Using a 3-4 defense in 2011, Pittsburgh struggled in several phases of the game. The Panthers finished fifth in the Big East in rush defense (116.9 yards per game), fifth in total defense (22.8 points per game) and seventh in turnover margin. First-year defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable has scrapped the 3-4 and has installed a 4-3 defense that he's employed at multiple programs in the past.
The 4-3 is the norm in the Big East. Six teams in the conference use it as their primary scheme, while Syracuse and Cincinnati run it as part of their multiple-scheme defenses. In 2011, Rutgers and Louisville ranked in the top 25 in the FBS in total defense, while five others placed in the top 50. Rutgers, Louisville and Connecticut have the potential to finish in the top 10 in total defense this season.
A number of tough-minded, experienced coordinators around the league will again look to stifle opposing offenses. Here's our list of the top 5 defensive coordinators in the Big East.
1. Vance Bedford, Louisville
Bedford's credentials are impeccable. In 1997, Bedford coached the Michigan secondary when Charles Woodson became the first defensive back ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Bedford's Wolverines' secondary also set an NCAA record in yards per completion allowed (8.8).
He then went on to coach the Chicago Bears' secondary from 1999-2004. While with the Bears, Bedford's defensive backs returned seven interceptions for touchdowns during that span. Before coming to Louisville, Bedford spent two seasons at Florida where he mentored NFL top 10 pick Joe Haden. In two seasons with the Cardinals, Bedford's units have posted consecutive top 25 rankings in total defense.
2. Chris Cosh, South Florida
Cosh has had success at nearly every stop throughout his coaching career. As defensive coordinator at Illinois in the 1990s, Cosh led an aggressive front seven that included future NFL defenders Simeon Rice, Kevin Hardy and John Holecek. Hardy won the Butkus Award in 1995. When Cosh arrived at Kansas State in 2008, the Wildcats improved from 117th to 39th in total defense. Cosh leads a defense that returns seven starters, including shutdown corner Kayvon Webster.
3. John Jancek, Cincinnati
Jancek is faced with the arduous task of replacing a defense that lost DL Derek Wolfe, the 2011 Big East co-defensive player of the year and JK Schaffer, the Bearcats' leading tackler. In 2011, Cincinnati led FBS in tackles for loss per game (8.62), ranked second in sacks (3.46) and finished sixth in run defense (96.23 ypg). Defensive end Walter Stewart and safety Drew Frey have the potential to earn spots on the All-Big East First Team. In 2007, Jancek served on Georgia's coaching staff when the Bulldogs ended the season ranked No. 2 in the nation.
4. Dave Huxtable, Pitt
Huxtable will coach an inexperienced front seven that returns little beyond All-Big East lineman Aaron Donald. The veteran coordinator has instilled toughness in his defense at several schools throughout his career. In 2008, Huxtable's Central Florida defense ranked No. 3 in FBS in tackles for loss. The following season, the Knights ranked No. 6 in the nation in sacks. A year later, Huxtable's unit finished the season No. 8 in rush defense. He also served as the defensive coordinator at North Carolina from 2002-2003.
Heater may be the most experienced defensive coordinator in the conference with extended stays at Florida, Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin and Notre Dame. The Owls' coordinator has served on staffs for three national championship teams -- Florida in 2006 and 2008 and Notre Dame in 1988.
In Brown's five seasons as head coach at Massachusetts, his teams ranked in the top 20 in FCS three times in total defense. In 2005, Massachusetts led FCS in scoring defense. A year later, Brown coached a 13-2 team that advanced to the FCS Championship Game before losing to Appalachian State. Brown has also spent two seasons as the defensive coordinator at Maryland.
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