Defense Wins Championships

Josh RosenbergCorrespondent IJune 24, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Quarterback Kurt Warner #13 of the Arizona Cardinals gets sacked by LaMarr Woodley #56 and James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

There has been something that has been bothering me since I've started following football two preseasons ago.

Every year there is a team or two in people's preseason Top 25 whose basis for success is their performance from the year before and how many starters the team returns on offense. They do this while completely neglecting the fact that some of these teams return very few players—sometimes none—sometimes only one player on defense.

The so called "experts" still think the team will be good, and the team ends up being worse than predicted and never lives up to that year's expectations. (Cough, cough BYU and West Virginia last year.)

The only exceptions to this are for big-time recruiting teams like Ohio State and USC, who have top 10 recruiting classes every year.

After my recent encounter with a prediction like this I've had enough.

Athlonsports.com predicted the Cincinnati Bearcats football team to be number eighteen and to win the Big East. An unnamed writer for Bleacher report has them at 19.

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The Bearcats return All Big East quarterback Tony Pike and preseason All American wide receiver Marty Gilyard, along with most of their offense.

The slight problem here is that they return one starter on defense.

I know everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and I respect every one of them.  However, how can a team with one starter back on defense expect to be a top-25 team?

I highly doubt that a team can win the Big East with one defensive starter. It’s not like the bearcats lost star defensive tackle Terryl Byrd, two-time All Big East CB Mike Mickens, and eight other starters.

Oh wait, they did.

I think history will help prove my point better for those who are not convinced.

The Rutgers Football team in 2007 was the first team ever to have a 3,000 yard passer (Mike Teel), a 2,000 yard rusher (Ray Rice), and two 1,000 yard receivers (Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood) all in one season. They averaged 37 points a game.

So how come they only went 8-5 when they were ranked No. 12 preseason? Well, they had six returning starters from a top five defensive squad. The defense and whole team looked great on paper.  

It was too bad the five new starters didn't perform close to as well as the five who graduated. They were not good enough, as the defense repeatedly lost games for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers was beating lowly Louisville 28-9 at halftime in '07, and they ended up losing to Louisville 41-39.

I'm sorry, but you can't expect the offense to just make up for the defense's poor performance.

That’s why it's called a football team. Not just the football offense.

Last year, people thought BYU would go undefeated and make a BCS bowl just because they returned a big portion of their offense, led by QB Max Hall and RB Harvey Unga.

What people failed to realize or mention in their previews was that BYU had two starters back on defense. Lucky for them, they play in the mountain west and they went 10-2. But just like I had predicted, Utah won the MWC and made it to a BCS Bowl. BYU came in third place.

When BYU played Texas Christian, a team that finished ahead of BYU with a 10-2 record and a lot harder of a schedule, they got killed. Max Hall and Harvey Unga were stopped by the defense and TCU's average offense scored 32 points compared to BYU's seven.

Last year West Virginia was predicted to win the Big East. They were the unanimous favorite because they returned All Big East quarterback Pat White. Running back Noel Devine also showed he was ready to take over for Steve Slaton, who had left for the NFL. They also  had many other playmakers on offense back. 

There was a slight problem, however. The Mountaineers returned four starters back on defense.

West Virginia went 8-4 in 2008 and came in third place in the Big East, but instead of going to the Orange Bowl, they went to the Meineke Car Care Bowl. 

The reason Texas Tech improved from an 8-4 team to a 11-1 team was not just from Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree. Their defense started to play a lot better in 2008. Their defense just happened to suck when they lost to Oklahoma 66-21 last year.

The Arizona Cardinals went from a shootout happy team that won the worst division in the NFL to the best team in the NFC because their defense started to play well.

So to all you "experts": Stop picking a team to win the Big East just because they were good the year before and they return a lot of offensive playmakers.

Look at this year's NFL champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and learn from them.

Defense wins championships.