Predicting the Top 25 Defenses of 2013

Nick de la Torre@@NickdelatorreCorrespondent IDecember 26, 2012

Predicting the Top 25 Defenses of 2013

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    The old adage goes, "Defense wins championships," and in college football that has proven to be true time and time again. 

    This season, Notre Dame and Alabama finished No. 1 and No. 2 in scoring defense. It's no coincidence that those two teams will play for a National Championship in Miami.

    When LSU and Alabama played for a National Championship in 2011, they had the two best scoring defenses in the country. 

    Do you see a pattern developing? No? Well consider that in the BCS-era, only one team has won a National Championship without finishing the season with a top-10 ranked scoring defense. 

    Offense may sell tickets and give you great highlights, but the best teams in the country play hard-nosed defense and impose their will on the defensive side of the ball. 

    With the college football season winding down, let's take a look at which teams will be ready to make a run in 2013 and which defenses can carry their teams to a championship. 

    An asterisk (*) next to a players name denotes that the player still has eligibility left but could forego their final season in college and enter the NFL Draft. 

25. USC

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    Key Departures: T.J. Mcdonald, Jawanza Starling, Nickell Robey

    Key Returners: Morgan Breslin, Leonard Williams, Dion Bailey, George Uko, Hayes Pullard, Lamar Dawson, Devon Kennard

    Key Recruits: S Su'a Cravens, DT Kenny Bigelow, DT Eddie Vanderdoes, CB Jalen Ramsey, LB Michael Hutchings, CB Chris Hawkins, Jabari Ruffin

    If you consider the talent that USC had on the defensive side of the ball, the Trojans underperformed in 2012. USC finished with the No. 45 scoring defense, giving up 24.6 points per game. 

    Monte Kiffin's resignation should not have come as a surprise after the way the defense played this season, but USC has talent and should be ready to rebound in 2013. 

24. Ohio State

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    Key Departures: Travis Howard, Etienne Sabino, Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Garrett Goebel

    Key Returners: Ryan Shazier, Christian Bryant, Bradley Roby, C.J. Barnett, Adolphus Washington

    Key Recruits: CB Eli Apple, CB Cam Burrows, DT Joey Bosa, CB Gareon Conley

    The Buckeyes are coming off of an undefeated 12-0 season, their first under new head coach Urban Meyer. Meyer was able to turn around Florida quickly, winning a National Championship in his second season, and it looks like Meyer will be able to do the same at Ohio State. 

    The Buckeyes finished with the No. 32 ranked scoring defense, giving up 22.8 points per game. The Buckeyes were particularly stingy against the run, allowing just 116.8 yards per game on the ground—good enough to rank No. 13 in the country. 

    With key returner, Ryan Shazier primed to have a breakout junior season and a star-studded recruiting class on the way, the Buckeyes will have one of the best defenses in the B1G next season. 

23. Texas A&M

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    Key Departures: Damontre Moore*, Jonathan Stewart, Steven Jenkins, Sean Porter, Steven Terrell, Dustin Harris, Spencer Nealy, Toney Hurd Jr.*

    Key Returners: Howard Matthews, Deshazor Everett, De'Vante Harris, Donnie Baggs

    Key Recruits: DT Justin Manning, CB Noel Ellis 

    While Johnny Manziel took the country by storm, the Aggies defense did their part in helping A&M finish the season 10-2. 

    In its biggest test of the season, the Aggie defense stood tall against Alabama in Tuscaloosa. A&M forced three turnovers and held the Crimson Tide to just 24 points. 

    Losing Damontre Moore and Sean Porter will be a big blow to the Aggies, but A&M passed the test of playing in the SEC this season, and it will be better prepared moving forward.  Moore has said he intends to stay at A&M, but he currently projects as a top-10 pick in the NFL Draft, and that could be too enticing to pass up. 

22. Connecticut

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    Key Departures: Jory Johnson, Sio Moore, Dwayne Gratz, Ryan Wirth, Blidi Wreh-Wilson, Trevardo Williams

    Key Returners: Yawin Smallwood, Byron Jones, Ty-Meer Brown, Taylor Mack, Angelo Pruitt

    Key Recruits: CB Javon Hadley, LB Junior Joseph, Cory Jasudowich

    Don Brown has turned the Huskies' defense around. After struggling in 2011, more due to injury than lack of talent, the Huskies finished with one of the best defenses in the country. 

    UCONN finished with the No. 23 ranked scoring defense (19.8 ppg), No. 9 ranked total defense (309.9 ypg) and No. 7 ranked rush defense (97.92 ypg).

    With Yawin Smallwood coming back off of an incredible 120 tackle season, he and the Huskies' defense should be able to repeat that performance in 2013. 

21. Nebraska

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    Key Departures: Will Compton, Daimion Stafford, P.J. Smith, Alonzo Whaley, Eric Martin, Baker Steinkuhler, Cameron Meredith

    Key Returners: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ciante Evans, Andrew Green, Jason Ankrah

    Key Recruits: DE Randy Gregory, LB Marcus Newby, LB Josh Banderas, LB Courtney Love

    Nebraska will lose its top-five tacklers from 2012. That's a huge hole to fill moving into 2013. 

    The Black Shirts had some embarrassing performances this season—giving up 63 points to Ohio State and allowing Wisconsin to put up a 70 spot are the most glaring.

    But they still finished with the No.23 ranked total defense in the country, and they have some young playmakers waiting to step up and prove themselves next season. 

20. Wisconsin

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    Key Departures: Mike Taylor, Marcus Cromartie, Devin Smith, Shelton Johnson, Brendan Kelly

    Key Returners: David Gilbert, Chris Borland, Dezmen Southward, Ethan Armstrong, Derek Landisch

    Key Recruits: DE Alec James, LB Garret Dooley, CB Sojourn Shelton, ATH/S Marcus Ball

    The Badgers finished in the top 23 in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense and pass defense in 2012. Wisconsin will return most of its defense in 2013 and should be a unit to be feared in the B1G.

19. Bowling Green

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    Key Departures: Dwayne Woods, Chris Jones

    Key Returners: Gabe Martin, Paul Swan, Cameron Truss, D.J. Lynch, Ryland Ward, Jerry Gates, Bryan Thomas, Ted Ouellet, Aaron Foster, Bryan Baird, Jude Adjei-Barimah

    Key Recruits: LB Paul Senn, DT Shannon Smith, LB Jason Shepherd, LB Nathan Locke

    The Falcons finished in the top-14 in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense and pass defense in 2012. As you can see from the key returners above, the Falcons will return most of their playmakers on defense.

    Bowling Green should be able to match its productivity from 2012 and build on it moving into 2013.  

18. Utah State

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    Key Departures: McKade Brady, Bojay Filimoeatu, Will Davis

    Key Returners: Connor Williams, Zach Vigil, Jordan Nielsen, B.J. Larsen, Kyler Fackrell, LaBradford Harold, Brian Suite, Jake Doughty

    Key Recruits: DE Caden Anderson, LB Braden Harris, DE Jacoby Wildman

    The Aggies finished with the No. 15 total defense in the country this season and will return a ton of playmakers, especially at linebacker and in their secondary. 

    Jake Doughty and Zach Vigil combined for over 210 tackles last season, and they should be able to do it again.

17. TCU

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    Key Departures: Kenny Cain

    Key Returners: Joel Hasley, Devonte Fields, Sam Carter, Stansly Maponga, Davion Pierson, Elisha Olabode, Chris Hackett, Jason Verrett, Chucky Hunter, Marcus Mallett 

    Key recruits: LB Paul Whitmill, DE Bryson Henderson, LB Sammy Douglas

    TCU is young on defense. The Horned Frogs finished with the No. 18 total defense and the No. 10 rush defense in the country this season and will return a ton of talent in 2013. 

    Devonte Fields had a coming-out party as a freshman, and the sky is the limit for his potential. Fields finished with 49 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, an interception and nine sacks. This kid is going to be special. 

16. Michigan State

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    Key Departures: Chris Norman, Johnny Adams, Anthony Rashad White, William Gholston*

    Key Returners: Darqueze Dennard*, Max Bullough, Isaiah Lewis, Denicos Allen, Kurtis Drummond, Taiwan Jones, RJ Williamson 

    Key Recruits: LB Shane Jones, LB Jon Reschke, S Jalyn Powell

    The Spartans struggled in 2012 posting a 6-6 record, but it wasn't the fault of the defense. The most points the Spartans' defense gave up this season was 28 in a 28-24 loss to Nebraska.

    The Spartans finished the season with the No. 10 scoring defense, No. 4 total defense, No. 8 rush defense and the No. 9 pass defense. Losing William Gholston to the draft will hurt, but players like Max Bullough and R.J. Williamson are ready to step up in 2013. 

15. Vanderbilt

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    Key Departures: Archibald Barnes, Eric Samuels, Johnell Thomas, Trey Wilson, Rob Lohr

    Key Returners: Andre Hal, Javon Marshall, Kenny Ladler, Chase Garnham, Karl Butler, Walker May, Jared Morse, Kyle Woestmann

    Key Recruits: DT Jay Woods, CB Tre' Bell, CB Ryan White, DE Landon Stokes, LB Oren Burks

    James Franklin is changing the culture at Vanderbilt. The Commodores are no longer the door mat of the SEC and are quickly becoming a very dangerous team in the East division. 

    The 'Dores finished with a very respectable defense in 2012, finishing with the No. 15 scoring defense in the country. 

    With key players like Javon Marshall and Andre Hall coming back next season and the additions of Jay Woods, Tre' Bell and Ryan White to the defense, Vanderbilt should continue trending up in 2013. 

14. Penn State

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    Key Departures: Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti, Jordan Hill, Stephon Morris, Jacob Fagnano, Sean Stanley

    Key Returners: Deion Barnes, Mike Hull, Anthony Zettel, Glenn Carson, Malcolm Willis, Adrian Amos, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong

    Key Recruits: DE Garrett Sickels, LB Brandon Bell, CB Jordan Smith, S Neiko Robinson

    With everything going on in Nittanyville, it would have been easy for Penn State to roll over this season. After starting the season 0-2, the Nittany Lions bounced back to finish the season 8-4 with a lot of credit going to their defense. 

    Penn State finished with the No. 19 scoring defense in the country, and with an improved offense next season, things should be a little easier for the defense in 2013. 

13. Boise State

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    Key Departures: J.C. Percy, Tommy Smith, Jamar Taylor, Darren Koontz, Jerrell Gavins

    Key Returners: Jeremy Ioane, Demarcus Lawrence, Blake Renaud, Corey Bell, Darian Thompson, Tyler Horn

    Key Recruits: CB Mercy Maston, DT Justin Taimatuia, LB Tanner Vallejo

    Whether they stay in the Mountain West or head to the Big East, the Broncos will have a solid defense next season. 

    Demarcus Lawrence had a great sophomore season, as did Tyler Horn. Mercy Maston and Justin Taimatuia are junior college transfers who can step in right away and make an impact on a defense that finished ranked in the top-12 in scoring, total and pass defense in 2012. 

12. Rutgers

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    Key Departures: Khaseem Greene, Steve Beauharnais Scott Vallone, Duron Harmon, Marcus Cooper

    Key Returners: Jamil Merrell, Jamal Merrell, Lorenzo Waters, Kevin Snyder, Logan Ryan

    Key Recruits: ATH Nadir Barnwell, LB Skai Moore

    Just a season after losing their head coach, the Scarlett Knights produced one of the best defenses in school history. 

    Rutgers finished with the No. 5 scoring defense allowing just 14.3 points per game, No. 14 total defense and No. 11 rush defense. 

    Being able to feast on the Big East should make things easy for this stingy defense in 2013. 

11. Michigan

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    Key Departures: Jordan Kovacs, Craig Roh, J.T Floyd, Kenny Demens

    Key Returners: Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, Courtney Avery, Joe Bolden

    Key Recruits: CB Jourdan Lewis, ATH Dymonte Thomas, LB Mike McCray II, DT Taco Charlton, CB Ross Douglas

    The Wolverines have moved past the dark days under Rich Rodriguez and into a new era under Brady Hoke. Greg Mattison has given the Wolverine defense some bite, and Michigan has a defense to be feared in 2013. 

    Michigan finished with the No. 16 scoring defense and No. 10 total defense in 2012. Losing Jordan Kovacs and Craig Roh will hurt, but Frank Clark, Jake Ryan and a recruiting class filled with defensive studs should allow Michigan to continue playing great defense. 

10. Oregon

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    Key Departures: Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso, Dion Jordan

    Key Returners: Brian Jackson, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Erick Dargan, Avery Patterson, Taylor Hart, Boseko Lokombo, Dior Mathis

    Key Recruits: ATH Danny Mattingly

    The Ducks play so fast on offense that their defense can get overlooked. 

    Oregon finished with the No. 26 scoring defense in the country and finished the year with 38 takeaways. That tied them for most in the country with Kent State. 

    Turnovers create scoring opportunities for the offense and can change the momentum of any game. If Oregon can continue to take the ball away at that rate, it will be a force to be reckoned with in 2013. 

9. Georgia

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    Key Departures: Jarvis Jones*, Alec Ogletree*, Shawn Williams, Bacarri Rambo, John Jenkins, Sanders Commings

    Key Returners: Amarlo Herrera, Garrison Smith, Damian Swann, Jordan Jenkins, T.J. Stripling, Josh Harvey-Clemons

    Key Recruits: CB Shaq Wiggins, S Tray Matthews, LB Johnny O'Neal, ATH Reggie Wilkerson, LB Tim Kimbrough

    Georgia could take a huge hit if (most likely when) Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree declare for the NFL Draft. Jones is a one-of-a-kind talent and will be impossible to replace with just one player. 

    Even without Jones, Georgia has too much talent on defense to fall off. The Dawgs finished with the No. 17 ranked scoring defense and the No. 8 ranked pass defense. 

    Shaq Wiggins will compete for playing time right away, and the rest of the recruiting class should give Georgia the depth it needs to continue playing defense at a high level. 

8. South Carolina

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    Key Departures: Shaq Wilson, D.J. Swearinger, Reginald Bowens, DeVonte Holloman, Quin Smith, Devin Taylor

    Key Returners: Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton, Brison Williams, Jimmy Legree, Kelcy Quarles

    Key Recruits: DT Kelsey Griffin, LB Larenz Bryant, DE Devin Washington, LB David Johnson

    All you really need to know is that Jadeveon Clowney is coming back. Clowney will be the best defensive player in the country next season.

    The Gamecocks finished with the No. 13 ranked scoring defense and the No. 11 total defense in the country in 2012, and the Gamecocks will continue to have one of the best defenses in the country as long as Clowney is on campus. 

7. Stanford

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    Key Departures: Shayne Skov, Chase Thomas, Terrence Brown, Usua Amanam, Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner

    Key Returners: Ed Reynolds, Jordan Richards, Henry Anderson, Josh Mauro

    Key Recruits: LB Peter Kalambayi, LB Sean Barton, LB Taijuan Thomas

    Stanford finished with the No. 14 ranked scoring defense, the No. 21 total defense and the No. 3 rush defense in the country. Stanford also led the country with 56 sacks on the year. 

    The Cardinal defense has been strong since Derek Mason took over as defensive coordinator and should continue to perform as long as Mason is running the show. 

6. BYU

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    Key Departures: Brandon Ogletree, Preston Hadley, Ezekiel Ansah, Uona Kaveinga

    Key Returners: Kyle Van Noy, Bronson Kaufusi, Spencer Hadley, Jordan Johnson, Craig Bills

    Key Recruits: DT Ma'ataua Brown, DT Claudell Louis

    The Cougars were one of the best defensive units in 2012. BYU finished the year with the No. 4 scoring defense, the No. 3 total defense, the No. 2 rush defense and the No. 13 pass defense. 

    With standout linebacker Kyle Van Noy returning for his senior season, the Cougars will have another great defense in 2013. 

5. LSU

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    Key Departures: Eric Reid*, Kevin Minter*, Barkevious Mingo*, Sam Montgomery*, Josh Downs

    Key Returners: Jalen Mills, Tharold Simon, Ronald Martin, Anthony Johnson, Jalen Collins, Micah Eugene 

    Key Recruits: CB Jeryl Brazil, DT Greg Gilmore, DE Frank Heron

    LSU is loaded with talented juniors who could choose to forego their senior season and test the NFL. Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery are all among the best players at their positions and would be drafted very early if they left school. 

    LSU's defense will reload in 2013 with players like Jalen Mills, Ronald Martin and a talented recruiting class including Greg Gilmore, who will compete for early playing time. 

    If one or more of the juniors decide to stay in school, the LSU defense will be one the the truly elite defenses in the country. 

4. Notre Dame

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    Key Departures: Manti Te'o, Zeke Motta, Dan Fox, Kapron Lewis-Moore

    Key Returners: Stephon Tuitt, Prince Shembo, Bennett Jackson, KeiVarae Russell, Louis Nix III

    Key Recruits: LB Jaylon Smith, LB Alex Anzalone, DE Isaac Rochell, LB Doug Randolph 

    Like Jarvis Jones and Jadeveon Clowney, Manti Te'o is a unique playmaker and almost impossible to replace. Losing Te'o and Motta will leave a huge hole in the Irish defense, but Louis Nix III deciding to stay for his senior season will help fill that hole. 

    Joining Nix are a duo of talented linebackers, Jaylon Smith and Alex Anzalone. Both players should compete early for playing time, and Brian Kelly should have another great defense in 2013. 

3. Florida State

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    Key Departures: Tank Carradine, Bjoern Werner*, Xavier Rhodes*, Brandon Jenkins, Christian Jones*

    Key Returners: Telvin Smith, Nick Waisome, Timmy Jernigan, Mario Edwards Jr., Lamarcus Joyner, Karlos Williams, P.J. Williams

    Key Recruits: LB Ro'Derrick Hoskins, LB Freddie Stevenson, CB Marquez White, LB E.J. Levenberry Jr. 

    Replacing Tank Carradine, Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins will be tough, but Jimbo Fisher has been raking in talented recruiting classes for three years now, and FSU is deep on defense. 

    Mario Edwards, Karlos Williams and Timmy Jernigan are poised to have breakout seasons for the Noles, and FSU gets to beat on a soft ACC schedule.  

2. Florida

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    Key Departures: Sharrif Floyd*, Matt Elam*, Jon Bostic, Lerentee McCray, Josh Evans, Omar Hunter, 

    Key Returners: Jelani Jenkins, Ronald Powell, Marcus Roberson, Dante Fowler Jr., Loucheiz Purifoy, Jonathan Bullard, Antonio Morrison, Leon Orr

    Key Recruits: CB Vernon Hargreaves III, DT Caleb Brantley, LB Daniel McMillian, S Keanu Neal, S Nick Washington, S Marcell Harris

    The Gators defense is the biggest reason Florida was able to finish the season 11-1. The Gators finished the season with the No. 3 scoring defense, the No. 5 total defense, the No. 6 rush defense and the No. 15 ranked pass defense. Florida was also able to create 29 turnovers in 2012, more than double its total from 2011. 

    Florida will likely lose Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam to the NFL Draft, but Dominique Easley didn't submit paperwork to the NFL to see what his draft stock is and could return for his senior season. 

    The Gators will also get Ronald Powell back after he missed the season with an ACL injury, and Loucheiz Purifoy, Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard all look poised to have breakout seasons in 2013. 

    Vernon Hargreaves III, Keanu Neal, Nick Washington and Marcell Harris are all rated in the ESPN 150 and will give the Gators a scary secondary for years to come. 

1. Alabama

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    Key Departures: Dee Milner*, Nico Johnson, Robert Lester, Quinton Dial 

    Key Returners: C.J Mosley, Trey DePriest, Vinnie Sunseri, Ha-Sean Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins, Adrian Hubbard 

    Key Recruits: DE Demarcus Walker, DE Jonathan Allen, CB Maurice Smith 

    Alabama is on the verge of winning its third BCS National Championship in four years and the main reason is a solid defense. Nick Saban is able to recruit the most talented players in the country to play for him at Alabama, and it has allowed the Crimson Tide to reload rather than rebuild. 

    Alabama will lose Robert Lester, Quinton Dial, Nico Johnson and possibly Dee Milner to the NFL, but there is an abundance of quality players waiting to take their places. 

    C.J. Mosley will return for another season and should lead the Tide in tackles for a second-straight season. Vinnie Sunseri, Ha-Sean Clinton-Dix, Landon Collins and Adrian Hubbard are all ready to play right away in 2013, and the Tide will add a dangerous pass-rusher in Demarcus Walker. 

    In case you need numbers to tell you just how good Alabama is and will be, here you go. Alabama finished with the No. 2 scoring defense, the No. 1 total defense, the No. 1 rush defense and the No.5 pass defense. 

    Alabama is the ultimate example of how defense wins championships, and its defense could win the school's 15th in a couple of weeks.