They say defense wins championships. Well, creating negative plays typically makes for a winning defense.
We're defining negative plays here as tackles for a loss, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles (we went with forced fumbles instead of fumble recoveries). We're tallying how many of each that Pac-12 defenses produced in 2013 and -- more importantly -- how many of those negative plays were created by returning players.
We start with the South Division.
(Number in parentheses is number of negative plays made by returning players).
Tackles for a loss: 77 (32.5)
Sacks: 24 (11.5)
Interceptions: 18 (12)
Forced fumbles: 9 (6)
Breakdown: The Wildcats must replace a lot of production, including their top two tacklers and tackles-for-loss producers. As has been the question for the past few years, it's uncertain who will lead the pass rush.
Tackles for a loss: 101 (16.5)
Sacks: 40 (5)
Interceptions: 21 (4)
Forced fumbles: 14 (6)
Breakdown: After losing nine starters, including six on the All-Pac-12 first and second teams, the Sun Devils are rebuilding on defense. Considering ASU's system is predicated on negative plays, developing new defensive playmakers is priority No. 1 for the defending South champions.
Tackles for a loss: 71 (42.5)
Sacks: 17 (11)
Interceptions: 10 (10)
Forced fumbles: 12 (7)
Key losses: DE Chidera Uzo-Diribe (10.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 5 forced fumbles)
Breakdown: Other than Uzo-Diribe, just about all the key producers are back. But they need to take a decisive step forward this season. There's a sense in Boulder that the secondary might be ready for prime time.
Tackles for a loss: 79 (31)
Sacks: 32 (8)
Interceptions: 14 (11)
Forced fumbles: 17 (9)
Breakdown: Obviously, the loss of Barr is huge, but Marsh and LB Jordan Zumwalt also were highly productive players. The Bruins welcome a lot of guys back but those guys need to step up their negative-play production in 2014 -- paging Myles Jack.
Tackles for a loss: 91 (49)
Sacks: 35 (15)
Interceptions: 17 (11)
Forced fumbles: 8 (6)
Breakdown: USC welcomes back its three leading tacklers. Replacing Kennard's production is the big question for the defense. It was a huge gain for the Trojans when Shaw opted to return, as he solidified what should be a good secondary.
Tackles for a loss: 80 (31.5)
Sacks: 39 (13.5)
Interceptions: 3 (0)
Forced fumbles: 13 (7)
Key returner: DE Nate Orchard (9 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)
Breakdown: Reilly was, by far, the Utes' best and most productive defensive player, but the loss of Hale to a serious knee injury this spring also hurts. It's pretty astounding that the Utes don't have a player coming back who had an interception in 2013.