The Alabama/LSU rivalry has generally been a defensive showcase, but this year may be different
Two of college football's best offenses will meet this Saturday when LSU and Alabama, the top two teams in both polls, face off in Tuscaloosa. High stakes between these two rivals are nothing new, but things are a bit different because this meeting has usually been between college football's top defenses.
What constitutes a great defense? In compiling this list, one must factor in success, stats, and dominance. Oh, and a little ballyhoo doesn't hurt either. Now without further adieu, here are the 10 best defenses in college football history.
10. 1939 Tennessee Volunteers
Yards Allowed: Stats not available
Points Allowed: 1.3 per game
The 1939 Vols are the last team ever to hold all of its regular-season opponents scoreless. The run was part of a 19-game streak in which Tennessee shut out its opponents from 1938-39. Although it ended with a 14-0 loss in the Rose Bowl and offenses were less sophisticated during that period, the Vols' feat will never be duplicated.
9. 1987 Miami Hurricanes
Yards Allowed: 244.0 per game
Points Allowed: 10.4 per game
In what was expected to be a rebuilding year, the Hurricanes only gave up more than 20 points once: a 26-25 win over No. 4 Florida State in Tallahassee. Along the way, they beat six ranked opponents and won the national championship.
8. 1991 Washington Huskies
Yards Allowed: 237.1 per game
Points Allowed: 9.6 per game
The Huskies stymied the high-flying offenses of the Pac-10 on their way to a perfect regular season. Then in the Rose Bowl, Washington shut down Heisman Trophy winner Desmond Howard and Michigan to win a share of the national title.
7. 1981 Clemson Tigers
Yards Allowed: 251.9 per game
Points Allowed: 8.8 per game
Clemson entered the season unranked but put together a perfect season thanks to this defense that only gave up 10 touchdowns all year. The Tigers beat Nebraska 22-15 in the Orange Bowl to earn the program's first national championship and the first for the ACC since 1953.
6. 1997 Michigan Wolverines
Yards Allowed: 206.9 per game
Points Allowed: 9.5 per game
Michigan's defense never allowed more than two touchdowns in any game during the season. It was so dominant that Heisman Trophy voters gave the award to Wolverine cornerback Charles Woodson. It is the only time that the Heisman has been given to a primarily defensive player.
5. 1992 Alabama Crimson Tide
Yards Allowed: 194.2 per game
Points Allowed: 9.4 per game
The Crimson Tide gave up more than one touchdown in a game just twice in the season. They also saved their best for last with a 34-13 beatdown of defending national champion Miami in the Sugar Bowl. The win snapped the Hurricanes' 29-game win streak and gave Alabama the national title.
4. 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers
Yards Allowed: 209.4 per game
Points Allowed: 8.0 per game
The Huskers' only close game of the season was its epic 35-31 win over No. 2 Oklahoma in "The Game of the Century" on Thanksgiving Day. Take away the stats from that game, and the Huskers' average against the rest of its opponents was six points and 188 yards per game.
3. 1979 Alabama Crimson Tide
Yards Allowed: 180.1 per game
Points Allowed: 5.6 per game
Crimson Tide fans may argue whether this was Bear Bryant's best team, but no one will ever argue that this wasn't his best defense. Alabama gave up just seven touchdowns en route to a perfect season and the school's second straight national championship.
2. 2001 Miami Hurricanes
Yards Allowed: 270.9
Points Allowed: 9.8 per game
The 2001 Hurricanes are the greatest college football team in at least the past 50 years in part because of the havoc they wreaked on offenses. Miami snagged 4.1 turnovers per game, as this defense that was loaded with a mind-blowing 21 future NFL draft picks helped secure the program's fifth national title.
1. 2011 Alabama Crimson Tide
Yards Allowed: 183.7 per game
Points Allowed: 8.2 per game
Alabama led the nation in every major defensive statistical category in an SEC West division that sported three top-five teams. Its only blemish was a 9-6 loss to LSU in overtime, but the Crimson Tide got revenge in the BCS National Championship Game, shutting out the Tigers 21-0.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.