Throughout 2009 and even after the college football season ended, the defensive units at TCU, Alabama, and Texas were consistently being touted as the best defenses in the country.
But a deeper look at the total defense statistics, one of the four major statistical categories used to measure defense among the 120 FBS teams, reveals an interesting and intriguing fact.
Here they are:
The second column of numbers after the team name, reading left to right, are the total number of plays faced by each defense throughout the entire season.
The fifth column from the left shows the number of touchdowns each team gave up in 2009.
The number one rated TCU defense was on the field for 801 plays and gave up an average of just under 240 yards a game. Number two Alabama gave up an average of 244 total yards per game on 844 total plays faced. And number three Texas gave up an average of 245 yards a game, facing 918 total plays.
Coming in as the number seven ranked total defense, the Cornhuskers' defense was on the field for 955 plays and gave up 272 yards per game. Those 955 plays faced were the fourth-highest number of plays faced by any defense among the 120 FBS teams.
The Nebraska defense was on the field for 154 more plays than the TCU defense and 111 more than the Alabama defense. Consider that in an average game, an offensive team runs 60 or so plays. That amounts to two, and maybe in some cases three, more games of offensive plays that the Nebraska defense faced.
Even more amazing is that the Nebraska defense faced the fourth-highest number of plays, yet they gave up the fewest TDs (14). Two of the 16 touchdowns reported were the direct result of turnovers by the Nebraska offense that were defensive scores for the opposition.
Nebraska did not just give up the fewest TDs in comparison to TCU, Alabama and Texas. The Nebraska defense gave up the fewest TDs of any of the 120 FBS teams while facing the fourth-highest number of plays among those 120 teams!
The TCU defense gave up 19 touchdowns to opposing offenses, while the Alabama defense yielded 16 touchdowns to opposing offenses.
The basis of the total defense statistic is a measure of total yardage given up per team. Although, there is such a large disparity between the number of plays faced by the Nebraska, Alabama and TCU defenses that it is stunning that the Cornhusker defense still gave up fewer touchdowns than either TCU, Alabama or Texas.
The Nebraska defense was faced with defending many more plays than either the TCU or Alabama defenses because of a Nebraska offense beleaguered by inexperience and many three and out/short drives, and turnovers.
This comparison really just comes down to the Bama, TCU, and Nebraska defenses. The Texas defense faced a similar number of plays as the Nebraska defense did but gave up nearly twice as many touchdowns as Nebraska. So, the Longhorns defense falls short in the comparison among the TCU, Alabama and Cornhusker defensive units.
And let's not forget that the Nebraska defense finished the season as the no. 1 scoring defense and no. 1 pass defense.