The thought first dawned on me late Friday afternoon in Columbus, as large groups of reporters circled around Ohio State linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle after practice. Finally, Homan and Rolle were getting the attention they deserved.
One problem you encounter when a league boasts so many elite players at one position is that most of them tend to get overlooked. The Big Ten had three consensus selections for first-team all-conference in 2009: Michigan State's Greg Jones, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Iowa's Pat Angerer. I'd put those three against any group in college football, and I'd like my chances. If you're running a 3-4 scheme, toss in Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2009.
But the performances of Jones, Bowman, Angerer and Borland overshadowed guys like Homan. How many linebackers record 108 tackles, five interceptions, 10 passes defended, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries and don't make first-team all-conference?
The good thing for Homan is he has another season to get the attention he deserves. The same can't be said for Minnesota's all-senior linebacking corps of Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, each of whom ranked among the Big Ten's tackles leaders last fall. Or Indiana's Matt Mayberry, a blog favorite who flew under the radar. Or Iowa's A.J. Edds, who finished the season with five interceptions and nine passes defended. Penn State's Josh Hull got some love with a second-team All-Big Ten pick from the coaches, but his value to the defense wasn't really known outside Happy Valley.
Those players have moved on, but here are a few linebackers who will step into the spotlight in 2010:
Ross Homan, Sr., Ohio State
2009 stats: 108 tackles, 5 interceptions, 10 passes defended, 5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries
Brian Rolle, Sr., Ohio State
2009 stats: 95 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 2 passes defended
Quentin Davie, Sr., Northwestern
2009 stats: 90 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 6 quarterback hurries, 1 interception
Jason Werner, Sr., Purdue
2009 stats: 77 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended
Eric Gordon, Sr., Michigan State
2009 stats: 92 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick
Jeremiha Hunter, Sr., Iowa
2009 stats: 89 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 blocked kick, 1 interception, 5 passes defended
Mike Taylor, So., Wisconsin
2009 stats: 46 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, led the team in tackles before suffering season-ending injury against Iowa on Oct. 17.
Tyler Replogle, Sr., Indiana
2009 stats: 80 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups
Joe Holland, Jr., Purdue
2009 stats: 81 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 passes defended
Ian Thomas, Jr., Illinois
2009 stats: 95 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 passes defended, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery