In today's Big 12 Twitter mailbag, we discuss the position unit with the most to prove, who holds the edge at quarterback in Manhattan, and whether the the league will finally rid itself of the ridiculous co-champions rule.

On to the 'bag:

@jake_trotter: Taking quarterback out of the equation, I think it might be the Baylor defensive backs. When ranking individual position groups, the Baylor secondary generated the most discussion. Yeah, they have four starters back. But true freshman Patrick Mahomes also lit them up for 600 yards passing. I like Orion Stewart, and you would think cornerbacks Ryan Reid and Xavien Howard would be better in their second seasons as starters. Then again, this was a unit that was really poor at times last season. It collectively has a lot to prove, in my opinion.

Trotter: Great question, and I don't know the answer. The Horned Frogs were completely decimated by graduation, losing All-American Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet, and key reserve Jonathan Anderson. This is the one glaring issue the Horned Frogs going into 2015. They were actually in this situation two years ago, and Dawson and Mallet stepped up. They will need a couple of guys to emerge again from a pool of inexperienced returners -- Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill and Ty Summers -- and incoming freshmen Alec Dunham, Mike Freeze and Semaj Thomas.

Trotter: The edge goes to Joe Hubener. This will be his fourth year on campus. He has a huge advantage when it comes to maturity and knowledge running K-State's offense. Even though he's played sparingly, I've also heard good things about his arm strength and mobility. Then again, Alex Delton is a talented and intriguing prospect. Should Hubener struggle to move the chains (which is a distinct possibility given how many new faces K-State will have to rely on in the passing game), the Wildcats could turn to Delton for a spark.

Trotter: I'm concerned with some of the rhetoric defending the status quo, but ultimately I'm confident the Big 12 will tweak this rule during the spring meetings. The confusion hurt the Big 12 in the playoff rankings this past season. And I think they realize having co-champs will hurt them again unless they change it.

Trotter: This is a common misconception. This is not up to Bob Bowlsby. The schools are the ones that vote on rule changes. The conference just enforces them.

Trotter: I really liked what I saw from defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway last season. He might not be Malcom Brown, but the 300-pound Ridgeway could be one of the best tackles in the league, and the new anchor up front for the Texas defense.

Trotter: If not him, then who? Michael Cummings was effective after taking over for Montell Cozart, leading the Jayhawks to a win against Iowa State and a near upset of TCU. I know the scheme will be more wide open under new coordinator Rob Likens. And yes, the Jayhawks have a couple of intriguing incoming freshmen quarterbacks in Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis. But even if Cummings doesn't have the job locked up yet, he has to be considered the front-runner.

Trotter: That will hinge on how good the Sooners are, and how Samaje Perine is utilized in the Lincoln Riley air raid offense. Perine is not winning the Heisman on another 8-5 team. And he's not going to have the numbers getting less than 20 carries per game. But if Oklahoma emerges as a playoff contender, and Perine remains the focal point of the attack, then he could force himself into the mix. Remember, Perine rushed for more than 1,700 yards as a true freshman despite starting just over half the season.

Trotter: Baylor at TCU on Black Friday tops the list. That game could determine the Big 12 title and a playoff spot. Both teams will have to win at Stillwater in November first. Honorable mention honors go to the Red River Showdown, which, someday, will matter again..

Playing good defense wasn’t just a 2014 trademark of the TCU Horned Frogs.

Gary Patterson’s program has played strong defense since it joined the Big 12, sitting atop the conference in points per drive allowed by a comfortable margin after three seasons as a member. TCU is joined by Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the top three, making it no surprise those two teams have been in the middle of the Big 12 title battle more often than not in recent years.

Here’s a look at the Big 12’s points per drive allowed rankings since TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012 (conference games only).

1. TCU, 1.58
Conference record: 14-13
Summary: Patterson’s team prides itself on good defense, and a change in conference didn’t change the production of the Horned Frogs' defensive unit. TCU creates turnovers, limits big plays and makes offenses uncomfortable to cement its spot as the toughest defense to score against during the past three seasons.
Key stat: TCU sets the standard, leading the Big 12 in several other key stats including yards per play (5.24), forced turnovers (66) and third-down conversion percentage (31.2 percent).

2. Oklahoma State, 1.77
Conference record: 16-11
Summary: Ever since Mike Gundy’s team started lighting up scoreboards there’s been a myth the Cowboys never play good defense. Yet TCU is the only defense that is harder to score on than OSU's. The Pokes rarely rank among the best in the league in total yards allowed but is third in yards per play allowed (5.41).
Key stat: OSU’s defense steps up in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on 54.1 percent of opponents' red zone drives, ranking second in the conference behind TCU (42.2 percent).

3 (tied). Oklahoma, 1.83
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: The Sooners' defense has had plenty of ugly moments but has been solid overall, particularly when it comes to allowing opponents to score. OU ranks among the Big 12’s best in punt percentage (43.3) and percentage of possible yardage allowed (40.7). Mike Stoops has work to do, but the Sooners' defense has not been horrible during the past three seasons.
Key stat: Limiting the big play has been one of the Sooners' specialties as they rank second in the Big 12 in percent of plays allowed gaining 10 yards or more (18.7).

3 (tied). Kansas State, 1.83
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: The Wildcats consistently have underrated athletes on defense who force offenses to methodically drive down the field if they hope to score. They get pressure on the quarterback (64 sacks, second in the Big 12) while limiting big plays in the passing game (6.7 passing yards per attempt).
Key stat: KSU’s plus-33 turnover margin is mind-boggling but not surprising. Bill Snyder’s teams win with relentless efficiency and playmaking in key moments.

5. Texas, 1.84
Conference record: 17-10
Summary: UT’s defense has been full of athletes but inconsistent at times. The Longhorns are good on third down, allowing a 36.2 percent conversion rate, yet sit in the middle of the conference as neither exceptional or bad in most key categories.
Key stat: The Longhorns' 79 sacks by far are the most in the Big 12 during the past three seasons, with K-State’s 64 ranking second.

6. Baylor, 2.13
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: The Bears' defense is getting better but still has a ways to go before it locks down a spot among the conference’s top units. BU’s run defense is strong (3.93 yards per rush, second in Big 12) but its struggles to stop teams once they get in the red zone are at the heart of its medicore ranking. BU is in the bottom third of the Big 12 in red zone touchdown percentage (71.6 percent) and goal-to-go touchdown percentage (82 percent).
Key stat: BU’s run defense is second in the Big 12 at 3.93 yards per carry.

7. West Virginia, 2.33
Conference record: 11-16
Summary: It’s taken a while for the Mountaineers to get settled in the Big 12 as they were forced to play young, inexperienced talent on defense early in their transition to the conference. The Mountaineers' defense has been improving, however, as their young talent has begun to mature.
Key stat: A lack of a pass rush has also been an issue for WVU with 34 sacks in 27 conference games, tied for eighth worst in the Big 12.

8. Iowa State, 2.44
Conference record: 5-22
Summary: The Cyclones feature the least disruptive defense in the conference with a Big 12-worst 29 percent of opponents' plays resulting in zero or negative yardage. ISU tends to have quality linebacker play but its defensive line and secondary play needs improving.
Key stat: The Cyclones allowed 5.33 yards per carry during this span, worst in the Big 12.

9. Kansas, 2.59
Conference record: 2-25
Summary: The Jayhawks are second in the conference in forced fumbles (28) but that didn’t do much to change the production of their defense. KU’s inability to consistently force punts and struggles to stop the run (5.11 yards per carry allowed) or pass (8.24 yards per pass attempt allowed) are at the root of the problem.
Key stat: KU’s 6.55 yards per play allowed was the Big 12’s worst.

10. Texas Tech, 2.63
Conference record: 10-17
Summary: New Texas Tech defensive coordinator David Gibbs is tasked with creating more turnovers for the Red Raiders, who have forced 34 turnovers in 27 games during the past three seasons. The inability to slow offenses or take the ball away has made Tech the Big 12’s easiest defense to score on.
Key stat: Tech’s minus-159 points off turnover margin speaks volumes. Having to make up an average of 5.8 points per game is a good way to end up 10-17 during this three-year span.
The last two weeks we analyzed and ranked the individual position units in the Big 12 heading into the spring, measuring them based on past performance, future potential and quality depth.

Below is a snapshot recap of how each position group of every Big 12 team was ranked:

BAYLOR: The Bears are stout in the trenches and lethal at the offensive skill positions.
  • QBs: 4th; RBs: 2nd; WRs: 1st; OL: 1st; DL: 1st; LBs: 5th; DBs: 5th; STs: 4th
  • Average rank: 2.875
TCU: The Horned Frogs have pieces to replace defensively; but the offense should be awesome.
  • QBs: 1st; RBs: 3rd; WRs: 2nd; OL: 2nd; DL: 2nd; LBs: 9th; DBs: 4th; STs: 1st
  • Average rank: 3.000
OKLAHOMA STATE: Lots of buzz around quarterback Mason Rudolph, but an experienced defense could be what elevates Oklahoma State into a contender.
  • QBs: 2nd; RBs: 8th; WRs: 3rd; OL: 4th; DL: 4th; LBs: 2nd; DBs: 2nd; STs: 7th
  • Average rank: 4.000
OKLAHOMA: It will be interesting to see how new coordinator Lincoln Riley utilizes one of the most talented and deepest position groups in the league, OU's running backs.
  • QBs: 5th; RBs: 1st; WRs: 4th; OL: 5th; DL: 5th; LBs: 1st; DBs: 7th; STs: 5th
  • Average rank: 4.125
WEST VIRGINIA: The offense needs some retooling, but the secondary should be formidable.
  • QBs: 6th; RBs: 4th; WRs: 7th; OL: 9th; DL: 7th; LBs: 4th; DBs: 1st; STs: 3rd
  • Average rank: 5.125
TEXAS: Finally unlocking an answer at quarterback would boost the rest of the offensive units.
  • QBs: 7th; RBs: 6th; WRs: 8th; OL: 7th; DL: 3rd; LBs: 3rd; DBs: 6th; STs: 8th
  • Average rank: 6.000
TEXAS TECH: The Red Raiders have enough firepower offensively; but can the defense come around under David Gibbs?
  • QBs: 3rd; RBs: 5th; WRs: 5th; OL: 3rd; DL: 8th; LBs: 7th; DBs: 8th; STs: 9th
  • Average rank: 6.000
KANSAS STATE: The offense is a blank slate, but no one should discount Bill Snyder's capacity to rebuild with unknown parts.
  • QBs: 10th; RBs: 9th; WRs: 9th; OL: 6th; DL: 6th; LBs: 6th; DBs: 3rd; STs: 2nd
  • Average rank: 6.375
IOWA STATE: The Cyclones had the worst statistical defense in college football last year for a reason.
  • QBs: 8th; RBs: 10th; WRs: 6th; OL: 8th; DL: 10th; LBs: 10th; DBs: 9th; STs: 6th
  • Average rank: 8.375
KANSAS: David Beaty and his staff have their work cut out.
  • QBs: 9th; RBs: 7th; WRs: 10th; OL: 10th; DL: 9th; LBs: 8th; DBs: 10th; STs: 10th
  • Average rank: 9.125

Ultimate ESPN 300: Who's next? 

February, 20, 2015
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It’s never too early to look ahead to next year. Here are seven prospects in the 2015 class who could make their mark in future editions of the Ultimate ESPN 300.

DT Daylon Mack (Texas A&M): Last year it was DE Myles Garrett who made a splash for the Aggies, and Mack is expected to do the same in 2015. While Texas A&M returns some quality young defensive tackles, none has Mack's combination of explosive power and quickness plus the ability to be a disruptive force in the backfield.

S Derwin James (FSU):
The last two weeks we've been analyzing and ranking individual position units in the Big 12. In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we discuss the league's strongest overall position group, the strongest individual position group and the position group to watch this spring:

What is the strongest overall position group in the league heading into spring ball?

Olson: I'm leaning toward running backs right now, though I do think this is shaping up to be a deep year in the secondary. The Big 12 has, in my opinion, at least six premier backs returning in 2015: Samaje Perine, Aaron Green, Shock Linwood, DeAndre Washington, Johnathan Gray and Rushel Shell. A few others could rise to their level this season, and the freshman class of backs in this league is awfully exciting.

Trotter: I'm going with wide receivers. I'd like to see a better one-two punch heading into next season than Baylor's Corey Coleman and KD Cannon. The Horned Frogs might not have a superstar receiver, but they have three darn good ones who know how to play. Oklahoma State's group of receivers is going to excellent and also deep. And when healthy, Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard is All-American caliber.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSamaje Perine heads a deep group of running backs at Oklahoma.
Chatmon: I’d have to agree with Max. The running back position is loaded with stars from OU’s Perine to Texas Tech’s Washington. The interesting aspect of the Big 12’s plethora of ball carriers is the star power is supported by quality depth at most Big 12 schools. The conference is full of running backs in a backup role who would start at the majority of FBS schools, including Oklahoma's Keith Ford, West Virginia’s Wendell Smallwood and others.

What about strongest individual position unit?

Olson: If Ohio State's quarterbacks could team up with Oklahoma's running backs and Baylor's receivers, there would be no need for a College Football Playoff. I'll go with the Bears' wideouts as the strongest group because Coleman and Cannon are going to be prolific no matter who's playing quarterback. I'm excited to see what guys such as Davion Hall, Jay Lee and Ishmael Zamora can do with more reps. Oklahoma will face some challenges in divvying up its carries, whereas in Baylor's offense, it really doesn't matter who gets the ball.

Trotter: Assuming we're not counting quarterbacks (in which case the answer would be TCU), I'm going with the Oklahoma running backs, slightly over the Baylor wide receivers and Baylor defensive line. Perine has the capability and durability to rush for 2,000 yards. Alex Ross was an All-Big 12 kick returner and could start for almost half the teams in the league. Joe Mixon is the "X" factor. He was more ballyhooed coming out of high school than Perine. If he lives up anywhere close to the hype, this could become the best running back group in the country.

Chatmon: It has to be Baylor’s defensive line. I love what defensive tackle Andrew Billings brings to the table and defensive end Shawn Oakman is extremely productive and can get even better. Add defensive tackle Beau Blackshear and defensive end K.J. Smith into the mix and Baylor has four quality defensive linemen along with good depth. The healthy return of defensive end Jamal Palmer would take this unit to an even higher level.

What is the position unit to watch this spring?

Olson: Texas' concerning quarterback situation might not get resolved until fall camp, but the Longhorns need to find some answers along the offensive line this spring. Joe Wickline needs a lot more competition and depth, and I wouldn't be surprised if junior college transfers Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson work with the No. 1 line right away. That group is in for a shakeup, and certainly a necessary one for the growth of Texas' offense.

Trotter: Again, taking out quarterbacks -- Texas, Oklahoma, K-State and West Virginia each have intriguing QB derbies -- some of the units I'll be watching this spring include the Oklahoma and Texas receivers, the K-State running backs, the Oklahoma State offensive line and the Texas Tech linebackers. Outside of Shepard, no returning receiver in Norman or Austin has yet to stand out. With its entire passing attack graduated, K-State desperately needs a featured running back to emerge (Dalvin Warmack?). Improved offensive line play could be the biggest key to Oklahoma State challenging TCU and Baylor. And I'm curious to see how Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell makes an impact with the Red Raiders, who need another defensive difference-maker to pair with Pete Robertson.

Chatmon: I’m looking forward to seeing how the battle to become Mason Rudolph’s top target at Oklahoma State turns out. My favorite to win the battle is sophomore James Washington, but the Pokes have a meeting room full of potential playmakers. Brandon Sheperd really came on at the end of the year, Jhajuan Seales has made plenty of plays during his career and Marcell Ateman could be the most talented receiver on the roster. I can’t wait to see who steps up.
The Ultimate 300 featured plenty of Big 12 playmakers, but it’s hard to decide which one is the best.

So we are going to let you decide.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was the highest former Big 12 player on the list. The former Oklahoma All-American was No. 19 on the Ultimate 300 after a stellar college career which saw him start every game he played at Oklahoma. He finished with 33 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks in 40 games.

SportsNation

Who was the best Big 12 player on the Ultimate 300?

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    30%
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    15%
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    23%
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    13%
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    19%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,080)

Former Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown was one of the best linebackers in the Big 12 era. After the Wichita native returned home after two years at Miami (Fla.), he became one of the top defenders in the Big 12 in 2011 and 2012. The No. 47 player in the Ultimate 300 finished with 201 tackles and 16.5 tackles for loss during his two seasons in Bill Snyder’s program.

What more can be said about Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III? The 2011 Heisman Trophy winner had observers glued to their televisions during his time in Waco, Texas. He could drop a deep pass over the heads of the secondary or escape the pocket and run away from the defense as he cemented a spot among the Big 12’s most explosive playmakers from 2008-2011. Griffin was the No. 57 player in the Ultimate 300.

Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat became an All-American during his time in Austin after stepping on campus as the No. 2 overall recruit in the Class of 2010. Jeffcoat started 33 games and joined Carlton Massey, Bill Atessis, Tony Brackens, and Brian Orakpo as the only Longhorns defensive ends to become consensus All-Americans. The No. 70 player in the Ultimate 300 had 25 sacks in his final 26 games in a Longhorns uniform.

Those four players where the highest ranked players from their schools, yet other former Big 12 stars on the Ultimate 300 could easily be considered the top Big 12 player on the list. From Oklahoma's Sam Bradford to Oklahoma State's Dez Bryant to Kansas State's Collin Klein, there are plenty of other candidates as the top Big 12 player on the list.

Who do you think should sit atop the list? Vote and leave your comment below.
With spring ball a month away, we've been ranking position groups in the Big 12. These evaluations have been based on past performance, future potential, and quality depth. We complete the series below with special teams:

1. TCU: All-Big 12 kicker Jaden Oberkrom will be a four-year starter, as will punter Ethan Perry. Cameron Echols-Luper is also back after ranking 16th nationally in punt returns. TCU’s coverage units have also been spectacular. Not only did the Horned Frogs lead the country in punt return coverage last year, they became the first team to allow negative punt return yards in the 14 seasons that the statistic has been tracked. Special teams is just one reason why TCU figures to be a playoff contender in 2015.

2. Kansas State: Freshman Matthew McCrane led the Big 12 in field goal percentage after taking over for Jack Cantele in September; McCrane connected on 18 of 19 field goal attempts. Freshman Nick Walsh had a decent season punting. The outgoing Tyler Lockett is irreplaceable, but Morgan Burns averaged more than 30 yards per kick return.

3. West Virginia: The Mountaineers are third here despite sporting the worst coverage units in the league last season. Punt returns have also been an utter disaster. But the combination of Lou Groza finalist kicker Josh Lambert and punter Nick “Boomstache” O’Toole is elite.

4. Baylor: After a shaky start, kicker Chris Callahan got better as his freshman season wore on, making all four field goals and the game-winner against TCU. The Bears have to replace All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth and return specialist Levi Norwood. But they have several electric options from which to choose on returns.

5. Oklahoma: Alex Ross led the Big 12 in kick returns, including two touchdowns. Austin Seibert was the nation’s No. 1 ranked kicker recruit, and will succeed Michael Hunnicutt. The Sooners, however, ranked seventh and eighth in kickoff and punt coverage in the Big 12 last season, respectively, which cost them dearly in the loss to Oklahoma State.

6. Iowa State: Kicker Cole Netten is coming off a solid sophomore season, in which he nailed the game-winning field goal that beat Iowa. Colin Downing was also a serviceable punter as a true freshman. Though Iowa State’s return units got wiped out by attrition, the Cyclones led the Big 12 last year in kickoff coverage.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys would be much closer to the top if they still had Tyreek Hill. It’s unclear who will take over returning punts and kicks, but the Pokes are sure to audition several candidates this spring. After struggling as a freshman, kicker Ben Grogan had a nice bounce-back sophomore season. Oklahoma State also led the league last season with six blocked kicks.

8. Texas: Nick Rose made only 14 of his 21 field goal attempts, though he nailed 51- and 47-yarders in Texas’ final two regular-season games. He also led the league in touchback rate. Armanti Foreman is back after returning kicks as a freshman; Daje Johnson can be a dangerous returner when he’s not in the doghouse.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders ranked 114th in kick returns and 124th in punt returns last year. Cameron Batson and Jakeem Grant are capable as returners, but they didn’t produce. The Red Raiders’ coverage units, however, were steady, and didn’t allow a TD all season. Someone will have to fill Kenny Williams’ tackling prowess on special teams. Taylor Symmank had a solid year punting, though Tech will be breaking in a new place-kicker.

10. Kansas: All-Big 12 punter Trevor Pardula is gone. So are returners JaCorey Shepherd and Nick Harwell. Matthew Wyman is back, but he ranked last in the Big 12 in field goal percentage with only nine makes.
Here are three players in the Ultimate ESPN 300 who will be remembered for their exploits in the Big 12.

Austin
Tavon Austin, receiver, West Virginia

The No. 197 player in the Ultimate ESPN 300 played in the Big 12 for only one season but stuffed a career's worth of memories into those 13 games with the conference logo on his uniform. Austin rushed for 643 yards, averaging 8.9 yards per carry, while adding 114 receptions for 1,269 yards as a senior in 2012.

His performance in a 50-49 loss to Oklahoma in 2012 won’t be forgotten anytime soon as he left any Sooners defender who tried to tackle him one-on-one in the open field grasping for air more often than not. He finished with 572 all-purpose yards, including 344 rushing yards on 21 carries (16.4 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. That single-game performance will not be forgotten anytime soon.

Griffin
Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor

It’s hard not to like what Griffin was able to accomplish during his time at Baylor. He stands as a sterling example of what one talented person can accomplish with confidence, laser-like focus and unyielding desire. The No. 57 player in the Ultimate 300 put Baylor on the map and wasn’t shy about letting people know this was a new era at Baylor. Griffin joined Art Briles to help create excitement and belief around a program that had called the Big 12 basement home since the conference’s inception.

During his Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2011, Griffin had plenty of Heisman moments, including exceptional performances against TCU, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri as he helped the Bears to a 10-win season. A big-play machine with exceptional speed, Griffin was a joy to watch.

Thomas
Earl Thomas, safety, Texas

The No. 240 player in the Ultimate 300 was simply awesome to watch play football. Thomas played only two seasons in Austin but he was a marvel during his time in the Big 12. He was a blur in the secondary who caused havoc with his explosiveness to the ball. Thomas was a true rarity as a must-watch college football player who lined up on the defensive side of the ball.

As he made play after play, it was amazing how the native of Orange, Texas, was dominating a game as a 5-foot-10, 197-pound safety. Thomas earned All-American honors and finished his career with 149 tackles, 33 pass breakups, 10 interceptions and five forced fumbles in 27 games. Texas lost just twice with Thomas in the lineup.
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Fozzy Whittaker, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho have spent time working out together during this NFL off-season. Courtesy - Longhorn Network
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The Texas Longhorns' morning workouts are part of the football squad trying to redefine itself after finishing last season with a 6-7 record. Courtesy - Longhorn Network
With spring ball a month away, we've been ranking position groups in the Big 12. These evaluations have been based on past performance, future potential, and quality depth. We continue the series below with defensive backs:

1. West Virginia: Strong safety Karl Joseph, the hardest hitter in the league who will be a four-year starter, is a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Free safety Dravon Henry is coming off a freshman All-American season. Daryl Worley is an All-Big 12 caliber cornerback. The Mountaineers also inked two more dynamic corners in Tyrek Cole (ESPN 300) and Rasul Douglas (ESPN 50 JC). This unit is loaded.

2. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys own the deepest cornerback group in the league, with four players boasting FBS starting experience in Kevin Peterson, Ramon Richards, Ashton Lampkin and Michael Hunter, a graduate transfer from Indiana. Jordan Sterns is a rising star at free safety.

3. Kansas State: Danzel McDaniel and Morgan Burns quietly formed one of the league's top cornerback tandems last season. Both are back, too. McDaniel brings the hammer; Burns can cover ground. Dante Barnett is among the Big 12's top returning safeties with a nose for the ball. With better hands, he could have finished with double-digit interceptions last year. The Wildcats do have to find a replacement for Randall Evans, who was an anchor at nickelback.

4. TCU: The Horned Frogs were hit hard by attrition. All three of its All-Big 12 defensive backs are gone in cornerback Kevin White, strong safety Sam Carter and weak safety Chris Hackett, who bolted early for the draft. Still, this unit has the remnants to be stout again. Ranthony Texada had a banner freshman season playing opposite of White, and seems primed to take over as TCU's No. 1 corner. Free safety Derrick Kindred has been a cog the past three seasons, and former juco transfer Kenny Iloka was a key reserve in 2014. Those three form the core of what figures to be another stout TCU secondary.

5. Baylor: The good news is the Bears return four starters in the secondary; that might be the bad news, too. Pass defense was Baylor's Achilles heel last season, culminating with Texas Tech true freshman Patrick Mahomes torching the Bears for almost 600 passing yards. Deep safety Orion Stewart is the best of the bunch; he's a playmaker. Cornerbacks Ryan Reid and Xavien Howard should be better in their second years as starters. Cover safety Terrell Burt has the most experience, but struggled greatly in coverage late last season. It will be interesting to see whether this group collectively improves off a shaky 2014 performance.

6. Texas: Outside West Virginia, no secondary in the league has more upside than Texas. Safety Jason Hall was one of the league's top true freshmen last season, and incoming cornerbacks Holton Hill and Kris Boyd and safeties DeShon Elliott and Davante Davis are all elite blue-chip prospects. The Longhorns will lean on Duke Thomas, Sheroid Evans and Dylan Haines until the young guns are ready. But when they are -- look out.

7. Oklahoma: The Sooners ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense last season, easily Oklahoma's worst finish in the Bob Stoops' era. The best player of the group is cornerback Zack Sanchez; he gives up big plays, but he makes some, too. The Sooners desperately need their young defensive backs to coalesce around him. Ahmad Thomas, Hatari Byrd, Steven Parker and Jordan Thomas all looked discombobulated at times in their first seasons as rotation players. The antidote could be this month's signing class. P.J. Mbanasor was the No. 6 CB recruit in the country; William Johnson was the No. 2 juco CB. Safety Will Sunderland Jr. was another ESPN 300 addition. If any of those three contribute right away, the chance is there for dramatic improvement.

8. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders return the entire two-deep from a secondary that held up reasonably well. Of course, opponents were also merely content to just hand the ball off most of the time against Tech's porous run defense. Still, this secondary has potential. Cornerback Nigel Bethel II leads the way in the potential department. After serving a three-game suspension he held his own as a true freshman starter. Bethel II, Justis Nelson and Tevin Madison, who was also a true freshman last season, have promise and a ton of experience for their age. If they can stay healthy, Keenon Ward and J.J. Gaines have the chance to form a competent safety duo. ESPN 300 signee Jamile Johnson Jr. could be an immediate factor there, too.

9. Iowa State: Safety Kamari Cotton-Moya is the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year; he and cornerback Nigel Tribune are quality players. T.J. Mutcherson, Cotton-Moya's wingman at safety last season, has since been dismissed from the team. But Sam Richardson returns at corner opposite Tribune. This unit looks good on paper and should be the strength of Iowa State. And yet, the Cyclones are coming off a season in which they ranked last in the league defending the pass.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks graduated All-Big 12 performer JaCorey Shepherd, who was one of the best corner covers in the league last season. With Shepherd gone, the Jayhawks will be counting on a big sophomore season from Matthew Boateng, who started opposite Shepherd as a true freshman last year. The Jayhawks also need safety Isaiah Johnson, who was the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year two seasons ago, to return to his 2013 form.
video Robert Griffin played a major role in transforming Baylor into a Big 12 champion. Yet he’s not the only Big 12 player who earned a spot on the Ultimate ESPN 300 after making a important impact on their program of choice.

Here’s a look at a few members of the Ultimate 300 who had a significant impact on their respective programs.

No. 57 Robert Griffin III, quarterback, Baylor

When it comes to impact -- on and off the field -- and actually changing the future of a program, Griffin is second to none. He became the unquestioned face of Baylor’s program while elevating it to new heights and opening doors that might have remained closed without his arrival.

A Heisman Trophy winner, All-American and BU record-breaker, Griffin did it all during his four seasons at Baylor. Griffin began to put his stamp on the program as a freshman All-American in 2008 before leading BU to back-to-back bowl appearances in 2010 and 2011. Griffin ended his career with 10,366 passing yards and 2,254 rushing yards while accounting for 111 touchdowns. He is a transcendent figure that still impacts Baylor today.

No. 72 Dez Bryant, receiver, Oklahoma State

The Dallas Cowboys star and Pro Bowl receiver played a major role in OSU’s rise to the top of the Big 12 standings. The Cowboys' 2011 Big 12 title might not have been possible without Bryant, who thrust OSU onto the national landscape with his breathtaking talent and exceptional playmaking.

Bryant helped leave no doubt that the Cowboys program was on the rise, and everyone -- including recruits -- took notice. His sophomore season was program changing campaign as OSU rose as high as No. 7 nationally in 2008 with Bryant leading the way. He earned All-American honors and became a Biletnikoff Award Finalist with 87 receptions for 1,480 yards and 19 touchdowns.

No. 240 Earl Thomas, safety, Texas

Thomas’ impact on his program doesn’t reach the heights of Bryant or Griffin, but his time on the 40 Acres is what every recent Longhorns signee should be striving for. Thomas was an All-American and a legit difference-maker for the Longhorns before becoming a star for the Seattle Seahawks.

Thomas started all 27 games during his two seasons as UT went 25-2 in 2008 and 2009. The Orange, Texas, native finished his career with 149 tackles, including eight tackles for loss, 33 pass breakups and 10 interceptions. Thomas' time at UT is a standard other signees should be judged on.

No. 256 Tony Jefferson, safety, Oklahoma

While his impact on the program wasn’t earth-shattering, Jefferson joined Kenny Stills and Brennan Clay as the “Cali Trio” at Oklahoma, helping to spark the Sooners' recruiting efforts in California. The Class of 2010 signee helped the Sooners create a bigger presence in the Golden State, with OU signing several other highly-rated Californians, including Michiah Quick and Hatari Byrd, in recent seasons.

On the field, Jefferson was a immediate-impact player who bolted Norman, Oklahoma, a year too soon. He started 34 of 40 games at OU finishing with 258 tackles -- including 180 solo stops and 18 tackles for loss -- eight interceptions and seven sacks from 2010-12.
Here's a look at five intriguing recruitments of Big 12 standouts who landed a spot on the Ultimate ESPN 300:


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Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
4:30
PM ET
In Tuesday's mailbag, nonconference scheduling, Kansas' recruiting philosophy and Oklahoma's quarterback situation are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

 




Jonathan Chambers in Bonneau: Will the Big 12 consider adding two more teams, such as BYU and Boise State, in order to have that coveted conference championship game, or will it petition the NCAA for a 10 team conference championship?

Brandon Chatmon: Doesn't look like that sits atop the priority list for the Big 12. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby addressed a championship game and expansion in this Q&A with Jake Trotter. The first step is to address the tiebreaker rules, which became an issue in 2014 as the TCU-Baylor debate hit its peak. Getting rid of the possibility for co-champions and uncertainty over who should be considered the Big 12’s top team would be a good first step.

 




Nathan in Boundurant, Iowa: What are the odds Iowa State jucos Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath anchor the defensive line this season and make it back to a bowl game this season?

BC: I’m looking for a big impact from Tucker and Leath and the Cyclones desperately need some impact newcomers along the defensive line. The Cyclones were last in the Big 12 with 15 sacks and 3.2 sack percentage. Paul Rhoads' team needs a disruptive force along the defensive line. But it will be tough for the Cyclones to get to a bowl game unless both sides of the ball take massive steps forward. I like some of the talent in Ames, but I can't say I expect ISU to return to a bowl game quite yet.

 




Stanley Metz Jr. in Princeton, West Virginia, writes: Way too early question, but ... how can any Big 12 team expect to make the playoffs with their nonconference scheduling being so bad? Texas is the only team I see having a chance considering their nonconference schedule, and that's only if the Irish have a good season.

BC: Man, what’s with all the doom and gloom, Stanley? All this debate and conversation about nonconference scheduling is overblown at this point. It’s pretty simple, if any Big 12 team wins every game in 2015 (or beyond) and is left on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff, I’ll be shocked. I’d agree that most Big 12 teams should amp up their nonconference schedules in the future but their destiny is still in their own hands, on the field, either way.

 




Terry in Texas writes: Texas Tech’s Mike Mitchell has been flying under the radar. What are some realistic expectations out of this kid this season?

BC: Global domination. OK, maybe that's too much to ask, but I expect him to become one of the core members of the Red Raider defense. Mitchell, a linebacker who transferred from Ohio State, is talented and he fits a need so I could see him force his way into the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year competition. The Red Raiders' defense needs playmakers and Mitchell could be the guy.

 




Andrew in Albuquerque writes: How much do you feel Oklahoma's success this season will depend on the QB situation?

BC: For me, success would mean Big 12 championship contention at the very least. So, yes, OU’s success is very much tied into the play of the quarterbacks. Trevor Knight has shown he can play at a high level but he also has shown he can make game-changing mistakes. I think the Sooners learned the past two years that you can’t win Big 12 titles without offensive balance. I think Lincoln Riley will bring that balance and I think he will find an answer at quarterback, whether it’s Knight, Baker Mayfield or one of OU’s other signal-callers. But TCU and Baylor are still the clear favorites in the conference in my eyes, which means OU needs exceptional, not just good, quarterback play to force itself into the mix.

 




Scott in Overland Park writes: I'm calling shenanigans on KU's Beaty making Kansas a priority in recruiting. It has been pretty much nothing but Texas recruiting since he got here. Didn't he get only one Kansas recruit in his whole class?

BC: First off, I'm pretty happy to be able to sneak the word shenanigans into a mailbag, so thanks for that Scott. But, to answer your question, what did you expect him to do? Just take a bunch of players from Kansas after arriving in Lawrence in December? That sounds like a good way to make a bunch of mistakes on the recruiting trail. Beaty is focused on planting seeds that could blossom two or three years from now, not after two months on the job. It makes sense for him to lean on what he knows, which is Texas, for right now during his short stint in charge. But I’d expect to see signs of Beaty’s in-state philosophy during his first full recruiting cycle in the Class of 2016, when he has had the chance to properly evaluate the top talent in Kansas and decide which players are a good fit for how he's looking to build his program.

 




Ethan Brown in Waco, Texas, writes: Who do you think will win the Baylor starting QB job this year?

BC: I think Seth Russell will be the guy. He has plenty of experience in the offense and he performed well during his limited opportunities behind Bryce Petty. Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham are both talented enough to win the job, but it’s Russell’s job to lose.
This week, we examined the steps that catapulted Baylor and TCU into becoming national powerhouses. That has come at the expense of conference flagships Texas and Oklahoma, who were never factors in the Big 12 race last year.

But can the Sooners and Longhorns return to being contenders and challenge TCU and Baylor in 2015? And if so, who has the better shot?

We tackle this question with the return of our weekly Take Two debate:

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- Texas

It may not look pretty now but I have a feeling Texas can force its way into the Big 12 title conversation. Year 2 of the Charlie Strong era should be much better than Year 1. With his first fully evaluated recruiting class on the way and the foundation of his program in place, Strong can focus on exceeding expectations in 2015.

The quarterback position is scary with Tyrone Swoopes showing inconsistency, Jerrod Heard as an unknown and Kai Locksley not even on campus yet. But what’s new? And an overall search for playmakers and big plays should keep the Longhorns' offensive coaches busy this offseason.

Yet, all those problems with the offense don’t stand as an immovable obstacle between Strong’s team and Big 12 championship contention because the Longhorns' defense should be able to keep UT in every game next season. Even though Malcom Brown, Jordan Hicks, Quandre Diggs and Cedric Reed are no longer in Austin, Strong’s roster has the talent to have one of the Big 12’s top defenses yet again. Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway could take his game to another level as a junior and highly-touted freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson seems college-ready.

Both teams need to find an answer at quarterback and questions about their offenses will linger into the fall, but its defense makes UT the better choice over OU.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Oklahoma

Texas is coming. But the Longhorns aren't there yet.

Texas isn't any closer to finding its long-term answer at quarterback. And the Horns graduated its best running back, two best receivers, two best defensive linemen, best linebacker and best defensive back off last year's team.

Considering it may take a while for Strong's recruiting triumphs to pay off on the field, Texas is not built to win big just quite yet.

Oklahoma might not be, either. But the Sooners are definitely closer.

As Bob Stoops would say (and has many times) Oklahoma is only months removed from defeating Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners bring back a front seven capable of wreaking havoc; one of the best receivers in the Big 12 in Sterling Shepard; and one of the best running backs in the country in Samaje Perine.

Like with Texas, the key to Oklahoma contending is better quarterback play. Trevor Knight was good, at times. But when he was bad, he was really bad, leading the Big 12 in pick-six interceptions. The Sooners, however, will be adding Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year two years ago, to the competition this spring.

If Mayfield (or Knight or Cody Thomas) can stabilize the position and thrive in new coordinator Lincoln Riley's Air Raid system, Oklahoma has the talent elsewhere to return to contender status.

That might be a big "if." But smaller than what Texas faces in Strong's second season.

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