As we slowly approach the thick of the offseason, the 2022 campaign is officially behind us, and for Texas A&M, the slate is clean after their 5-7 disaster has been put to bed once and for all. Possessing one of the more elite rosters in college football, the Aggies offense is led by sophomore quarterback Conner Weigman, five returning starters on the O-line, and a wide receiver rotation loaded with talent and experience.
However, A&M’s predominant strength is pointing toward the defense, as nearly every key starter outside of Antonio Johnson and Jaylon Jones return this season.
To quote the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, Defense wins championships, and in the new age of high-flying Air Coryell-like offensive schemes used throughout the college football landscape, recruiting the best athletes in the secondary, linebacker, and especially the defensive line is beyond crucial to compete year after year.
On Monday, ESPN staff writers combined their knowledge and opinions to rank the Top 10 defenses going into the 2023 season, including several blue-blood programs with a couple of surprises; nonetheless, this list is filled with contenders, not pretenders. So here are the Top 10 defenses for the 2023 campaign, and yes, the Aggies have made the list, but where?
First-year head coach Luke Fickell is all about defense after leaving Cincinnati to take one of the more prestigious positions in college football, as he’ll inherit a defensive unit led by the starting linebacker group, including Maema Njongmeta and Jordan Turner, who led the team in tackles last season.
Replacing nose tackle Keeanu Benton on the defensive line will challenge defensive coordinator Mike Tressel. At the same time, pass rusher Nick Herbig (11 sacks in 2022) is now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Get more Wisconsin Badgers news, analysis, and opinions on Badgers Wire.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher has total confidence in second-year defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who led a defensive ranked 25th in the nation in points allowed despite their 5-7 finish. As nearly every key defense starter returns, the strength lies in the trenches, as defensive line starters consisting of McKinnley Jackson and Shemar Turner combined with a rotation of five-star talent including Walter Nolen, Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy, LT Overton, and Shemar Stewart.
At linebacker, 2022 starters Edgerren Cooper and Chris Russell Jr. will be back in the saddle, While safeties Demani Richardson and Jardin Gilbert will return to the starting rotation.
The Aggie’s secondary gained depth through the portal with the additions of cornerbacks Tony Grimes and Josh Deberry, while starting corner Tyreek Chappell looks to break out in his third season with the program.
Get more Texas A&M news, analysis, and opinions on Aggies Wire.
LSU is coming off of one of its best seasons since quarterback Joe Burrow guided the Tigers to a historic undefeated championship run in 2019, and defensive coordinator Matt House deserves a ton of credit.
The Tigers finished 6th in total defense with just 354 yards allowed per game, and after a string of injury issues plagued him in 2022, defensive tackle Maason Smith is set to return. Smith joins Mekhi Wingo and standout outside linebacker Harold Perkins, who registered 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles last season. LSU also gained former Aggie and five-star cornerback Denver Harris through the transfer portal, poised to compete for a starting spot in fall camp.
Get more LSU news, analysis, and opinions on LSU Tigers Wire.
Head coach Mike Norvell, as the article notes, has taken significant steps in leading the program year to year, finishing 10-3 and a Top 10 finish in the Coaches Poll. Defensively, Defensive end Jared Verse chose to return after leading the team with 7.5 sacks, joining a defensive front made up of the productive Fabian Lovett and ACC defensive rookie of the year Patrick Payton.
The Seminoles practically owned the transfer portal this offseason, adding several veteran members in the secondary, including former Virginia cornerback Fentrell Cypress II.
The Iowa Hawkeyes football program is essentially Defense U or O-Line U, but in this instance, let’s focus on the guys to tackle. Head coach Kirk Ferentz may as well be buried next to defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who has consistently been named the top dog at his position, mainly due to his ability to develop what is mainly three-star with a mix of four-star recruits every year.
In 2023, Iowa is coming off a No. 2 total defense ranking. Still, it will have to deal with the loss of stalworth defensive linebacker Jack Campbell and freakishly athletic, versatile defender Lukas Van Ness, both drafted in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. However, returning cornerback Cooper DeJean, who recorded five interceptions in 2022, has first-round selection written all over him, while defensive end Deonte Craig (6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles) will look to make a significant impact on the D-line.
Get more Iowa Hawkeyes news, analysis, and opinions on Hawkeyes Wire.
Credit to ESPN for pointing out how elite the Tiger’s defense has been under head coach Dabo Sweeney, finishing 6th in total defense in the ACC, which is the first time in nine, yes, nine years that they didn’t end up ranked 1 or 2. After the longtime defensive coordinator, Brent Venables, left for the head coaching job at Oklahoma before last season, Wes Goodwin deserves credit for avoiding disaster and improving in some areas.
Like Wisconsin, the Tiger’s linebacker core consists of Jeremiah Trotter and Barrett Carter, a deadly combination for opposing offenses. On the defensive line, Tyler Davis, Ruke Orhorhoro, and Xavier Thomas will look to replace the production of the departed Bryan Bresee, now a member of the New Orleans Saints.
Get more Clemson news, analysis, and opinions on Clemson Wire.
Penn States’ defense was to be feared every Saturday in 2022, only allowing 18.2 points per contest and returning a host of stars, specifically on the defensive line.
Topping the list of returnees, edge rushers Adisa Issac and Chop Robinson will be looked upon to take over as defensive leaders after the noted departures of cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown, making new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s job challenging from a leadership standpoint, because the talent is there in droves.
Get more Penn State news, analysis, and opinions on Nittany Lions Wire.
It seems like Alabama wins at least ten games every year, but by head coach Nick Saban’s extremely high standards, no one’s job is safe if 12-0 and an appearance in the College Football Playoff isn’t fulfilled.
After finishing 11-2 last season with the 11th-ranked defense in the SEC, Saban moved on from defensive coordinator Pete Golding, who left for the same position at Ole Miss. This move opened the door for veteran coach Kevin Steele, who, after one subpar season at Miami, will attempt to revive his once-vaunted status as one of the great defensive minds, and he’ll have plenty to work with.
As outside linebacker Will Anderson’s time in Tuscaloosa has ended, Dallas Turner, who recorded four sacks and eight tackles for loss last season, will try to mend the pass rush production that may take a big hit with Anderson’s absence.
In the secondary, Freshman safety Caleb Downs, who already showed his incredible ability in the spring game, will make an impact, while the man with the great name, Kool-Aid McKinstry, is looking to become the next great Alabama cornerback.
Get more Alabama news, analysis, and opinions on Roll Tide Wire.
Michigan bested their Big Ten foe Penn State in one defensive metric, only allowing 16 points per game in 2022. Head Coach Jim Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Jesse Minter, who has already surpassed expectations, will, like most of the programs listed, have to deal with losing multiple defensive starters, most likely current Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Mazi Smith.
The Wolverines shouldn’t miss a step on defense in 2023, as the defensive line, despite the losses, returns experienced starters such as Mason Graham and Kris Jenkins, while linebackers Michael Barrett and Junior Colson are as good as it gets in the middle of the field. In the secondary, cornerback Rod Moore, who recorded four interceptions last season, will look to lead an experienced group with a ton of young and talented depth.
Get more Michigan Wolverines news, analysis, and opinions on Wolverines Wire.
This one will be short and sweet, folks because Georgia is most likely going undefeated for the second consecutive season, and yes, that will include at least another appearance in the Championship game. Losing another batch of talent to the draft like clockwork, Head Coach Kirby Smart is just going to reload, and reload, and reload again.
Yes, they lost a ton of talent, including Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith, Keelee Ringo, and Christopher Smith, but guess what? The defensive line is veteran-led with juniors and seniors, while Smael Mondon Jr. and Jamon Dumas-Johnson will anchor the starting linebacker rotation. The bottom line, this unit will once again dominate within a very favorable 2023 schedule.
Get more Georgia Bulldogs news, analysis, and opinions on UGA Wire.