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Kansas State Top Five: Linebackers. Also, Midwest and Middle Atlantic Previews

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Picking the top five linebackers wasn't too difficult.

Well, of course he's on the list.
Well, of course he's on the list.
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The Lead

Today, our staff picks for the top five linebackers in Wildcat history. Former Minnesota Viking, now FOX talking head Ben Leber, received no votes in our poll, although wildcat00 did make a point of acknowledging his existence. That ought to tell you how deep the list really was. Also not making the cut: the second and third musketeers in 2003, Ted Sims and the late Bryan Hickman, and current Arizona assistant Travis Ochs, who will forever have a place in our hearts for sacking Eric Crouch on a completely clean and non-controversial tackle. Ahem.

5. Terry Pierce

Although as a freshman Pierce was an integral part of the 2000 squad which roasted Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl, he did his best work during the gap between that season and the 2003 miracle. Pierce declared for the draft after the 2002 season; his absence in 2003 wasn't the difference during the three-game early-season skid which could have ruined the campaign, but it didn't help. After being taken in the second round by the Broncos, injuries ruined Pierce's NFL career; only three games into his career he suffered a torn pectoral muscle, and then sprained his MCL in training camp the following year. That's what happens when you play for Denver.

4. Josh Buhl

The defensive star on the 2003 squad and a Sporting News All-American, Buhl came to Manhattan along with Pierce and high school teammate Hickman to form a deadly DFW trio behind the line. Thought to be too small to play the position, Buhl racked up an insane 184 tackles, 109 unassisted, that year.

3. Arthur Brown

After making the mistake of signing with Miami out of Wichita East, Arthur came back home after his sophomore season. He was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in 2011 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2012. His interception of Robert Griffin III in 2011 set up the winning field goal and changed K-State's season. Drafted in the second round by the Ravens in 2013, Brown has struggled to find playing time, but remains a favorite of the coaching staff for his effort.

2. Gary Spani

To younger K-State fans, he's Collin Klein's father-in-law. But Spani, a native of Satanta and a Manhattan High graduate, was a three-time Big 12 all-conference selection, and became the school's first consensus All-American in 1977, also winning Big 8 Defensive Player of the Year honors. The Chiefs took Spani in the third round the following spring, and he spent nine years at Arrowhead, becoming a team captain in 1983. In 1979, Spani had 157 tackles for the Chiefs, a record which lasted until 2002. That same year, Spani was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame; a year later, the Chiefs enshrined him in their own.

1. Mark Simoneau

Like Spani, Simoneau was a Kansas boy who earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and consensus All-America status his senior year. Simoneau, a Phillipsburg native who played for , was a key part of the Wildcats' peak from 1996-1999, anchoring one of the nation's most punishing defensive units. Drafted in the third round by Atlanta, Simoneau started for eight years with the Falcons, Eagles, and Saints. With the Eagles, he had a 100-tackle season in 2003 and played in the Super Bowl following the 2004 season. Although injured in 2009, Simoneau was a member of the Saints Super Bowl XLIV-winning roster (along with former Wildcat center Nick Leckey). Simoneau retired as a Chief in 2010, which made him eligible for the College Football Hall of Fame. He was elected on his first ballot the following spring as part of the class of 2012.

Before We Move On

Going forward, just assume any players mentioned received all-conference recognition unless otherwise stated. Those of you who've actually been reading these previews are probably sitting there nodding your heads and either saying "I totally understand, dude" or "Oh, god, thank you".

Midwest Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
NORTH DIVISION
SCHOOL LOCATION MWC-N OVERALL
Macalester College Scots Saint Paul MN 5-0 9-2
Carroll University Pioneers Waukesha WI 4-1 8-2
Saint Norbert College Green Knights De Pere WI 3-2 6-4
Ripon College Red Hawks Ripon WI 2-3 3-7
Lawrence University Vikings Appleton WI 1-4 2-8
Beloit College Buccaneers Beloit WI 0-5 3-7
SOUTH DIVISION
SCHOOL LOCATION MWC-S OVERALL
Illinois College Blueboys Jacksonville IL 5-0 7-3
rv Monmouth College Fighting Scots Monmouth IL 4-1 8-2
Cornell College Rams Mount Vernon IA 3-2 5-4
Lake Forest College Foresters Lake Forest IL 2-3 4-6
Grinnell College Pioneers Grinnell IA 1-4 3-7
Knox College Prairie Fire Galesburg WI 0-5 2-8

Change is coming after the season, as Carroll will leave to join the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin. They won't be replaced for the 2016 season, but there is speculation that in 2017 Chicago, who was a member of the conference from 1976-87, might rejoin when they leave the Southern Athletic Association.

The Midwest names separate all-conference teams for each division, but player awards are for the conference as a while. Onward we go:

North Division

Macalester was a doormat in the Minnesota IAC, so much so that they left to become independent in football while remaining in the conference for everything else. Their first season as an independent, 2002, the Scots actually managed to go 5-5 before sliding into an all-too-familiar 4-32 nightmare. Their last several seasons as an independent had been okay, but in no way prepared anyone for what happened last year, their first in the Midweest.

Then again, nothing prepared the Scots for a first-round matchup with Whitewater, so it all balances out. Offensive MVP QB Samson Bialostok has graduated along with OLs Djoser Ramsey and John Stephens, DL Jacob Lueck, LB Reid Callahan. But the Scots are returning RB Zandy Stowell, DL Zach Hauser, LB Ryan Fleming, and special-teams honoree Forest Redlin. Mac will be pushed, but have the ingredients to repeat.

Carroll (WI) had trouble getting over .500 early in the 2000s, but since 2007 they haven't fallen under. The Pioneers lose quite a bit, including Defensive MVP DB Ryan Klapper and his secondary partner Danny Verhagen, DL Grant Nass, LB Mike Sahli, RB/KR Lamont Williams, OL Zach Tamblyn, and TE Jordan Blank. The return of QB Kyle Burlingame will be important; he's joined by returning WR Kevin Jenninds and OLs Josh Bottoms and Cody Kowalsky. With the bottom half of the division being weak, Carroll will remain in the top half for their Midwest swan song.

Saint Norbert's first season under new head coach Steve Opgenorth resulted in their worst season since a 5-5 finish in 1998. Since then, the Green Knights have made 10 NCAA playoff appearances and won or shared 11 Midwest titles. Five all-conference defenders have graduated along with both first-team kicking specialists and TE Patrick Burke. But 60% of the Knight's offensive line -- Jacob Bunk, Evan Broyles, and Jack Rasmussen -- return after earning all-MWC honors last year. WR Zach Reeves, KR Elijah Fort, ST Ben Komowski, and DL Jacob Finnegan also return. St. Norbert will be in the mix.

Ripon used to be a steady contender for the conference title, but they've now dropped at least three league games every season since 2010. Last year was their first losing season this century. OL Tyler Jonas, LB Gage Ferkey, P Marshall Zahn, and DBs Dakotah Kerchenwitz and Logan Will have graduated. RB Connor Greenwald and DL Josie Schaffer return. Ripon can't be counted out, necessarily, but the trend is unsettling.

Lawrence was 5-5 in 2006, sandwiched between a pair of four-win seasons. The Vikings haven't won more than 2 games in a season since. Mike Barthelmess resigned after a season-opening rout at Rockford; offensive coordinator Chris Harris saw out the season before giving way to new hire Rob McCarthy, a veteran defensive coordinator from St. Olaf and Carleton. OL Spencer Swick and WR Taylor Mandich, the Vikings' two best players last year, have both graduated. Even if McCarthy's a great hire, this season won't reflect it.

Beloit was actually thrilled with a 3-9 finish under first-year coach Seth Duerr, considering it came after a three-year 3-27 run. Half their defensive line, Derell Carter and Alan Ham, are gone. But the Bucs have seniors returning in quantity. WR Mike Nolden, RB Mason Dixon (all-name team nominee), K Kam Sallee, and DB Antonio Jones will be back, and Beloit will probably sneak past Lawrence.

South Division

Illinois College has been on a run. 36-9 over the last four seasons, with a playoff bid in 2011, the Blueboys won the initial South Division title with ease. MWC Defensive Line MVP James Dambacher has moved on, as have QB Michael Bates, WR Bryce Heaton, OL Jessy Postlewait, DL Marvell White, LB Dylan Ringhausen, and DB Zack Hanlon. The magazine isn't empty, though. OL Kyle Nance, K Logan Uyetake, LB Dylan Schuler, and DB Darius Jones return. The battle in the south is still between the Blueboys and Monmouth, but last year's 7-point win at home could very well turn into a loss at Monmouth in 2015.

Monmouth (IL) bounced back from an uncharacteristic pair of .500 seasons to again challenge for a title last year. Six all-conference seniors are gone, but RB Trent Rains and DL Tyler Parksey both earned first-team nods as freshmen last year. They're joined by returning P Jeremy Collier (also a freshman last year), OLs C.J. Van Petten and Matt Geitner, LB Matt Barnes, and DB Alex Sheppard. The returning talent, and getting Illinois College at home, make the Scots the favorites in the south.

Cornell (IA) had the league's fourth individual award winner, Offensive Line MVP Sam Cluck. he's gone along with six other honorees. QB Daniel Brown earned a second-team nod as a freshman last year, and he'll be joined on offense by returning WR/KE Ben Knake, TE Charlie Zilatis and OL Conrado Dominguez. DB Kenny Smith will also be back. Life has been better for the Rams in the Midwest than it was in the Iowa IAC, but they're still not ready to challenge for the title.

Lake Forest had a couple of pretty good years, for them, winning 8 games in both 2012-13 before sliding back last year. OL Bryan Feltman, KR Joey Kropp, DL Ramel Samuel, and LB John Preston are all gone. Junior RB Charlie Quinn is back, as is DB Pat Clark, but that's it. The Foresters may slide even further in 2015.

Grinnell has, on average, been about a three-win team for years and years. Only two Pioneers received accolades last year; LB David Temes has graduated, while P Graham Fisher returns. We once again remind you of our position on teams whose only returning all-conference selection is a punter, but we won't predict a last-place finish for Grinnell because Knox exists.

Knox has not won more than three games since a 4-6 2005, and they're 7-53 over the past six seasons and currently ride a 7-game losing streak. Four all-conference selections have graduated. Sophomore RB Terry White, WR Ilir Emini, and special-teams selection Brock Gabel return, but this team's so bad I don't think they can even get past Grinnell.

Game of the year: The Midwest is the only Division III conference to hold an official championship game (and, on the same weekend, the entire league plays their cross-divisional peer in the standings as well). So really, that's the "game of the year" by default. But as far as games whose participants we're already aware, it's October 10 at Monmouth when Illinois College comes calling.

Middle Atlantic Conference Preview

2014 Standings and Info
SCHOOL LOCATION MAC OVERALL
12 Widener University Pride Chester PA 9-0 12-1
rv Delaware Valley University Doylestown PA 8-1 9-2
rv Lycoming College Warriors Williamsport PA 7-2 8-2
Stevenson University Mustangs Stevenson MD 6-3 8-3
Albright College Lions Reading PA 4-4 6-5
King's College Monarchs Wilkes-Barre PA 4-5 4-6
Lebanon Valley College Flying Dutchmen Annville PA 3-6 3-7
Wilkes University Colonels Wilkes-Barre PA 2-7 2-8
Misericordia University Cougars Dallas PA 1-8 1-9
Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham Devils Madison NJ 0-9 0-10

The other MAC is always either a struggle for the contenders or a street brawl, and last season was no different. Widener clearly outclassed their usual competition, but the conference still snagged at at-large bid for Delaware Valley and relative newcomers Stevenson made a statement or two.

Widener got hammered by Linfield in the quarterfinals, but that's the furthest their season had progressed since 2001 so they'll take it. The Pride lose three players who received All-American accolades last year: third-team DT Tyler Glover and LB Brandon Harper (the MAC Defensive Player of the Year), and honorable mention WR Anthony Davis. Five other all-conference selections have also graduated. QB Seth Klein, WR Montrell Hicks-Taylor, FB Robert Getz, OL Anthony Brooks, DLs Stacey Sunnerville and Shakore Philip, and third-team All-American DB Sean Titus return, so those losses aren't as disastrous as they might appear. Still, the Pride will probably not be as good as they were last year -- but their pursuers also suffered major losses, so they're still the favorites.

Delaware Valley is back on the upswing, and have only won fewer than eight games twice since 2003. They lost their playoff game to Christopher Newport by only a field goal. First-team All-American WR and MAC Offensive Player of the Year Rasheed Bailey has graduated, as has third-team All-American RB Chris Smallwood, QB Aaron Wilmer, FB Joe Meehan, OLs Rodney Linder and Dave Driscoll, and even K Brandon Snyder. The depth of those losses will likely prevent the Aggies from overtaking Widener, although OL Josh Wallace, LB Rashaad Lightly, and DB Danny Wynne return.

Lycoming used to rule this conference, but just haven't really been able to sustain anything this century. After a stretch in the mid-2000s when the Warriors were suddenly horribly average, they've returned to contention of late. RH Craig Needhammer, OLs Garrett Hartman and Casey Strus, and DB Tanner Troutman move on. Returning are WR Ryan Umpleby, DL Cole Welham, and DB Mike Gentile. So while their losses aren't as critical as those suffered by Widener and DelVal, the Warriors aren't able to take advantage.

Stevenson enters their fifth year of football with enthusiastic optimism following the school's first winning season and an ECAC Bowl bid. The initial assumption is "Oh, eight wins in their fourth season? So their first freshman class panned out due to experience." Not the case. DL Scott Lange was the only all-conference selection to graduate. RB Trey Lee, LB Razonte Dunn, DB Austin Tennessee, and KR Devonte Williams return. I wouldn't expect the Mustangs to improve their position next year, but they shouldn't slide backward either.

Albright was the victim of Stevenson's rise, although the Lions still earned an ECAC Bowl bid despite a 6-4 regular season. Malik Gilmore received first-team All-American recognition on special teams, and the Lions also return K Daniel Sobolewski, DL Rich Kuhn, LB Steve Barosso, and KR Gerrod Gainer. They lose OL Jake O'Brien, DL Mark Capetola, and DB Chris Stephens, so they're mostly holding serve with talent rotation.

King's (PA) won six games in 2013, their first winning season since 2006. But they regressed last year, and they lose WR Dan Kempa. LB Bobby Russell returns, but there's just not much here. The Monarchs will continue to slide.

Lebanon Valley had alternated six-win campaigns with eight- or nine-win seasons for six years. They won eight in 2013, but 2014 was decidedly not a continuation of the pattern. Still, the Dutchmen lost three games by three points or less and a fourth by less than a touchdown. WR Tyler George, OL Tyler Dean, LB Frank Gaffney, and DB Zach Wierman depart; RB Brendon Irving and OL Zach Smith return. Lebanon Valley is not rebounding to eight wins.

Wilkes won 19 games in 2005-06, and then settled into agonizing balance. From 2007-13, the Colonels won 4, 5, or 6 games each year. Then last year happened. TE Jeremy Hartman and DB Omar Richardson graduated; LB Tanner Stengel and DB Marcus Leaf return. Don't expect much.

Misericordia has played three seasons of football and won two games. The Cougars lose no all-conference selections, but then they only had two: P Patrick Newins and OL John Ameen.

FDU-Florham has been bad forever, but last year was actually their worst outing of the century. The Devils have lost 19 games in a row, and had exactly one all-conference selection. That, however, was freshman WR Malik Pressley, the conference's Rookie of the Year. The Devils get Misericordia at home this year, but it's not until Halloween. If FDU can't get past New Jersey in their opener on September 11, they may have to beat the Cougars to snap a 26-game skid.

Game of the year: The season finale, November 14, as Widener visits Delaware Valley.

Tomorrow

We rank K-State's top five defensive linemen. Then we finally finish the Ms with the oldest conference in college athletics, the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association, and the Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference.