August 29, 2009

Penn State once again has the best linebackers


Today, we continue unveiling our national unit rankings with linebackers. We'll unveil one per day and end Tuesday with overall coaching staffs.

The No. 1 team in the linebacker rankings is a school known for producing great players at the position. It also has the nation's best duo at the position this season.

Here are the linebacker unit rankings. Next up: secondaries.


1. Penn State
: Michael Mauti's season-ending injury hurts, but this remains a deep and talented unit. Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee are the nation's best linebacker duo.

2. Florida
: Brandon Spikes gets all the notice, but there are a lot of fast, experienced and nasty 'backers joining him. Five linebackers who started at least three games return.

3. Alabama
: Three of the four starters return, headed by junior Rolando McClain, a big, physical presence in the middle. Watch for sophomore Dont'a Hightower to emerge as a star this season.

4. Michigan State
: Coach Mark Dantonio quietly is putting together one of the Big Ten's best defenses. Junior Greg Jones is a productive playmaker. All three starters return, but Adam Decker seems likely to lose his starting job, meaning there is good depth and a lot of speed.

5. North Carolina
: The Tar Heels have speed in abundance at this position. Quan Sturdivant is underrated nationally, and coaches are raving about sophomore Zach Brown, a first-time starter who might be the fastest player on the team.

6. Georgia
: Rennie Curran is small (5 feet 11/220 pounds), but he flies to the ball and arrives with a nasty disposition. He is one of two returning starters for a group that has good depth and quickness.

7. Oklahoma
: Sophomore Travis Lewis burst on the scene in a big way last season, and he could be the best linebacker in the Big 12. Keenan Clayton has good speed on the outside. If oft-injured Ryan Reynolds can stay healthy, this could be a special group. Some preseason injuries have hurt the depth, though.

8. Iowa
: Pat Angerer leads an underrated group. Angerer had 107 tackles and five picks last season. A.J. Edds and Jerimiha Hunter also are returning starters, and depth looks excellent.

9. Utah
: Stevenson Sylvester is a big-play guy who can get to the ball in a hurry. Mike Wright is solid in the middle. Depth is good, too.

10. Arizona State
: Travis Goethel and Mike Nixon are a big, productive and experienced duo. If touted true freshman Vontaze Burfict is cleared academically, he will see the field immediately; he is attending class at Arizona State but is awaiting NCAA Clearinghouse approval.

8 OTHERS TO WATCH: Clemson (This should be one of the best linebacker groups in the ACC); Connecticut (All three starters return, headed by Scott Lutrus, who is underrated nationally); Oregon State (This is a solid group led by Keaton Kristick, who has all-league potential); South Carolina (Eric Norwood headlines a unit that returns all three starters); Texas (Roddrick Muckelroy is the standout, and there are some solid complementary players); UCLA (Reggie Carter is a star, and Akeem Ayers has a bunch of talent); USC (There are three new starters, yes, but there also is talent galore); West Virginia (Reed Williams' health is vital to this unit's success).

(Rankings by staffers Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.)

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