(WCIA) — Illinois defensive coordinator Ryan Walters was named the 247Sports Defensive Coordinator of the Year. Walters was one of five finalists at the Broyles Awards. The award is presented annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.  

The Broyles Award was in Little Rock, Arkansas. Finalists included Walters, Todd Monken (Georgia OC/QBs), Jesse Minter (Michigan DC), Garrett Riley (TCU OC/QBs), and Alex Golesh (Tennessee OC/TEs).

Illinois was ranked in the top 10 in the nation in 17 major defensive categories during the regular season, including leading the nation in interceptions (22), ranking second in scoring defense (12.3), and third in total defense (263.8). Walters’ unit is led by Bednarik Award semifinalists CB Devon Witherspoon and DT Jer’Zhan Newton, as Illinois and Alabama are the only teams with two Bednarik semifinalists, which lists the top 20 defenders in the nation. 

Illinois’ defense is ranked third in the nation by ESPN’s SP+ metric and second by PFF. The defense allowed 12.8 points per game in road/neutral site games, the best in the country, and 11.9 points per game at home, its best mark at Memorial Stadium since the 1983 Big Ten championship team allowed 9.4 per game. 

The defense has powered Illinois resurgence this season, as the Illini went 8-4 overall, 5-4 in the Big Ten, and qualified for the program’s top bowl game in 15 years. It was the Illini’s first finish above .500 in the Big Ten since the 2007 team went 6-2 and the first January bowl game since the 2007 team played in the 2008 Rose Bowl Game.