Oklahoma Sooners: Dominic Espinosa

Watch list week continued Tuesday with the release of the Mackey Award and Rimington Trophy. The Mackey goes to the most outstanding tight end, while the Rimington is for college football's top center.

Here are the Big 12 players that made each list:

Mackey
Rimington

Monday, the Maxwell (player of the year), Bednarik (defensive player of the year) and Hornung (most versatile player) watch lists were released.

Below is the rest of the preseason watch list schedule:

Wednesday
- Lou Groza Award, best place-kicker
- Ray Guy Award, best punter

Thursday
- Bronko Nagurski Trophy, best defensive player
- Outland Trophy, best interior lineman

Friday
- Jim Thorpe Award, best defensive back

Monday, July 14
- Butkus Award, best linebacker
- Lombardi Award, best lineman

Tuesday, July 15
- Biletnikoff Award, best receiver

Wednesday, July 16
- Davey O’Brien Award, best quarterback.

Thursday, July 17
- Doak Walker Award, best running back

Friday, July 18
- Walter Camp Award, best player
We’ve broken down the Big 12’s returning talent in a variety of ways this spring, but here’s one more factor worth considering: experience.

There’s no perfect way to capture how experienced a team is or estimate how that will affect its fortunes in 2014. But a deep dive into the raw data revealed some intriguing takeaways about which Big 12 squads might be loaded and which ones are reloading.

We’ve scanned the post-spring rosters for every Big 12 team and added up the total number of career starts for each and every returning player.

The unvarnished answer: Texas leads the Big 12 in returning starts, not only as a team, but also in career starts on offense and on defense.

Here are the results, sorted by offense, defense and the combined total along with how each unit ranks in the Big 12:

Here’s the caveat: Texas was No. 1 in the Big 12 in career starts last year, too.

The Longhorns had a combined 627 career starts on their roster by the end of 2013 and still went 8-5. The jury is still out on whether that team overachieved or underachieved, but having more experience than everyone else didn’t save Mack Brown’s job.

That Texas is tops in these categories shouldn’t be much of a surprise. From 2010-12, Brown put 46 true freshmen on the field. Many of them became starters early on, and UT brings back 31 players with starting experience this fall.

Surprised to see Oklahoma State at the bottom of the charts? Don’t be. Though OSU is making a lot of folks’ preseason top-25 lists, the Cowboys are very young.

This was the second-most-experienced team in the league last season with 592 career starts by the end of 2013. Between graduating seniors and some spring departures, OSU lost a total of 449 career starts this offseason.

Only five Oklahoma State defenders with starting experience return. Lineman Daniel Koenig is the only offensive player with double-digit career starts. Keep that in mind if this ends up being a rebuilding year for the Cowboys.

You’ll notice Baylor is also near the bottom of the Big 12 in terms of returning starting experience. Not a big shock there, since last year’s conference champs have to replace more than a dozen starters.

Baylor’s coaches would argue those numbers are misleading, though, and they might be right. For Bryce Petty, being a fifth-year player is probably more valuable than having 13 career starts. And some of its better defenders -- Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings, Orion Stewart -- played major minutes in 2013 but weren’t credited with starts.

TCU’s defense ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 in returning starts with 170. Its offense lost only 85 total starts this offseason, second-fewest in the league behind Texas Tech (82). Might that be a recipe for a comeback season?

Oklahoma, the consensus league favorite for 2014, ranks third in the Big 12 in all three total start categories. The Sooners bring back 29 players with starting experience.

One more observation: For the teams at the bottom of last year’s Big 12 standings, these experience numbers provide some encouragement.

Iowa State’s offense ranks No. 2 in the conference in total career starts. Kansas has 18 players on offense with starting experience. West Virginia has 31 players who’ve started games.

Again, how much these numbers play a factor this fall is impossible to say. But they do at least give us a baseline measurement of how experience each Big 12 roster possesses, and an indication of which ones might need big production from young players to fight for the title belt.
On Wednesday, we ranked the Big 12 position-by-position from strongest to weakest.

Last season the strongest position of the league was defensive back, headlined by Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Ahmad Dixon, Aaron Colvin and Ty Zimmerman, among others.

But those players are all gone. So what will be the strongest position in 2014?

With such players such as TCU’s Devonte Fields, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper and Texas’ Cedric Reed returning, we believe it will be defensive line.

SportsNation

What will be the Big 12's strongest overall position in 2014?

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    12%
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    8%
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    11%
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    37%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,613)

But do you agree?

Maybe you think it will be another position such as receiver, which includes All-American hopefuls Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, and a host of potential 1,000-yard threats such as Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley.

Perhaps it’s your opinion that the strength of the Big 12 will be at linebacker, where Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU bring their entire units back, and virtually everyone else has at least one proven performer returning.

Maybe the conference’s best unit is the offensive line, with experienced centers BJ Finney (Kansas State), Dominic Espinosa (Texas) and Tom Farniok (Iowa State); talented tackles Spencer Drango (Baylor), Le'Raven Clark (Texas Tech) and Daryl Williams (Oklahoma); and versatile stalwarts Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Quinton Spain (West Virginia) and Daniel Koenig (Oklahoma State).

Or with Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, do you believe quarterback is on its way back to becoming the dominant position in a league that not long ago was the nation’s preeminent conference for that position?

Tell us by voting in the weekly Big 12 poll.
Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Half of the centers in the Big 12 were named to the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, which is given to the top center in college football annually:
  • Ty Darlington (Oklahoma): Darlington appears to be the heir-apparent to All-American Gabe Ikard at center; Darlington has appeared in 12 games along the Oklahoma offensive line in his career.
  • Dominic Espinosa (Texas): Espinosa will be a four-year starter for the Longhorns and is tied with Kansas State's B.J. Finney for the most career Big 12 offensive line starts with 39.
  • Tom Farniok (Iowa State): Farniok will be entering his fourth year as Iowa State's starting center; he's been an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection the past two seasons.
  • B.J. Finney (Kansas State): Finney will also be a four-year starter and is a reigning first-team All-Big 12 center.
  • Joey Hunt (TCU): Hunt started all 12 games for the Horned Frogs last season as a true sophomore.
Earlier Thursday, we concluded our 22-round draft of current Big 12 players. Below are the three lineup outcomes of that draft, and as you can see, each of us went in different directions.

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Who had the best imaginary Big 12 player draft?

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    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,440)

Like the St. Louis Rams, Max and Brandon built up their defensive lines before worrying about the rest of their rosters. While I grabbed the best quarterback in the league and surrounded him with protection and weapons.

After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.

BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Brandon says about his team: “Offensively, as soon as Petty was gone with the first pick I knew I wouldn’t take a quarterback until my final pick. Knight could be the steal of the draft. Versatility is the name of the game with the rest of the offense. We can put Pierson and Smallwood in the backfield and go read option or really ruin your Saturday and throw Daje back there in the Diamond. When you bring more guys in the box, you leave Seales and Lockett one-on-one. Or we can just go five wide and you can try to cover running backs who run routes like receivers with your linebackers. And an experienced offensive line will be the foundation of it all. Defensively, it would be wise for opposing quarterbacks to tell their families to stay home when facing this group. We’re going to man up and have our mail forwarded to the opposing backfield and make you want to take your ball and go home. And with a secondary full of coverage guys, I’m not concerned about the back end of the defense holding up. We’ll win more battles than we lose. By the final whistle, my team will have earned the moniker 'Chatmon’s chaos creators' with Tapper, Reed, Brown, Hunter, Alexander and Robertson living in your backfield.”

MAX OLSON'S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Max says about his team: “You do not want to play against my team. That was my goal going in, and I constructed exactly the team I wanted. I have a great QB in Webb who gets to throw to Goodley, one of the nation's best receivers, and he'd help Jaxon Shipley put up Jordan Shipley numbers. I have the two-back punch of Linwood and Gray. I have Hill, who can do everything, and a good line. We're going to spread the ball around like crazy. Good luck stopping that. On defense, you have Fields, Oakman and Grissom all rushing the passer. That's deadly. We can go three-man fronts or even put Oakman in the middle, letting the 6-foot-8 stud swat your passes down. And while you're worrying about him and Grissom, you have the Big 12's best defensive player [Fields] coming after you. Hager and Shannon will hold it down at the second level, and the secondary is full of playmakers. This is a fun team, plain and simple, and one that can frustrate the heck out of anybody.”

JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Jake says about his team: “Max and Brandon are good at talking smack. I’ll give them that. But my players do their talking on the field. Once I was fortunate to land reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty as my quarterback, my goal was two-fold: to keep him upright from pressure off the edge; and, to surround him with firepower. I accomplished both ends, and then some. I wasn’t able to get either of the two elite receivers in the league in Goodley or Lockett. But I put together the best overall receiving corps in Grant, Shepard and Bundrage, who could all deliver 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2014. On top of that, I snagged the best pass-catching tight end on the board in Bibbs, as well as Brown, so that we can pound the ball between the tackles when we need. Speaking of tackles, aware that Brandon and Max were focused almost solely on their pass rush in the early rounds, I also added two of the most reliable pass-protecting bookends in the league in Drango and Williams. Defensively, I can bring pressure, too, with Mueller and Striker, who last season respectively placed second and fourth in the Big 12 in sacks. Castleman and Britz are roadblocks, Heeney and Dawson are tackle machines and my entire secondary has All-Big 12 potential. We don’t talk. We just dominate.”
Following up on NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking from current Big 12 players to fill out three 22-man lineups.

Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.

As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 16

  • Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
  • Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayGetting potential Big 12 rushing leader Johnathan Gray in the 17th round could be a big steal for Max Olson.
Round 17

  • Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
  • Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
  • Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
Round 18

  • Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
  • Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
Round 19

  • Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
  • Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
  • Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
  • Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
Round 20

  • Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
  • Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
  • Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
Round 21

  • Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
  • Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
  • Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
Round 22

  • Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
  • Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
  • Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon
One gauge for uncovering the true contenders as well as the surprise teams in college football might be analyzing offensive line experience.

Heading into 2013, virtually no one viewed Duke as a possible threat in the ACC. But with the third-most career offensive line starts returning in the country, the Blue Devils won their first ACC Coastal Division title.

Of course, offensive line experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee a winning team.

And the lack of it doesn’t preclude success, either.

Baylor ranked 98th nationally in offensive line experience last year and wound up winning its first Big 12 title. Oklahoma State ranked 109th and won 10 games.

Yet examining an offensive line’s experience can be a useful indicator in determining how a team might fare.

Michigan State was ninth in career offensive line starts going into last season and won the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl. Florida State was one spot behind the Spartans and captured the national title.

No team, actually, entered 2013 with more offensive line starts than Texas, which led the nation with 124. For all their issues elsewhere, which included losing starting QB David Ash for the year, the Longhorns still had a chance to win the Big 12 on the final day of the regular season.

Underscoring the strength of its veteran offensive line, Texas ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing and second in fewest sacks allowed.

This year, Oklahoma is the Big 12 leader in career offensive line starts coming back, and one reason why many people are picking the Sooners to open in the top 5 of the polls.

Guard Adam Shead and tackle Daryl Williams are entering their third seasons as starters. Oklahoma also will be returning guard Tyler Evans, who, before tearing his knee twice in successive years, was a three-year starter. Tackle Tyrus Thompson and guard Nila Kasitati also have a lot of starting experience, and round out what could be Oklahoma’s most imposing offensive line since 2008.

The team with the second-most returning starts up front in the league? That's Iowa State.

Because of injuries, the Cyclones had to use nine different starting offensive line combinations last season. But now, they return 87 career starts along the line, including six players with at least eight career starts. Four year-starting center Tom Farniok leads the way with 35 career starts. He joins Texas center Dominic Espinosa and Kansas State center B.J. Finney as the only three offensive linemen in the Big 12 with at least 30 career starts; Espinosa and Finney both have 39.

Below is a breakdown of career offensive line starts returning across the entire league, from most to least:

Oklahoma: 107

Tyler Evans 29, Adam Shead 28, Daryl Williams 24, Tyrus Thompson 16, Nila Kasitati 7, Ty Darlington 1, Dionte Savage 1, Derek Farniok 1

Iowa State: 87

Tom Farniok 35, Jacob Gannon 12 ,Brock Dagel 11, Oni Omoile 9, Jamison Lalk 8, Daniel Burton 8 ,Ben Loth 2, Jacob Dunning 1, Ben Boesen 1

Texas Tech: 75

Le'Raven Clark 26, Jared Kaster 13, Rashad Fortenberry 13, Alfredo Morales 13, James Polk 7, Baylen Brown 3

Kansas State: 70

B.J. Finney 39, Cody Whitehair 25, Boston Stiverson 6

Baylor: 64

Spencer Drango 22, Troy Baker 15, Desmine Hilliard 13, Blake Muir 12 (Hawaii), Pat Colbert 2

TCU: 57

Aviante Collins 22, Joey Hunt 13, Tayo Fabuluje 12, Halapoulivaati Vaitai 7, Jamelle Naff 2, Patrick Morris 1

Texas: 49

Dominic Espinosa 39, Kennedy Estelle 8, Sedrick Flowers 1, Kent Perkins 1

West Virginia: 45

Quinton Spain 26, Mark Glowinski 12, Marquis Lucas 4, Tyler Orlosky 3

Oklahoma State: 38

Daniel Koenig 22, Chris Grisbhy 8, Brandon Garrett 4, Devin Davis 2, Zac Veatch 1, Paul Lewis 1

Kansas: 34

Ngalu Fusimalohi 12, Mike Smithburg 8, Pat Lewandowski 6, Damon Martin 5, Zach Fondal 3
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Thursday with the offensive line. These outlooks will probably look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Sporting News has listed the Sooners as its preseason No. 1 team in the country, due in large part to Oklahoma’s offensive line. That might be going overboard, but the Sooners have a wealth of experience and depth returning up front, which includes four starters. They’ll get even deeper once guard Tyler Evans is cleared this summer, as expected (he was running this spring). Evans has missed the past two seasons with knee injuries but was a three-year starter before getting hurt.

[+] EnlargeCody Whitehair
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter losing both offensive tackles from last season, Kansas State is switching All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair to left tackle.
2. Kansas State (2): K-State responded to losing both tackles from last season by swinging All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair to left tackle and slotting juco transfer Luke Hayes at right tackle. With B.J. Finney entering his fourth year as the starting center and more juco offensive line help arriving in the summer, the Wildcats should be more than solid up front.

3. Texas (3): The Longhorns will feature one of the eldest lines in the Big 12, with its projected starting front comprising two seniors and three juniors. Right guard Taylor Doyle emerged this spring at the biggest question spot, but Texas has other options inside with Rami Hammad, Curtis Riser and the versatile Kent Perkins. Center Dominic Espinosa is the anchor of this group, which will be asked to establish itself with the running game in Charlie Strong’s first season.

4. Baylor (4): The Bears are still waiting for left tackle Spencer Drango to return from last season’s back injury, but right tackle Troy Baker showed no lingering effects of the knee injury he suffered last spring. With the depth inside and with Kyle Fuller locking up the center job, there are no weaknesses with this cast -- provided Drango gets healthy and gets back to the field.

5. Oklahoma State (5): The Cowboys are also waiting for their left tackle to return from an injury he suffered last season. Devin Davis has NFL potential but has been slow to recover from an ACL tear last preseason. The Cowboys seemed to also be in a fix at center with their top-two players at the position from last fall moving on from the program with eligibility still remaining. But Paul Lewis slid over from guard this spring and stabilized that spot. Daniel Koenig is an All-Big 12 caliber player and capable of playing tackle or guard. He’ll continue to man left tackle, at least until Davis returns.

6. Texas Tech (6): Tech received some welcome news during spring ball with starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry being granted an extra year of eligibility. The Red Raiders have one of the best returning tackles in the league on the left side in Le’Raven Clark, and two juco tackles they’re high on in Shaq Davis and Dominique Robertson. With Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales also returning as starters inside, Tech’s offensive line should be much better than last season's.

7. West Virginia (7): The Mountaineers have the league’s most reliable one-two punch at guard in Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski, who have 38 career starts together. The rest of the line, however, is a question. Left tackle Adam Pankey impressed coach Dana Holgorsen early in the spring and won a starting job before the Gold-Blue Game. If Pankey pans out, the Mountaineers could be a load up front.

8. Iowa State (8): The Cyclones had disastrous luck with the health of their offensive line last season, but that should pay off in 2014 with so many different players having gotten experience. Left tackle Brock Dagel has immense upside, and center Tom Farniok is an All-Big-type player. But the Cyclones were especially pumped with the development of sophomore right guard Daniel Burton, who is physical and one of the smartest players on the team. If they get better luck with good health, this could wind up being a very a tough and balanced unit.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs welcomed the return of tackle Tayo Fabuluje, who left the team before the start of the season last fall. Fabuluje, however, missed several practices with an ankle injury, allowing redshirt freshman Joseph Noteboom to move ahead of him on the depth chart. Fabuluje will have a chance to earn his spot back in the spring opposite Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who replaced Fabuluje last season. But the way the 2013 season went, the Horned Frogs can’t have too many reliable offensive tackles. Juco transfer Frank Kee impressed during the spring and should lock down a starting spot at guard next to center Joey Hunt, who did a nice job of adapting to the new offense during the spring. With 6-foot-7, 350-pound Matt Pryor also likely to fit in somewhere in the rotation, the Frogs will definitely be bigger up front than they were in 2013 -- and probably better, too.

10: Kansas (10): Because he can get in and out of the pocket, Montell Cozart winning the starting job should help the offensive line. The fact that new offensive coordinator John Reagan is also an offensive line coach should be a boost, as well. The Jayhawks have several battles up front that will continue into the fall, including center, where walk-on Joe Gibson made a huge impression during the spring.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: OL

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Friday with offensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the offensive lines at the moment:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJoe Wickline's move from the OSU staff to Texas is an important storyline in the Big 12.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats will be stout inside. Guard Cody Whitehair and center BJ Finney are All-Big 12 caliber. Veteran starters Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks are gone at tackle, but Bill Snyder signed two of the top 15 juco tackles in the country in A.J. Allen and Luke Hayes. If Allen and Hayes can solidify the bookends, K-State could be stout up front.

3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.

4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.

5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMITexas Tech's Le'Raven Clark is one of the best offensive tackles in the Big 12.
6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have an NFL talent in left tackle Le'Raven Clark, who earned All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore. Despite Clark, the Red Raiders line struggled last year, giving up 33 sacks (second-worst in the Big 12). But it should be improved in 2014. Juco tackles Dominique Robertson (ESPN JC 50) and Shaq Davis are on the way, and 2013 RT starter Rashad Fortenberry could be back, too, if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver. Losing guard Beau Carpenter to dismissal hurts, but Baylen Brown has starting experience. Brown, Alfredo Morales, James Polk and center Jared Kaster all return after combining for 31 starts along the interior last season.

7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.

8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.

9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.

10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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Taking stock of Week 7 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas. Not only did the Longhorns pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years, they completely reversed the outlook of their season. At 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, Texas is right in the middle of the conference race. The Longhorns also finally found an identity in Dallas, which could make them a tough out during the second half of the season. The Longhorns ran the ball with authority between the tackles behind their experienced offensive line, which took pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, meanwhile, disguised his defenses beautifully and utilized Texas’ speed in timely blitzes. Baylor remains the favorite to win the Big 12 crown. But Texas, which travels to Baylor in the regular-season finale, could be a factor. What a difference a week makes.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell had one of the worst performances statistically by an OU QB since 2005.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma. While Texas found its identity in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners seemingly lost theirs. The defense’s Achilles' heel resurfaced from last season, as Oklahoma couldn’t stop the run. That made the Sooners vulnerable against deep passes, which McCoy capitalized on with a pair of long touchdowns. As much as the defense struggled, the offense looked completely lost. Blake Bell took four sacks, threw two interceptions and was utterly miserable on third down. Bell’s QBR on third down, in fact, was 0.1 percent (he had been 89.8 on third downs coming into the game). Bell wasn’t much better the rest of the game with an Adjusted QBR of 2.8, which was the fourth-worst single-game adjusted QBR of any FBS quarterback this season. Curiously, Bob Stoops said the offensive staff didn’t feel comfortable running Bell in this game. And the Sooners couldn’t figure out which running back to feature, with no back receiving more than seven carries. This is a team that doesn’t look like it knows who it is all of a sudden.

Big (offensive) men on campus: The Texas offensive line, Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.

The most experienced offensive line in the Big 12 blocked like it at the most opportune of times. Kennedy Estelle, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins paved the way for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown to become the first Texas duo to top 100 rushing yards apiece in the same Red River game. The Bevos up front also kept McCoy upright, as the Texas quarterback was not sacked all day and barely pressured, either.

In Manhattan, Sams played valiantly in K-State’s 35-25 loss to Baylor. He rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly kept the Wildcats scoring with the high-powered Bears. Sams' late interception that effectively ended the game was a huge mistake. But his 86.1 Adjusted QBR was 13th-best in college football for the week. Sams now is second in the Big 12 in Adjusted QBR (86.5) for the year, trailing only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (95.1).

Amaro continues to be a security blanket for Texas Tech’s true freshman quarterbacks. Against Iowa State, he had his best game yet with nine receptions for 143 yards. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions. Teammate Eric Ward is second with 34.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed.

Along with Sams, Mueller was a major reason the Wildcats were in the game in the fourth quarter. In what might be the defensive highlight of the season in the Big 12 so far, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble to set K-State with field position in the third quarter that would turn into a go-ahead touchdown. Mueller finished with seven tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup.

Dixon, meanwhile, came up with the defensive play of the game, as he beelined to the sideline to intercept Sams with four minutes to play. Off the turnover, the Baylor offense sealed the victory with a touchdown that put the Bears up two scores.

Jeffcoat and Reed, meanwhile, were terrific against the Sooners. The swarming defensive end duo totaled three sacks and kept the Oklahoma running backs from bouncing much of anything outside.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDaje Johnson delivered Texas' first punt return for a touchdown since 2009.
Special-teams players of the week: Texas returner Daje Johnson, Texas kicker Anthony Fera and Iowa State returner Jarvis West.

Johnson delivered the dagger to the Sooners with a weaving 85-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter, which put the Longhorns ahead 30-13. It was Texas’ first punt return touchdown since Jordan Shipley did it in 2009. Fera came up big on special teams, too. He nailed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime that stymied the Sooners’ momentum from a long Roy Finch kick return that led to a touchdown the previous drive. Fera also nailed 50- and 31-yard field goals to be perfect on the day.

West kept the Cyclones above water in the first half as the Iowa State offense struggled. His 95-yard kickoff return -- Iowa State’s first non-onside kick return for a touchdown since 1994 -- tied the game in the first quarter 7-7. West later added a 38-yard punt return, and he finished with three receptions for 36 yards.

Play of the week: With the Red River Rivalry tied 3-3 in the first quarter, Texas' Adrian Phillips came off the edge untouched on a third-down zone blitz and slammed into Bell. The hit caused Bell’s pass to flutter behind intended receiver Jaz Reynolds and into the arms of defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown. The Longhorns never gave up the lead the rest of the way.

Stat of the week: Bell’s QBR against Texas was the lowest by an Oklahoma quarterback since Rhett Bomar posted a 1.6 against Tulsa in 2005.

Quote of the week: "We love the guy. We’re playing for the guy. You all keep writing those articles bad about him. We’ll keep playing for him." -- McCoy on coach Mack Brown

Sooners schedule preview: Texas 

July, 10, 2012
7/10/12
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October 13, 2012: vs. Texas (in Dallas)
2011 record: 8-5 | 2011 conference record: 4-5 (Big 12)
OU’s all-time against Texas: 42-59-5

Top returners: QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Marquise Goodwin, WR Jaxon Shipley, WR Mike Davis, OT Trey Hopkins, OT Josh Cochran, C Dominic Espinosa, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, DE Alex Okafor, DT Ashton Dorsey, LB Jordan Hicks, CB Quandre Diggs, CB Carrington Byndom, S Kenny Vaccaro

Key losses: FB Cody Johnson, RB Fozzy Whittaker, G David Snow, DT Kheeston Randall, LB Emmanuel Acho, LB Keenan Robinson, S Blake Gideon, S Christian Scott, K Justin Tucker

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Malcolm Brown* (742 yards)
Passing: David Ash* (1,068 yards)
Receiving: Mike Davis* (609 yards)
Tackles: Emmanuel Acho (131)
Sacks: Jackson Jeffcoat* (7)
Interceptions: Quandre Diggs* (4)

What they’re saying: "I think we're back more to '08." – Texas coach Mack Brown, comparing this year’s squad with the one in 2008 that went 12-1.

Three things to watch:

1. For Texas to contend for a Big 12 title, David Ash must play like an upper-echelon Big 12 quarterback. Ash has the talent, and he’s shown flashes. But he’s yet to perform at that level on a consistent basis. QB play is the biggest reason why Texas has endured back-to-back mediocre seasons. But Ash takes care of the ball and makes his share of plays, the Longhorns will be dangerous.

2. The Longhorns, potentially, have the best defense in the Big 12, and one of the best in the country. Ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor, who combined for 15 sacks last season, will give Texas a lethal presence off the edge. The Horns also have a pair of lockdown cornerbacks in Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. Defense hasn’t been Texas’ problem, and this season, it figures to be a massive strength.

3. The battle of the oranges in Stillwater on Sept. 29 will be critical for both Texas and Oklahoma State, giving the winner the inside track to compete with OU, West Virginia and TCU for the conference crown. Should Texas lose that game, the Longhorns could slip into a free fall, with back-to-back games against the Mountaineers and Sooners looming next.

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