Oklahoma Sooners: Malcom Brown
2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. Even with DT Jon Lewis giving up football, TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.
3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.
4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.
6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.
7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who played a lot as a sophomore. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.
8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.
9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.
10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.
This morning, we took a look at 10 Big 12 offensive players to watch in 2014. Now it’s time to spotlight 10 possible breakout defenders.
As a reminder, these lists include players who can take that step into greatness next season, much as Baylor’s Ahmad Dixon and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert did in 2013. Players who have earned first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors from either the coaches or the media were not eligible for this list, as the focus is limited to guys who have yet to make that leap. In other words, players such as TCU's Chris Hackett or Oklahoma's Eric Striker weren't eligible, as they were both second-team selections this year.
Below are 10 players to watch on the defensive side of the ball in 2014 (in alphabetical order):
Texas DT Malcom Brown: Often confused with the Texas running back with the same name, Brown was a force in the middle as a sophomore. With more improvement, the former blue-chipper who was the No. 2 DT in the nation coming out of high school has a chance to be Texas’ first All-Big 12 defensive tackle since Roy Miller in 2008.
Oklahoma State DT James Castleman: The last two seasons, Castleman has operated in the shadows of All-Big 12 DT Calvin Barnett. With Barnett – and virtually the rest of the Oklahoma State defense – gone, Castleman will be the Cowboys’ top returning defensive player next season. Castleman has the talent to be an all-conference tackle, and will need to be for the Cowboys to avoid a significant defensive drop-off.
Oklahoma DE Geneo Grissom: Last year, Grissom was so dubious on his prospects of making the rotation at end that he asked to play tight end. That experiment failed, and the Sooners have to be glad that it did. The switch finally flipped for Grissom in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. In that game, he played like a man possessed and finished with two sacks and two fumble recoveries. He returned the second eight yards for a game-clinching touchdown. Grissom has only year left, but it could be a special one if he plays the way he did against Alabama.
West Virginia S Karl Joseph: After starting every game at safety as a true freshman in 2012 and leading the team in tackles, Joseph didn’t make the kind of leap the Mountaineers hoped he would as a sophomore. Still, there’s no denying the talent here. Joseph has the skill to be an all-conference safety, something that might need to happen for West Virginia to avoid another disappointing season in the Big 12.
Iowa State LB Luke Knott: Knott started five games as a redshirt freshman this year before suffering a season-ending hip injury that should keep him out of spring ball as well. But if he can make a healthy return, look out. Knott came to Iowa State as a quarterback but has made a seamless transition to linebacker, showing plenty of instinct with 11 tackles in Iowa State’s 31-30 loss to Texas. His older brother Jake was an All-Big 12 linebacker for the Cyclones. As long as that hip doesn’t get in the way, Knott could become one an all-conference selection as well.
Baylor DE Shawn Oakman: The Penn State transfer has the tools to become a dominant player in the league. Oakman had his moments as a rotation player in 2013, finishing sixth in the Big 12 in tackles for loss. But the potential is there for so much more from the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Oakman. If he can put it all together in 2014, he could become one of the league’s most disruptive defenders.
Texas LB Dalton Santos: After Jordan Hicks went down with yet another season-ending injury, Santos elevated his game at linebacker. The sophomore finished fourth on the team with 74 tackles, including 10 for loss. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Longhorns at linebacker. The entire group of linebackers will return, including Hicks. But the way Santos played late in the year, the new Texas regime will have to find a way to get him on the field.
Oklahoma LB Frank Shannon: Even though injuries plagued Shannon the second half of the season, he still led the Sooners with 92 tackles as a sophomore. In Shannon, blitzer extraordinaire Eric Striker and Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Dominique Alexander all back, Oklahoma might have the best linebacker corps in the country next season.
Receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor: Teammates like Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty get a lot of the attention but Goodley has been ridiculously consistent, much like the Bears’ offense as a whole. The sophomore had seven receptions for 170 yards and one touchdown in BU’s 73-42 win over West Virginia. Goodley has at least 90 receiving yards and one touchdown in every game and has caught 21 of 26 passes thrown his way this season.
Linebacker Luke Knott, Iowa State: The younger brother of former ISU standout Jake Knott, Luke has been a bright spot in the Cyclones season. The redshirt freshman finished with 11 tackles, one forced fumble, one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup. As devastating as the 31-30 loss to Texas had to be for ISU, the Cyclones have to be encouraged to know Knott can anchor their defense for the rest of the season and beyond.
Running back Darrian Miller, Kansas: The sophomore led the Jayhawks with 67 rushing yards on 12 carries in the Jayhawk’s 54-16 loss to Texas Tech. Miller added 77 kick return yards to finish with 144 all-purpose yards. He could be an important piece for the Jayhawks offense moving forward with Tony Pierson’s status unclear after his head injury on Saturday.
Defensive tackle Jordan Wade, Oklahoma: Asked to step in with starter Jordan Phillips out, Wade was superb against TCU. The redshirt freshman had two tackles including one tackle for loss and one sack in OU’s 20-17 win. If Wade continues to develop, he increases competition in the Sooners' defensive interior and could provide a quality rotational player alongside Phillips in the future.
Linebacker Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State: Teammate Shaun Lewis got all the accolades with his Big 12 defensive player of the week honors, but Lavey was just as critical in OSU’s 33-29 win over Kansas State. Lavey forced turnovers on back-to-back plays in the third quarter with a forced fumble and interception. The senior finished with seven tackles including two tackles for loss to go along with the forced fumble and interception. He’s a solid anchor and leader in the middle for the Cowboys.
Defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Texas: The sophomore was a beast in the middle with 10 tackles including two tackles for loss and one sack in the Longhorns’ 31-30 victory over ISU. Brown’s development into playmaker in the UT defensive interior could make things harder on Big 12 offenses as they create a plan of attack against the Longhorns.
Receiver Ty Slanina, TCU: The freshman provided a spark for the Horned Frogs’ offense in their 20-17 loss to OU. He had six receptions for 38 yards against the Sooners but his competitiveness and ability to get open and make plays when he gets the opportunity stands out on the TCU offense. If he continues to make plays, he should become a bigger part of the offense in the future.
Receiver Eric Ward, Texas Tech: After catching seven passes since opening the year with a 13-catch performance against SMU on Aug. 30, Ward got back on track against Kansas. Ward had seven receptions for 122 yards and one touchdown in the Red Raiders’ 54-16 win over the Jayhawks. When Ward is making plays on the outside with Jace Amaro punishing defenses in the middle, TTU’s offense becomes much more lethal.
Receiver Kevin White, West Virginia: White's breakout performance was overshadowed by the dominance of Baylor's defense. He had seven receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 73-42 loss to Baylor. On a WVU offense looking for playmakers, it has to encourage Dana Holgorsen to watch White start to emerge and make plays. Now they just need the junior college transfer to be more consistent.
QB: Blake Bell, Oklahoma
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Here are a few highlights from the chat:
Nicolai (Denmark, Europe): Who has the edge, Oklahomas offense or Texas' defense?
Jake Trotter: I give the edge to Texas' defense. But I also give the edge, probably a bigger edge, to OU's defense over Texas' offense.
Carter Strickland: Toss up for me. Really don't know how good the Texas defense is going to be until it plays WVU the week before.
Shane (Oklahoma City): With the questions remaining for Texas offensively, QB play & passing game, can UT seriously challenge West Virginia for second place in the Big 12?
Jake Trotter: No question. In fact, I'm sure many people will pick UT to finish 2nd in their preseason Big 12 polls. The key game for Texas will be Sept. 29 in Stillwater. Win there, and 2nd place is there for the taking (and maybe first place if UT can upend OU).
Carter Strickland: Have you seen WVU's defense? Yes. Texas is going to use the running game and its defense to try and slow down Geno Smith. WVU has some inflated stats because of the conference it has played in. KSU is the team to beat for the No. 2 spot in the B12.
Brennan (Austin): Which freshmen are already creating a buzz in Norman and Austin?
Texas football followers believe their state has the best athletes. The latest ESPNU 150 helps to support that argument -- again.
Of the 150 players, 24 represent the Lone Star State (16 percent). Two of those -- defensive end Mario Edwards (Denton, Texas/Billy Ryan) and Johnathan Gray (Aledo, Texas) -- are ranked in the top five and are five-star players.
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Spring Game Wrap-Up
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
TBD North Dakota State Iowa State TBD Louisiana Tech Oklahoma TBD North Texas Texas TBD Stephen F. Austin Kansas State TBD Samford TCU TBD Central Arkansas Texas Tech 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 8:00 PM ET Florida State Oklahoma State