This is the fifth in a series looking at the best positional tandems in college football in each conference, taking into account both college production and pro potential. Today it is the best pair of linebackers.
College football's top trios
Northwestern: Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis. Both are experienced seniors -- and experienced playmakers. Ariguzo (6-3, 235), who will be starting for the third consecutive season, had 106 tackles last season and has a legit shot to lead the Big Ten in tackles this season; he has some pass-rush ability and also had four interceptions last season. Ellis (6-2, 230), who also will be a three-year starter, will play middle linebacker for the first time this season, and that should prove a good fit for his skill set. He had three interceptions last season and returned two for touchdowns. Along with senior S Ibraheim Campbell, they head a strong defensive back seven for the Wildcats.
Oklahoma: Eric Striker and Dominique Alexander. To say the Sooners are loaded at the linebacker spot would be an understatement considering Frank Shannon mans the middle and Geneo Grissom will be more of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker this fall. But in Striker (6-0, 221), Bob Stoops has one of the best pass rushers in the country and a player who has enough athleticism that he's actually getting reps at nickelback (the corner spot, not the band). Alexander really came on strong as a true freshman last year, making 19 tackles in his first start against Texas and forcing a big fumble in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. He was named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year for good reason and has tremendous upside going forward.
Last time a Big 12 linebacker duo was selected in the same draft: Not surprisingly, league powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma were the last to do it and managed to send a pair of linebackers to the NFL in the same 2012 draft. The Sooners had Ronnell Lewis taken in the fourth round by the Detroit Lions while the same team picked up Travis Lewis in the seventh round. The Longhorns had Keenan Robinson drafted in the fourth round by Washington and Emmanuel Acho picked in the sixth round by the Cleveland Browns.
UCLA: Myles Jack and Eric Kendricks. Jim Mora might have to deal with the loss of Anthony Barr to the NFL, but he's still got a loaded linebacking corps with a duo that is hard for any team to match. Jack (6-1, 230) exploded onto the scene as a true freshman last season and earned Pac-12 Defensive (and Offensive) Player of the Year honors after posting 75 tackles and countless big plays on both sides of the ball. He tended to overshadow Kendricks (6-0, 230) a little, but the senior has led the team in tackles the past two seasons and is the leader of the defense no matter what the situation is.
Georgia: Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera. Neither is the most talented linebacker in the league, but as a duo, no returning SEC pair was more productive last year than this one. Wilson piled up a league-best 133 tackles with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. Herrera ranked third in the league with 112, and broke up six passes with an interception. For perspective on the 245 stops they combined for, consider that only six defenders league-wide posted 100-plus tackles, and three of those don't return. Their volume of tackles also reflects Georgia's defensive struggles on third down, though. UGA allowed third-down conversions at a 40-percent clip. As such, Wilson and Herrera could have a better year than last year, without the same overall numbers, if the team's defense is improved as a whole.
Last time an SEC linebacker duo was selected in the same draft:LSU, Florida and Georgia all had multiple linebackers chosen in the 2013 draft. For the Tigers, Barkevious Mingo (Browns, first round, No. 6 overall), Kevin Minter (Cardinals, second round, No. 45 overall) and Sam Montgomery (Texans, third round, No. 95 overall) all got a draft call. Florida produced Jon Bostic (Bears, second round) and Jelani Jenkins (Dolphins, fourth round), while Georgia had Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree both go in the first round to Pittsburgh and St. Louis, respectively.
AAC: Houston (Derrick Mathews and Efrem Oliphant).
Conference USA: Marshall (Jermaine Holmes and Evan McKelvey).
MAC: Bowling Green (D.J. Lynch and Gabe Martin).
MWC: Utah State (Kyler Fackrell and Zach Vigil).
Sun Belt: Texas State (David Mayo and Michael Orakpo).