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2018 preseason Pac-12 defensive unit rankings: Washington has the best D in the conference, again

Ranking the Pac-12 defensive units going into the 2018 season

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
  1. Washington - The Huskies probably have the best defensive line, linebacker and DB units in the conference and are led by DCs Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake, who have dominated Pac-12 offenses the past few years. With nearly 10 players returning who could be first-team All-Pac-12 players, the Huskies should be lights out on defense again.

2. USC - The Trojans have to reload at a few spots, but they’re still stacked as always. Cameron Smith leads the way as the conference’s best linebacker and Marvell Tell in the back as an All-American candidate at safety. This unit is filled with talented bodies and has some of the best depth in the conference.

3. Utah - The Utes just keep things rolling on defense. There is a ton of young and proven talent on their defense led by a big front and deep defensive line. Former safety turned linebacker Chase Hansen and All-Pac-12 cornerback Julian Blackmon are the stars of this unit.

4. Stanford - The Cardinal slipped on defense last year and now have to replace stars Harrison Phillips, Quenton Meeks, and Justin Reid. It won’t be easy, but they have recruited well enough to where they just need to get very talented players to progress.

5. Cal - The Bears defense isn’t brimming with NFL talent, but Justin Wilcox and co got them to play very well in 2017, and things should only get better. Expect to see a disciplined, hard-working, and tough defense from the Bears in 2018.

6. Oregon - Jim Leavitt turned Oregon’s defense around overnight and they should continue on a path towards excellence in 2018 with a ton of talent and experience coming back. Defensive end Jalen Jelks and linebacker Troy Dye are two of the conference’s best defensive players and potential first round draft picks.

7. Arizona - Don’t sleep on the Wildcats D just because they are down this far. They showed a lot in 2017 and have a ton of young players who showed a lot as the season went on. They have a lot of talent that started proving itself at linebacker and DB.

8. UCLA - The Bruins are loaded with talent on defense, but haven’t proven much...what else is new? This group has a lot of players who could progress and turn them into a top defensive unit, but that’s a big if. Watch for Jaelan Phillips to do a star turn as a sophomore.

9. Colorado - Another unit to not sleep on just because they’re a ways down this list. The Buffs have talent and experience, especially at linebacker where Rick Gamboa and Drew Lewis are one of the conference’s best LB duos.

10. Washington State - The Cougars have been putting together underrated defenses year after year under Mike Leach, but lose a lot of experience after 2017. They get a big boost in getting linebacker Peyton Pelleur for another year after missing all of 2017 and junior safety Jalen Thompson is a potential first-team All-Pac-12 selection.

11. Arizona State - Herm Edwards has to improve ASU’s defensive unit’s performance to get the Sun Devils to improve in 2017. They lose a ton of experience and talent, but have a couple or really nice pieces coming back in linebacker Koron Crump and cornerback Chase Lucas.

12. Oregon State - The Beavers have a long ways to go on defense. I like some of their talent at linebacker and cornerback, but overall, it’s a rebuilding job in Corvallis.