In a conference that contains the legendary "Linebacker U", it's tough for a group of linebackers from a different school to grab the spotlight and shine.
Unfortunately for the rest of the 'Big Ten,' Michigan State has taken a page from Penn State's playbook and created one of the most fearsome linebacking units in the entire country.
Running backs across the conference and country, please try not to soil your pads.
With the addition of junior linebacker Greg Jones to the Bronco Nagurski watch list, the media seems to have realized what Spartan fans have known for quite some time—this is a talented and dangerous group.
All of the preseason chatter has centered around the absence of Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer, but the presence of these linebackers still makes the Spartans a dark horse contender in the 'Big Ten.'
While media and fans alike were focusing on what was lost from MSU's roster, they should have been focused on what was retained—Jones, Eric Gordon, Adam Decker and Brandon Denson, the top four linebackers from last year's quality group.
Add into the mix Chris Norman, the unbelievably athletic freshman—and eighth-ranked linebacker recruit in the country last season, two more freshmen among the top 25 linebacker recruits, and a bloodthirsty defensive coordinator and head coach. It's a recipe for complete devastation.
These guys will form the core of a defensive unit that absolutely loves the challenge of trying to win games by themselves.
They're a hard-hitting, intelligent group and should go a long way toward helping the Spartans absorb the loss of several key seniors on both sides of the ball.
The numbers from last season offer a foreboding sign for opposing offenses.
Greg Jones, the undisputed star of this unit, led the team with 127 tackles. He picked up his game in conference play, averaging slightly over 11 tackles per game. Jones stepped up even when the rest of the defense didn't, with 13 and 15 tackles against Ohio State and Penn State, respectively. He also spent a lot of time in opposing backfields, with 14 tackles for loss.
Adam Decker had 56 tackles, with six of them for a loss. Eric Gordon made 85 tackles, with 7.5 for a loss.
That's well over 250 tackles returning to the field at Spartan Stadium, and that's without the contributions of Brandon Denson or Jon Misch.
They've got talent, and they've got depth. Greg Jones was quoted by the Grand Rapids Press as saying, "From the freshmen all the way to the seniors, there's not one guy who doesn't want to play and doesn't think he can play."
Linebacker coach Mike Tressel—Jim Tressel's nephew—seems to agree. He's been predicting a fierce battle for starting positions and playing time. By the time the season opens, Tressel predicts that the Spartans could be three deep at each linebacker position, an embarrassment of riches.
The goal for this year is going to be for the linebackers to come up with game-changing plays. Tressel wants those tackles for loss to turn into sacks, and he'd like to see some more interceptions and forced fumbles as well.
"We need more critical-situation sacks, interceptions, cause fumbles. Making big, big plays in big, big situations," Tressel said.
If these linebackers can deliver and help lead the Spartans to a second straight January bowl game, they'll force the rest of the country to sit up and take notice of the transformation taking place in East Lansing.
Tressel says it best, "We still hear people talk about Penn State's linebacking corps—and Penn State's always had great linebackers, they have a great linebacking corps—but our guys believe they're as good as anybody."
Information from the Grand Rapids Press was used in this story.