As the debate rages on about Big 12 defenses you have to at least tip your cap to the high-caliber offenses and the week-to-week struggle for defenses to limit the damage. Conferences like the Big 10 and the S.E.C. play defense with the goal of producing shutouts. In the Big 12 the key is producing enough stops to allow your offense to get ahead of your opponent’s.
While the focus will be on the usual suspects offensively this fall, the conference enters the 2018 season a little upside down in terms of the defensive side of the ball. Traditional powers like Oklahoma and Texas find themselves starting the season in the middle of the pack with some unusual programs nearing the top of the defensive rankings. That certainly was the case when we ranked the linebackers as well.
The consensus rankings come from a points system. A first place selection is worth 10 points, second place is 9 points, and they continue in descending order with tenth place equaling 1 point.
|Heartland Sports Consensus Linebacker Rankings|
|1. Iowa State||40|
|3. Texas Tech||32|
|5. Oklahoma State||24|
|8. West Virginia||12|
|9. Kansas State||7|
1. Iowa State | Iowa State only gave up 10 rushing touchdowns last season. That is extremely scary when you consider they are returning their two best linebackers in Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey. Iowa State might not just have the best linebacker duo in the Big 12, they might be the best in the country.
2. TCU | Although the Horned Frogs lost their leader in Travin Howard, they still have way more depth than most teams at the linebacker position. They are returning Ty Summers who is one of the top run defenders in the conference. If TCU can find another man to play alongside Summers, they will be extremely tough against the run.
3. Texas | The Longhorns improved tremendously a season ago at the linebacker position, and it’s looking like they’ll do the same this season. Senior Gary Johnson will lead the way for Texas this year. Malcom Roach is another name to look for. If he improves any from a year ago he could be incredible this season.
4. Texas Tech
5. Oklahoma State
7. West Virginia
9. Baylor | Baylor is returning some solid experience at the linebacker position. However, that doesn’t mean they are returning a lot of talent. The Bears finished 9th in the conference against the run a season ago. Perhaps with a year more of experience guys like Clay Johnston and Henry Black can improve this defense. That being said, I still expect the Bears to finish near the bottom.
10. Kansas State | The Wildcats are only returning one starter this season, hence the reason they rank at the bottom of my list. Bill Snyder will certainly work out a plan for Kansas State to have some sort of success on defense. He’ll look to Elijah Sullivan to lead the way. The Wildcats have a lot of developing to do before they can be solid at the linebacker position.
1. Iowa State | The Cyclones losing Joel Lanning, one of the conference’s best tacklers, will definitely hurt, but they have plenty of linebacker talent to be excited about. Junior Marcel Spears and Senior Willie Harvey both ranked in the top 20 in the Big 12 in tackles a season ago and will anchor an experienced unit.
2. Texas Tech | As bad as the Red Raiders have been defensively for a while now, their linebackers put up some of the best numbers in the Big 12. Junior Jordyn Brooks and Senior Dakota Allen finished 10th and 11th in tackles in the conference last season. They don’t have a lot of depth after that, but those two have enough experience to lead the way.
3. TCU | The Horned Frogs pretty much always have a solid defense, and despite the departure of Trevin Howard to the NFL, they have talent returning to the field this season. Senior Ty Summers has a lot of experience, and there’s depth on the team as well.
5. Oklahoma State
8. West Virginia
9. Kansas State | Despite a solid run defense a season ago, the Wildcats just don’t have a lot of experience at linebacker this year. Junior Elijah Sullivan is the only returning starter, and the rest of the depth is a question mark.
10. Baylor | It’s bad in Waco. The Bears had one of the worst run defenses in the Big 12 a season ago, and much of that same defense is returning this year. That can’t be a good thing.
Iowa State | The folks in Ames surrendered a mere 10 touchdowns on the ground last season which helped give rise to the giant slayer. While the coaching staff will attempt to replace Joel Lanning in the middle, the linebackers possess experience. Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey could easily land in the NFL but currently, the duo provides consistent production and leadership. This group should pick up where they left off by setting the standard in the conference.
TCU | Ty Summers is a name that all fans will come to know once the season begins as the linebacker shines on the field. Easily the best run defender in the league in my opinion, Summers gives the Horned Frogs a major piece to the puzzle. Keying off the budding star, the program secured experience and depth via transfer. As the defense continues to anchor the program, watch out for this group.
Texas | This ranking is solely based on potential as the Longhorns have nearly unrivaled talent at the position. Still experience and leadership are qualities that seem to be lacking. But, if Texas can finally solve the riddle, this group could be special.
Kansas | The Jayhawks may have Joe Dineen on the roster to lean on. However, the program lacks the speed necessary to be wildly successful at the position.
Baylor | Currently, the health of the position remains a concern. Holding several key components out of a majority of the spring did not give fans an accurate picture of what to expect this fall. Regardless, this group ranked ninth in conference again the run. There’s room for improvement to say the least.
1. Iowa State | I have a feeling like we could be unanimous with selecting the Cyclones as the top linebacker corps in the Big 12. The Cyclones need to make some significant strides on the offensive side of the ball but the defense is no joke. Even with the loss of Joel Lanning, ISU has the top linebacker position group in the conference as the season gets underway. Marcel Spears and Willie Harvey are both NFL talents and there is plenty of depth behind them.
2. Texas Tech | Seriously? I can’t believe that I just typed that either. The Red Raiders have two all-conference linebackers, in Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks, on a defense that showed improvement a year ago. The lack of depth is what is keeping me from placing Texas Tech in the top spot. Yes, I could be crazy.
3. TCU | Speaking of depth, the Horned Frogs have a lot of it at the linebacker position as well. They’ll need to replace the leadership of Travin Howard but Ty Summers is well on his way to doing just that.
5. Oklahoma State
9. West Virginia | Experience in not in abundance at this position in Morgantown. David Long Jr and Dylan Tonkery are tge only two linebackers with starting experience and the WVU depth took a serious shot with the losses of Quandarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns due to off-season injuries.
10. Kansas State | I’m a long-running fan of Bill Snyder but at some point the inability to constantly attract top-tier talent catches up with you. The Wildcats only return Elijah Sullivan as a starter at linebacker and with Snyder breaking in a new defensive coordinator this fall you have to say that this position group is a big question mark at the moment.