati did last year.

14. Utah Utes

12 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 20.2 PPG (19th)

    2011 Total Defense: 352.1 YPG (40th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.29 YPC (20th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 116.53 opposing passer efficiency rating (24th)

    2011 Sacks: 29 (t-33rd)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 33 (t-fourth) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 38.65 percent (53rd)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 75.68 percent (22nd)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Three

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 28.7 PPG

    Returning Starters: Seven

    Key Returning Starters: DT Star Lotulelei, SLB Trevor Reilly, SS Brian Blechen


    Overview

    The Utes' impressive 2011 defense might have been as much a product of a soft schedule—no Oregon or Stanford—as great D.

    On the other hand, it did perform well in shutting down BYU—10 points—and holding USC to 23 points in a loss.

    Either way, it will face the same schedule in 2012—though it will get Southern Cal and Brigham Young at home.

    The defensive line and secondary remain largely intact, but the Utes will have to regroup at linebacker, where the team's top two tacklers have graduated.

13. Louisville Cardinals

13 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 20.1 PPG (17th)

    2011 Total Defense: 327.9 YPG (23rd)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.00 YPC (ninth)

    2011 Passing Defense: 129.69 opposing passer efficiency rating (60th)

    2011 Sacks: 33 (t-20th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 21 (t-64th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 38.14 percent (49th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 80.56 percent (54th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: One

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 26.5 PPG

    Returning Starters: Nine

    Key Returning Starters: DE Marcus Smith, CB Adrian Bushell, SS Hakeem Smith


    Overview

    In 2011, Louisville's defense was an example of the sum surpassing the parts.

    Despite a lackluster red zone, third down and pass D, not forcing turnovers and having to carry the 98th-ranked scoring offense in the country, the Louisville D got the job done.

    This season, the individual parts should be more impressive and will lead to an even more impressive sum.

    With three of the front four returning, the rush defense will be as strong as it was in 2011.

    Meanwhile, the pass defense will take a notable step up with every starter in the secondary returning, including all-conference honorees Bushell and Smith.

    The Cardinals have to replace leading tackler Dexter Heyman, but the experience of the front four and the other two linebackers will help.

12. LSU Tigers

14 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 11.3 PPG (second)

    2011 Total Defense: 261.5 YPG (second)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 2.74 YPC (sixth)

    2011 Passing Defense: 95.58 opposing passer efficiency rating (third)

    2011 Sacks: 38 (12th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 30 (t-16th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 33.97 percent (19th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 88.46 percent (106th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Five 

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 28.8 PPG

    Returning Starters: Four plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE Sam Montgomery, DE Barkevious Mingo, FS Eric Reid


    Overview

    What could have been one of the greatest defenses in the last 10 years of college football left for the NFL when Morris Claiborne opted to turn pro and Tyrann Mathieu got kicked off the team (per The New York Times).

    However, there is still plenty left in the tank in Baton Rouge.

    The defensive line will be a decided strength for the Tigers. They have two legitimate All-American candidates in Montgomery and Mingo and a strong rotation behind them.

    Junior Tharold Simon will man one cornerback, and while quarterbacks will attack the Tiger secondary, All-SEC safety Eric Reed will shade over to help.

    Linebackers will be an issue—LSU graduates two, and out of the three levels of defense, linebackers were the least impressive in 2011.

    Still, despite only returning four, the Tigers have one of the best defenses in the country.

11. Illinois Fighting Illini

15 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 19.6 PPG (15th)

    2011 Total Defense: 286.2 YPG (seventh)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.13 YPC (13th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 117.91 opposing passer efficiency rating (30th)

    2011 Sacks: 41 (sixth)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 22 (t-59th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 34.59 percent (22nd)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 76.32 percent (t-26th)

    2011 Scoring Defense Against Top 25 Offenses: Two

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 28.8 PPG

    Returning Starters: Seven plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE Michael Buchanan, DT Akeem Spence, WLB Jonathan Brown


    Overview

    Last year's 15th-ranked scoring defense was better than it looked.

    It suffered because it had to clean up after terrible special teams—No. 100-ranked punting game in the nation—and an offense that tied for 104th in the country in turnovers lost.

    Most of the key pieces of that defense are back this season.

    The Illini will have to replace Big Ten Lineman of the Year Whitney Mercilus, as well as adjust to a new defensive scheme via a new head coach.

    However, there is more than enough talent to repeat last year's performance.

10. Oklahoma Sooners

16 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 22.1 PPG (t-31st)

    2011 Total Defense: 376.2 YPG (55th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.68 YPC (39th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 116.29 opposing passer efficiency rating (23rd)

    2011 Sacks: 40 (t-ninth)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 27 (t-28th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 30.61 percent (fifth)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 73.68 percent (t-13th)

    2011 Scoring Defense Against Top 25 Offenses: Four

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 32.4 PPG

    Returning Starters: Seven plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE R.J. Washington, MLB Tom Wort, CB Demontre Hurst


    Overview

    Arguably, the biggest problem the Sooner defense had last year was an offense that stalled after the injury to receiver Ryan Broyles.

    However, that doesn't account for breakdowns in the secondary against Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas Tech.

    Oklahoma let up the third-most 20-yards-or-more passing plays in the Big 12. That was far too many for a team that was one of the top two defenses in the conference.

    Despite the loss of both defensive ends, the front seven will be stronger in 2012.

    It will be up to the secondary to improve, and with three returning starters, it will have the players to do it.

9. South Carolina Gamecocks

17 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 18.4 PPG (t-10th)

    2011 Total Defense: 267.7 YPG (third)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.62 YPC (t-34th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 94.22 opposing passer efficiency rating (second)

    2011 Sacks: 31 (t-25th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 32 (t-seventh) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 35.29 percent (26th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 80.95 percent (58th)

    2011 Scoring Defense Against Top 25 Offenses: Two

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 27.2 PPG

    Returning Starters: Six

    Key Returning Starters: DE Jadeveon Clowney, DE Devin Taylor, FS D.J. Swearinger


    Overview

    Steve Spurrier is known for offense, but his defense has led the charge in South Carolina—and that was especially true last year.

    He'll have a lot to build around in 2012, but will have to replace a number of impact players as well as ex-defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who took the head coaching job at Southern Miss.

    The Gamecocks have players ready to step into most positions, but cornerback looks bare—the SEC's top quarterbacks will pick the South Carolina secondary dry unless somebody steps up.

    Whoever mans the corners will get help from the pass rush, which will feature 2011 SEC Freshman of the Year Jadeveon Clowney.

8. Florida Gators

18 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 20.3 PPG (20th)

    2011 Total Defense: 299.5 YPG (eighth)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.40 YPC (t-23rd)

    2011 Passing Defense: 117.81 opposing passer efficiency rating (28th)

    2011 Sacks: 28 (t-37th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 14 (t-112th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 27.12 percent (second)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 85.00 percent (84th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Two

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 25.8 PPG

    Returning Starters: Ten plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE Ronald Powell, MLB Jonathan Bostic, WLB Jelani Jenkins


    Overview

    The Gators will return 14 of its top 15 tacklers—all but one player that recorded a full sack and every player that recorded an interception.

    Florida will have to shore up the red-zone defense, and the D will have to show up in big games, but on paper, the Gators have the potential to be the most dominant defense in the conference, if not the country.

    This season we'll see if the potential talent rises to the occasion.

7. Ohio State Buckeyes

19 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 21.00 PPG (27th)

    2011 Total Defense: 323.5 YPG (19th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.84 YPC (48th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 126.75 opposing passer efficiency rating (53rd)

    2011 Sacks: 23 (t-70th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 20 (t-77th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 40.22 percent (65th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 82.35 percent (t-69th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Two

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 27.4 PPG

    Returning Starters: 10 plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DL John Simon, CB Travis Howard, S C.J. Barnett


    Overview

    Urban Meyer is known for his offense, but his defensive squads have always been top-notch.

    His Florida defenses were top-10 units three out of his six years. They were top-20 units four of the six years.

    Last year was the first time the Bucks haven't been a top-10 scoring defense since 2004. It was also the first time they haven't been a top-20 scoring defense since 1999.

    Expect it to return to form in a big way this season.

6. Georgia Bulldogs

20 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 20.6 PPG (23rd)

    2011 Total Defense: 277.2 YPG (fifth)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.22 YPC (15th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 98.74 opposing passer efficiency rating (fourth)

    2011 Sacks: 35 (15th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 32 (t-7th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 28.93 percent (third)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 90.63 percent (116th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Three 

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 27.3 PPG 

    Returning Starters: Nine

    Key Returning Starters: OLB Jarvis Jones, ILB Michael Gilliard, DB Bacarri Rambo


    Overview

    The Dawgs return all but one player that recorded a sack in 2011, all but one player that recorded an interception and 12 of their top 14 tacklers.

    UGA's defense was better than it seemed, as the discrepancy between scoring defense and total defense attests.

    The problem was with the red zone defense, which was porous. This is a problem that will have to be fixed; however, between the 20's, Georgia was and looks to be all but impenetrable.

5. Michigan State Spartans

21 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 18.4 PPG (t-10th)

    2011 Total Defense: 277.4 YPG (sixth)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 2.80 YPC (seventh)

    2011 Passing Defense: 113.24 opposing passer efficiency rating (18th)

    2011 Sacks: 45 (t-third)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 25 (t-39th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 33.67 percent (16th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 76.32 percent (t-26th)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Two  

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 28.32 PPG

    Returning Starters: Eight plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE William Gholston, LB Denicos Allen, CB Johnny Adams

     

    Overview

    After four years of middling results, Mark Dantonio's ultra-aggressive defense asserted itself in East Lansing.

    Next year looks to be better, with the Spartans returning five all-conference honorees.

    MSU might have the best linebackers in the country in Allen, junior Max Bullough and senior Chris Norman. It also has one of the best secondaries and some of the best ends in the conference.

    The Spartans will have to replace both defensive tackles—including early-to-the-NFL draftee Jerel Worthy—but MSU will have a defensive group as good as almost anybody if it can find the right players for the middle of the line.

4. Texas Longhorns

22 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 22.2 PPG (33rd)

    2011 Total Defense: 306.1 YPG (11th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.06 YPC (11th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 110.98 opposing passer efficiency rating (10th)

    2011 Sacks: 29 (t-33rd)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 26 (t-33rd)

    2011 Third Down Defense: 33.70 percent (17th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 86.36 percent (92nd)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Five 

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 32.37 PPG

    Returning Starters: Seven

    Key Returning Starters: DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DE Alex Okafor, CB Carrington Byndom


    Overview

    It's difficult to say many positive things about Texas these days, but—despite the offensive woes—the defense has remained more than respectable.

    That respectability will morph into dominance this year.

    As the only 2011 Big 12 team with a top-25 (total) defense, look for the Horns to turn that into a top scoring defense as well.

    Texas will have the most formidable defensive line west of the Mississippi, as well as three cornerbacks that could start for most Big 12 teams.

    They will have to replace their top two tacklers—linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson—but there are talented and experienced linebackers ready to take their place.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies

23 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 17.6 PPG (seventh)

    2011 Total Defense: 304.6 YPG (10th)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 3.22 YPC (15th)

    2011 Passing Defense: 112.02 opposing passer efficiency rating (14th)

    2011 Sacks: 41 (t-sixth)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 23 (t-49th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 32.29 percent (11th)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 70 percent (fifth)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Three 

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 27.52 PPG

    Returning Starters: Nine plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: DE James Gayle, ILB Bruce Taylor, CB Kyle Fuller 


    Overview

    Virginia Tech has had a top-10 scoring defense every season but one (2010) since 2004. Expect the Hokies to continue that tradition this season.

    Frank Beamer's squad returns every defensive linemen that played a snap in 2011, as well as every player that recorded a sack and nine of the top 11 tacklers.

    The only area that might be a soft spot is the secondary, which lost Jayron Hosley to the NFL, as well as starting rover Eddie Whitley and reserve cornerback Cris Hill to graduation.

    The defense will look even better than it is thanks to a soft out-of-conference schedule.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide

24 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 8.2 PPG (first)

    2011 Total Defense: 183.6 YPG (first)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 2.43 YPC (second)

    2011 Passing Defense: 83.69 opposing passer efficiency rating (first)

    2011 Sacks: 30 (t-29th)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 20 (t-77th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 24.46 percent (first)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 58.82 (first)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Three

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 25.75 PPG

    Returning Starters: Five plus the punter

    Key Returning Starters: WLB Nico Johnson, LB C.J. Mosley, SS Robert Lester


    Overview

    2012's Bama defense won't be as good as 2011's. As previously mentioned, not many are.

    Next season, the Tide project to have one of the toughest run defenses in the country, despite losing four of its front seven.

    However, the versatility of departed linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw had a good deal to do with the success of Bama's blitz packages.

    That will be complicated by the loss of cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and free safety Mark Barron.

    In 2012, if teams are to score on the Tide, it will be through the air.

1. Florida State Seminoles

25 of 25

    2011 Scoring Defense: 15.1 PPG (fourth)

    2011 Total Defense: 275.0 YPG (fourth)

    2011 Rushing Defense: 2.35 YPC (first)

    2011 Passing Defense: 116.66 opposing passer efficiency rating (25th)

    2011 Sacks: 41 (t-sixth)

    2011 Turnovers Forced: 23 (t-49th) 

    2011 Third Down Defense: 34.85 percent (23rd)

    2011 Red Zone Defense: 77.14 percent (32nd)

    2011 Games Against Top 25 Offenses: Two

    2011 Opponents' Average Scoring Offense: 26.68 PPG

    Returning Starters: Nine

    Key Returning Starters: DE Brandon Jenkins, DE Bjoern Werner, FS Lamarcus Joyner 


    Overview

    The Noles might have the most formidable front four in the country.

    Senior Brandon Jenkins is one of the best returning ends, and his counterpart, junior Bjoern Werner, isn't far behind him. Meanwhile, both defensive tackles are dependable returning starters, and FSU has a solid eight-man rotation.

    Overall, this squad will have a good shot of repeating as the stingiest run defense in the country.

    However, the Seminoles will have to shore up the pass defense. It won't be easy with the graduation of strong safety Terrance Parks, weak-side linebacker Nigel Bradham and reserve cornerback Mike Harris.

    Still, man-for-man, FSU looks to have the best defense in the country this season.