As Nebraska moves into its second season in the Big Ten Conference, HuskerOnline.com will get you ready with ranking analysis pieces breaking down each position in the league. Today, we look at the linebacker position in the Big Ten heading into 2012.
1. Chris Borland, Wisconsin, 5-11, 250, Jr.
When you talk about linebackers that can do it all, Wisconsin junior Chris Borland should be the first player that comes to mind. No player in the Big Ten, or maybe even the entire country for that matter, has as complete of a skill set as Borland, who earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2009 and was named first-team all-conference last season. He'll once again anchor the Badgers' defense this season, which should again be one of the better overall units in the Big Ten.
2. Gerald Hodges , Penn State, 6-2, 233, Sr.
Linebacker U. remains as strong as ever under first-year head coach Bill O'Brien, and senior Gerald Hodges is one of the biggest reasons why. Few teams in the conference will rely as heavily on one player as the Nittany Lions will on Hodges, who posted 106 tackles, including 10 for loss, 4.5 sacks and five passes defended in 2011. In a season in which PSU's success will almost be directly related to the play of its defense, the pressure will be on Hodges and Co. to keep the team competitive.
3. Mike Taylor, Wisconsin, 6-2, 222, Sr.
There wasn't a more productive linebacker in the Big Ten last season than Wisconsin's Mike Taylor. As a junior in 2011, Taylor racked up a league-best 150 tackles (the most by a Badger since 2001) with seven games in double-digits, including a career-best 22 stops against Ohio State. Now a senior, Taylor will team up with Borland to help give Wisconsin one of the most dominating front sevens in the country.
4. Max Bullough, Michigan State, 6-3, 252, Jr.
Watching Michigan State junior Max Bullough and his throwback style play brings back images of the big, physical linebackers of the 1980s. The third generation Spartan's numbers don't standout like some of the others on this list (89 tackles in 2011), but his hole-plugging, run-stuffing play opens things up for every teammate around him - including fellow linebacker Denicos Allen, who very well could have also been added to this list.
5. Mike Mauti, Penn State, 6-2, 239, Sr.
It would have been pretty easy to make the argument for Penn State Michael Mauti as the Big Ten's best linebacker going into 2011, but a season-ending knee injury sidelined him for the year. Assuming he can get anywhere close to the level he was before the injury, Mauti could very well rank at the top of his position in the conference when all is said and done this season.