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The Big 12's best linebackers

8/12/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There aren't many national standout linebackers in the Big 12 this season. The conference's proud history featuring key players like Derrick Johnson, Dat Nguyen and Mark Simoneau that dominated action from the position seems a long way away.

Part of that is because of the preponderance of spread offenses that have diminished some of the effectiveness of linebackers throughout college football. And good linebackers are becoming increasingly hard to find.

But there are still a few good ones left. Here are the players I think are the Big 12's top linebackers this season.

1. Joe Mortensen, Kansas -- Thrived after moving inside to middle linebacker to key Jayhawks' defense. He led the conference with 15 tackles for losses last season.

2. Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri -- Lightly regarded product from Jasper, Texas, has blossomed into one of conference's most consistent defensive playmakers. His 127 tackles led all of the Big 12's returning defensive players.

3. Mike Rivera, Kansas -- Produced three sacks, 7.5 tackles for a loss last season in first as starter outside.

4. Ryan Reynolds, Oklahoma -- If he's healthy, he could blossom into one of OU's dominating middle linebackers like Curtis Lofton and Rufus Alexander before him.

5. Patrick Lavine, Oklahoma State -- Consistent producer who leads all Oklahoma State returnees with 81 tackles from last season. Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Tim Beckman hopes he will emerge as the Cowboys' key defender this season.

6. Marlon Williams, Texas Tech -- It will be interesting to see if his tackle numbers remain strong with the increasing defensive talent around him.

7. Joe Pawelek, Baylor -- Most valuable player on Bears' defensive team will be starting for his third-straight season.

8. James Holt, Kansas -- Underrated because he's sometimes overshadowed by Mortensen and Rivera on his own team.

9. Brock Christopher, Missouri -- Space-eating MLB who always seems to be around the ball.

10. Rashad Bobino, Texas -- Bruising 238-pounder will be counted for senior leadership and his hitting ability by new coordinator Will Muschamp.