As we count down the days to the 2019 College Football Season’s opening kickoff, we have given our thoughts on the best players in the Big XII at each position. So far, we have only offered our thoughts on the offensive position groups. Now, we turn our focus to the defensive side of the ball. Without further ado, here are our picks for the Big XII’s best defensive linemen.
Big XII’s Best Defensive Linemen
Before jumping into the top five Big XII defensive linemen, we want to mention a few players who deserve honorable mention. First, TCU’s Corey Bethley deserves attention here. After his inclusion in the 247Sports Freshman All-American list in 2017, Bethley made good on his potential in 2018, finishing the season with five sacks, good enough for tenth in the conference. Bethley also finished with 27 total tackles (9.5 behind the line of scrimmage). As a result, he earned an honorable mention on the All-Conference team in 2018. TCU will look to reassert itself in the Big XII this season, and they will rely heavily on Bethley’s presence to do so.
Next, we focus on West Virginia’s Dante Stills. Playing as a backup in former defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 did not afford Stills much opportunity to stuff the stat sheet. But Stills certainly stuffed the box and commanded attention of opposing offensive lines. In limited snaps, Stills netted 14 tackles and three sacks and forced two fumbles. Despite his limited statistical output, both ESPN and The Athletic named Stills to their Freshman All-American teams. He will be asked to produce much more in Vic Koenning’s defense that will likely feature four down linemen.
JaQuan Bailey – Iowa State
Iowa State finished each of the last two seasons with eight wins, the most for the program since a nine-win season in 2000 (and, before that, their last eight-win season happened in 1978). Its defensive line is a large part of the reason for that success. Rising senior JaQuan Bailey has steadily improved each of the past three seasons, and, if the Cyclones’ success will continue, Bailey will be counted on to help anchor the defensive front. In each of the past two seasons, Bailey was named to the All-Conference Team (Honorable Mention in 2017, and Second Team in 2018). He finished the 2018 season with 46 tackles, 14.5 of them for loss (good for sixth in the conference). Bailey also racked up eight sacks, finishing fourth in the Big XII.
Neville Gallimore – Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s defense was much maligned in 2018, and rightfully so. But one cannot blame Neville Gallimore for its shortcomings. Gallimore forced two fumbles to go along with his 50 tackles and three sacks. The 6-2, 330-pound redshirt senior has plenty of experience, and he will no doubt be called upon heavily in a revamped Sooner defense that hopes to prove its detractors wrong in 2019. Gallimore earned an Honorable Mention on the Big XII’s All-Conference team despite playing for a defense with very few bright spots. Look for his stock to improve in 2019.
Reggie Walker – Kansas State
The Bill Snyder era at Kansas State ended with the 2018 season. The Wildcats hired Chris Klieman to replace Snyder, and Klieman hired Wyoming’s Scottie Hazelton to run the defense. No doubt the Wildcats will need time to transition to the new staff and its own nuances. But that staff has a solid veteran in Reggie Walker to lead its defensive line. The senior has played in 32 career games, and last season he finished first in the Big XII in force fumbles with four. His 7.5 sacks was also good enough for fifth in the conference. The FWAA named Walker to its Freshman All-American team in 2016, and he followed that with an appearance on the All-Conference Second Team in 2017. Walker should continue to improve in 2019, as he will be relied upon heavily to preserve as much continuity as possible during this transition season.
James Lynch – Baylor
Baylor has not played good football the last two seasons. There can be no doubt about that. But the Bears have certainly had their bright spots. James Lynch is one such beacon. Last year, in his sophomore season, Lynch imposed his will in the center of the line. He racked up 4.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 40 total tackles. His season was impressive enough to be named to the All-Conference First Team by the Associated Press. This followed his being named a Freshman All-American by ESPN in 2017. Many pundits expect the Bears to be much improved in 2019, and, if they do, Lynch will shoulder a large portion of the defensive burden.
Ray Lima – Iowa State
The Cyclones did not just have one of the Big XII’s top defensive lineman in 2018. They had two. And while Ray Lima’s season was not quite as impressive as Bailey’s statistically, Lima’s presence is simply impossible to ignore. He finished with 34 tackles, and 3.5 for loss. At 6’3, 302, he provided the anchor and commanded enough attention to allow Bailey to do the finesse work. But the blue-collar work Lima put in has not been ignored. He was named to the 2018 All-Conference Team by ESPN, and he was named to the Second Team by both the Big XII coaches and the Associated Press. But Lima has room to improve, and the rising senior should make even more waves in 2019.
The Best of the Rest
We have already given you our rankings for the best returning quarterbacks, wide receivers, and running backs. Through the rest of this month, we will offer our thoughts on the best in each other position group.