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Top 10 NCAA Football Defenses Entering the 2016 Season

10). Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers have been a consistent top 10 defense over most of the last 10 years. The big question is not can they replace 4 starters it is can the replace their defensive coordinator?

New coordinator Justin Wilcox was a rising star in the coaching world before arriving at USC, where he only lasted two seasons, as his defenses struggled to impress. At Wisconsin, he’ll inherit most of the starters from a front seven that helped the Badgers finish No. 2 in total defense.

Linebacker should not be an issue for the Badgers as Vince Biegel is back after an incredible 2015 campaign at outside linebacker, while inside linebacker T.J. Edwards looks to stay strong after leading Wisconsin in tackles during his freshman last season. Fellow linebacker Jack Cichy provided a huge spark off the bench, and the entire three-man defensive line is back for UW in 2016.

Questions abound in the defensive backfield where they will need people to step up. Losing Darius Hillary etc… is what drops Wisconsin to the bottom of the top 10.

9). Appalachian. State

Coming off a stellar 2015 which saw them go 11-2,there defensive unit could get even better in 2016, as it returns nine of its 11 starters. The Mountaineers don’t seem to have a single hole in their defensive depth chart. They only lost one starter—senior defensive end Ronald Blair—from a front seven that allowed a paltry 3.44 yards per carry in 2015.

Defensive coordinator Nate Woody’s defense is led by Jon Law, the team’s second-leading tackler from a season ago, he will lead a strong linebacking corps that features Eric Boggs (104 tackles as a sophomore in 2015) and Devan Stringer (61 as a sophomore). Latrell Gibbs picked off seven passes last year and took two of them back for touchdowns, and he’ll be the focal point of a ball-hawking secondary.

8). Clemson Tigers

The Tigers lost six defensive players early to the NFL after making it to the national title game, including their top three players in tackles for loss and their highly touted lockdown cornerback. But, the Tigers were in the exact same position last year when they only had three returning starters and the still ended up top 10.

Linebacker Ben Boulware came on as one of the team’s most valuable players late in the season, and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley picked off five passes. Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano form a fearsome duo on the interior of the defensive line.

Clemson has become a powerhouse program and when they lose a player they usually have somebody ready to step in.

7). Florida.State Seminoles 

Speaking of powerhouse programs Florida.St will have do rebuild a little bit this year on defense. Linebacker will be a big concern for Florida State after the loss of Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith, but the Seminoles are loaded with elite talent all across the defense. DeMarcus Walker and Josh Sweat will be menaces in the pass rush, and superstar sophomore Derwin James is already the leader of a secondary that returns plenty of experienced faces this fall.

6). Michigan Wolverines

Don Brown—the coordinator of the nation’s No. 1 defense at Boston College last year, will be the new defensive coordinator at Michigan this year. The defensive line should be downright nasty, with the experienced Ryan Glasgow, Chris Wormley, Taco Charlton and Maurice Hurst leading the way for a unit that just picked up the nation’s consensus No. 1 recruit in Rashan Gary.

In the secondary, Michigan will have more experience than Boston College had as a whole last year. Jourdan Lewis was an All-American cornerback, and Jabrill Peppers is a freakishly athletic playmaker wherever he goes on the field. With safety Delano Hill coming back and a few key reserves, this could be the nation’s top defense in passing yards per attempt again in 2016.

5). Boston College 

The nation’s best defense from a season ago lost its veteran coordinator in Don Brown. Even without Brown and a few key players, Boston College has plenty of experience to nail down at least another top-10 finish in total defense this fall.

Returning linebacker Matt Milano led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss, and defensive end Harold Landry had a breakout sophomore season with several games featuring multiple tackles for loss—he had 4.5 in a matchup against Florida State. Connor Strachan did a little bit of everything at linebacker, from racking up tackles to forcing turnovers.

In the secondary, John Johnson, Gabriel McClary and Isaac Yiadom will help ease the loss of star senior Justin Simmons. BC ranked sixth nationally in passing yards allowed per game last year and allowed only nine touchdowns while recording 13 interceptions.

4). San Diego. State Aztecs

Head coach Rocky Long will return more starters than he has to replace on his unique 3-3-5 defense, making the Aztecs a prime candidate for another top-10 finish.

A key aspect of San Diego State’s attack-minded defense is the number of playmakers it has who can completely take over games. Defensive end Kyle Kelley had 3.5 sacks in a bowl-game blowout over Cincinnati. Linebacker Calvin Munson had two pick-sixes in the 2015 season opener and had multiple tackles for loss in six different contests, including four against San Jose State.

The SDSU secondary had the second-most interceptions of any team in the FBS last year, and it returns nearly all of its starters there. Damontae Kazee finished with eight on the season, while Malik Smith had five in his final seven games of 2015.

The Aztecs with a fairly easy schedule could make a real run at being a top 15 team this year if the offense can be better than average.

3). Missouri Tigers

Defensive coordinator Barry Odom is now the Head Coach for a team whose offense was terrible last year. Look for the Tigers to be a tough minded team that will be a tough out this year.

The defensive line will be strong and deep.The Tigers’ four main starters from last year will be back—including the young edge-rushing duo of Charles Harris and Walter Brady.

At linebacker, Missouri will miss tackle machine Kentrell Brothers but will be able to rely on the experience of Michael Scherer and Donavin Newsom to help replace some of the production there.

Missouri’s secondary returns both Anthony Sherrils and Aarion Penton, as well as a deep crop of young reserves at both safety and cornerback. Sherrils and Penton were third and fifth on the team in tackles, respectively, for the 2015 season.

2). LSU Tigers

Former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, takes over the Tigers defense. Aranda was the creator of a string of top 10 defenses at Wisconsin. It will be interesting to see what he can do with all the blue chip recruits that LSU has on defense.

The Tigers return nine starters on defense, from star linebacker Kendell Beckwith to a completely intact defensive line and a supremely talented secondary featuring Jamal Adams, Tre’Davious White and Kevin Toliver.

Coach Aranda is known for utilizing multiple, creative alignments—including 3-4 fronts that would represent a departure from the 4-3 base defense that LSU used in recent years—and those schematic changes will allow the returning veterans to add to their arsenals.

1). Alabama Crimson Tide

Nick Saban had his seventh top-five defense in eight years at Alabama in 2015’s national championship run, and he has enough returning talent on this one to expect a similar finish in 2016. Sack leader Jonathan Allen decided to return to school to lead a defensive line that could go three-deep with former top-100 recruits.

A secondary that was once the defense’s Achilles’ heel is now going to be its strength in 2016 with the likes of Eddie Jackson, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Marlon Humphrey. They will be deep and able to give defenses a multitude of looks. Bama’s last few teams have been a dominant team up front, this Bama team looks like a dominant team on the backside.

The Tide won’t have star linebacker Reggie Ragland this season, but they can rely on the talents of Rashaan Evans, Reuben Foster, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson—the latter duo went somewhat under the radar in finishing second and third on the team in tackles for loss, respectively—to carry the front seven.

Alabama’s defense this season could be Saban’s best yet, their is no real weakness anywhere.