LOS ANGELES - Cal head coach Jeff Tedford may have raised an eyebrow or two at Tuesday’s Pacific 12 Conference Media Day when he called the defenses on the West Coast “very underrated.”
The rest of the college football-watching nation knows the Pac-12 as a conference that scores. And scores. And scores.
But the exuberance shown for the other side of the ball is not exclusive to the Golden Bears’ head coach. Stanford’s Chase Thomas upped the ante.
“Our front seven is as good as any in the nation,” he said.
Before assuming those in the Bay Area have been consuming undergrads’ baked goods, consider that the 22 points Oregon held Cam Newton and the Auburn Tigers to in the 2010 season’s BCS championship game were the fewest AU scored in every game that season but one. Not LSU, Alabama nor South Carolina could contain the Tigers as the Ducks had.
In 2008, USC boasted a defense that allowed just nine points per game, fewest in college football and among the pantheon of stingiest in the game’s history. Trojan defenses ranked in the top 12 nationally every season in the post-Bush/Leinart era up to 2009.
OK, so that may all seem like ancient history. Just two Pac-12 defenses ranked in the top 30 of points allowed a season ago: Utah (No. 19, 20.2 PPG) and Stanford (No. 30, 21.9 PPG). Others around the league were oftentimes as thin as cellophane — who can forget the outburst of points Washington surrendered to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl?
UW is among the teams that addressed the need for tighter defense during media day. To that end, head coach Steve Sarkisian parted ways with fellow USC coaching tree alum Nick Holt at season’s end. To keep pace with the speedy opponents like Baylor’s, which burned Husky defenders, Sarkisian looked to the conference where defensive speed is king: the SEC.
“Speed kills in this game,” said Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant. “Speed can [compensate] for so many things. Speed is our strength in the secondary, so we’re going to use that to our advantage.”
Justin Wilcox and Peter Sirmon bring the Speed Kills philosophy that was emphasized at Tennessee to UW. A similar mindset is already prevalent at UO, where Chip Kelly’s Ducks try to play with the same break-neck pace on defense as they are famous for on offense.
UO has finished at or near the bottom of time of possession disparity during its three-year run atop the Pac. That’s by design. While other coordinators try to keep players fresh by keeping them off the field as long as possible, Nick Aliotti
“We [practice] against the fastest offense in the nation four times a week,” said Duck linebacker Michael Clay. “You better be ready to get a drink and get back out there [if you play defense at UO].”
The Ducks quietly had one of the best defenses in college football during their title game run of 2010, and could once again in 2012. Aliotti’s is a unit that should show vast improvement from ’11, and one of many throughout the conference.
Buoying aforementioned Stanford is the return of Shayne Skov, the Cardinal’s hard hitting linebacker who missed most of last season with a knee injury. He was SU’s top tackler the season prior, and will factor prominently into that front seven Thomas so highly praised.
USC struggled early last season, giving up perilously close to its entire 2008 yield in two first-month games vs. Arizona and Arizona State. However, the Trojans buckled down toward season’s end, and figure to continue on that improvement with the return of star T.J. McDonald.
As for the coach who initiated this conversation and his team, Tedford’s Cal program has produced some of the top NFL talent on that side of the ball in recent years. The Golden Bears must replace Mychal Kendricks, but Tedford said that his secondary and line are both talent rich.