NCAA's top linebacker?

College football's most outstanding linebacker doesn't play for Tennessee but he grew up in the state of Tennessee. At least, that's the conclusion reached by the talent experts at rates Ole Miss senior Patrick Willis the No. 1 linebacker in the NCAA heading into the 2006 season. Willis grew up in Bruceton but was not heavily recruited by the homestate Volunteers. Signed four years ago by Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe, now the offensive coordinator at Tennessee, Willis has developed into an outstanding player.

Here's what has to say about him:

Patrick Willis, Sr. Ole Miss - 128 tackles, 3 sacks, 9.5 TFL, 4 broken up passes, 1 interception

Willis will no longer be the hidden gem that only SEC fans know about. He's a fast 6-2 and 230 pounds who was good enough to have been no worse than a second round NFL draft pick had he decided to leave early after dominating last season with five games of double-digit solo tackles (leading the nation in solo stops) and with double-digit stops in every game he was healthy except one; he made nine stops against Arkansas. Not just a run stopper, he has the range to be adequate in pass coverage to go along with the timing to be a solid pass rusher. He was out this spring recovering from surgery on his foot, but he's expected to be more than fine by the time fall practices start.

No one from UT made's list of the top 30 college linebackers but five SEC ‘backers other than Willis did. They are Sam Oljabutu of Arkansas (No. 4), Brandon Siler of Florida (No. 6), Earl Everett of Florida (No. 22), Ali Highsmith of LSU (No. 25) and Quinton Culberson of Mississippi State (No. 27). also posted its top 25 NCAA safeties today, and the Vols do have a representative on that list. Junior Jonathan Hefney checks in at No. 22. A converted cornerback, Hefney had a big season in 2005, ranking third among Vols in tackles (65), first in interceptions (3) and third in pass breakups (6).

LSU's LaRon Landry is rated the nation's No. 1 safety by Florida's Reggie Nelson (No. 12) and Hefney are the only other SEC players to show up on the list.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories