It’s that time again! The summer months are upon us and our favorite way to pass the time is by speculating on how specific positions will shape up in the Big 12. The Heartland Sports writers give their take on each position group, ranking them from first to worst. Then they are asked to defend their top three and bottom two rankings.
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. Oklahoma State||37|
|4. Iowa State||28|
|7. Texas Tech||17|
|8. West Virginia||16|
|9. Kansas State||12|
Unanimity – We didn’t have a lot of agreement with the linebackers other than Kansas at #10.
Almost Agreed – We were really close with Oklahoma State being at the top but there was one hold out.
All Over The Place – Oklahoma was hard to place for us. We had the Sooners as high as #1 and as low as #5. West Virginia is another one that received one high vote (#2) and then several low votes.
Individual Thoughts And Rankings
1. Oklahoma | Caleb Kelly is back and healthy for the Sooners. They will need his leadership to help fill the gap left by Kenneth Murray’s departure to the NFL. DaShaun White and Nik Bonitto also return, giving the Sooners three linebackers with starting experience.
2. West Virginia | Middle linebacker Dylan Tonkery is the upperclassman in what was a very young group of linebackers last year. The good news for the Mountaineers is that they all return in 2020. The hope is that they take a big step forward this fall.
3. Texas | The Longhorns have a trio of linebackers returning in 2020 led by preseason all-conference pick Joseph Ossai.
4. Oklahoma State
5. Iowa State
6. Texas Tech
8. Kansas State
9. Baylor | Terrel Bernard is a legitimate all-conference selection but he’s the lone returning starter in the Bears’ linebacker corps.
10. Kansas | The Jayhawks have talent in youngster Gavin Potter and middle linebacker Kyron Johnson. However, Kansas does have two new starters in the linebacker corps this fall.
1. Oklahoma State | The Cowboys are stacked at the linebacker position, not just in talent, but in experience as well. Seniors Malcolm Rodriguez and Amen Ogbongbemiga both recorded at least 100 tackles last season, and senior Devin Harper could see an elevated role as an important backup for the Cowboy defense.
2. TCU | Garrett Willow was a monster last season for the Horned Frogs as he led the conference with 125 tackles. He’s the only upperclassmen at the linebacker position, so he will specifically be a leader to the guys immediately around him, but also for the defense as a whole.
3. Oklahoma | Caleb Kelly missed the first 10 games of last season, so his numbers weren’t great at all, but don’t be surprised if he rebounds for a solid year. With Kenneth Murray gone to the NFL, Kelly will be a leader for the Sooners. Alongside Kelly is returning starter Dashaun White, who finished 4th on the team in tackles last season with 52. This duo could be scary.
5. Iowa State
6. Texas Tech
8. Kansas State
9. West Virginia | As good as the Mountaineers are upfront on defense, they are pretty weak at the linebacker position. Dylan Tonkery is the only guy in the group who has seen double-digit starts, and they weren’t exactly solid last year either.
10. Kansas | Oh, the Jayhawks. Gavin Potter had a solid season last year recording 57 tackles as a freshman, but there’s not a lot to be excited about here.
1. Oklahoma State Cowboys | With Jim Knowles directing the defense in Stillwater, the group took a major step forward. As the only program in the conference to boast two Butkus Award Watch List members, there’s no denying the duo of Malcolm Rodriguez and Amen Ogbongbemiga are two of the best in the business. Ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of tackles, both broke the triple digit barrier. Combining for 22.5 tackles for loss, this pair possess enough experience and talent to edge out the rest of the competition at the top of the list. Add to it the fact that OSU isn’t forced to replace any player from the two-deep in the front seven and it’s a recipe for success moving forward.
2. Iowa State Cyclones | Under Matt Campbell the defense has ranked near the top of the conference in each of the past three seasons. Despite losing leading tackler Marcel Spears, there’s a trio of backers ready to accept the challenge. While Mike Rose, O’Rien Vance, and Jake Hummell will provide plenty of stats, the depth behind them must be developed. It’s the sole reason ISU falls to No. 2 in my set of rankings this year.
3. Oklahoma Sooners | Losing a player like Kenneth Murray in the middle leaves a significant hole in the defense. Standing to benefit the most is DaShaun White who is now removed from the shadows. Able to set the one physically, the rest of defense will count on the linebacker to help shutdown the rushing attack from opposing offenses. Last season, the Sooners ranked first in the Big 12 by limiting ball carriers to 134 yards per game on the ground. Add a healthy Caleb Kelly and an experienced Nik Bonitto to the mix and Oklahoma appears to be in good shape moving forward.
4. Texas Longhorns
5. Baylor Bears
6. TCU Horned Frogs
7. Kansas State Wildcats
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
9. West Virginia Mountaineers | Heading into the 2020 season, the Mountaineers have several players coming off injuries at linebacker. Stepping into the void, Jared Bartlett showed much promised as a freshman and received valuable experience toward the end of the year. Competing for playing time at the same spot is likely VanDarius Cowan, an Alabama transfer. Still Cowan must learn a new system in a condensed offseason with WVU while coming off a knee injury. Falling into the injury category as well, Josh Chandler is expected to play significant minutes. How will the injuries affect the pair? At least Dylan Tonkery is healthy on the other side.
10. Kansas Jayhawks | At linebacker, Dru Prox proved he was the best defender until suffering a season ending injury four games into the year. granted a sixth year of eligibility the group received a slight boost. However, the number of inexperienced players taking the field in starting roles continues to be a concern. It’s no different here at the linebacker position, leaving KU at the bottom of the heap.
1. Oklahoma State | The Cowboys come in at the top of my list as the only team returning two players with more than 100 tackles last season. Amen Ogbongbemiga and Malcom Rodriguez were dominant a year ago, and it earned them a selection to the Butkus Award watch list in 2020. OSU is also the only Big 12 team with multiple selections on the watch list.
2. TCU | The Horned Frogs are high up in my rankings only due to Garret Wallow. Wallow is probably the best returning linebacker in the conference. He came up with 125 total tackles last year. If TCU can get a big season out of Wyatt Harris as well, they could end up as the best linebacker group in the Big 12.
3. Texas | There isn’t more hype around a defensive player in the Big 12 than Joseph Ossai. As a sophomore he produced 90 total tackles in 2019. In 2020, he will be forced to step up as the leader of the Longhorns defense. Between Ossai and Juwan Mitchell, Texas will be stacked at the linebacker position.
4. Iowa State
7. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. Kansas State | The Wildcats have one linebacker on their roster with more than 100 total career tackles. The two biggest things Kansas State lacks is star power and experience at the LB position. Hopefully Elijah Sullivan can step up as a sixth year senior to lead this team.
10. Kansas | No one lost more talent at the linebacker position this off-season than the Jayhawks. They lost 4 seniors from their linebacker group a year ago. Kyron Johnson will be the leading returning tackler with 90 career tackles.
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