Photo courtesy of Buffalo athletics

One of the toughest, yet arguably most important position groups in the country is the defensive line.

Preseason position group rankings are extremely tricky because of the factors involved. The coaching at the particular school, along with the prestige of that school or coach, is critical when analyzing. Returning production is one of my big indicators because it shows who knows what it takes at the collegiate level.

Incoming recruits are taken with a grain of salt, because many don’t live up to these large expectations at the college football blue-bloods. Speed, intangibles, and other measurables are critical when trying to predict a position group as unpredictable as this.

In a six-part series, we’ll be looking at the five best defensive lines in college football for this upcoming 2020 college football season. Before we do that however, we’ll be looking at those who narrowly missed making the list and a potential sleeper.

Who Counts and Who Doesn’t

First off, there are some ground rules to distinguish who counts as a defensive lineman. The defensive game of football has changed, so the rover end/outside linebacker hybrid will only count if he’s listed as a defensive end or defensive lineman on the team’s official roster.

For example, Georgia linebacker Nolan Smith, who is a tremendous pass rusher (15 pressures in limited snaps) will not count because of his positional designation. A guy like Miami’s Gregory Rousseau is listed as a defensive lineman on the Hurricanes’ official roster, so he will count. With further ado, here’s a look at those who just missed making the list.

Honorable Mention

Alabama: Alabama not making the list may come as a shock. The Crimson Tide are losing Raekwon Davis to the NFL Draft. LaBryan Ray and Christian Barmore are all incredibly talented.

Georgia: Talent certainly isn’t an issue in Athens, but Georgia ranked just seventh in the SEC in sacks last season. There is reason to believe the Bulldogs could be even better up front. Watch out for Jordan Davis and Malik Herring.

Oregon: Oregon led the Pac-12 in sacks last season and could do so again. The Ducks have one of the nation’s most talented defenses. The guy to watch up front will be sophomore defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

Pittsburgh: Jaylen Twyman and Patrick Jones combined for 19 sacks last season and both return for 2020. Pittsburgh led the ACC and finished second nationally in sacks last season. The Panthers also ranked in the top 10 nationally with 103 tackles for loss.

Washington: Jimmy Lake was promoted from defensive coordinator to head coach, but don’t expect a drop-off on that side of the ball. Despite ranking just seventh in the Pac-12 in tackles for loss last season, there is a ton of talent defensively. Defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike headlines the defensive front.

The Sleeper

Buffalo. Yes, the Bulls out of the MAC. The Bulls return two defensive linemen that were among the best in all of college football. Defensive ends Malcolm Koonce and Taylor Riggins are worth the watch for all football fans in 2020.

Koonce is a guy who ended with a pass-rush grade near the top 5 of all edge rushers last year, according to Pro Football Focus. As far as returning production, Koonce is only behind Miami’s Quincy Roche as returners in the pass-rush department. 24 percent of the time, Koonce won his pass-rush battle which was fifth in the FBS.

Riggins is a dynamic pass-rusher as well. He was rated in the top 20 at his position last year and tied with Iowa’s AJ Epenesa, according to the grades. He has had two productive years at Buffalo. Add in Koonce on the other side and Buffalo becomes a dangerous place for MAC quarterbacks.

This defense should be a force to be reckoned with come 2020. Considering the competition, 2020 could be a memorable year for the Bulls in the MAC.