College Football Defensive Dominators

FairwayJay takes a look at the top defensive teams in college football and explains how to use the stats to find winners.

Isolating and Evaluating the Strongest Defensive Teams in College Football

Earlier this month we took a deep dive into the stats for offensive production and identified the college football teams with the most balanced offenses that are powerful and productive. Now we turn to the defensive side of the ball and isolating college football’s defensive dominators. Using these statistical indicators and profiles will assist us in our college football handicapping and weekly pursuit of profit the rest of the season. 

While many bettors love to bet on high-octane offensive teams, it’s the defensive dominators that are often your best bets. Those strong defensive teams that may lack some offensive firepower stay under the radar and undervalued more that the high-profile and high scoring offensive teams. The bookmakers and sports books know that and also adjust to those tendencies and public perceptions. That includes when posting totals, as more bettors play overs than unders. 

By using these stats and updating them weekly, you can be better prepared and isolate more match-ups of interest and point spread winners. Especially for strong defensive teams in underdog roles. As teams push towards the finish of the college football season, use these stats and watch the weather as the defensive dominators are teams you can often count on in tougher match-ups. 

best defensive teams in college footballWith a number of conference games played, we can more realistically analyze the proven teams and performers as the statistical profiles become more clear. But note the match-ups each week as teams face more opponents operating out of spread formations and utilizing more up-tempo or no-huddle attacks. Also reviews team's strength of schedule and hidden or meaningful match-up stats in box scores. 

Teams that make our defensive dominator list below that also have played a top 20 strength of schedule (SOS) include: 

Auburn, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oregon, Alabama, LSU, Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, Georgia

Note that UAB has played one of the easiest schedules in the country, and Western Kentucky's SOS is not much tougher. From the Power Conferences, Minnesota has played the easiest schedule from those teams that made the defensive dominator list. 

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There are more than 60 college football teams averaging at least 30 points per game. So with scoring averages near 30 points per game and offenses continuing to be creative and utilize rule changes to their advantage, it becomes even more important for defenses and defensive coordinators to make plays and plans to slow the offenses. 

So each season we adjust our numbers and profiles based on specific parameters with scoring and yardage increases, and we sort through the more meaningful stats and understand the strengths and weaknesses of teams and opponents. That’s important to note as some teams that just missed being on the list have played stronger schedules and opponents overall than some teams on the list. 

Use this as a guide as you evaluate this year’s list of defensive dominators through October 19, who must meet the following criteria: 

- Allow 22 or less points per game (PPG)
- Allow 360 or less yards per game (YPG)
- Allow 5.0 or less yards per play (YPPL)
- Allow 150 or less rushing (YPG)
- Allow 4.0 or less yards per rush (YPR) 

In addition, I’m throwing out stats against FCS opponents, so the stats represent a more level playing field against more quality competition. 

PPG – Points-Per-Game     YPG – Yards-Per-Game
YPPL – Yards-Per-Play –    YPR – Yards-Per-Rush 

Team  PPG    YPG    YPPL  Rush YPG  YPR 
Wisconsin 7.6 196 3.3 61 2.3
Ohio State 8.1 230 3.4 93 2.6
Georgia 9.5 264 4.2 97 3.4
Penn State 10.5 305 4.1 76 2.1
Iowa 11.6 275 4.6 92 3.3
Clemson 12.1 256 3.8 112 3.1
Oregon 13.3 299 4.2 130 3.6
Utah 13.7 275 4.7 65 2.8
W. Kentucky 15.1 264 4.2 126 3.2
UAB 15.2 249 3.9 81 2.5
San Diego State 16.1 290 4.1 67 2.5
Alabama 16.4 321 4.5 131 3.7
Notre Dame 16.8 348 4.8 153 3.9
Auburn 17.1 319 4.5 94 3.1
Navy 18.1 293 4.5 104 3.2
Michigan 19.1 285 4.2 121 3.1
Missouri 19.3 299 4.5 126 3.5
Virginia 20.2 286 4.2 105 3.1
Cincinnati 20.4 345 4.7 138 3.6
Iowa State 20.5 346 4.7 127 3.6
Michigan State 21.1 315 4.6 118 3.4
LSU 21.1 328 4.6 103 3.1
Oklahoma 20.3 324 4.7 137 3.9
Minnesota 21.5 282 4.2 114 3.4

Teams that just missed being on the current list of defensive dominators but worth watching and updating each week include: Arizona State, Baylor, Boise State, California, Florida, Kansas State, Memphis. 

In reviewing our previous list of teams with strong, balanced offenses that both run and pass for at least 200 yards per game, we note the teams from that list that are also defensive dominators include: Clemson, Georgia, Memphis, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Utah and Wisconsin. Also, Auburn is now passing for less than 200 yards per game and no longer qualifies on the list of balanced offensive teams. 

You can strengthen the profiles by evaluating a team’s net yards-per-play differential, between offensive yards-gained and defensive yards allowed, which is often a key statistical indicator for winning and ATS success. 

NCAA football defensesSupporting strong defensive teams is usually a good starting point in your analysis of a contest and match-up, but I encourage you to dig a little deeper in your own evaluation of teams, schedules and stats and compare current and past betting lines and power ratings. Note injuries, turnovers, motivation and other negative yardage or factors as you analyze the opponent and schedules. Defensive profiles can also assist you in totals betting, which can be even more effective with scoring increases, rising posted totals and more inclement weather ahead. 

As teams push for conference titles, bowl bids and play their biggest rivalry games in November, the intensity will rise and many times the defensive play will follow. Use this information to assist you in your handicapping, betting and evaluations of teams in your pursuit of profit. As the season pushes through the second half, you'll find yourself in the end zone and hitting pay dirt more often than fumbling and turning the (money) ball over to the bookmaker

You can bet on it. 

FairwayJay is a leading national sports handicapper and is recognized as one of the sports industry's most insightful analysts. Read more great insights from Jay here and follow him on Twitter: @FairwayJay

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