Athlon Sports ranks the best Pac-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.
One school has dominated this position during the BCS Era and it should come as no surprise as it's the same school that dominated the standings for the better part of a decade as well. That being said, Stanford has used some elite defenders to win back-to-back titles to end the BCS Era. Here are the league's top LBs from the last 16 years.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Rey Maualuga, USC (2005-08)
The hard-hitting tackler was a freshman All-American on the 2005 USC team that barely lost to Texas in the national title game. He then started the next three seasons for the Trojans, earning consensus All-American honors, the Chuck Bednarik Award and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008. The Men of Troy went 46-6 during his time on campus and few players were as feared nationally as Maualuga. He posted 272 career tackles, 22.5 for loss, 9.0 sacks and five interceptions before being taken in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
2. Chris Claiborne, USC (1995-98)
The three-year star for the Trojans was the first and only Butkus Award winner in USC history when he was named the nation’s top linebacker in 1998 — the same year both Al Wilson and Andy Katzenmoyer were seniors. He also is the only Pac-12 player to win the Butkus in the three-decade history of the award. He was a consensus All-American and the No. 9 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft.
3. Adam Archuleta, Arizona State (1997-00)
The West Coast’s favorite walk-on became a three-year starter for the Sun Devils. He earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors twice and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2000. He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and finished with 330 tackles, 54.0 tackles for loss and 14.0 sacks. The star tackler was a first-round pick of the Rams in the 2001 NFL Draft.
4. Shayne Skov, Stanford (2009-13)
The heart and soul of two Pac-12 championship teams and three teams that played in BCS bowls, few players have meant more to their team than Skov. He finished his career with 355 career tackles, 40.5 tackles for loss, 16.0 sacks and played his biggest games against the best competition (See: Oregon). During his last four years, Stanford was one of the best defensive units in the nation and his teams went a combined 46-8 during that span. He earned all-conference honors in 2010, '12 and '13.
5. Nick Barnett, Oregon State (1999-02)
One of the most consistent and dependable playmakers in league history, Barnett started three full seasons for the Beavers. He was a multi-year all-conference selection and led the league as a senior with 121 tackles in 2001. He was an integral part of the rebuilding of Oregon State football that included an 11-1 Fiesta Bowl championship season in 2001. Barnett was a first-round pick of the Packers in 2003.
6. Lofa Tatupu, USC (2003-04)
After transferring from Maine, Tatupu started all 25 games during his USC career. He won two Pac-10 championships and was a part of back-to-back national championships in 2003 and ’04. He posted 202 career tackles, nine sacks, seven interceptions and was a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 2005.
7. Robert Thomas, UCLA (1998-01)
Thomas played in every game as a true freshman on the Bruins' last conference championship and Rose Bowl team. By his senior year, he was a Butkus Finalist, a consensus All-American and won Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors. In his final and award-winning year, he posted 111 tackles, 26.0 for loss (fourth all-time in league history) and registered 6.5 sacks. He was a first-round pick of the Rams in 2002.
8. Keith Rivers, USC (2004-05)
He was an All-Pac-10 freshman teamer in his first year on a team that won the BCS national title and never lost. He then posted 52 tackles for a team that came up one play short of winning its second BCS national title in ’05. Rivers capped his career with back-to-back, first-team All-Pac-10 honors and was an All-American as a senior. He finished with 240 tackles, 18.5 for loss and was a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
9. Lance Briggs, Arizona (1999-02)
The Beardown star played 33 games in his career in Tucson, earning first-team All-Pac-10 honors twice during his time there. He finished with 308 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 36.0 tackles for loss in three seasons as a starter. He was a third-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft and has been invited to seven Pro Bowls.
10. Matt Grootegoed, USC (2001-04)
A rare four-year starter for the beginning of the epic USC championship run, Grootegoed helped USC to three straight Pac-12 championships and two national titles. He was a consensus All-American and Butkus Finalist as a senior, during which he also earned his second straight All-Pac-10 selection. He finished his career with 124 tackles, 41.5 for loss and seven interceptions.
Just missed the cut:
11. Anthony Barr, UCLA (2010-13)
He only played two years at linebacker but he was a dominant force while on the field. In those two seasons, he registered 149 tackles, 41.5 for loss and 23.5 sacks to go with 10 forced fumbles. He was a consensus All-American, two-time South Division champ and two-time, first-team All-Pac-12 pick. He won the Lott Award in 2013.
12. Chase Thomas, Stanford (2009-12)
Another stalwart on those vaunted Cardinal defenses at the end of the BCS Era, Thomas capped his career with a Pac-12 and Rose Bowl championship as a senior. He finished with 229 total tackles, 50.5 tackles for loss and 27.5 sacks from his hybrid outside linebacker position. He was an All-American selection as a senior and led the Cardinal to a 43-10 record during his time in Palo Alto.
13. Mychal Kendricks, Cal (2008-11)
Kendricks was an elite player on three bowl teams — the last three to represent the Golden Bears in the postseason. He finished his career with 259 tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss, 13.5 sacks and four interceptions. His final season — 106 tackles, 14.5 for loss — earned him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Kendricks was a second-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.
14. Trent Murphy, Stanford (2010-13)
When it comes to wreaking havoc, few were as productive as Murphy. He led Stanford to three BCS bowls, including back-to-back Pac-12 championships and Rose Bowls. He finished his career with 160 tackles, 52.5 tackles for loss, and 32.5 sacks (ninth all-time in league history). Stanford went 46-8 during his time on The Farm.
15. Dale Robinson, Arizona State (2004-05)
He only played two seasons but he made a huge impact for the Devils. He posted 208 tackles, 28.0 for loss and 8.5 sacks in 23 of 24 possible career starts. He was an All-Pac-10 selection both years and was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.
16. Brian Cushing, USC (2005-08)
Cushing played in 44 career games, making 178 stops, 27.0 for loss and 8.5 sacks. He earned 2007 Rose Bowl MVP honors and eventually was an All-American in 2008. Cushing was a consistent performer who was the 15th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. USC was 46-6 during his time in Los Angeles.
17. Zack Follett, Cal (2005-08)
The two-time all-league selection was a terror behind the line of scrimmage for the Bears. He had 244 career tackles, 51.0 tackles for loss, 22.5 sacks and a Pac-12-record 13 forced fumbles during his time in Berkeley. He also won the Emerald Bowl MVP honors in 2008.
18. Casey Matthews, Oregon (2007-10)
As a leader of the only Ducks team to make it to the BCS National Championship Game, Matthews was a two-time All-Pac-10 selection and an All-American during his stay in Eugene. He posted 245 tackles, 30.5 for loss, nine sacks and went 41-11 during his career. The Ducks won three straight conference championships.
19. Spencer Havner, UCLA (2002-05)
The Bruins' tackling machine was a four-year starter and registered 402 tackles during his time in Los Angeles. This total is good for second among all players during the BCS Era in the Pac-12 (Marcus Bell). He was a three-time all-conference selection in some way and a Defensive Freshman of the Year according to the Sporting News in 2002.
20. Mason Foster, Washington (2007-10)
Few players were as productive as Foster was for the Huskies — and his NFL success proves that out. Foster posted 378 tackles, including a 163-tackle senior season, 38.5 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, four interceptions and eight forced fumbles. He played in 50 career games and helped Washington go from 0-12 (2008) to its first bowl game since 2002 to close out his senior season.
Best of the rest:
21. Desmond Bishop, Cal (2005-06)
22. Peter Sirmon, Oregon (1996-99)
23. Eric Kendricks, UCLA (2011-pres.)
24. Marcus Bell, Arizona (1996-99)
25. Clay Matthews, USC (2005-08)