Good morning and Happy Hump Day, Cougs! We'll get back to the Position Rankstravaganza shortly, but first I've got a cool, quintessentially Coug story to share. My big brother, Mark, still lives in the DC area and works as the General Manager of a restaurant called Glory Days. They were catering an event last week and Mark recognized former WSU basketball player Kojo Mensah-Bonsu. He may not be the most recognizable name in the annals of Cougar basketball, but my brother was a pretty big fan during his time there. Evidently the fascination with uniquely named players is a genetic trait. Anyway, it turns out that Mensah Bonsu carved out a pretty nice career for himself in Europe and has now moved to the DC are with his wife (also a Coug). Kojo was stoked to chat up a fellow Cougs and especially to find out that Mark shows Cougar football games at Glory Days in Centreville on Saturdays in the fall. I love being a Coug. Now, on with the rankings. Let's talk linebackers...
1. Stanford - Chase Thomas, Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, AJ Tarpley, James Vaughters, Noor Davis
If Skov is recovered from his knee injury and back to his 2010 form (or close to it), the Cardinal could boast two all-conference linebackers in him and Thomas. One of the standout performances I can remember from any player over the last few years was Skov's effort in the 2011 Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech. The dude played like an absolute maniac. He'll have to make sure his maniacal ways are limited to the football field, as a a February DUI arrest likely has him on thin ice. At any rate, Stanford is deep and talented at linebacker and this may be the best position group at any position in the conference.
2. USC - Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson, Hayes Pullard, Scott Starr, Tony Burnett, Anthony Sarao
The Trojans are a young group at linebacker, but believe it or not they are ridonkulously talented. The three projected starters are all just sophomore, but they each earned time in the starting line-up as freshmen last year, including Bailey the Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. It's scary to think how good these guys will become over the next couple years. As with all groups of players that are going to play together for an extended period of time, these guys probably need a nickname. Let's call them "Cool Runnings". You may be wondering what that means. It means, "Peace be the journey." OK, that's probably a terrible nickname, but I literally just watched "Cool Runnings".
3. Oregon - Michael Clay, Kiko Alonso, Boseko Lokombo, Rodney Hardrick, Anthony Wallace
Oh good...another position where Oregon is completely loaded. As you really start to dig into these things, it becomes readily apparent how top loaded the Pac-12 is. It's pretty depressing. Anyway, Michael Clay is a beast, Kiko Alonso may been the best defensive player on the field in the Rose Bowl and Lokombo is an athletic super-duper freak. Blah, blah, blah. Oregon is awesome. Whoopity doo. (Editor's note: Huddy might be reaching his position rankings breaking point. There is a high snark alert in full effect.)
4. UCLA - Eric Kendricks, Patrick Larimore, Damien Holmes, Keenan Graham, Jordan Zumwalt, Todd Golper, Jeremy Castro
I'm pretty sure that if my name was Tim Kendricks, I would have been an All Pac-12 linebacker at some point. UCLA's Kendricks is the younger brother of last year's defensive player of the year, Mychal and looks poised to continue the Kendricks linebacking legacy. Just a sophomore, he may be the best of an otherwise talented crew, particularly Larimore and Zumwalt. True freshman Castro could see time as a pass rushing specialist in a rotation with Holmes.
5. Colorado - Jon Major, Douglas Rippy, Derrick Webb, Woodson Greer, Brady Daigh, Kyle Washington
It's a pretty big day around here. At long last, Colorado's linebackers have emerged from Huddy's cellar! Well that came out all wrong. What I'm saying is that the Buffs are finally not in dead last place in a position ranking. Hooray! Colorado returns starters at every position and not just that, they're competent starters. If Rippy is good to go from a torn ACL, he'll combine with Major and Webb to form a legitimately strong group. I could cry right now. My previous rankings were bring me no joy, Colorado fans. I swear.
6. Cal - Chris McCain, Robert Mullins, Nick Forbes, Cecil Whiteside, Dan Campeorale, David Wilkerson, Brennan Scarlett, Jason Gibson
Generally speaking, replacing the reigning defensive player of the year is a real sonofabitch, and that will be true for Cal this year when it comes to replacing Mychal Kendricks (and DJ Holt for that matter). While the starting line-up doesn't look to feature anyone officially listed as a "returning starter", there is some talent and experience coming back. Whiteside started some games as a true freshman last season and McCain is potentially one of the next stars in this league.
7. Utah - VJ Fehoko, Trevor Reilly, Dave Fagergren, LT Filiaga, Jacoby Hale, Victor Spikes
Here we go again. Time for things to start falling off a cliff a little bit. It's not the best reflection of your linebacking corps if the best available picture to roll with was of one of your guys (in this case, Fehoko) in a high school all star game. On the bright side, he was a high school all star! From that nugget, I've determined that Fehoko is good. Utah's line and secondary are both strong so the linebackers may not have to be spectacular. Good thing.
8. Washington State - Travis Long, Chester Su'a, Darryl Monroe, Eric Oertel, Logan Mayes, Cyrus Coen, Darren Markle, Jeremiah Allison(?), Khalil Pettway(?), Kache Palacio(?)
In the new Washington State scheme, the BUCK position is considered more of a 'backer than a lineman so I've included Long (and Mayes) here, which helps things dramatically. I actually really, really, really like this group quite a bit, but I had to squelch my homerism a bit when it came to the ranking. Su'a showed flashes as his playing time increased throughout last year, but to say Monroe and Oertel are unproven would be a pretty significant understatement. What's more, plenty of reinforcements are coming in the form of the recruiting class of 2012. It'll be interesting to see who among that bunch jumps out at fall camp and avoids redshirting. The losses of CJ Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi aren't looking nearly as damaging as we once thought. Let me know if I went to far with trying to not be a homer. I could easily be talked into 7th place.
9. Oregon State - DJ Welch, Feti Unga, Michael Doctor, Jabral Johnson, Josh Williams, Cade Cowdin
Unga has cool hair and a sweet name. Also, in the picture above, it seems like he knows something the rest of us don't. That's all I got.
10. Arizona State - Brandon Magee, Steffon Martin, Anthony Jones, Matt Tucker, Kipeli Koniseti, Grandville Taylor
The Sun Devils lost, well pretty much everyone, from last season's linebacking corps. An argument could be made that they were left with the worst unit in the conference, but the return of Brandon Magee keeps them in the lofty 10th spot. Going into last season, he was expected to be part of an elite group with Vontaze Burfict, but a rupture achilles ruined that plan. The loss of Burfict could be addition by subtraction -- wait a minute. He's a Bengal now. He's a total beast and will be irreplacable.
11. Washington - John Timu, Princeton Fuimaono, Taz Stevenson, Nate Fellner, Corey Waller, Jamaal Kearse, Thomas Tutogi
For all the considerable progress that has been made accumulating talent at UW, the linebacker position is still significantly lacking. They seemed to spend much of last year as they were in the picture above: out of position and beaten. Virtually all the same players are back, but now in a 3-4 scheme, which brings Fellner into the mix as an outside 'backer. Justin Wilcox is going to have to work some real magic with these guys.
12. Arizona - Jake Fischer, Hank Hobson, Rob Hankins, Brian Wagner, David Lopez
Having players return from significant injury is apparently all the rage among Pac-12 linebackers this year and Arizona is no exception. This time it's Jake Fischer coming back. He should be the best linebacker, I suppose, but was described by Athlon as, "not fast, nor does he possess typical Pac-12 size". Well then. When he's the guy about whom you should be most excited, things aren't very exciting.
That's it for this week. Go Cougs.