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2022 Big Ten Football Preview: top-five linebackers

It should be the law that all Big Ten linebackers have to wear big ol’ neck rolls.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Iowa State
Jack Campbell and Seth Benson form one of the best linebacker duos in the whole country.
Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

As we barrel towards the start of the 2022 college football season, let’s take a look at who the top players are in the Big Ten. These lists won’t be biased towards the Badgers in any way although we all know that every player on Wisconsin is better than every player on any other team.

Now it’s time to talk about the best tackling machines that make up the linebacking corps in the Big Ten.

Honorable Mention:

Mariano Sori-Marin, Minnesota
Curtis Jacobs, Penn State
Cam Jones, Indiana
Junior Colson, Michigan
Tommy Eichenberg, Ohio State

No. 5: Seth Benson, WLB, Iowa, senior

The Hawkeyes have a dreadful offense that makes me want to puke, but thankfully we aren’t here to discuss that. Iowa’s defense has been very good for a very long time and the 2022 season should be no different. One of the strengths of Phil Parker’s unit is usually the linebackers.

Not to spoil the rest of the list, but you will see a second Hawkeye on here. Let’s talk about Seth Benson first though. He was Iowa’s second leading tackler last year, racking up 105 stops on the season. He 3.5 TFL, two sacks, eight QB hurries, a pick and three passes broken up.

He is fast and active on defense and will cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses especially since the Hawks have three starters returning on the defensive line as well as his running mate at LB, Jack Campbell.

No. 4: Luke Reimer, ILB, Nebraska, junior

Nebraska’s defense was below average last season, thanks in large part to an inability to get off the field on third down. While looking down the list of people to blame for that, Luke Reimer would be at the very bottom.

Nebraska v Minnesota
Luke Reimer (No. 28) is a real life tackling robot.
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Last year, the former walk-on from Lincoln recorded 108 tackles, five TFL, one sack, three QB hurries, six passes broken up, two forced fumbles and one interception. In short, the man was a monster in the middle for the Huskers.

This season, he and OLB Garrett Nelson should form a dynamic duo where Nelson gets after the passer and Reimer does, well, just about everything else. The linebacking unit for Scott Frost is the only part of the defense that is returning any sort of experience and will be counted on to carry the defense until the line and secondary get up to speed.

No. 3: Nick Herbig, OLB, Wisconsin, junior

You don’t need any introduction to No. 3 on the list. The Hawaiian Horror (for opposing quarterbacks) had 64 tackles last year (third best on the team and most returning), 14.5 tackles for loss (most returning in the B1G) and a team-leading nine sacks (fourth most in the conference and most returning).

NCAA Football: Iowa at Wisconsin
All Herbig does is make plays.
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

He also broke up four passes, forced two fumbles and recovered a fumble while recording the highest pass rush win rate among Big Ten edge rushers according to PFF (27.3%). He was in your backfield making himself at home all season long and this year, despite being on everyone’s radar, he should continue to do so.

A stout defensive line, potentially improved secondary, and talented, if unproven, linebackers surrounding him will make it tough for offensive coordinators to key in on Herbig, lest someone else make them pay.

No. 2: Cal Haladay, MLB, Michigan State, RS sophomore

The MSU defense gave up an obscene amount of yardage through the air last season, but Cal Haladay tried to get some of that back with his propensity to pick six opposing quarterbacks. His two interceptions returned for touchdowns on the season totaled 108 yards and the second one sealed a victory in the Peach Bowl over Pitt.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 30 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Pitt v Michigan State
As you can see here, there wasn’t much between Haladay and the end zone after picking off a late pass against Pitt in the Peach Bowl.
Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Haladay led the team in tackles with 96 and had 4.5 tackles for loss, two passes broken up, two forced fumbles and two QB hurries. He was named a freshman All-American by multiple publications and should, at a minimum, compete for first team All-B1G recognition this year.

The Spartans brought in a pair of talented transfers at linebacker and will be stacked in the middle of the field again.

No. 1: Jack Campbell, MLB, Iowa, senior

I hope this wasn’t spoiled for you earlier in the post, but here is the second Iowa linebacker to which I was referring. Jack Campbell is a flat out stud. He averaged 10.2 tackles per game, third best in the conference behind Leo Chenal and Northwestern’s Chris Bergin, last year and is the leading returning tackler in the conference by a long shot.

His 143 tackles, which were the most in the nation, last year ranks fifth best in a single season at Iowa and rank as most in a season since 2009 (LB Pat Angerer, 145) for the Hawkeyes. He also recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, one sack, six QB hurries, six passes broken up, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries (one of which he returned six yards for a score).

I don’t know what Campbell plans to do as an encore for 2022, but I sure am excited to see him try and best last year.