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Throughout all of the 2013 season, Michigan State's defense was shutting down opposing offenses and earning recognition as the No. 1 overall defense in the nation.
As it turns out, Michigan State finished just out of the No. 1 spot, allowing an average of 252.2 yards per game. Louisville leaped MSU after the bowl season, finishing No. 1 while surrendering an average of 251.5 yards per game.
Michigan State also ranked in the top three nationally in both passing defense and rushing defense, but it's the passing defense that gets some love here. The Spartans allowed 12 passing touchdowns through 14 games while intercepting 17 passes over that span. The secondary also held opposing quarterbacks to a 47.5 completion percentage and a FBS-leading 92.3 combined QB rating.
How did MSU manage such a stellar defense in 2013? Look no further than senior corner Darqueze Dennard, who tops this list of top Big Ten players in 2013.
Dennard, winner of both the Jack Tatum Award and Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back, was also a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Award, which is given to the nation's top overall defender.
He has been a cornerstone of MSU's "no fly zone" as a three-season starter. He has accounted for 10 interceptions in his career, 168 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 20 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and a sack. Not bad. Not bad at all.
And 2013 was probably his best season, too. His four interceptions tied him for third in the Big Ten, while his 10 pass breakups tied him for sixth. His forced fumbles tied him for ninth in that category, and no other Big Ten player finished the season ranked in the top 10 in all three categories.
It's unfair to the rest of the Michigan State defense to say that Dennard was the sole reason for MSU's Big Ten and Rose Bowl championships. But on a defensive squad full of bright stars, none shined brighter in 2013 than him.
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