December 8, 2022

FILE - In this Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, file photo, Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome, center, is tackled by Michigan State's Joe Bachie, right, in the second half of a NCAA college football game in College Park, Md. Bachie, who is from Brook Park, Ohio, was named the Big Ten defensive player of the week after he forced a career-high three fumbles, matched a career-high two pass breakups and had seven tackles in a 24-3 win at Maryland. (AP Photo/Gary Cameron, File)

Wisconsin: Hands down the Badgers have been the most impressive unit through the first five weeks of the season. Paul Chryst’s squad got back to the basics after the unit had a mediocre season in 2018 and been playing lights out this fall. Wisconsin is No. 1 in scoring, rushing and total defense. The Badgers’ defense has only allowed four touchdowns thus far. Senior linebacker Chris Orr is one of the Big Ten’s best and the front seven knows how to get after the quarterback, with 12 sacks. The Badgers’ defense is full of ball hawk, with six interceptions, including three defensive touchdowns and they’re solid in the red zone. If Wisconsin can keep up this pace for the remainder of the season a Big Ten Title and a Playoff berth could be in the works.

Missouri: The Tigers are quietly putting together a great season and it’s due to their play on defense. All the hype has been about Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant, but Barry Odom has his defense playing with their heads on fire. After all, he’s a defensive-minded coach. Missouri is No. 3 in total defense. Not to mention the Tigers are No. 1 in the nation in defensive touchdowns with four, including three pick-sixes. Missouri is only allowing 14.5 points per game, which is third-best in the almighty SEC. Linebacker Nick Bolton leads an active front seven that has 10 sacks and the team has five interceptions. This defense compliments the offense, which is a key ingredient to success in the league. Bottom line, this team won’t let an NCAA post season sanction ruin the great year the Tigers are having thus far.

TCU: Gary Patterson always has the Horned Frogs playing at a high level on defense and the unit has been one of the Big 12’s best the past few seasons. TCU’s defense is only allowing 18.8 points per game and been a dominant bunch against the run. Junior linebacker Garrett Wallow has been a tackling machine with 48 total stops through four games. It’s the fourth-most in the nation and he has 10 for loss. The Horned Frogs have also been solid against the pass, allowing 166.8 yards through the air to go along with five interceptions. The schedule gets harder now that TCU has approached the Big 12 gauntlet. It’ll be interesting to see if the Horned Frogs’ defense can keep up the impressive numbers against high-flying offenses that the league possesses.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes have an embarrassment of riches on the defensive side of the ball and the unit has looked unstoppable thus far. Ohio State’s defense has allowed only four offensive touchdowns all season. The Buckeyes are No. 4 in scoring defense, allowing only 8.6 points per game. There’s a stud at every level of the Buckeyes’ defense. Junior Chase Young continues to show why he’s the nation’s best edge rusher with eight sacks through four games and has 8.5 tackles for loss. Linebacker Malik Harrison can fly from sideline to sideline and has eight tackles behind the line of scrimmage also. Junior corner Jeffrey Okudah has picked off three passes, including two in the blowout win over Nebraska. Ohio State is playing like the No. 1 team in the nation and its’ defense is a big reason why. Bottom line the Buckeyes’ defense is NFL caliber, with seven interceptions, 24 sacks and has blocked three kicks.

Clemson: The way Dabo Swinney recruits the Tigers don’t rebuild on defense, they simply reload. Clemson continues to play at a high level on defense despite losing a bunch of players from the front seven to the NFL Draft. You have to give credit to Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables for the smooth transition. Clemson’s defense is allowing 12 points per game, which ranks eighth nationally. The unit continues to be relentless on quarterbacks with 14 sacks, to go along with five interceptions and been dominant in the red zone. The Tigers’ defense has been the reason why they remain undefeated. It’s also how Clemson got the nail-biting win over North Carolina. Ranking No. 8 in total defense solidifies the Tigers haven’t lost a step and the unit compliments Trevor Lawrence and the offense.

Utah: Kyle Whittingham always have the Utes playing solid on defense and special teams. Utah’s defense has been one of the best units out of the Pac-12 for quite some time and been dominating opponents this fall. The front seven, led by senior defensive end Bradlee Anae has been penetrating offensive backfields through five games. The unit has allowed only 53.8 yards per game on the ground. The Utes’ defense has a plethora of ball hawks and is tied for third nationally with seven interceptions. Utah ranks 18th in total defense and is allowing just 14.4 points per game. After stopping Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense last Saturday Utah’s defense has momentum heading into the bye week. Oregon State, Arizona State and California are on the October slate and Utah’s defense should be able to control those games.

Michigan State: The Spartans’ defense is back to playing with the tenacity that brought the unit notoriety under Mark Dantonio. Senior defensive end Kenny Willekes is one of the Big Ten’s best and senior linebacker Joe Bachie has a mean streak to him that’s rare to find in the Power Five. The Spartans are No. 7 in total defense and have dominated the trenches, allowing a mere 55.8 rush yards per game. Not to mention the defense has picked off six passes to go along with 16 sacks. The Spartans have only allowed 15 points per game and the secondary has been solid against the pass. Saturday’s game at the Horseshoe will be a great measuring stick for the group. Michigan State’s defense will be by far the best unit Ohio State’s offense has faced so far this season.

Georgia: The Bulldogs continue to thrive on defense, which should come as no surprise since Kirby Smart is a defensive-minded coach. Smart recruits like a monster and there are four and five star talent all over the roster, especially on the defense. The No. 3 Bulldogs are allowing just 10 points per game, which is sixth-best in the nation and second in the SEC. Smart keeps the pressure dialed in on opposing quarterbacks and the Bulldogs have generated 12 sacks, which is third-best in the league. Georgia’s defense held a talented Notre Dame offense to just 17 points and shutout Arkansas State. The Bulldogs’ are No. 9 nationally in total defense and will really get to show their worth as the team dives deep into SEC play.

Oregon: Mario Cristobal has his team playing with an identity on defense. The Ducks still have the high-flying offense with Justin Herbert behind center, but the defense has been one of the Pac-12’s best this season. The unit has 15 sacks and is allowing 262.8 yards per game, both first in the conference. The defensive secondary has been playing lights out and the team has six interceptions. The opening-season loss to Auburn seems so long ago. Now Oregon has chance to seize control of the North Division with a win over California this Saturday in the Autzen Zoo. If the Ducks can win the remainder of their games there’s a chance the Pac-12 could clinch a spot in the Playoffs.

Miami: It has been rough sledding for Manny Diaz in year one with the Hurricanes so far, with zero wins against Power Five competition. However, Diaz has left his imprint on Miami’s defense. The Hurricanes are another team that lost a lot on defense to the NFL, but has picked up right where they left off. Miami ranks No. 9 in total defense, is allowing just 16 points per game and shutout Bethune-Cookman. The front seven has been flat-out dominant against the run and has generated 11 sacks. At 2-2 Miami still has the defense to carve out eight wins for Diaz. The Coastal is really down this year and Miami needs to capitalize on the opportunity and make a run at the Division Title.

Baylor: This is not a typo. The Bears are undefeated at 4-0 and their defense is the main reason why. Matt Ruhle has established his brand of football on the program and Baylor ranks 24th nationally in total defense. The unit is allowing only 16.3 points per game, which is second-best in the Big 12. The front seven has been solid against the run and has 12 sacks. The Bears been playing with a physicality that wears down a team and it showed in last Saturday’s win over Iowa State. Not to mention Baylor has blocked three kicks, which is tied for first nationally. The Bears will need to rely heavily on its’ defense as the team navigates through a challenging Big 12 schedule.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions’ defense has been a dominant group this season as expected. Penn State has allowed a jaw-dropping, 7.5 points per game and has the second-best scoring defense in the country. The Nittany Lions have allowed just one rushing touchdown and been dominant against the run. There are studs at every level of Penn State’s defense. Junior defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos has been a beast off the edge and the linebackers are one of the Big Ten’s best. The team has wreaked havoc on quarterbacks with 15 sacks to go along with three blocked kicks and ranks No 14 nationally in total defense. The shutout at Maryland was impressive, but the schedule gets more challenging in October.

Florida: The Gators have been one of the SEC’s best defenses through the first five weeks of the season. Florida has been dubbed ‘Defensive Back U’ and the defense leads the nation in interceptions with nine. Florida’s defense has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks and is tied for second nationally with 24 sacks. The Gators have allowed just five offensive touchdowns all season long and is No. 1 in the country in red zone defense. Florida has beat three Power Five teams and ranks No. 17 in total defense. The Florida defenders will get their turn against Auburn’s true freshman quarterback Bo Nix in the Swamp this Saturday. The Gators are only allowing a mere 8.8 points per game and will arguably be the best bunch Nix will see all season long.

Iowa: The Hawkeyes are tenacious on defense and been a consistent bunch for several years under Kirk Ferentz. Iowa has the nation’s No. 3 scoring defense, allowing just 8.5 points per game and shutout Rutgers. The unit has only allowed four offensive touchdowns through four games and ranks No. 5 nationally in total defense. Junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa may get all the spotlight, but the defense as a whole has played with their hair on fire. A challenging October looms for the Hawkeyes, but their defense is championship caliber and should be up to the task. The defense plays with physicality and is one of the best fundamentally sound units that’s always disciplined and that comes from great coaching.

Virginia: Bronco Mendenhall is doing wonders with the program and the Wahoos have been playing like the best team in the Coastal Division. Virginia is in the top-25 in rushing, passing and total defense. The front seven has been active and the team has 22 sacks, which is second-best in the ACC. The unit also has two defensive touchdowns and senior linebacker Jordan Mack has six sacks of his own. Despite the 15-point loss at Notre Dame, Virginia is still ranked in the top-25 and unblemished in conference play. Now it’s time for Medenhall to seize control of the Coastal and get Virginia to its’ first-ever berth in the ACC Championship Game.