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August 26, 2010

Preseason power rankings: Linebackers


Here is part seven of our preseason power rankings at each position.

We will update the power rankings each week during the regular season and release the final rankings for the season after the BCS title game.

The rating of a player and coach can fluctuate each week during the season depending on how they fared the previous week, but the power rankings measure overall career performances as well as their most recent results.

Here are the nation's top 25 linebackers. Next up: cornerbacks.


1. Greg Jones, Michigan State (6-1/240, Sr.)
BUZZ: Jones is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and the leading contender for this season's Butkus Award. He made 154 tackles last season and has 359 tackles in his career.

2. Von Miller, Texas A&M (6-3/240, Sr.)
BUZZ: Miller burst onto the scene last season, piling up a nation's-leading 17 sacks for the defense-challenged Aggies. This season, A&M is going to a 3-4 set, and he will play a hybrid end/outside linebacker spot that takes full advantage of his speed off the edge.

3. Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina (6-2/235, Sr.)
BUZZ: He can play inside or outside, and his versatility makes him perhaps the MVP on one of the nation's top defenses; that versatility also has caught the eye of NFL scouts, and Sturdivant looks like a sure first-round pick next April. He has made 201 tackles in the past two seasons.

4. Dont'a Hightower, Alabama (6-4/260, Jr.)
BUZZ: Hightower missed the final 10 games last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament but looks 100 percent in fall camp. Despite his bulk, he runs well and is equally adept at stuffing the run or rushing the passer. Coaches need him to be a team leader this season.

5. Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State (6-3/245, Soph.)
BUZZ: Burfict arrived amid much fanfare and started to deliver on the hype last season as a true freshman. He slid easily into a veteran-dominated defense and made 69 tackles. He runs well and packs a wallop. If he can play with a little more discipline this season -- he incurred some personal fouls last fall -- he will be in the All-America mix.

6. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma (6-2/232, Jr.)
BUZZ: Lewis is a big-time athlete with great speed for his size. Lewis already is a two-time All-Big 12 selection and was the conference's newcomer of the year as a redshirt freshman. In '09, he led the Sooners in tackles for the second consecutive season and has made at least 10 tackles 11 times during his career.

7. Korey Williams, Southern Miss (6-2/243, Jr.)
BUZZ: Williams is a typical Southern Miss success story -- under-recruited out of high school but highly productive as a collegian. He played just four games in 2008 before suffering a season-ending broken jaw, but he stayed healthy last season and made 121 tackles and added 8.5 sacks, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles. He had six games with double-figure tackle totals.

8. Mike Mohamed, California (6-3/238, Sr.)
BUZZ: Last season, his first as a full-time starter, Mohamed earned All-Pac-10 recognition and led the league with 112 tackles; nobody else in the conference had more than 96. The total also was 41 more than any other Cal player. Mohamed is solid against the run and pass, and he has six interceptions in the past two seasons.

9. Tank Carder, TCU (6-2/232, Jr.)
BUZZ: Carder was the "other" linebacker, next to Daryl Washington, for the Horned Frogs last season, but Carder will be in the spotlight this season. TCU runs a 4-2-5 set and needs its linebackers to be productive; that's not a problem with Carder. He had 89 tackles -- 10 for loss -- and also broke up 10 passes in 2009, his first season as a starter.

10. Casey Matthews, Oregon (6-2/237, Sr.)
BUZZ: Matthews' grandfather, father, brother and uncle played in the NFL, and he is paving his own path at Oregon. He was an All-Pac-10 selection for the Ducks last season, when he finished with 81 tackles and three sacks. He also stood out in pass coverage, with an interception and five pass breakups.

11. Akeem Ayers, UCLA (6-4/255, Jr.)
BUZZ: How much does Ayers mean to UCLA? Well, he's a linebacker who ranked fifth on the team in scoring last season. Ayers scored two touchdowns on interception returns and also reached the end zone on a fumble return. He forced four fumbles and picked off four passes to go along with six sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.

12. Bruce Carter, North Carolina (6-3/235, Sr.)
BUZZ: Carter has shown a knack for making big plays on defense and special teams while making 33 starts over the past three seasons. He has made 18.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons. Carter also led the nation with five blocked kicks two years ago. The workout warrior has been clocked running the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds.

13. Luke Kuechly, Boston College (6-3/225, Soph.)
BUZZ: All he did as a true freshman last season was rank second in the nation in total tackles (158) and solo tackles (87). His 12.15 tackles per game were the most by a freshman since the NCAA began keeping track of the statistic in 2003. He recorded at least 10 tackles in each of Boston College's last nine games.

14. Lawrence Wilson, Connecticut (6-1/226, Sr.)
BUZZ: Wilson tallied 140 tackles last season while leading the Big East and tying for 10th place nationally with 10.8 tackles per game. His big season included a 17-tackle performance against Syracuse and 16-tackle outbursts against Louisville and Notre Dame. Wilson, a graduate of Paul W. Bryant High School in Tuscaloosa, is the first Connecticut player from Alabama.

15. Kelvin Sheppard, LSU (6-3/238, Sr.)
BUZZ: LSU's inexperience at linebacker will force the Tigers to rely heavily on Sheppard. His track record shows he's up for the challenge. Sheppard ranked fourth in the SEC last season with 110 tackles, including 8.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Even as a part-time starter two years ago, Sheppard ranked second on the team with 64 tackles.

16. Alex Wujciak, Maryland (6-3/245, Sr.)
BUZZ: Wujciak has developed into one of the nation's most consistent and prolific tacklers. After recording 133 overall tackles two years ago, Wujciak made 131 stops last season. He has made 8.5 tackles for loss in each of the past two seasons. His career average of 10.6 tackles per game ranks first among all active FBS players who have participated in at least 15 games.

17. Scott Lutrus, Connecticut (6-3/245, Sr.)
BUZZ: Lutrus will be aiming for the third 100-tackle season of his career this fall. Lutrus recorded 107 tackles in 2007 and 106 more in 2008 before injury problems caused him to miss five games last season. Lutrus capped a frustrating '09 season with a triumphant performance in the Papajohns.com Bowl, as he delivered nine tackles and recovered a fumble in a victory over South Carolina.

18. Mark Herzlich, Boston College (6-4/238, Sr.)
BUZZ: Herzlich had 110 tackles and six interceptions as the ACC defensive player of the year in 2008 before sitting out the 2009 season to recover from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. He also broke his right foot this summer. Health concerns are the only reason Herzlich isn't ranked much higher on this list.

19. Nate Irving, N.C. State (6-1/235, Sr.)
BUZZ: Irving made 87 total tackles (8.7 per game), picked off four passes and recorded 12 tackles for loss in 2008. He missed the 2009 season to recover from a car wreck that caused multiple injuries, including a collapsed lung and a compound leg fracture. He also would rank higher on this list if not for the uncertainty about whether he can recapture his 2008 form.

20. Colin McCarthy, Miami (6-2/240, Sr.)
BUZZ: McCarthy has made 24 starts over the past three seasons and has collected 189 career tackles, including 23.5 for loss. He delivered 95 total tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss last season to earn second-team All-ACC honors. He could start in the middle or in one of the outside spots for the Hurricanes.

21. Ross Homan, Ohio State (6-0/227, Sr.)
BUZZ: Homan recorded a team-high 108 tackles and snagged five interceptions last season to earn second-team All-Big Ten honors. Homan typically comes up big in the Buckeyes' biggest games. He picked off passes last season against USC, Penn State, Iowa and in the Rose Bowl victory over Oregon. He also delivered two sacks and forced a fumble against Wisconsin.

22. Manti Te'o, Notre Dame (6-2/245, Soph.)
BUZZ: This former five-star prospect has provided a jolt of athleticism to Notre Dame's defense. Te'o didn't play much in the first four games of the 2009 season, yet still finished his freshman year with 63 tackles. He recorded 57 tackles over the final eight games of the season.

23. Nick Bellore, Central Michigan (6-1/241, Sr.)
BUZZ: Bellore has started at middle linebacker basically since the day he stepped on campus. He started the opener of his true freshman season and all 40 games since. Bellore is the nation's active leader in tackles (382) and has made at least 100 tackles in each of his three seasons, including 132 last season.

24. Mario Harvey, Marshall (6-0/250 Sr.)
BUZZ: Marshall expects Harvey -- nicknamed "Thumper" -- to flourish under new coordinator Chris Rippon, who was coordinator under Paul Pasqualoni at Syracuse. Harvey had 117 tackles and a team-leading seven sacks last season; he also had 10 quarterback hurries.

25. Mason Foster, Washington (6-2/242, Sr.)
BUZZ: Foster made 85 tackles last season; he also forced nine turnovers, including one in each of the last four games. He forced six fumbles and intercepted three passes. Foster returned a pick 37 yards for a touchdown in a 36-33 victory over Arizona.

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