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 our team. The top spot was unanimous, but the rest of the votes were a bit of a mixed bag. Take a look below.
All team stats are per the Mountain West official website. All turnover stats are from Sports Reference.
1. San Diego State
2021 stats: 19.79 ppg, 80.4 rushing ypg, 244.1 passing ypg, 40 sacks, 17 INTs, 9 FFs
The Aztec defense was a unanimous selection in our team voting process. And for a good reason, as they were a shut-down defense last year and look to be once again heading into 2022. Year in and year out, San Diego State reloads on this side of the ball. They return some of the best players in the entire conference and now boast highly-rated recruits to throw into the mix to complement the returning veterans.
2. Boise State
2021 stats: 19 ppg, 157.5 rushing ypg, 206.9 passing ypg, 29 sacks, 13 INTs, 12 FFs
The Broncos had one of the strongest defenses in the Mountain West last year and returned most of those players this season. The secondary is a talented, veteran group with a few potential NFL prospects. The defensive line is deep and has a new injection of pass-rushing talent. The linebacker unit was the caboose last year, but steps were taken to fortify that unit. Last year the defense was formidable; this year, it could be a real weapon.
3. Air Force
2021 stats: 19.77, 102.3 rushing ypg, 194.4 passing ypg, 35 sacks, 8 INTs, 9 FFs
The Falcons have featured quite a number of players among their starters the past two years, thanks to turnbacks. And with that depth, they boasted one of the best defenses in the country the past two seasons. It is a defense to be reckoned with, to be sure. They did experience some losses at key positions last year but still figure to be strong in all three phases of the defense. They generate a good pass-rush and will have a playmaker or two in the secondary. All signs point up for Air Force.
2021 stats: 23.69 ppg, 180.6 rushing ypg, 189.8 passing ypg, 24 sacks, 10 INTs, 4 FFs
The Cowboys regularly have a stout defense, and this year should be no exception. Despite losing key members of the secondary among their numerous transfers, their coaching staff deserves the benefit of the doubt due to their strong ability to develop talent. The program is built on strong defense, and there are key players ready to lead that side of the ball once again in 2022.
5. Fresno State
2021 stats: 20.54 ppg, 126.2 rushing ypg, 222 passing ypg, 30 sacks, 10 INTs, 14 FFs
The Bulldogs always seem to have a solid defense. Last year was no different, and this year should not be any different either. While they did experience some turnover from last year, they still return a number of key players. Their secondary will be a major weapon and should nullify pass-happy offenses, while their defensive line has a great set of starters. The linebackers should not be discounted either, and if everything plays out like it is on paper, they will be a tough matchup for anyone offense in the conference.
6. New Mexico
2021 stats: 28.42 ppg, 143 rushing ypg, 220.1 passing ypg, 24 sacks, 9 INTs, 4 FFs
The Lobos struggled last year overall as a team, but there was a lot of potential and flashes of talent on defense. While they gave up a lot of points, they were good against the run, and the turnover numbers are pretty nice. New Mexico is also a young defense, with many second-year players projected to start. They are blended with some older transfers and a very good cornerback leading the defense. Plus, with Rocky Long and his scheme, there is always a chance.
7. Utah State
2021 stats: 24.43 ppg, 161.9 rushing ypg, 230.9 passing ypg, 33 sacks, 12 INTs, 14 FFs
Similar to their offense, the 2021 Utah State defense was dynamic and opportunistic. They weren’t dominant, but they made the big plays when they needed to and often came up with crucial turnovers, which turned the tide of the game in their favor. The Aggies return some of the players from that squad while losing several others. So they are attempting to reload with more transfers and see if they can recreate the magic they had on the defensive side of the ball last year.
8. San Jose State
2021 stats: 26.5 ppg, 135.2 rushing ypg, 236.1 passing ypg, 26 sacks, 6 INTs, 9 FFs
San Jose State had a tremendous defensive unit during their storybook 2020 campaign. However, the defense, much like the team as a whole, fell back to the middle of the pack last season. Looking towards this year, the Spartans figured to have one of the best defensive lines in the conference, specifically on the exterior of the line. They will also return one of the top linebackers in the entire conference. After that, there is a bit more of a dropoff. However, it would not be a surprise if SJSU put it all together to become a strong defensive team.
9. Colorado State
2021 stats: 28.25 ppg, 166.3 rushing ypg, 211.1 passing ypg, 38 sacks, 6 INTs, FFs
There are a few factors moving in the wrong direction for the Rams. Their defense wasn’t very good at all last season. Their best defensive player has graduated. New coach Jay Norvell was not known for having strong defenses during his Nevada years. With all of that being said, Colorado State still returns two solid linebackers and some playmakers in the secondary. There are some other intriguing young players, plus the incoming transfers. This group could be the 2022 surprise like Utah State was last year. Or they could be a mismatched unit that can’t get on the same page.
2021 stats: 26.54 ppg, 186 rushing ypg, 220.7 passing ypg, 39 sacks, 14 INTs, 11 FFs
It’s extremely difficult to predict how this year’s defense will be based on anything from last season for the Wolf Pack. That’s what losing so many transfers will do. The defensive line figures to be the more consistent and has the best players returning from last season, so the sack numbers may be replicated. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. The defense could surprise, or they could look like a team that went through the grinder in the transfer portal. Time will tell.
2021 stats: 32.83 ppg, 171.9 rushing ypg, 237.9 passing ypg, 20 sacks, 9 INTs, 9 FFs
The Rebels’ defense has struggled the past two seasons, and it’s hard to find any strong reason for there to be improvements in 2022. This is especially after their best defensive player transferred at the end of last year. Still, there are many players returning, and it’s their third year in the scheme. The time for change and improvement is now. The question is: will it happen?
2021 stats: 31.38 ppg, 156.3 rushing ypg, 289.7 passing ypg, 27 sacks, 14 INTs, 15 FFs
Similar to Nevada above, how Hawaii’s defense will be in 2022 is a complete unknown. It is an entirely new defensive scheme and is filled with nearly an entirely new cast of coaches and players. It could help them be significantly better than last year’s efforts. Or they could be the same or even worse as the players adjust to new schemes and to each other. The games will have to be played in order to find out, but things look a bit bleak on paper for the Rainbow Warriors.
Your turn: Agree or disagree? What are your rankings? Drop a comment about it below.t below.