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Phil Steele ranks Top 25 Linebacker Units ahead of 2024 college football season

Matt Connollyby:Matt Connolly07/09/24


Next Powers In College Football

The 2024 college football season is quickly approaching, which means Phil Steele has put out his yearly preview. Steele has ranked every position group in college football, including linebacker units.

There are plenty of talented linebacker groups in college football, but he has Iowa atop his list. That’s not exactly a surprise as the Hawkeyes ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense and total defense last season. After that, Steele has three SEC teams up next.

Here are the top 25 linebacker units in college football, according to Phil Steele:

1. Iowa Hawkeyes

Iowa-Jay Higgins
Iowa LB Jay Higgins (Photo: Dennis Scheidt)

Iowa returns leading tackler Jay Higgins, who enters the 2024 season as arguably the top linebacker in the country. Higgins recorded an incredible 171 tackles in 2023 and was named an All-American.

Iowa also returns second-leading tackler Nick Jackson, who finished with 110 tackles last season. The Hawkeyes have plenty of depth at linebacker, too, and it’s easy to see why Steele has them at No. 1.

2. Oklahoma Sooners

Oklahoma linebacker Danny Stutsman was not included on the Butkus Award semifinalists list
Danny Stutsman (Nathan J. Fish-USA TODAY Sports)

Another player who is without a doubt in the conversation as far as the top linebacker in college football is Oklahoma star Danny Stutsman. The All-American finished the 2023 season with 104 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and 3 sacks.

Stutsman passed on the NFL to return to Oklahoma and play for Brent Venables. The Sooners also return second-leading tackler Kip Lewis and multiple other talented linebackers. Venables consistently produced some of the top defenses in college football during his Clemson days. Oklahoma should have its best defense yet under Venables in 2024, with linebackers leading the way.

3. Georgia Bulldogs

Smael Mondon Georgia
Smael Mondon, Jr. (Tony Walsh / UGA Sports Communications)

Kirby Smart has built a dominant defense at Georgia, and the linebackers are a big part of that. Smael Mondon, Jr. is back for his senior season after finishing second on the team with 68 tackles in 2023.

The Bulldogs also return CJ Allen at linebacker after he finished with 41 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a freshman last year. Georgia recruits as well as anyone and will have a talented and deep group of linebackers in 2024.

4. Texas Longhorns

Anthony Hill-Texas
Anthony Hill (Will Gallagher/Inside Texas)

The Texas offense gets a lot of the attention with quarterbacks Quinn Ewers and Arch Manning leading the way. But the Longhorns also have an excellent defense as they head to the SEC.

Linebacker Anthony Hill Jr. is back after a sensational freshman season. Texas also returns David Gbenda, who had 50 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss a season ago. The Longhorns are deep and talented at linebacker.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

Nick Martin-Oklahoma State
Nick Martin (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Oklahoma State surprised many last year by advancing all the way to the Big 12 title game. A stout group of linebackers played a large role in the Cowboys reaching the 10-win mark.

Nick Martin led Oklahoma State linebackers and the entire Cowboys team in tackles with 140, including 16 tackles for loss. He’s back for the 2024 season, as is linebacker Collin Oliver, who recorded 15.5 tackles for loss last year. The Cowboys could compete for the Big 12 title this season.

6. Penn State Nittany Lions

Kobe King-Penn State
Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Kobe King (41) celebrates after a tackle against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the third quarter at Ohio Stadium. (Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

Penn State once again has some studs at linebacker, led by Kobe King. The Michigan appeared in 13 games last season, finishing second on the team in tackles with 59.

Penn State also returns Dominic DeLuca, who could be ready to move into a bigger role in 2024. Steele also mentioned Tony Rojas as a potential future star at the linebacker position after he appeared in every game and recorded 22 tackles as a true freshman last year.

7. Oregon Ducks

Jeffrey Bassa
Oregon inside linebacker Jeffery Bassa (Photo: © Craig Strobeck-USA TODAY Sports)

Oregon received a big boost for the 2024 season when Jeffrey Bassa opted to return for his senior year. The inside linebacker was the defensive leader for the Ducks a year ago when he recorded 72 tackles and a team-leading 12 quarterback hurries.

Oregon also returns linebackers Bryce Boettcher, Jestin Jacobs and Teitum Tuioti, who were all key contributors in 2023. Dan Lanning should have another excellent defense in Year 3 as the Oregon head coach.

8. Clemson Tigers

Barrett Carter-Clemson
(Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports)

Clemson lost star linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. to the NFL Draft, but the Tigers return All-ACC performer Barrett Carter, who considered turning pro. Carter is a versatile linebacker who racked up 67 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss, in 2023.

Wade Woodaz should also move into a larger role for Clemson in 2024 after serving as a key reserve each of the past two seasons. There are some question marks about the depth, but Carter and Woodaz as the two starters should be as good as just about anybody.

9. Wisconsin Badgers

Jake Chaney-Wisconsin
Jake Chaney (Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports)

Wisconsin added some impressive linebackers out of the transfer portal for the 2024 season, but the Badgers also return plenty of talent from last year’s roster. That includes Jake Chaney, who ranked second on the team in tackles with 80 in 2023.

As for the transfer portal additions, the Badgers brought in Tackett Curtis (part-time starter at USC), Jaheim Thomas (Arkansas leading tackler) and Sebastian Cheeks (contributed on North Carolina defense) this offseason. Look for Luke Fickell’s unit to take another step forward in Year 2.

10. SMU Mustangs

Kobe Wilson-SMU
SMU LB Kobe Wilson, DBs Jonathan McGill and CJ Sanders. (Matt Visinsky – On3)

SMU quietly had a really good defense in 2023, ranking in the top 15 in both total defense and scoring defense. The Mustangs return their top two tacklers in linebackers Kobe Wilson and Ahmad Walker, who combined for 145 stops and 9.5 tackles for loss last year.

SMU also added a linebacker out of the transfer portal in Justin Medlock this offseason. The Utah transfer appeared in 15 games across two seasons for the Utes.

Phil Steele top linebacker units: 11-25

11. TCU Horned Frogs
12. Ohio State Buckeyes
13. Kentucky Wildcats
14. Alabama Crimson Tide
15. Miami Hurricanes
16. Texas A&M Aggies
17. Missouri Tigers
18. Michigan Wolverines
19. Nebraska Cornhuskers
20. Michigan State Spartans
21. South Carolina Gamecocks
22. LSU Tigers
23. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
24. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
25. Utah Utes