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Grading the Top 10 College Football Defenses Heading into Week 2

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2016

Grading the Top 10 College Football Defenses Heading into Week 2

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    Week 1 of the college football season is in the books, and Wake Forest reigns supreme as the nation's No. 1 defense

    We're only kidding, sort of. The Demon Deacons are No. 1 in total defense, thanks to a 31-7 route of FCS Presbyterian College. The Deacs allowed only 151 total yards and forced six turnovers.

    But seriously, do you think Wake Forest tops this list?

    After defending national champion Alabama's impressive win over Virginia Tech, where does it rank?

    Here is a list of the top-10 defenses in college football heading into Week 2. 

10. Florida State

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    The Seminoles gave Pittsburgh a rude welcome to the ACC Monday night, defeating the Panthers 41-13. All of the attention from that game will be on the performance of freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, and rightfully so.

    But the Seminoles gave everyone a glimpse of how good their defense will be, too. The 'Noles held Pittsburgh to 297 total yards, forced two turnovers and sacked Pitt quarterback Tom Savage three times. Outside of an excellent opening drive, the Panthers did virtually nothing the remainder of the game.

    Much will be made of FSU losing three very good defensive linemen to the NFL. However, the group they have back could be even better. Led by Mario Edwards, who looks like he is ready to live up to his vast potential, and the return of Jacobbi McDaniel, this defensive line is strong. 

    The Seminoles could have one of the better secondaries in all of college football. Lamarcus Joyner is a potential All-American at cornerback. 

    Florida State is off this week before returning home to Tallahassee to host the Nevada Wolf Pack on September 14. 

9. Oregon

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    Surprised to see the Ducks on this list? Don't be. This team returned six starters from 2012 and in last week's opener, finished with six sacks in a 66-3 route of Nicholls State. 

    Yes, it was only Nicholls State, but Oregon has the potential to be very good on defense all year. Defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti likes to build his defense around speed. Have the offense get the lead, then get after the quarterback. The Ducks follow that blueprint well.

    It will be tough for the Ducks to stay on this list all year. They play at such a fast pace that their defense is on the field a lot. But they return all four starters from their secondary, and the front seven can get after the passer.

8. Notre Dame

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    The Fighting Irish weren't tested in the season's first week. They defeated Temple 28-6 in South Bend.

    Things will get tougher this week when the Irish travel to Ann Arbor to face their bitter rival, Michigan. The Wolverines weren't tested in Week 1, either, easily dispatching Central Michigan 59-9.

    Notre Dame surprisingly gave up 362 total yards, but it is worth noting that many of Temple quarterback Connor Reilly's passing yards came late when the outcome was no longer in question.

    The Fighting Irish, with eight returning starters on defense, are led by an outstanding defensive line. However, if they continue to allow over 100 yards rushing each week, their stay on this list could be short-lived. 

7. Texas

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    It is hard to believe the Longhorns were so bad on defense in 2012. They allowed over 400 yards of total offense and 29 points per game. It was the worst statistical season for a Texas defense in over a decade.

    Last year's struggles may help the Longhorns in 2013, though. They return nine starters on defense, including Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks. 

    The Longhorns defeated New Mexico State last week, 56-7. While the Longhorns did give 346 yards of total offense, much of that yardage was late in the game when the 'Horns were playing second and third-string players.

    In a conference not known for defense in recent years, the Longhorns have a chance to be a very good team this year. Look for Texas to be among the nation's leaders in sacks in 2013. 

6. LSU

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    Don't let last week's score fool you, LSU played better than the score may have indicated. The Tigers defeated No. 20 TCU 37-27 in the season opener.

    LSU allowed only two scoring drives of over 33 yards on Saturday. Against a good Horned Frogs' offense, LSU allowed only 259 yards. The Tigers were dominant against the pass, allowing only 145 yards through the air.

    Keep in mind, this is a defense replacing seven starters. 

    The Tigers should have it rather easily the next few weeks before facing Georgia on September 28 in Athens. The next three games, against UAB, Kent State and Auburn, respectively, should give defensive coordinator John Chavis plenty of time to acclimate several talented youngsters into the lineup.

    It would come as a surprise to no one if the Tigers top this list at season's end.


5. Florida

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    Before we get too excited about the Gators, let's remember, their impressive defensive performance in Week 1 came against Toledo. 

    Florida held Toledo to just 205 yards, only 50 of those came on the ground. The Gators were led by defensive tackles Leon Orr and Dominique Easley. The two not only shut down Toledo's running game, they consistently pushed the pocket back in the passing game. Easley looks like the Gators' next great defensive lineman.

    True freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves recorded his first collegiate interception. It figures to be first of many for Hargreaves.

    The Gators will step up in competition this week as they travel to Miami to face one of the best running backs in the country, Duke Johnson.


4. Virginia Tech

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    Despite last week's score, this unit is for real. Ask Nick Saban. Saban had this to say about the Hokies' defense, according to David Teel of the Daily Press: “Defensively they're one of the toughest groups that we played against."

    That's high praise from a coach who plays in the nation's best conference on a weekly basis.

    Saban wasn't finished with his praise, though: 

    They moved on us up front. We whiffed a few times because they have good quickness. You know, they overloaded the sides, then would slant back. They were running us down the backside. They outplayed us up front, if you want to know the truth.

    The Hokies held the Crimson Tide to just 206 total yards of offense. Two Alabama scores came on special teams while another occurred when an interception was returned for a touchdown. This was a much closer game than the score would indicate.

    Virginia Tech's starters are very good. The defensive line is deep and if they can get some cooperation from an anemic offense, this team will go a long way. 

3. South Carolina

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    The Gamecocks opened the 2013 in impressive fashion defeating North Carolina 27-10 last Thursday. However, if you spent the entire game watching superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, like ESPN cameras did, you'd likely be disappointed. It wasn't his best showing.

    The one thing we learned from this game, though, USC's defense is a lot more than just Clowney.

    The Tar Heels, under second-year coach Larry Fedora, averaged 485 yards of total offense per game in 2012. South Carolina held the 'Heels to just 293 total yards. UNC had 194 yards passing, but averaged just 4.5 yards per attempt. The running game wasn't much better as the Gamecocks held UNC to 99 yards 2.8 yards per rush.

    Fans of other SEC schools may not like it, but South Carolina has a championship-level defense. They will get a big test against Georgia this week, a team they've beaten three straight times. But Georgia will be desperate after last week's loss at Clemson.

    And don't worry about Clowney; the attention he received for his performance against UNC could be bad news for the Bulldogs.

2. Stanford

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    Stanford doesn't play its first game until this weekend, at home against San Jose State. It won't be easy.

    The Spartans, led by senior quarterback David Fales, gave the Cardinal all they could handle in the 2012 season opener. Stanford prevailed 20-17 in a game much closer than many imagined. 

    The Cardinal should be better this year, though. They are led by a pair of senior linebackers: Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy.

    Can the Cardinal be this high in our defensive rankings next week? Saturday will be a good test for a defensive returning eight starters.

1. Alabama

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    Outside of one play against Virginia Tech, the Alabama defense was flawless in Week 1. The Tide gave up only 212 total yards, 77 of which came on the Hokies' lone touchdown.

    Nick Saban would tell you his team wasn't perfect and he would be right. The secondary was bailed on numerous occasions as Virginia Tech's wide receivers dropped countless passes. 

    Alabama's season-opening win did nothing to dissuade college football fans that it were the best defense in the nation. The Crimson Tide are off this week and expect Saban to clean up some of the defensive issues that plagued the team last week. 

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