Now it's time to look at the guys that seem to be in on every play: players who will notch 100 tackles next year. A little context: This is a bigger group than the others.
Last year, 11 players topped the 100-tackle mark, and just five return. Across the country, 75 players had at least 100 tackles, by far the largest group we've examined so far this year.
So this time, instead of looking at the players most likely to crack the mark, we'll just run down the players I believe will have at least 100 tackles next year, in order of the likelihood they do so. As usual, this is not a ranking of each linebacker's overall skill, just the probability that they reach the benchmark statistic for their position.
1. Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: Lewis tops the list based on his history. In three years, he has 360 tackles for the Sooners, and has topped 100 in all three seasons. He's got a hungry youngster in Corey Nelson nipping at his heels, but he's one of the defense's leaders. There's no reason to think he won't have another huge year.
Iowa State's Jake Knott is the top returning tackler in the Big 12.
2. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: After making 130 stops in 2010, Knott is the Big 12's leading returning tackler. He broke his arm late in the spring (following it up with the most hard-core recovery of the spring), but he should be back to full strength well before fall camp and geared up for 130 more.
3. Garrick Williams, LB, Texas A&M: Williams already had 112 stops in 2010, and without Michael Hodges and Von Miller around, he and Sean Porter (74 tackles in 2010) should rack up even more in 2011.
4. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State: Klein gets overshadowed by his teammate, Knott, but he had 111 tackles of his own as a first-year starter last year. The Cyclones defensive line is one of the weakest in the Big 12, but fortunately for ISU, it's got some solid linebackers.
5. Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas: Robinson is the last of the returning 100-tackle linebackers, but he'll have an even bigger role in the Longhorns' defense in 2011 after making 106 stops last year.
6. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: I'm officially buying on Arthur Brown. I'm on the fence about Bryce Brown, but the combination of the tales from last year's scout team, plus his 14 tackles in the spring game followed by an endorsement from Bill Snyder after it has me on board. He's the fastest linebacker Snyder's coached since his return, and speed takes you a long way in the Big 12. Big year on the way for Brown.
7. Caleb Lavey, LB, Oklahoma State: Lavey is the likely successor to resident brick wall Orie Lemon at middle linebacker for the Cowboys. He may not reach Lemon's 133 tackles in 2010, second-most in the Big 12, but I like what I saw from Lavey as a freshman last year and I like his chances to hit the triple digits.
8. Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri: Like Brown, Gooden has crazy speed for a linebacker, and at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, his body type is more like that of a hulking safety. Missouri, in part because of injury, didn't have a player with 100 tackles last year, but Gooden tied for the team lead with 84. If Will Ebner stays healthy, he could crash this list, too.
9. Prince Kent, S, Baylor: Two defensive backs hit the mark last year, but I've got just one on my list for 2011. Kent played sparingly as a freshman last year, but still led the team with two interceptions. The Bears' cornerbacks aren't great, and here's betting that means Kent leads the team in tackles this year.
10. Huldon Tharp, LB, Kansas: Tharp will be coming back from a knee injury, and he's not full strength just yet, but he's got the most raw talent of any defender on the Jayhawks' roster. I'll tack him on the end of this list for a nice comeback year.
Just missed: Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M; Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas, Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech