COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Only four Big Ten teams are ranked in the AP Top 25, but six of college football’s top 12 defenses reside in the conference.
This year’s surprise Big Ten team, Illinois — 17th in the AP Poll — has the highest-ranked defensive unit in the nation, followed by Ohio State’s No. more every week as a full set.
Michigan (AP No. 4) is ranked fifth in defense. Iowa, unranked in the poll due to a moribund offense, was bolstered by its solid defense before coming up against the Buckeyes at full speed last week. The Hawkeyes are still sixth in the nation in yards allowed per game.
Rutgers and Minnesota needed help from their defenses, ranked seventh and 12th respectively, to stay above .500.
All six teams are giving up less than 300 yards per game. Five of them, Rutgers being the outlier, are giving up less than 20 points per game. Penn State is also giving up less than 20 points per game.
In contrast, only Iowa State in the Big 12 allows 300 yards or less per game, with Iowa State and Kansas State allowing less than 20 points.
In the ACC, only Syracuse allows less than 300 yards per game, with Syracuse, North Carolina State and Clemson allowing less than 20 points.
In the SEC, Georgia, Kentucky and Alabama are giving up under 300 yards and 20 points. No Pac 12 team can claim either.
Illinois (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) is the biggest surprise in the conference this season, with a defense allowing 221.1 yards and less than nine points per game. The Illini’s only loss came in a 23-20 loss at Indiana in Week 2 – the most points they have allowed all season.
“Really, from the pilots we get on the plane with to the schools we talk to, everyone is much more aware of Illinois football,” second-year coach Brett Bielema said.
He noted this week that Illini cornerback Devon Witherspoon was named a finalist for the Thorpe Award for the best defensive back in college football. Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. and Ohio State’s Lathan Ransom are also finalists.
It’s no surprise when Ohio State shows an explosive offense, but the Buckeyes now have the second-tier defense to go along with it.
Ohio State is holding teams at 239.9 yards per game and just over two touchdowns.
“I thought the guys were fresh, they were fast and opportunistic,” defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said after the Buckeyes beat Iowa 54-10 last week.
Coach Ryan Day lured Knowles from Oklahoma State ahead of the season to overhaul the Ohio State unit, which finished last season ranked 38th in the nation.
“We expect those good things to happen by the way we’ve been training and playing,” Knowles said. “And I know that has a big effect on the whole team. Everyone feels confident. »
Safety Tanner McCalister, a graduate transfer who accompanied Knowles from Oklahoma State, had two interceptions as the defense forced six turnovers against the Hawkeyes last week.
“As Coach Knowles says, we can win games on defense,” McCalister said. “We don’t always have to rely on our No. 1 offense. We have a pretty good defense and we can win games if needed.
AP sportswriters Eric Olson and Tom Canavan contributed.
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Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan is tackled by Illinois linebacker Isaac Darkangelo (38) and Gabe Jacas (17) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 in Champaign, Illinois. Morgan was injured on the play and did not return. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg, left, scores a touchdown after intercepting a pass against Iowa in the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 in Columbus , Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Illinois defensive back Kendall Smith (7) celebrates with teammate Sydney Brown (30) after Brown intercepted a pass from Minnesota quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis during the second half of a college football game of the NCAA on Saturday, October 15, 2022, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)