The Daily Iowan

Big Ten football power rankings: linebackers

The Big Ten had plenty of tackle machines in 2017, and that won’t change in 2018.

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Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) attempts to recover a fumble forced by Michigan State's Joe Bachie during the game between Iowa and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Spartans with a final score of 10-17. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) attempts to recover a fumble forced by Michigan State's Joe Bachie during the game between Iowa and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Spartans with a final score of 10-17. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) attempts to recover a fumble forced by Michigan State's Joe Bachie during the game between Iowa and Michigan State at Spartan Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. The Hawkeyes fell to the Spartans with a final score of 10-17. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Adam Hensley and Pete Ruden

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Daily Iowan Pregame Editor Adam Hensley teams up with Sports Editor Pete Ruden to break down the Big Ten’s best linebackers heading into the 2018 season.

5) Nate Hall, Northwestern

Now in his senior season for the Wildcats, Hall is one of the key reasons that Northwestern will have one of the best linebacking corps in the conference.

Hall racked up 81 tackles in 2017 and was a monster when it came to stopping opponents in the backfield; he also demonstrated that he can be reliable in coverage. He had 17 tackles for a loss, 5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and deflected 6 passes.

Hall, alongside teammate Paddy Fisher, will be a main reason that Northwestern’s defense could be one of its best in recent memory.

4) Thomas Barber, Minnesota

While Minnesota’s defense was just a middle-of-the-road group in 2017, Barber was a standout.

Barber finished the season ranked third in the Big Ten with 115 tackles and 76 solo stops, which led the conference. He also had a knack for finding the ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage, closing out the year with 10.5 tackles for loss.

Barber is part of a linebacker group that is one of Minnesota’s biggest strengths heading into 2018. With Carter Coughlin ​— the team’s leader in sacks and tackles for loss — and Kamal Martin patrolling the field with Barber, the Gophers’ defensive corps will be a good one.

3) Joe Bachie, Michigan State

Bachie had 100 tackles (7.5 for a loss), 2.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 2 passes broken up, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 fumble recovery. Oh, and this was in his sophomore season, the first year in which he played more than two games for Michigan State.

The main question defensively for the Spartans will be in pass coverage ​— Michigan State had the ground game on lockdown in 2017.

With another offseason under his belt, it’s safe to say that Bachie’s numbers will go up across the board, especially in tackles. He’s a dark horse to lead the Big Ten in that category in 2018.

2) T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin

Simply put, Edwards is one of the best defensive players that the Big Ten has to offer.

A Butkus Award finalist in 2017, Edwards will lead a Badger defense that was the conference’s best last season.

The stout Wisconsin defense allowed only 13.9 points per game last year, while giving up 262.1 yards a game; both of those marks ranked first in the Big Ten.

While he is a key piece in stopping the ground attack, Edwards was also a threat in the passing game, picking off 4 passes, taking one back to the house, and knocking down 7 more.

1) Paddy Fisher, Northwestern

Since when does the Big Ten’s best linebacker have just one year of experience to show? Since now.

“You look at his body of work from just one season, I think it speaks for itself,” Wildcat head coach Pat Fitzgerald said at Big Ten media days. “He’s a big man. He’s all, of course, 245 pounds. He can run, and he’s obviously very physical. He’s got a great football IQ.”

Fisher was a beast in 2017 ​— his first year on a college campus. He had 111 tackles (65 of which were solo), 9 tackles for a loss, 1 interception, deflected 3 passes, and forced 4 fumbles for Northwestern. His total-tackle tally and solo-tackle count ranked fourth in the conference, and his 4 forced fumbles were a Big Ten high.

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