There may be some truth to the cliché that offense wins games, but defense wins championships.
Last season, all four playoff participants ranked higher in defensive efficiency than offensive efficiency, including three teams ranked in the top five nationally. Alabama, with the top defense in the country, won the national championship, marking the fifth time in the past seven years the national champion led the FBS in defensive efficiency.
Which team will have the best defense in 2016?
Using ESPN's Football Power Index we can project the top defenses heading into the season. A detailed explanation of what goes into the predictions and why can be found here, but in short, past efficiencies and the number of returning starters are their biggest drivers.
It's important to note that FPI is not projecting yards or points; it's projecting a team's expected points added (EPA) per game. Unlike yards, which treat all situations equally, the teams with the highest defensive EPA per game will be efficient units that limit ball movement, force turnovers and keep opponents out of the end zone. The number associated with EPA per game below refers to the points per game a defense is expected to contribute to the team's net scoring margin, with an average defense expected to contribute zero net points against an average offense.
Predicted defensive EPA per game: plus-14.0
Returning starters: Five
2015 defensive efficiency rank: First
As the only team to finish in the top 10 in defensive efficiency in each of the past four seasons, Alabama has built a defensive dynasty that's unlikely to end in 2016. Although the Tide are tasked with replacing a number of key leaders (Reggie Ragland, A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed) and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, they have the talent and experience to fill those holes. First-team All-SEC defenders Jonathan Allen (team leader in sacks) and Eddie Jackson (team leader in interceptions) return for their senior seasons to go along with top prospects Tim Williams, Da'Shawn Hand and a boatload of blue-chip recruits. Don't be surprised if new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt produces an even more dominant defense in 2016 than the one that won the national championship last season.