Oklahoma Sooners: Quandre Diggs
Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?
Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas
Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.
The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.
That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.
And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.
If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.
Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.
Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State
The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.
After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).
Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.
On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.
K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.
The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.
2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.
4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.
6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,
7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.
8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.
9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.
10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.
1. TCU: TCU has been tenacious defending the pass since joining the league, and even without potential first-round pick Jason Verrett, that shouldn’t change in 2014. Sam Carter was the only non-senior to earn first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors in the secondary last season, and Chris Hackett was one of the best underclassman defensive backs in the league last year. Derrick Kindred is primed to step into TCU’s third safety spot after playing a key role in the rotation. The Horned Frogs also add the nation’s No. 3 juco safety in Kenny Iloka. Throw in senior Geoff Hooker, and the Horned Frogs have an impressive five-man rotation at safety. At corner, Kevin White was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, and will take over for Verrett as the primary corner. The Horned Frogs have several options at the other corner, including incoming three-star recruit Nick Foster.
2. Texas: After playing the nickel role last year, Quandre Diggs will settle back at cornerback in place of Carrington Byndom. Opposite Diggs will be the ultra-athletic Duke Thomas, who was so good in spring ball last year, he forced the coaches to move Diggs to nickelback. Together, Diggs and Thomas could give the Longhorns the best cornerback tandem in the league. Antwuan Davis, who redshirted in his first year, was an ESPN 300 signee and figures to play a big role somewhere in the secondary. Josh Turner (37 appearances) and Mykkele Thompson (12 starts in 2013) each bring a lot of experience at safety.
3. Oklahoma: Oklahoma graduates the heart and soul of the secondary in cornerback Aaron Colvin, who gutted his way through an array of injuries last year. But if the Sooners can find an adequate replacement for him, the Big 12’s best pass defense statistically in 2013 should be stout again. Julian Wilson (nickelback), Zack Sanchez (cornerback) and Quentin Hayes (strong safety) all return as starters, though Hayes could be pushed by Ahmad Thomas and incoming freshman Steven Parker for time. Hatari Byrd, an ESPN 300 signee last year, should step into the vacant spot at free safety. Cortez Johnson will try to fend off Stanvon Taylor, who played as a true freshman, for Colvin’s spot in the only real uncertain area of this secondary.
4. Kansas State: The Wildcats will miss All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman, but his cohort, Dante Barnett, was one of the best young safeties in the league last year. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles and first with four interceptions. Randall Evans also returns after leading the team in pass breakups and gives the Wildcats a versatile defensive back. As usual, Bill Snyder will also be looking for some juco impact. He should get it in Danzel McDaniel, who was the No. 4 juco CB recruit in the country. Cornerback Jesse Mack also could prove to be a key juco signee. If both players pan out, this could become one of the better defensive backfields in the league.
5. West Virginia: The bad news is the Mountaineers had the Big 12’s worst pass defense last year. The good news is they bring back three starters. Karl Joseph has started the last two seasons at free safety, though he could slide to the strong side with Darwin Cook gone. Joseph has All-Big 12 potential, and he needs to elevate his game for the West Virginia defense to take another step forward. Veteran K.J. Dillon could be the front-runner for the job alongside Joseph, though Jeremy Tyler and Jarrod Harper will also be in the mix. West Virginia also brings back both starting cornerbacks in senior Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a freshman. The Mountaineers also signed Keishawn Richardson, the No. 8 juco CB, and Jaylon Myers, the No. 9 juco safety, for depth. Cornerback Dravon Henry, an ESPN 300 signee who had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, could play immediately if one of West Virginia’s veterans struggle.
6. Kansas: The Jayhawks return all five starters from their secondary, including last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, strong safety Isaiah Johnson. Returning cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, a converted wide receiver, were both honorable mention All-Big 12 selections and give the Jayhawks one of the better corner duos in the league. Free safety Cassius Sendish started every game and had 12 tackles in Kansas’ only Big 12 victory in 2013, over West Virginia. Nickelback Courtney Arnick started in six games as a redshirt freshman. If this group collectively improves, Kansas could field a solid defense in 2014.
7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, who might be selected high in the first round of the NFL draft after a stellar combine performance. The Cowboys welcome back one of the best young corners in the league in Kevin Peterson, who was terrific as a sophomore in coverage opposite Gilbert. Ashton Lampkin has experience, and he will likely fill the other corner spot unless someone else emerges. Lyndell Johnson, who made a transition from linebacker to safety last season, will take over full time at strong safety. The Cowboys will need someone else to emerge at the other safety in place of departed veteran starter Daytawion Lowe. Deric Robertson, Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry, all from the 2013 recruiting class, are possibilities.
8. Texas Tech: How the Red Raiders retool here will be on one of the bigger spring storylines in Lubbock. Keenon Ward and Justis Nelson were thrown in the fire as freshmen last year, and they will be counted on to fill bigger roles. The gem of the incoming recruiting class, four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, could be asked – and has the capability – to play right away. The Red Raiders have to replace both starting safeties, including freshman Tanner Jacobson, who is going on a Mormon mission. To compensate, Tech signed six safeties, including Josh Keys, the No. 5 juco safety in the country, who had offers from Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma State. Getting strong safety J.J. Gaines back from a season-ending injury will be a boost, too.
9. Baylor: The Bears are one of several teams in the league that were decimated in the secondary by graduation. Baylor loses four of its five starters, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon. Safety Terrell Burt is the only returning starter, leaving the other four spots up for grabs. The Bears signed juco corners Tion Wright and Chris Sanders to help fill the void. Both are already on campus and will be battling Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tyler Stephenson for a starting job. Orion Stewart, who backed up Dixon as a redshirt freshman, will likely step in his role, and fellow sophomore Kiante’ Griffin will be the favorite to take over at the nickel.
10. Iowa State: Cornerback Nigel Tribune was the only true freshman to play for the Cyclones last year, and he received votes as Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Tribune, however, is the only returning starter. Veteran safety mainstays Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield are gone. In response, the Cyclones will look for Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd, the Nos. 6 and 7 juco safety recruits, respectively, to step in immediately.
To the 'bag:
Matt in Kansas writes: The Kansas Jayhawks are going to prove you wrong. Can't wait for the Hawks to prove the non-believers wrong!!
Jake Trotter: It wasn’t me who called your squad a “pile of crap.”
Dan in Atlanta writes: It seems the comments from the West Virginia coaching staff about true freshman WR Daikiel Shorts mirror the camp praise heaped on Karl Joseph last year. Déjà vu all over again?
Jake Trotter: Shorts has turned heads this fall, no doubt. It would not surprise me at all if he eventually earned a starting job -- especially if he stays at inside receiver, where he was moved to last week. The Mountaineers have an opening there, and Shorts could fill it.
Pete in Paw Paw, Mich., writes: I see that Jake’s chats are very Texas and Oklahoma heavy. He mentioned it in one the week previous. I would suggest putting a notice that one is coming up with him on the Big 12 Blog to get more diverse questions. It can only help. Thanks.
Jake Trotter: Quick PSA announcement: starting next week, my Big 12 chat on SportsNation will be moved to Tuesdays at 11 a.m. CST. Colleague Brandon Chatmon will also be holding a chat on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. CST.
Randall in Arlington, Texas, writes: There is no doubt that the SEC has outperformed the Big 12 in football over the last decade and appears they will continue to do so in the near future. Looking at how the SEC has only expanded in recent years into states with rich football cultures, how reliant do you think the Big 12 is on Texas players for their talent and how will their inability to pull away talent away from southern states continue to factor into the disparity between the SEC and Big 12?
Jake Trotter: Texas high school talent is the lifeblood of the Big 12. When SEC powers pluck players away from the Lone Star State, those are players that otherwise would be going go the Big 12. Texas A&M’s SEC exodus has placed the Big 12 in precarious position with respect to recruiting. The Aggies have a strong pitch they can now make to prospects: stay close to home and play in the best conference in college football. It’s an appealing case. Texas A&M being in the SEC has also cracked the door wider for the likes of LSU and Alabama to make inroads in Texas. The Big 12 must continue opening up other pipelines, while reinforcing to Texas kids that staying in the Big 12 is the best thing for them.
Zion in Chester, Va., writes: Hey man! Love the mailbag! Do you think that Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook are the best safety combination in the big 12?
Jake Trotter: I might give TCU the slight edge here. Sam Carter and Elisha Olabode are All-Big 12-caliber players. But West Virginia’s twosome is right there. Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have solid safety duos, as well.
Michael in Clyde, Kan., writes: Are there really no Big 12 teams that have top 10 potential this year? Or is the polls just overrating and putting the SEC teams in there too high? I know the SEC is actually good, but with Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in the same division they can't all be a top 10 teams.
Jake Trotter: Well, five SEC teams finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll last year, so actually they can. But the Big 12 has almost as many top 10 potentials, even if just one team finishes there.
Tom in OKC writes: Will 10-2 win the Big 12 title this year? If so, do you think there is a possibility of a 3-way tie?
Jake Trotter: I don’t really see a 12-0 team in the conference this season; so yeah, 10-2 could definitely win the league. And yeah, because of the parity, there’s opportunity for the first three-way tie since 2008. One obvious scenario in which this happens: OU beats Texas in Dallas; Texas beats OSU in Austin; OSU beats OU in Stillwater; and they all lose one other game along the way. All three would then be 7-2 in the league.
Andy in Austin writes: OK, my nickname for Jaxon Shipley tanked last mailbag. But I will make believers of you all! Let me explain: Shipley is smooth like caramel, his playmaking makes your eyes pop, and, let’s be honest, you've got to be a bit nutty to hang yourself out there for a catch over the middle. Also, I have another UT player nickname for you: Quandre “The Giant” Diggs.
Jake Trotter: Last week, I put Andy on a mailbag ban. The masses, however, clamored for me to give him another chance. So I did. And behold, look what happened. This is not my responsibility. It’s yours. Own it.
Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: As the Bears aim to replace Terrance Williams, coach Art Briles has been raving about Rhodes during preseason camp. The No. 35 player in the ESPN300 for the Class of 2013, Rhodes appears poised to become a featured receiver in BU’s offense after recording five receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown combined in the Bears’ first two scrimmages.
Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: A former defensive back, Brackens has moved down to play outside linebacker and will be counted on to help fill the void left by A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. A tad undersized, he’ll bring speed into the lineup, which will help handle the wide open spread offenses in the Big 12, but will have to adjust quickly to secure his spot in the defense.
Safety Isaiah Johnson, Kansas: Johnson chose KU out of Iowa Western junior college because the Jayhawks needed immediate help at safety. Now he’s set himself up to be a starter at free safety for KU, and the Jayhawks will need him to match the playmaking production of Bradley McDougald.
Linebacker Blake Slaughter, Kansas State: In a rare and unselfish move, Slaughter redshirted last season instead of finishing his Wildcat career as a backup to Arthur Brown. Now he enters his senior season set to replace him. He started four games as a sophomore in 2010, recording 47 tackles. It's unlikely Slaughter will be the defensive terror in the mold of Brown, but his maturity and experience will be key assets for KSU's defense.
Tackle Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma: Thompson is the odds-on favorite to replace Johnson as the Sooners’ left tackle. Junior college transfer Josiah St. John was signed in February to ramp the competition at the position but didn’t arrive until right before preseason camp began, and Thompson appears to have a solid hold on the starting spot. Thompson is supremely talented so don't be surprised if there is not a major drop off at left tackle for the Sooners despite losing Lane Johnson, the No. 4 pick of the 2013 NFL draft.
Nickelback Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been anointed as the Longhorns’ new nickelback to replace Kenny Vaccaro, the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick. Fellow NFLers Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams have also manned the position, which has become a highlight spot in UT’s defense. Diggs has been a key part of UT's defense since his freshman year and the nickelback spot could be a terrific fit for the junior.
Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The Horned Frogs have a bevy of talented receivers to replace Josh Boyce, but Brown could have the highest upside of any of them. He started seven games as a redshirt freshman and brings terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and athleticism to the table. No Boyce could mean more opportunities for Brown to emerge in the Horned Frogs' offense.
Safety Tre' Porter, Texas Tech: Porter has played various different positions during his Red Raider career and could be the answer at free safety to replace ultra-productive former safety Cody Davis. He enters the season with 130 career tackles and has been a consistent performer since he stepped on campus in 2010. Porter's background at several different positions in the secondary make him the ideal guy to be the face of the Red Raiders' defensive backfield.
Receivers Kevin White and KJ Myers, West Virginia: The Mountaineers won’t be able to replace Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin with just two receivers. But White and Myers are candidates to get plenty of opportunities in Dana Holgorsen’s offense. White, a junior college transfer, brings terrific size at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds and Myers, a redshirt sophomore, has stepped up during camp.
“He’s one of the guys that I’ve got a big plus by,” Holgorsen said of Myers' preseason performance.
QB: Blake Bell, Oklahoma
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Take for example the Dallas Nike Football Training Camp in Allen, Texas, on April 7 when he set the tone in 1-on-1 drills by shoving a wide receiver three yards behind the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball.
Adams, the No. 23 player overall and No. 3 safety, isn’t naming any favorites. But we caught up with him to get a sense for where he stands with a few of the programs generally thought to be in the mix.
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His cut put them off balance and as he hit the left sideline, he had one player to outrun -- for a while, anyway. Receiver Kenny Stills erased Quandre Diggs and set Williams free as the Cotton Bowl -- well, half of it -- exploded.
"That's something that any football player wants to be a part of. The fans were so crazy," Williams told ESPN.com this week. "Going into that game I was confident and excited."
The 6-foot, 208-pound junior-college transfer grabbed 22 carries, 14 more than any Sooner. A week earlier, his 14 carries in a blowout win over Texas Tech were 12 more than any other Oklahoma back. For now, this job is Williams'. He was expecting to help out the unit and "do his part," whatever that meant.
For now, it means being the Sooners' No. 1 back.
"He’s played consistently all year. He’s made big plays. He’s an incredibly physical, tough runner. He’s got great speed and he’s taking care of the ball," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He’s been reliable. He’s got great hands. He’s got everything you look for. Power and again, has incredible hands to go with his ability to run."
With Dominique Whaley returning from a fractured ankle and Roy Finch breaking highlight-reel runs, Williams ascending to win the job seemed unlikely in the preseason. Even Brennan Clay had more experience.
Through just five games, though, there's no doubt. Even in the season opener, Williams' potential was there. He broke a 65-yard touchdown run to ice a 24-7 road win over UTEP. A week later, he scored four times in a 69-13 victory over Florida A&M, turning 10 carries into 156 yards.
"I can't make any plays without my team around me," Williams said. "What the line is doing, what the coaches are calling and everything. All I can do is go out there and try to make plays."
He's got 66 carries for 508 yards and six touchdowns in just five games, one of just three Big 12 backs averaging at least 100 yards a game.
Against Texas Tech, he caught six passes for 82 yards, too.
"He’s been a huge spark, just with his physical running and ability to catch the ball," Stoops said.
Williams already has three runs longer than 60 yards this season. No other Big 12 back has one, and the rest of the Big 12 has just five combined. Only three players in all of college football have three runs longer than 60 yards, and all three players have suited up in seven games, compared to just five for Williams and the Sooners.
OU’s thirrd-and-8 conversion on its first possession
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- OU outgained Texas 677 to 289, handing the Longhorns their greatest yardage disparity in a game in 62 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info. OU had outgained Texas 407 yards to 65.
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The SEC is the league with the defensive reputation, but the nation's top two teams, Alabama and LSU, both finished below Texas and Oklahoma State, who Joyner says are the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 secondaries.
Both of them are outstanding, but even I was surprised to see those two atop the list.
For both teams, it starts with eye-popping duos at cornerback.
For Texas, it's Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. At Oklahoma State, Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown are the guys stopping receivers on the outside.
All four may make a case by season's end as the Big 12's best cornerback, but according to Joyner, they're the backbones of the nation's top two secondaries.
Joyner is also a believer in Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, who racked up 82 tackles and keeping opposing receivers from gaining more than four yards per pass attempt.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's Gilbert stuck out to Joyner as the best cornerback in college football last season. His five picks and 5.2 yards per attempt suggest that's the case. He also broke up or intercepted 20 passes, second-most in college football.
Those aren't the only two Big 12 teams on Joyner's list.
What about Oklahoma? The Sooners check in at No. 8, with a nice trio of their own in Tony Jefferson, Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst.
Joyner reminds that even though the secondary faltered in high-profile losses to Baylor and Texas Tech, the same unit allowed a passer rating of under 106 in eight games.
Now, new coordinator Mike Stoops is in town to give the Sooners a boost in the secondary. The Sooners lost cornerback Jamell Fleming, but Fleming's 9.2 yards per attempt give Joyner reason to believe the loss will result in addition by subtraction.
I'm not so sure about that, but ultimately, the season will tell.
Are you a believer in the Cowboys and Longhorns as the nation's top two secondaries? What about the Sooners? Too high? Too low?
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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1. Kansas State's secondary. The Wildcats failed their big test last week against Oklahoma and it gets just as difficult, if not more so, this week in Stillwater. And time it's on the road. OSU's running game is better than Oklahoma's, and its passing game is just as difficult to cover. Brandon Weeden has been sharp, and the task ahead of Nigel Malone and David Garrett is enormous. This matchup will decide the game.
3. Oklahoma's home prowess. The home streak is gone, but did the mystique follow Texas Tech out of the building? Badly beating a good Texas A&M team would be a nice start for the Sooners, but Texas A&M has to be significantly less intimidated by a) seeing that result and b) beating Oklahoma last season. So which is it?
4. Texas QB(s)? Texas continues to list Case McCoy and David Ash as co-starters when the playing time looks like there's nothing "co" about it. Does McCoy still have a future on the field, or has the true freshman, Ash, taken over a full-time role? My guess is the latter, but Texas Tech will be a real test, unlike Kansas. The Red Raiders could be revealing.
5. Kansas ... offense? Prove to us that this offense really is better. Iowa State's defense doesn't really scare many folks across the Big 12, but KU had just three first downs against Texas last week and 46 total yards in a 43-0 loss. Part of that was the Longhorns eliminating the Jayhawks' running game, but can the offense help the Jayhawks get their first conference win?
6. Missouri's secondary. E.J. Gaines & Co. have stepped up their play in recent weeks, but this week will be a tough test for the Tigers. Griffin III endured a frustrating outing against Oklahoma State last week and will be back at home, where he's been dominant all season. Are the Tigers up to the task? They're dealing with one of the best receiving corps in the league, and a quarterback that would love nothing more than to beat them over the top.
7. Seth Doege's accuracy. Iowa State didn't blitz Tech much in last week's 41-7 win, but Doege wasn't sharp and the Red Raiders paid the price with a nonsensical loss. Doege's been outstanding, but can he bounce back this week? I expect him to, but Texas' secondary is one of the league's best, and the Longhorns will harass him and make him hurry throws at corners Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom.
8. Texas A&M's second half. It has to be said, does it not? Texas A&M has been the league's most odd team this year, only a few plays away from being in the top 3, instead of Oklahoma State. But alas, here they are, with losses to three teams after possessing double-digit halftime leads. Second halves haven't been the issue on the whole for this team, but they've been more evident in the losses. What's in store this week at Oklahoma?
9. Iowa State's identity. Who are these Cyclones? Was last week a statement of how good they can be? Or did Texas Tech lay an egg? I don't know how much Kansas can answer that question this week, but the Cyclones would be well-served to be the next team to blow out the Jayhawks, but Kansas could reach up and do to Iowa State what the Cyclones did to Tech. Should be an interesting matchup.
10. Oklahoma State's yes, focus. We've seen it the past two weeks. Oklahoma, then Texas Tech. If Oklahoma State isn't sharp, K-State will make it pay for dropped passes and poorly-timed three-and-outs. The ranking beside K-State's name should help the Cowboys perk up, but seeing last week's blowout loss to Oklahoma might inspire a bit of complacency. Or will it? OSU's stayed pretty loose this week, and this will be one of the toughest tests left before the showdown with Oklahoma.
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