1. Miami

For the 3rd straight season, both DJ Williams and Jonathan Vilma return as Miami's most notable duo. Williams, the more gifted of the two, tallied 108 tackles (16 for loss) as Vilma led the team with 133. At the other outside linebacker spot is Rocky McIntosh, who might have a brighter future than his two more notable teammates. The young star is not as well known, but you would never know that from watching him play. His anonymity will allow him success.

Why they're #1? : Honestly speaking, Miami's #1 ranking has nothing to do with either Vilma or Williams because the top two linebackers for OU, Auburn and Miami could all be considered a wash. What separates Miami from the rest is Rocky McIntosh. In all actuality, if McIntosh isn't a better linebacker than Vilma right now, then he will be by October.

2. Auburn

If not for D.J Williams, Karlos Dansby would be considered the more physically gifted linebacker in college football. The All-American linebacker has shown great sideline-to-sideline speed while possessing an ability to play the pass as well as he does the run. His teammate (Dontarrious Thomas), only two years previous, led the team in tackles by more than doubling everyone else's totals. While Auburn's linebacking corps isn't the one-man unit it once was, Thomas still led the team in tackles with 92 overall. Since Lemarcus Rowell's recent troubles with the law, there has been some switching. Look for coaches to call on Derrick Graves (amongst other young and talented players) to take over.

Why they're #2? : Quality depth is as simple as that. Despite the loss of Rowell Auburn still has a fleet of talented young linebackers.

3. Oklahoma

All-Big 12 weakside linbacker Teddy Lehman might be getting most of the recognition, but Oklahoma's best linebacker could very well be Lance Mithcell. After transferring to Oklahoma from a JUCO, Mitchell has quickly picked up the defense and accounted for 124 of his team's tackles to go with 19 for losses. Pasha Jackson, another JUCO transfer, returns at outside linebacker. He will look to improve on what was a good but not great junior campaign.

Why they're #3? : Lets not get confused here, this group still grades an A with their five stars. Talent and depth are no issues; we just didn't feel there was quite the same overall level as Miami and Auburn, but then again, we could be wrong since very little separates #1 through #3.

4. Kansas State

Even though Terry Pierce is gone, there is no reason to feel sorry for the Wildcats. JUCO transfer and future defensive standout Marvin Simmons will soon take over at middle linebacker, despite the very capable Matt Bulter having his name listed as #1 on the depth chart. On the outsides Bryan Hickman and All Big-12 linebacker - Josh Buhl make a great combination after combining for 214 of the team's tackles last season.

Why they're #4? : This could very well be the most underrated unit in college football, period! No one is making a big enough deal about the arrival of Marvin Simmons. He will have no problems replacing Pierce. That being said, would this not be a Top 5 unit even if Pierce returned?

5. Florida State

Not many teams boast a better set of outside linebackers than the Seminoles. Both Michael Boulware and Kendyll Pope have six years of combined starting experience to go along with numerous All-ACC honors. At middle should be Allen Augustin, who started for the 2nd half of last season, but look out for Ernie Simms III - the prized recruit could be too good not to see action this season.

Why they're #5? : Depth, Talent, and experience, this unit it has it all! The only thing keeping them away from the elite is that experienced and dominating MLB that the other 4 units have.


Just Missed: Notre Dame

Notre Dame may not have jaw dropping athletic ability across its corps, but the Irish still can enjoy one of the deepest and most consistent groups in the country. Courtney Watson is easily the biggest name on the defense and for good reason. The All-American candidate has been nothing short of spectacular as the Irish's most valuable defender. Derek Curry should provide solid play on the outside, while Mike Goolsby is as consistent as you can get on the outside. Depth should also be more than fine with Brandon Hoyte and Jerome Collins providing quality play if needed.

Could be there: Southern Miss

Hard not to imagine a unit with a first team All-American not talked about amongst the best. Rod Davis needs no introduction after a 2002 season that included 168 tackles, 23.5 of them being for loss. On the outside, Michael Boley is no slouch himself with 142 tackles while being the unit's best pass defender. If former safety Antoine Cash can prove that his speed and instincts can be well utilized at linebacker, then the hard-hitting junior could make this Golden Eagle unit one of the best.