Unlike the defensive linemen, the Big Ten returns most of its top linebackers.
In fact, six of the the conference's eight All-Big Ten honorees will be back for 2012.
That leaves this position ranking decidedly top-heavy. Teams that would have been No. 1 last season are No. 3 or 4 this season.
Most football teams—college or pro, Big Ten or otherwise—play a weak-side, middle and strong-side linebacker. However, different teams have different names and responsibilities for each position. I have labeled the positions according to how the team in question refers to its linebacker.
The number of asterisks next to a players' name indicates how many years he has started. A "starter," for my purposes, had at least four starts in any one season.
Players in italics are returning all-conference honorees.
A pound sign (#) indicates a player who hasn't started consecutive years or didn't start last year.
I based my ranking on returning experience, inherent talent (recruiting rankings), as well as what the teams and coaches have turned out in the past. For example, Iowa and Kirk Ferentz have proven they can regularly turn out quality linebackers. Indiana and Kevin Wilson, on the other hand, have not.
Finally, a lot can change in the next few months.
This article is based on what the rosters of Big Ten teams look like, and what we know, right now.
Check out previous articles in this series, beginning with the most recent, Power Ranking the Big Ten Defensive Lines.