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Minnesota hopes Virginia linebackers don’t stop sweet music in Nashville

Minnesota’s football team has seen some of the best linebacker talent in the country this season.

Iowa boasts Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, Ohio State stacks three of the best with A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel and Penn State’s Paul Posluszny was honored with the Butkus Award on Saturday, an award handed out to the nation’s top linebacker.

All three of those games were lopsided losses.

Bad news for Minnesota: It faces another solid linebacking core when it meets Virginia in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30 in Nashville, Tenn.

“They play a 3-4 defense and are going to be prepared to play,” quarterback Bryan Cupito said. “They have some players that can make the plays, so we need to be prepared for them.”

Those players include a pair of first-rate linebackers in Kai Parham and Ahmad Brooks.

Parham was named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference this season and Brooks, who missed portions of this season recovering from offseason knee surgery and back ailments, was an All-American and one of three finalists for the Butkus Award last season.

The Cavaliers (6-5) will rely largely on their linebackers to halt Minnesota’s run of three straight bowl wins.

The Gophers (7-4) won the Music City Bowl in 2002 and 2004, beating Arkansas and Alabama, interrupted by a 2003 Sun Bowl win over Oregon.

This year’s bowl features a pair of underachieving teams with overachieving players.

Despite coming up short of expectations as a team, Minnesota’s Greg Eslinger, Laurence Maroney and Mark Setterstrom were each named to the Associated Press All-American team; it was announced Tuesday.

Eslinger was first-team, Setterstrom was second-team and Maroney was a third-team choice. Virginia’s D’Brickshaw Ferguson will likely be the top offensive lineman taken in the NFL draft. Then there are those linebackers.

The bowl is still more than two weeks away, but Maroney said he started watching film in preparation for Virginia’s linebackers last week.

“We’re going to play our game no matter what,” Maroney said. “Nobody’s going to scare us away from running the football.”

Especially not Virginia.

Despite having Perham and Brooks, the Cavaliers rank third-worst in the Atlantic Coast Conference in rushing defense. They did, however, hold then-No. 4 Florida State to just 95 yards rushing in a 26-21 upset win Oct. 15.

And the Cavaliers aren’t much better defending the pass.

Virginia allowed opponents to pass for 2,432 yards this season, second-worst in the ACC. Not one of Virginia’s probable starting four linebackers ” Parham, Brooks, Clint Sintim and Jermaine Dias ” has an interception this season.

But that makes no difference to Maroney. In the end, it comes down to how the Gophers execute offensively, because nobody can stop their offense when it’s clicking, he said.

“It doesn’t matter what they put out there,” Maroney said. “I feel like my offensive line can take on any look.”

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