- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Earlier this summer, I took a look at the Big Ten's top candidates to throw for 3,000 yards, to run for 1,000 yards and to compile 1,000 receiving yards this season. Well, offensive guys don't get to have all the fun.
Let's move to the defensive side of the ball now and see which guys might produce the top tackling numbers in the league in 2012. We'll start off by examining the leading returning 100-tackle men from last season and their outlook for the coming fall:
1. Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin: Taylor had a true breakthrough year in 2012, leading the league with 150 tackles in 14 games. His 10.7 tackles per game ranked 13th nationally. Taylor sat out this spring while dealing with a hip injury, but is expected to be fully healthy in time for training camp. And there's no reason to think he won't be among the league leaders in stops again this year, along with ...
2. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin: You'd be hard pressed to find two more productive returning linebackers than the Badgers' duo. Borland finished just behind Taylor with 143 tackles in '11, successfully making the transition to middle linebacker after missing a year due to injury. There's little question that Taylor and Borland are two defenders Wisconsin will heavily rely on to get stops. And speaking of dynamic duos, let's go ahead and lump the next two together ...
3-4. James Morris and Christian Kirksey, LB, Iowa: The Hawkeyes' pair didn't get as much attention as Borland and Taylor but were awfully good in their own right, as each one recorded 110 tackles (Morris did it in 12 games, Kirksey in 13) in 2011. Both will be counted on this fall as Iowa breaks in a very young defensive line in front of them. Considering both are juniors who have had two years of playing experience, the future appears bright for these two.
5. Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois: Brown was another guy who had a breakout sophomore year, making 108 tackles and a lot of plays in opposing backfields. He's got great speed and should only improve as he matures and continues to develop. He's a darkhorse candidate for Big Ten defensive player of the year honors.
6. Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State: Hodges was a first-team All-Big Ten performer last year and enters this season as one of the top linebackers in the country after posting 106 tackles in 2011. He's a big-time playmaker who had a 19-tackle game last year against Illinois. The sky's the limit for Hodges, even in a new defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Ted Roof.
7. Ibraheim Campbell, S, Northwestern: Campbell was a pleasant surprise for the Wildcats, finishing with a team-best 100 tackles as a redshirt freshman. He's a hard-hitter who could help Northwestern's defense improve off a disappointing showing last year. Of course, any time your safety is getting 100 tackles, it usually indicates that the guys up front are giving up too much room. So it's probably a good thing if Campbell's tackle numbers go down in '12.
Those are the guys who hit triple digits last year and are coming back. Now here's a quick look at some other players who could reach the century mark this year.
Kenny Demens, LB, Michigan: Demens led the Wolverines with 94 stops last season, and Michigan's defensive line might not be quite as strong as last year's group, meaning he could meet more ball carriers himself.
Dwayne Beckford, LB, Purdue: Fully reinstated to the team last month, Beckford is the most experienced linebacker of the group. He had 91 tackles in '11 and won't have Joe Holland (94 stops as a senior in 2011) to pick up the slack next to him.
Max Bullough, LB, Michigan State: Bullough is the captain of a strong Spartans defense as the middle linebacker and had 84 tackles a year ago. But the players around him are all so good that the tackle numbers could be spread out.
Will Compton, LB, Nebraska: Now that tackling machine Lavonte David is off to the NFL, someone will have to carry the load. That could well be Compton, who had a nice year in 2011 with 82 tackles.
Mike Rallis, LB, Minnesota: Safety Kim Royston paced the Gophers with 123 tackles in 2011. But like Northwestern, Minnesota would rather not see a defensive back lead the way in stops again. Rallis (83 tackles last year) or fellow linebacker Keanon Cooper (77) might see an uptick in stats with a better Gophers' defensive effort.
Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State: The Buckeyes did not have a player record more than 75 tackles last year. That might change this season, and veteran linebacker Etienne Sabino could put up some big numbers. But I like Shazier -- who had 58 tackles in only 10 games as a freshman, including 15 against Penn State -- to emerge as the next Buckeyes linebacker star.
David Cooper, Indiana: The Hoosiers are high on this junior-college transfer and hope he can have an immediate, Lavonte David like impact. They need someone to make a big mark on a defense that really struggled a year ago.
Michael Mauti, Penn State: The Nittany Lions have Hodges and also Mauti, who can be a major factor if he's recovered from yet another devastating injury. He had 67 tackles two years ago in an injury-shortened season and was playing extremely well before he hurt his knee last September. If he's sound, Penn State could have a top tackling duo a la Wisconsin and Iowa.
1hBrian Bennett and Austin Ward