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Top 10 Big Ten Linebackers of the BCS Era

Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State Buckeyes

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 Big Ten has had some serious tradition and talent when it comes to the linebacker position. This conference has always favored the run and therefore has created some seriously decorated tacklers in the process. Penn State is Linebacker U but Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa each have their own long track record of producing top flight linebackers. Here are the 10 best to play in the Big Ten during the BCS Era:

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

1. LaVar Arrington, Penn State (1997-99)
Few college players were as intimidating as the rabid Nittany Lions linebacker. Arrington was an elite leader who helped Penn State to a 28-9 record during his three-year tenure in Happy Valley. He was named as the Butkus and Lambert Award winner as the nation’s top linebacker and was the recipient of the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation’s top defensive player after 72 tackles, 20 for a loss, nine sacks and two blocked kicks in 1999. He was a consensus All-American and is credited with arguably the signature defensive play of the BCS Era when he leapt over the Illinois offensive line on 4th-and-1 to secure the win. Arrington consistently delivered crushing blows and wound up as the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by the Redskins.

2. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08)
Few players in the nation were as decorated, productive, talented and successful as the Minneapolis native. Laurinaitis won the Butkus, Nagurski, two Lambert Awards and two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards while being a three-time All-American. He posted three straight seasons of at least 115 tackles and helped Ohio State win a share of four Big Ten titles, including two trips to the BCS National Championship Game. The Buckeyes' tackler was taken in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.

3. Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06)
As a junior, the Nittany Lions tackler was recognized as the nation’s top LB when he posted 116 tackles (11.0 TFL) en route to a Big Ten championship, consensus All-American honors and both the Butkus and Bednarik Awards. He followed that up as a senior with a second Bednarik Award and second consensus All-American nod. The in-state Aliquippa (Pa.) Hopewell product was a second-round pick by the Bills in 2007. He left school as Penn State's all-time leading tackler with 372 total stops.

4. Andy Katzenmoyer, Ohio State (1996-98)
His pro career notwithstanding, this Buckeye was one of college football’s greatest tacklers during his time in Columbus. He was the first true freshman to ever start at linebacker for the Buckeyes, won the Butkus and Lambert Awards as just a sophomore and nearly led OSU to the inaugural BCS title game in 1998. He started all 37 games of his college career and finished with 18 sacks and 50.0 tackles for a loss. He was a first-round pick by the Patriots in 1999.

5. A.J. Hawk, Ohio State (2002-05)
Yet another Buckeyes great, Hawk started 38 of his 51 career college games for Ohio State. He contributed to the 2002 BCS National Championship squad as a freshman before earning two-time consensus All-American honors in 2004-05. As a senior, Hawk earned the Lombardi and Lambert Trophies for his play and was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He finished his career with 394 tackles, 41.0 for a loss, 15.5 sacks and seven interceptions. He was the fifth overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Packers.

6. Greg Jones, Michigan State (2007-10)
The stabilizing force for four years in East Lansing, Jones was a three-time, first-team All-Big Ten selection and a two-time consensus All-American. In both of those seasons, Jones led the Big Ten in tackles and no one since 2005 has made more stops than Jones. He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. The star playmaker finished third in school history in tackles (465), second in tackles for a loss (46.5) and sixth in sacks (16.5). He started 46 of 52 career games for the Spartans. 

7. Dan Connor, Penn State (2004-07)
The Nittany Lions know something about playing linebacker and Connor is yet another elite tackler. He was a two-time All-American and won the Bednarik Award in 2007 as the nation's top defensive player. He was a leader and was huge part of the '05 Big Ten/Orange Bowl championship team before posting back-to-back 100-tackle seasons. He broke Posluszny's all-time school record with 419 career stops when he graduated in '07. 

8. Chris Borland, Wisconsin (2009-13)
Few players have been as productive and as successful as the Original Honey Badger. He finished his career with 420 tackles, second most in the Big Ten since 2005, 17.0 sacks, 50.0 tackles for a loss and an NCAA-record 14 forced fumbles. He helped lead his team to three consecutive Big Ten championships and did just about everything for the Badgers, including fake punts, blocked kicks and returning kicks. He was a consummate hard worker and leader for Wisconsin and it earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten Linebacker of the Year award in 2013.

9. Julian Peterson, Michigan State (1998-99)
He only played for two seasons but he was a force for both of them. He was honorable mention All-Big Ten in his first year in East Lansing and an All-American and first-team All-Big Ten as a senior when he posted 15 sacks. In two years, Peterson posted 140 tackles and 25 sacks in just 23 career games. He was the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

10. Chad Greenway, Iowa (2002-05)
At 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Greenway is as gifted as any of the elite names on this list. He finished his illustrious Iowa career with 416 tackles, 31.0 tackles for a loss, 7.0 sacks and four interceptions. He was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and had three straight seasons with at least 113 tackles. His 156 total stops in 2005 rank No. 2 in the Big Ten since 2005. Greenway also played on the 2002 Orange Bowl team as a true freshman and was the 17th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.

Just missed the cut:

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11. Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (2011-13)
The Butkus Finalist this past season was one of the hardest hitting, most explosive linebackers to ever play the game. And he helped OSU to back-to-back unbeaten regular seasons (24-0). He posted 56 tackles as a freshman, 114 stops as a sophomore and 144 in his junior season. He finished with 44.0 tackles for a loss and nine forced fumbles to go with 15.0 sacks in just three years.

12. J Leman, Illinois (2004-07)
A consensus All-American on the first Rose Bowl team for Illinois in over two decades, Leman was one of the most consistent performers in Big Ten history. The two-time All-Big Ten pick finished his career with 407 tackles, 38.0 for a loss, eight sacks and six forced fumbles. He is sixth all-time in Illinois history in tackles.

13. Larry Foote, Michigan (1998-01)
Foote started 28 of the 48 games he played during his career in Ann Arbor. He won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and was an All-American in 2001. Foote was a two-time All-Big Ten pick and finished his career with 212 tackles, 44 for a loss and 11 sacks. He played in the NFL for more than a decade and was part of two Super Bowl-winning defenses in Pittsburgh.

14. Brandon Short, Penn State (1996-99)
Short was a four-year starter at linebacker alongside LaVar Arrington. He and Arrington were the first teammates to both be Butkus finalists in 1999 and Short earned consensus All-American recognition that season as well. He was a two-time All-Big Ten pick, led the team in tackles with 103 (’99) and was the 1998 Citrus Bowl MVP. He was a fourth-round pick in 2000.

15. Tim McGarigle, Northwestern (2002-05)
The tackling machine started 40 games in his career including the last 34 in a row. He is the NCAA’s all-time leading tackler with 545 total stops in his career and he was an All-Big Ten pick twice as an upperclassman. He also added 20 tackles for a loss, three interceptions and four sacks in his career. His leadership and toughness is unmatched by most players of his generation.

Best of the rest:

16. Lavonte David, Nebraska (2010-11)
A Two-time all-league pick and Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten LB of the Year winner in 2011, David started all 27 career games and owns the Nebraska single-season tackles record (152).

17. Max Bullough, Michigan State (2010-13)
Two-time All-Big Ten pick with 299 tackles and 30.5 for a loss while leading MSU to its first Rose Bowl in 20 years.

18. Matt Wilhelm, Ohio State (1999-02)
Three-year starter who earned consensus All-American honors on an undefeated national title team in ’02.

19. Michael Mauti, Penn State (2009-12)
Won Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten LB of the Year in 2012 after leading PSU to a winning record in Year One after Paterno.

20. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin (2009-2012)
Tackling machine with 377 career stops and 38 tackles for a loss on two Big Ten title teams.

21. NaVorro Bowman, Penn State (2007-09)
Posted 218 tackles, 36 TFL and 8.0 sacks in three years. Bowman also was an All-Big Ten selection in 2008.

22. Ian Gold, Michigan (1996-99)
A two-time All-Big Ten selection as an upperclassman and was a second-round pick.

23. Abdul Hodge, Iowa (2002-05)
Has the highest single-season tackle total in the Big Ten since 2005 with 158 stops as a senior.

24. David Harris, Michigan (2003-06)
Posted 191 tackles and earned All-Big Ten honors in his final two seasons on three Rose Bowl teams.

25. Sean Lee, Penn State (2006-09)
Missed all of 2008 but posted 313 career tackles and 30 for a loss as a team captain. A second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

ORV: Pat Angerer, Shawn Crable, James Morris, Na’il Diggs, Roosevelt Colvin, Denicos Allen