B1G snubs? Several top LB candidates left off Butkus Award semifinalist lists
Several of the Big Ten’s top linebackers were left off the list of Butkus Award semifinalists released on Monday morning.
While Rutgers’ Olakunle Fatukasi and Ohio State’s Pete Werner made the cut, several others did not.
Fatukasi makes sense as a Big Ten representative. He leads the conference in tackles and has 7.5 tackles for loss.
Werner’s inclusion is a bit of a mystery. He’s No. 36 in the Big Ten in tackles per game and doesn’t have eye-popping turnover statistics, either. He also heads up a defense that has struggled mightily at times this season.
It’s surprising to see Iowa’s Nick Niemann and Michigan State’s Antjuan Simmons left off the list. Both linebackers are averaging over 10 tackles per game and are key cogs in defenses that have performed better than the Buckeyes.
Illinois’ Jake Hansen also deserved serious consideration. He has 6.5 tackles for loss this season to go with two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
But the most stunning exclusion from this list is the trio of Northwestern linebackers who have dominated for the Wildcats so far this season. Blake Gallagher, Paddy Fisher and Chris Bergin are all individually worthy of recognition, but for all three to be left off highly questionable.
All three linebackers are in the top six in the Big Ten in total tackles. Gallagher is No. 2 in the conference in tackles for loss with 8.5. Fisher has 58 tackles, an interception, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble. Bergin has a pick and four pass deflections.
More importantly, the Northwestern defense has arguably been the nation’s best to this point in the season. It has allowed just 22 points in the second half of games all season. The Wildcats are No. 2 nationally among Power 5 teams in scoring defense, behind only Wisconsin. However, the Badgers have played three fewer games than Northwestern.
A Big Ten linebacker has not won this award since Ohio State’s James Laurinaitis in 2007. Prior to this drought, the conference had won the Butkus Award 10 times between 1989 and 2007.
You can read the full list of semifinalists on the Butkus Award website.