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December 4, 2013

Grading The Team: Linebackers

Now that the Houston Cougars' regular season has concluded, the team and it's fans play the waiting game as the rest of the country completes it's schedule to find out where the Cougars will be heading for their eighth bowl game since 2003.

Like the team and fans, we too find ourselves waiting for what the next step will be, so CougarsDen will take a look at how each position group fared during the Cougars regular season and give each position group a grade.

Today we continue the series with a look at the linebackers who came into the season as a bit of a question mark but had new faces step up into both starting roles and solid backups as well.

The obvious starting point is with middle linebacker Derrick Mathews who came into the season as the leader of the position group and pretty much the defense as a whole. He didn't disappoint, racking up normal-for-him yet still gaudy numbers with 110 tackles during the regular season. That total included 12 tackles-for-loss, including seven sacks. He also showed up well in the big play categories with an impressive interception he returned for a touchdown in the BYU game and two forced fumbles and two recoveries.

All of the above from Mathews was expected. What wasn't expected heading into the season is the year that junior Efrem Oliphant had, leading the team in tackles (123) and tackles-for-loss (12.5). Also a pleasant surprise was redshirt freshman Steven Taylor who came on strong and got better as the season went on.

Those three starters were beyond expectations as was the developed depth as well with George Bamfo, Austin Wilson, Elandon Roberts and Adrian Bennett all picked up quality time and held their own throughout the season.

Much like the safeties, all starters return for next season and also like the safeties, the linebackers earn and A for their performance this season.

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