Ranking the Top 10 College Football Defenses of 2013
The 2013 regular season is now in the books, and it was another banner year for offense. Thirteen FBS teams averaged over 40 points per game, with Baylor and Florida State leading the country at 53 points per game.
That's not to say defense wasn't played. For instance, take a look at Michigan State. The Spartans were ranked No. 1 in total defense, and their season culminated with a win over Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.
So, defense does still win championships.
Did Michigan State top our list as the nation's best defense in 2013? Or did a surprise team top the list? Here is a look at college football's top 10 defenses of the 2013 regular season.
The Cardinal spent a good portion of the season higher on this list. Injuries, specifically to impact defensive end Ben Gardner, set Stanford back a bit on defense.
With that being said, the Cardinal still finished No. 14 in total defense. Stanford sacked opposing quarterbacks 40 times. Trent Murphy led the nation with 14 sacks and was equally impressive stopping the run and playing in coverage.
Stanford's biggest defensive weakness was the lack of turnovers it created. The Cardinal finished the regular season with just 17 takeaways in 13 games.
Florida could have arguably topped this list if not for some key injuries on defense. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley was lost for the season in September to a torn ACL, and the Gators were never the same.
Injuries to Antonio Morrison, Matt Rolin, Damien Jacobs, Ronald Powell and Darrin Kitchens, among others, crippled the team's defensive depth.
How'd the Gators respond?
Florida was still ranked No. 10 in total defense despite an offense that was one of the worst in all of college football. In fact, it was the offense that led to the Gators having a historically bad season.
Head coach Will Muschamp's teams may continue to struggle on offense but will always field an excellent defense.
Playing in the Big 12, an offense-first league, it's tough to field a top defense. The Oklahoma Sooners did that in 2013.
The Sooners finished No. 13 overall but were solid in all phases. They were solid against the run and the pass and finished with 26 sacks. Head coach Bob Stoops would ideally like to force more turnovers.
Stoops' brother, Mike, returned to Norman in 2012 to be his brother's defensive coordinator, and it appears to be a good fit for all involved. If the Sooners expect to be in the national title discussion soon, they must get back to playing the quality of defense Stoops made famous early in his tenure.
When you think of Louisville, you think of Teddy Bridgewater. Defense and Louisville generally haven't been mentioned in the same breath.
However, the Cardinals ranked No. 2 in total defense and tied for first in sacks. Charlie Strong is in his fourth season as head coach of the Cardinals, and many forget he was Urban Meyer's defensive coordinator at Florida. The Gators always had a good defense under Meyer, and Strong was primarily the reason why.
Strong has built Louisville into a perennial Top 25 team, and a move to the ACC next season will raise the Cardinals' profile even more.
Iowa has quietly been one of the better defenses in all of college football. It is how Kirk Ferentz built the program. Strong offensive line play and a stout defense were what put the Hawkeyes in two BCS bowls in the past decade.
Iowa ranked No. 7 overall in total defense and was especially strong against the pass. The Hawkeyes were solid on all three levels of defense. Linebackers Anthony Kitchens and James Morris set the tone for this team.
However, the secondary may be the best unit on the team. The Hawkeyes held opponents to just 182 yards per game through the air, picked off 12 passes and allowed just 98 passing first downs.
If Ferentz can get this type of play from his defense next year, the Hawkeyes could challenge for a Big Ten title.
Senior linebacker Chris Borland is one of the best—and most underrated—defensive players in all of America. Folks around the Big Ten know how good Borland is, though. Last week, he was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
But the Badgers defense is more than just Borland.
Wisconsin ranked in the top 10 in pass defense, run defense, scoring defense and total defense. The Badgers finished the season with 25 sacks.
It was the first year for Wisconsin in its transition to the 3-4 defense, and by all indications, the Badgers will be even better next year.
Yes, the Crimson Tide are not No. 1 this year. Their performances against Texas A&M and Auburn knocked them down a bit.
However, beginning with a 31-6 win over Colorado State on Sept. 21, the Tide held opponents to a total of 26 points over the course of six games. It was as dominant of a stretch as 'Bama has had since Nick Saban took over as coach.
What the Tide do on defense is more impressive than any team in the country. They lose players—first-round picks—to the NFL each year and replace them successfully. Linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix expect to be the next two players selected high in the NFL draft.
3. Virginia Tech
If the Hokies had an offense, they'd be in contention for a BCS bowl—perhaps more. They're that good. However, it was that ineptitude on offense that led VT to a underwhelming 8-4 record.
Now, about the defense. The Hokies were No. 4 in total defense, No. 3 in pass efficiency defense, No. 8 in rush defense and eighth in scoring defense. The Hokies had 37 sacks, forced 25 turnovers and picked off 19 passes. They are strong at every level on defense.
The defensive tackles, Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy, set the tone for this aggressive group. Hopkins and Maddy collapse the pocket for several of the Hokies' outstanding pass-rushers to clean up and sack the quarterback.
And about that secondary. A pair of true freshmen, Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson, combined for 11 interceptions, while the team's All-ACC cornerbacks, Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum, fought through injuries.
2. Florida State
How is it possible a team is second in scoring offense—53 points per game—and also No. 1 in scoring defense?
Now we all see why Florida State is playing for the national championship. The Seminoles are winning by an average of over 42 points per game.
On defense, the 'Noles forced 34 turnovers—25 of those were interceptions—and finished No. 3 in total defense. They get to the quarterback, shut down the opponent's running game and then get a big lead on offense. It allows the front four to tee off on quarterbacks.
The next step for FSU is finishing off its dream season undefeated and becoming a national champ for the first time since 1999.
1. Michigan State
This is what Mark Dantonio had in mind when he left Cincinnati after the 2006 season to become head coach at Michigan State.
The Spartans were the nation's best defense almost from the start of the season. MSU gave up some points early in the season, but most of that was due to an offense that struggled and put the defense in bad positions. Once Connor Cook took over the quarterback position for good, the Spartans were a more complete team.
Michigan State's only loss of the season came to Notre Dame on Sept. 21, but it wasn't without controversy. Two questionable pass interference calls put the Irish in position to win that game.
The Spartans' impenetrable defense is one reason they defeated No. 2 Ohio State last weekend. Yes, the Buckeyes finished with 374 total yards, but it was their lowest output of the season.
MSU will have its hands full with Stanford in this year's Rose Bowl. But, no doubt, the Spartans will be up to the challenge.