StatTiger: College Football's Top Defenses

In the second of a two-part look at the top colleges offenses and defenses in the past 35 years, columnist Stuart Carter analyzes the nation's top defensive units.

Editor's Note: This is second of a two-part article on the top offenses and defenses in college football dating back 35 seasons.

Part one is on the link:

Part One

Top Ten Defenses From 1970-1979

(The numbers for each team are an overall performance rating, total yards allowed for the season, number of defensive plays for the season and touchdowns allowed.)

*1975 Alabama Crimson Tide--3.25, 2,046 yards, 677 plays, 7 TDs

*1979 Alabama Crimson Tide--5.00, 1981 yards, 611 plays, 7TDs

*1973 Ohio State Buckeyes--6.75, 2,056 yards, 613 plays, 5 TDs

*1971 Michigan Wolverines--7.00, 1,977 yards, 632 plays, 9 TDs

*1973 Notre Dame Fighting Irish--7.75, 2,012 yards, 615 plays, 7TDs) *1979 Texas Longhorns--8.50, 2,027 yards, 659 plays, 8 TDs

*1972 Michigan Wolverines--9.50, 2,372 yards, 680 plays, 7 TDs

*1978 Penn State Nittany Lions--12.25, 2,243 yards, 729 plays, 10 TDs

Coach Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines were a defensive powerhouse in the 1970s.

*1974 Michigan Wolverines, 12.50, 2,353 yards, 659 plays, 7 TDs

*1973 Michigan Wolverines--12.75, 2,396 yards, 661 plays, 7 TDs

The 1975 Alabama defense finished at No. 1 in yards per play (3.02), No. 5 in yards allowed per game (186.0), No. 3 in number of plays per touchdown (96.7) and No. 4 in points allowed per game (6.0) for an overall ranking of 3.25.

Top Ten Defensive Units From 1980-1989

*1986 Oklahoma Sooners--1.75, 1,866 yards, 671 plays, 8 TDs

*1987 Oklahoma Sooners--4.00, 2,289 yards, 704 plays, 7 TDs

*1985 Oklahoma Sooners--6.25, 2,128 yards, 650 plays, 9 TDs

*1980 Nebraska Cornhuskers--7.50, 2,300 yards, 713, 10TDs

*1989 Miami Hurricanes--7.50, 2,381yards, 709, 8 TDs

*1980 Florida State Seminoles--7.75, 2,290 yards, 649 plays, 8 TDs

*1988 Auburn Tigers--9.00, 2,399 yards, 666 plays, 9 TDs

*1983 Texas Longhorns--10.00, 2,332 yards, 711 plays, 10 TDs

*1984 Nebraska Cornhuskers--11.50, 2,236 yards, 694 plays, 13 TDs

*1980 Alabama Crimson Tide--12.00, 2,487 yards, 730 plays, 11 TDs

The 1986 Oklahoma Sooners fielded one of the most dominating defenses during the modern era of college football. They were No. 1 in yards per play (2.78), No. 1 in yards allowed per game (169.6), No. 4 in plays allowed per touchdown (83.9) and No. 1 in points allowed per game (6.6) for an overall ranking of 1.75.

Top Ten Defensive Units From 1990-1999

*1992 Alabama Crimson Tide--3.00, 2,330 yards-725 plays, 11 TDs

*1997 Michigan Wolverines--4.25, 2,276 yards, 660 plays, 10 TDs

*1990 Clemson Tigers--6.50, 2,386 yards, 678 plays, 10 TDs

*1994 Miami Hurricanes--7.50, 2,430 yards, 702 plays, 9 TDs

*1997 N. Carolina Tar Heels, 10.25, 2,302 yards, 693 plays, 12 TDs

*1992 Arizona Wildcats, 11.00, 2,783 yards, 747 plays, 9 TDs

*1996 Florida State Seminoles, 11.00, 2,524 yards, 776 plays, 14 TDs

*1998 Florida State Seminoles--11.00, 2, 578 yards, 747 plays, 14 TDs

*1991 Washington Huskies--11.50, 2,608 yards, 730 plays, 12 TDs

*1990 Alabama Crimson Tide--11.75, 2,523 yards, 711 plays, 11 TDs

Five starters from the 1992 Alabama defense were taken in the 1993 NFL draft. They were No. 1 in yards allowed per play (3.21), No. 1 in yards allowed per game (194.2), No. 7 in plays allowed per touchdown (65.9) and No. 1 points allowed per game (9.1) for an overall ranking of 3.00.

Top Ten Defensive Units From 2000-2005

*2000 TCU Horned Frogs--3.00, 2,695 yards, 718 plays, 13 TDs

*2002 Kansas State Wildcats--5.75, 3,237 yards, 864 plays, 19 TDs

*2001 Virginia Tech Hokies--6.00, 2,617 yards, 725 plays, 17 TDs

*2001 Miami Hurricanes--6.50, 2,980 yards, 758 plays, 14 TDs

*2003 LSU Tigers--6.75, 3,528 yards, 877 plays, 19 TDs

*2000 Florida State Seminoles--7.00, 3,324 yards, 834 plays, 15 TDs

*2005 Alabama Crimson Tide--7.75, 3,061 yards, 713 plays, 15TDs

*2001 Texas Longhorns--7.75, 2,834 yards, 754-22 TDs

*2005 Virginia Tech Hokies, 9.00, 3,219 yards, 789 plays, 19 TDs

*2004 NC State Wolfpack--9.00, 2,435 yards, 701 plays, 23 TDs

The 2000 TCU Horned Frogs finished with an overall ranking of 3.00. This included a No. 4 ranking in average yards per play (3.75), No. 4 in yards allowed per game (245.0), No. 2 in plays allowed per touchdown (55.2) and No. 2 in points allowed per game (9.6).

Defensive Averages By Decade

Here are the defensive averages from the top ten defenses by decade:

1970-1979: 211.9 yards per game, 3.41 yards per play, 8.1 points per game

1980-1989: 231.9 yards per game, 3.57 yards per play, 9.8 points per game

1990-1999: 236.5 yards per game, 3.64 yards per play, 11.4 points per game

2000-2005: 255.4 yards per game, 4.03 yards per play, 13.0 points per game

Looking at the averages on both sides of the ball, we see how much the game has evolved. Defensive coordinators are now faced with the task of defending multiple formations and schemes. During the 70's, the top defensive teams were allowing a touchdown every 69 snaps. The number of plays dropped to 67 during the 80's, 56 during the 90's and 1 every 41 plays during the current decade.

Despite the improvement in offensive production, defense still wins championships. Including the 2004 Auburn Tigers, 41 teams have finished the season as the No. 1 team in the country since 1970. Of the 41 "championship" teams, 23 were ranked in the top five in scoring defense and 16 were ranked in the top five in scoring offense. Since 1983, 23 of the last 28 teams were ranked in the top ten in terms of scoring defense and 15 were ranked in the top ten in scoring offense.

During this decade, only two of the eight championship teams (Miami and Texas), finished the season ranked in the top ten in total offense. On the other hand, six of the last eight championship teams were ranked in the top ten in total defense.

During the 1990 season, Colorado and Georgia Tech split the polls to win the mythical national championship. They were the only two teams since 1970 to be voted No. 1 despite not finishing in the top ten in scoring offense or scoring defense.


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