5. Fresno State
Projected starters/depth: David Perales (DE), Leonard Payne Jr. (DT), Matt Lawson (DT?), Da’Marcus Johnson (DE?), Evan Bennett, Devo Bridges
The Bulldogs were active along the defensive line in 2021, but their task for next season is more reloading than rebuilding. Perales and Payne Jr. have the talent to be all-Mountain West players, while others like Lawson, Johnson and Bennett should end up with an equal share of responsibility in replacing departed starters Arron Mosby and Kevin Atkins.
Projected starters/depth: Oluwaseyi Omotosho (DE?), Cole Godbout (DT), Jordan Bertagnole (DT), DeVonne Harris (DE?), Caleb Robinson, Braden Siders
The Cowboys might have ranked higher if not for substantial losses to the transfer portal: Victor Jones, Jaylen Pate, and, most recently, Solomon Byrd. What has made Wyoming so dangerous in the trenches was not simply the top-end talents they develop but the depth of it, and that hit may take some time to resolve. Give Craigh Bohl and defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel them the benefit of the doubt in figuring it out, but it’ll take time.
3. San Jose State
Projected starters/depth: Cade Hall (DE), Noah Wright (DT), Viliami Fehoko (DE), Lando Grey, Jay Kakiva, Tre Smith, Lamar Bennett
There aren’t likely to be any new faces breaking into the Spartans’ defensive line rotations, which is probably just fine for coordinator Derrick Odum. Hall didn’t wreak havoc at quite the same level as he did in 2020, but he and Fehoko are still perhaps the most dangerous pass rushing tandem anywhere in the conference. This unit is deep and talented and one of the strongest reminders that you can’t forget about San Jose State this fall.
2. Boise State
Projected starters/depth: Shane Irwin (DE), Scott Matlock (DT), Jackson Cravens (DT), Casey Kline, Divine Obichere, Cortez Hogans, Michael Callahan
That this ranking doesn’t include the Broncos’ EDGE defenders (they fall in with the linebackers) tells you everything you need to know about how good this group can be. Matlock emerged as a potent pass rusher in his own right last year and, combined with better health luck, should lead a deep and dangerous unit into the fall.
1. San Diego State
Projected starters/depth: Keshawn Banks (DE), Jonah Tavai (DT), Justus Tavai (DE), Nassir Sims, Deven Lamp, Wyatt Draeger, Daniel Okpoko
How does a team like the Aztecs go about replacing one of its most productive defensive linemen ever? They raid conference rivals for their big talents (Justus Tavai), land potential impact pass rushers from elsewhere on the transfer portal (Lamp), and look to their next men up (Sims, Draeger, Okpoko) to make up the difference. Do you really want to bet against San Diego State figuring it out?