July 22, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Spartans snubbed on ESPN ranking of top defenses in college football

Ed Davis returns to a Spartan defense that allowed 13.2 points per game in 2013. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)

Last season Michigan State ranked second in the nation in total defense (252.2 yards) and third in scoring defense (13.2 points).

Not good enough for the experts at ESPN Stats & Information. They say the Spartans, based on statistical analysis, won’t have one of the top 10 defensive units (pay site) in 2014.

Teams are ranked by defensive efficiency, which projects points added to each team, per game, based on contributions of the defense. For example, the No. 1 team in the rankings, Florida State, has a defensive efficency of plus-13.6.

Defensive efficiency is determined from a formula that includes three years of recruiting rankings, coaching tenure, returning starters, and defensive efficiency from previous years.

The rest of the top 10 after Florida State: 2. Florida, 3. Alabama, 4. Oklahoma, 5. TCU, 6. Clemson, 7. Georgia, 8. Stanford, 9. Mississippi State, 10. Oregon.

Sharon Katz of ESPN Stats & Information wrote this addendum regarding the top 10:

“Many avid college football fans will notice two glaring absences: Michigan State and Virginia Tech. It's important to note that these are mathematically-based projections, so while both of these teams pass the eye test from last season, there are a few key factors that kept them out of the top 10.

“First, Michigan State and Virginia Tech are returning four and five defensive starters, respectively, and the number of returning starters has proved to be a major factor in predicting future success. If either team had a top recruiting ranking, it could compensate for the defensive losses. However, both teams rank outside the top 25 in average recruiting ranking over the past three years.”