The PAC-12 may not be nationally known for having elite defenses, but this season it has become clear that many of the best overall defensive teams reside on the west coast, along with some of the best individual defensive players.
Four teams – Oregon, Utah, Arizona State, and Cal – are among the top 20 in all of college football in scoring defense, with another (Washington) coming in at No. 28.
Of course, the other side of that coin is that four other teams are actually among the 33 worst defenses in the NCAA at preventing scoring: Washington State, Arizona, Oregon State, and UCLA, who is allowing opponents to score a whopping 37.7 points on average.
So, as one might expect, the PAC-12 is actually pretty average defensively – at least when evaluating them based on points allowed.
Let’s take a look at those elite defenses though, and how they are getting it done in 2019.
Best Pac-12 Defenses 2019
The Ducks have long been stigmatized as a speedy, offense-oriented team with little attention or care for their defense – a stigma that has lasted well past the Chip Kelly era despite a reality that contradicts that narrative.
This season, Oregon is allowing the third-fewest points per game on average, at just 8.7 points per game. They are successful at limiting both the run game (107.5 rushing yards per game – 23rd in the nation) and the pass game (196.2 passing yards per game – eighth in the nation) which of course means they are in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed per game – eighth to be exact, at just 267.7 yards per game.
Linebacker Troy Dye, a potential first round pick, has been perhaps their biggest performer on defense, with 33 combined tackles and one sack.
Mase Funa and Kayvon Thibodaux are getting it done off the edge with 5.5 combined sacks, and safety Jevon Holland already has three interceptions.
The Ducks still have an outside chance at a college football playoff appearance, and while their strength is still their quarterback, Justin Herbert, their defense will have played a big role if they make it that far.
The Utes are probably the PAC-12’s most impressive defensive team, although they are limited somewhat against the pass.
Led by a flurry of playmakers, including Devin Lloyd, Francis Bernard, Julian Blackmon, and Bradlee Anae, the Utes have held opponents to just 13.2 points per game on average.
Their run defense is elite, and would be the best in the entire NCAA were it not for the ridiculousness that is the University of Wisconsin’s defense.
While their pass defense still leaves something to be desired, they do have seven interceptions as a team, including three that have been returned for touchdowns.
Utah will contend for a Rose Bowl appearance this season, thanks primarily to their defensive prowess.
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Arizona State Sun Devils
Arizona State may not have the playmakers that Utah or Oregon have, but as a team, they have allowed just 17.7 points per game on average, good for 16th in the nation.
They are considerably better against the run than the pass, giving up big games to Washington State and Colorado who both like to attack through the air.
Still, it’s been a wildly successful season for the Sun Devils, who held the Michigan State Spartans to just seven points and only gave up 17 to Cal.
The team still has Utah and Oregon on their schedule, however, so they’ll need to really tighten up if they want to contend for the Rose Bowl this year.
Cal Golden Bears
Cal has one of the most exciting playmakers in the nation in linebacker Evan Weaver. Weaver leads the entire nation with 83 combined tackles, an absolutely ridiculous total through just six games.
Cal has only allowed one team to score over 20 points this season, in their 24-17 loss to Arizona State.
As such, their 18.3 points per game allowed ties them with Auburn for 18th in the nation – despite only average numbers in run and pass prevention.
The PAC-12 may not be known for their defensive prowess, but there are still a handful of elite defensive teams that can manhandle any opponent on any given night.
Pac-12 defenses are some of the best in all of college football in 2019.