Had we all voted on this before the season, Ole Miss would have been a popular choice. The Rebels have Robert Nkemdiche, arguably the best defensive player in the SEC, and they led the conference in scoring defense a season ago.
Florida’s defense took exception to that. And when Ole Miss came to town this past weekend, the Gators proved who had the better unit in a 38-10 beatdown.
“We took that personal this week,” UF linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “They were coming in here talking about their Landsharks and they do this, they do that. We wanted to step up and show that we were a top-tier defense. We’re somebody that can’t be matched, especially at home.”
But Florida wasn’t the only defense to have a good week. The Alabama defense was dominant in a win at Georgia. Missouri, which forced three turnovers and held South Carolina to 10 points, leads the conference in both scoring defense and total defense.
So we asked the question: Which SEC team has the best defense?
Edward Aschoff: I’ll take the Gators. Florida has an outstanding secondary, headlined by All-American and future first-round draft pick Vernon Hargreaves III at corner, but the Gators can rotate six or seven guys all around that secondary. The pass defense is allowing 6.1 yards per attempt, but has given up just six touchdowns with five interceptions. But how about the play of that defensive line? The Gators are second in the SEC with 18 sacks – 13 in the last three games – and 14.5 of those are by linemen. Florida has forced 11 turnovers in five games and just dismantled Ole Miss’ high-flying offense.
David Ching: This is a fun question because you could make a decent argument for four or five teams. I might have picked Ole Miss before the season, but the Rebels are weakened by injuries. Statistically, Missouri has a good case, but the Tigers haven’t played an above-average offense yet. I love Florida and LSU’s defenses and wouldn’t argue with anyone who picked them. But if I had to pick the SEC defense that I’d least like for my offense to face, it would be Alabama’s. I know the Tide’s secondary has had problems at times, but that front seven is ridiculous. Nobody wants to play that bunch.
Sam Khan: Alabama. Against Power 5 competition, the Crimson Tide are No. 1 in the SEC in three-and-outs forced by their defense (14), No. 2 in drives without allowing a first down (17, behind Georgia's 20) and are allowing third down conversions at only a 28.9 percent clip vs. Power 5 teams. The Tide are also have the highest percentage of plays that go for zero or negative yardage in the SEC when playing P5 teams (42.3 percent). They have a terrific front seven and they play sound football with a lot of effort. Plenty to like about this defense.
Greg Ostendorf: I’m going to have to go with Florida. First of all, you can’t throw on this group. Between the elite pass-rushers and what I believe is the SEC’s best secondary, it’s simply not happening. Hargreaves gets most of the credit on the back end, but fellow cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson can more than hold their own. The real test will be when the Gators face a stout running back like Leonard Fournette or Nick Chubb. Alabama’s defense might be better equipped in that matchup, but with Antonio Morrison returning to form, I like Florida’s chances more and more.
Alex Scarborough: I still have my concerns with Alabama, most notably how they'll hold up against mobile quarterbacks who can operate the spread. But in terms of pure talent and potential, choosing the Tide's defense is the way to go. Their depth up front is pretty remarkable. A'Shawn Robinson might not be the best defensive linemen they have. Jarran Reed is playing out of his mind and Jonathan Allen has quietly become one of the best ends in the SEC. At linebacker, Reggie Ragland is as good as it gets. And finally, the secondary may have its faults in terms of proven, experienced players across the two-deep, but Cyrus Jones is a wildly underrated corner and Minkah Fitzpatrick is showing great potential as a true freshman.