Ranking the Top 5 College Football Defenses Heading into Week 9

Andy LiuCorrespondent IOctober 23, 2012

Ranking the Top 5 College Football Defenses Heading into Week 9

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    Eight weeks in and exactly half the season in the rear-view mirror, there are an elite few defenses that have stood out amongst the teams in all of college football. 

    And no, not all of them will be from the SEC. 

    When discussing a top defense, we have to take into account difficulty of schedule as well because a predominantly cupcake schedule with numerous FCS teams can skew a team's defense toward the top. 

    What's the point of playing a game against the formerly named Division I-AA team? Unless you are Michigan (see Appalachian State), you usually win by a lot.

    However, there have been five defenses that have played good teams and stood out in the process. All five have BCS, if not national championship, aspirations. 

Florida

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    This isn't Tim Tebow's—doesn't he have to be included in every article?—Florida Gator teams anymore. 

    In fact, the Florida defense ranked 20th in 2011 and 29th in 2010 in scoring defense. 

    This year, it ranked fourth, giving up a paltry 12.1 points per game. 

    Perhaps, what has been most impressive is that it has allowed 11.3 points against ranked opponents. Somehow, it has played better against better teams. 

    The most recent performance came against the once-ranked seventh South Carolina Gamecocks in which the Gators amassed 183 total yards (eight less than the Gamecocks) and won 44-11. 

    How does that make sense?

    The Gators forced three fumbles and an interception in shutting down superstar running back Marcus Lattimore and beating Connor Shaw so badly, they put in their backup quarterback. 

    While the Gator offense has been slow to succeed this year, the defense has showed up game in and game out. 

    According to Rivals.com, the Florida Gators have all 11 starters rated four stars or higher. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy have played at a high level all year. 

    The talent is there, and Muschamp has fulfilled it in the first eight weeks of the season. 

    They will have a chance to take another step and face a stern test in the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend. 

Kansas St.

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    Collin who?

    Of course, everyone knows who the front-runner of the Heisman Trophy is at this point. Mr. Klein has led his team to a 7-0 ranking with his arm and his feet. 

    However, the underrated aspect of this team is Bill Snyder's defense. 

    Playing in the Big 12, Kansas State has to play high-octane pass-heavy offenses like Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU and Texas. 

    This may be the most potent offensive conference in the nation. So how has Kansas State fared, so far?

    Passing with flying colors. 

    It has allowed a total of four touchdowns against Landry Jones' Oklahoma Sooners and presumptive top-five draft pick Geno Smith's West Virginia Mountaineers. 

    Without highly regarded recruits like Alabama or Florida, the Wildcats didn't allow an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter to Geno Smith's offense. 

    A great start has a chance to get better. Up next?

    The 42.9-points-a-game Texas Tech Red Raiders. 

Notre Dame

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    Another bit of surprise comes from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense. 

    Another team that has built its resume from its strength of schedule. It's played Michigan State, Michigan and Stanford and has found a way to shut them all down. 

    The main reason? The physical and spiritual leader, linebacker Manti Te'o. 

    He has helped the defense (9.4 points per game) allow almost as many field goals as touchdowns: eight to six. 

    Rarely is a defensive player in the voting for the Heisman, but Te'o owns 69 tackles, four interceptions and 2.5 tackles for loss. 

    To put that into perspective, he is tied with a cornerback for most picks and owns 29 more tackles than anyone else on the team. 

    Say it with me: Heisman Trophy candidate.

    Did I forget to mention that no one has scored more than 20 points against this defense yet?

    How about the fact that it gives up, on average, 15 first downs a game?

    Add it all up and this team has a chance to play in the championship game if it runs the table.

    It all starts when the Irish play at Oklahoma this weekend.  

LSU

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    Despite losing star safety Tyrann Mathieu for the season, the LSU defense has been as good as it always is. 

    Obviously, there isn't the explosive punt returns, but the defense has played well in its run to defend the SEC title. 

    Against three ranked opponents this year, the LSU Tigers have given up 18 points per game. However, taking a closer look at the games, the Tigers have played better as the game has gotten on. 

    Against Johnny Manziel and the Texas A&M Aggies, the Tigers gave up 12 points in the first half as Manziel was able to throw the ball all across the field. 

    In the second half? The Tigers were able to shut them down until a late touchdown in the fourth quarter. The defense, led by presumptive first-round draft prospect safety Eric Reid, forced the Aggies into three interceptions and a fumble. 

    The numbers have also been misleading because of the way the Tiger offense has "played." It's simply been terrible.

    Highly regarded quarterback Zach Mettenberger has shown stone feet and an inability to read through his progressions to find open receivers. Without the offense's help, the defense has had to stay on the field much longer. 

    Mirroring the theme of the top defenses this year, the road only gets tougher. LSU will host the defending national champion, Alabama, next weekend.

Alabama

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    The No. 1 defense. The No. 1 team. 

    Despite not facing the nation's toughest schedule, the Crimson Tide defense has done the only thing they can do: dominate. 

    After thoroughly destroying Denard Robinson and Michigan in Week 1, they have gone on to allow 44 total points in their next six games. 

    They allow a national-best 8.3 points per game. 

    Most impressive has been cornerback Dee Milliner and linebacker C.J. Mosley. Both juniors, they have been the best players on the Alabama defense. 

    According to Mel Kiper's Big Board, Milliner is ranked as the 11th-best player and a cornerback who effectively takes away half the field. 

    Mosley leads the team with 58 tackles (similar to Te'o, the next closest is 28 behind) and 35 solo tackles (17 more than any teammate). He also has 2.5 sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. 

    They'll be put to the test this week against the 11th-ranked 36.7-points-per-game Mississippi State Bulldogs. 

    To show how Vegas thinks of them? Alabama are 24.5-point favorites against said 11th-ranked team.