A team without a talented defensive line is a team that will never find defensive consistency. They will chase it like a shadow, never coming close to catching it.
For those teams with a dominating defensive line, however, they will always have a shot at victory.
The top of every conference will generally feature the best defensive lines each division has to offer, and this is rarely a coincidence.
Which teams will find themselves at the top of the standings this year? Pay attention to the teams with the best defensive lines.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
The Buckeyes are replacing three NFL defensive ends and their last two starting nose tackles, and yet here they still are at the top of this list. Why? Because they have Nick Bosa and nobody else does. Bosa was a First-Team All-American last year and the Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year. He’s not all they have, of course. Defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones is back for a fourth season before he becomes a likely first-round draft pick. On the opposite side of Bosa is sophomore Chase Young and junior Jonathon Cooper, both of whom were 5-star prospects. At the nose will be Robert Landers, Davon Hamilton, and No. 1 JUCO signee Antwuan Jackson. It’s a very deep group — and none of them are seniors. A constant rotation keeps them all fresh deep into a game and deep into the season.
2. Michigan Wolverines
Michigan returns two First-Team All-B1G defensive ends this year. Rashan Gary (Coach) and Chase Winovich (Media) both earned the honor last season and are expected to earn it again this year. Winovich finished third in the B1G in sacks (8.0) and first in tackles for loss (18.5), while Gary chipped in with 6.0 sacks and 12.0 tackles for loss. Behind them is unproven depth, but they’ve been around long enough at this point that they must be able to provide breathers for the starters. On the inside, Bryan Mone (5 starts) and Aubrey Solomon (4 starts) return. Solomon played as a true freshman last year and showed some intriguing promise. The defensive tackle depth is a lot like the defensive end depth — it needs to become much more productive. Losing Maurice Hurst is huge, which makes it imperative for younger players to emerge.
3. Michigan State Spartans
Michigan State brings back three starters from the defensive line, but more importantly they seem to have returned to their blue collar approach up front. Third-Team All-B1G defensive end Kenny Willekes led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks. He is a former walk-on. In the middle, juniors Raequan Williams and Mike Panusiak have started the last 16 games for the Spartans. They are a reliable duo who helped Michigan State lead the B1G in rush defense (95.3 ypg). Sophomore Jacub Panusiak looks like the other defensive end, but he will have help from some veterans. In perhaps a bit of blessing in disguise, Jacub Panusiak and Willekes dealt with injuries this spring, which allowed MSU to build some depth throughout the line.
4. Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State only returns one full-time starter. Junior defensive end Shareef Miller started 12 games last year, leading the Nittany Lions in tackles for loss (11.0) and sacks (5.0). He was named Third-Team All-Big Ten last year by the media. Junior Ryan Bucholz started six games at defensive end last season, but managed just 2.5 tackles for loss and a half a sack. Sophomore Shaka Toney picked up 4.0 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss as a freshman. Defensive tackle is the larger area of concern for Penn State this year. Robert Windsor started one game in 2016, while Kevin Givens has started 11 games over his first two seasons. Givens has shown an ability to get into the backfield at times. Sophomore defensive end Shane Simmons was a top-flight recruit who flashed as a freshman. Expect more from him this year.
5. Maryland Terrapins
The Maryland defensive line could be pretty interesting this year despite the return of just one starter. That starter is senior defensive tackle Mbi Tanyi, who picked up 20 tackles and 2 tackles for loss last year. Around him, however, is where the interesting possibilities begin. Defensive end Jesse Aniebonam returns after missing last year due to an injury in the season opener. In 2016, he started six games and led the team with 14 tackles for loss. He is back and he is bringing expectations with him. Speaking of expectations, Auburn transfer Byron Cowart is expected to be at the other defensive end spot. Cowart, who was the No. 1 prospect in the 2015 class per ESPN, had two unproductive seasons at Auburn, but had a strong spring for Maryland. Sophomore defensive tackle Adam McLean started once last year. He had offers from plenty of national powers. Depth is a concern, but there are some possibilities overall.
6. Indiana Hoosiers
Indiana head coach Tom Allen is a defensive guy, and he’s going to need to be in order to get the Hoosier defensive line in order. Only one starter returns from last season. Defensive tackle Jacob Robinson has 19 starts to his credit, and finished with 7.0 tackles for loss last year. (Of course, half of those TFLs came against Illinois.) Senior defensive end Nile Sykes missed the season last year, but put up 18 tackles and 7.0 tackles for loss in 2016. Sophomore defensive end Allen Stallings had a productive freshman season, starting once and notching 3.0 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Senior nose tackle Mike Barwick has played in a bunch of games. They also added Syracuse graduate transfer Kayton Samuels who started 24 games with the Orange. The Hoosiers have allowed 160 yards rushing per game in each of the last two seasons. That number may take a hit this year.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Following spring ball, Rutgers head coach Chris Ash said he was pleased with his defense, but had concerns about his depth on the defensive line. Those concerns are well reasoned. The Scarlet Knights essentially return two starters up front, but neither player was able to start all 12 games last year. Senior defensive end Kevin Wilkins finished second on the team with 5.5 tackles for loss, but failed to tally a single sack. Senior tackle Jon Bateky started eight games last year, but he was active enough to pick up 33 tackles. The other tackle spot is up for grabs, as is the rest of the two deep. Sophomore Elorm Lumor started three games last year, so while he is young, he does have experience. Rutgers allowed 181.8 yards rushing per game last year and finished 12th in sacks (16.0). The current defensive linemen combined for five sacks in 2017.