The Butkus

Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE

The Anonymous One takes a look at the Butkus award nominees, and tries to figure out how one goes about choosing the best linebacker in the nation.

Dick Butkus is of course best known for his acting in sitcoms like 'My Two Dads' and 'Blue Thunder' but prior to his acting career he played a game called football and some think that he did a fairly good job at linebacker. Those that don't think Butkus did a "fairly good job" tend to instead insist that he was one of the best linebackers to ever play the game, and they went and named the award for "best linebacker in college football" after him.

Here are the 2012 semi-finalists for the Butkus Award.

Player School Player School
Steve Beauharnais
Rutgers Arthur Brown Kansas State
Jonathan Brown Illinois Max Bullough Michigan State
Gerald Hodges Penn State Jarvis Jones Georgia
Dion Jordan Oregon Michael Mauti Penn State
Kevin Minter LSU C.J. Mosley Alabama
Trent Murphy Stanford Manti Te'o Notre Dame

The first question we have to ask is "what statistics are available for individual defensive players?" The second is "which statistics are the most important?"

Tackles, Sacks, Tackles For Loss, Interceptions, Passes Defended, Fumbles Forced, Kick/Punts Blocked and Kickoffs are the defense statistical categories available from cfbstats.com. I think we can all agree that the last 2 categories probably do not have much to do with playing linebacker. I looked at the top 100 players for each category and selected the first 10 linebackers in the list including those tied for 10th.

Tackles so far in 2012:

Player School Solo Assisted Total Total/G
Dan Molls Toledo 60 56 116 12.89
Marvin Burdette UAB 57 47 104 13.00
Travis Freeman Ball State 36 60 96 10.67
Avery Williamson Kentucky 49 46 95 10.56
Nick Clancy BC 53 40 93 11.63
Mike Taylor Wisconsin 47 45 92 10.22
Anthony Hitchens Iowa 37 55 92 11.5
John Lotulelei UNLV 48 41 89 9.89
A.J. Johnson Tenessee
35 53 88 11
Geoffrey Bacon Army
41 46 87 10.88
Damien Proby
N'western
56 30 86 9.56
Chris Wade
Miami (OH)
53 33 86 10.75
Albert Rosette
Nevada
40 46
86 9.5

That can't be right can it? The 13 leading tacklers in the country aren't on the list for the best linebacker despite every single one of them being linebackers. Interesting. So how do the linebackers on the semi-finalist list rank in tackles?

Player Rank Solo Assisted Total Total/G
Steve Beauharnais 17 26 43 5.38
Arthur Brown 35 25 60 7.5
Jonathan Brown 26 29 55 6.88
Max Bullough 34 40 36 76 9.5
Gerald Hodges 71 23 45 68 8.5
Jarvis Jones 32 17 49 8.17
Dion Jordan 20 13 33 4.13
Michael Mauti 30 43 35 78 9.75
Kevin Minter 38 36 39 75 9.38
C.J. Mosley 89 39 26 65 8.13
Trent Murphy 23 16 39 4.88
Manti Te'o 25 39 41 80 10.00

That can't be right? Can it? Half of the Butkus Award Semi-finalists are not even in the top 100 for total tackles.

How about Tackles for loss, are the semi-finalists better in this area?

Player School TFL Yards TFL/G Rank
Phillip Steward Houston 14.0 80 2.25 6
Jarvis Jones Georgia 14.0 84 2.33 6
Derrick Mathews Houston 13.5 53 1.69 11
Deaundre Brown Tulsa 13.0 72 1.63 13
Khalil Mack Buffalo 13.0 54 1.86 13
Yawin Smallwood U Conn 13.0 52 1.63 13
Kyle Van Noy BYU 12.5 69 1.39 16
Kevin Reddick N Carolina 12.0 53 1.33 20
Trent Murphy Stanford 11.5 66 1.44 24
Anthony Barr UCLA 11.5 55 1.44 24
Carl Bradford Ariz St 11.5 46 1.44 24

The nominees:

Player Rank TFL Yards TFL/G Games
Steve Beauharnais 4 14 .5 8
Arthur Brown 6 17 .75 8
Jonathan Brown 8.5 35 1.06 8
Max Bullough 9 39 1.00 9
Gerald Hodges 3.5 17 .44 8
Jarvis Jones 6 14 84 2.33 6
Dion Jordan 7.5 27 .94 8
Michael Mauti 3.5 30 .44 8
Kevin Minter 9.5 36 1.19 8
C.J. Mosley 3.5 29 .44 8
Trent Murphy 24 11.5 66 1.44 8
Manti Te'o 4.5 14 .56 8

A little better, at least 2 of the Butkus nominees are in the top 25 players in the country for TFL. And for sacks?

Player School Sacks Yards Sacks/G Rank
Jarvis Jones Georgia 8.5 69 1.42 5
Phillip Steward Houston 8.0 76 1.0 8
Anthony Barr UCLA 8.0 48 1.00 8
Kyle Van Noy BYU 7.5 52 .83 14
DeAundre Brown Tulsa 7.0 58 .88 17
Jake Fely SDSU 7.0 46 .78 17
Travis Long Wash St 6.5 60 .81 24
Trent Murphy Stanford 6.5 43 .81 24
Cory James CSU 6.5 40 .81 24
Carl Bradford Ariz St 6.5 39 .81 24

The nominees:

Player Rank Sacks Yards Sacks/G
Steve Beauharnais .5 3 .06
Arthur Brown 1 8 .13
Jonathan Brown 3.5 25 .44
Max Bullough 2 14 .22
Gerald Hodges 1 10 .13
Jarvis Jones 5 8.5 69 1.42
Dion Jordan 5 23 .63
Michael Mauti 2.5 25 .31
Kevin Minter 3.0 23 .38
C.J. Mosley 2.5 23 .31
Trent Murphy 24 6.5 43 .81
Manti Te'o 1.0 9 .13

Interesting that the 2 top nominees are again in the top 25 for sacks, but TFL are about the same as sacks, so not surprising.

Passes defended.

Player School
Passes Defended Passes Broken UP Rank
Alex Means Air Force 9 7 41
Ryan Shazier Ohio State 8 1 41
Manti Te'o Notre Dame 8 3 64

Only 3 linebackers in the top 100 players defending passes.

Player Rank
Passes Broken Up QB Hurries Fumbles Forced
Steve Beauharnais


0
Arthur Brown
3
1
0
Jonathan Brown 1 1
Max Bullough 4 2 1
Gerald Hodges 4 1
Jarvis Jones 2 9 5
Dion Jordan 1 1 2
Michael Mauti 2 2
Kevin Minter 4 3 1
C.J. Mosley 1 2 1
Trent Murphy 2 4 1
Manti Te'o 64 3 4 0

And finally for interceptions

Player School
Interceptions Yards TD Rank
Manti Te'o Notre Dame 5 35 0 2
Dion Bailey USC 4 4 0 5
Michael Mauti Penn State 3 125 0 23
Randall Joyner SMU 3 23 0 23
Matt Warrick Navy 3 12 1 23
DaCorris Ford La-Monroe 3 10 0 23
Carlos Mendoza Ariz State 2 18 0 61
Kiko Alonso Oregon 2 57 0 61
Brandon Magee Ariz St 2 45 1 61
Greg Blair Cincinnati 2 13 0 61
Alex Means
Air Force
2
86
1
61

Player Rank
Interceptions Yards TD's
Steve Beauharnais



Arthur Brown 61
2
37
1
Jonathan Brown



Max Bullough
1


Gerald Hodges
1


Jarvis Jones
1
21

Dion Jordan



Michael Mauti 23
3
125

Kevin Minter
1
4

C.J. Mosley 61
2
16
1
Trent Murphy
1
40
1
Manti Te'o 2
5
35
0

This is interesting; the best pass defending linebacker is also the linebacker with the most interceptions, which like the TFL/Sacks statistics isn't surprising.

Which is more important to a team, pass defense or run defense? Can you really determine the best linebacker when it appears that there are certain skill sets that certain teams use while another team might use players other than linebackers to accomplish the same task?

There is one player nominated from each of the undefeated schools. Each school has a different philosophy on offense, with Oregon's being the most radical as they sit players for the second half. Notre Dame has 7 players with over 30 tackles, Alabama four, and Oregon and K-State have seven each. Oregon is the most balanced with two players having over 40 tackles and five in the thirties. K-State has one player with 60, two with 49 and five in the thirties. Notre Dame has one with 80, one in the 40's and five in the 30's. Alabama has one over 60 and three in the thirties.

Within the four teams, Arthur Brown is third with 60 tackles, C.J. Mosley of Alabama is second with 65 tackles and Manti Te'o is first with 80 tackles.

Within the nominees, Manti Te'o, Michael Mauti and Max Bollough are the three leading tacklers.

Te'o also leads in interceptions and passes defended, but there is not much numerical difference as Mauti has three interceptions followed by C.J. Mosley and Arthur Brown with two apiece. If the passes defended stat is correct, Manti Te'o either breaks up the pass or intercepts it, the receiver doesn't catch it.

Jarvis Jones and Trent Murphy lead in tackles for loss and sacks with Kevin Minter (TFL) and Dion Jordan (sacks) following them.

After looking at all of these numbers my surprising choice for the Butkus at this time is Max Bollough of Michigan State. He doesn't have a lot of interceptions but he is near the top for the other categories. He might not be the top in each category, but as seen with the other nominees no one linebacker is going to have great numbers in all categories.

Arthur Brown is in my opinion the defense MVP at K-State. His abilities allow other players to make plays that they would not attempt without Arthur Brown backing them up (this hurts Brown's numbers, but it is about the team). I'm starting to be sold on the defense, but the Cats still have 4 solid teams left to play.

(hat tip to JonMorse for the player links)

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