14. Maryland Terrapins
Tyler Baylor, Ami Finau, Mosiah Nasili-Kite, Durell Nchami
Maryland was Bad with a capital B on defense last year. Just ask us. Finishing 104th in defense by the FancyStats is not going to break the internet the way Mike Locksley wants. On top of that, they lose much of their pass rush in Lawtez Rogers and Sam Okuayinonu. It’s tough to get too excited about what is returning. Ourlads doesn’t even have a full depth chart for them on the line, listing all of six guys in the two deep. Nasili-Kite wasn’t bad for them last year, and Baylor and Finau played a lot, even if they didn’t do much. Still, tough to look here and think drastic improvement is on the way.
13. Northwestern Wildcats
Adetomiwa Adebawore, Sean McLaughlin, Jeremy Gold, Devin O’Rourke
Lord, help me. Ourlads only lists three guys in the two deep for Northwestern, and no defensive tackles at all. My internet scrying has revealed very little written about 2022 Northwestern in any form. So take this with a grain of salt. One good thing is that Adebawore returns, and he led the team in sacks and TFLs. Unfortunately, they lost a ton of guys, they were complete garbage last year (103rd on FEI, one spot ahead of Maryland), and the only hope is the neverending faith in Pat Fitzgerald.
12. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Aaron Lewis, Kyonte Hamilton, Ifeanyi Maijeh, Mohamed Toure
A lot of attrition and a new coordinator makes for a foggy outlook for the Rutgerians. They weren’t terrible last year, but they struggled generating a pass rush, and now seniors Julius Turner, C.J. Onyechi, and Mike Tverdov have walked off the boardwalk. New coordinator Joe Harasymiak has a few building blocks, namely ends Lewis and Toure, who were first and third on the team in sacks last year. The line should at least be workmanlike, which is just fine for Rutgers.
11. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Thomas Rush, Trill Carter, Darnell Jefferies, Jah Joyner
Minnesota was surprisingly solid on defense last year, finishing 19th on FEI. But they are in a full on rebuild on the line, replacing edge rusher Boye Mafe and a bunch of other guys, too. It will start with aptly named Thomas Rush, who finished second on the team in sacks last year. After him, there is a lot of murkiness. Clemson transfer Jefferies is getting penciled in, but Carter and Joyner are the guess for the other spots, mostly because they are some of the few returnees who recorded statistics. I like The FleckTone a lot, so I won’t be surprised if they finish a lot higher, but tough to rank them higher now with so many questions.
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Ty Robinson, Casey Rogers, Jordon Riley
Another project for Scott Frost. Stalwarts Ben Stille, Damion Daniels, and Deontre Thomas have moved on, leaving Nebraska a bit thin up front. Nebraska (3-9 Nebraska) checked in at 15th on FEI last year, in no small part due to an experienced group up front. Now they don’t even have that. It’s not all bad - Ty Robinson and Casey Rogers played quite a bit last year and do return. The third member is still up in the air, though Jordon Riley appears to have the first crack.
9. Indiana Hoosiers
James Head, Sio Nofoagatoto’a, JH Tevis
All in all, the Hoosiers aren’t in bad shape here despite some upheaval. Ryder Anderson and Weston Kramer were the most productive linemen last year, and they are gone. However, James Head and Sio Nofoagatoto’a are returning guys who have started at times. Also incoming transfer JH Tevis, who was pleasantly good for Cal last year. Also returning is Demarcus Elliott, who should get meaningful time. The Hoosiers were, surprisingly, a bit of a mess on defense last year, hitting 73rd on FEI. That I’m ranking them this high is more of a sign of faith in Tom Allen to get things turned around.
8. Illinois Fighting Illini
Jer’Zhan Newton, Calvin Avery, Keith Randolph Jr.
Bieleballs is another 3-4 team, and they were shockingly competent on defense last year, finishing 30th on FEI. They return productive ends Newton and Randolph. The key will be replacing Rod Perry at nose guard. Former four star recruit Calvin Avery seems like the leader in the clubhouse. TeRah Edwards decided he had enough of being a poindexter and wanted to try being a meathead, so he transferred from Northwestern to the Illini. I’m sure everyone is marking November 26th for the Terah Edwards game. Maybe it will be the Big Nude Saturday Extravaganza.
7. Michigan State Spartans
Khris Bogle, Simeon Barrow, Jacob Slade, Jeff Pietrowski
Sparty turned it around in a big way last year, though the defense wasn’t exactly gangbusters, finishing 46th on FEI. On top of that, they lost defensive ends Jacub Panasiak and Drew Beesley - Panasiuk led the team in TFLs last year, so that’s something. The scuttle is Florida transfer Bogle may slot in at one spot, while the other is still up for grabs. The interior is in great shape, as Barrow and Slade return, plus other guys like Maverick Hansen and Jalen Hunt have some potential. If they get some pass rush out of their ends, they will be in good shape.
6. Penn State Nittany Lions
Nick Tarburton, Cosiah Izzard, P.J. Mustipher, Adisa Isaac
Another team with a lot of question marks up front, a year after finishing 10th on defensive FEI. Book ends Arnold Ebiketie and Jessie Luketa are gone, along with their 26.5 combined TFL’s. Also gone is tackle Derrick Tangelo. To make matters worse, potential contributor Zuriah Fisher is apparently going to miss the season. Luckily, a couple guys lost to injury last year return in P.J. Mustipher and Adisa Iaac. Isaac is a former top 100 recruit and was expected to start last year. Izzard stepped in for Mustipher and didn’t embarrass himself. Nick Tarburton is the leader in the clubhouse for the end spot opposite Isaac. Other names to watch are FIVE STAR FROSH Dani Dennis-Sutton and newly minted Maryland transfer Demeioun Robinson.
5. Purdue Boilermakers
Jack Sullivan, Lawrence Johnson, Branson Deen, Kydran Jenkins
Purdue was successful on defense last year, finishing 26th in the FEI Fancystat. That was in no small part due to George Karlaftis, Vanquisher of Dreams, who is headed to the NFL. But the cupboard is far from bare. Six of the top seven guys in TFL’s were linemen last year, and they bring back four of them, including Jenkins and Deen, who were first and third on the team in sacks. Purdue is decidedly in the plus category in the B1G on the line this year, even with losing Karlaftis.
4. Michigan Wolverines
Kris Jenkins, Mazi Smith, Mike Morris, Taylor Upshaw
The Wolverines are replacing a lot up front. Aidan Hutchinson may be the first man drafted, and David Ojabo and Chris Hinton put together good enough seasons that they left early for the draft as well. That’s 30 TFL’s walking right out the door. The replacements...well, they exist. Mazi Smith is the headliner, and a former 4 star recruit. He was good for them last season. Everyone else is a question mark - they aren’t particularly special recruits, they haven’t shown much on the field, and they are appearing under a new defensive coordinator. Expect some struggle. They did just add UCF transfer tackle Cam Goode, so they have that going for them.
3. Ohio State Buckeyes
Zach Harrison, Tyleik Williams, J.T. Tuimoloau, Jack Sawyer
While the Buckeyes lost two starters from the line in Haskell Garrett and Tyreke Smith, they still return quite a bit and will hopefully show a lot more life up front (they were 42nd on FEI). Last year, the Buckeyes were surprisingly listless in the pass rush - Tyliek Williams is the leader in sacks returning, and he was a freshman defensive tackle who barely played. The wild card is new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who will attempt to Make The Buckeyes Play Defense Again. It’s tough to know what to expect this season, but that front line has 19 of a possible 20 Starz, so you have to expect some improvement given they have an actual plan on defense.
2. Iowa Hawkeyes
John Waggoner, Noah Shannon, Lee Logan, Joe Evans
Iowa should be strong up here. They were strong last year, finishing 5th on FEI. TWhile they do lose 2nd Team All B1G Zack VanValkenburg and his 15 TFLs, there is no shortage of options to replace him. Joe Evans and Lukas Van Ness will get first crack, as they tied for the team lead in sacks last year. Outside of VanValkenburg, they return everyone on the depth chart. Iowa is going to work to replace some guys on the back end, but up front they should be extremely solid.
1. Wisconsin Badgers
Rodas Johnson, Keeanu Benton, Isaiah Mullens
Wiscy was gangbusters on defense last year (3rd on FEI), and should be in great shape again, despite losing veteran end Matt Henningsen. Planetary object Keeanu Benton decided to give college another try, giving Wisconsin one of the top nose tackles in the country. Joining him is fifth year senior Isaiah Mullens. Wisconsin linemen mostly exist to free up their linebackers, and we should expect another season of linebackers running free. The third man is undetermined, though the Wisconsin smarts seems to think Rodas Johnson will be the guy. Johnson is from Columbus, Ohio, so if he works out Badger fans can thank the Buckeye state. We will see if the Buckeyes look longingly at the Badger defense again this season.