Grading the Top 10 College Football Defenses Heading into Week 5

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2013

Grading the Top 10 College Football Defenses Heading into Week 5

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    Dominique Easley
    Dominique EasleyKevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Week 4 featured just one matchup between Top 25 teams. With that, there were several lopsided scores, as some of the better teams in the country faced inferior competition.

    Top teams facing bottom-feeders led to many teams stuffing the stat sheet with dominant performances. 

    As we near Week 5, we are starting to get a good feel for which teams are legitimate defensively.

    The new No. 1 team in our defensive power rankings earned it last week. They continue to get better each week.

    Is it your favorite team?

    Here is a look at the top 10 defenses in college football as we rapidly approach Week 5. 

10. Miami

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    Denzel Perryman
    Denzel PerrymanJared Wickerham/Getty Images

    Is The U back?

    With their win over Florida two weeks ago, the Hurricanes entered the top 25 for the first time in three years. And the defense is a big reason for that renaissance.

    Led by Denzel Perryman, the Hurricanes have one of the more athletic defenses in the nation. They currently rank No. 14 in total defense, allowing 282 yards per game. They have 10 sacks on the season and have forced 11 turnovers.

    One area to watch is Miami's run defense. They are allowing 131 yards rushing per game and could stand to improve in that area.

9. USC

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    Morgan Breslin
    Morgan BreslinUSA TODAY Sports

    It really is amazing that USC gets rid of one of the best defensive coaches in NFL history and dramatically improves on defense. That's precisely what's happened with this bunch. Monte Kiffin's departure back to the NFL was best for all parties involved.

    New coordinator Clancy Pendergast installed a "52" scheme, which focuses more on blitzing and creating pressure on the quarterback. It has paid off in a big way. The Trojans have 16 sacks in four games to go along with seven turnovers.

    They are No. 4 in total defense and are led by Morgan Breslin, George Uko and Devon Kennard. No team in the country has a better group of pass-rushers. 

    Now if USC could only get rid of that other Kiffin.

8. Wisconsin

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    Chris Borland
    Chris BorlandUSA TODAY Sports

    The Badgers suffered a bizarre loss in Week 3 at Arizona State. They rebounded this past Saturday with a blowout win over Purdue to improve to 3-1.

    Wisconsin allowed just 180 yards against the Boilermakers. Purdue had just 45 yards on 21 carries and passed for only 135 yards. The Badgers held Purdue to a paltry 3.8 yards per attempt.

    One area Wisconsin needs to improve in is rushing the passer. Successfully getting to the quarterback will increase turnovers and keep the Badgers as one of the best defenses in the country for the entire season.

7. Florida State

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    Timmy Jernigan
    Timmy JerniganMelina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

    The Seminoles are currently 3-0 and ranked No. 7 in total defense. They haven't exactly beaten a heavyweight yet, with wins over Pitt, Nevada and Bethune-Cookman. 

    However, FSU did what they were supposed to do. They thoroughly dominated all three teams, while also allowing seven new defensive starters to gain some experience before the schedule gets tougher.

    Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner is quietly putting together an outstanding senior season. If the defensive line lives up to their expectations, the Seminoles could potentially go undefeated. Clemson, Miami and Florida remain the biggest obstacles.

6. LSU

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    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sport

    The Tigers are used to being one of the better defenses in the country. They aren't there yet, but they will be soon.

    In last week's win over Auburn, LSU allowed more than 400 yards. Much of that yardage was gained in the fourth quarter, when the outcome was essentially decided. 

    No team in college football lost as many defensive starters to the NFL as the Tigers did. What do they do? They recruit and reload. 

    LSU is currently No. 24 in total defense. They will get a stiff test this weekend when they take on No. 9 Georgia in Athens. If the Tigers win this game, it will be because the defense limits Aaron Murray and Todd Gurley. 

5. Alabama

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    After topping this list in our previous power rankings, the Tide fall a bit due to their performance against Texas A&M two weeks ago.

    The Crimson Tide responded with a 31-6 win over Colorado State last week. From an offensive standpoint, it was an unimpressive performance. However, on the defensive side of the ball, the Tide rolled. That was without some key starters, such as Deion Belue and Jarrick Williams.

    Two areas Alabama needs to improve on are their pass rush and forcing turnovers. With players like Adrian Hubbard and C.J. Mosley, expect the pass rush to get significantly better each week. 

    To say Alabama isn't one of the best defenses in the country just because of what happened in College Station is ludicrous. Johnny Manziel and the Aggies could score 40 on anybody.

    Does anyone believe another team scores six touchdowns on the Tide again?

4. Stanford

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    Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    The Cardinal are 3-0 and currently ranked No. 5 in the country. Yet, just like every other year, no one is talking about them.

    Last week, Stanford defeated No. 23 Arizona State, 42-28. Despite allowing 28 points, the Cardinal thoroughly dominated the Sun Devils. Stanford led 29-0 at the half and 39-7 after three quarters. 

    The schedule will continue to be surprisingly tough for the Cardinal in the coming weeks. They travel to Seattle this weekend to face a much-improved Washington State team before returning home to host Washington. 

    Look for Trent Murphy, Ben Gardner and Henry Anderson to start taking over games up front, beginning this week. 

3. Virginia Tech

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    Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

    With a win over Marshall in Week 4, the Hokies improved to 3-1. Just like the win over ECU the previous week, it wasn't pretty. However, back-to-back outstanding defensive efforts saved the Hokies from being upset in both games.

    The Thundering Herd came into last week's game averaging more than 550 yards per game. The Hokies held them to 361 total yards. Remember, this game went into three overtimes.

    VT is now No. 5 in total defense. A blocked punt and field goal last week gave Hokies fans hope that "Beamer Ball" has returned. 

    Things will be tough for the Hokies this week. They face Georgia Tech's flexbone option on offense on Thursday night. If they expect to win this game, they will need to force turnovers, something they have done very well this year. Virginia Tech currently has 16 sacks and forced 10 turnovers on the season. 

2. Michigan State

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    Trae Waynes
    Trae WaynesJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Michigan State continues to impress defensively. Led by senior linebacker Max Bullough, the Spartans are coming off of a controversial loss at Notre Dame. Several defensive pass interference calls kept Notre Dame drives alive and ultimately led to the game-winning score.

    Now if only the Spartans could get some help from an anemic offense. This defense, ranked No. 1 in the country, has the ability to carry the MSU to a Big Ten title. They are that good. But they need help from an offense that is currently ranked No. 104 in total offense. 

    The Spartans are off this week and have a key road game at Iowa on October 5. The Hawkeyes will be a stiff test for Michigan State. 

    Fortunately, their path to a Big Ten title doesn't include Ohio State or Wisconsin on the schedule. 

1. Florida

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    Vernon Hargreaves
    Vernon HargreavesKim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    Despite suffering a disappointing Week 2 loss to in-state rival Miami, the Gators continue to dominate on the defensive side of the ball. Through three games, Florida has given up a total of 637 yards. The Gators' opponents—Toledo, Miami and Tennessee—are not slouches.

    The Gators have forced eight turnovers on the season but would like to get more pressure on the passer. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley is the unit's top player. Florida has terrific talent at each level of the defense, and freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves already looks the part of a future star.

    Florida heads to Kentucky this weekend to take on a surprising Wildcats offense. Don't expect an upset, though, as the Gators should hold things together on defense while new quarterback Tyler Murphy gets adjusted to his new role.