Will Nick Saban or Michigan State have the better defense in 2012?
In this slideshow, I have broken down what I think will be the top-five college-football defenses in 2012.
Since college-football rosters change significantly every season, it is often difficult to predict how one team will perform compared to its previous version.
However, we can look at things like recruiting trends, success under the current coaching staff and players’ NFL draft stocks to predict future performances.
I have used these resources, among others, to state my case.
You can add to the debate in the comments section below.
Let's take a look.
The 2012 Alabama team should give Nick Saban reason to smile despite appearing as just a shell of the 2011 version.
Head coach Nick Saban has rolled some great defenses through Tuscaloosa recently. Expect the Crimson Tide’s defense in 2012 to be just as great.
In 2011, Alabama had one of the best defenses in college-football history. It will be difficult to duplicate its success, as the Crimson Tide return only five defensive starters. The 2012 defense must be great in its own way.
As of Aug. 6, the 2012 defense will feature seven of the top-311 draft-eligible prospects, according to CBSSports.com.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, 12 members of Alabama’s defensive roster are ranked in the top nine nationally in their classes at their respective positions. Seven are ranked in the top three.
Five Crimson Tide defenders were selected to the 2012 SEC Preseason Coaches’ All-Conference Team. Two were named to the First Team.
Alabama also has four players on the 2012 Bednarik Award watch list.
Every season since 2008, Alabama has placed in the Top Seven nationally in scoring defense (2008-seventh, 2009-second, 2010-fourth, 2011-first). Saban knows how to shut down offenses perhaps better than anyone else in the country.
Athlon Sports considers Saban the best head coach in college football, mainly because of his mastery of defense.
The Crimson Tide won the FBS national championship in both the 2009 and 2011 seasons.
Alabama has the No. 2 spot in the 2012 USA Today preseason poll.
Georgia head coach Mark Richt
An elite defense should protect Sanford Stadium in 2012, and it is one that could net Georgia its second consecutive SEC East championship.
As of Aug. 6, the 2012 defense will feature seven of the top-234 draft-eligible prospects, according to CBSSports.com.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, 10 members of Georgia’s defensive roster are ranked in the top 10 nationally in their classes at their respective positions. Six are ranked in the top three.
Six Bulldogs defenders were selected to the 2012 SEC Preseason Coaches’ All-Conference Team. Two were named to the First Team.
Georgia also has two players on the 2012 Bednarik Award watch list.
The Bulldogs' defense has dropped off in recent years compared to when head coach Mark Richt first arrived on campus.
In Richt’s first seven seasons, Georgia ranked no lower than No. 21 nationally in scoring defense. From 2002-05, the Bulldogs finished no lower than No. 9 nationally in scoring defense.
Since then, Georgia has not finished higher than No. 18 nationally (2007) in scoring defense. 2008 and 2009 were especially poor, when the Bulldogs had the No. 59 and No. 64 scoring defenses in the country, respectively.
Why, then, do I think we will see a Top Five defense in Athens this season? Experience. Nine defensive starters from 2011 return in 2012.
Georgia has the No. 6 spot in the 2012 USA Today preseason poll.
LSU head coach Les Miles
The No. 1 team in the 2012 USA Today preseason poll has an outstanding defense lined up for 2012.
Tryann Mathieu, also known as “The Honey Badger,” returns after receiving the 2011 Bednarik Award and finishing as a 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist. Mathieu might headline the group, but he is not the only superstar.
As of Aug. 6, the defense will feature eight of the top-322 draft-eligible prospects, according to CBSSports.com. Three of them are ranked No. 1 overall at their respective positions.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, 12 members of LSU’s defensive roster are ranked in the top nine nationally in their classes at their respective positions. Seven are ranked No. 1, and 10 are ranked in the top three.
Four Tigers defenders were selected to the 2012 SEC Preseason Coaches’ All-Conference First Team.
LSU also has four players on the 2012 Bednarik Award watch list.
Ever since Les Miles became the program’s head coach in 2005, LSU has placed in the Top 11 nationally in scoring defense five times. Since John Chavis took over at defensive coordinator in 2009, the Tigers finished the season ranked No. 11 twice and No. 2 last season in scoring defense.
LSU returns only five defensive starters, but this should not faze anyone, considering the Tigers can reload every year.
Alabama figured out how to carve up LSU's defense in the national championship game last season, as the Crimson Tide shut out the Tigers. 2012 might tell a different story, though.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio
On July 30, I wrote that Michigan State will have the best FBS defense in 2012. As a man of my word, I will once again prove this to you. With that said, congratulations if you picked the Spartans over Saban.
Head coach Mark Dantonio is an underrated defensive coach. Dantonio learned from the best in Nick Saban at Michigan State. When Saban was the Spartans' head coach, Dantonio mentored the defensive backs.
Experience is the biggest reason why I believe Michigan State will have the better defense than Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide in 2012. The Spartans return eight starters from their outstanding 2011 defense, whereas Alabama returns five from its historic 2011 unit.
The number of Crimson Tide defenders going high in the 2012 NFL draft requires Saban’s 2012 group to establish a new identity and to rebuild chemistry. Michigan State, conversely, does not have this problem.
In short, I think Alabama’s net loss on defense will be greater than its net gain.
The Spartans also have stable coaching that should not be overlooked. All of Dantonio’s defensive assistants followed him to East Lansing from Cincinnati prior to the 2007 season.
As of Aug. 6, the 2012 defense will feature five of the top-370 draft-eligible prospects, according to CBSSports.com.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, nine members of Michigan State’s defensive roster are ranked in the top 20 nationally in their classes at their respective positions. Four are ranked in the top eight.
Eight Spartans defenders were selected to Phil Steele’s 2012 Preseason All-Big Ten Team. Three were named to the First Team.
Michigan State also has four players on the 2012 Bednarik Award watch list.
In 2011, the Spartans had their best defensive performance under Dantonio. They finished No. 10 nationally in scoring defense.
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi passed up an opportunity to become the next defensive coordinator at Texas A&M. The perks of high salaries and SEC competition were not enough for Narduzzi in the end. This suggests Narduzzi feels the hype surrounding his defense in 2012 is well-deserved, and he wants to be a part of it.
Michigan State holds the No. 13 spot in the 2012 USA Today preseason poll.
Texas head coach Mack Brown
The Longhorns’ 2012 defense should put them back amongst the nation’s elite programs after disappointing 2010 and 2011 campaigns.
Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s hard work did not reap many rewards for the team, which expects to compete for national championships every season.
Seven starters return to a unit that still lacks experience, but showed flashes of greatness in 2011.
According to Andy Staples of SI.com:
Using the S&P+ rating from Football Outsiders, which adjusts for field position and quality of opponent, Texas finished fourth in the nation in defensive efficiency…Those numbers do as much to indict the Texas offense as they do to praise the Texas defense. The Longhorns finished 8-5 last year. In those five losses, the opponent’s average drive started on the 36-yard line. Because of offensive ineptitude, the defense found itself defending a shorter field. If the defense had gotten even a little help from the offense in two of those losses (Kansas State and Missouri), Texas would have finished 10-3. With the exception of coaches and stat heads who recognize the margins between what we consider good and what we consider average paper tin, most people’s perception of the 2011 Longhorns—and, by extension, the 2012 Longhorns—could have been vastly altered by a few explosive offensive plays in those two games.
In short, improving the offense will naturally improve defensive statistics in 2012.
As of Aug. 6, the defense will feature four of the top-71 draft-eligible prospects, according to CBSSports.com.
According to NFLDraftScout.com, 14 members of Texas’ defensive roster are ranked in the top 20 nationally in their classes at their respective positions. Four are ranked in the top two.
Three Longhorns defenders were selected to the Preseason 2012 All-Big 12 Team.
Texas also has three players on the 2012 Bednarik Award watch list.
Texas holds the No. 15 spot in the 2012 USA Today preseason poll.