The Butkus Award released its 2012 watch list on Monday. Fifty-one linebackers made the cut, which sounds like a lot until you realize there are nearly 400 starting linebackers in FBS. So this is a pretty high bar to clear.
That said, the Big Ten is absolutely loaded at linebacker this year, so not only did the conference put nine LBs onto the watch list, it should have had more. At the very least, Michigan State and Penn State both put two linebackers on the list, and in both cases it was entirely deserved.
The full watch list is here. Let's take a look at who belongs on the list, who might not and who was left off (and boy, do we have something to say about that).
Gerald Hodges, Penn State: Hodges makes the list with teammate Michael Mauti, but Hodges' athleticism is what sets him apart from all but the best linebackers in the nation. He has the potential to have an All-American type of season for the Nittany Lions. Only injury or a terrible overall record is going to keep Hodges out of the discussion for postseason honors.
Denicos Allen, Michigan State: Like Hodges, Allen enjoys the company of a teammate on this list—in this case, MLB Max Bullough. Allen has the potential to be a major disruptive force for the Spartans this season, especially since opposing tackles are already going to have their hands full with ends Marcus Rush and William Gholston. The potential for big stats in sacks, tackles-for-loss and even forced fumbles is easily there.
David Nwabuisi, Northwestern: Nwabuisi's not bad by any stretch, but let's be honest: He's a guy who bounced around the starting lineup last year on a bad defense and ended up with 84 tackles in the process. Nwabuisi moved to OLB after Damien Proby emerged as a potential star at MLB (so why isn't Proby on this list instead of Nwabuisi?). So while Nwabuisi looks like a good fit on the edge, he's not one of the top nine linebackers in the Big Ten or one of the 51 best in the nation.
Etienne Sabino, Ohio State: Sabino probably won't be the best linebacker on his own team by the end of the 2012 season, with sophomores Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant coming into their own. Sabino managed only 62 tackles last year as Ohio State's defense underwhelmed at times, and while he's undeniably physically talented, he's not a highly productive linebacker yet.
Mike Taylor, Wisconsin: Taylor led the Big Ten in total tackles last year with 150. That's third in the nation, and his tackles-per-game average ranks 13th. How he gets left off a 51-linebacker list when the Big Ten gets nine players on (and the SEC gets 16, for crying out loud) is somewhere between a mystery and an outright farce.