Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Take Two: B1G's best linebacker combo?
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.
There are a lot of Big Ten teams with more than one outstanding starting linebacker. So today's Take Two topic is this: What is the best 1-2 linebacker combo in the league in 2012?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
There are a lot of possible good answers here. Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Mike Taylor led the league in total tackles last season. Penn State has All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges paired with Michael Mauti, who's as good as anybody when healthy -- which he says he is now. Iowa's James Morris and Christian Kirksey each collected more than 100 tackles last season. And on and on.
But I'm going to go with a little bit of a darkhorse pick and say Michigan State. I think the Spartans have the best overall linebacker corps in the league as they return all three starters, and, in particular, the duo of Max Bullough and Denicos Allen is special. Bullough is the prototypical middle linebacker and captain of the defense who has a terrific understanding of the game. He's perfectly complemented by Allen, who may be a bit undersized but who nevertheless is a heat-seeking blitzer that defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi can do all kinds of things with. The Bullough-Allen pair didn't put up as many tackles as some of the other duos in the league last year, but that's because they don't have to with Michigan State's outstanding defensive line. And remember that both were in their first years of starting last year; they both figure to be even better in 2012.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
There are some excellent options here, as well as quite a few stud tandems at cornerback. Topic of another Take Two, perhaps? I think so. Neither of us is going to pick the league's most productive tandem in Taylor and Borland, but those guys are both extremely solid players who will lead Wisconsin's defense. The Bullough-Allen tandem is a good one, and could be for the 2013 season as well.
That said, I'm going with Linebacker U and the Hodges-Mauti pair. Hodges really impressed me this spring. He's an All-Big Ten player who can play a variety of positions and could make a serious run at the Butkus Award this fall. But you already knew that. The wild card, obviously, is Mauti after his recent injury issues. We know what he can do when healthy, and my pick obviously depends on No. 42 remaining on the field. From talking with Mauti last month in State College, his knee feels great, stronger than it did before, and he wants to play middle linebacker in Ted Roof's defense. There might not be a more motivated player on Penn State's roster after the injuries and all the program has been through in recent weeks. It's hard not to root for a guy like Mauti, and I think he'll finish his career the right way.