Oklahoma Sooners: Emmanuel Ogbah

It was an unusual year in the Big 12 in 2013, with several defenses carrying their teams to success in a conference known for high-scoring offense a year ago. Yet every Big 12 defense will head into 2014 with room to improve.

We looked at key offensive stats each school could improve this fall on Tuesday. On Wednesday, with the help of ESPN Stats and Information, we take a team-by-team look at one key defensive stat from last season and how to improve the number in 2014.

Baylor

Key stat in 2013: Much like its offense, BU’s defense finished atop the Big 12 in most categories but still had room to improve. The Bears allowed touchdowns on 5.2 percent of opponents’ pass attempts, ranking No. 9 in the Big 12 and No. 78 in the nation. Baylor’s struggles to stop the passing game were particularly apparent in its losses to Oklahoma State and Central Florida.

How to improve in 2014: It’s not going to be easy with Baylor forced to replace the bulk of its starting secondary this fall. But BU could have one of the top defensive lines in the Big 12, possibly the nation, which could help drop this number significantly with disruptive pressure that knocks quarterbacks out of their comfort zone.

Iowa State

Key stat in 2013: The Cyclones' defense wasn’t very good in 2013, finishing near the bottom of the Big 12 in almost every category. ISU allowed touchdowns on 28.9 percent of opponents' drives, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 93 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: It’s going to require the unit playing as a whole as opposed to a few standout individuals making most of the plays like linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington did in 2013. ISU has a lot of unknowns on defense but if they jell as a unit, the defense could improve.

Kansas

Key stat in 2013: Big plays were a problem for the Jayhawks defense. KU allowed 10 yards or more on 21.4 percent of opponents' plays last season, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 92 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: The Jayhawks defense is too talented to allow so many big plays. The defense has several veteran playmakers, including linebacker Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson, so a season playing together should help this number drop.

Kansas State

Key stat in 2013: The Wildcats struggled to get off the field at times in 2013. KSU forced opponents to go three-and-out on just 13.8 percent of drives last season, last in the Big 12 and No. 118 nationally. The other seven teams that joined K-State in the bottom eight of the FBS in this category combined for 13 wins in 2013.

How to improve in 2014: KSU added speed and playmaking to its defense with several junior college signees in February which should help its defense be more aggressive and athletic. The Wildcats are losing some veterans, but the overall athleticism of the defense should be improved. A more talented defense should help improve this number this fall.

Oklahoma

Key stat in 2013: The Sooners defense was strong in 2013 but could have been more opportunistic. OU forced a fumble on just 1.5 percent of opponents’ running plays, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 103 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: One of the Sooners’ spring goals was to be more physical in the running game. If they are, more forced fumbles are likely to be the result in 2013. Improving this category is one way OU can strive to field the Big 12's and possibly the nation’s top defense in 2014.

Oklahoma State

Key stat in 2013: The Cowboys had one of the Big 12’s best defenses last season but one of the worst pass rushes. OSU had a 4.4 sack percentage, ranking No. 8 in the Big 12 and No. 103 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: OSU could have one of the better defensive lines in the conference this fall, particularly with improvement from defensive ends Jimmy Bean and Emmanuel Ogbah. That duo finished 1-2 in sacks for the Pokes and could be much improved this fall, helping improve OSU’s pass rush and helping a young and inexperienced secondary.

Texas

Key stat in 2013: Texas' defense struggled to step up in key moments last season. UT allowed opponents to score 68.4 percent of the time once they got inside the Longhorns’ 40-yard line. UT ranked ninth in the Big 12 in that category and No. 79 nationally. Baylor, OSU and OU ranked 1-2-3 in the category in 2013.

How to improve in 2014: The arrival of Charlie Strong will be a huge help. His Louisville squad finished tied for third nationally with Florida State, allowing opponents to score on 50 percent of drives inside the 40-yard line in 2013.

TCU

Key stat in 2013: TCU’s defense finished among the top three in several categories last season. The Horned Frogs could improve however, allowing 12.71 yards per completion in 2013, ranking No. 8 in the Big 12 and No. 91 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: The TCU defense doesn’t need much improvement but the return of defensive end Devonte Fields should help, particularly if TCU can replace cornerback Jason Verrett, an NFL first-round draft pick.

Texas Tech

Key stat in 2013: The Red Raiders' defense finished in the middle of the Big 12 in most categories, but one major area of improvement is missed tackles. Texas Tech missed 82 tackles in 2013, the third-most in the Big 12 behind Texas (88) and Kansas (85). For comparison’s sake, Baylor (68) and Oklahoma (71), ranked 1-2 in missed tackles.

How to improve in 2014: Working on tackling fundamentals will help, and Tech will need each defender to take pride in his individual tackling prowess. Texas Tech is replacing several starters so the Red Raiders could see more playmakers emerge to help lessen the number of missed tackles.

West Virginia

Key stat in 2013: The Mountaineers’ defense was horrible on third down. WVU allowed opponents to convert an eye-popping 46.6 percent, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 118 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: Improving its third-down defense has to be a focus for new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. Shuffling on the defensive staff should help as will the addition of transfer defensive end Shaquille Riddick, who should help improve the pass rush.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Monday with defensive line. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a healthy and productive Devonte Fields this fall, TCU's defensive line could be an elite unit.
1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 2): Devonte Fields appears to be back, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12. The 2012 Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year basically had a fruitless sophomore campaign, which ended with season-ending foot surgery. But this spring, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas noted that Fields was making the plays he did as a freshman All-American. Even without Fields, this would be a good D-line, headlined by veteran tackles Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson. But with Fields playing up to his potential, this line could be elite.

2. Oklahoma (1): Not only did the Sooners return the entire line that destroyed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they’ve added three redshirt freshmen who are clamoring for playing time. Charles Walker is the most athletic tackle on the roster, and he ran the fastest tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) of the Bob Stoops era. Tackle Matt Romar quietly emerged this spring and could be on the verge of taking away snaps from some of the veterans inside. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo showed this spring he's yet another Sooner capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge. There's a debate on the best D-line in the league. There’s no debate on the deepest, with Oklahoma capable of going three-deep across the board.

3. Baylor (6): Coach Art Briles believes he has one of the best defensive lines in the country, and there's reason to believe he might be right. The Bears made the biggest jump on this list, thanks to the development of end Shawn Oakman and emergence of tackle Javonte Magee. Briles called the 6-foot-9 Oakman “unblockable” during the spring. Oakman already flashed plenty of potential last season as a sophomore, finishing sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. Magee, who might be the most highly-touted high school defender Briles has ever signed, sat out his freshman season while dealing with a personal issue. But he established himself this spring and could beat out returning starter Beau Blackshear. With former four-star signee Andrew Billings (who played as a true freshman) also poised for a big year at the other tackle spot, Briles could indeed be proven correct in the fall.

4. Texas (3): The Longhorns boast two of the league’s blue-chip defensive linemen in end Cedric Reed and tackle Malcom Brown. But whether this unit rises to the top of the league will hinge on the supporting cast. If athletic end Shiro Davis and run-stuffing tackle Desmond Jackson play up to their potential, and the Longhorns can get a boost from incoming freshmen Derick Roberson and Poona Ford, this could be a foundational positional unit in Charlie Strong’s first season.

5. Kansas State (4): Like Texas, the Wildcats have two blue-chip pieces returning up front in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz. They’re banking they’ll soon be adding a third in Terrell Clinkscales, who will be arriving to Manhattan shortly. Clinkscales, whom the Wildcats snatched away from Nebraska, was the nation’s No. 4-rated juco DT, and at 315 pounds, could be the run-stuffer K-State currently lacks.

6. Oklahoma State (5): With so much turnover elsewhere, the Cowboys will be counting on their line to be their anchor defensively. There’s reason to believe it could be that and more. Sam Wren received votes for Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, while Emmanuel Ogbah garnered consideration for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Throw in promising redshirt freshmen Vili Leveni, Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor, who all showed signs this spring they might be ready to contribute, along with veterans James Castleman, Ofa Hautau and Jimmy Bean, and Oklahoma State could have the anchor up front it needs while the rest of the defense retools.

7. West Virginia (7): This will probably be the weakest area of West Virginia defense, but with their talent at linebacker, the Mountaineers don’t have to be great up front. Dontrill Hyman, Christian Brown and Kyle Rose are currently the starters coming out of the spring. But the player to watch up front is sophomore Darrien Howard, who rapidly progressed since having his redshirt pulled late in 2013. If Howard develops into an impact player, he could give the Mountaineers a huge jolt up front.

8. Texas Tech (9): The Red Raiders tried to get by this spring while awaiting the horde of defensive line help set to arrive this summer. All told, the Red Raiders signed four juco D-linemen, only one of which – Keland McElrath -- enrolled early (McElrath was hobbled by a stress fracture all spring to boot). To be better up front, Tech, which ranked ninth in run defense last fall, will need at least a couple of its juco transfers to hit.

9. Kansas (10): Keon Stowers quietly has become as one of the better tackles in the league. He was the defensive MVP of Kansas' spring game after collecting eight tackles from his defensive tackle spot, and he was voted captain for a second straight year. Stowers and linebacker Ben Heeney will lead a defense that returns nine starters and could surprise after gaining confidence from playing Oklahoma and Texas tough last season.

10: Iowa State (8): The Cyclones took it on the chin this spring, with projected D-line starters Rodney Coe and David Irving both getting kicked off the team. Iowa State got a boost shortly after spring ball ended when 2013 starting tackle Brandon Jensen changed his mind about leaving the team. The Cyclones should be solid at end with Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, but even with Jensen’s return, interior line depth is a major concern.

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