2019-07-10 18:00:571 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
-by Amanda Pavelka, Contributing Writer; Image: Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes. (Image Source: MSU Athletics)
Bloomington, IN—Here are the top four impact newcomers for the UConn Huskies:
1. Michigan State Spartans- It’s the same story, just a different year for Sparty’s historically-dominant defensive line. The Big Ten opponents thought they may have a chance against Michigan State in 2019 until Kenny Willekes’s NFL plans were put on hold after he suffered a broken leg in the Redbox Bowl. Willekes finished with 20.5 tackles for loss to go along with 8.5 sacks. With the 2018 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year ready to roll for his last year of eligibility and every other starting defensive lineman returning, Michigan State will be the defensive line to beat. MSU starts as No. 6 nationally in Athlon’s preseason ranking and No. 2 in the Big Ten. Phil Steele has Michigan State’s DL at No. 4 nationally in his preseason rankings.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes- Going into the new era, with Ryan Day replacing Urban Meyer as OSU head coach, Ohio State continues their elite status going into the 2019 season as No. 1 Defensive Line in the Big Ten according to Athlon. The magazine has the Buckeyes’ DL at No. 5 nationally, even with the loss of Nick Bosa and Dre’Mont Jones to the NFL. The Buckeye DL relies on Chase Young to add on to his sophomore breakout season performance, a team-leading 9.5 sacks. The 6-5, 265-pound end was chosen Preseason All-American Team by both Athlon and Steele. This is not DL coach and assistant coach Larry Johnson’s first rodeo developing a successful team. With seven of the top 11 men returning, Ohio State’s DL will without a doubt the rest of the B1G a hard time this season. There’s no getting lucky there.
3. Penn State Nittany Lions- Penn State is another one of those teams that will really give the East a run for its money on defense. The Nittany Lions’ defensive line is led by DE Yetur Gross-Matos, Jr. and tops preseason polls at No. 7 nationally (Athlon), No. 3 in the Big Ten (Athlon), and No. 9 nationally (Steele). The 6-5, 265-pound defensive end finished his sophomore breakout season with eight sacks and 20 TFLs. As a result, PSU led the FBS with 3.6 sacks per game and finished the 2018 season fourth in TFLs, averaging 8.2 per game. With that being said, not all players will be returning to the Penn State DL for the 2019 season. Filling the cleats of two-time 3rd team Big Ten DE Shareef Miller and DT Kevin Givens will be a pair of juniors who are solid candidates— DT Antonio Shelton and DE Shaka Toney, backed up by a pack of highly-touted Nittany Lions. As for the upcoming season, consider the Penn State squad amongst the strongest in the nation— another elite DL Big Ten teams must be prepared to face.
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