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.
||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:
|Travis Freeman||Ball State||36||60||96||10.67|
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?
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?
|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|
|Carl Bradford||Ariz St||11.5||46||1.44||24|
A little better, at least 2 of the Butkus nominees are in the top 25 players in the country for TFL. And for sacks?
|Kyle Van Noy||BYU||7.5||52||.83||14|
|Travis Long||Wash St||6.5||60||.81||24|
|Carl Bradford||Ariz St||6.5||39||.81||24|
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.
|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
And finally for interceptions
|Manti Te'o||Notre Dame||5||35||0||2|
|Michael Mauti||Penn State||3||125||0||23|
|Carlos Mendoza||Ariz State||2||18||0||61|
|Brandon Magee||Ariz St||2||45||1||61|
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)