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Friday, December 13, 2013
Rose Bowl defenses: A closer look

By Ted Miller

The Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO features two of the nation's best defenses with Stanford and Michigan State, so ESPN.com's Stats & Information, as is their wont, decided to take a closer look.

First off, the basic numbers. Michigan State leads the nation in yards per game (247.8), yards per play (3.9) and third-down defense (28 percent conversion rate).  The Spartans' defense has allowed the fewest rushing yards per game (80.5), yards per rush (2.7) and 10-yard runs (30) in the FBS. The Spartans have held 10 opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards, the most such games in the FBS. They did not allow a team to run for 100 yards until Week 12 against Nebraska.

Stanford has held its past seven opponents to 20 points or fewer and ranks atop the FBS in most major defensive categories despite playing the fourth-hardest schedule in the country (according to ESPN’s strength of schedule rankings).

The difference in schedule strength is an issue when comparing the defenses, Stats & Info notes:
A pure, statistical comparison of Michigan State’s and Stanford’s defenses may not be fair because Stanford has faced eight teams ranked in the top 40 in the FBS in total offense, compared with just two for Michigan State. Instead, let’s take a look at what each defense does best and how that translates to the Rose Bowl.

Here are some notable numbers, first for Michigan State.
And for Stanford:
So which defense is better? According to Stats & Info, it's pretty much a tie.

Adjusting for the strength of the offenses that each team has faced, Michigan State and Stanford have nearly identical rankings in ESPN’s defensive efficiency ratings -- a measure of expected points added per game on defense that adjusts for the strength of competition.

Even in the Rose Bowl it might be difficult to tell because the Cardinal offense is better than the Spartans. Stanford averages 33.2 points per game compared to 29.8 ppg. And keep the strength of schedule in mind when considering those numbers.