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MWCConnection Roundtable: Who will be the defensive breakout player on every team?

Let’s ask the team.

Mountain West Football Championship - Boise State v San Jose State Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

As the weeks get closer to the start of fall camp, the roundtable continues. Again, this week, the focus remains on individual teams. Similar to last week, this week’s question is: who is the potential defensive breakout player for each of your teams?

Mike: This week I will go with Wyoming. The Cowboys have developed quite the reputation for developing linebackers. Recently that has been Logan Wilson and Chad Muma, but this year another linebacker will emerge as the next leader of the defense, Easton Gibbs. A redshirt freshman last year, he already broke out to some degree, finishing third on the team in tackles last year with 42. This was done in only six game and playing mostly as a backup. Expect his play and his numbers to explode this fall.

Zach: I mentioned this in an article earlier this week. But I think a breakout start for Boise State’s defense will be Jackson Cravens. Cravens is a Utah transfer who did not see a ton of action last year because of issues with COVID. Cravens looked like an absolute monster in the spring game. Kaonohi Kaniho has a chance to start at corner as a freshman and like Cravens, looked phenomenal in the spring game. JL Skinner has been getting rave reviews at safety for the Broncos and Oregon transfer Andrew Faoliu should put plenty of pressure on the quarterbacks from the edge.

NittanyFalcon: I’ll stick with my convictions from last year. For the Falcons last year I picked DE Christopher Herrera as the breakout player for the defense, but unfortunately we did not get to see him play. He was one of the many players who took a turnback on the defensive side of the ball. In 2019, he started to break out near the end of the year and became the starter for the last six games. He culminated that season by breaking up a pass at the line of scrimmage and recovering a fumble in the Cheez-it Bowl against Washington State. It looks like he’ll have a good opportunity to be a disruptive force on the line this year.

Graham_Gibson: Utah State’s offense might struggle a little bit to get going with a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, and offensive turnover, however the defense does bring back talent and should help to move forward. Players such as Shaq Bond and Kevin Meitzenheimer are already well known. The players that had the most tackles for loss and general tackles on the team came from the middle of the defense and the secondary. Utah State struggled to stop the run last season. During the 2019 season there were only two games where Utah State held their opponent under 100 yards and those games were against San Diego State (27 attempts, 82 yards), and Air Force (13 rushes, 14 yards). In 2020, the Aggies gave up 224.7 yards per game, giving up over 100 yards in all of their games. In the final three games against Fresno State, New Mexico, and Air Force, the Aggies gave up 199 yards, 209 yards, and 109 yards respectively. The bottom line is that there needs to be help on the defensive line and transfer defensive lineman Aurion Peoples can provide that help. Peoples comes from College of the Canyons and per 247 Sports, was ranked number 71 nationally and ranked as the 17th best defensive lineman. In 2019, he recorded 18 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a sack. As a freshman he had 19 tackles, 13 solo. His numbers aren’t eye popping, but he does have the potential to grow and could be a force for the defensive line at 6-2 305 lbs.

Adam: For New Mexico, Tavian Combs is slated to be the starter at Lobo-back entering the season. This is the position that Brian Urlacher made famous in Rocky Long’s defense. Combs did come through with 51 tackles in six starts last season. However, with the Lobo-back being the Achilles heel of the Lobos defense, and with this being Combs’ second season in Long’s defense, Combs should have a breakout season, and could very well end up near 100 tackles if he stays healthy.