This week I come bearing a much more pleasurable chart. This week, I bring you defense!
College Football Defense+ Ratings Since 2000
As I'm sure you already know, hovering over each team's ring will give you a summary of that team. Also, clicking on a team's ring will highlight every season from 2000-2013 to give you an idea of which way that unit is trending. Finally, defense is measured the same way that offense was measured in the last post. The only real difference is the category that measures tackles for loss per play is labeled "Pressure" rather than "Blocking."
With that short primer in mind, here's Iowa:
Does anybody really disagree with a top four of 2008, 2003, 2009, and 2004? I mean, we can definitely quibble about the order of the top four, but I think we can all probably agree that those were, hands down, the best Iowa defenses of this era.
If we are looking for patterns with the Iowa defense under Kirk Ferentz, I think the most blatantly obvious one would be that his teams simply do not surrender a lot of points. The 2000 defense was the only one that was below average in points per play allowed before the opponent adjustment. Of course, after the opponent adjustment, that defense rated out at 10% above average. This should not surprise many people, due to the fact that Iowa rarely gets blown out of football games. They do this by holding their opponents to a greater number of field goal attempts relative to the number of touchdowns they give up. To give a better look at this, here's another chart:
Defensive Touchdowns Allowed vs. Opponent Field Goal Attempts
As you can see, besides the 2000 season, the Iowa defenses have been better than most FBS teams at forcing their opponents to settle for field goal attempts more often than they have allowed them to end a drive by scoring six. To reference ahead in the post a little, I also highlighted Indiana to contrast with Iowa's bend, but don't break defense. The Hoosiers' bend, the stick snaps, you get a splinter in your eye and go blind defense for the past 14 seasons hasn't worked out quite so well for them and their carousel of coaches.
The second pattern we can see is that Iowa always shuts down the run, first and foremost. Outside of the 2000 season, the Hawkeyes' lowest rushing rating on defense was 110 by the 2012 defense, and that number would be higher once adjusted for strength of schedule. The coaching staff preaches technique and fundamentals, and it seems to really shine through when it comes to stopping the run. They rarely allow their opponent to gash them to death on the ground.
The third real constant we can observe, is that Iowa is not historically a pressure team under Kirk Ferentz. I say historically, because that may be slightly changing. With Norm Parker at defensive coordinator, Iowa was perfectly fine rushing the front four and dropping seven guys back into zone coverage on most every play. In order to have a high pressure rating with that strategy, you would need some great defensive linemen. Iowa has had quite a few of those over the past decade and change - 2003 and 2004 unfortunately do not have pressure ratings - but with the spread offense becoming so prevalent, it's gotten harder and harder to get to the quarterback before he gets the ball out. Hence, this explains why Iowa has not had particularly high pressure ratings over the years.
Last year, however, under the direction of Phil Parker, the Hawkeyes had a 101 pressure rating before adjusting upward for strength of opponent. That was the best mark since 2005, which is as far back as that metric goes. Now, is last year's higher pressure rating a sign of things changing? Was it just a sign that Iowa had three hell demons at linebacker? Or was it a sign of both? I think it was probably both. There's no doubt that the trio of Hitchens, Morris, and Kirksey was one of the best linebacking cores we've ever seen don the black and gold. Thus, it's going to be difficult to replicate their instincts and ability to rush the passer. However, in two seasons, Phil Parker has demonstrated that he's not afraid to change things up a bit. He seems to mix coverages, he's gotten creative by adding the Raider package into the fold, and he's also shown that he's not afraid send the blitz. I doubt Iowa is ever going to be a crazy high pressure team under Kirk Ferentz, but it's not all that unreasonable to think that sending more than four guys more often might lead to higher pressure ratings, on average, in the future.
But what we see here, overall, is that as long as Kirk Ferentz is coaching, Iowa defenses are always more than likely going to shut down the run and make teams work extra hard to get the ball across the goal line. They may allow the opposing team to move the ball through the air a bit some years, but they are usually very good at bending, rather than breaking.
Per usual, let's look at the best defenses from the Big Ten during this time period:
|1||Ohio State||2002||Jim Tressel||1||116||133||109||N/A||154||163|
|2||Ohio State||2005||Jim Tressel||3||115||132||56||118||139||159|
|4||Michigan State||2012||Mark Dantonio||2||136||120||84||114||155||159|
|6||Penn State||2004||Joe Paterno||4||142||119||119||N/A||155||158|
|8||Ohio State||2007||Jim Tressel||1||142||125||81||126||154||156|
|9||Penn State||2006||Joe Paterno||5||128||114||100||104||148||155|
|10||Penn State||2009||Joe Paterno||5||130||121||101||133||154||154|
|12||Penn State||2005||Joe Paterno||7||132||130||105||111||139||153|
|13||Michigan State||2013||Mark Dantonio||2||144||127||116||118||150||151|
|14||Ohio State||2009||Jim Tressel||7||155||123||151||109||149||151|
Ohio State under Jim Tressel and Penn State under Joe Paterno both show up in the top 15 four times. Iowa holds its own, however, as we see the 2008 team at #5, the 2003 team at #7, and the 2009 team at #15. Really, though, there isn't a whole lot of variety here, seeing as those three teams make up 73% of the top 15.
So what about the bottom 15?
Well, this list doesn't have a whole lot of variety either. Indiana somehow manages to have nine separate defenses that show up in the bottom 15 since 2000. I mean, I understand that the Hoosier's have been a punchline on defense since before I was born, but wow. That takes... something. I want to say "talent", but that almost seems like an insult to the use of the word. But really, it's tough to be that bad on a consistent basis.
Finally, I'll end this with the top 15 FBS defenses since 2000:
|1||Florida State||2000||Bobby Bowden||ACC||1||137||140||132||N/A||161||177|
|2||Miami (Florida)||2001||Larry Coker||Big East||1||178||120||208||N/A||162||175|
|3||Florida State||2003||Bobby Bowden||ACC||1||120||116||131||N/A||152||175|
|5||Florida State||2004||Bobby Bowden||ACC||1||123||140||134||N/A||161||172|
|8||Boston College||2005||Tom O'Brien||ACC||1||116||130||78||118||155||168|
|9||Nebraska||2009||Bo Pelini||Big 12||1||153||119||121||112||167||168|
|13||Notre Dame||2012||Brian Kelly||Independent||1||133||109||104||107||160||163|
|14||Ohio State||2002||Jim Tressel||Big Ten||1||116||133||109||N/A||154||163|
In case you were curious, the 2008 Iowa defense ranks #28 since 2000.
And the bottom 15 FBS defenses since 2000:
|1||Eastern Michigan||2010||Ron English||MAC||120||21||67||63||81||1||-18|
|2||North Texas||2008||Todd Dodge||Sun Belt||120||36||73||67||81||0||-12|
|4||New Mexico||2013||Bob Davie||MWC||123||36||65||53||78||17||1|
|5||Eastern Michigan||2002||Jeff Woodruff||MAC||117||23||43||43||N/A||2||2|
|6||Eastern Michigan||2013||Ron English||MAC||125||47||60||58||81||18||2|
|8||Western Kentucky||2009||David Elson||Sun Belt||120||33||76||80||72||28||10|
|9||Louisiana Tech||2006||Jack Bicknell||WAC||119||32||72||116||61||13||12|
|10||Eastern Michigan||2009||Ron English||MAC||119||94||56||117||101||28||12|
|13||Eastern Michigan||2008||Jeff Genyk||MAC||118||48||79||76||89||32||14|
Yes, you are reading #1 and #2 correctly. The 2010 Eastern Michigan and the 2008 North Texas defenses were so atrocious, they broke my scale once I adjusted for strength of opponent. Thus, the -118 Defense+ rating for the former means they were 118% worse than the average 2010 FBS defense. Meanwhile, the -112 Defense+ rating means the latter was 112% worse than the average 2008 FBS defense.
So rejoice, Indiana fans. While you may think you've had it bad, at least you haven't experienced 2010 Eastern Michigan bad.