The post-spring Big East position rankings roll on today with a look at linebacker. This is a tough one to rank because so many teams have good players at the position. You could shake these out in a lot of different orders and not be wrong. We're looking for depth and star power combined here.
1. Connecticut: Lawrence Wilson led the league with a whopping 140 tackles last year, while Scott Lutrus was a regular 100-tackle guy before getting hurt. They're both seniors with a ton of experience. Jory Johnson played in 12 games last year at the other linebacker spot. Depth is a little shaky, but the starting unit is as solid as it gets.
2. West Virginia: Pat Lazear led the team in tackles a year ago, and J.T. Thomas is an All-Big East performer who might be ready to blossom into a superstar as a senior. Senior Anthony Leonard needs to step in as the starting middle linebacker this season, replacing the reliable Reed Williams.
3. Pittsburgh: Pitt has had a long line of stars at middle linebacker, and it looks like Dan Mason will be the next one there. Max Gruder is coming off a year in which he surprisingly led the team in tackles, while two-year starter Greg Williams is trying to hold off Tristan Roberts for the third starting spot.
4. Rutgers: Keep an eye on Steve Beauharnais, who came on late in his freshman year and appears destined to make the leap this season at middle linebacker. Senior Antonio Lowery started eight games a year ago and is the team's leading returning tackler, while junior Manny Abreu moves into a starting role after making solid contributions as a reserve.
5. Syracuse: Derrell Smith and Doug Hogue were as productive as any linebacker duo in the league last year, combining for 16 sacks. Yet the loss of E.J. Carter after the spring hurt the depth here, and there is precious little experience behind the starting group, which also includes Ryan Gillum.
6. South Florida: The Bulls are rated this low only because of relative inexperience. Middle linebacker Sam Barrington was a big-time recruit who started to realize his potential in the spring, while the coaching staff raved about Jacquian Williams' speed. Sabbath Joseph is the veteran of the group, while redshirt freshman DeDe Lattimore is coming on strong. This has the potential to be a really strong group.
7. Cincinnati: JK Schaffer and Walter Stewart aren't the biggest guys in the world, but they both make plays. Schaffer quietly recorded 100 stops last year while Stewart had a big impact as a freshman. Dorian Davis will have to improve his production as a first-time starter, and depth is an issue.
8. Louisville: The Cardinals' two best players in '09 -- Jon Dempsey and Chris Campa -- are gone. Still, linebacker may be the strongest area on the defense for Louisville. Seniors Brandon Heath and Antwon Canady should make a lot of plays, and former highly rated recruit Dexter Heyman moves back to his old position after a failed experiment on the defensive line a year ago.