Penn State has always been known as "Linebacker U", but in the past decade Ohio State has produced, overall, the better and more well-known college talent at the position. We'll get in to the best two outside linebackers of the past decade in a bit (you probably won't have to think too hard to come up with them), but let's take a quick trip back in time to round up the runner-ups. There are some good ones and some great ones who just couldn't quite make the cut. Without further ado:
Cie Grant (1998-2002)
Grant fluctuated between cornerback and linebacker during his time at Ohio State, not exactly something you see everyday. In 2001, he played corner, making 56 tackles, 3 interceptions and 1 forced fumble. However, the season that got him into the pros was at linebacker during the 2002 national championship season and this famous play, where he pressured Ken Dorsey and forced an incompletion to end the game. Grant is also famous for his incredible post-national championship Carmen Ohio rendition.
Robert Reynolds (2000-2003)
Reynolds hailed from Bowling Green, Kentucky. As a freshman he did not see playing time, but he started from 2002-2004. His best year was the national championship season, where he made 62 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack. Reynolds, however, is most (in)famous for the Reynolds-Sorgi incident in 2003, where during the upset loss to Wisconsin, he choked Badgers quarterback Jim Sorgi after a play. Reynolds would be drafted by the Tennessee Titans after his senior year and played in the NFL for four seasons, but was troubled legally and ended up out of the league after a suspension in 2008.
Marcus Freeman (2004-2008)
After being named a Parade All-American coming out of Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Freeman stayed in-state to play for Ohio State. Getting the starting nod in 37 of his 51 games with the Buckeyes, Freeman started two thirds of those at weakside linebacker and the rest at strongside. With 268 tackles (140 solo), 21.5 tackles for a loss, and 6 sacks, Freeman would wind up a two-time All-Big Ten second team selection. A heart issue cut his professional career short, and after two years with former Buckeyes WR coach Darrell Hazell at Kent State as linebackers coach, Freeman followed Hazell to Purdue in the same role where he's widely considered a fast riser in the coaching ranks.
Larry Grant (2006-2007)
After being named the 2005 JUCO National Player of the Year, Grant made the move up to Ohio State. Counting his time at the City College of San Francisco, Grant played in four consecutive national championship games. Grant started 14 of his 25 games at Ohio State, recording 69 tackles (43 of them solo), with 5.5 sacks. His senior season, he also blocked two kicks on special teams. Five years later, Grant is still floating around the NFL.
But The Winners Are...
A.J. Hawk (2002-2005)
Hawk first showed his potential as future star in his true freshman season, during the national title season. Backing up Cie Grant, he made 26 tackles, 3 sacks and two interceptions including a pick-six. In 2003, Hawk was a full-time starter and made an impressive 106 stops, along with four sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He also pulled in two more interceptions.
In 2004, Hawk really made himself a household name with 141 tackles, the second-most for any season in Buckeye history. He added two more interceptions in the process. He also made a whopping 20 stops against Wisconsin. He was named a team MVP and was a consensus All-American.
His senior year, he continued piling up the accolades. He led the team with 121 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss. His career ended with 394 tackles with 196 of them solo, 41 of them for losses, 15 and a half sacks, 7 interceptions, and 13 fumbles recovered. His most dominant game was against Texas, where he had twelve tackles (7 solos) with a pair of sacks, three stops for losses of 12 yards, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception. Hawk's stat-stuffing earned him the 2004-05 Lombardi Award (given to the nation's best linebacker), first-team All-American honors, All-Big Ten honors, and was named the conference's defensive player of the year. He terrorized future brother-in-law Notre Dame Brady Quinn in the Fiesta Bowl, making two sacks and a tackle for loss. Hawk was, quite simply, not just one of the best Ohio State linebackers of the decade, but one of the best of all-time.
Bobby Carpenter (2002-2005)
Carpenter was Hawk's running mate for many of his starts, and played in every game of his freshman year. He made 12 tackles on special teams. As he progressed during the 2003 season, he earned his way into a starting role for the last three games. That year, he made 37 tackles and had 4.5 sacks and 6 tackles for loss.
Carpenter turned into an edge pass-rusher to A.J. Hawk's field play as he started full-time in 2004. He finished second on the team with 93 tackles and made six more stops behind the line, along with two sacks and three interceptions. Carpenter's final season saw him make fewer tackles but far more sacks, as he added eight to his total. Unfortunately, he broke his leg during the Michigan game and was unable to play in the bowl game. During his career he amassed 191 tackles with 14.5 sacks, and 23.5 stops for losses of 140 yards. He caused two fumbles, batted away seven passes and intercepted three others for 13 yards in returns.
Both Carpenter and Hawk were drafted eventually in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Neither truly continued the level of play they had shown at Ohio State, but they were still by far the best Buckeye OLBs of the past decade.
So who's your pick for the best Ohio State linebacker of 2000's? Vote in the poll and let us know your line of thinking in the comments below.