Heading into the 2012 college football season, WalterFootball.com will debut our projections for the nation's leaders during the fall. The All-American teams always have some surprises, and the next fall's stars could be the headline players next April for the 2013 NFL Draft.
Even though Te'o could've been a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, he decided to return to the Fighting Irish for his senior season. Not only does the 6-foot-2, 255-pound linebacker have all the physical tools to be a dominant player, but he is also extremely intelligent and instinctive. Te'o has been extremely consistent the past two seasons, so there is no reason to think that he won't maintain that level of play as a senior.
Te'o was a Second-Team All-American last season after being the heart and soul of Notre Dame's defense. He led the Fighting Irish with 128 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks. Te'o recorded 133 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble in 2010.
If Te'o stays healthy, he is probably a lock for 120 tackles with a nice mix of splash plays. Te'o will get blocking attention, but that already happened in 2011, and it didn't prevent him from making any less of an impact. It would be very surprising if Te'o had a drop in his play.
Te'o is a well-rounded linebacker. He does everything well and doesn't have any flaws in his game. Te'o is strong at the point of attack against the run. He has good instincts to get in position to make tackles and be around the ball.
Te'o is also a solid pass-defender. He splits time between blitzing and dropping into coverage. At this point, Te'o should have the college game down and that experience could make him even better in 2012. He is the heavy favorite to be the First-Team All-American this season.
After a modest freshman season as a part-time starter, Skov exploded in 2010 with a breakout year. He was voted Stanford's most outstanding sophomore, totalling 11.5 tackles for a loss with 7.5 sacks, 84 tackles and two forced fumbles. With fellow linebacker Chase Thomas, Skov led the Cardinal defense and that duo created many splash plays.
Skov played extremely well in the first two games of 2011 season before going down with a torn knee ligament in the third outing. That ended his season in mid-September. Skov had a DUI arrest this offseason, and as a result, he hass been suspended by head coach David Shaw for the first game of 2012. There is a nice supporting cast in place on Stanford's defense, so Skov and Thomas should produce well in this year.
When watching Stanford, Skov (6-3, 251) is impossible to ignore. He is an attacking linebacker who has a tenacious attitude and is a hard hitter. In the ground game, Skov has nice anticipation and instincts to get in position to make plays. Skov has an aggressive nature and makes a lot of tackles near the line of scrimmage.
Skov is an excellent blitzer as a pass defender. Don't be surprised if he has a sack total in the 8-10 range this season, especially with offenses focusing on Thomas coming off the edge. As long as Skov comes back and stays healthy, he could be one of the best inside linebackers in the nation.
With the vast majority of the 2011 All-American linebackers in the NFL, there figures to be some breakout stars in 2012. Ogletree definitely fits the bill as a top contender. He was on a tear late last season and stood out when Georgia was taking on some of the nation's best teams. It could have been a huge year for Ogletree, but he broke his foot in the first game of the season against Boise State and was out of the lineup until late October.
In the final seven games, Ogletree produced 52 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. If you translate those numbers across a healthy season, he would have been looking at something like 100 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, six sacks and four forced fumbles.
To close out the season, Ogletree had big games against Georgia Tech, LSU and Michigan State. He recorded 30 tackles, three tackles for a loss, two sacks and two passes broken up against those three opponents.
The 6-foot-3, 236-pound Ogletree is extremely fast and instinctive. He has the frame to get bigger for the NFL. The junior is an ascending player who has big upside. Don't be surprised if Ogletree is one of the best linebackers in the SEC this season.
Honorable Mentions: North Carolina inside linebacker Kevin Reddick, Oklahoma inside linebacker Tom Wort, Iowa inside linebacker James Morris, Western Kentucky inside linebacker Andrew Jackson, Kansas State inside linebacker Arthur Brown, Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland, Virginia Tech inside linebacker Bruce Taylor, Alabama inside linebacker Nico Johnson and Florida inside linebacker Jonathan Bostic.