BTN will celebrate its fifth anniversary later this month. The big day is Aug. 30, to be exact. As a way to celebrate – not to mention kill time before the 2012 season kicks off – I’m spotlighting some of the great careers during our time on the air. I’ll do it in the mold of “Big Ten’s Best,” our popular countdown show that returns this fall for another season of ranking the best in Big Ten history. My sixth and final list ranks the top five defensive careers of the BTN era.
Editor’s note: This list only includes football players who competed during the BTN era, and it ranks the best careers, taking into account overall numbers and team success. Pro success and pro potential have no impact.
1. Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
BTN era stats: 210 tackles, 57 TFLs, 33.5 sacks, 14 forced fumbles
Accolades: Set Big Ten record, matched FBS record with 14 career forced fumbles; 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year; 2010 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year; 2010 unanimous first-team All-America.
2. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
BTN era stats: 251 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks, 4 INTs, 1 forced fumble (2005-08 career stats: 375 tackles, 24 TFLs, 13.5 sacks, 9 INTs, 4 forced fumbles)
Accolades: Only Big Ten player to win two Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year awards (2007 and 2008); three-time consensus first-team All-America; 2007 Butkus Award; 2008 Ronnie Lott Trophy.
3. Brandon Graham, Michigan
BTN era stats: 135 tackles, 56 TFLs, 29 sacks, 6 forced fumbles (2006-09 career stats: 138 tackles, 56 TFLs, 29.5 sacks, 6 forced fumbles)
Accolades: First defensive player in school history to be voted Bo Schembechler MVP twice (2008, 2009); co-winner of 2009 Chicago Tribune Silver Football; 2009 first-team College Football All-America; 2009 first-team All-Big Ten; 2009 Ted Hendricks Award finalist.
4. Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
BTN era stats: 141 tackles, 37.5 TFLs, 19 sacks, 7 forced fumbles
Accolades: 2009 and 2010 first-team All-Big Ten; 2010 consensus All-America; 2010 Ted Hendricks Award finalist; 2010 Orange Bowl MVP; 2009 National Defensive Performer of the Year by College Football Performance Awards.
5. Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State -
BTN era stats: 104 tackles, 9 TFLs, 7 INTs, 3 forced fumbles (2005-08 career stats: 196 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 11 INTs, 4 forced fumbles)
Accolades: 2008 Jim Thorpe Award; three-time first-team All-Big Ten, including two consensus selections; 2007 Jim Thorpe Award finalist; 2007 first-team All-America (Pro Football Weekly); played in 2006 and 2007 national title games.
And it’s always a touchy topic, however it’s impossible to talk best defensive players during the BTN era without mentioning Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh. No, he didn’t play a down in the Big Ten, but we as a network have made the decision to honor Nebraska’s history. That includes Suh, who needs recognition here.
Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
BTN era stats: 195 tackles, 42.5 TFLs, 20.5 sacks, 3 INTs, 2 TDs, 2 forced fumbles (2006-09 career stats: 214 tackles, 49.5 TFLs, 24 sacks, 4 INTs, 2 TDs, 3 forced fumbles)
Accolades: 2009 Big 12 Championship Game MVP, 2009 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, 2009 Heisman Trophy Finalist, 2009 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, 2009 Lombardi Award, 2009 Chuck Bednarik Award, 2009 Outland Trophy, 2009 AP Player of the Year, the first defensive player ever to win the award.
Next five (in alphabetical order of school): Whitney Mercilus, Illinois; Greg Jones, Michigan State; Dan Connor, Penn State; Jared Odrick, Penn State; J.J. Watt, Wisconsin.