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.
2022 stats: 23.42 ppg, 149.7 rushing ypg, 219.8 passing ypg, 34 sacks, 6 INTs, 8 FFs
The Cowboys have a chance to have one of their best defenses in the Bohl era, if everything goes to plan. The front seven is loaded, with preseason defensive player of the year pick Easton Gibbs and the formidable Shae Suiaunoa at linebacker. The true strength is likely the front four, where Jordan Bertagnole, Colde Godbout, DeVonne Harris, and Brayden Siders are as a complete of a unit as one can find in the Mountain West. The secondary went through some attrition, but should still be up to the task with Wrook Brown and Wyett Ekeler leading the charge.
2. Air Force
2022 stats: 13.25 ppg, 99.8 rushing ypg, 156.7 passing ypg, 22 sacks, 9 INTs, 5 FFs
There is little drop-off from #1 to #2, as the Falcons are loaded on defense. They have some of the top talent in the conference at every level of the defense, starting with Payton Zdroik anchoring the d-line. Alec Mock is one of the best linebackers in the Mountain West and is joined by Johnathan Youngblood, who could be in store for a breakout year. In the secondary, Camby Goff plays the hybrid position and is quite the playmaker. But the unit and maybe the entire defense is led by safety Trey Taylor, who does a bit of everything for the Falcons.
3. San Diego State
2022 stats: 20.17 ppg, 128.8 rushing ypg, 206.6 passing ypg, 29 sacks, 12 INTs, 5 FFs
The Aztecs’s defense has a lot to replace from last year, but have some exciting talent lining up for them this year. The defensive line will have three new starters this season, but one of them will definitely be Garret Fountain, who was good in limited action last year. Some transfers may end up getting the other spots. The linebacker unit looks great with returner Cooper McDonald be joined by highly productive transfer Cody Moon. The defensive backs should be among the best in the conference, led by Cedarious Barfield and Dezjhon Malone. They will be joined by Noah Avinger and maybe some youngsters like Eric Butler, Max Garrision, or Marcus Ratcliffe.
4. Fresno State
2022 stats: 20.46 ppg, 158.6 rushing ypg, 193.3 passing ypg, 24 sacks, 11 INTs, 9 FFs
Fresno State lost a lot of talent from their 2022 championship season, but they return a good amount of talent on defense. Devo Bridges and Gavriel Lightfoot will lead the defensive line, with the former having some big shoes to fill. Linebacker will be the strength of this team, with Lavelle Bailey and Malachi Langley forming quite the tandem in the middle of the defense. The secondary has a star and one of the best defenders in the Mountain West with Cam Lockridge, and Morice Norris is stout at safety. But they are hoping transfer Dean Clark can replace Evan Williams’ production, and they will need him to.
5. Boise State
2022 stats: 18.54 ppg, 120.8 rushing ypg, 160.7 passing ypg, 27 sacks, 13 INTs, 6 FFs
Boise State lost the majority of their defensive starters from last season, but they are still looking to reload. Up front, Herbert Gums leads the d-line, and is joined by veteran Demitri Washington and upcoming talent Ahmed Hassanein. They will rely on a number of transfers to improve their pass-rush. Linebacker is where they return the most talent, with six-year DJ Schramm and potential breakout player Andrew Simpson leading the defense. The secondary has talent and experience, but doesn’t yet have a star. Cornerback has three players capable of starting in Markel Reed, Kaonohi Kaniho, and Jaylen Clark. At safety, Rodney Robinson is a holdover while Seyi Oladipo and Alex Teubner look to replace two all-time greats.
6. Colorado State
2022 stats: 26.92 ppg, 163.6 rushing ypg, 191.4 passing ypg, 24 sacks, 8 INTs, 11 FFs
In an unexpected turn of events, the Rams were led by their defense in 2022. Heading into 2023, they unit figures to be strong once again. Their front four boasts Mohamed Kamara and Grady Kelly, both of which should have big seasons. They will need to replace last year’s starting linebackers and are hoping one or both of their transfers (Tramayne Mejia-Paster and Kaden Stewart) are up to the task. The back five is likely their strength due to safeties Jack Howell and Henry Blackburn, along with cornerback Chigozie Anusiem and Nickelback Ayden Hector, to complete the veteran group.
7. San Jose State
2022 stats: 20.27 ppg, 122.6 rushing ypg, 210.4 passing ypg, 35 sacks, 13 INTs, 5 FFs
While their offense is bringing back most of their talent, the Spartans will have to reload on defense. They have to replace both of their defensive ends, and are hoping that Tre Smith and Noah Lavulo are up to the task. Soane Toia is a returner who should balance things out with his steady play. At linebacker, Bryun Parham and Jordan Pollard return and should continue producing in the second level. Behind them, Tre Jenkins is the clear leader of the defensive backs and is primed for a big year. He is joined by Chase Williams, Elijah Wood, Michael Dansby, and Kenyon Reed. At least one of them will need to breakout to help the SJSU defense if they want to compete this year.
8. Utah State
2022 stats: 30.58 ppg, 198.2 rushing ypg, 198.4 passing ypg, 23 sacks, 10 INTs, 7 FFs
The Aggies experienced some drop off on defense last season and may have a tough road to rebound after experiencing some attrition in the transfer portal. Hale Motu’apuaka is the big name on the defensive line and he is as solid as they come. They got limited production from some other presumed starters, but are looking for transfer DE Cian Stone to fill the void. They lost their leading tackler at linebacker, but MJ Tafisi still returns to balance things out and he will likely be joined by Max Alford or Gavin Barthiel. The secondary packs some star power with freshman phenom Ike Larson joined by Michael Anyanwu. The Aggies will need more players to step up in order for their defense to hold their own, but they have a solid foundation so far.
2022 stats: 28.5 ppg, 157.9 rushing ypg, 225.8 passing ypg, 27 sacks, 15 INTs, 8 FFs
The Rebels have a new coaching staff and many new players, so their defense is widely unknown heading into 2023. The defensive line has some experience, notably Darius Johnson and Jalen Dixon. Zavier Carter is one of the high profile transfers and should step into a key role right away. Fred Thompkins was a very good linebacker for UNLV last season and returns once again to play a big role in the defense. He is joined by transfer Jackson Woodward. The defensive backs should be very good. Johnathan Baldwin, Jordyn Morgan, and Cam Oliver return once again and they are joined by highly touted transfer Jaxen Turner. It will be interesting to see how the Rebels make use of their talented secondary this coming season.
10. New Mexico
2022 stats: 26 ppg, 157.6 rushing ypg, 202.8 passing ypg, 25 sacks, 8 INTs, 13 FFs
The Lobos had one of the better defense in the conference in 2022, but unfortunately lost a ton of production to the transfer portal. The defensive line is trying to upgrade through the portal, hoping for Gabriel Lopez and Hunter Rapolla to solidify the position. Syaire Riley returns at linebacker and looks to build on a good year in 2022. He will be joined by Ray Leutele, who are looking to improve on their production in limited action. The secondary was hit hard in the transfer portal, but they still return Donte Martin, who looks to lead the unit. In addition to him, Zach Morris, Tavian Combs, and Christian Ellis, will all be stepping into bigger roles. The Lobos are hoping for a breakout season by one or more of that trio.
2022 stats: 34.69 ppg, 213.3 rushing ypg, 224.8 passing ypg, 18 sacks, 10 INTs, 4 FFs
To say the Rainbow Warriors struggled on defense last year would be a huge understatement. but they are looking to improve heading into 2023. The starting defensive line will likely be made up mostly of transfers, notably Kuao Peihopa. The lone holdover is Jonah Kahahawai-Welch and he is a good one. At linebacker, Logan Taylor is the returning leading tackler and he is flanked by Isaiah Tufaga. The secondary should be the strength of the defense, led by transfer Cam Stone at cornerback. Peter Manuma was a standout freshman at safety and fellow holdovers Meki Pei and Virdel Edwards II combine to form a solid unit. Hawaii’s defense should be better this upcoming season.
2022 stats: 30.92 ppg, 164.5 rushing ypg, 231.6 passing ypg, 26 sacks, 11 INTs, 9 FFs
The Wolf Pack defense wasn’t very good last year and will need to figure out how to get everyone on the same page and improve. At defensive line, they need to replace Dom Peterson. James Hansen and Dion Washington will be counted on to attempt to replicate his production and Henry Ikahihifo is coming back to the team as a defensive end hoping to contribute. Linebacker found a nice surprise last year with true freshman Drue Watts and is importing transfer Jackson LaDuke to compliment him. Looking at the secondary, cornerback Jaden Dedman is a standout player. Joining him will be Emany Johnson and Isaiah Essissima, both of whom are looking to build upon their production from last year, as is the entire Nevada defense heading into 2023.
Your turn: Agree or disagree? What are your rankings? Drop a comment about it below.t below.