2010 College Football Predictions: Oklahoma Is New Penn State for LBs

Luke McConnellCorrespondent IAugust 3, 2010

NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 15:  Linebacker Teddy Lehman #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners on defense during the game against the Baylor Bears on November 15, 2003 at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma.  The Sooners won 41-3 to stay undefeated at 10-0.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

For many years, Penn State University has maintained the title of "Linebacker U," and rightfully so.  

The Nittany Lions have churned out many great linebackers such as LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny, and Dan Connor under the watchful eye of Joe Paterno. Many of these great players have gone on to have successful NFL careers.  

However, since Bob Stoops arrived in Norman in 1999, the University of Oklahoma has been running a little linebacker factory of its own.  

Since 1999, the Sooners have had four first team All-Americans at linebacker, one third team member, and a freshman All-American.  

Rocky Calmus was an All-American in 2000 as a member of OU's last national championship team and also in 2001.  Torrance Marshall, whose most famous moment was his 41-yard interception return against Texas A&M in 2000 preserved the Sooners undefeated season, was a third team member in 2000.   

Teddy Lehman followed Calmus and Marshall with All-American seasons in 2002 and 2003. Lehman was on the receiving end of Roy Williams' famous play against Texas in 2001. 

Rufus Alexander came next in the line of All-Americans, winning the honor in 2006.  He was followed the next year by Curtis Lofton, the most recent first team All-American linebacker at Oklahoma.

Travis Lewis was named to The Sporting News freshman All-American team in 2008.

Some of the credit for this surge of great linebackers at Oklahoma belongs to Bob Stoops, but the majority belongs to defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Venables.  

Venables has been in Norman for Stoops' entire tenure as head coach. Venables began as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, but was promoted to associate head coach and overall defensive coordinator before the 2004 season. Venables remained linebackers coach as well.

All of these greats have come through Venables tutelage. Venables has often received a lot of flack for the way his defenses have performed, but his track record speaks for itself. He is darn good at coaching great linebackers.  

2010 presents itself as a season where the Sooners are absolutely loaded at linebacker with one of its deepest units in years. The amazing part about it is that there is only one for sure starter, Travis Lewis.

The other two spots are very much up for grabs, not because there is fear to put players on the field, but because there is so much uncertainty on WHO to fill the shoes of Ryan Reynolds and Keenan Clayton due to the massive amount of talent waiting in the wings.

The Sooners come into the year with 12 linebackers on the roster, including five freshmen and two redshirt freshmen.  

The competition for the other two starting linebackers is really between three players: sophomore Ronnell Lewis, who played a lot down the stretch in 2009, junior Austin Box, who filled in for Ryan Reynolds after Reynolds went down with an ACL injury in 2008, and redshirt freshman Tom Wort, who tore his ACL in spring practice last season and missed all of 2009.

Sophomore Jayden Bird figures to see the field a lot this season, but will more than likely not be a factor in the the starting competition.  

Although most people have already begun to pencil in Ronnell Lewis and Wort as the other two starters, Travis Lewis, the unquestioned leader of the group, said in an interview with The Oklahoman's Jake Trotter that people shouldn't write off Austin Box.

"He's had the injuries, but regardless of all that, Box works hard," Lewis said.  "He's had some unfortunate injuries, but I think he's back to full strength, full speed, and he has a chance to start against Utah State. He's ready to prove himself. I think he's going to prove a lot of people wrong."  

More than likely, starters will not be announced until the Sooners are well into summer practice, or possibly, not until the Sooners begin the season September 4th against Utah State.  

Two freshmen, Corey Nelson and Aaron Franklin also figure to play a very large role in the 2010. The Sooners plucked Nelson right out of the hands of Texas A&M, literally. Nelson switched his commitment from the Aggies to OU on Signing Day.  

Nelson is a five-star recruit from Dallas Skyline High School, while Franklin is a four-star recruit from Marshall High School in Marshall, Texas.  

So what does the legacy of the OU linebacking corps look like for the future?  

Travis Lewis is a given to be the next stud linebacker at Oklahoma. In fact, he already is.  

Lewis has led the Sooners in tackles in each of his first two seasons, accumulating 253 tackles total. He is the new vocal leader of the Sooner defense now that former All-American Gerald McCoy has departed and moved on to the NFL and is projected to be an All-American in 2010 by several publications.

Behind him, Ronnell Lewis, Wort, and Nelson appear to be the flag bearers of the OU linebacker legacy.

All three were Under Amour High School All-Americans coming out of high school and have the talent to become great players.

The linebacker position has been good for the Sooners over the past decade and 2010 will be no different. With lots of depth and talent, the unit will easily be one of the team's strengths.  

And since most of that talent and depth is young, it will be a strength of the team for many years to come.