Now that spring ball has ended, we're updating our Big 12 position group rankings over the next two weeks. We continue the series today with the conference's linebackers:
1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): Eric Striker remains OU’s best and most dangerous player, and he’ll team up once again with Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans, whose continued maturation should mean big things in 2015. Devante Bond and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo can provide another threat on the outside. Assuming Frank Shannon rejoins the program this month, OU is loaded in terms of depth and will get even better when freshmen Ricky DeBerry and Arthur McGinnis arrive.
2. Oklahoma State (2): If everyone stays healthy, the Cowboys could be three-deep at linebacker with lots of quality options. Seth Jacobs and Ryan Simmons are proven starters, and junior college transfer Jordan Burton looks like the answer at “Star” linebacker after wowing the coaching staff this spring. Justin Phillips is one of a big group of backups too talented to stay off the field. Glenn Spencer’s D will have all sorts of options at the second level this fall.
3. West Virginia (4): There isn’t a more underrated linebacker in the Big 12 than Nick Kwiatkoski, who should get to do even more now that he’s playing outside linebacker again. Jared Barber is back from injury and will be a comfortable fit in the middle of this defense. Edward Muldrow, Isaiah Bruce and Shaq Petteway bring a combined 29 career starts to the table to fortify depth.
4. Texas (3): The Longhorns drop a spot only because they lost Dalton Santos for most of the spring to an ankle injury that required surgery. He should be back in July. Malik Jefferson and Edwin Freeman looked like future stars during UT’s spring game. They’re the second-stringers for now behind Peter Jinkens and Tim Cole. Texas also has exciting freshmen Anthony Wheeler, Cameron Townsend and Cecil Cherry on the way.
5. Baylor (5): Grant Campbell filled the key vacancy at middle linebacker this spring and earned praise for his physical play. The former juco transfer has caught up to the speed of Big 12 ball. He’ll be aided by Taylor Young, who’s coming off a terrific debut season. Aiavion Edwards is a starter-quality backup, and Travon Blanchard could prove to be an upgrade at the “Bear” linebacker/safety hybrid spot.
6. Texas Tech (7): Micah Awe looked, at times, like Tech’s best linebacker this spring. That’s a very encouraging development from the inside backer who logged 69 tackles last year despite earning four starts. Sam Atoe needs to keep progressing but looks like the guy at Sam linebacker. Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell didn’t look rusty and brings freaky athleticism to the position. Dakota Allen and D'Vonta Hinton will help, too.
7. Kansas State (6): Elijah Lee’s confidence is growing after transition from defensive end to outside linebacker this spring. He had a monster showing in K-State’s spring game. Redshirt freshman Sam Sizelove took a big step this offseason and should keep pushing six-game starter Will Davis and Trent Tanking for the inside linebacker job.
8. TCU (9): Will the Horned Frogs start a true freshman at middle linebacker? The emergence of Mike Freeze was one of the spring’s better surprises, and the early enrollee is in the lead for that job exiting spring ball. Sammy Douglas is the other projected starter, though competition will continue with Ty Summers, Paul Whitmill and Alec Dunham all battling for reps. Incoming freshman Semaj Thomas could get a chance to contribute as well.
9. Kansas (8): Schyler Miles is finally healthy again after missing the 2014 season and will challenge Kyron Watson for the duties of replacing Ben Heeney at inside linebacker. On the outside, Courtney Arnick got most of the work this spring while Jake Love was sidelined by injuries. With only five returning ‘backers who played last season, it’s tough to know what to expect from the rest of the backups.
10. Iowa State (10): Luke Knott needed another hip procedure this spring, an unfortunate setback that puts his 2015 season and playing career in jeopardy. Former walk-on Levi Peters takes his place as the weakside linebacker for the time being. Jordan Harris did have a great spring according to his coaches and pulled ahead of Kane Seeley for the middle linebacker job.