The start of the college football season is just a few short weeks away and it promises to be an entertaining race in the Big Ten. Now, if you are an Ohio State fan, you are hoping it is not too interesting, especially after coming up short last season. But the other 13 teams have scholarships and uniforms too and there is no denying that there is plenty of talent spread out around this conference.
It got us to thinking about the top players at specific positions going into the season. Ohio State fans are always well-aware of who their favorite team has but what about the rest of the teams in the league?
Linebackers is one of those positions that you think about when you are talking about the Big Ten. There have been some great players who have come up through the Big Ten through the years and those images will remain in place until the end of time.
Shockingly enough, as we put our list together, neither Ohio State nor Michigan show up on the list with a player. Have no fear, both teams have some guys ready to step up at the position and things could look very different in the postseason but for now there are five players that we like better as standouts, and here they are.
5. Curtis Jacobs – Penn State
There were a lot of players who could have gone in this last slot, but we are going to opt for a Penn State linebacker because we are nostalgic.
The numbers in 2021 were solid, 61 tackles, three sacks and an interception on the top line of the numbers, but those numbers are similar to Michigan’s Junior Colson, so why did we go with Jacobs here?
While both Penn State and Michigan lose a lot from last year’s defense, the losses up front for Michigan are much more significant and it is unknown how the Wolverines will be able to try and replace some of the production in front of Colson more than our questions about Jacobs. We will just have to wait and see.
4. Luke Reimer – Nebraska
Don’t look at the 3-9 record last year for the Huskers and just assume that they didn’t have any players, because that would be short-sighted. Yes, we have all heard that the Huskers were the best 3-9 team maybe in the history of football but in order to play everyone within something like 10 points, the defense had to contribute a lot because the offense last season was not exactly consistently explosive.
The numbers for Reimer last year were incredible, 19 tackles against Purdue, 90 on the season, four games with double-digit tackles, three forced fumbles, etc…
Couple him with linebacker Garrett Nelson and it is going to be a pretty powerful one-two punch.
It is hard to believe that he was only named honorable mention All-B1G last season but sometimes that is just how things work out. We are willing to bet that he rates much better once this season is in the books.
3. Cal Haladay – Michigan State
2021 for Haladay in East Lansing (Mich.) was a tremendous one as the Elysburg (Pa.) native took the field by storm and ended the year named to several freshman All-American teams.
After light use in 2020 and maintaining his redshirt, the following season would see Haladay go of for 96 tackles, two interceptions and two forced fumbles for the Spartans.
The Spartans seem to be a team in flux as they try to leverage the portal along with high school recruiting and there is going to be a lot of expectations on Haladay as he goes into his third season with the Spartans. But too good a year could mark his last at Michigan State, but that is a chance that the Spartans are going to have to take if they have any hopes of repeating a strong 2021 campaign.
2. Nick Herbig – Wisconsin
Some people may have noticed that Herbig was not listed when it came to rush end/defensive ends but in a 3-4 scheme, Herbig really is a linebacker and that is where we wanted to rank him.
Last season Herbig had 61 tackles, an astonishing 14.5 TFLs and a team-high nine sacks. Those production numbers are real and are among some of the best of any returning defensive player within the conference.
You think of Wisconsin recruiting and the Badgers landing a lot of players in the Upper Midwest and primarily from within its own state’s borders, but that was not the case here as they had to go all the way to Hawaii to find this former four-star. And it was not a case of Herbig being underrecruited as he held offers from powers like USC, Washington, Tennessee and Oklahoma.
1. Jack Campbell – Iowa
This one was pretty easy as Campbell is coming off of a 143-tackle season for the Hawkeyes, good for being among tops in the nation, along with two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble. For his efforts he was named second-team All-America by the FWAA and Phil Steele and first-team All-Big Ten.
Phil Steele has him tabbed as first-team All-America in the preseason for 2022 and he has made the Lott IMPACT watch list.
2021 was quite the step forward from 2020 (albeit a shortened season) when Campbell recorded only 29 tackles. Last season Campbell recorded five games with double-digit tackles including 14 against Kentucky in Iowa’s Citrus Bowl loss (20-17).
There are a lot of meaningful players to their team and Campbell may be the most meaningful player to Iowa in terms of what it tries to do in winning with defense.