Ranking the Big Ten linebackers

While some other positions take a major hit in the Big Ten, the linebacker spot is one that remains incredibly strong. Several of the top players return from a year ago, plus several more promising young stars like Michigan’s Jake Ryan will look to emerge among the elite. See how the conference’s top linebackers stack up.

Ranking the Big Ten Linebackers
1. Chris Borland, Jr. – Wisconsin

Named Big Ten Freshman of the year in 2009, injuries forced Borland off the field for a season, before he returned to top form in 2011. Last year, he earned first-team All-Big Ten recognition from both the media and conference coaches. A truly complete player, he stood out as run stopper, pass defender and pass rusher. On the season, he had 143 tackles, including 19 stops for a loss, broke up five passes, intercepting two and forced five fumbles.
2. Mike Taylor, Sr. – Wisconsin

Combining with Borland for another season on the conference’s top linebacking corps, Taylor is an impressive player in his own right. He led the Big Ten in tackles last season, making 150 stops, including nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Like his teammate, he made impacts in other ways as well, breaking up three passes, intercepting two, forcing three fumbles and recovering two. His knack for always being around the ball earned him first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media along with second-team recognition from the conference coaches.
3. Jonathan Brown, Jr. – Illinois

As a true sophomore last fall, Brown emerged as one of the top linebackers in the conference, earning second-team All-Big Ten notice from the media and honorable mention recognition from the coaches. He finished the season ranked sixth in the Big Ten in total tackles with 109 stops. More impressively, he finished second in the conference and sixth nationally in tackles for a loss with 19.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also intercepted one pass, forced a fumble and recovered two.
4. Gerald Hodges, Sr. – Penn State

Last season, Hodges made 106 tackles, including 10 for a loss to earn first-team All-Big Ten recognition from the coaches and second-team honors from the media. We have Hodges a little lower than most would be inclined to rank him for two reasons. First, any good linebacker at Penn State gets an automatic pass due to the tradition there, but his actual accomplishments really do warrant the lower ranking. Second, he is one of only four returning starters for the Nittany Lions, which will make his job much tougher this fall and could certainly affect production.
5. Denicos Allen, Jr. – Michigan State

A former high school safety, Allen made the switch to linebacker prior to his redshirt freshman season in 2010. Assuming the role of starter for the first time last fall, he made an immediate impact, earning second-team All-Big Ten recognition from the media and honorable mention notice from the conference coaches. While he did not put up huge numbers in total tackles, with just 83 stops, he proved to be a menace behind the line of scrimmage, making 18.5 tackles for a loss and an impressive 11 sacks.
Others to watch
James Morris, Jr. – Iowa

An Academic All-Big Ten honoree, Morris added recognition for his accomplishments on the field last fall, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten notice from both the coaches and media. He finished the year ranked fifth in total tackles with 110 stops. Just a true sophomore last season, he should only continue to get better with experience.
Max Bullough, Jr. – Michigan State

Leading all Spartans in tackles a year ago, Bullough continued the proud family tradition in East Lansing as a third generation member of the Green and White. On the year, he had 89 tackles, including seven for a loss, two forced fumbles and one interception. Just a true sophomore and first year starter in 2011, he should continue to be force in the Big Ten for years to come.
Jake Ryan, So. – Michigan

Ryan did not have the gaudy stats or accolades of the other players mentioned on the list. In fact, he only made 37 tackles all last season. What he brings to the table, however, is a natural instinct and an incredibly disruptive defensive presence that seems to consistently cause problems for opposing teams. While he did not put up huge overall numbers a year ago, he made 11 tackles for a loss, forced one fumble and recovered two. Doing that as just a redshirt freshman, he is certainly one that Big Ten offenses will be wary of facing this fall.

 

 
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