Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, June 18, 2012

On Friday, senior writer Tom Dienhart and web editor Brent Yarina hit email to debate the 2012 Big Ten sack leader, the 10th in our series of Big Ten statistical predictions. Up next: Tackles. Who will lead the Big Ten in 2012? See Tom and Brent?s email thread in this post and vote for your leader, too.

2011 leader: Mike Taylor, 150
Returning leaders: Mike Taylor, 150; Chris Borland, 143; James Morris, 110; Christian Kirksey, 110; Jonathan Brown, 108.

Brent: More than any other category we've addressed in this series, tackles features the most returning talent. Seven of last season's top nine tacklers are back, the only departures being Lavonte David and Kim Royston. Mike Taylor led the Big Ten a season ago, and while he's a safe pick to do so again, I favor his sidekick, Chris Borland. The only possible knock against Borland is health, which could hurt him in a counting stat as this one. But give the tackling machine and never-say-quit Badger another healthy season, and his motor (man, I hate that phrase) will lead to A LOT of tackles.

Tom: You're right, there are lots of worthy candidates to choose from when it comes to predicting the 2012 tackle leader. And it begins with your guy, Chris Borland, and his teammate Mike Taylor. But I am going outside the box by picking Illinois? Jonathan Brown. He?s an ultra-athletic linebacker who notched 108 stops last year. And he likely will have to amp up that production with end Whitney Mercilus gone. Brown?s speed will allow him to go sideline to sideline making tackles for what could be a good Fighting Illini defense.

[Read all of our 2012 Big Ten statistical predictions]

Brent: To be honest, Brown was the other guy I was considering. Glad I went Borland, though, for the sake of friendly competition. How about your dark horse in this race? Wonder if we're thinking along the same lines again.

Tom: How about Penn State?s Michael Mauti-if he?s healthy? He?s one of the Big Ten?s best linebackers but injuries have overshadowed his career. Mauti missed 2009 with a knee injury and almost all of last season with a knee injury. He will work in concert with Gerald Hodges to form a dynamic linebacking tandem for what could be a very good Nittany Lion defense.

Brent: Nice pick, but we weren't thinking the same guy. I like Minnesota's Mike Rallis as a dark horse. Registering 83 tackles a season ago, the senior not only has the ability to make plays, but he'll be the guy expected to pick up the production lost via the graduations of Kim Royston (123 tackles) and the late Gary Tinsley (87). And, to be honest, Minnesota's defense figures to be on the field quite a bit in 2012, which will give Rallis ample opportunity to pad his stats. senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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