Texas Longhorns: Bryce Hager

The 2013 season featured one of the most competitive races for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, with at least a half-dozen defenders in the mix.

Ultimately, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett shared the award. Both are now gone, leaving the race wide open again in 2014. But the league will still have several formidable candidates for the award.

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTCU's Devonte Fields had a sophomore season to forget, but has the talent to be one of the Big 12's best defensive players.
Going into last season, returning TCU defensive end Devonte Fields was actually the favorite to grab the honor. After all, as a true freshman in 2012, he captured the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year award in the league (Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown won the coaches' honor). But after wreaking havoc as a rookie, Fields was not a factor in his second year. He was slapped with an offseason suspension that sidelined him in the opener against LSU. When he returned, he looked out of shape and was hardly the same player. And then Fields suffered a foot injury that ultimately forced a season-ending procedure in October. Despite a disappointing sophomore campaign, he still has the talent to be one of the most destructive defensive forces in college football.

Fields isn’t the only league defender coming back who is capable of getting to the quarterback.

Kansas State end Ryan Mueller, Texas end Cedric Reed and Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker ranked second, third and fourth in the Big 12 behind Jeffcoat in sacks last season.

In his first season as a starter, Mueller emerged from nowhere to become one of the best all-around defenders in the conference. He led the Wildcats in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hurries and forced fumbles. In a league stacked at defensive end, Mueller became a first-team All-Big 12 selection.

Reed was just as prolific as Mueller, but was overshadowed playing alongside Jeffcoat. Reed led the Big 12 in forced fumbles, and was virtually unblockable around the edge by the end of the season. Reed considered an early jump to the NFL, but elected to return to anchor coach Charlie Strong’s first defense at Texas.

But as good as Mueller and Reed were, no Big 12 defender had a stronger finish to the season than Striker. In his first year as a starter, the sophomore flashed signs of his potential in September, hammering Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees on the game’s third play to force a pick-six. By the bowl season, not even two-time defending national champion Alabama could contain him. Striker racked up three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and jarred the ball loose from Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron in the final minute that led to an Oklahoma touchdown to seal the stunning win.

SportsNation

Of these candidates, who is the best bet to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2014?

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    8%
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    17%
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    26%
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    41%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,473)

Several other players in the conference are capable of breaking into the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year discussion. The Baylor defensive line duo of tackle Andrew Billings and end Shawn Oakman is stacked with potential. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom finally unlocked his with three sacks and a touchdown fumble recovery return in the Sugar Bowl, and could be primed for a big senior season. Fellow Sooners defensive end Charles Tapper was the only underclassman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. Texas’ Jordan Hicks could be as good as any linebacker in the league if he could ever stay healthy. And on top of Fields, the TCU defense features safety Sam Carter and tackle Chucky Hunter, who have been stalwarts in the Big 12 the last two years.

But only five players can be included in this poll. And Baylor inside linebacker Bryce Hager, who has as much experience as any player in the league, netted the final slot. Hager will be a three-year starter, and he led the Big 12 in tackles his sophomore season, in which he earned second-team all-conference honors. Hager repeated the honor last year despite missing the final month of the season with a hernia injury that required offseason surgery. When healthy, Hager is as sure a tackler as any returning defender in the league.

Now, it's your chance to weigh in: Of Hager, Fields, Mueller, Reed and Striker, who is the best bet to capture Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors next season?

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

February, 25, 2014
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As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

2. Texas: This is the deepest linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.

3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.

4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.

5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.

6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. There’s reason to hope that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
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And then there were three:

1. Baylor (8-0, 5-0 Big 12, last week 1): We’re 11 weeks into the season, and Baylor still leads the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense and red zone defense. Those numbers aren’t a fluke, as Oklahoma found out the hard way. Ahmad Dixon is one of the best safeties in the conference; Eddie Lackey and Bryce Hager are a stout one-two punch at linebacker; and the defensive line has size and speed. The Sooners might not be very good offensively this year. But Baylor made them look downright ridiculous. This is a complete team.

2. Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1, LW 2): This will be just the fifth time Oklahoma State has played Texas when both teams have been ranked in the BCS. The Longhorns have won all four such previous meetings. As a program still aspiring to greater heights, this is the kind of game the Cowboys need to win. Texas is banged up. Oklahoma State has the better defense. And as a result of both, the Cowboys are favored in Austin. Some of the more haunting moments in Oklahoma State history have occurred at the hands of the Longhorns. This is a prime opportunity for the Pokes to produce a memorable one.

3. Texas (7-2, 6-0, LW 3): The Longhorns have depth at running back and defensive tackle. But they no longer have all-conference players at those positions. That’s what tailback Johnathan Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley are. Can Texas overcome these additional hits against one of the hotter teams in the Big 12 in Oklahoma State this weekend? If the Horns do, Mack Brown should get votes for Big 12 Coach of the Year.

4. Kansas State (5-4, 3-3, LW 6): More and more, K-State is beginning to resemble the Baylor of last year. Maybe not in style, but most certainly in efficiency. The Wildcats scored touchdowns on their first five possessions to basically put then-No. 25 Texas Tech away on its home field by the second quarter. Think about this: From the third quarter of the West Virginia game three weeks ago to halftime at Texas Tech, K-State has scored touchdowns on 14 of 22 possessions (not counting kneel downs). That level of touchdown efficiency would even impress Baylor coach Art Briles. Like the Bears last year, K-State could finish this season with a flourish to set up a run back at the Big 12 title in 2014.

5. Oklahoma (7-2, 4-2, LW 4): The Sooners’ quarterback situations have been the envy of the Big 12 dating back to the advent of the Bob Stoops era. No more. OU has major problems at the position, not only for the rest of this season, but beyond. It’s difficult to see the Sooners winning a Big 12 championship with Blake Bell at quarterback next season. But the fact the Sooners won’t let Trevor Knight attempt a pass or Kendal Thompson step on the field raises red flags, too. OU had no shot of coming back on Baylor with Bell behind center, yet the Sooners still refused to give either one of the other quarterbacks a chance. Stoops is not one to make drastic changes. But if the Sooners don’t shake things up offensively, they could easily finish this regular season a disappointing 8-4.

6. Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3, LW 5): After three straight losses, the unranked Red Raiders find themselves four-touchdown underdogs to Baylor at a neutral site. A month ago, this game looked like it might be for the Big 12 crown. Instead, Tech will be playing to avoid going 1-11 in the month of November over the past three years.

7. West Virginia (4-6, 2-5, LW 7): The Mountaineers just missed out on landing another marquee home win, falling 47-40 to Texas in overtime. They have to put that behind them. By snagging these next two winnable games against Kansas and Iowa State, West Virginia will go to a bowl. Considering all the pieces the Mountaineers had to replace from last year, that would constitute a solid season for a team in rebuilding mode.

8. TCU (4-6, 2-5, LW 8): Credit TCU for not throwing in the towel after dropping three straight for the first time in the Gary Patterson era. The Horned Frogs continued to struggle offensively. But despite missing several key players, they gutted out a game-winning, fourth-quarter touchdown drive at Iowa State to keep their slim bowl hopes alive.

9. Iowa State (1-8, 0-6, LW 9): The Cyclones had yet to win a Big 12 game and were facing an opponent riding a three-game losing streak in a late-morning kickoff. And yet, Jack Trice Stadium was just about full. Cyclone Nation brought it this weekend, even if their team came up another goal-line stand short. Tweeted Iowa State defensive back Deon Broomfield: “Best fans in nation. Even through a season like this we have a packed stadium. Sorry for the letdown.” It’s been a rough year to be an Iowa State fan. You can bet the players will fight to reward that loyalty in the form of a Big 12 win before the end of the season.

10. Kansas (2-7, 0-6, LW 10): The Jayhawks are 118th in scoring offense, 119th in total offense and 120th in 10-plus-yard plays. Kansas' offense is going nowhere as it’s currently constructed. It’s time for coach Charlie Weis to give freshman quarterback Montell Cozart the keys to the offense. Even though the Jayhawks failed to reach the end zone at Oklahoma State, Cozart flashed promise, leading Kansas to 202 yards on the ground and 13 of its 15 first downs.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
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Recognizing the best and brightest from around the Big 12 in Week 2:

RB Brennan Clay, Oklahoma

On a night when the Sooners’ quarterback plan fell apart, Clay came in and saved the day. The senior backup was a workhorse against West Virginia, rushing for a career-high 170 yards on 22 carries in a 16-7 victory. No matter whom OU goes with behind center, it's at least got two talented, proven backs to lean on in Clay and Damien Williams, who nearly joined Clay is hitting the 100-yard mark.

QB Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech

Just because Mayfield and Tech were playing Stephen F. Austin doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve some credit. The freshman walk-on continues to impress, throwing for 367 yards and three touchdowns. He added 66 yards on the ground, too, and would’ve easily finished with more than 500 total yards had he not sat out the second half to give Davis Webb reps in the blowout. We'll know a lot more about just how good Mayfield is next week when TTU takes on TCU.

WR Tramaine Thompson, Kansas State

Tyler Lockett might set more records, but Thompson was the spark KSU needed to bounce back from its season-opening loss. He returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, added a 79-yard punt return down to the 1-yard line and finished with 46 receiving yards. It’s hard to beat that all-purpose contribution, and it's safe to argue that the Wildcats have one of the best kick-return duos in the country.

LB Bryce Hager, Baylor

We could give this honor to several members of the Baylor offense, but let’s give the Bears’ defense some love. Hager had 124 tackles last season and only two on Saturday. That's normally a bad day in his book, but he gets the sticker for his impressive 91-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Buffalo. To say Hager was rumbling and stumbling on that run-back doesn’t do it justice. Baylor coach Art Briles said after the game that Hager's return was the nail in the coffin that the Bears needed.

QB J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State

Walsh is making Mike Gundy look smart for anointing him the Pokes’ starter. He was a near-perfect 24-for-27 passing against UTSA with 326 yards and touchdowns to four different OSU receivers. He also rushed for a touchdown before letting Clint Chelf take over and finish off the Roadrunners. While Chelf also made solid use of his reps against UTSA, there's no doubt who the preferable option is right now for OSU at quarterback.
HornsNation is breaking down Texas' 2013 football schedule every Monday this summer. This week: The Longhorns' 12th and final game of the regular season at Baylor on Dec. 7.

Baylor Bears

2012 record: 8-5, 4-5 in the Big 12

[+] EnlargeBaylor's Lache Seastrunk
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor running back Lache Seastrunk is a legitimate Heisman contender in 2013.
Last time against Texas: Texas won 56-50 in Austin, Texas, in 2012.

All-time vs. Texas: Texas leads 74-24-4.

Starters lost: QB Nick Florence, RB Jarred Salubi, WR Terrance Williams, WR Lanear Sampson, OC Ivory Wade, OG Cameron Kaufhold, DT Gary Mason, DT Nick Johnson, LB Rodney Chadwick, CB Chance Casey, S Mike Hicks

Starters returning: RB Lache Seastrunk, WR Tevin Reese, WR Levi Norwood, WR Antwan Goodley, TE Jordan Najvar, OG Cyril Richardson, OT Spencer Drango, OT Troy Baker, DE Terrance Lloyd, DE Chris McAllister, LB Bryce Hager, LB Eddie Lackey, DB Ahmad Dixon, DB Sam Holl, CB Joe Williams, CB K.J. Morton, CB Demetri Goodson, K Aaron Jones, P Spencer Roth

Statistical leaders

Passing: Bryce Petty (7 for 10, 97 yards, 1 TD)

Rushing: Lache Seastrunk (131 rushes, 1,012 yards, 7 TDs)

Receiving: Tevin Reese (53 receptions, 957 yards, 9 TDs)

Tackles: Bryce Hager (124)

Interceptions: Eddie Lackey (4)

Sacks: Chris McAllister (6)

Did you know: Baylor is playing its final season at Floyd Casey Stadium in 2012. Texas is 29-15-2 all-time against Baylor when playing in Waco, but only 19-12 since the stadium opened in 1950.

What to watch

Heisman hopeful: Is Lache Seastrunk a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate? What the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year did in BU’s final six games last year (831 yards, 6 TDs) was phenomenal. Multiply out those six-game rushing stats over 13 games and you’re talking about an 1,800-yard rusher. The workload will increase in 2013, and having RB Glasco Martin back to keep Seastrunk fresh could be a big help to his trophy hopes.

Well-rested: Here are the first five weeks of Baylor’s 2013 season: Wofford, Buffalo, bye, Louisiana-Monroe, bye. Yeah, I’d say the Bears will be well-rested going into Big 12 play. They’ll need that full tank of gas: The Bears face Texas following back-to-back road trips to Oklahoma State and TCU, two of the league’s best. That’s one rough finish.

New talent: Baylor could get a nice infusion of new talent this fall from three transfers: junior college TE Gus Penning, former Penn State DE Shawn Oakman and prep school enrollee LB Brian Nance, a four-star prospect in 2012. The Bears also have two elite freshmen worth keeping an eye on: WR Robbie Rhodes and DT Andrew Billings. Perhaps you’ve heard of them.

View from the other side: John Werner, Baylor beat writer for the Waco Tribune-Herald

HN: Texas comes to town for Baylor’s final home game at Floyd Casey Stadium. What do you think that day is going to mean to Bears fans?


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Question of the Week: Let's talk trades 

May, 9, 2013
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Free agency might be a long way off from never in college football -- at least as far as players are concerned. Coaches, they come and go. Players stick.

But now the time has come to change all that, if only for a day and if only for the purposes of this week’s question of the week. With that in mind and those rules set, here then is the aforementioned question: If you, as Texas’ general manager, could trade for one player within the Big 12, who would it be? And who would you give up for that player?


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