College Football 2011: Power Ranking Every Defense in the Big Ten
College football is officially under way and Week 1 is now in the books. The Big Ten, in particular, looks to be among the toughest conferences in the nation in 2011.
The Big Ten has long prided itself on defense. Teams like Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin always seem to have stellar defenses. Add Nebraska into the mix in 2011, and the conference becomes treacherous for opposing offenses.
Let's take a look at how the teams of the Big Ten would be ranked if offense and special teams are thrown out the window and we focus solely on defense.
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It's tough to argue against the Nebraska Cornhuskers as having the best defense in the conference. The Huskers defense is loaded with preseason All-Americans.
Linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard are 1st Team Preseason All-Americans and will look to anchor the Huskers defense in coverage. Defensive end Jared Crick was named to the 2nd Team All-American squad and is a force rushing the edge.
The Huskers are talented at every level of the defense and will be a force to be reckoned with in Big Ten play this season.
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The Badgers always seem to lose a good number of starters to graduation each season. Yet they somehow find a way to be one of the toughest defenses in the conference year in and year out.
2011 should be no different. Wisconsin welcomes back stud linebacker Chris Borland from missing all of 2010 with injury. He was named a preseason all-conference player and will lead the defense. The secondary will be strong as well, led by safeties Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus.
Losing J.J. Watt hurts, but the Badgers always seem to have someone rise to the occasion and become a difference-maker on the defensive line.
3. Michigan State
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Michigan State enjoyed a banner year in the Big Ten in 2010. Their defense will need to rise to the occasion if they are to build upon that success.
The Spartans have a star on the defensive line in the form of Jerel Worthy. The disruptive defensive tackle creates havoc in the offensive backfield and is nearly impossible to block one-on-one. In the secondary, safety Trenton Robinson returns to anchor the Spartans coverage. He could have a big year.
The loss of linebacker Greg Jones will hurt the linebacking unit, but they will find a way to fill the hole. The Spartans defense started out good—not great—in a 28-6 victory over lowly Youngstown State to open the season.
4. Ohio State
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The Buckeyes can breath a slight sigh of relief now that they can focus on an opponent instead of the megascandal that has rocked the program in recent months.
The defense lost a good amount of talent from last season, including their top four tacklers. Injuries and a few suspensions will also hurt the defense in the beginning of the season. But thanks to the Buckeyes' recruiting prowess, there is always enough talent in Columbus to fill needs.
Defensive linemen John Simon and Nathan Williams should anchor a strong defensive front, and safety Orhian Johnson will be steady player in the secondary. The Buckeyes simply have too much talent not to have a solid defense.
5. Penn State
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Everyone knows that Penn State will be playing their hearts out this season for what is likely to be Coach Joe Paterno's last hurrah.
The Nittany Lions look strong on the defensive side of the ball, with three Preseason All-Conference selections. Linebacker Michael Mauti is a tackling machine in the mold of so many Penn State linebacking legends before him. They will also get solid play from defensive tackle Devon Still.
The secondary is the strong point of this defense. All four starters return for Penn State. That unit only surrendered 114 yards through the air in the opener against Indiana State. Experience will not be lacking for the Nittany Lions this season.
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The Iowa Hawkeyes will need a strong effort from the defense if they want to compete in the Big Ten this season. The unit looks like it is up to the task.
The Hawkeyes secondary looks to be among the best in the conference. Returning safeties Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde form possibly the best secondary duo in the Big Ten. With two interceptions in the opening game of 2011 (including a 89-yard TD return by Prater), this unit looks like it will cause trouble for opposing passers.
The defensive line is always solid for the Hawkeyes. This year's line will be anchored by Mike Daniels and the linebackers will likely be led by James Morris.
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The Illinois defense has a chance to surprise people in the Big Ten this year. The defense fielded five new defensive starters in its opener last weekend against Arkansas State. The unit showed that it has the potential to create turnovers, forcing three turnovers and not allowing a touchdown until the game was sealed. But that was Arkansas State.
The defensive backfield should be a positive for Illinois. Safety Tavon Wilson was named a Big Ten Preseason First Team selection and should create turnovers in the passing game. Trulon Henry, a safety last season, has moved to linebacker and recorded an interception in the opener. Fellow linebacker Ian Thomas will work together with Henry to form a good linebacking group.
The Illini defense has potential to hold up through the Big Ten season, realizing that potential is key for this team's success.
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The Wolverines defense was beyond awful last season. It was a downright joke at times.
This year is a rebuilding year for the entire program. The defense is not stocked with talent. There are a few bright spots, however. Defensive lineman Mike Martin is a stud on the line. He is very disruptive and will likely draw consistent double teams as one of the only playmakers in the front seven.
The secondary has the potential to be above-average, with the return of cornerback Troy Wolfolk from injury and the emergence of safety Jordan Kovacs as a star. He is the leading tackler in Michigan history and had a huge game in the opener against Western Michigan.
Despite the few bright spots, the Michigan defense will probably struggle to stop opposing offenses from scoring in 2011.
Northwestern's defense does not look like it will be stopping anyone on a consistent basis. But they are not the worst in the conference.
The bright spot on the defense is defensive end Vince Browne, who is a force not to be taken lightly. Safety Brian Peters has emerged as a leader on the defense and came up with a big effort in the Wildcats' week one victory over non-conference opponent Boston College. Peters recorded two key pass breakups and a sack.
The rest of the Wildcats' defense did not look good against Boston College. They will give up plenty of yards this season and will likely be below-average nationally.
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The Golden Gophers defense may have been hiding in a hole last season. That's how invisible they were to opposing offenses in 2010. However, the unit has shown that it has made some progress towards becoming a respectable defense.
Linebacker Gary Tinsley will lead the Gophers in tackles this season and was a second team All-Conference preseason selection. His play should help elevate the rest of his teammates.
Minnesota had a solid showing against USC in the season opener. After giving up 19 points in the first half to the Trojans, the Gophers' defense did not yield another point in the second half, while limiting the Trojans to only 67 yards on the ground.
Minnesota still has a ways to go defensively, and the lack of playmakers will hurt the squad.
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Poor Boilermakers. They showed in week one that if they don't get things together in a hurry, they could be in for a long, long season.
Purdue was barely able to beat Middle Tennessee State last weekend, winning by a narrow 27-24 score. The defense was atrocious, giving up 460 yards of total offense to a team that should not get half as much.
The only bright spot on this side of the ball for Purdue is defensive lineman Kawaan Short. Short is a beast on the line and garnered first team All-Big Ten honors this preseason. If Purdue is to have any success in the Big Ten in 2011, Short will need tons of help. I just don't see where it will come from.
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Is it basketball season yet?
The Hoosiers started the 2011 season off with a massive disappointment, losing an in-state matchup to Ball State 27-20. The defense looked like a sieve against the run, allowing Ball State to rush for 210 yards. And that is against a team from the MAC.
Ball State went 5 for 5 converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns and Indiana allowed the Cardinals to control the clock and convert on third down. It was a terrible performance, all in all.
The secondary did not give up any big plays, so if the Hoosiers can stop the run, maybe they can find a way to stop teams from scoring. That's a big wish with the way things appear right now.