College football can be cyclical, and the pendulum swung back toward defense in 2021.
Georgia won its first national title in 41 years behind a historically good defense that produced eight picks in last month's NFL draft, including a record five in the first round. The Big 12, long both celebrated and mocked for its inflated points and yards totals, became a defense-driven league, and featured two top-10 scoring defenses (Baylor and Oklahoma State) in its championship game. Teams with historically strong defenses, such as Utah and Iowa, reached their respective conference championship games. Clemson had its worst offense since 2010 but still won 10 games behind a defense that ranked second nationally in points allowed (14.8 PPG) and third in yards per play allowed (4.44).
A great defense can propel teams to titles or cover up warts. After examining the future power rankings for quarterbacks and offenses, I'll now use the crystal ball on the top 25 defenses around college football. These rankings assess the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons, accounting for current rosters, incoming recruits and transfers, and potential NFL departures. Coaching changes also are a factor, as several prominent coordinators and/or defensive-minded head coaches have changed addresses since the last defense future power rankings appeared in 2021.
The defense rankings contain a bit more variety than the others. Although Georgia and other annual CFP contenders get their due, this list shines a spotlight on a different subset of programs.
Let's get started.
2021 future defense ranking: 1
Scouting the Tigers: In a close race for the top spot, Clemson leads off the rankings for the second consecutive year. The unit loses two outstanding cornerbacks (Mario Goodrich and Andrew Booth Jr.), mainstays at linebacker (James Skalski, Baylon Spector) and longtime coordinator Brent Venables. Still, the outlook remains extremely promising. Clemson's defensive line has been a strength through the CFP era and will remain that way, especially in 2022 as All-America candidates Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis and Myles Murphy all return. The line got a bonus boost as end Xavier Thomas, a two-time third-team All-ACC selection, is back for one final season. There's veteran depth at end with seniors K.J. Henry and Justin Mascoll, who last season combined for seven sacks and 15 quarterback pressures. Tackle Ruke Orhorhoro in 2021 had 42 tackles, eight for loss, and should continue to add playing time, along with classmate Etinosa Reuben, sophomore Payton Page and others.