I decided to call this new series the mysterious -- and may I say vaguely dirty -- Better Know the Units. I'll look at a variety of statistical categories and count down in ascending order what I believe will be the twelve best units of that type the Pack will face this year. I won't claim any of these lists to be authoritative or even wholly accurate, but considering I have a blog and you most likely don't, I win any and all arguments by default.
I'll kick off the series with a look at the pass defenses. For this list, I examined six different categories: average passing yards allowed per game, total number of passing yards allowed, pass efficiency defense, completion percentage defense, number of passing touchdowns allowed and number of interceptions. I then assigned an average composite ranking of all of these categories to each team and then used the number of returning starters in the secondary as a final means of determining who should be ranked ahead of who heading into 2011.
#12 New Mexico State ~ Any time you lose an NFL draft pick from a secondary that was already bad is never a good thing, hence why they're ranked at the bottom here.
#11 Louisiana Tech ~ Junior corner Chad Boyd is a promising talent, but there are some big unknowns around him in the Bulldog secondary.
#10 UNLV ~ Another case of a solid starter surrounded by mediocrity and/or uncertainty -- this time it's Will Chandler.
#9 Utah State ~ It was really hard for me to put the Aggies this low, but the fact is that they only return one starter in the secondary and Curtis Marsh won't be easy to replace.
#8 New Mexico ~ Here's a case of a unit that didn't do well no matter how you may try to spin it, but does return all four starters. As Pack fans are all too aware of, continuity from season to season often helps a great deal in the secondary.
#7 San Jose State ~ Yes, the Spartans were terrible against the pass in most areas, but they actually didn't allow very many passing TDs and, like the Lobos, return all four starters.
#6 Idaho ~ There's not a lot of separation between the teams ranked twelfth through fifth -- they're ultimately just different shades of "terrible."
#5 Texas Tech ~ This is probably my most debatable selection. The Red Raiders were HEINOUS defending the pass last year, and it remains to be seen how long it will take to adjust to that new 4-2-5 scheme. But the guy implementing it did great things at TCU, and with the talent Coach Tuberville is already bringing in, I see a sizable -- but not too sizable -- boost coming to the Texas Tech secondary.
#4 Hawai'i ~ The next level of pass defense on this list could be described as "adequate," and it's the area where you'd see Nevada if they were ranked with the other twelve teams. Mana Silva and Jeramy Bryant's production will be greatly missed, so there's definitely potential for them to fall in this area.
#3 Fresno State ~ The Bulldogs were pretty mediocre across the board in all the pass defense categories I looked at. Two starters must be replaced, and they have to get better at forcing some interceptions.
#2 Oregon ~ This is where things got really hard. The Ducks and Broncos will clearly have the two best pass defenses of any of Nevada's opponents in 2011, and it's not even close. The composite ranking I gave Oregon was 28th, and the next-best one would've been Nevada at 59th. Cliff Harris is an elite talent, and after he serves his not-yet-fully-disclosed suspension for pretending to be Batman on an Oregon freeway, he will arguably be the best corner in the nation.
#1 Boise State ~ The most consistently exceptional pass defense across the board Nevada will have faced, both in 2010 and 2011. It was very tough for me to decide between BSU's all-around stats and a lesser Oregon defense that boasts a play-maker of Harris' caliber. I ultimately sided with Boise State, but not by much. The Broncos only return two starters in their secondary, but we should know by now not to doubt their ability to replace their star players from year to year.
So those are the pass defenses the Pack will line up against this fall -- two very good ones and ten pretenders. I'll see you all again after the Monday holiday with whatever is on my mind.