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Top 10 ACC Linebackers of the BCS Era

Luke Kuechly

The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.

The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.

So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.

The list of elite linebackers who almost played in the ACC is remarkable. Miami’s Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams played in the years just before the Hurricanes joined the league. That doesn’t mean there weren’t elite tacklers. What is interesting, however, is the best the ACC has had to offer comes from places like Maryland and Boston College rather than Florida State or Clemson.

Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.

1. E.J. Henderson, Maryland (1999-02)
Henderson left Maryland with multiple NCAA records and numerous awards and honors. He owns the career tackles per game record (12.5), career solo tackles per game (8.8) and the single-season unassisted tackle record with 135 in 2002. That year, Henderson won his second ACC Defensive Player of the Year award as well as the Butkus, Lambert and Bednarik Awards nationally. He was a two-time All-American, Chick-fil-A Bowl MVP, is second all-time in ACC history with 62.5 career tackles for loss and 11th all-time with 473 tackles. Henderson was a second-round pick by the Vikings in 2003.

2. Luke Kuechly, Boston College (2009-11)
Tackling. Machine. That is really all that needs to be said about the Boston College star defender. He was second nationally with 158 tackles as just a freshman, led the nation in tackles with 183 as a sophomore and led the world again in stops with 191 as a junior. So in just three seasons, Kuechly set the BC and ACC career tackle records en route to numerous awards. He was a two-time All-American, ACC Defensive Player of the Year, a first-round NFL Draft pick by Carolina in 2012 and won the Butkus, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott and Lambert national trophies.

3. D’Qwell Jackson, Maryland (2002-05)
The undersized tackler played in all 14 games as a freshman, started all 11 games as a sophomore and was an All-American as a junior and senior. He was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2005 after 137 tackles and four sacks. Jackson finished with 447 tackles, good for fourth in school history and 19th in ACC history — seventh among all players during the BCS Era. Jackson was a second-round pick of the Browns in the 2006 NFL Draft.

4. Aaron Curry, Wake Forest (2005-08)
Curry was a freshman All-American after starting 10 games in his first season. He posted 83 tackles as a sophomore and tied an NCAA record with three interceptions returned for touchdowns as a junior. As a senior, he won the Butkus Award, was an All-American and registered 105 tackles. Curry finished with 331 tackles, 44.5 for loss, 9.5 sacks, six interceptions and five forced fumbles in his career. He was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and in '06 helped lead Wake to its only BCS bowl berth and ACC title of the BCS Era.

5. Keith Adams, Clemson (1998-00)
He played in 35 games in three seasons for Clemson and became one of the most decorated tacklers in school history. Adams was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 when he led the league in tackles (16.0 per game), set the conference's single-season record for tackles for loss (33.0) and posted 16.0 sacks (third all-time). Adams was a two-time All-ACC selection and a first-team All-American. He finished his career 11th in league history with 54.0 tackles for loss and 22.0 career sacks.

6. Mark Herzlich, Boston College (2006-10)
Few players overcame as much during their college career as the Eagles' outside backer. He posted 110 tackles, 11.0 for loss, 2.5 sacks and six interceptions (two returned for scores) as a junior in 2008 en route to ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. However, Herzlich missed the entire ’09 season while battling a rare form of bone cancer. Yet, after winning his battle with cancer, he returned to start 13 games in 2010, winning the Ruby Award and Brian Piccolo Award. He finished his career with 314 tackles, 31.5 for loss, five sacks, 11 interceptions and seven forced fumbles.

7. Levar Fisher, NC State (1998-01)
The in-state talent started all four seasons for the Pack and it led to one of the most productive careers in NC State history. He is the Wolfpack’s all-time leading tackler with 492 stops — good for seventh all-time in ACC history. Fisher led the nation in tackles (15.1), was an All-American, a two-time, first-team All-ACC pick and won the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 2000. Fisher was a second-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.

8. Leroy Hill, Clemson (2001-04)
In 2003 as a junior, Hill led the league with 27.0 tackles for loss (third-best all-time in ACC history) and was named first-team All-ACC. He came back as a senior and earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors over Jackson, Antrel Rolle, Shawne Merriman and Darryl Tapp. Hill posted 106 tackles, 19.0 for loss and 8.0 sacks during his award-winning season. The two-time, first-team All-ACC pick was drafted in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft.

9. Tommy Polley, Florida State (1997-00)
The star linebacker was the most decorated Noles tackler during the BCS Era. During three consecutive runs to the BCS National Championship Game — including one title against Virginia Tech in ’99 — Polley earned back-to-back first-team All-ACC honors. He topped 100 tackles in both his ’99 and ’00 All-ACC seasons, finishing his career with 289 tackles. The three-year starter was a second-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.

10. Darryl Blackstock, Virginia (2002-04)
Right out of the gate, Blackstock established himself as one of the ACC’s best by setting a freshman record with 10 sacks. He finished his three-year career with 26.5 sacks, good for 14th all-time in league history. His 45 tackles for loss rank in the top 30 all-time as well. The ACC’s sack leader in 2004, Blackstock left school early and was a third-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Just missed the cut:

11. Alex Wujciak, Maryland (2007-10)
He started all three seasons he played (missing his first year with a torn ACL), posting at least 100 tackles in all three years. He was a second-team All-ACC pick as a sophomore when he registered 133 tackles and was a two-time, first-team selection as an upperclassman. Wujciak finished with 381 tackles, 22.0 tackles for loss and returned two of his four interceptions for touchdowns in just three seasons of ball.

12. Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi, Virginia Tech (2004-07)
They played on the same four teams, winning two ACC championships in 2004 and '07. The duo is considered the best to ever play together in Blacksburg and they will be forever connected in history. Both earned first-team All-ACC honors and they combined for over 700 tackles, 50.0 tackles for loss and 20.0 sacks.

13. Daryl Smith, Georgia Tech (2000-03)
A decade-long starter in the NFL, Smith was a four-year starter at Georgia Tech. In fact, he started 44 of his possible 46 career games in Atlanta. He finished his career with 383 tackles, 48.0 tackles for loss and 15 career sacks for a team that went to four straight bowl games with four straight winning records. He was eventually a second-round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.

14. Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech (2010-13)
Few players were better at getting after the quarterback in the ACC ever, let alone the BCS Era, than Tech’s Attaochu. His 31.5 career sacks rank fifth all-time in league history and are the most by any ACC defender during the BCS Era. He posted 196 career tackles and 43.5 TFL for a team that went to four straight bowls and won an Atlantic Division title in 2012.

15. Clint Sintim, Virgina (2005-08)
Sintim was the ACC’s Freshman of the Year in 2005 before earning back-to-back All-ACC honors as a junior and senior. He is second in Virginia history only to Chris Slade — who is the ACC's career leader with 40.0 sacks — with 27.0 sacks. Sintim's career sack total places him 13th all-time in ACC history.

Best of the rest:

16. Lawrence Timmons, Florida State (2004-06)
17. Cody Grimm, Virginia Tech (2006-09)
18. Ernie Sims, Florida State (2003-05)
19. Erin Henderson, Maryland (2005-07)
20. Jon Beason, Miami (2003-06)
21. Ryan Fowler, Duke (2000-03)
22. Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College (2010-13)
23. Buster Davis, Florida State (2003-06)
24. Michael Tauiliili, Duke (2005-08)
25. Stephen Tulloch, NC State (2003-05)
26. Geno Hayes, Florida State (2005-07)
27. Jon Abbate, Wake Forest (2004-06)
28. Kai Parham, Virginia (2003-06)
29. Dantonio Burnette, NC State (1999-02)
30. Ahmad Brooks, Virginia (2004-05)