Bowl season has concluded and basketball season is in full swing, but we still have plenty of football to talk about. For the next few months, we will take a look back at the 2022 season and reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of each team. With that being said, let’s take a look at the good, bad, and ugly of linebackers in the Mountain West.
Linebacker was one of the biggest concerns for Boise State fans heading into the 2022 season, but veteran leaders DJ Schramm and Ezekiel Noa rose to the occasion. We also saw the development of a potential future star in Andrew Simpson.
Tackling machine Austin Ajiake made the most of his Super Senior season. Ajiake led the conference in tackles with 132 and added four sacks. Ajiake starred in a UNLV defense that showed signs of improvement this past season.
It seems like the Cowboys can always count on solid play at linebacker. 2022 was no different with the emergence of an elite linebacker in Easton Gibbs. Gibbs finished the season with 121 tackles which is good for second in the conference.
Similar to the Cowboys, it seems like you can always count on elite linebacker play from the Falcons. This team focuses on fast linebackers that can tackle in space. This talented crew played a major role in leading Air Force to a season that finished with double-digit wins.
San Jose State
Kyle Harmon will have to go down as one of the best football players in San Jose State history. He played a major role in turning the program around and helping the Spartans build a respectable defense. Harmon had another stellar season in 2022 finishing with 102 tackles.
San Diego State
Aztec linebackers may not have had the massive numbers that we are accustomed to seeing from this team, but they had one of the best collective units in the conference. San Diego State allowed only 3.4 yards per rushing attempt, tied with Air Force for second in the conference.
Levelle Bailey is the primary reason I put the Bulldogs in the “Good” category. They were fairly inconsistent over the course of the year but finished with their best performances when it mattered most.
A little perspective into the struggles the Rams had this season: their leading tackler was a defensive back. That is usually a red flag for a defense. The Rams were in the bottom half of the league in rush defense and struggled against the short passing game throughout the season.
The Lobos had a decent linebacker corps, and I think you could make an argument to put them in the “Good” category. However, the unit was very inconsistent and gave up 4.1 yards per rushing attempt. Some of that can be attributed to how much time the defense spent on the field.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t expect a little bit more from this veteran group, but the stellar season of AJ Vongphachanh was almost enough to land the Aggies in the “Good” category. Vongphachanh broke the century mark with 101 tackles on the season. But you can’t finish eleventh in rush defense and be considered “Good.”
I was a little surprised to see the Wolf Pack’s struggles in the trenches this past fall. Nevada finished tenth in rushing defense, and the linebacker crew also struggled when they dropped back into protection.
The Rainbow Warriors struggled with tackling all season long. Running backs were commonly able to break through the front seven. Securing the linebacker position will be a major priority for Timmy Chang and his staff this offseason.
Which team in the Mountain West had the best linebackers? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.