In college football, offense gets all the glory. But most coaches will tell you, defense wins championships.
The Frontier Conference is no different. It seems every year, almost every team in the league has a dangerous and explosive offense. But it’s the teams that can stop those explosive offenses from lighting up the scoreboard, it’s those teams which have the best chance to claim the Frontier Conference championship come November.
Yes, defense is at a premium in the Frontier, and good defensive lineman, those guys that can speed rush and get to the quarterback, or the big nasty's in the middle, the guys who can plug the gaps and slow down a running back, those players are certainly at a premium.
And though top-notch defensive linemen may be hard to come by at the NAIA level, the Frontier has them, and has had plenty of them in the past. And the 2014 season won’t be any different.
At times, defense has been a sore spot for the Montana State University-Northern Lights. And in 2014, the Lights will be a relatively young defense. But they certainly won’t be lacking for talent, including on the front line.
Northern returns sophomore defensive end Tyler Craig, and though 2014 will be just his second season as a starter, the Lights will count on him to anchor a new-look defensive line. As a freshman, Craig led the Lights and was tied for 10th in the Frontier with four sacks. He also paced the MSU-N defense with eight tackles for loss. Now, with a full season at defensive end under his belt, Craig could quickly become one of the elite pass rushers in the Frontier.
“Tyler Craig is a really good football player,” MSU-N head coach Mark Samson said. “He’s only a sophomore, but he’s already done some really good things, and I just think he’ll continue to get better and better.”
Craig will be Northern’s only returning starter on the defensive line. But senior tackle Will DeVos is another player Samson said could blossom this season. DeVos has played in a backup role at tackle in recent seasons, but he’ll look to anchor Northern’s run defense as a starter in 2014.
Here’s a look at the rest of the Frontier Conference and its top defensive linemen.
Statistically, UM-Western senior Phil Selin is the top returning defensive end in the Frontier. He earned Second-Team All-Conference honors a season ago, totaling a Frontier-best nine sacks to go along with 12 tackles for loss. But don’t tell Carroll College ends Bryan Graupman and Sean Condon that Selin is the top pass rusher in the league.
Together, the senior tandem of speed rushers totaled 15.5 sacks a year ago, and they are easily the most feared defensive end tandem in the Frontier. They also anchor what should be a stout Carroll front four, which also includes senior Jeff Gueck, who will make some noise this coming season.
Rocky Mountain College has had an impressive array of defensive linemen over the years, and 6-1, 285-pound sophomore tackle Brendan Johnson is no exception. Johnson earned All-Conference honors a season ago.
Eastern Oregon returns a workhorse up front in lineman Kyle Lanoue. Lanoue can play both end and tackle for the Mounties, and as a freshman a year ago, he totaled four sacks and seven tackles for loss. At Southern Oregon, defensive end Daniel Breaux is also back for his senior season. The Raiders lost some star power on defense from a year ago, but Breaux brings plenty of punch up front. As an All-Conference performer a season ago, Breaux totaled three sacks, while Grant Torgerson has the makings of a stout run stopper for the Raiders.
Note: This is the third installment in a series of breakdowns of the upcoming Frontier Conference football season. Next up will be a look at the top returning running backs in the Frontier Monday, followed by a preview of the best defensive backs in the league Wednesday.