Ranking the SEC's top 10 linebackers in the BCS era
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They’re fierce, physical, hard-hitting and arguably the calling card of the SEC. Once again, with so many talented players to have suited up for an SEC school since 1998, picking just 10 seems like an unfair and impossible task. There are many deserving of being included, but…
Here are the SEC’s top 10 linebackers during the BCS era:
1. Patrick Willis, Ole Miss (2003-06)
Notable stats: 265 tackles, 21 TFL
The lowdown: Coming into college, Willis was an afterthought. Ranked as a three-star prospect and the 60th best linebacker, Willis wasn’t expected to turn into the monster that he is today. His combination of size, speed and technique is practically unparalleled. He racked up 265 tackles throughout his career and hauled in the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2006, along with the Butkus, Jack Lambert and Conerly Trophies. Willis led the conference in tackles during his last two seasons with Ole Miss and was the bright spot for some bad Ole Miss teams in 2005-06. Perhaps the play the defines Willis’ game most was his hit against LSU in 2005. Simply put, Willis was a beast.
2. Rolando McClain, Alabama (2007-09)
Notable stats: 275 tackles, 7 sacks
The lowdown: As the centerpiece of Nick Saban’s defense during the ascent of Alabama football, Rolando McClain stood out as one of the conference’s best. He was the “quarterback” of the defense and a true leader for the nation’s best program in 2009. He was named to the first-team All-SEC in 2008-09 and was also an unanimous All-American as a senior. The Butkus and Lambert award winner added a SEC Defensive Player of the Year accolade to his resume and was regarded as one of the smartest on-the-field players in college football.
3. CJ Mosley, Alabama (2010-13)
Notable stats: 319 tackles, 23 TFL, 6.5 sacks
The lowdown: Mosely came into Alabama on the heels of two dominant seasons by Rolando McClain. Although filling McClain’s shoes would be a tall task, Mosely lived up to the expectations. After a down sophomore season, Mosely exploded with two 100-plus tackle seasons to finish out his career. The awards for Mosely are virtually endless. He was a consensus All-American twice, a Freshman All-American and a two-time national champion as the Tide went 46-7 during his four years. He also won the Butkus Award in 2013, given to the nation’s top linebacker.
4. Al Wilson, Tennessee (1995-98)
Notable stats: 272 tackles, 23 TFL, 11 sacks
The lowdown: The numbers for Wilson won’t blow you away, but his impact was felt all around the team. As the team captain for the undefeated 1998 national championship team, Wilson looked to as the Vols’ leader. He was instrumental in the development of the team’s younger linebackers and was the lifeblood of the defense. His on-the-field success wasn’t too shabby either. He was a two-time All-SEC selection and a consensus All-American in 1998.
5. DeMeco Ryans, Alabama (2002-05)
Notable stats: 307 tackles
The lowdown: It was a slower start for Ryans at Alabama in 2002. His main role came with the special teams unit and only as a backup on the linebacker corps. However, by the end of his career Ryans was a force in the middle of the Alabama defense. In addition to being named the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year, Ryans was selected as a first-team All-SEC player as well as a unanimous All-American selection. As a former three-star recruit, Ryans outperformed expectations and left Alabama as one of the school’s best linebackers.
6. Jarvis Jones, Georgia (2011-12)
Notable stats: 158 tackles, 28 sacks, 44 TFL, 9 forced fumbles
The lowdown: The Southern Cal transfer was a perfect fit for Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense. From 2011-12 Jones was considered the premier pass rusher in the SEC. He started every game for Georgia as a junior and it paid off big time for the Bulldogs. He led the SEC with 13.5 sacks and was a consensus first-team All-American. Jones was even more of a beast in 2012, racking up 14.5 sacks, 24 TFL, seven forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered. His impressive performance against the Florida Gators in 2012 (13 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles) is still one of the most memorable single-game defensive showings in Georgia’s history.
7. Brandon Spikes, Florida (2006-09)
Notable stats: 307 tackles, 31.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks
The lowdown: If Tim Tebow was the unquestioned leader of the Gators’ offense for Urban Meyer, Brandon Spikes was the same for the defense. As the team’s middle linebacker, Spikes owned the middle of the field and racked up 307 tackles, 31 TFL and 6.5 sacks in his four-year career. He was a two-time captain and All-American as well as an All-SEC selection three times. He started 39 games for the Gators.
8. Mike Peterson, Florida (1995-98)
Notable stats: 249 tackles, 13 TFL, 8.5 sacks
The lowdown: Peterson started 24 games and played in 42 during his Gator career. He helped the Gators win the 1996 national championship, and his career numbers are astounding. He racked up 249 tackles for the Gators and was an All-American, who led the Gators to two SEC Championships.
9. Jevon Kearse, Florida (1995-98)
Notable stats: 145 tackles, 34.5 TFL, 16.5 sacks
The lowdown: Kearse was the Jadeveon Clowney of the 1990s and he was appropriately nicknamed the Freak because of his 6-4, 265-pound frame and 86-inch wingspan. Originally viewed as a safety, Kearse ended up developing into one of Florida’s best defensive players of all-time. His pass-rushing skills are virtually second-to-none at Florida. His career finished in the first year of the BCS era, earning first-team All-American honors and was a finalist for several defensive awards as a senior.
10. Bradie James, LSU (1999-02)
Notable stats: 418 tackles, 33 TFL, 14 sacks
The lowdown: James was the second player in school history to record more than 400 tackles in his career. In adidition to setting a school record of 154 tackles as a senior, James garnered two All-SEC selections, an All-American selection and had the defense nicknamed in his honor as the “James Gang Defense.” It’s likely you won’t see as good of numbers that James put up many times in college football.