The Butkus Award is awarded each season to the top linebacker in college football. Introduced in 1985, great defenders including Derrick Thomas, LaVar Arrington and Patrick Willis have won this award. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o won the award last season.
This year's Butkus Award watch list, released by TheButkusAward.com, includes 51 candidates from 37 programs. There are also a few semifinalists from last year who have made the list. These include Jonathan Brown of Illinois, Trent Murphy of Stanford and Max Bullough of Michigan State.
While there are plenty of players to choose from, only a select group have a realistic shot at winning the hardware. There's a great chance the winner will come out of the Big Ten or Pac-12.
Carl Bradford, Junior, Arizona State
Bradford is part of a top pass-rushing defense at Arizona State. He had 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss last season. Those numbers are certainly Butkus Award-worthy.
Shayne Skov, Senior, Stanford
Stanford should once again have one of the best defenses in the country. Skov is one of the driving forces behind that with his physical play. He is now two years removed from an injury he suffered in 2011. He will prove to be a consistent linebacker.
Hayes Pullard, Junior, USC
Pullard has been great throughout his first two seasons, and now it's time for him to take his game to the next level. He finished last season with 107 tackles, two sacks and an interception. He's a player who USC will rely on heavily this season.
Christian Jones, Senior, Florida State
Jones is one of the few experienced players left on Florida State's defense. He led the Seminoles last season with 95 tackles and has more than enough athletic ability to make big plays. Florida State has also produced two Butkus Award winners in Paul McGowan and Marvin Jones.
In 1989, Percy Snow was one of the first Butkus Award winners, and he was also the first and only Michigan State player to win the award. Max Bullough has an outside shot at becoming the second.
There may not be a more underrated linebacker in the country than Bullough. He has led the Spartans in tackles in the last two seasons, which includes a career-high last year with 110. He also had 12.5 tackles for loss, four passes broken up and an interception.
Bullough is the leader for Michigan State and the engine to a defense that has been the best in the Big Ten over the last two seasons. He may finally get the credit he deserves.
Ryan Shazier may have the best skill set of any linebacker in the country. His athleticism and speed are remarkable, and he is more than comfortable dropping back into coverage. He covers a lot of ground and knows how to make plays.
Shazier led Ohio State last season with 114 tackles and 17 tackles for loss. He also returned an interception for a touchdown, broke up 10 passes and forced three fumbles.
Two former Buckeyes have won the Butkus Award in Andy Katzenmoyer (1997) and James Laurinaitis (2007). Shazier will make a solid case to become the third.
Alabama has produced two Butkus Award winners in Derrick Thomas (1988) and Rolando McClain (2009). With the overwhelming talent never coming to an end, the Tide have a shot to add to that legacy.
C.J. Mosley is the brain behind the Tide defense. He makes sure everybody knows their assignment and is lined up correctly. He is also the leader of the team who could have left for the NFL draft, but he decided to return for a shot at winning a third straight national title.
Mosley led the Tide last season with 107 tackles, while adding four sacks and two interceptions. He is a strong candidate for the award as long as Alabama continues to win.
Anthony Barr has become one of the most popular defensive players in the country. He spent his first two seasons on offense before switching last season to linebacker.
It was a great move for UCLA and Barr.
The first-year defender led the Bruins with 22 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. He also forced four fumbles, blocked a kick and added 82 tackles. Barr is a phenomenal linebacker and is already shooting up NFL draft boards.
He earned everybody's attention last season. Now he has a real chance to win individual awards.
Kyle Van Noy is a playmaking machine and has shown there really isn't anything he can't do. He finished last season with 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, six forced fumbles and two interceptions. Van Noy would have likely been a high selection if he had left early for the NFL draft.
Big plays and flashy statistics are what win awards in today's game. There really isn't another linebacker who is capable of doing a little bit of everything at such a high level. Van Noy is comfortable dropping back into coverage or rushing the quarterback.
BYU has a chance to produce its first Butkus Award winner.