Is Bama’s Defense Overrated?

Is the Alabama defense ranked too high, or overrated, because of the “horrible offenses” they’ve been playing?

Former Florida State University quarterback Danny Kanell has challenged me blog a defense of the Tide defense, so here goes.

Kanell’s charge is that Alabama has played a bunch of bad offenses and has padded their stats against cream puffs – to the point that they are the no. 2 ranked defense in the country.  Kanell is essentially saying the Bama D is overrated.

But I don’t think that’s the case.

When a team races out to undefeated record midway through the season and then stumbles to the finish line, they are overrated (Illinois).  When a team has won 39 home games in a row and then loses at home to a four touchdown underdog, that team is overrated (Oklahoma).

Those are the classic examples of being overrated.  Performing up to a standard isn’t, though.

Alabama, and in particular it’s defense, doesn’t follow those patterns of being overrated  at all.  To illustrate, let’s take a look at some of the expectations and results of this Alabama team, with an emphasis on the defense:

  • The Tide ranked no.2 ranking in the preseason A.P. poll and also finished the regular season ranked no.2.
  • According to Phil Steele, heading into the season, Alabama boasted the no.4 ranked defensive line, the no.1 group of linebackers and the no.1 set of defensive backs.
  • The Tide, again according to Phil Steele, returned 10 defensive starters from a unit that ranked 5th in yards allowed in 2010 (286.4).
  • This year’s unit, featuring those 10 returning starters, plus a few other key contributors, finished the regular season as college football’s no.1 unit, allowing only 191.3 yards per game.
  • That’s right, this unit allowed 95.1 fewer yards per game than last year’s no. 5 defense.
  • This year’s top-performing D also has allowed 37.2 fewer yards per game than last year’s top defense at TCU and, in fact, has allowed fewer yards per game than any squad from 2007 through 2010 (that’s as far back as I’ve checked).
  • The Tide holds opponents to 8.8 points per game – the lowest total for the last five years.

The Tide defense was expected to be one of the best in college football this year and has, without a doubt, lived up to those expectations.  And, from a historical perspective, has been the best defensive unit of the past five years.

But, I’m sure that doesn’t answer Kanell’s question concerning the quality of offenses faced by the Tide this year.  So let’s take a look at that.  Here’s some data for each offense the Tide faced this year:

(Team / ’11 rank / ’10 rank / avg yards game / yards allowed by UA)

Kent State – 120 / 102 / 253 / 90
Penn State – 94 / 68 / 345 / 251
North Texas – 103 / 63 / 329 / 169
Arkansas – 28 / 9 / 446 / 226
Florida – 101 / 83 / 334 / 222
Vanderbilt – 96 / 110 / 343 / 190
Mississippi – 115 / 43 / 281 / 141
Tennessee – 102 / 75 / 333 / 155
LSU – 62 / 86 / 333 / 239
Mississippi State – 87 / 42 / 355 / 131
Georgia Southern – n/a
Auburn – 104 / 7 / 328 / 140

The average rank for those 11 offenses?  92nd.  Last year’s rank?  62nd.

Kanell is right in that Alabama has played some bad offenses.

But again, that doesn’t mean the Tide’s defense is overrated.  To be overrated would mean that Alabama’s D played well below their expectations – either in a particular game or for the season.  That clearly didn’t happen in 2011.  There is not one offense that reached even their average yards per game against Alabama.  LSU was held nearly 100 yards below their average.  The highest ranked offense they faced, Arkansas, was held 220 yards below their average.

So, yes, they did play some bad offenses in 2011, but they dominated those offenses.

The bottom line is this is a very talented unit that entered the season with sky-high expectations and met every one of them.  Yes, they faced some statistically bad offenses, but they totally suffocated them.

Based on this, Kanell isn’t right.  The Tide’s defensive ranking isn’t based on cream puff offenses.  The ranking is based on a unit playing up to and exceeding expectations.