Grading the Top 25 College Football Defenses Heading into Week 12

Jonathan McDanalContributor IIINovember 13, 2012

Grading the Top 25 College Football Defenses Heading into Week 12

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    With roughly 10 games under the belt of each team in the Top 25, there is plenty of data to accurately evaluate performance so far in 2012.

    From Kansas State to Washington, there are some seriously great defenses out there and some hideously bad ones. Most of the hideously bad defenses have been bailed out by their offenses so far this season.

    In the next 25 slides, we will take a look at each defense in the BCS Top 25 and give each team a letter grade according to the following stats: total defense (passing and rushing yards combined), passes allowed over 20 and 40 yards, rushes allowed over 20 and 40 yards, scoring defense and quality of schedule.

    *Red-zone scoring was not included on purpose. Red-zone defense is inherently included in scoring defense, and red-zone defense doesn't account for touchdown passes of over 20 yards.

     

    *Stats and rankings from cfbstats.com, and total defense rankings were based on yards per game (as opposed to total yards allowed on the season).

No. 25 Washington Huskies

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    Total Defense: 3,729 yards (41st in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 31, 8

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 16, 3

    Scoring Defense: 25.2 points per game (53rd in FBS)

     

    Washington enters Week 12 with a 6-4 record, mostly due to defensive inconsistency. The defense showed up strong against the USC Trojans, but holding them to 24 points still wasn't enough to win that day.

    In each of the other three losses, Washington gave up no fewer than 41 points. While this defense has played extremely well in seven of its games, the lack of success in the other three games hurt its overall grade badly.

    Giving up 47 plays of 20 yards or more is not a formula for success. However, a 6-4 record is not failing, either.

    Overall Grade: D+

No. 24 Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Total Defense: 3,499 yards (56th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 25, 7

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 7, 1

    Scoring Defense: 26.7 points per game (60th in FBS)

     

    Oklahoma State has amassed a 6-3 record so far this season, but has given up no fewer than 41 points in each of its losses. In wins, only West Virginia has scored more than 24 points.

    If Oklahoma State can get its defense to step up and hold teams under three touchdowns, the Cowboys could be a real threat in the Big 12 sooner rather than later.

    The Cowboys are giving up roughly three explosive plays per game. Even limiting that number to two would likely have given them two more wins this year. (It may not have won them the Arizona game, but they could have knocked down Texas and Kansas State.)

    Overall Grade: C-

No. 23 Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Total Defense: 3,246 yards (18th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 19, 4

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 9, 3

    Scoring Defense: 27.1 points per game (62nd in FBS)

     

    Texas Tech looked like it was going to make a run for the Big 12 title when it held Geno Smith and West Virginia to a scant 14 points. That hope was short-lived, as TCU hammered the defense for 53 points just seven days later.

    Texas Tech has shown fans a glimpse of the future, and it looks solid for the Red Raiders. However, giving up over 50 points in two straight weeks is not going to earn your defense many praises.

    Overall Grade: D

No. 22 Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Total Defense: 2,785 yards (14th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 23, 6

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 5, 1

    Scoring Defense: 13.4 points per game (fifth in FBS)

     

    Rutgers has only given up more than 15 points twice this season. Once was against Tyler Wilson and the Arkansas Razorbacks, the other incident was to Mid-American Conference leader Kent State. Rutgers stands atop the Big East at the moment, but has games coming against Cincinnati and Louisville before the end of this month.

    If the defense can step up and repeat its performances from the first half of the season, Rutgers can take the Big East and earn the conference's BCS bid. With the fifth-best scoring defense in the nation, the Big East is the Knights' to lose.

    The 20-plus-yard plays given up make it clear that Rutgers would not be this successful in some of the major conferences, but a shot at the Big Ten title wouldn't be out of the question.

    Overall Grade: B

No. 21 Michigan Wolverines

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    Total Defense: 3,029 yards (11th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 16, 2

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 7, 1

    Scoring Defense: 18.2 points per game (17th in FBS)

     

    Michigan has had a roller-coaster season so far, but has managed to find its way back into the Top 25 repeatedly. Only posting losses to Alabama, Notre Dame and Nebraska, the Wolverines are one offense away from having only the loss to Alabama.

    When your defense holds somebody to 13 points, it's not their fault you lost a game. The same can be said for the 23 points given up to Nebraska. Nebraska is averaging 37.4 points per game on offense. Michigan's defense held the 'Huskers well, but the offense could only manage to score nine points.

    While Michigan has been flirting with the Top 25, the defense has been playing top-10 football almost every week.

    Overall Grade: A-

No. 20 Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

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    Total Defense: 5,057 yards (123rd in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 51, 14

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 10, 4

    Scoring Defense: 36.2 points per game (111th in FBS)

     

    It's not a secret that Colby Cameron and the rest of the offense have been the success of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. What may come as a surprise is that the defense is among the worst in the nation.

    Louisiana Tech has the 9-1 record to justify a BCS-busting season. However, to earn your way into the top 16, you have to have some sort of defense. Even a defense that's allowing simply less than 30 points per game might have the Bulldogs four spots higher.

    However, ranking 123rd in yards allowed and 111th in points allowed is hardly acceptable. It's actually quite shocking that Louisiana Tech hasn't lost more than the one game this season.

    Overall Grade: F

No. 19 Louisville Cardinals

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    Total Defense: 3,559 yards (36th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 24, 3

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 11, 4

    Scoring Defense: 24.6 points per game (46th in FBS)

     

    Louisville's defense had a horrible game against Ryan Nassib and the Syracuse Orange in Week 11—not that the Cardinals defense was national championship material before Week 11, mind you.

    Louisville is still in control of its own destiny as far as the BCS is concerned, especially considering its current ranking in the BCS Standings. However, for that to happen, the defense has to make sure that it doesn't take another week off.

    Overall Grade: C-

No. 18 USC Trojans

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    Total Defense: 3,908 yards (59th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 26, 4

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 7, 3

    Scoring Defense: 23.5 points per game (40th in FBS)

     

    Oh, USC! How far the mighty have fallen this season. The Trojans were the preseason favorite to knock down the SEC in the national championship game. In 11 short weeks, the Trojans have gone from the top of the nation to possibly not even making the conference championship game.

    USC's defense hadn't played a really solid game until Week 11 against Arizona State. (Colorado does not count, and neither does Cal.) USC gave up 62 points to the Oregon Ducks. Granted, the offense almost made up for that, but still.

    USC's defense isn't nearly as porous as Louisiana Tech's, but the Pac-12 is a much better conference than the Western Athletic Conference. In USC's three losses, its opponents have scored a total of 122 points. That's no good.

    Seriously, the Trojans haven't really beaten anyone of quality at this point in the season. Ending up in the conference championship game is already going to be a chore.

    Overall Grade: D

No. 17 UCLA Bruins

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    Total Defense: 4,110 yards (76th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 35, 7

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 11, 4

    Scoring Defense: 24.7 points per game (47th in FBS)

     

    UCLA's defense has been puzzling this season. One week, it holds Arizona to 10 points, and the next week, Washington State finds a way to score 36.

    For the most part, UCLA has held opponents under 30 points. (Even in the loss to Oregon State, the Beavers only scored 27.) The Bruins have also not given up more than 43 at all this season, which is something the USC Trojans cannot claim.

    However, the Bruins have a tough row to hoe if they are going to make it to the conference title game. USC and Stanford are the last two games of the season, and the USC game is a must-win. At least the Bruins have both games at home.

    Overall Grade: C-

No. 16 Oregon State Beavers

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    Total Defense: 3,129 yards (32nd in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 34, 6

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 8, 0 

    Scoring Defense: 19.1 points per game (23rd in FBS)

     

    Oregon State has one of the top defenses in the Pac-12. While the Beavers have suffered two heartbreaking losses, they have only given up more than 27 points once. (That was against Arizona in a shootout that the Beavers won.)

    Oregon State's defense is what carried them as high as No. 7 in the BCS Standings this season. While that defense gives up yards, it locks down when it comes to scoring. Not as much as a Notre Dame or Alabama, but enough to be in serious consideration for a BCS bid—especially if Oregon makes it to the national championship game.

    Overall Grade: B

No. 15 Texas Longhorns

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    Total Defense: 4,296 yards (87th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 31, 7

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 22, 5

    Scoring Defense: 29.1 points per game (73rd in FBS)

     

    Texas, Texas, Texas...what's going on?

    The Longhorns have shown the ability to play defense lately, but there were some serious deficiencies early in the season. Giving up 48 to West Virginia, 63 to Oklahoma and 50 to Baylor was just awful.

    If the Texas defense had stepped up against Baylor and West Virginia, the Longhorns would be in the national championship picture right now, directly behind Kansas State (or Notre Dame).

    While the defense earned most of its bad grade in three games, there is much to be said about the development since then. In the three games since Baylor, Texas has outscored its opponents 85-46. That's a huge step forward, even considering the competition.

    The Longhorns still rank in the bottom half of defenses nationally, but there is hope for Texas fans.

    Overall Grade: D+

No. 14 Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Total Defense: 3,443 yards (29th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 25, 3

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 17, 5

    Scoring Defense: 25.0 points per game (50th in FBS)

     

    Nebraska is atop the Legends Division for the moment, and games against Minnesota and Iowa don't look like they're going to change that.

    So far, Nebraska's defense has done just enough to come away with an 8-2 record and a great shot at the Rose Bowl. Nebraska has got a lot of work to do, but a legitimate trip to the conference championship game certainly makes the move from the Big 12 look good. (I say "legitimate," because Nebraska isn't getting in because of better teams being banned from the game, unlike the current Leaders Division race.)

    Nebraska's defense has got to improve if it's planning on making anything other than the Rose Bowl over the next few years, but a two-loss regular season is a fine performance for now.

    The 'Huskers defense needs to make 10 points per game a goal for 2013. While that may look unrealistic, this 25-point nonsense isn't going to cut it for a national championship run. With a conference as weak as the Big Ten is this year, the 'Huskers should be dominating every match.

    Overall Grade: C+

No. 13 Stanford Cardinal

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    Total Defense: 3,207 yards (17th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 41, 4

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 5, 1

    Scoring Defense: 17.2 points per game (12th in FBS)

     

    Stanford had one of the biggest upsets of the season over USC, but followed that performance with a loss to the Washington Huskies.

    The good news for the Stanford defense is that loss wasn't defensive. The Huskies only scored 17 points. The Notre Dame loss falls into the same category. The Irish only scored 20 points against the Cardinal. Both games were lost by the offense.

    Stanford's only bad defensive outing was against Arizona, in which the Cardinal gave up 48 points. Other than that, Stanford has held every team to 23 or fewer points. While the Cardinal have yielded 46 plays of 20 yards or more, the major test of the defense is scoring.

    If a team can gain 1,000 yards against you but can't score, it doesn't really mean anything.

    Overall Grade: A-

No. 12 Oklahoma Sooners

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    Total Defense: 2,942 yards (22nd in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 19, 5

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 8, 2

    Scoring Defense: 19.6 points per game (24th in FBS)

     

    Oklahoma has only lost twice this season, and the defense is only to blame for one of those losses. The Sooners gave up 30 points to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. In the Kansas State game, Oklahoma held the Wildcats to 24. While that may not look very good, Kansas State is averaging 42.2 points per game offensively.

    The Notre Dame game is the only glaring error by the Sooners defense this season.

    Overall Grade: B+

No. 11 Clemson Tigers

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    Total Defense: 3,894 yards (58th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 31, 7

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 21, 5

    Scoring Defense: 22.4 points per game (33rd in FBS)

     

    Clemson has improved on defense as the season has progressed, but there are still some questions left from early in the season. Giving up 49 to Florida State was bad, considering Wake Forest (now 5-5) gave up 52.

    Clemson's defense will have one last opportunity to show that it has improved over the season. On Nov. 24, the Tigers take on the South Carolina Gamecocks. Clemson's defense is not ready for that game right now, and that will put all the pressure on the offense.

    So far, Clemson hasn't really played anyone, so the Tigers' scoring defense is a little skewed at the moment. If the defense keeps this up, a BCS bowl is possible, but a win there is unlikely.

    Overall Grade: C

No. 10 Florida State Seminoles

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    Total Defense: 2,429 yards (1st in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 17, 6

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 3, 0 

    Scoring Defense: 13.0 points per game (4th in FBS)

     

    Florida State's defense has not lost the team a game this season. The Seminoles have only lost one game, and that was to NC State 17-16, which clearly falls on the offense.

    The defense did allow Clemson to score 37 points in Week 4, but Tajh Boyd and Co. are among the best in the nation as far as offensive talent is concerned.

    Florida State may not play in one of the nation's elite conferences, but the ACC is an AQ league. Florida State's ranking at fourth nationally in scoring defense is not to be underestimated, but you must remember that it has only faced off against one Top 25 team.

    Overall Grade: A-

No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks

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    Total Defense: 3,089 yards (13th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 33, 2

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 5, 1

    Scoring Defense: 18.5 points per game (19th in FBS)

     

    South Carolina's defense was only dominated on the scoreboard in one game: the 44-11 loss to the Florida Gators. (Florida got 21 of those points off turnovers almost at the goal line.)

    South Carolina did have a poor showing against the Tennessee Volunteers in Week 9 to add to its woes, but the offense pulled that one out by three points. While Georgia is the SEC East Division champion this season, South Carolina is not too far away from achieving that same goal.

    Georgia's schedule was missing Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M. With the rotating schedules in the SEC, the day will come when the Gamecocks and Bulldogs don't have such a discrepancy in scheduling.

    Of course, if South Carolina had performed as well as it did against Georgia for the entire season, this wouldn't even be a discussion. Shutting down the Bulldogs was an amazing feat, and facing three top-10 teams in a row was not easy at all.

    South Carolina's defense still hasn't been the reason that it lost any games this season, and that earns them a solid grade through Week 11.

    Overall Grade: B+

No. 8 Texas A&M Aggies

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    Total Defense: 3,825 yards (54th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 37, 9

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 10, 1

    Scoring Defense: 21.3 points per game (27th in FBS)

     

    The Texas A&M Aggies join the club of teams whose defense has yet to lose them a game. The loss to Florida was by three points, and if Johnny Manziel had faced them in any other week, a win would have been likely.

    The five-point loss to LSU fell into the same category. LSU only scored 24 points, and that should have been low enough for Manziel and the rest of the offense to overcome.

    The bottom line is that Texas A&M is not only competing for the SEC West Division in its first year, but it's eight points away from being the No. 1 team in the country. That doesn't happen without defense. A&M wasn't even supposed to hang with teams like Alabama, much less beat the Tide.

    The numbers look worse than they are for this team, but a large portion of those numbers came from the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs the week before A&M played LSU. If these grades were based on expectations, the Aggies would have gotten an A-plus.

    Overall Grade: B

No. 7 LSU Tigers

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    Total Defense: 2,629 yards (3rd in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 19, 2

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 6, 1

    Scoring Defense: 15.5 points per game (10th in FBS)

     

    LSU lost a ton of personnel during the last year. While some expected LSU to contend for the SEC, there were many who didn't think it was possible. The loss to Florida seemed to confirm the suspicion that LSU was not going to go anywhere this year.

    LSU decided to use that loss as fuel to play to its potential for the next few weeks and beat almost everyone on the schedule. (Alabama would have been a win, but A.J. McCarron decided he'd lead a scoring drive in 43 seconds. There isn't much of a defense against a will that strong.)

    LSU hasn't allowed more than 22 points in any game this season, not even in the two losses. (Towson of the FCS is the highest-scoring team against LSU so far.)

    Had Zach Mettenberger developed one month sooner than he did, LSU would probably be the undefeated SEC favorite right now.

    Overall Grade: A

No. 6 Florida Gators

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    Total Defense: 2,849 yards (5th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 24, 5

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 5, 0 

    Scoring Defense: 12.9 points per game (3rd in FBS)

     

    Florida is probably the second biggest surprise in the SEC right now, hot on the heels of Texas A&M. Florida shouldn't have had nearly the success that it has had this season—at least, it didn't look that way entering Week 1.

    Florida's defense has handed it every game of the season on a silver platter. Even the Georgia loss was by a score of 17-9. If an offense can't score more than nine points, there's very little hope of a win. Florida's defense has done everything it could to put Florida in the "win" column.

    Florida's defense hasn't really done anything wrong this season, and it's never given up more than 20 points in any game. (Twice total against Louisiana-Lafayette and Tennessee.)

    Overall Grade: A+

No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs

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    Total Defense: 3,310 yards (24th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 24, 8

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 9, 2

    Scoring Defense: 18.8 points per game (21st in FBS)

     

    Georgia had one ridiculously bad game against South Carolina, and lost it 35-7. That loss belongs equally to the defense and the offense, but we're here to talk about defense. While that game could be explained as a statistical anomaly, it was the second week in a row that Georgia's defense failed to get off the bus.

    While Georgia's defense has locked down since then, there is reason to believe that it could falter in the SEC championship game. Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech are not going to provide the Bulldogs with the motivation to play their best, and getting out of that habit could be lethal to their season.

    If Georgia's defense stays true to recent form, this could be a special year for the Bulldogs. So far this season, though, Georgia is a little hot-and-cold.

    Overall Grade: B+

No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Total Defense: 2,478 yards (2nd in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 23, 6

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 6, 0 

    Scoring Defense: 11.1 points per game (Tied for 1st in FBS)

     

    Overall, Alabama's defense has been one of the most dominant in the nation and is tied with Notre Dame for the No. 1 spot. The major difference is that the Irish are undefeated, whereas the Tide are not.

    Alabama's defense has held all opponents to 17 or fewer points, with the notable exception of Texas A&M, who scored 20 in the first quarter alone. Alabama has had two bad games in a row defensively, and that will need to stop if there's any hope of making it to a BCS bowl.

    There is a line of five SEC teams waiting behind the Tide, so another loss will kill those Sugar Bowl hopes.

    Overall Grade: A-

No. 3 Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Total Defense: 2.952 yards (8th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 20, 2

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 7, 2

    Scoring Defense: 11.1 points per game (Tied for 1st in FBS)

     

    Notre Dame's defense is statistically as good as Alabama's as far as points are concerned, but they are a little better in the secondary. (They've allowed three fewer passing plays of 20 or more yards this season.)

    Notre Dame has taken two games to overtime this season and won both of them. Since the opponent gets to start on the 25, that's a key test for any defense. Even though the Irish took three overtime periods to knock down the Pittsburgh Panthers, that's still a better ending than Alabama's against Texas A&M.

    If Notre Dame can keep this defense clicking, there is a good chance that it can take down USC in the last game of the regular season. Notre Dame's defense has carried it through quite a few games, and the only real speed bump along the way was a Pittsburgh team that had absolutely nothing to lose.

    Holding teams to 11 points per game is no easy feat, especially when you're up against teams like Michigan, Miami (Fla.) and Oklahoma.

    Overall Grade: A+

No. 2 Oregon Ducks

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    Total Defense: 3,776 yards (47th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 26, 3

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 11, 0

    Scoring Defense: 22.3 points per game (30th in FBS)

     

    Oregon's defense has shown flashes of brilliance against teams like Arizona. The rushing defense has proven itself by only allowing 11 rushes of over 20 yards and absolutely zero rushes of over 40.

    Oregon has played some of the weaker teams in the nation so far and will face true tests against Stanford and Oregon State over the next two weeks.

    So far, Oregon's defense has only shown one major moment of weakness. That was when it allowed the USC Trojans to put up 51 points in Week 11. The Ducks need to lock that kind of thing down if they want to remain undefeated and take the trip to Miami for the national title game.

    Overall Grade: A-

No. 1 Kansas State Wildcats

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    Total Defense: 3,511 yards (34th in FBS)

    Passes Over 20, 40 Yards: 23, 3

    Rushes Over 20, 40 Yards: 3, 1

    Scoring Defense: 17.7 points per game (14th in FBS)

     

    Kansas State's defense has easily done well enough for the Wildcats to remain undefeated so far this season. The only close game was against Oklahoma, with the Wildcats winning by five points. While that may look like a "bad" victory, the same game last year was won by Oklahoma to the tune of 58-17.

    Kansas State is the most complete team in college football right now, and the Wildcats are heading straight to the national championship if they can make it through Baylor and Texas in the next three weeks.

    The Big 12's second bye week may turn out to be the difference-maker in that Longhorns match at the end of the season. So far, the Wildcats have earned every bit of the respect they currently enjoy. The defense is among the best in the nation, and Kansas State has earned that off the backs of four teams in the Top 25.

    Overall Grade: A