If Minnesota wants to challenge in the B1G West, it’s going to have to see some serious improvement defensively. A lot of that will come down to the performance of defensive lineman Boye Mafe, who many expect to have a big year in 2021.

Mafe played in five games for the Golden Gophers last season, totaling 27 tackles with 5.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks. He was also credited with 2 pass break-ups and 2 forced fumbles in a 3-4 campaign for Minnesota. He was an All-B1G honorable mention at the end of the year.

Pro Football Focus analyst Anthony Treash expects Mafe to make a big leap this fall, though. Not only can he be one of the top defensive ends in the B1G, the PFF analyst says he can perform as one of the best in the country.

“Boye Mafe has the capability of producing at a Top 5 level this fall,” Treash said.

Mafe has spent four seasons at Minnesota, redshirting in 2017 and playing each of the last three seasons. He’s appeared in 29 total games in those three seasons, making 53 tackles with 9.5 for loss and 8 sacks.

Minnesota’s defense struggled during the 2020 campaign, particularly early on. The Gophers ended the year allowing 30.1 points and 415.9 yards per game, ranking in the bottom half of the B1G in both categories.

Improvement defensively is a key to success for P.J. Fleck’s bunch in 2021 and Mafe will play a big role.

The Gophers open the year in difficult fashion, hosting Ohio State on Thursday, Sept. 2 at TCF Bank Stadium. Right off the bat, Minnesota’s defense will be tested against the B1G’s best offensive team.