Athlon Sports ranks the best Big 12 linebackers of the BCS Era.
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.
In the Big 12, maybe more so than anywhere else, having great linebackers has appeared to correlate directly to big time success. The Sooners had a run with names like Calmus, Lehman and Marshall and it led to a national title. This league’s linebackers have won four Butkus Awards — more than any other major conference — to go with a pair of Bednariks, a Nagurski, Lambert and Lombardi award as well. Texas, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Nebraska and even Kansas were at their best when they had a star linebacker to lean on. Additionally, fans will find a host of players from teams no longer in the Big 12. Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri all had stars at the linebacker position during the BCS Era.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Derrick Johnson, Texas (2002-04)
The big-play machine from Waco, Texas, was one of the greatest linebackers in Longhorns program history. He finished his career with 458 tackles, 65.0 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, nine interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. Johnson was a three-time All-Big 12 selection and a two-time All-American. He capped his career with the Butkus, Lambert and Nagurski national awards as well as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors before being taken 15th overall by the Chiefs in the 2005 NFL Draft. He helped build a team that went on to win the national title the year after he departed and was a part of a Cotton and Rose Bowl championship teams.
2. Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-01)
A three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a two-time All-American, Calmus is one of the most important Sooners of all-time. As a senior in 2001 he won the Butkus and Lambert Awards for the nation's top linebacker, but his play in '00 will go down in Oklahoma history. He led the vaunted Sooners defense to a perfect record and spearheaded arguably the greatest defensive performance of the BCS Era by holding Florida State to zero offensive points in the BCS National Championship Game. Calmus was a third-round pick in the 2002 NFL Draft.
3. Dat Nguyen, Texas A&M (1995-98)
Arguably the most decorated Texas A&M defender, Nguyen was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and his 517 career tackles are an Aggies record. His career in College Station culminated in 1998 with a historic and adorned senior season. Nguyen was named the Bednarik, Lombardi and Lambert trophy winner and earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors as well. He led Texas A&M to the only Big 12 championship it would ever win that year as well — its last conference crown of any kind. The unanimous All-American was a third-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys in 2004.
4. Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03)
The Tulsa, Okla., native played in all 12 games for the 2000 BCS National Champions as a freshman. He was a three-year starter for the Sooners after that, posting 117 tackles and 19.0 TFL and earning the Butkus and Bednarik Awards while leading Oklahoma back to the BCS national title game in 2003. He was a two-time All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and was a second-round pick of the Lions in the 2004 NFL Draft. Oklahoma was 48-6 during Lehman’s four years and won two Big 12 titles.
5. Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10)
After an up and down but promising first two seasons, Miller exploded onto the scene as a junior in 2009. He led the nation in sacks with 17.0 and posted 21.0 tackles for loss for a team that lost seven games. As a senior, despite being slowed by an ankle injury, Miller posted 10.5 sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss en route to the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker for a team that won nine games. Miller was a two-time, first-team All-American and All-Big 12 pick and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos.
6. Mark Simoneau, Kansas State (1996-99)
His long career in Manhattan gives him the edge over another Kansas State Defensive Player of the Year. He posted 400 career tackles and 52.0 tackles for loss, becoming the first Bill Snyder-coached player to be inducted into the NCAA Hall of Fame. Simoneau was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American on his second 11-1 team as a senior. In all, Kansas State went 42-7 during Simoneau’s four seasons.
7. Arthur Brown, Kansas State (2011-12)
Brown originally signed with and played for Miami for his first two seasons but transferred back home to Kansas in the spring of 2010. After landing at middle linebacker, Brown was a workhorse for Bill Snyder. He topped 100 tackles in both seasons, posted 16.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and three picks for a Wildcats team that lost only once and won the ’12 Big 12 championship. He was first-team All-Big 12 in both seasons, was an All-American as a senior, won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a second-round pick of the Ravens in 2013.
8. Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri (2006-09)
The elite tackler from Mizzou posted three straight 100-tackle seasons, finishing with 406 total stops, 44.0 tackles for loss and 12.0 career sacks. His 155-tackle season in 2008 led the nation and was a leader on what many consider the best two-year run in school history between 2006-07. Mizzou went 38-16 and he was a three-time All-Big 12 pick and was a part of the Tigers' only two Big 12 title game appearances.
9. Rufus Alexander, Oklahoma (2003-06)
The star Sooners tackler was a three-time All-Big 12 pick, twice landing on the first team as a junior and senior. He posted 118 tackles, 12.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks en route to co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in ’06. Oklahoma played in three BCS bowls, including the ’03 BCS title game, during his four-year career and Alexander was an All-American in his final season.
10. Jordon Dizon, Colorado (2004-07)
Dizon was the first true freshman in school history to start in the season opener at inside linebacker. He set school records for tackles by a freshman (82), tackles in a game (22) and led the nation in tackling as a senior (2007). He was a first-team All-Big 12 pick twice, a consensus All-American and won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year (’07). The Buffs went to three bowl games in Dizon’s four years — the last three bowls Colorado has been to.
Just missed the cut:
11. Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma (2005-07)
From a talent standpoint, few were as gifted as Lofton. He was a consensus All-American in his final season with 157 tackles, 10.5 for loss and three interceptions as a junior. He led Oklahoma to two Big 12 titles and two Fiesta Bowl berths but the Sooners lost 10 games in the three years Lofton was in Norman.
12. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma (2008-11)
Few players can claim that they led their team in tackling four consecutive years but that is what Lewis did in Norman. He started all 54 games of his career, posting 451 tackles, 32.5 for loss, 8.0 sacks and nine interceptions. He was Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and then a three-time All-Big 12 pick following that. He led the Sooners to the BCS title game, two Big 12 titles and a 42-12 record during his career.
13. Barrett Ruud, Nebraska (2001-04)
The star tackler started 37 of his 50 career games and finished his career with 432 tackles, 50.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks and six forced fumbles. He earned All-Big 12 honors in each of his last three seasons and was an All-American in 2004 as a senior. He was a second-round pick of the Bucs in the 2005 NFL Draft.
14. Lavonte David, Nebraska (2010-11)
He played just two seasons in Lincoln and only one in the Big 12 but he was simply a stud. David was a two-time all-league pick in both the Big 12 and Big Ten and won Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten LB of the Year honors in 2011, David started all 27 career games and set the Nebraska single-season tackles record (152) in 2010.
15. Torrance Marshall, Oklahoma (1999-00)
Known for his Orange Bowl MVP award in the national title win over Florida State, Marshall continued Bob Stoops' early run of elite linebackers. Marshall had a knack for making huge plays in key situations and helped Oklahoma win its first national title since 1985.
Best of the rest:
16. A.J. Klein, Iowa State (2009-12)
Posted three straight seasons with at least 100 tackles and won Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011.
17. Nick Reid, Kansas (2002-05)
He posted 416 tackles and 41.0 for loss and scored the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award in 2005.
18. Sergio Kindle, Texas (2006-09)
Was an All-American for unbeaten team that lost to Alabama in the BCS national title game.
19. Jeff Kelly, Kansas State (1995-98)
Was a consensus All-American in his final season after back-to-back 11-win seasons.
20. Jake Knott, Iowa State (2009-12)
He posted 346 tackles and was a two-time All-Big 12 honoree.