Continuing the pre-season coverage, today’s post will look at the ranking order of the defenses in the Mountain West Conference, as voted on by Jeremy, Zach, and Mike. Take a look below.
All team stats are per the Mountain West official website. All turnover stats are from Sports Reference.
2020 stats: 21 ppg, 125.3 rushing ypg, 202.7 passing ypg, 17 sacks, 4 INTs, 2 FF
Regularly one of the best defensive units in the conference, this year will be no different for Wyoming’s defense. The Cowboys have a defense led by some of the top linebackers in the league and regularly reload at other units. They excel at shutting down the run and scheme against teams seemingly as well as anyone.
2. San Diego State
2020 stats: 17.75 ppg, 98.3 rushing ypg, 185.3 passing ypg, 20 sacks, 8 INTs, 9 FF
Arguably one of, if not the most, complete defenses in the conference, San Diego State brings back an impressive unit that carried the team last season. With the physical d-line, athletic linebackers, and talented (albeit inexperienced) secondary, it is a versatile defense and can beat a team in numerous ways. The Aztecs’ defense should be stout once again this year.
3. Air Force
2020 stats: 15 ppg, 136.5 rushing ypg, 166.8 passing ypg, 7 sacks, 5 INTs, 1 FF
The Falcons broke in eleven new starters on defense during the 2020 season, thanks to graduation and turnbacks, and all they did was become one of the best defenses in the entire country. Now they bring those starters back and add those former starters back into the fold. With all of that in mind, the sky could be the limit for the Air Force defense going into the 2021 season.
4. San Jose State
2020 stats: 19.88 ppg, 120.3 rushing ypg, 225.9 passing ypg, 26 sacks, 3 INTs, 4 FF
The multiple-style offense got much of the spotlight for San Jose State’s successful season in 2020, but the defense was just as good, if not better. They are very well-rounded with an undersized but speedy pass-rush at the defensive line and formidable linebackers at the point of attack. The secondary lost a player or two but should remain as reliable as last year. Expect more of the same for the Spartan’s defense this year.
5. Boise State
2020 stats: 27.14 ppg, 163.7 rushing ypg, 209.6 passing ypg, 18 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 FF
The four teams above are pretty safe bets to be solid defenses again, but teams 5-8 are more of the wild cards. Boise State’s defense is as talented as anyone in the conference on paper, but can they put it all together? The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference, while the linebackers should be at least good, if not better. The real question is can they reload/improve in the secondary, and can they increase the number of turnovers they produce?
6. New Mexico
2020 stats: 32.57 ppg, 164.1 rushing ypg, 283 passing ypg, 14 sacks, 6 INTs, 11 FF
The Lobos struggled last year overall as a team, but there was a lot of potential and flashes of talent on defense. They gave up a lot of points but figure to be a good bet to take a jump in year two, as evidenced by their penchant for forcing turnovers and their improvement over the course of the season. It helps when defensive guru Rock Long is leading the scheme.
2020 stats: 22.33 ppg, 138.1 rushing ypg, 239.6 passing ypg, 23 sacks, 6 INTs, 1 FF
For pretty much the entirety of the Norvell era, the defense has been far behind the offense for the Wolf Pack. Last year they weren’t bad, as evidenced by the lower ppg average, and finished among the conference leaders in sacks. Still, they lag behind the offense. Is this the year Nevada’s defense can put it all together, or will it get in the way of a memorable 2021 season?
2020 stats: 27.56 ppg, 211.7 rushing ypg, 197.1 passing ypg, 16.5 sacks, 12 INTs, 5 FF
Hawaii is such a polarizing team because they have such extreme strengths and weaknesses. During the 2020 season, the Rainbow Warriors lead the Mountain West in interceptions but were the third-worst team in rushing yards allowed per game. Will they rise to become a dominant defense in year two of their scheme or sink to the level allowing anything and everything? Will they be a solid secondary unit with a mediocre run defense? Who knows.
9. Fresno State
2020 stats: 30 ppg, 212.3 rushing ypg, 217.7 passing ypg, 24 sacks, 2 INTs, 9 FF
The Bulldog’s defense was similar to the Hawaii one in the sense that they were inconsistent and unpredictable. Fresno State was second in the conference in sacks last season and tied for second in forced fumbles but still gave up a high amount of points per game. The talent seems to be there, especially in the secondary, but some missing piece prevents them from putting it all together. If the Bulldogs can figure out what it is, they can end the year higher than some of their conference-mates.
10. Utah State
2020 stats: 35.17 ppg, 224.7 rushing ypg, 260.7 passing ypg, 16 sacks, 1 INTs, 3 FF
Things weren’t pretty for the Aggies defense last season, but there are a few talented players there. While there may be some growing pains with a new staff, it’s also an opportunity for new energy. Can the players buy into the defensive scheme, and do the players fit the defensive scheme? Those are the questions that will guide how successful Utah State can be this year.
11. Colorado State
2020 stats: 35.75 ppg, 108.5 rushing ypg, 250.3 passing ypg, 16 sacks, 1 INTs, 5 FF
The Rams are among the bottom of the conference in terms of defense, and giving up a boatload of points will do that. Their linebacker unit should be strong, and there are some nice pieces in the secondary as well. It will be interesting to see if the defense can take a big step forward in year two of the Addazio regime. If so, they will not be at the bottom for long.
2020 stats: 38 ppg, 255 rushing ypg, 227.2 passing ypg, 13.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 3 FF
The Rebels struggled on both sides of the ball last year and likely will again, but the defensive unit was particularly poor. Giving up close to 40 points a game and nearly 500 yards a game is not a good recipe for success in the college game, no matter what the offense is doing. That being said, there is seemingly nowhere to go but up, and UNLV has brought in some talented recruits to play defense.
Your turn: Agree or disagree? What are your rankings? Drop a comment about it below.t below.