Oklahoma Sooners: Derrick Kindred

Last week, colleague Max Olson crunched the numbers on the total career starts each Big 12 team has coming back for next season.

What Max unearthed was that Texas (by far) leads the Big 12 in career starts returning, both offensively and defensively. TCU’s defense ranked second behind the Longhorns’ defense, while the Iowa State offense placed second. The Horned Frogs could have their most dominant defense yet in the Big 12, and the Cyclones could feature their best offensive attack in years, suggesting both teams could also be in for bounce-back 2014 campaigns.

Yet while revealing, compiling returning starts doesn’t tell the entire story when examining team experience, since the equation doesn’t account for those who played key roles as reserves. TCU safety Derrick Kindred, Texas Tech linebacker Micah Awe and Baylor end Shawn Oakman weren’t starters last year. But they were still valuable players on their respective teams.

To examine returning experience in another way, I’ve tallied up the percentage of tackles returning for every team in the Big 12:

With nine starters back, it’s not surprising the Sooners top this chart. But the number of returning starters isn’t the only reason why Oklahoma is optimistic about its 2014 defense. The Sooners also bring back several key defensive performers that weren’t full-time starters last season. End Geneo Grissom, who notched three sacks against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, only started five games in 2013. Linebacker Jordan Evans thrived whenever his number got called as a freshman. And tackle Jordan Phillips only started four games but was playing at an All-Big 12-caliber level before suffering a season-ending back injury in early October.

On the flip side, Oklahoma State is at the cellar of this list, and not just because it graduated seven starters. The Cowboys also lost several defensive reserves that played a bunch, including linebacker Joe Mitchell, cornerback Tyler Patmon and safety Zack Craig.

Of course, like with returning starts, a high level of returning tackles doesn’t guarantee success. And it doesn’t necessarily preclude it, either.

Oklahoma ranked 119th nationally in returning tackles (40 percent) last season. But by the end of the season, the Sooners were wreaking havoc in the backfield of the two-time defending national champs.

The tackle equation can be an indicator of the defenses that might be formidable. Oklahoma State and Baylor both had 73 percent of their tackles returning from 2012 going into last season. Both wound up being formidable, ranking first and second in the league in both fewest yards per play and points per drive.

That bodes well for the defensive prospects of Oklahoma, Kansas, TCU, Texas and West Virginia, which all have like tackle rates coming back for 2014.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Here are the Big 12’s unsung heroes for Week 12:

Baylor running back Devin Chafin: Where do the Bears keep finding these running backs? Chafin finished with 11 carries for 100 yards, 9.1 yards per carry, and two touchdowns, all career-highs. He allowed the Bears to sub out Shock Linwood without a drop-off in production in BU’s 63-34 win over Texas Tech.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesKansas State QB Jake Waters didn't have huge numbers, but he made key plays to help beat West Virginia.
Kansas linebacker Ben Goodman: Goodman was outstanding as Kansas snapped its 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 win over West Virginia. He had six solo tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one interception, which was key as the Mountaineers were driving early in the third quarter. He showed the athleticism and hops normally seen on the Allen Fieldhouse floor on his momentum-changing interception.

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters: He didn’t finish with great numbers but led the Wildcats on a game-winning drive in the final two minutes, finding Curry Sexton and Tyler Lockett on key connections to set up Jack Cantele’s game-winning 41-yard field goal. Waters finished 10 of 24 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and one interception but stepped up to make key plays in key moments.

Iowa State defensive end Cory Morrissey: Defensive teammates Jacques Washington and Jeremiah George sat atop the tackles list in the Cyclones’ 48-10 loss to Oklahoma, but Morrissey was solid with five tackles and one tackle for loss. It was his fifth time recording at least five tackles this season.

Oklahoma receiver Jalen Saunders: The Sooners' running game was the star, but Saunders sparked OU’s 48-10 win with a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown right before halftime. The slippery senior didn’t have a major impact in the passing game (three receptions for 15 yards), but his actual impact on the outcome was as big as quarterback Trevor Knight and running back Damien Williams, who each rushed for more than 100 yards in the win.

Oklahoma State receiver Charlie Moore: The senior was very productive in the Cowboys’ 38-13 win over Texas. He caught six of seven targets for 83 yards and one touchdown. With OSU’s top receiver, Josh Stewart, out due to injury, Moore provided a quality receiving option for Clint Chelf in the victory with his season high in receptions and receiving yards.

Texas safety Mykkele Thompson: The junior led UT with six solo tackles (seven total) and one interception in the Longhorns’ 38-10 loss to OSU. His effort was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing home loss to the Cowboys as Thompson recorded a season-high in solo tackles.

TCU safety Derrick Kindred: The sophomore continues to play at a high level while emerging as another option in the Horned Frogs' secondary. He led the squad with eight solo tackles in TCU’s 33-31 loss to Kansas State. He has 17 tackles in the past two games.

Texas Tech cornerback Justis Nelson: Talk about thrown into the fire. Nelson earned his first collegiate start against the explosive Baylor offense and held up well despite his team’s 63-34 loss. The true freshman showed signs he might emerge as an critical part of the Red Raiders' defense of the future with five solo tackles and three pass breakups.

West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski: The Mountaineers linebacker contributed to a turnover for the third straight game. After grabbing interceptions in his squad’s previous two outings, Kwiatkoski had eight tackles, including six solo stops, 1.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery in the 31-19 loss to KU.

Big 12 lunchtime links

September, 26, 2013
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You can't accuse Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard of mincing words:

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
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Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes in Week 3.

Receiver Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State: Overshadowed by the Cyclones’ struggles against Iowa, Bundrage could be emerging as a go-to target for quarterback Sam Richardson. He finished with seven receptions for 146 yards and three touchdowns. Four of his catches resulted in first downs for the Cyclones. He could be a reassuring option for Iowa State's offense if he can be consistent for the rest of the season.

Safety Isaiah Johnson, Kansas: The junior college transfer had a strong showing against Rice. He had nine tackles, including seven solo stops, and one interception against the Owls. It was a disappointing 23-14 loss for the Jayhawks, but coach Charlie Weis praised the performance of his defense and hopes that unit will continue to play well when Big 12 play opens. Secondary play is critical in this league, and Johnson could help the Jayhawks in that regard.

Running back John Hubert, Kansas State: It’s odd to call Hubert an unsung hero, but the Wildcats’ use of their star running back should be noted. He’s gotten more opportunities to get the ball in space and has seen the ball more in the passing game since KSU's season-opening loss to North Dakota State. Hubert had 168 all-purpose yards (118 rushing, 50 receiving) and one touchdown in KSU’s 37-7 win over UMass. With KSU facing Texas this weekend, Hubert could be a key guy to watch for the Wildcats.

Cornerback Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma: Sanchez is quietly off to an outstanding start in the first three games of his college career. He had six tackles, including 0.5 tackles for loss, and one pass breakup against Tulsa. The redshirt freshman has been competitive, trustworthy and confident as the starter opposite All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Sanchez gone from potential weak link for the Sooners to a potential strength in the secondary.

Running back Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State: The senior had the quietest three-touchdown performance in recent memory with 10 carries for 40 yards and three scores. Smith makes the list because he will be critical for the Cowboys offense moving forward. If he can continue to be a physical, slashing runner who takes the attention off quarterback J.W. Walsh, the entire field opens up for OSU’s offense on the ground and through the air.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas RB Johnathan Gray rushed for 91 yards and a TD in the Longhorns' loss to Ole Miss.
Running back Johnathan Gray, Texas: Gray had a productive day against Ole Miss despite the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss. He finished with 19 carries for 91 yards and one touchdown while adding four receptions for 12 yards. The Longhorns leaned more on Gray with Daje' Johnson out, and the sophomore responded with a solid showing. Nonetheless, UT will need even more from Gray if it hopes to get the ship turned back in the right direction.

Defensive back Derrick Kindred, TCU: The sophomore, a backup safety, was all over the field in the Horned Frogs’ 20-10 loss to Texas Tech on Thursday. He finished with five tackles, including one tackle for loss, while adding an interception and a pass breakup. Playing in a defensive backfield that features big names like cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Elisha Olabode, Kindred is looking like he can provide quality depth in TCU’s secondary.

Safety Tre' Porter, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders senior was a key reason Texas Tech was able to limit TCU to 10 points. He had a team-high nine tackles, all solo. His ability to tackle in space and limit game-changing plays by opponents could be critical for the Red Raider defense when it starts facing Big 12 offenses. He was moved to safety to provide a consistent playmaker at that position for the Red Raiders, and that's exactly what he's done.

Defensive end Kyle Rose, West Virginia: Rose had six tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, and one sack for WVU in the Mountaineers' 41-7 win over Georgia State. The sophomore provided quality depth last season and could become a key contributor along the defensive line if he continues to play well. He could also help lessen the burden and double-team opportunities on defensive tackle Shaq Rowell in the middle.

Note: Baylor did not play in Week 3.

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