Who has the Best Defense in the Pac-12?

This is such an entirely difficult thing to quantify, because there are so many different variables that come to play, such as home field advantage over difficult foes, or clutch performances with the game on the line, that actually posing a true "best defense" award is nearly impossible. Much of this post will in fact rely on how defenses do despite their offensive offenses (in some cases), but it will be entirely based on averages. That being said, in making this determination, I relied on one thing, and one thing only: how many points a defense gave up in proportion to the amount of points a given offense racks up on average. In other words how many more points are defenses allowing opposing offenses to get either above and beyond that opposing offense’s season average, or below that same average?

I’ll start with my conclusion, because that’s what everyone wants to see anyway. The best defense, thus far in the season (it could be different at the end of the year) is none other than the Stanford Cardinal. However, here is how I rank them all, and there might be some serious surprises here.

more after the jump ... and by the way, this is long.



These are the rankings of how many points, on average, the Pac-12 is giving up, in other words, "scoring defense."

  1. Stanford – Allowing 17.0 points per game, the Cardinal has physically dominated each and every team it has played thus far, with the exception being USC. The game against Oregon looms as a nasty day statistically for the Cardinal, but right now, the Cardinal is the undisputed champion in this category. Interestingly, Stanford is only allowing opponents score 12.5 points at home, while giving up 21.5 on the road.
  2. Utah – Allowing 20.6 points per game, the Utes have had what seems to be a really up and down season. However, they have yet to allow a team to score more than 35 points this year. Not even Stanford, or Oregon, can say that. The Utes are allowing opponents to score 21 points at home, while are yielding slightly less on the road, at 20.3. If anything, the Utes haven’t let the other teams take a great deal of advantage over them. The problem is with its offense, which is a different animal entirely. Luckily for Utah, they do not have to play Oregon or Stanford, as the Utes are out of the running for the Pac-12 South Division.
  3. Oregon – Allowing 21.3 points per game, the only time yet this season the Oregon D didn’t dominate a game this season was against LSU and Arizona. (By dominate, I mean hold the opposing offense to less than 30 points). However, in the Arizona game the Ducks were up 35 – 9, so obviously garbage time had kicked in by then. The Quackers are allowing opponents to score 19.4 points at home, while they are allowing them to score 24.3 points on the road.
  4. Arizona State – Allowing 21.5 points per game, the Devils are having a pretty solid year on defense. With the exception of the Oregon game, where they allowed 41 points, ASU hasn’t allowed a team to score above 30 points. In fact, if you take out those 2 games, ASU hasn’t allowed a team to score above 22 points. The devils are holding teams to 20 points per game, while giving up 24 points on the road. Oh, by the way, the Devils held USC to 22 points, something Stanford didn’t even come close to.
  5. Cal – Allowing 26.4 points per game, Cal has been one of the most inconsistent teams this year. They have been absolutely stellar at times and absolutely horrible the next week; just look at the Utah and UCLA games if you were curious. However, the stellar games have allowed Cal to have a descent season as far as scoring defense is concerned. The Golden bears are giving up 21 points at home, but are allowing 29.6 points on the road.
  6. USC – Allowing 26.8 points per game, the Trojans have played a total of 8 games, 2 of which have been away. This away scoring defense average could be skewed a little bit, but ASU did drop 42 on USC … The Trojans are allowing 27 points at home and 26 points away. That game against Stanford absolutely killed the Trojan’s home average … overtime can be a killer for defenses.
  7. UCLA – Allowing 26.8 points per game, UCLA has done a decent job (forget Houston, Texas, and Arizona, Stanford) this year, when it shows up to play. Unfortunately, that has happened as many times as it hasn’t. The Bruins are averaging 22.3 points of scoring defense at home and 37.5 on the road, a 15.2 point swing. One thing is for sure this season, if you want to beat the Bruins, play them in your home stadium.
  8. Oregon State – Allowing 29.9 points per game, Oregon State has been much more consistent than the Bruins, but just doesn’t have the personnel to compete each and every week. I also feel for Beaver fans, as each week the Beavs seem to be playing in the toilet bowl. At home, OSU is allowing 27.3 points per game, while they are allowing 31.2 points per game on the road. Next year will be better, I promise.
  9. Wazzu – Allowing 32.0 points per game, Wazzu comes up ninth. I have a little bit of trouble with this number though … WSU gave up 21, and 7 points in the first two games, then 24 against Colorado. But the rest of the season the Cougs have given up 40 plus in 4 of the next 6 games … one of which was against Oregon State. The Cougs are giving up 29 at home, and then 34.3 on the road.
  10. Washington – Allowing 33.4 points per game, Washington has been anything but consistent. Though not as inconsistent as the Bruins, the Dawgs have managed to give up 51 and 65 points to two dominating rushing teams, both on the road. The Huskies have given up 27.4 at home, and 43.3 on the road, as swing of 15.9 (which is worse than the Bruins). This week against Oregon doesn’t look pretty.
  11. Arizona – Allowing 34.9 points per game, Arizona forgot to have a defensive heart this year. Thought to be a strength under Mike Stoops, the Arizona D has done nothing but disappoint thus far in the season (except for that game against Northern Arizona, and then against UCLA, immediately following the firing of said Mike Stoops). The D couldn’t stop anyone, and the suspensions did nothing but hurt the team. I expect Arizona to do better down the stretch, however, with games against Utah and Colorado in the near future. The Wildcats are giving up 28.8 points at home, and 41 points on the road.
  12. Colorado – Allowing 38.3 points per game, Colorado, with the exception of Colorado State, and even to some extent the game against Wazzu where the D was presentable, the Colorado D has just forgotten to show up. The team has definitely been hurt this year because of the lack of a single bye, but is still the worst defense in the Conference for a reason. Colorado is giving up 31.5 points at home, and 43.8 points on the road.

What these stats show is that there are 4 tiers in the conference. Tier 1, the top 4 teams have been able to show, on a weekly basis for the most part, that they can hold teams to less than 22 points. Stanford is clearly in the lead in this category, but Utah, Oregon and ASU are also able to hold teams to a low amount.

Tier 2 would be Cal, USC, and UCLA. Obviously, these three teams are keeping opponents to less than 27 points, generally. Tier 3 is Oregon State, Wazzu, Washington and Arizona. These 4 teams have trouble keeping opponents under 30 points. Tier 4 is Colorado, which, unless is playing a team other than Colorado State, just can’t stop opponents from scoring, period. The disclaimer in this section is that there are times when the opposing teams’ defense scores points, as in the Picks 6 in the Stanford and Arizona games; I ignored these (ESPN DOES!!!), mostly to save myself even more work than I have already put into this.

These are the ranking of how many points, above or below their opponents’ scoring offense average, the Pac-12 is giving up.

  1. Stanford – Forcing opponents to score 10.5 points less than their season averages, Stanford has been really effective in keeping offenses well under their scoring offense averages. Stanford only has one game in which its opponent scored above its scoring offense average: USC. That game, Stanford allowed USC to score a whopping 15.6 points above its season average. Luckily for Stanford, the Cardinal doesn’t have to play itself … The Cardinal is holding teams to 12.9 points below their season averages, while holding opponents to  8.2 points below that average on the road.
  2. Utah – Forcing opponents to score 10.0 points less than their season averages, Utah is in the same position as Stanford. The Utes only have one game in which the defense was unable to hold the opposing offense to below its scoring offense season average: Cal. Nobody knows why this has happened, though there is some speculation that Cal actually brought back Aaron Rodgers for this game to play for the inconsistent Zach Maynard. Head to head with Stanford, the Utes also went to USC, but in that game they were able to hold the Trojans to 9.3 points below their season average. At home, Utah is holding teams to 11.6 points below their averages, and 8.4 points on the road. (For those of you who are wondering about the ASU game, the Utes held the Devils to .9 points below their average.)
  3. Oregon – Forcing opponents to score 8.4 points less than their season averages, the Ducks have held all opposing teams, but two below their scoring offense average. Those games were against LSU (where Oregon allowed the Tigers to score .7 above its season average) and Arizona (.6 above its season average). The Oregon D has been consistent all year, but has been slightly better at home (where it didn’t have to play LSU) holding offenses to 10.3 points below average, and 5.2 below average on the road.
  4. Arizona State – Forcing opponents to score 8.2 points less than their season averages, the Sun Devils are the only team in the Pac 12 to successfully hold its opponents under their scoring offense average EVERY SINGLE GAME, which includes the Oregon, in which the Devils held the Ducks to 6.5 points less than their season average (though that was still 41 points). The Sun Devils were also able to hold USC to 10.4 points below its season average, something Stanford was completely incapable of doing. At home, ASU is holding teams to 8.1 points below their average, while the Sun Devils are holding teams to 8.2 points below their average on the road.
  5. USC – Forcing opponents to score 4.1 points less than their season averages, USC has at been presentable, at the least. However, like I mentioned above, the Trojans have played six out of its eight games at home, which generally gives teams a slight advantage, on offense and defense (just look at Colorado). Since the Trojan defense was ineffective against Stanford, allowing 56 points, they still only gave up 6.5 points more than the Cardinal usually scores. At home the Trojans are allowing offenses to score 3.3 less than their averages, and 6.3 on the road.
  6. Cal – Forcing opponents to score 4.0 points less than their season averages, Cal has done good against the bad teams, Cal has been less than consistent. They allowed Colorado score 14.2 points higher than their season average (though Colorado did have their star receiver at that time), and then they forced other teams, like Utah, to well below their season averages. At home, the Golden Bears are forcing teams to score 7 points less than their season averages, while are holding teams to 2.2 points below average on the road.
  7. UCLA – Forcing opponents to score 2.0 points less than their season averages, UCLA has been the only consistent thing on the team this year. (Just forget the game that involved a certain streaker.) UCLA held Stanford below its season average, and also held Houston to 14.3 points below its season average. At home, the Bruins are holding opponents to 2.8 points below their averages, and 1.3 points below on the road.
  8. Arizona – Forcing opponents to score 1.0 point less than their season averages, I was left to wonder … what gives? Well, other than that crazy game against UCLA, and the win over Northern Arizona, the reason Arizona is ranked where it is, is because the Wildcats held Oklahoma State and Stanford to less than 40 points each. That means one of 2 things: either the Wildcat D is able to keep other teams from scoring a whole bunch of points (probably not since the Dawgs put up 42 points on them) or the games have already been over, and the back-ups came in early, before the game got really out of hand. Arizona is holding opponents to 7.8 points below their season average, while the Cats are letting teams score 5.8 more points than their average.
  9. Oregon State – Forcing opponents to score 0.7 points less than their season averages, for the most part, OSU has completely underwhelmed its opponents. However, the Beavs only really died on defense against BYU and Sacramento State. They actually did fairly well against Wisconsin, considering the Beaver offense was offensive, and did nothing to keep the Wisconsin offense off the field. At home, the Beavers are allowing teams to score 1 more point than their opponents’ scoring offense average, but are doing much better on the road by forcing teams to 1.2 points less than their averages.
  10. Colorado – Allowing opponents to score 1.3 points more than their season averages, therefore, the Buffs have a better defense than the Huskies … just kidding. Here is the difference: teams respect the Husky offense much more than they do the Colorado offense. So, when Stanford only puts up 48 points, that has to be tempered by the fact that Colorado only scored 7 points, and the game was over in the first quarter. The only team so far this year to put up more than 50 on the buffs is the Dawgs. At home, the Buffs are forcing opposing offenses to score 4.5 points less than their season average, but allowing 3.8 more points on the road.
  11. Washington – Allowing opponents to score 2.2 points more than their season averages, but it’s no surprise that the Dawgs aren’t number 1 in the conference. One of the biggest problems with the defense is the potent offense. Nebraska was fin with putting the game away in the third quarter, but the offense kept on scoring. Then there was Stanford, who decided not to put in the backups until the 4th quarter. At home, the Dawgs are allowing defenses to score .8 points less than their opponents’ averages, while are allowing teams to score 7.1 points above their season average (thanks to Nebraska and Stanford).
  12. Wazzu – Allowing opponents to score 3.1 points more than their season averages, this could be worse Coug fans. Luckily, the Cougs played Idaho State and UNLV. Regardless, the D had a great game against Oregon, at least in the first half … just a note here, the Coug D is the only team that is failing to hold a team under its average at home and away. At home, the Cougs are allowing opposing offenses to score 1.1 points above their averages, and 5.0 points above average on the road.

There are three tiers in the Pac 12 in this category. Tier 1 is Stanford, Utah, Oregon, and Arizona State. There is a clear distinction between these teams and the Tier 2. Tier 2 is USC, Cal, Arizona, UCLA and Oregon State. Tier 3 is Colorado, Washington and Wazzu. So, here is my final ranking:

  1. Stanford
  2. Oregon
  3. Arizona State
  4. Utah (The reason Utah fell below Oregon and Arizona State is because they don’t play Oregon or Stanford, and because the Oregon D did to Arizona State what Utah failed to do.)
  5. USC
  6. Cal
  7. UCLA
  8. Oregon State (I put Oregon State above Arizona because OSU’s D spanked the Wildcat D.)
  9. Arizona
  10. Washington
  11. Washington State
  12. Colorado (Let's just face it, Colorado has the words D right now.)
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