Nazir Stackhouse Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Projecting Every Conference's Best D-Line in 2023 CFB Season

David Kenyon

Nothing is more important for a college football defense than finding ways to consistently create pressure.

There are many options to generate havoc, and coordinators unleash their personnel in different ways. But rolling out an active defensive line is the classic—and still reliable—method to cause disruption.

During the 2023 season, all 10 conferences will showcase high-end defensive lines. Three months out, we're aiming to predict one unit from each league that ends up the strongest.

The choices are subjective but based on returning production, incoming transfers and overall depth.

AAC: Tulane Green Wave

Patrick Jenkins Alika Jenner/Getty Images

Tulane has a pair of standouts and a whole lot of depth.

Patrick Jenkins co-led the Green Wave at nine tackles for loss in 2022, and Darius Hodges followed close behind with eight TFLs. They combined to make seven of those takedowns in Tulane's biggest games of the year: the AAC Championship Game and Cotton Bowl.

Eric Hicks Jr. started at tackle for last year's 11-win squad, and Tulane also leaned on Keith Cooper Jr., Devean Deal and Angelo Anderson for regular snaps. They totaled 69 tackles with 8.5 for loss.

Add in Adonis Friloux, who recorded 23 tackles in 2021 but missed last season with injury, and the Green Wave are loaded on the line.

ACC: Florida State Seminoles

Jared Verse David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As if Jared Verse's decision to forgo the 2023 NFL draft wasn't enough of a spark, Florida State reinforced the defensive line in a major way through the transfer portal.

Last year, Braden Fiske notched 12 tackles for loss at Western Michigan. Gilber Edmond led South Carolina with nine TFLs, and Darrell Jackson Jr. posted 4.5 more on the interior for Miami. And they're now complements to Verse, who racked up 17 stops for loss.

But that is simply the beginning.

Florida State also returns Fabien Lovett Sr., Dennis Briggs Jr., Patrick Payton, Malcolm Ray and Joshua Farmer. All five played significant snaps for the Seminoles in 2022.

No matter the official first-string group around Verse, FSU has no shortage of options along the defensive line.

Big Ten: Ohio State Buckeyes

Jack Sawyer Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Really, the Big Ten has a handful of excellent candidates. Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Penn State all deserve a shout.

We'll lean toward star power, though.

Ohio State is ready to showcase Jack Sawyer, Michael Hall Jr., Tyleik Williams and J.T. Tuimoloau. All of them are consensus early top-50 draft prospects for the 2024 cycle, per Mock Draft Database, and combined to make 27.5 tackles for loss in 2022.

Ty Hamilton will be a fixture of the tackle rotation with Hall and Williams. Caden Curry and Kenyatta Jackson also return in the reserve group, and the Buckeyes recently added Ole Miss transfer Tywone Malone.

Ohio State will face major competition to match this billing in such an impressive Big Ten, but the talent level is clear.

Big 12: Cincinnati Bearcats

Malik Vann AP Photo/Michael Woods

Cincinnati is set to give the Big 12 a rude welcome.

In the middle, the Bearcats have first-team All-AAC tackle Dontay Corleone and Jowon Briggs. Justin Wodtly added 31 tackles with 4.5 for loss as one of their primary backups.

Eric Phillips registered eight TFLs to lead UC's defensive linemen last season, and a familiar reinforcement is on the way. Malik Vann posted 8.5 takedowns for loss in 2021 but effectively missed the entire 2022 season. They'll be key disruptors opposite off-ball linebacker Daniel Grzesiak.

Thanks to this experienced group, the program's transition to a power conference will be a little more manageable.

C-USA: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

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Needing to replace Jordan Ferguson, who posted 17 TFLs last season, will not be painless. Middle Tennessee, though, is primed to return an experienced and intriguing defense.

And the leaders will be Zaylin Wood and Marley Cook.

Each one registered nine-plus tackles for loss in 2022, earning All-C-USA honorable mentions. Along with them, Quindarius Dunnigan tallied seven TFLs and should headline the edge-rushers this season.

One of Jordan Branch and Damonte Smith will start at tackle, and the other will be a valuable member of the rotation. They combined for 32 stops last season. Vincent Dinkins and Tyrece Edwards both attracted some praise from coordinator Scott Shafer this spring.

Middle Tennessee might not catch Liberty and Western Kentucky, but this defense should give the Blue Raiders a chance.

MAC: Miami Redhawks

Brian Ugwu Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Miami boasted the MAC's best run defense in 2022, and the entire unit is back for another year.

The starting group—from end to end—will likely include Brian Ugwu, Austin Ertl, Kobe Hilton and Caiden Woullard. Corey Suttle and Ty Wise played significant snaps last season, too. All six players contributed at least 24 tackles and combined for 31.5 stops for loss.

Nasir Washington and Anthony Collier didn't hold as large a role, but they offer more experienced depth.

Even if Miami doesn't reach its potential and contend for a MAC crown, the Redhawks should be a thorn defensively each week.

MWC: Wyoming Cowboys

Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Promising edge-rusher Oluwaseyi Omotosho left for Oregon State, but Wyoming still has a tremendous unit anyway.

Last season, both DeVonne Harris and Braden Siders collected 13.5 tackles for loss. Interior linemen Jordan Bertagnole, Gavin Meyer and Cole Godbout combined for 16 more, and Godbout even missed six games.

Reserve tackle Caleb Robinson has produced 31 tackles over the last two years, as well.

Because of Omotosho's departure, identifying depth at end is imperative. However, the Pokes had sizable expectations for Sabastian Harsh and Keelan Cox before injuries sidelined them in 2022.

Wyoming will be leaning on this defense to reach bowl eligibility for the third straight season.

Pac-12: Washington Huskies

Bralen Trice Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

UCLA is stacked at defensive end with Laiatu Latu and the Murphy twins, Gabriel and Grayson. Factor in tackle Jay Toia, and the Bruins have a legitimate claim to this spot.

Washington, however, has an intriguing blend of proven production, depth and upside.

Bralen Trice led the Huskies with 12 tackles for loss in 2022, and both Zion Tupuola-Fetui and Voi Tunuufi added five-plus apiece. They highlight the edge-rushing group, while Sioux Falls transfer Zach Durfee joined UW after posting 11.5 sacks with the Division II school last year.

Tuli Letuligasenoa and Faatui Tuitele are returning starters at tackle, along with top backups Ulumoo Ale and Jacob Bandes.

Washington, which ranked first in the Pac-12 in yards allowed per carry, should maintain high expectations for 2023.

SEC: Georgia Bulldogs

Mykel Williams Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Losing an All-American lineman? No problem. That's the nature of the Georgia machine these days.

Since the defense brings pressure from everywhere, the line doesn't need to carry UGA's havoc production. Nevertheless, the Dawgs can lean on second-team All-SEC tackle Nazir Stackhouse and Mykel Williams, who collected 6.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman.

Tramel Walthour, Zion Logue and Warren Brinson held regular roles in 2022, as did Chaz Chambliss when healthy. Those four—plus Tyrion Ingram-Dawkins—each had 10-plus tackles last year.

For best results, Georgia needs a third standout to emerge with Stackhouse and Williams. But it's not time to start doubting a program that is annually among the nation's stingiest defenses.

Sun Belt: Troy Trojans

Javon Solomon AP Photo/Butch Dill

The technicality in play is position labels. Troy labels Richard Jibunor and Javon Solomon as bandit linebackers, but Sun Belt voting considers them defensive linemen.

Tomato, tomato. Potato, potato. They are excellent.

Solomon earned first-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2021 and third-team recognition in 2022. Jibunor landed third- and second-team status, respectively, and T.J. Jackson joined them as a first-teamer in 2022—a season in which the trio combined to record 34 tackles for loss.

Luis Medina is set to return from an injury-shortened year, while starting defensive tackle Buddha Jones is back. AJ Pierce added 3.5 stops for loss in his backup role.

Troy has a terrific chance to repeat as Sun Belt champions, and this impressive front line is a major reason for it.


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