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2010 TOP FIVE UNIT RANKINGS
Linebacker

Boston College

Most of the college football world is familiar with the story of Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer just one year ago costing him the entire 2009 season. His story touched the country and on ESPN College GameDay October 3 while announcing he was cancer-free. Herzlich then had a metal rod inserted into his right leg on November 23 to strengthen the bone and he used spring ball to get back into playing shape while not participating in hitting drills. Herzlich will play a major role in some way, shape or form. Before the cancer, he was the nation's premier linebacker and a sure fire top NFL Draft pick. If he can return remotely close to the same form that made him the 2008 ACC Defensive POY, this will be one heckuva linebacker trio. In his absence last year, a young freshman named Luke Kuechly emerged to become the ACC's rookie star by racking up 158 tackles (2nd best nationally) and a First Teamer on the All-ACC list among assorted All-America honors. Before Kuechly is finished he could be one of the greatest linebackers to ever walk the halls of Boston College. On the weakside is Will Thompson who made it back from an injury to play in the final six games of '09. Healthy again, he possesses run-stopping abilities that fit a linebacker well. The first unit of linebackers is stacked, but so is the second. Darius Bagan, Nick Clancy, Alexander DiSanzo, Dominick LeGrande and Dan Williams have all spent time on the field. They combined for 107 tackles last year. And don't count out true freshman Kevin Pierre-Louis who arrived early this January after finishing as one of the top prep athletes in the state of Connecticut.

North Carolina

Carolina welcomes back two of the nation’s top rated linebackers in Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant for their senior seasons. Both were All-ACC selections. Add in promising sophomore Kevin Reddick and the Tar Heels have one of the best starting linebacker combinations in the country. Carter started all 13 games on the outside and has 33 total career starts. Of course, he is most famous for blocking an unheard of five kicks in 2008 - a punt at Miami, three punts vs. Connecticut and a field goal attempt at Virginia. Let's just say he has a knack for being around the ball. Sturdivant became the first Tar Heel linebacker named First Team All-Conference since Kivuusama Mays in 1997. He was also a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award. Reddick was one of the top rookies in the ACC a year ago and Zach Brown may be the fastest Tar Heel on the team and has competed in the off-season with the UNC track team. Amazingly, all four of the aforementioned linebackers hale from the state of North Carolina. Coach Butch Davis has done a remarkable job reeling in the local talent. Several other players are waiting in the wings too including juniors Herman Davidson, Ebele Okakpu, and sophomores Dion Guy and Shane Mularkey.

Connecticut

Head Coach Randy Edsall has said this spring that the Huskies' linebacker corps is among his greatest concerns, mostly due to a lack of depth. Sorry to contradict the 11-year veteran UConn coach but this group has two former All-Big East selections lining up in Scott Lutrus and Lawrence Wilson (a NationalChamps.net 2010 Preseason All-American). The third backer Greg Lloyd was also an All-Big East pick last year despite the fact a knee injury forced him to miss the final three games. His 100% healthy return is uncertain and even if he is ready come August the senior will be lining up at the defensive end position in all likelihood. But senior Lawrence Wilson was the team leader in tackles with 140 and was tied for tenth nationally in the same category. For the fourth consecutive season, both Wilson and Scott Lutrus will start for the Huskies…quite an accomplishment. Lutrus was a Freshman All-American in 2007 and is one of the hardest hitters on the East Coast. The scars and dents on his helmet are a testimony to his tenacity. Sophomore Jory Johnson played in 12 games last year and Kijuan Dabney, who has seen action in 20 games, is back after missing most of last year with shoulder injury.

Oregon

The fruits of recruiting have paid huge dividends with this unit for the Ducks. So much talent and more important, depth, is working within this unit that Oregon did not even sign a single recruit this February to line up here since position coach Don Pellum did not lose a single player to graduation. The wealth begins with Spencer Paysinger and Casey Matthews, two seniors who anchor the entire defense. Paysinger, the Ducks' second-leading tackler, has started 19 straight games at weakside linebacker and his 25 career opening assignments are the most by any defensive player and second-most on the team. Matthews, a second-team all-conference choice, has 20 consecutive starts at middle linebacker and was one of only three players to surpass 1,000 plays in 2009. Starting LB Eddie Pleasant, the second-fasted player on the team has been moved to safety this spring due to the number of able bodies available. But Pleasant is still capable of moving back to his linebacker position if needed with his multi-talents. Junior Josh Kaddu and senior Bryson Littlejohn both have starting experience. If there’s one area that’s no concern at all on the 2010 Ducks team it’s at linebacker.

Southern California

USC returns a slew of linebackers from 2009, including all of the starters. This was a green unit last year at this time. As usual with most all USC players, their talents and accolades far exceed their experience level, as all three were once former Parade All-Americans in high school. Junior Chris Galippo is the youngest of all three and started all season in the middle while finishing as a semifinalist for the Butkus Award. Senior Malcolm Smith is always around the ball and had an eye-opening 2009 performance. Senior Michael Morgan and sophomore Devon Kennard give coaches four steady players to work with. Junior college transfer Glen Stanley at WLB will be in to make it five in the fall. However, the end result for this group last year was extremely disappointing. Coaches have singled them out as the one area that needs the most improving probably because they know there is too much talent here to perform poorly. This is shaping up the be one of the most improved units in the Pac Ten if not the country with defensive coach Monte Kiffin pushing these young men.

 

Just Missed: Notre Dame