As offenses throughout FBS continue to put up numbers at the pace of a Madden 2013 game, their counterparts on the other side sometimes don't receive the recognition they deserve.
In 2012, though, there were a number of superlative performances by individuals and teams in the Big East. Led by LB Khaseem Greene and DB Logan Ryan, Rutgers finished the regular season ranked fourth in the nation in scoring defense (14.25 ppg) and 14th total defense (321.25 ypg). A stout corps of linebackers at Connecticut spearheaded a unit that finished seventh in rushing defense (97.92 ypg) and 10th in total defense (309.92 ypg). And in a 27-6 victory over Rutgers on Thanksgiving weekend, Pitt held Scarlet Knights running backs Jawan Jamison and Savon Huggins to just 32 yards combined on 1.88 yards per carry.
Individually, Panthers DL Aaron Donald heads into the BBVA Compass Bowl with 18.5 TFLs (1.68 per game, sixth in FBS). Cincinnati DE Walter Stewart may have contended for Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors before suffering a devastating season-ending spine injury. During the non-conference schedule, meanwhile, Pitt DB Jason Hendricks made two interceptions in the Panthers' dominating win over Virginia Tech.
Here's our list of the Top 5 Big East defensive performances of the season:
Greene arguably delivered the top performance of his stellar career when he recorded three forced fumbles, 14 tackles, 1.5 sacks and an interception against the Orange. Greene's swim move past All-Big East LT Justin Pugh was eye-popping. The Scarlet Knights sacked QB Ryan Nassib three times and forced four turnovers. How impressive was the defensive effort? Following the defeat, Syracuse averaged 34.1 points per game for the rest of the season.
Huskies DE Trevardo Williams was menacing off the edge in a 23-20 triple overtime win over the Cardinals in late November. Williams had three sacks, 3.5 TFLs and a QB hurry in the victory. Days before an early October meeting, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood described Williams as the most imposing player in the conference. Williams ended his UConn career with the most sacks in school history.
3. Cincinnati LB Blair registers 19 tackles against Louisville on Oct. 26:
Though the Bearcats came up short in a 34-31 overtime loss to the Cardinals, it wasn't because of a lack of effort from LB Greg Blair. The senior linebacker was all over the field in recording 19 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a QB hurry. Blair finished the season ranked second in the Big East in tackles with 123. He should also be credited for helping rally a defense that could have crumbled after the loss of Stewart.
4. UConn holds NC State's offense in check on Sept. 8:
Remarkably, the Huskies fell to the Wolfpack 10-7 early in the season despite a stifling effort on defense. NC State QB Mike Glennon, an early round NFL Draft prospect, struggled to move his offense in East Hartford. On the ground, the Wolfpack only produced 54 yards on 41 carries. LB Yawin Smallwood finished with 14 tackles and two TFLs. Through the first two games of the season, the Huskies only allowed five ppg and 55 rushing yards per game.
5. Syracuse DE Sharpe sacks Pitt QB Sunseri four times on Oct. 5:
The Orange sacked Pittsburgh QB Tino Sunseri five times in a 14-13 victory, including four by DE Brandon Sharpe. The Panthers moved the ball effectively in the loss, but Sharpe and his teammates tightened in the red zone when it mattered. Syracuse's ability to contain Sunseri is notable because the Panthers senior QB could be considered Comeback Player of the Year in FBS. Sunseri finished the season with 19 TDs and just two INTs.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Big East, follow bloggers Evan Hilbert and Matt Rybaltowski @CBSBigEast.