Washington safety Shaq Thompson
Stanford was the only Pac-12 football team to be ranked among the top 20 in total defense in NCAA Div. I last season. However, that does not mean the Pac-12 lacked great defenses.
What it does mean is that in conference games, those defenses had to contend with several prolific offenses.
So where do defenses in the Pac-12 stand heading into 2013?
One from the Pac-12 South will be surprisingly better while another from the Pac-12 North will struggle.
And one Pac-12 team that went BCS bowling last year is searching for leaders on its unit.
Colorado mascot Ralphie
The Buffaloes may not like it, but there is no other place for them right now. USA Today's Paul Myerberg explains why:
The Buffaloes allowed 46.0 points per game, the most in the FBS and the second-most by any team since 2007. CU gave up 8.6 yards per attempt through the air, the fifth-worst average in the nation, 39 passing touchdowns, the most in the FBS, and had a quarterback efficiency defense of 173.58, last in the country.
The Buffaloes intercepted only three passes, tied for the fewest in the program's known history, and didn't pick off one pass over the season's last eight games.
Ugh. Everybody wants to play Colorado.
Cal finished 3-9 last season and the collateral damage was inevitable. Head coach Jeff Tedford was dismissed and USC swooped in and snagged defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast.
This year's Golden Bears' defense will be switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3, so there will be some adjustment. The secondary lost cornerbacks Marc Anthony and Steve Williams and the depth looks thin.
In a nutshell, the defense returns six starters and is switching to a new scheme under a new defensive coordinator and head coach. Expectations are low.
Arizona's defense was atrocious last year.
The Wildcats gave up an average of 499 yards per game. One wonders how Arizona even went bowling with that defense, but quarterback Matt Scott and running back Ka'Deem Carey kept them in games.
Scott is gone and Carey's legal woes may result in suspension time this fall. The offense may struggle, so the defense will have to shoulder more responsibility.
The good news is that 11 starters return. If cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight and linebacker Marquis Flowers can stay healthy, the Wildcats should improve.
The Cougars' defense has improved under head coach Mike Leach. The front seven are very good and did a great job of stuffing the run. Washington State's run defense finished sixth in the conference.
One of the Cougars' most promising players is middle linebacker Darryl Monroe, who has Leach fired up, according to ESPN's Ted Miller:
Definitely an impressive guy. A good individual to build a defense around.
While the Cougars' defense should improve again this year, they are still going to allow an average of more than 30 points per game until Leach can consistently recruit 4-star athletes.
Safety Brian Blechen
Utah's front four were one of the best in the country last year. This season, the Utes will be without Star Lotulelei, Dave Kruger and Joe Kruger. The Utes also lose corners Mo Lee and Ryan Lacy.
Head coach Kyle Whittingham develops talent better than most FBS coaches, so there is no doubt he'll get the defense ready, but there isn't enough evidence yet to indicate that the defense has jelled.
The Beavers' defense was fantastic last season and returns seven starters. But it is thin on the defensive line.
Oregon State loses tackles Andrew Seumalo and Castro Masaniai. Although defensive end Scott Crichton returns, the Beavers also lose one of the premier cornerbacks in the nation in Jordan Poyer.
Mike Riley is a miracle worker, so we won't be shocked if the Beavers' defense stays stout, but that is highly unlikely with three of the front four being a question mark.
The Bruins' offense is loaded, but their defense lost some outstanding players, including safety Tevin McDonald, who was dismissed from the team. The secondary will also need to be rebuilt.
The linebacker corps is solid with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Jordan Zumwalt. The defensive line lost Datone Jones, which is a huge loss, but Ellis McCarthy and Cassius Marsh have unlimited potential.
The most noticeable concern is UCLA's inability to stop the run. The spring game highlighted the outside-containment problem.
There is plenty of talent, it is just a matter of figuring out who goes where and how well they learn the nuances of their positions.
USC's Dion Bailey
USC's defense was at its worst last season when it gave up 426 rushing yards to Oregon.
Giving up 294 yards against Georgia Tech and 200-plus yards apiece against Stanford, Arizona and Notre Dame weren't well-received by Trojans fans, either.
This season the rushing defense looks extremely improved and the front seven looks nasty. Unfortunately, the secondary does not.
The corners were getting beaten by Victor Blackwell, Nelson Agholor and Marqis Lee all spring in practice. While the Trojans' receiving trio is the top unit in the country and some separation from their inexperienced corners is to be expected, 10 to 15 yards is still alarming.
If the cornerbacks improve over the summer, then USC should be fine. If receivers continue to get a lot of separation, this will be a long season for USC and perhaps head coach Lane Kiffin's last.
Defensive back Terrance Mitchell
The Ducks lost linebackers Kiko Alonzo and and Michael Clay as well as end Dion Jordan, tackle Issac Remington and safety John Boyett. The loss of talent is obvious, but so is the loss of leadership.
The Ducks have a lot of experience due to former head coach Chip Kelly rotating his defensive reserves in the second half of games that were no longer in doubt. New head coach Mark Helfrich won't change much as far as schemes, but Oregon could improve its defense.
Last season, the Ducks finished sixth in the conference in total defense. This year, they should improve to fourth if someone steps up and becomes the heart of the unit.
Tackle Will Sutton
The Sun Devils' front seven is terrific, led by surprising returner Will Sutton. If the Arizona State defensive line does its job like it should, the holes in the secondary may not be problematic.
The Sun Devils averaged almost four sacks per game. They are nasty and disciplined.
Safety Keelan Johnson and corner Deveron Carr return, so there is experienced leadership in the secondary, but head coach Todd Graham would probably sleep better if he knew his entire defense was going to live up to its high expectations.
Safety Shaq Thompson
The front seven returns, which automatically ranks the Huskies among our projected top defenses in the Pac-12.
They do lose two outstanding defensive backs in corner Desmond Trufant and safety Justin Glenn, but safety Shaq Thompson should continue to pick up where Trufant and Glenn left off.
Travell Dixon was the top junior college cornerback when he signed with Alabama, but Dixon transferred to Washington and sat out last year. Head coach Steve Sarkisian has a Nick Saban player? That is a welcome asset.
Putting the Huskies near the top of the league's defenses seems almost obvious, doesn't it?
Linebacker Shayne Skov
Stanford is the "Alabama of the Pac-12." Stout defense and a balanced offense run by a great head coach in David Shaw is Stanford football.
This year, the Cardinal lose some outstanding players. Linebacker Chase Thomas and tackle Terrance Stephens are gone and that hurts, but linebacker Shayne Skov returns.
There is no glaring weakness in this unit. It is business as usual on The Farm.