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College Football's Top 10 Defenses of the BCS Era

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The BCS is wrapping up its 15th season of action and Athlon Sports is continuing its series of BCS rankings. We ranked the best performances of each BCS bowl game and we ranked the best teams of each BCS conference. Now, we break down the top defensive units of the BCS era (1998-present).

Statistics, awards, championships and NFL talent were all considered and evaluated in order to label the Top 12 defenses of the BCS era. Teams from 2012 were not eligible, otherwise both Notre Dame or Alabama could land on this list. But until the 2012 National Championship is decided, neither belongs on this list (yet).

Related: College Football: The BCS' Best Offenses

1. Miami Hurricanes, 2001 (12-0)
Head Coach: Larry Coker
Rushing Defense: 132.7 ypg (40th)
Passing Defense: 138.2 ypg (2nd)
Total Defense: 270.9 ypg (6th)
Scoring Defense: 9.4 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 45 (1st)
Sacks: N/A
NFL Draft Picks: Phillip Buchanon (1st, 2002), Ed Reed (1st, 2002), Mike Rumph (1st, 2002), James Lewis (6th, 2002), Jerome McDougle (1st, 2003), William Joseph (1st, 2003), Andrew Williams (3rd, 2003), Jamaal Green (4th, 2003), Matt Walters (5th, 2003), Sean Taylor (1st, 2004), Jonathan Vilma (1st, 2004), Vince Wilfork (1st, 2004), D.J. Williams (1st, 2004), Darrell McClover (7th, 2004), Alfonso Marshall (7th, 2004), Antrel Rolle (1st, 2005)

Imagine trying to design a passing attack to beat a secondary that featured Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Phillip Buchanon, Mike Rumph, James Lewis, Alfonoso Marshall and Antrel Rolle. How about a rushing attack to penetrate a D-Line with Jerome McDougle, William Joseph, Vince Wilfork, Matt Walters, Jamaal Green and Andrew Williams? And to top it all off, the linebackering corps running around between the two boasted names like Vilma, Williams and McClover. Simply put, this team is one of the greatest groups ever assembled. They started things off by going to Happy Valley and dominating Penn State 33-7, which tied the record for the Nittany Lions’ worst home loss under Joe Paterno. Later on, the Canes defeated No. 14 Syracuse and No. 12 Washington in consecutive weeks at the Orange Bowl with a combined score of 124-7, which set the NCAA record for largest margin of victory over consecutive ranked opponents. They capped things off by dismantling the No. 4 Nebraska Cornhuskers 37-14 in the Rose Bowl, in a game where they held a 34-0 lead in the first half. Miami pitched three shutouts and held eight opponents to seven points or fewer. Later, the Canes claimed 10 first-round draft picks on defense.

2. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2011 (12-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 72.2 ypg (1st)
Passing Defense: 111.5 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 183.6 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 8.2 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 20 (77th)
Sacks: 2.3 spg (29th)
NFL Draft Picks: Mark Barron (1st, 2012), Dre Kirkpatrick (1st, 2012), Dont'a Hightower (1st, 2012), Courtney Upshaw (2nd, 2012), Josh Chapman (5th, 2012), DeQuan Menzie (5th, 2012)

The 2011 Crimson Tide allowed fewer points (8.8) than any other team in the history of the BCS. It led the nation in every major statistical defensive category and completely shutdown the unbeaten LSU Tigers in the BCS title game. LSU totaled five first downs, two turnovers, zero points and an (un) remarkable 92 total yards of offense. This team featured eight NFL draft picks, six of which were starters on the defense. This unit could also feature another half-dozen defensive draft picks in 2013 (Dee Milliner, CJ Mosley, Jesse Williams, Robert Lester, etc). Eight times this team allowed less than 10 points — including its only loss of the year — and it allowed more than 14 points only once (21, Georgia Southern). One could argue this is the best college defense ever.

3. Alabama Crimson Tide, 2009 (13-0)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 78.1 ypg (2nd)
Passing Defense: 166.0 ypg (10th)
Total Defense: 244.1 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 11.7 ppg (2nd)
Turnovers Forced: 31 (10th)
Sacks: 2.3 spg (40th)
NFL Draft Picks: Rolando McClain (1st, 2010), Kareem Jackson (1st, 2010), Javier Arenas (2nd, 2010), Terrence Cody (2nd, 2010), Marquis Johnson (7th, 2010), Brandon Deaderick (7th, 2010), Marcell Dareus (1st, 2011)

The undefeated national champions won big in 2009 because of a stacked NFL defense.  This outfit was led by Butkus Award winner Rolando McClain and a stellar defensive line headlined by Mount Cody and Marcell Dareus. Do-everything corner Javier Arenas not only covered the opponent's top receiver and snagged five interceptions, but he also was a dyanamic pass-rusher (five sacks) and game-changing return specialist. Despite knocking Colt McCoy out of the National Championship game and claiming the Crystal Ball, the signature performance by this unit came against an unbeaten Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators team in the SEC title game. The Tide held the Gators to only 88 yards rushing, 13 first downs and only 13 points in a title-clinching win. This defense has already seen seven players drafted, and that number will continue to rise this spring as Dre Kirkpatrick, Mark Barron (who led the SEC in INTs in 2009), Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw could all grade out as early round picks.

4. LSU Tigers, 2003 (13-1)
Head Coach: Nick Saban
Rushing Defense: 67.0 ypg (3rd)
Passing Defense: 185.0 ypg (18th)
Total Defense: 252.0 ypg (1st)
Scoring Defense: 11.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 33 (9th)
Sacks: N/A
NFL Draft Picks: Marquise Hill (2nd, 2004), Chad Lavalais (5th, 2004), Marcus Spears (1st, 2005), Corey Webster (2nd, 2005), Travis Daniels (4th, 2005), Kyle Williams (5th, 2006), Melvin Oliver (6th, 2006), LaRon Landry (1st, 2007)

One of the nastiest defensive lines ever assembled featured NFL draft picks Marquise Hill, Chad Lavalais, Marcus Spears, Kyle Williams and Melvin Oliver. At 11.0 points per game, LSU led the nation in scoring defense, allowing only one team (Arkansas, 24) to score more than 19 points in any game. Only Florida (19) scored more than 14 points against this defensive unit. In the biggest game for the Bayou Bengals in 40 years, this defense squared off against Heisman winner Jason White of Oklahoma and flat-out dominated. White averaged 292 yards per game in '03, but mustered only 102 yards on 13-of-37 passing with no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions — one of which Spears returned for a touchdown that eventually proved to be the game-winner.

5. Oklahoma Sooners, 2000 (13-0)
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Rushing Defense: 108.2 ypg (23rd)
Passing Defense: 170.8 ypg (9th)
Total Defense: 278.9 ypg (8th)
Scoring Defense: 16.0 ppg (7th)
Turnovers Forced: 33 (5th)
Sacks: N/A
NFL Draft Picks: Torrance Marshall (3rd, 2001), Roy Williams (1st, 2002), Rocky Calmus (3rd, 2002), Andre Woolfolk (1st, 2003), Jimmy Wilkerson (6th, 2003), Teddy Lehman (2nd, 2004), Derrick Strait (3rd, 2004)

This team was not the most impressive statistically, but featured two Butkus Award winners (Rocky Calmus, Teddy Lehman), two Thorpe Award winners (Roy Williams, Derrick Strait), a Nagurski winner (Williams), and what was probably the best defensive championship performance of all time. The Sooners held the nation's No. 1 overall offense and Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke to zero points and only 301 yards of offense (nearly 250 yards below their season average). Linebacker Torrance Marshall led the way with No. 4-rated BCS NCG game performance with six tackles and an interception en route to the Orange Bowl MVP trophy. Safety J.T. Thatcher and linebacker Calmus were All-Americans, while Lehman was a freshman All-American. Williams was one of the most impactful and hardest-hitting college players this writer has ever seen.

6. USC Trojans, 2008 (12-1)
Head Coach: Pete Carroll
Rushing Defense: 87.4 ypg (5th)
Passing Defense: 134.4 ypg (1st)
Total Defense: 221.8 ypg (2nd)
Scoring Defense: 9.0 ppg (1st)
Turnovers Forced: 29 (20th)
Sacks: 2.2 spg (40th)
NFL Draft Picks: Clay Matthews (1st, 2009), Brian Cushing (1st, 2009), Rey Maualuga (2nd, 2009), Fili Moala (2nd, 2009), Kaluka Maiava (4th, 2009), Kyle Moore (4th, 2009), Cary Harris (6th, 2009), Kevin Ellison (6th, 2009), Taylor Mays (2nd, 2010), Kevin Thomas (3rd, 2010), Everson Griffin (4th, 2010), Jurrell Casey (3rd, 2011), Shareece Wright (3rd, 2011), Malcolm Smith (7th, 2011)