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Peak Perspective: 2023 Mountain West Team Defensive Rankings

How did the team vote on the defensive side of the ball?

NCAA Football: Wyoming at Air Force Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Back in August, we released our team votes for the order of the Mountain West defenses heading into the 2023 season. Now that the season is over, the team voted again, and we compiled the votes and are posting the results in today’s post.

The top three offensive rankings and the top defensive ranking were all unanimous votes. Interestingly enough, spots 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, and 12 on offense and 1 and 12 on defense all matched their preseason rankings.

Note: for team stats, they obviously do not include the impending bowl games for teams playing in a bowl game. Although bowl games do count toward season stats, they have yet to be played, so the numbers won’t be completely accurate.


All team stats are per the Mountain West official website. All turnover stats are from Sports Reference.

1) Air Force

2023 stats: 17.9 ppg, 96.3 rushing ypg, 181 passing ypg, 26 sacks, 9 INTs, 4 FFs

The Falcons' defense was predicted to be one of the top in the country and it lived up to the hype. It was led by Thorpe Award winner Trey Taylor, but there were strong players in every part of the defense. They combined a strong pass rush up front with steady play in the secondary, making the Air Force defense a unit to be reckoned with.

2) Wyoming

2023 stats: 22.9 ppg, 144.6 rushing ypg, 215.7 passing ypg, 22 sacks, 10 INTs, 8 FFs

The Cowboy’s defense was thought to be the top unit in the Mountain West coming into the season. While they didn’t exactly live up to the expectations, they were still very good in 2023. The defense line and linebackers combined to stifle opponents more often than note, and the secondary showed a lot of talent as well. Wyoming put together a consistent and impactful defensive group.

3) Fresno State

2023 stats: 24.6 ppg, 168.2 rushing ypg, 216.9 passing ypg, 26 sacks, 16 INTs, 7 FFs

The Bulldogs, similar to their offense, had to replace some key players from their 2022 defense. This year’s version had some star players at every level and was a stout unit for most of the season. They were especially skilled at forcing interceptions, where Carlton Johnson III and Levelle Bailey combined for 7 of the conference-leading 16 picks this season. Fresno State showed they can reload on this side of the ball, too.


2023 stats: 27 ppg, 163.3 rushing ypg, 238.7 passing ypg, 25 sacks, 14 INTs, 11 FFs

The Rebels figured to get a defensive boost when hiring Barry Odom this year, and that’s pretty much what happened. There was a bit of a letdown the past two weeks of the season, which skewed some numbers, but this was a solid unit that played fast, physical, and aggressive. UNLV figures to be just as good or better going forward now that the players have a year in the system.

5) San Jose State

2023 stats: 25.8 ppg, 173 rushing ypg, 181.7 passing ypg, 23 sacks, 12 INTs, 5 FFs

The Spartans' defense was up and down over the course of the season, but that was to be expected after losing the strength of last year’s defense, the pass rush. They still put up some pretty good sack numbers and got great player out of linebacker Byron Putnam as well as their defensive backs. The numbers may not have been flashy but the unit produced for San Jose State

6) Boise State

2023 stats: 24.8 ppg, 123.6 rushing ypg, 251.9 passing ypg, 36 sacks, 11 INTs, 10 FFs

At one point this season, the Broncos had one of the worst defensive units in all of college football. They were especially horrid in their pass defense, partly because they failed to generate much of a pass-rush at all. However, halfway through the season, they decided to blitz more and that helped things fall into place to give the unit some strengths. Boise State ended up leading the Mountain West in sacks and their front six turned into a formidable unit in conference play.

7) San Diego State

2023 stats: 26.8 ppg, 165.8 rushing ypg, 241.2 passing ypg, 18 sacks, 12 INTs, 7 FFs

The Aztecs have consistently been one of the top defenses in the Mountain West year after year. That was not at all the case in 2023. They were still good in some areas, such as being in the top half of the conference in stopping the run and points allowed, but it was clear they lost their edge and identity, and it impacted their ability to win games. San Diego State will need to get back to have some of the top defenders in the conference going forward.

8) Colorado State

2023 stats: 29.6 ppg, 166.3 rushing ypg, 249.7 passing ypg, 33 sacks, 9 INTs, 10 FFs

The Rams overall were not a great defensive team this season, but despite that, they had some of the best defensive players in the league. They were led by MW DPOY Mohamed Kamara, who accounted for 13 of their total sacks and 2 of their forced fumbles. He was joined by safety Jack Howell and linebacker Chase Wilson, who combined for 221 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks for good measure. Colorado State has the star power on defense but now needs to build around them in order of the unit to take the next step.

9) Utah State

2023 stats: 33.8 ppg, 199.1 rushing ypg, 216.5 passing ypg, 24 sacks, 10 INTs, 9 FFs

Once again, the Aggies were an opportunistic defense. They were able to produce timely turnovers, creating momentum for many of the comeback wins the team had this season. They also often got better as the game went on. The downside is, they gave up a high amount of points and yards, which isn’t a good recipe for success.

10) New Mexico

2023 stats: 35.1 ppg, 172.2 rushing ypg, 235.3 passing ypg, 15 sacks, 4 INTs, 9 FFs

For the first two seasons under Danny Gonzales, the Lobos had strong defenses, likely due to Rocky Long leading that side of the ball. This year, with him and without some of their top players from last year, and they quickly became one of the worst defenses in the Mountain West.

11) Nevada

2023 stats: 33.4 ppg, 188.8 rushing ypg, 254.1 passing ypg, 17 sacks, 9 INTs, 7 FFs

Not many things went right for the Wolf Pack this season and defense was certainly at the top of that list. They gave up the third most points, the second most rushing yards, and the most passing yards in the Mountain West this season, none of which are good signs. For a team being led by a defense coach, this was a not a good defense at all, which is why Nevada finds themselves in this position.

12) Hawaii

2023 stats: 32.2 ppg, 170.9 rushing ypg, 214.4 passing ypg, 22 sacks, 7 INTs, 7 FFs

While the Rainbow Warriors put a lot of time into changing their offense prior to the 2023 season, they did not see a similar positive transformation on defense. 2022’s defense was a complete disaster so by that standard, this past year’s version was better. However, Hawaii’s unit was still one of the worst in the conference, with little to point to as a success for the players.