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ESPN Ranks Penn State As Fifth-Best ‘Linebacker U’ In College Football

Boy, is ESPN at it again.

The self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports” released its rankings of how each school stacks up at every position historically on Tuesday. Each position on the football field had its own top 10 rankings to ultimately decide who, in fact, is Quarterback U, Running back U, and so on.

These rankings came with a few asterisks. First of all, they only accounted for the BCS and College Football Playoff eras of the sport, which renders all games played before the 1998 season irrelevant. Jack Ham, for example, might be one of the greatest linebackers to ever play the game of football, but he doesn’t count in these rankings because he was in college during the late 1960s.

Additionally, ESPN considered all-conference and All-American selections, NFL Draft picks, and “stars from the pro ranks” in its formula to say which teams boasted the best position groups. “Stars from the pro ranks” sounds a bit subjective, but sure, let’s use it to definitively call a school “[Position] U.”

Penn State checked in at No. 3 on the “Defensive Line U” list thanks to standouts like Courtney Brown, Tamba Hali, and Carl Nassib. Perhaps the most egregious part of this list, however, is the Nittany Lions’ No. 5 ranking on the “Linebacker U” chart.

Georgia, Alabama, Ohio State, and USC checked into the top four spots on the “LBU” list, but ESPN made two compelling points in favor of the Nittany Lions: 1) “Historically, the Linebacker U tag might have been reserved for Penn State,” and 2) “it’s hard to find a more decorated trio at one school in the past 20 years than LaVar Arrington, Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor.”

One thing ESPN fails to account for is the future of each position. Rankings based on past achievements are great, but a talent like freshman All-American Micah Parsons has assured Penn State’s “LBU” legacy is in very safe hands. It also doesn’t consider players who were good, but not necessarily the best in the nation. Ohio State, for example, has clearly produced lots of top-end linebackers, but Penn State has produced far more players like Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell than the Buckeyes have since 1998. Penn State legends like NaVorro Bowman and Sean Lee were somehow completely ignored by ESPN in these rankings.

Penn State’s low ranking on the “Linebacker U” list is one of many borderline-at-best decisions made by ESPN here. Despite producing Saquon freakin’ Barkley, second team All-Big Ten selection Miles Sanders, and Larry Johnson, the Nittany Lions don’t even sniff the top 10 of the “Running Back U” list. Barkley, Sanders, and Johnson are an objectively better trio than those from Pitt (James Conner, LeSean McCoy, and Dion Lewis) and Arkansas (Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis) — the sixth- and ninth-best “RBUs” on ESPN’s list.

I guess ESPN just blew in from stupid town to make these rankings, huh.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]


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