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1 . Alabama Crimson Tide – 184.2 ypg, 16 interceptions, 46 sacks
The Crimson Tide has used a strong defense this season to make their way into the College Football Playoff. As usual, it is the rush defense that gets a lot of the credit and most of the attention. However, it is the defense’s improvement against the passing game that has been the key to the Tide’s success this season. Moving to a 4-2-5 base defense put two freshmen on the field for Alabama’s secondary – Marlon Humphrey at cornerback and Minkah Fitzpatrick at star. Those two have combined for five interceptions, 12 pass deflections and even two sacks. Senior Cyrus Jones has been the number one cornerback for the Tide and leads the team with seven pass deflections. The safety spots are filled by Geno Mattias-Smith and Eddie Jackson. The two have combined for six interceptions and four sacks.
The Tide rank in the nation’s top 20 in passing yards allowed per game and interceptions. They have allowed the fourth lowest passing efficiency to their opponents while teaming up with one of the best pass rushes in the country. Alabama has nine different players with two or more sacks this season, including 10 for senior Jonathan Allen. The ability to get pressure on the opposing quarterback is what helps make this defense elite and puts the Tide on the top of this list.
2. Clemson Tigers – 166.9 ypg, 14 interceptions, 38 sacks
The Tigers are loaded with talent in their secondary, with the strong possibility of seeing them all in the NFL as early as 2016. Third-year cornerbacks Cordrea Tankersley and Mackenzie Alexander have combined for five interceptions and 11 pass deflections. The two work similarly to Alabama’s cornerbacks, with Alexander being the team’s best coverage option while Tankersley sees more action while teams avoid the number one cornerback’s side of the field. The junior safeties have not had much work in the stat-sheet filling part of the game but they have been more than capable in coverage, combining for nine pass deflections and one interception on the season. The two are in the top five on the team in total tackles and tackles for a loss.
On top of the tremendous talent in the secondary, the defensive line has been just as outstanding this season. Defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd have kept the opposing quarterbacks under constant pressure. As a junior, Lawson has earned All-American honors while finishing second in the ACC with 10 sacks on the season. Dodd is right behind his teammate with 8.5 sacks this season.
3. Oklahoma Sooners – 201.5 ypg, 19 interceptions, 38 sacks
Oklahoma’s secondary currently sits at 8th in the country with 19 interceptions. Their ball-hawking secondary is led by junior cornerback Zack Sanchez who has seen the majority of the action in the back. The junior cornerback has six interceptions, seven pass deflections and one touchdown on the season. Across the field from Sanchez is sophomore Jordan Thomas who has a touchdown of his own this season to go along with five interceptions and four pass deflections. The cornerbacks play very aggressively but have been able to make the plays necessary not to get beat in the back. Safeties Steven Parker and Ahmad Thomas have combined for three interceptions and six pass deflections. They both rank in the team’s top five in total tackles and the top ten in tackles for a loss.
Most of the Sooners’ pass rush has come from the linebacker position. Eric Striker leads the team with seven sacks (to go along with an interception and three pass deflections). Defensive linemen Charles Tapper and Charles Walker have 6.5 sacks each.
4. Michigan State Spartans – 229.8 ypg, 15 interceptions, 35 sacks
The Spartans are the easy choice to fall into last place in this category. Although their pass defense is not on the edge of elite like the other three teams, Michigan State’s secondary has still helped put together one of the nation’s better defenses. Senior cornerback Arjen Colquhoun has been one of the keys to the secondary, having seven pass deflections so far this season. His two interceptions on the year have come in the last four weeks, one helping seal the deal against Maryland.
The safeties are the key to the pass defense. Sophomore Montae Nicholson leads the team with three interceptions and sits second on the team with 76 total tackles. Junior Demetrious Cox is next to him at the free safety position. Cox also has three interceptions and leads the team with seven pass deflections. To go along with the strong safety play, the pressure on the quarterback is led by Shilique Calhoun. The senior defensive end actually has three pass deflections on the season to go along with 10.5 sacks, which ranks third in the Big Ten.
Caleb Turrentine is a contributor at Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter,@CalebTurrentine.