Earlier this week we took a look at the weakest Pac-12 defensive units going into this season. Today it's time to examine the best the Pac-12 has to offer. Thanks to Ted Miller for doing the heavy-lifting so we can dissect his hard research while sending him much-need traffic his way (aka money for gum)!
Tosh Lupoi left the California Golden Bears, but the Cal defensive line talent didn't leave with him. Starting defensive ends Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu are off, but Cal brings back Mustafa Jalil and DeAndre Coleman to anchor the outside of the Cal 3-4, with Aaron Tipoti likely to fill in at defensive end or play occasional nose guard, Kendrick Payne to be the other big nose tackle. If Vei Moala should start seeing significant snaps, this could be a very tough team to get any ground game going against.
Across the Bay, Stanford will have question marks up front and in the back, but at the middle they should have an experienced and outstanding linebacking corps to make up for everything else. This is a potential eight-man unit, with Chase Thomas, Trent Murphy and James Vaughters about to make life hell for opposing offenses, with Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley also ready to step in. And we're not even counting Shayne Skov at 100%. Stanford might want to consider a 3-8 defense next season against everyone not named Matt Barkley; force someone to complete a throw downfield!
The USC Trojans top their in-state rivals by lining the backfield with defensive playmakers. They have a sophomore linebacking trio that is already one of the best in the conference in Lamar Dawson, Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard, and should contend to be the best in the nation this year or next. Then we get to the secondary, which is suddenly an embarrassment of riches after being near disaster two years ago: Cornerback Nickell Robey and strong safety T.J. McDonald are two of the best at their position, and there's plenty of talent (at least three-deep at either position) to fill in the other two spots.
As for Oregon? Well, they end up sweeping the board, with not one weakness to be found. Good quality depth at every position. Maybe a question at who starts at safety next to John Boyett and there will be some shuffling at defensive end, but outside of that, several cornerbacks, one of the most underrated linebacking corps in the conference, and even quality weight at defensive tackle. That is a unit that could go toe-to-toe with USC, which is what makes their eventual matchup in November all the more compelling.
Who's your best defensive unit in the Pac-12? Sound off!