ESPN's Rod Gilmore ranks the top 10 defenses in 2012, and it's not surprising that four belong to the SEC -- including Nos. 1 and 2 -- but the encouraging local news is two are from the Pac-12: No. 4 Stanford and No. 7 Oregon.
Including Stanford's defense was a no-brainer. It ranked among the national leaders in rushing, scoring and total defense the entire year. But understanding how good the Ducks' defense was this year requires reading behind the numbers.
Most notable for Gilmore with Stanford was its improved play in the secondary:
Traditionally, the weak link in the Cardinal defense has been the secondary, but Ed Reynolds has developed into a playmaker, and the most underrated safety in the nation. He has three pick-sixes and would have added a fourth in Stanford's Pac-12 championship game win had he not been tripped up at the 1-yard line after his game-changing 80-yard interception return. Stanford allowed only 17.5 points per game, a figure even more impressive when you consider that the Cardinal play in the pass-happy, offense-dominated Pac-12.
As for Oregon, here's some of Gilmore's take:
This was Oregon's best defense in the Chip Kelly era, but most folks didn't notice it. That's because Oregon was so dominant that most of their games were over in the second quarter, which meant that garbage time started early in the second half of games with teams getting meaningless yards.
This made Oregon's defensive statistics misleading. But if you studied tape of this defense, you'd see a fast, athletic unit that consistently created negative plays.
I would add that Oregon overcame an extraordinary amount of injuries this season, starting with All-American safety John Boyett and continuing with a decimated front seven that was forced at times to play three freshmen on the D-line and ending (hopefully) with the season-ending knee injury to safety Avery Patterson, who had capably replaced Boyett.