The Big LeadThe Big Lead

That Sweet, Sweet Big Ten Defense Is Back

MADISON, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 28:  Hunter Johnson #15 of the Northwestern Wildcats runs with the ball while being tackled by Rachad Wildgoose #5 of the Wisconsin Badgers in the second quarter at Camp Randall Stadium on September 28, 2019 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Northwestern v Wisconsin | Dylan Buell/Getty Images

The Big Ten is no longer a collection of dust from three-yard gains. All manner of newfangled offensive schemes have come and gone and the scoreboards have reflected a more uptempo, freewheeling game. And yet, deep down in the soul of everyone from Cedar Rapids to Happy Valley who is of a certain age, there's a certain nostalgia for steel-curtain defense on sun-starved and frozen brown fields.

The ship has arrived for that sect of fans. The nation's four top scoring defenses reside in the conference. Wisconsin is holding opponents to 7.3 points/game while Penn State is just behind at 7.5. Iowa is at 8.5 and Ohio State at 8.6. It's beautiful.

Michigan State, which may have the most fearsome unit of all, is 14th at 15.0. The Spartans join Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State in the top-10 stingiest in the yards/play category. The Badgers, Buckeyes, Spartans and Hawkeyes are all in the top-10 in total defense as well.

How good is the top half of the conference's defensive units? Last week, for example: Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa combined to allow 25 points. Total!

The country's best player -- on either side of the ball -- is Chase Young of Ohio State. He and teammate Jeff Okudah are legitimate top-five NFL prospects. Penn State's Yetur Gross-Matos and Kenny Willekes should also find their way into the first round.

Allow me, a Midwesterner, explain why this is so great.

You see, when you grow up in the cold, you learn to love the cold. The brutality of life. The suffocating hardship of doing anything in the snow. You start to believe life is not supposed to be easy.

That thought seeps into our brain and manifests on Saturdays. It's not supposed to be easy for the pretty boy offense to get the ball and breezily move it up and down the field. There should be some resistance, some obstacles. If life is hard for you, it damn well be hard for other people.

This is true Lake Wobegon stuff. Petty and vindictive. There's a sharp bite behind all those friendly smiles.

It's okay to love defense. No reason to get defensive about it.