We’re back to a unanimous selection in our rankings as we look at the linebackers in the Big 12. TCU returns the top to tacklers in the league and has solid depth behind them. The rankings get really interesting from there with Oklahoma, Texas, and Oklahoma State all being within two points of each other.
The points system was based on value of the vote. For example, a first-place vote was worth 10 points, second-place 9, third 8, and so on. Below the rankings is how our staff voted and some of their logic in doing so.
|Consensus Preseason LB Rankings|
Senior LB Travin Howard was first team All-Big 12 last year, but he may be even better this year.https://t.co/YyDLIrXJIp
— Branson Nelson (@bwnelson5) July 18, 2017
TCU is returning two of the best linebackers in the conference from last season. Travin Howard and Ty Summers ranked #1 and #2 in tackles last season for the Big 12. Having these two guys back puts the Horned Frogs above everyone else. The two linebackers compliment each other very well, and even have ability to drop back in coverage over the middle.
The linebacker position looks like it will be the strongest position for the Pokes on defense. Although they lost some talent in the middle, they are returning Chad Whitener. If Justin Philips develops the way the coaching staff believes he will, the Cowboys will have quite the duo at the linebacker position.
The Sooners have an amazing talent in Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. He is versatile enough to play both outside linebacker and defensive end. Combining his pass rush ability with rising star Caleb Kelly, the Sooners seem to be looking great in the middle on defense. The talent between these two young guys puts the Sooners in at #3.
The Cyclones have unfortunately been on the bottom of the list for most of the position rankings. The team has a great lack of depth at the linebacker. Luckily, former quarterback Joel Lanning made a great transition into the middle linebacker position. He could be the only thing holding this corp together this season.
Kansas is another team that can’t seem to find the top of these lists. The Jayhawks will rely on Joe Dineen, who will return as a Junior after getting a medical redshirt last season. He ranked second on the team in tackles in 2015 with 84. Having no other big talents at the position puts them at the bottom of my list.
As a defensive coordinator you want your linebackers to be your leading tacklers. That means your line is doing their job when it comes to occupying blockers, and your `backers are doing their job at filling gaps and making tackles. That’s exactly what’s going on in Ft. Worth where TCU returns Travin Howard and Ty Summers who were #1 and #2 in the conference in tackles last season.
Texas has an All-American talent with Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler is returning after leading the team in tackles last season. The Longhorns also have plenty of depth at linebacker with Breckyn Hager, Naashon Hughes, and Gary Johnson all making a push to be on the field.
Oklahoma’s Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is the best pass rusher in the Big 12 and he’s not too shabby at run support either. His versatility allows him to play on the defensive line as well, making him one of the top defenders in the conference. Caleb Kelly isn’t a rising star, he is a star and made that proclamation to the world against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl.
You can’t have your former starting quarterback transition to your starting middle linebacker position and not be ranked near the bottom. That’s where Iowa State finds itself where Joel Lanning is taking his 2,537 passing yards, and 19 touchdowns, to the defensive side of the ball.
Kansas is starting over at linebacker with Joe Dineen returning after taking a medical redshirt last season. Lining up next to him is Keith Loneker who started four games in 2016.
When it comes to the top spot in the league it’s hard to argue against the TCU Horned Frogs. Returning two All-Big 12 Selections at the linebacker position who ranked at the top of the conference in tackles sets up TCU for success. Often employing a two linebacker look, Travin Howard and Ty Summers will continue to be staples on this defense.
Going back and forth between a few different programs, I finally settled on Oklahoma as the No. 2 when it comes to the linebacker position. Caleb Kelly shined in the bowl game against Auburn and appears primed for a breakout year. Joining him, Obo remains one of the top pass rushers in the conference. While this group is mostly unproven in the long run, the potential sits high — much like it does for Texas.
Oklahoma State gets the third nod in my book with the depth they possess. This linebacking group could easily be the strength of the program in the upcoming season.
As far as the bottom two are concerned, KSU is replacing an All-Big 12 Linebacker with a former walk-on. The level of talent seems to have been depleted for the time being in Manhattan. But, there still enough to push them ahead of Kansas. One question I’d like to ask for anyone who argues with the Jayhawks being at the bottom: name one KU linebacker without using Google?
The Horned Frogs lead the pack in the Big 12 when it comes to the linebacker position. Travin Howard and Ty Summers ranked first and second in total tackles in the Big 12 just a year ago, and they will look to cause similar damage this season.
Texas comes in at number two led by juniors Malik Jefferson and Breckyn Hager. After them, the Longhorns have several other options which gives them a lot of depth at the position.
Oklahoma rounds out the top three as seniors Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Emmanuel Beal look to team up and wreak havoc on opposing defenses, much like they did last year. If both guys can find a way to at least match their production from a year ago, the defense will be solid. If they can exceed it, this defense may be downright terrifying.
Kansas State ranks in at number nine due primarily to inexperience. Fifth-year senior Trent Tanking had the most tackles a season ago out of the potential starters at 19 where he appeared in only 8 games. With a potential lack of leadership plaguing the middle, the Wildcats may struggle to make stops.
Kansas falls in at last in the conference, and they are also a victim of inexperience. Junior Joe Dineen had a successful sophomore season in 2015, but after getting injured last September, he was forced to take a medical redshirt. Despite sitting out nearly all of last season, Dineen has the most experience out of anyone else at the linebacker position, which does not bode well for the Jayhawks.
|Heartland’s 2017 BIG 12 Preseason LB Rankings|
|Texas||Oklahoma State||Texas||Oklahoma State|
|West Virginia||Baylor||West Virginia||West Virginia|
|Baylor||West Virginia||Texas Tech||Baylor|
|Kansas State||Kansas State||Baylor||Iowa State|
|Texas Tech||Texas Tech||Iowa State||Texas Tech|
|Iowa State||Iowa State||Kansas State||Kansas State|