- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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In 2012, Arizona's defense surrendered 35.3 points per game. That's bad. This past season, Arizona yielded 24.2 points per game. Much better.
The Wildcats had the most improved defense in the Pac-12 in 2013. Part of that was having little room to get worse, but the most obvious reason the unit was so much better was experience. Arizona welcomed back all 11 starters in 2013 from 2012. You could also add that a second year in coordinator Jeff Casteel's system helped.
In other words, maturity matters for a defense. While the Wildcats couldn't wow anyone with their talent, they played much better team defense in 2013 than the previous year.
Every season, offenses and defenses improve or regress. Oregon State had the most improved defense in the conference in 2012. It regressed the most in 2013.
So who is poised to make a big jump this fall? Let's break it down by division, starting with the North.
Here's how the three worst defenses in the North in 2013 stack up heading into 2014:
If California gets better luck with injuries, it can't help but improve. That combined with the arrival of respected coordinator Art Kaufman should significantly boost the Bears. If you were laying money on a defense to subtract 10 points from its points per game number, the Bears would be a good bet, seeing that giving up nearly 36 points per game is still nothing to write home about.
Washington State is replacing three starters in its secondary, including safety Deone Bucannon, the Cougars' headliner and emotional leader. Still, a better-than-you-think front seven, including talented end Xavier Cooper, could help the unit take a step forward next fall.
The team most poised to make a move from bad to good, however, is Oregon State, which should make a jump from the bottom half into the top half of the Pac-12 rankings.
Yes, three of four starters are gone from the defensive line, including NFL draft pick Scott Crichton. But the Beavers will be significantly better at defensive tackle -- Miami transfer Jalen Grimble was one of the stars of spring practices -- and the back seven will rank among the conference's most seasoned and talented.
The Beavers went from giving up 30.8 points per game in 2011 to 20.6 points per game in 2012. The potential is there for a similar leap from 2013 to 2014.
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