Power Ranking the Top 10 Defensive Lines in College Football 2013
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish proved last season that an elite defensive line can carry a team all the way to the national title game.
With eight starters on defense returning for Notre Dame, including most of its defensive line, the Fighting Irish will be poised to once again have one of the nation's top units.
South Carolina, led by superstar defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, will also have a terrific front line on the defensive side of the ball.
Ultimately, the defensive line sets the entire tone for a defense. If they can get good penetration, then offenses will have trouble moving the ball all game. But if they get dominated, then the linebackers and secondary are left to pick up the slack.
With the 2013 season just a few months away, here are the country's top 10 defensive lines:
10. Ole Miss Rebels
The Ole Miss Rebels, a team on the rise under the tutelage of Hugh Freeze, will have one of the country's top defensive lines in 2013.
The unit will be led by C.J. Johnson, the team's leading returner in sacks with 6.5 last season. But that's not all.
A stellar recruiting class that features Lavon Hooks and the consensus No. 1 recruit in the 2013 class, Robert Nkemdiche, will also make huge impacts for the defensive front line.
If Ole Miss wants to take another step forward in 2013 and crack the top half of the SEC standings, then the defensive line will have to live up to its expectations.
9. Texas Longhorns
If the Texas Longhorns want to make a resurgence in the Big 12 in 2013, the defense as a whole will have to perform better than it has the past few seasons.
And it starts with Jackson Jeffcoat and the defensive line in Austin. Jeffcoat suffered an injury that sidelined him for the season after just six starts in 2012. His return will be huge for the Longhorns.
Zeke Riser, a transfer from Houston will also make a huge impact. He's had 55 tackles over the past two years.
8. Stanford Cardinal
Ben Gardner, one of the best defensive ends in the country last season turned down the NFL and is returning to Stanford this year.
Last season, Gardner registered 7.5 sacks, and that number is sure to go up in 2013.
Other players that will play huge roles on the defensive line for the Cardinal include fellow defensive end Henry Anderson, who had 5.5 sacks and 51 tackles in 2012, and nose tackle David Parry.
The Cardinal are going through a rebuilding phase on offense with the introduction of quarterback Kevin Hogan. If Stanford wants to get momentum early in the season, it will have to come from the defense. And it will be the front line that sets the tone.
7. Virginia Tech Hokies
The one staple in Blacksburg the past few seasons has been the play of the defensive line.
Behind defensive end James Gayle, who had five sacks last season, the Hokies ranked 29th in the country last year in rush defense and 19th in quarterback sacks.
According to Phil Steele, the combined stats of the returning players for Virginia Tech's defensive line include 500 career tackles, 56 sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss.
6. South Florida Bulls
The South Florida Bulls have always had one of the best defensive lines in the country, dating back to the days of Jason Pierre-Paul. 2013 will be no different.
Defensive end Ryne Giddins will be the star of this group. He's totaled 12.5 sacks over the last three seasons. Notre Dame transfer Aaron Lynch, who's ranked as the No. 1 defensive end prospect in the 2016 NFL draft, will also have a huge impact.
Last season, the Bulls gave up just 150 yards per game on the ground. While that number isn't spectacular, it's not bad either considering nearly everybody from last year's unit is returning.
5. Florida Gators
Last season, the Florida Gators' defensive line was one of the most dominant in the country. They finished fifth in the country in total defense and allowed just 95 rushing yards per game. The unit also racked up 30 sacks.
Now with Dominique Easley returning and Ronald Powell set to join the lineup, the Gators should have another dominant defensive line in 2013.
Last season, Easley recorded four sacks and 26 tackles. He'll be the one to set the tone for a unit that is looking to make it back to a BCS bowl game.
4. TCU Horned Frogs
Devonte Fields, one of the nation's best defensive ends and last year's Big 12 Freshman of the Year, will be the anchor of this unit. He had 10 sacks and 53 tackles in 2012.
However, his 2013 season is not off to a good start, as he will be suspended for the team's first two games due to a violation of team rules.
Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson are also two high-quality defensive tackles that will have a huge impact in 2013 in stopping the run. Last season, the Horned Frogs gave up just over 100 yards per game rushing. That ranked 10th in the nation.
3. USC Trojans
Despite being a freshman last season, Leonard Williams racked up eight sacks and 64 tackles. In 2013, Williams will be joined by true freshman Kenny Bigelow, a 6'3", 295 pound defensive tackle, to form one of the best young defensive lines in the country.
Other top returners for the Trojans include Morgan Breslin, who had 13 sacks at defensive end last season, and George Uko, a defensive tackle with five sacks last season.
The Trojans' defense last season was atrocious as a whole, ranking just 60th in total defense. However, the front line in 2013 will give USC a chance to redeem itself on the defensive side of the ball.
2. South Carolina Gamecocks
Jadeveon Clowney almost single-handedly makes South Carolina's defensive line one of the most elite in the country.
Clowney is considered to be in the running for the top pick in next year's NFL draft, and for good reason. In his first two years as a Gamecock, Clowney has recorded a whopping 21 sacks.
Plus, who can forget that hit he had in his team's bowl game against Michigan last season?
However, Clowney also has some quality support in the interior of the defensive line, as defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles had 38 tackles, including eight for a loss, last season.
Ultimately, South Carolina will be defined by its defensive line in 2013, which is one of the best units in all of college football.
1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Ranked as the top defensive line by Phil Steele with six of the top seven players returning to the trenches from last year's team, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish possess the nation's best defensive line in 2013.
The unit will be led by Stephon Tuitt, a defensive end that earned first-team All-American last year with 12 sacks.
Louis Nix III is also one of the best defensive tackles in the country and will be the perfect complement to Tuitt.
If Notre Dame wants to return to a BCS bowl in 2013, the defensive line will have to live up to the extremely high expectations they have on them this season.