Running back: Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
Offensive guard: David Yankey, Stanford
Wide receiver: Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
Defensive tackle: Will Sutton, Arizona State
Linebacker: Anthony Barr, UCLA
Safety: Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Running back: Bishop Sankey, Washington
Offensive guard: Xavier Su'a-Filo, UCLA
All-purpose: Ty Montgomery, Stanford
Linebacker: Trent Murphy, Stanford
Tight end: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Washington
Defensive tackle: Leonard Williams, USC
Linebacker: Shayne Skov, Stanford
Cornerback: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
- Who voted Ka'Deem Carey No. 1 on his Heisman ballot?
- ASU making the most of its bowl practices.
- Former quarterback Zach Kline is headed to Oregon State.
- Athlon named Addison Gillam a first-team freshman All-American.
- Some more on Troy Hill's arrest.
- The Beavers are hoping to have Kevin Cummings back for the bowl game.
- David Shaw is flattered, but uninterested in leaving Stanford.
- Shaq Evans talks about the Senior Bowl and draft.
- USC picked up a DE commit.
- A former Utah running back had three touchdowns in his first NFL start.
- Washington lands a QB flip thanks to its new coach.
- A look back at WSU's 1988 bowl game.
- Athlon ranks the best Pac-12 games of the year.
NEW YORK -- A tackle-machine linebacker, a tackle-busting running back and one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the country made return appearances on The Associated Press All-America team.
The All-America teams were released Tuesday and selected by a panel of AP college football poll voters.
Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston from Florida State added All-American to his resume after a spectacular redshirt freshman season. Heisman finalists Andre Williams from Boston College and Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch also made the first team. Williams joins Carey in the backfield and Lynch, the dual-threat quarterback, was chosen as an all-purpose player.
Carey, a junior, is second in the nation in rushing after leading last year, but said he thinks he's a better player now.
"I worked hard to improve my speed and strength in the offseason while keeping my speed," Carey said. "I put on 10 pounds of weight and I think that's helped my durability. I also wanted to be a better blocker away from the ball. Blocking for our quarterback and our receivers is key to our system and it's important that I do my part even when I'm not carrying the ball."
STANFORD, Calif. -- David Shaw has a message for anybody who believes he's going to leave Stanford for the NFL after this season: no chance.
The Cardinal coach said Monday night that the growing mention of his name for NFL jobs is "very flattering."
He said he was bothered by the speculation last year but now "it's just a testament to being a really good college football program."
"No matter what I say, the rumors aren't going to stop," Shaw said. "It doesn't bother me. Every good football program in the last 15 years, after two good years, the head coach is going to be rumored to go someplace else. I take it as a compliment."
Shaw was promoted from offensive coordinator after Jim Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers in January 2011. While Harbaugh built the foundation for the program's renaissance, Shaw has taken his alma mater to even greater heights.
Shaw has led Stanford to a 34-6 record in three seasons, going to three straight BCS bowls and winning the past two Pac-12 titles. The fifth-ranked Cardinal (11-2) will go for their second straight Rose Bowl victory against No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) on Jan. 1.
The day Shaw became Stanford's head coach, he said he never wanted to interview for another football job again. Asked if he still felt that way, Shaw said: "Absolutely."
"I think when he says to the media that he's found his dream job, he's one of the coaches that I truly believe what he's saying," senior safety Ed Reynolds said. "It's his alma mater. His dad (Willie Shaw) coached here (as an assistant). He's been around this environment for so long. He knows what he's getting and I think he's definitely in a spot where he feels comfortable for him and his family."
Further, a number of Pac-12 players are on their way to consensus and unanimous All-American honors.
While we still await the AP, FWAA and the American Football Coaches Association teams, here's how things stand so far with 12 different Pac-12 players receiving note on at least one first team.
PAC-12 FIRST-TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
Offense: RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona, WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State, OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford
Defense: DT Leonard Williams, So., USC, LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
Offense: Carey, Cooks, Yankey
Defense: Murphy, LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA
The Sporting News
Offense: Cooks, Yankey
Defense: Barr, Murphy
Specialists: KR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
Offense: Carey, Cooks, Yankey, OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon, All-purpose Myles Jack, Fr., UCLA
Defense: Barr, S Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State, S Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford
Offense: Carey, Cooks, Yankey
Defense: Barr, Murphy
- Arizona WR Austin Hill, who missed the season with a knee injury, is about "75 or 80 percent."
- Arizona State RB Marion Grice is hoping to come back from injury in the Holiday Bowl.
- California gets another commitment from a juco defensive tackle.
- Colorado is building some recruiting momentum with three commitments.
- Oregon's offensive tackle Tyler Johnstone has a weight problem -- he can't keep it on.
- Oregon State LB D.J. Alexander has neck surgery and will miss the bowl game.
- Whether it's the NFL or Texas, folks think highly of Stanford coach David Shaw.
- UCLA hands out its team awards.
- USC WR Marqise Lee said he'll announce his NFL plans after the bowl game.
- This former Utah QB had a good weekend. See, Utes, all you need is another one of him and all will be well!
- Washington interim coach Marques Tuiasosopo is focused on the present, not where he'll coach next year.
- The New Mexico Bowl is about fun and business for Washington State.
But this year, perhaps more than any other, the Pac-12 showed why it is one of the toughest, if not the deepest, conference in all of college football. It passed the nonconference test, going 31-6 against non-league competition -- with wins over teams from the SEC, Big Ten and ACC. It crushed the Mountain West, going 10-0 against the West Coast’s little brother conference. And three more meetings in the postseason could extend it to 13-0.
There were thrilling upsets. (Utah, Washington State and USC all get thumbs up.) There was the Week 1 Oregon State debacle. There were All-Americans, national award winners and a style of football that is uniquely Pac-12.
The influx of big-name coaches has raised the ante over the past few seasons, and that trend continued this year, with Steve Sarkisian’s move to USC and Chris Petersen’s ingress to Washington.
The South was nasty, and will be again next year. Arizona State has staked its claim. But UCLA is right on the Sun Devils’ heels, as are USC and an Arizona squad that has the potential to be very, very scary in 2014.
The North belongs to Stanford until proven otherwise. The Cardinal's recipe for beating Oregon has yielded fruit for two years. But with Marcus Mariota back for another season, you certainly have to expect the Ducks to be a top-10 team. And Petersen’s arrival makes Washington an instant player for the division.
The best thing the Pac-12 can go is finish strong in the postseason, win its BCS bowl game and head into the playoff era with plenty of momentum.
Offensive MVP: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey
was arguably the most consistent skill player in college football this season, posting at least 100 yards in every game he played and finishing with 1,716 yards and 17 touchdowns on 322 carries (5.3 average). He also caught 26 passes and a touchdown.
Defensive MVP: With 14 sacks, Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy was the Pac-12 and the national leader in getting at the quarterback. He also ranked third nationally with 21.5 tackles for loss. Murphy posted 58 total tackles, blocked a kick, forced a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown.
Newcomer of the year: Plenty of fantastic options, including ASU receiver Jaelen Strong and Colorado linebacker Addison Gillam. But it was UCLA linebacker/running back Myles Jack who made the biggest splash. The Bruins' true freshman posted 70 tackles with five for a loss, an interception and two forced fumbles. He also blocked a kick. As a running back he carried 37 times for 269 yards with seven touchdowns.
Biggest surprise: Washington State athletic director Bill Moos said he thought the Cougars would start being a consistent winner by 2014. Coach Mike Leach had his own timetable. In just his second season in Pullman, Leach has the Cougars in a bowl game for the first time since 2003 -- and they recorded a marquee win on the road at USC in Week 2 that ultimately helped them become bowl-eligible.
Biggest disappointment: There was no great redemption story for Lane Kiffin. In fact, the Trojans looked like a significantly improved team after he was removed from his coaching duties. Hopes were high that Kiffin would be able to turn the Trojans around after an abysmal 2012. But a 62-41 loss at ASU in Week 5 was the straw that broke the back of his fairly underwhelming tenure with the Trojans.
Best game: At the quarter pole, we went with Oregon State at Utah. At the midway post, we went with Oregon State at Utah. And now in the season wrap, we’re sticking with that. That game, now more than ever, spells out the importance of every single week. Oregon State would be home for the holidays without that dramatic 51-48 overtime victory. And because of said dramatic overtime defeat, the five-win Utes are out of the postseason again. From a pure tension and excitement level, that game was tough to beat.
The most difficult position to narrow down was the secondary. The Pac-12 blog also went with Oregon State defensive end Scott Crichton over Stanford's Ben Gardner, who was first team with the coaches, despite missing the final four games of the season.
The only team that didn't place a player here is California. Stanford led the way with four position players and five overall.
QB Marcus Mariota, So., Oregon
RB Ka'Deem Carey, Jr., Arizona
RB Bishop Sankey, Jr., Washington
WR Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State
WR Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Jr., Washington
OL Evan Finkenberg, Sr., Arizona State
OL Hroniss Grasu, Jr., Oregon
OL Marcus Martin, Jr., USC
OL Xavier Su'a-Filo, Jr., UCLA
OL David Yankey, Sr, Stanford
DE Scott Crichton, Jr., Oregon State
DE Trevor Reilly, Sr., Utah
DT Will Sutton, Sr., Arizona State
DT Leonard Williams, So., USC
LB Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA
LB Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford
LB Shayne Skov, Sr., Stanford
S Deone Bucannon, Sr., Washington State
S Ed Reynolds, Sr., Stanford
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Jr., Oregon
CB Robert Nelson, Sr., Arizona State
PK Travis Coons, Sr., Washington
P Tom Hackett, So. Utah
KR Ty Montgomery, Jr., Stanford
PR Nelson Agholor, So, USC
Despite interest from NFL teams, coach David Shaw plans to stay at Stanford, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
Shaw already is on the Houston Texans radar, and is expected to be on the radar of just about any NFL team making a head-coaching change.
The 41-year-old Shaw was Jim Harbaugh's offensive coordinator at Stanford, and succeeded him there when Harbaugh went to the San Francisco 49ers. He has also worked as an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders and Philadelphia Eagles.
No. 5 Stanford (11-2) is the only program to make a BCS bowl the last four years. The twice-reigning Pac-12 champions, who also are the only team to win at least 11 games in each of those years, will go for a second straight Rose Bowl victory when they face No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) on Jan. 1.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Follow the Pac-12 blog on Twitter.
To the notes!
William from Santa Barbara writes: Lets pretend that Oregon got an invite to the BCS, so all of the PAC-12 schools, except Stanford, moved up in the bowl pecking order. Would the PAC still be favored in all of their games? What does this say about the strength of our bowl lineup?
Ted Miller: Oregon would not be favored against Alabama in the All-State Sugar Bowl. More on that in a bit.
But your point is solid. The lineup, after the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio between Stanford and Michigan State, probably would look like this:
- Arizona State vs. Oklahoma State, Valero Alamo Bowl.
- UCLA vs. Kansas State, National University Holiday Bowl
- USC vs. Virginia Tech, Hyundai Sun Bowl
- Washington vs. Fresno State, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl
- Arizona vs. BYU, Fight Hunger Bowl
- Washington State vs. Colorado State, Gildan New Mexico Bowl
- Oregon State vs. Boston College, AdvoCare V100 Bowl
[Edit note: As some readers pointed out -- do'h! on my part -- if Oregon played in the Sugar Bowl, then Oklahoma would play in the Cotton Bowl, knocking the other Big 12 teams down a notch. Ergo, this has been changed.]
That is a favorable slate for the Pac-12, though the Sun Devils would be an underdog to the Cowboys. Other than that, you could make an argument that the Pac-12 still might be favored in every game, as it presently is with its "real" bowl lineup, though BYU might get the edge over Arizona.
That only would be more confirmation of the depth of the Pac-12 in 2013, at least pending the results of the games.
However, it's also fair to point out that two things happened to water down the Pac-12 bowl game opponents: No. 1, the Big 12 and ACC both got two BCS bowl teams. No. 2, the Big 12 and ACC got two BCS bowl teams during a season in which neither conference was terribly deep.
Marc from Albuquerque writes: Am I the only ducks fan out there who is thankful we did not get invited to play Bama in the Sugar Bowl? The way the ducks have played in the past month we would have zero chance to beat Bama. Texas is a much more winnable game and duck fans should be more excited to finish the season with a win than a beat down from the SEC.
But, as previously noted, I don't think Oregon would beat Alabama, and I base that in large part on the final four games.
That said: At midseason, I would have rated the Ducks' chances against the Crimson Tide at close to 50-50. That was when Oregon was trucking along in dominant fashion. And QB Marcus Mariota was 100 percent healthy.
In fact, that is one of the big questions for the bowl season, and would be a huge issue for a hypothetical matchup with Alabama. With just more than a month to rest, would Mariota be back to his midseason form as the nation's best dual threat quarterback?
Mariota at 100 percent probably means Oregon rolls Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl. And it likely would make a matchup with Alabama, at the very least, interesting well into the fourth quarter.
Benvolio from Ashland, Ore., writes: I have a nagging thought on which I'd like your input. My main concern with hiring Sark at 'SC is the development of Keith Price over the past 3 seasons. While he threw less INTs this season than he had in previous ones, I haven't seen much clear improvement in his playing ability. Cody Kessler, on the other hand, got better in nearly every game all season long. Clearly there are too many factors at play to boil everything down to coaching, but regardless it's leaving me a little nervous about the future of our quarterback.
I think Steve Sarkisian's recovery job with Price this year was outstanding. Price looked shellshocked in 2012 after a brilliant debut campaign the year before. While he fells short of his 2011 numbers, he definitely bounced back and redeemed himself. I think Price's development is far more a positive than a negative on Sark's resume.
That said, I think Huskies QB coach Marques Tuiasosopo deserves a lot of credit for Price getting his footing again, and he is expected to follow Sarkisian to USC.
There are plenty of things to worry about with USC. But a Sark-Tuiasosopo combination working with Kessler and the Trojans QBs is not high on the list.
Elk from Los Angeles writes: Does UCLA QB Brett Hundleystay another year? This year, biggest dual threat QB is Manziel, next year would have to deal with Winston and Mariota.
Ted Miller: I think Hundley, who has tremendous upside, should return for his redshirt junior season, but that has to be a decision he's fully invested in. The worst thing to do is come back and then spend the next year fretting over whether you made the right call.
Hundley likely would be an early-round draft pick this spring just based on his natural ability. He'd be a project but one with a substantial potential payoff.
I do think he would take a step forward in terms of pocket awareness, mechanics and game management if he came back to UCLA, a team that would be favored to win the South Division with him on board.
He'd also land on more than a few preseason Heisman Trophy watch lists.
Chris from Salt Lake City writes: There are a bunch of Utah fans out of their minds right now, calling for [coach Kyle] Whittingham's head. Do me a favor and explain what happens to Utah football if Dr. Hill gives Whittingham the boot. Utah would have to be the toughest job to hire for in the PAC 12 right?
Ted Miller: Chris, many of your fellow Utah fans don't like Kevin and my oft-repeated calls for patience among Utes fans, though we both understand the impatience.
As I've noted before, I don't think we'd be having this debate if the Utes had somehow had better luck at quarterback. What if Jordan Wynn had stayed healthy in 2011 and 2012? What if Travis Wilson had this fall?
I know many would retort that there should have been a quality back-up plan. And maybe there should have been. But how many teams in the country wouldn't have slipped substantially if for three consecutive seasons their expected starting QB wasn't able to finish the season?
Further, Utah moved into a Pac-12 that is much better than the Pac-10 the Utes used to be competitive with as a MWC team.
Let me make a point that many Utah fans won't like. Those special Utah teams under Urban Meyer and Kyle Whittingham? They weren't as great as you think.
Before you get angry as your 2008 self, ask yourself what you thought of Fresno State this year. Your Pac-12 brain dismissed the Bulldogs, didn't it?
Go back to the stunning 31-28 comeback win over Oregon State in 2008 in Rice-Eccles Stadium. That Beavers team, which went 7-2 in Pac-12 play, including a victory over then-No. 1 USC, was good but far from great.
Imagine if the Utes had to play a nine-game schedule of Oregon State-like teams in 2008. Those Beavers lost to Stanford and got pounded by Oregon. They beat Arizona and Arizona State both by two points. No way the 2008 Utes would go unbeaten with a nine-game Pac-10 schedule.
You hated hearing that in 2008, I know. But can you see, from your new Pac-12 perspective, that 2008 tweak's logic now?
I'd wager that the 2013 Utah team with the Travis Wilson who beat BYU and Stanford behind center would be highly competitive with the 2008 Utes.
Utah is not regressing. The competition has progressed. Substantially. TCU is going through the same thing in the Big 12. Do you think Gary Patterson is a bad coach?
Of course, if things don't get better in 2014, Whittingham's seat will heat up. That's the nature of the business.
But catching up in the Pac-12 is not something that happens in one, three or probably even five seasons. It's a process, and obviously not one that is enjoyable to go through.
Ted Miller: While you could make a strong case that Oregon State needs to win it's bowl game in order to take some heat off of Mike Riley, just down the road at Oregon there's already significant pressure on Mark Helfrich to guide the Ducks into the offseason on an up note.
If Oregon beats Texas, it can trace its late-season swoon to QB Marcus Mariota's sprained knee. An excuse? Absolutely. But a legitimate one when assessing what went wrong during the season. The Ducks can look at 2013 and say, "Hey, we lost to a very good Stanford team on the road with our QB hurt, and we had one weekend at Arizona when we didn't show up. Could be worse. Stanford lost two games, too, by the way."
If Oregon beats Texas, it sets Mariota up as the leading 2014 Heisman Trophy candidate and it likely ensures a preseason ranking near the top 5 or at the very least the top 10. That means it starts 2014 squarely in position to play its way into the inaugural four-team College Football Playoff.
If Oregon beats Texas, it will still seem all Win the Day-y.
But what if Oregon doesn't beat Texas?
If the Ducks go down, some of the more demanding Ducks fans will see Helfrich's seat as warming in only Year 2. If the Ducks go down, there will be quite a few smirks in the Pac-12 and across the nation. Folks in SEC country will talk about a "gimmick team" whose run is over. Washington fans will look at their coach -- Chris Petersen -- and then Helfrich and start to make plans for a breakthrough after 10 years of woe. Oregon State fans will start to see a glimmer of hope on the horizon.
If the Ducks go down, that might give more than a few recruits pause. They might wonder if signing with Oregon means signing with a program that has plateaued and might be headed in the wrong direction. A disappointing recruiting class would give frustrated Ducks fans more to fret about during the long offseason.
If the Ducks go down, it will seem like a lost season.
Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl for a second consecutive year, and Washington just got a Big Fish coach. UCLA and Arizona State are rising in the South, and USC will emerge from scholarship reductions a year from now. The Ducks position in the North Division and the Pac-12 as a whole is being challenged.
Beating a middling Texas team that still has a marquee name will answer that challenge and slow the offseason handwringing to a manageable level.
Losing to a middling Texas team will put the program on red alert.
Kevin Gemmell: The Pac-12 is at a critical juncture, and nationally speaking, it can ill afford to drop its BCS game. That’s why the Pac-12’s must-win game has to be Stanford vs. Michigan State in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.
Right now the rest of the country is looking at the Pac-12, top to bottom, and thinking, "Gosh, that is a tough league. Hard to believe they only have one BCS game." Which is exactly why Stanford has to win. Because if they don't, the "overrated" chants will rain down heavy and hard for the next nine months.
The Pac-12 is better off when Oregon is ranked in the top five and going to BCS bowl games every year. And the Pac-12 needs the Ducks -- or UCLA -- or ASU -- or USC -- or Washington -- or Arizona -- or someone else to pick up the slack next year as we head into the playoff era. Easier said than done, of course, given the way the league’s nine-game conference schedule plays out.
That’s all well and good for the end of September. But no one cares about that if you don’t do well in the bowl season.
If the Pac-12 goes 8-1 in the bowl season, but loses its BCS game, the league takes a massive PR hit; because, let’s be honest, outside of Pullman Wash., or Fort Collins, Colo., there won't be a ton of buzz if Washington State beats up on Colorado State -- which it should. Opinions won’t be swayed too much if UCLA beats Virginia Tech or Arizona beats Boston College. And even if Oregon wins, it won’t make a huge dent.
Right now, Stanford carries the flag for the rest of the conference. The Pac-12 needs all of the national credibility it can get its hands on because the last Top 25 poll is usually a starting point for the first poll of the 2014 season. Oregon getting inside the top 10 is important. UCLA and ASU getting in the top 15 is important. USC getting into the top 20 is important. But Stanford getting in the top two or three is more important right now. And from a league perspective, beating a Big Ten team in the 100th Rose Bowl Game is the most important.
- Arizona RB Ka'Deem Carey didn't win the Doak Walker Award, as he should have, but he's a two-time All-American.
- More on Arizona State landing a recruit on its D-line.
- The good news is California's football team is getting better in the classroom.
- Colorado lands a tight end, its 18th commitment.
- Checking in with former Oregon QB Darron Thomas.
- Oregon State's Brandin Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award.
- A Stanford troika earns first-team All-American honors.
- A UCLA OLB is a first-team All-American.
- At least one USC coach has strong ties to Fresno State, the Trojans' Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl opponent.
- Utah coach Kyle Whittingham says goodbye to an assistant coach.
- This is a couple days old, but it's a good Q&A with new Washington coach Chris Petersen.
- Washington State's first bowl practices since 2003 mean young players get more attention.
First off, the basic numbers. Michigan State leads the nation in yards per game (247.8), yards per play (3.9) and third-down defense (28 percent conversion rate). The Spartans' defense has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (80.5), yards per rush (2.7) and 10-yard runs (30) in the FBS. The Spartans have held 10 opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards, the most such games in the FBS. They did not allow a team to run for 100 yards until Week 12 against Nebraska.
Stanford has held its past seven opponents to 20 points or fewer and ranks atop the FBS in most major defensive categories despite playing the fourth-hardest schedule in the country (according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings).
The difference in schedule strength is an issue when comparing the defenses, Stats & Info notes:
A pure, statistical comparison of Michigan State’s and Stanford’s defenses may not be fair because Stanford has faced eight teams ranked in the top 40 in the FBS in total offense, compared with just two for Michigan State. Instead, let’s take a look at what each defense does best and how that translates to the Rose Bowl.
Here are some notable numbers, first for Michigan State.
- Against the Spartans, it is hard to find space to run. On designed runs, Michigan State leads the FBS in yards before contact per game (40.3) and yards before contact per rush (1.7). The AQ averages are 89 yards before contact per game and 2.7 yards before contact per rush.
- Nicknamed the “no fly zone”, Michigan State’s starting secondary, led by cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis, has 29 pass breakups and 12 interceptions. With this group, Michigan State rarely gives up big plays.
- The Spartans allow opponents to complete 23.3 percent of their passes thrown 15 yards or longer, best among AQ defenses. They did not allow any opponent to complete more than 50 percent of such passes and limited Braxton Miller to 2-of-9 in the Big Ten Championship.
- The Spartans' ability to play man-to-man coverage has afforded defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi the luxury of being aggressive without jeopardizing his pass defense. Michigan State sends five or more pass rushers on 34 percent of its opponents’ dropbacks, the highest percentage in the Big Ten. On such plays, opponents are completing 46.9 percent of their passes and are averaging 5 yards per attempt.
And for Stanford:
- The strength of Stanford’s defense is its front seven. Led by linebackers Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, the Cardinal tied for sixth in the FBS with 98 tackles for loss and tied for first with 40 sacks.
- Stanford does not have to send extra pass rushers to get after the quarterback. When sending four or fewer pass rushers, the Cardinal have 31 sacks and an AQ-high 110 total pressures.
- Murphy, who is often the edge rusher, has an FBS-high 14 sacks. All of his sacks came as a part of a three- or four man rush. Because Stanford can create pressure without sending extra pass rushers, it leaves more men to drop into coverage.
- Stanford’s front also has excelled in the running game. The Cardinal rank third in the FBS in rushing yards per game (91.2) and fourth in yards per rush (3.0). They have held all but one of their opponents below their season average for rush yards per game.
- The key for Stanford has been its ability to penetrate the backfield and not allow opposing rushers to get outside. The Cardinal have made initial contact with opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage on 48 percent of their carries, the second-highest percentage among AQ conference teams behind Virginia Tech (51 percent). Further, the Cardinal lead the Pac-12 in yards per rush (4.5) and touchdowns (four) allowed outside of the tackles.
Adjusting for the strength of the offenses that each team has faced, Michigan State and Stanford have nearly identical rankings in ESPN’s defensive efficiency ratings -- a measure of expected points added per game on defense that adjusts for the strength of competition.
Even in the Rose Bowl it might be difficult to tell because the Cardinal offense is better than the Spartans. Stanford averages 33.2 points per game compared to 29.8 ppg. And keep the strength of schedule in mind when considering those numbers.
It is harder than ever for college football teams to play good defense. That's been apparent the last few years, as up-tempo and spread offenses have become commonplace, and some are among the most successful in the sport. (We're looking at you, Auburn and Baylor.)
Yes, up-tempo and spread offensive attacks have made some pretty good defenses look silly, in part because defenses are now on the field for a lot more plays each game. The FBS average is 71.9 plays per game, up from 67.7 per game five years ago. The NFL average is 65.
We (current and former defensive players) could complain about rule changes that give offenses a huge advantage (i.e., the frenzied pace that doesn't allow defenses to get set, or allowing offensive linemen to block downfield on screens and pass plays), but we don't make excuses. No, what we defenders must do is adapt -- and in turn, we analysts must change the way we evaluate defenses.
It is no longer good enough to look simply at points allowed (this never accounted for scores allowed by the offense or special teams) and yards allowed (this never accounted for yards allowed in a blowout game) to determine good defensive teams.
When I evaluate defenses, the objective factors I rely on most are points allowed per drive (FBS average is 1.97) and yards allowed per play (FBS average is 5.74). These statistics give a better view of how defenses are performing -- regardless of the number of plays they are on the field.
Almost all of my top 10 teams excel in these two areas, and I also factor in my own analysis, after covering games live and breaking down tape, to create this ranking. This subjective part of the ranking tells me which teams are disciplined, and which teams have difference-makers -- things you can't get from the statistics alone.
With those factors in mind, here is my ranking of the top 10 defenses of the 2013 season:
This was the top defense in the country by any measurement. Sparty had the No. 1 defense in yards allowed per play (3.94) and was third in points allowed per drive (0.93) -- and if you prefer the old-school stats, MSU dominated those, too. Additionally, Michigan State's D allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (80.5), fewest yards per rush (2.7) and fewest 10-yard runs (30) in the FBS.
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Shaw Staying Put At Stanford
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State