As Nebraska prepares for another run through 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 top linebackers in the Big Ten heading into 2014.
1. Jake Ryan, Michigan, 6-3, 235, Sr.
The Big Ten loses almost all of its star power at the linebacker position. Players like Chris Borland, Mike Taylor, Max Bullough and Iowa's star-studded trio of linebackers have all moved on to the NFL. There really isn't a consensus No. 1 linebacker in the league, but Michigan senior Jake Ryan is probably the safest bet at this point. He was second-team All-Big Ten in 2012, but only played half the season in 2013 because he was coming off a knee injury. Ryan is a team captain for Michigan and had 88 tackles back in 2012. He'll be a key component for the Wolverine defense in 2014.
2. Chi Chi Ariguzo, Northwestern, 6-3, 235, Sr.
Northwestern senior Chi Chi Ariguzo was second on the team in tackles with 106 stops in 2013, and he's made 197 tackles over the last two years, including five sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss. Ariguzo has also proven to be effective in pass coverage, coming down with four interceptions a year ago. Defense has always been what's held the Wildcats back at times, but Ariguzo will definitely be one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten in 2014.
3. Taiwan Jones, Michigan State, 6-3, 252, Sr.
Look for Michigan State senior Taiwan Jones to be the next great Spartan linebacker. With Bullough no longer there, Jones will anchor down the MSU linebacker unit. A year ago he had 67 tackles and seven tackles for loss. Look for those numbers to nearly double in 2014 now that he'll be the featured backer in arguably the top defense in the country.
4. Damien Wilson, Minnesota, 6-2, 254, Sr.
Minnesota linebacker Damien Wilson isn't a household name across the Big Ten, but he definitely belongs on the list of the league's top linebackers. The junior college transfer had a great spring after finishing 2013 with 78 tackles and five tackles for loss. Wilson will be arguably the face of this Gopher defense and if they want to have another 7 to 8 win type season his play will be a big factor.
5. Zaire Anderson, Nebraska, 5-11, 220, Sr.
Senior Zaire Anderson left the spring as Nebraska's top linebacker. The Pennsylvania native has the ability to play in head coach Bo Pelini's base, nickel and dime defenses, which is very important for a linebacker to succeed at NU. Anderson had 52 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013. Look for the former junior college transfer to have even a bigger year now that he's fully recovered from his 2012 knee injury and more knowledgeable of Pelini's defensive system.