Why Linebackers Will Be Most Dominant Position in Big Ten Football in 2013

Randy ChambersAnalyst IJune 12, 2013

Oct 6, 2012; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes linebacker Ryan Shazier (10) celebrates in the first quarter against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Ohio Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten still has a reputation of being this nasty conference that plays physical and with a chip on its shoulder.

That style of play features the traits a linebacker must have to be successful. Fortunately for the Big Ten, there are plenty of defensive players in the second level who will make 2013-14 the year of the linebacker in this conference.

Many criticize the Big Ten for lack of flashiness and offensive production, but the one thing that has remained consistent is the solid play from the linebackers.

The top 10 tacklers in this conference from a year ago played linebacker and nine of them finished with more than 100 tackles.

With the superb talent that is returning, it's no question linebacker will be the position that leads the way in the Big Ten.

You can begin with Michigan State's Max Bullough, who has been the force in the middle for the Spartans and led them in tackles over the last two seasons. He is a ferocious tackling machine who makes sure you feel his presence.

A man-child on Saturdays, he has pretty much everything you look for in an old-school football player. 

Ryan Shazier really turned heads in his sophomore year after leading Ohio State with 114 tackles. He is getting a lot of love from NFL scouts due to his ridiculous athleticism and speed coming off the weak side.

He will be the leader of the Buckeyes defense and will help keep things from completely falling apart after losing so much talent to the NFL draft.

One linebacker who doesn't get enough credit is Iowa's Anthony Hitchens, who led the Big Ten with 124 tackles despite playing in only 11 games. He was only a Big Ten honorable mention last year, but he is an experienced player and was one of the few bright spots for the Hawkeyes.

There are also quality experienced players in James Morris and Christian Kirksey, who combined for 208 tackles.

You simply can't talk about linebacker without mentioning Jake Ryan of Michigan. He was an All-Conference player last season and is a leader for the Wolverines on and off the field. Ryan tore his ACL in the spring, but Kyle Meinke of MLive.com reports that the linebacker is expected to make a speedy recovery.

When healthy, Ryan is one of the best players in college football.

Chris Borland is back for a fifth season with Wisconsin after finishing a second straight season of 100-plus tackles. Only this time, the Badger got to the quarterback more frequently, producing four sacks and breaking up six passes.  

He will be asked to do even more since Mike Taylor, who led the team in tackles last season, graduated.

A potential star in the making is Northwestern's Chi Chi Ariguzo, who finished his sophomore season with 91 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss.

He flies all over the field making plays in run and pass defense, as he added two interceptions and a fumble recovery. His instincts and pass coverage skills are off the charts.

While those are all names you should already know, there are a few other linebackers out there that you should keep a close eye on this season.

Those include Denicos Allen of Michigan State, who may be the most athletic and fastest linebacker you will find in college football. Michigan Wolverine Desmond Morgan is poised to have a breakout season, as is David Santos of Nebraska.

Another name to remember is Curtis Grant of Ohio State. He was a highly recruited player coming out of high school and will finally be given a real chance to prove himself on this young Buckeyes defense.

A few of these guys have already drawn attention from the next level and many are expected to follow suit.

This will be the year of the linebacker in the Big Ten.


All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.