Midseason All-Pac 12 Team: Defense
Midseason All-Pac 12 Team: Defense
While the Pac 12 has long had a reputation as an offensively-inclined league, the defense has come to play in recent years. 2013 is no exception as the talent level across the conference is as deep as ever forcing offenses to bring their best each week if they hope to get the win. That depth has led to some surprising stars in the first half of the season and some upsets when it comes to naming the Midseason All-Pac 12 defensive team.
Reigning defensive player of the year Will Sutton remains a force in the middle for the Arizona State Sun Devils but the added attention he has gotten this season has hurt his production and cost him a spot on this list. Morgan Breslin has been dominant off the edge for the USC Trojans but injuries have slowed him down in recent weeks and cost him a spot on this list as well. The number of quality shut-down cornerbacks in the conference this season made picking a top two extremely difficult so no offense to Damante Horton of the Washington State Cougars or Osahon Irabor at ASU who just missed the cut.
There are so many outstanding players on the defensive side of the ball doing incredible things this season but failed to make the cut on this list. Horton, for example, is tied for second in the conference with four interceptions and is No. 3 in the country in interception return yardage (146) with a pair of touchdowns. True freshman Addison Gillam has been a tackling machine for the Colorado Buffaloes, averaging a Pac 12 leading 10.6 tackles per game but is still just outside the elite linebacker ranks of the conference.
With so much talent left off the list, let’s get to the defensive standouts who did make the Midseason All-Pac 12 Defensive Team.
DE: Keenan Graham, UCLA Bruins
The UCLA Bruins boast the No. 3 total defense in the Pac 12 thanks in no small part to the breakout performance of senior defensive end Keenan Graham. After recording just one sack in all of 2012, Graham leads the conference with 5.0 sacks through five games and has accounted for over 40 percent of the Bruins' total team sacks. He's stepped up in a major way for a defensive line that was seen as a weakness of this defense before the season due to injury and inexperience but Graham is doing his part to make sure the UCLA D stays tough up front.
DE: Tony Washington, Oregon Ducks
The offense may get all the publicity but the Oregon Ducks currently rank as the No. 1 defense in the Pac 12. A major piece of their success has been the play along the defensive line and junior defensive end Tony Washington, in particular. Washington is third in the conference with 4.5 sacks on the season as part of 29 total tackles, including seven tackles for loss. He's also forced three fumbles and added a pair of QB pressures as well while picking up the pass-rushing slack for the Oregon defense with Dion Jordan now in the NFL.
DT: Ioane Gauta, Washington State Cougars
The Washington State Cougars have already doubled their win total from 2012 thanks to a much-improved defense this season. One of the biggest improvements for WSU has been along the defensive line thanks to the continued improvement of Ioane Gauta at defensive tackle. The big nose tackle has played great in the interior for Wazzu so far this season, recording 27 tackles including 6.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He's also added a forced fumble, two quarterback pressures and three passes knocked down as a dominant presence in the middle of the defense.
DT: Taylor Hart, Oregon Ducks
Taylor Hart has been another big reason for the defensive success of the Ducks this season, stepping up as a major presence up the middle. The massive 6-foot-6 defensive tackle is still raw with his football ability but is making a serious impact as he continues to learn the game. This season, he's recorded 25 total tackles, including 2.0 sacks and has really reinforced the defensive interior of the Ducks' defense. He's also chipped in a pair of forced fumbles, a quarterback pressure and two pass break ups. He will only get better as he gains more experience which is bad news the rest of the way for opposing offenses.
OLB: Trent Murphy, Stanford Cardinal
Few teams can boast the amount of talent at linebacker that the Stanford Cardinal can and Trent Murphy may be the best of them. He is a dominant edge pass rusher with the length (6-foot-6), speed and strength to be as close to unblockable as they come. He shares the conference lead with 5.0 sacks on the season to go along with 22 total tackles, including eight for loss, and has been a constant presence in opposing offense's backfield. He has tallied three quarterback pressures, two pass breakups and an interception he returned for a touchdown earlier this season against WSU. He is as athletic as they come and a force of nature for the Stanford D.
OLB: Anthony Barr, UCLA Bruins
After coming close to winning DPOY last season, Anthony Barr has to be one of the early front-runners for the award this season. He is playing as aggressive as ever this season, leading the conference with 10 tackles for loss this season including 4.0 sacks. He's tallied 27 total tackles this season and has been an absolute playmaker on the UCLA D, forcing four fumbles already this season. There isn't anybody in the conference (and possibly the country) that can match Barr's athleticism and ability to get after the quarterback and he's only been playing linebacker for a season and a half.
ILB: Shayne Skov, Stanford Cardinal
Has anyone been doing it as well for as long as Shayne Skov at Stanford? After leading the team in tackles last season despite admitting to being just around "85 percent" most of the season, Skov returned for his senior season and is showing what he's capable of with a completely healthy knee underneath him. Skov sits No. 3 in the Pac 12 in tackles this season with 52 total takedowns including 6.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He's making plays sideline to sideline with regularity on the Stanford defense, diagnosing plays and chasing down ball-carriers as well as anyone. That kind of tenacious playmaking will serve him well when he's making big bucks in the NFL very soon.
CB: Steven Nelson, Oregon State Beavers
The Oregon State Beavers have gotten some criticism for their defense this season being a bit porous. But when they aren't getting burned deep, the other team is usually trying to test Steven Nelson at cornerback and getting picked off. Nelson leads the Pac 12 and the nation with five interceptions this season in six games, including one returned for a touchdown. He's been key in turning things around for the Beavers after their disastrous opener and pushing Oregon State to a 5-1 record at the midway point. His ability to create turnovers have been the tipping point in more than one shootout that the Beavers have found themselves in this season and he'll likely be snagging a couple more down the stretch.
CB: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon Ducks
As the leader of one of the most talented defensive secondaries in college football, Iro Ekpre-Olomu doesn't get tested that often. Quarterbacks tend to look elsewhere to prevent the junior corner from breaking the game open with a defensive touchdown. He contributes in a major way to the Oregon defense not only by shutting down top receivers from the other team but also by coming up in support against the run. He is second on the team with 36 tackles, including two tackles for loss and has gotten one interception this season already. He is essentially shutting down one half of the field for Oregon's opponents which just makes the Ducks D that much tougher.
S: Sean Parker, Washington Huskies
The Washington Huskies have the No. 1 pass defense in the Pac 12 this season thanks to the standout performance of safety Sean Parker. Parker has played a tough center field for the UW secondary, posting 34 tackles to go along with three interceptions. Having that ball-hawk behind them has allowed the Washington corners to play more aggressively at the line of scrimmage and helped to knock opposing passing attacks off course. Parker's play is a major reason for UW's success so far this season and will be key for them down the stretch.
S: Deone Bucannon, Washington State Cougars
Deone Bucannon has been an absolute enforcer for the WSU defense this season. He leads the Pac 12 in tackles (64) and has been dropping the hammer on opponents with some of the hardest hits of anybody this season. He's also shown a nice ability to create turnovers, posting four interceptions through seven games and forcing a pair of fumbles. He is the leader of a vastly improved Cougars' defense and is going to leave his mark on every game, usually in the form of a dent in a ball carrier's shoulder pads.