Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o ran away with last year’s Butkus Award, the honor given to the nation’s top linebacker. He beat out such quality players as Kevin Minter of LSU, C.J. Mosely of Alabama, Jarvis Jones of Georgia and Dion Jordan of Oregon.
With the 2013 season at the mid-way point, here’s a look at the top candidates for this year’s Butkus Award:
1. Anthony Barr, Sr., UCLA — Barr has been lights-out for the Bruins thus far and is setting himself up to possibly be the first defensive player selected in the next NFL draft. Yes, he might get selected before Jadeveon Clowney. Why? Because he’s got size, speed, playmaking ability and, best of all, none of the drama that Clowney brings to the table. So far this season, he has 27 tackles, 10 of them for losses, four sacks and a nation-leading four forced fumbles. His disruptive presence has been one of the main reasons for UCLA’s first 5-0 start since 2005.
2. Shaquil Barrett, Sr., Colorado State — Barrett might be the best player you’ve never heard of. The senior leads the nation with 12.5 tackles for loss in his first six games. He’s also third nationally with 6.5 sacks, to go with two forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. He had five tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, with a quarterback hurry, when the Rams played No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, then followed that up with three sacks and two forced fumbles against UTEP.
3. Kyle Van Noy, Sr., BYU — Van Noy was one of the favorites for the Butkus Award coming into the season and he has not disappointed. Thus far, the senior has 38 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, four pass break ups and an interception return for a touchdown. The likely first-round pick is a big reason why BYU’s defense is among the best in the nation.
4. Trent Murphy, Sr., Stanford — Murphy has been lights out for the Cardinal this season, collecting 22 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks, two pass breakups and an interception that he returned for a touchdown. He’s one of the best pass rushers in the nation and, at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, he still has the agility to drop into coverage or chase runners out of the backfield.
5. Khalil Mack, Sr., Buffalo — Mack is an underrated player who NFL scouts are drooling over. He showed his value early in the season with nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and a pick-six for a touchdown against Ohio State. On the year, he has 41 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five sacks, a forced fumble, three pass breaks ups and one interception.
Honorable mention: C.J. Mosely, Alabama; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State; Chris Borland, Wisconsin.