Texas Longhorns: Devonte Fields

Big 12 media days takeaways

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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DALLAS -- Big 12 media days have come and gone. Some of the storylines (Dairy Queen, fake watches) were silly. Others were far more serious. Here are some of the takeaways from this year’s edition of media days:

Baylor has a chip on its shoulder: Despite winning the Big 12 last season and returning the Big 12 offensive player of the year in quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor was voted second in the conference’s preseason poll behind Oklahoma. The Bears clearly felt a bit disrespected while in Dallas this week. "That comes with being Baylor," defensive end Shawn Oakman said. "We're gonna be great one day and y'all are gonna notice." The Bears were pretty great last season, stomping the Sooners 41-12 on the way to their first Big 12 title. "That game from OU last year, that should have showed you that that product was nowhere near as good as the product that Baylor was putting on the field," Oakman said. "The execution, the players from each and every position ... You could tell we were on a different level from OU." Still getting picked to finish behind Oklahoma has given the Bears extra fuel for this season. "In our minds, we’re still underdogs," Oakman said. "We play with a chip on our shoulder. You only get the respect if you earn it."

Stoops is loose as a goose: The loosest coach at Big 12 media days might have been Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. He was cracking jokes, photo-bombing his wife’s TV interview (she was there for a Mary Kay convention) and taking a break between interview sessions to grab a strawberry smoothie. He even chided Alabama coach Nick Saban for suggesting the Crimson Tide didn’t care about being in the Sugar Bowl. "So if I’m not in a national championship game, that means I’ve got a built-in excuse?" Stoops said. Such bravado could be a sign that Stoops thinks he has a pretty good team. With Trevor Knight at quarterback and nine starters back defensively, it’s not hard to see why.

TCU has a big problem: Though they had already left, the Horned Frogs were the story the second day of Big 12 media days. Defensive end Devonte Fields, who last week was voted the league's preseason defensive player of the year, was accused of pulling a gun on his ex-girlfriend. TCU acted quickly after the news surfaced, claiming it had "separated" from Fields. If any part of the allegations levied against Fields are true, it’s difficult to see him ever playing another game in the Big 12. That is a big loss for the league. And an even bigger one for TCU, which is attempting to bounce back from one of its worst seasons in the Gary Patterson era.

Strong believes in Ash: The biggest question mark in Charlie Strong’s first season as coach at Texas is quarterback. More specifically, quarterback David Ash. But even though Ash missed virtually all of last season with concussion issues, then the spring with a fractured foot, Strong said he was impressed with Ash when watching old game film. "When Ash is healthy, he played very well," Strong said. All signs point to Ash being the starter when the Longhorns open the season. Whether he can be consistent and be healthy could go a long way in dictating how Strong’s first season goes, too.

Bowlsby does not believe in the NCAA: According to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, cheating pays. And the enforcement wing of the NCAA is broken. Bowlsby painted a bleak future for the NCAA, also predicting that Olympic sports could be in trouble down the line. "If you like intercollegiate athletics the way it is, you're going to hate it going forward," he said. "There's a lot of change coming." Because of its popularity, football will always be fine. But with lawsuits and athletic department expenses about to rise dramatically, Bowlsby thinks something will have to give.

Everyone’s mind is on the playoff, even if all minds don’t quite get it: The inaugural College Football Playoff was one of the big topics of conversation this week. The Big 12 coaches all believe the league is positioned strongly for inclusion, thanks to a robust nonconference slate of games and a nine-game conference schedule. Many players, however, weren’t well-informed about how the playoff will work. One didn’t know how many teams would be in it. Another thought every conference champ automatically advanced to it. And still another had no idea just how the playoff would be picked. The playoff is going to be an adjustment for college football fans. There is going to be an adjustment for the players, too.

Trickett was always the guy: According to West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, Clint Trickett was always going to be this season’s starting quarterback. It was just a matter of him getting cleared medically. "We wanted him to be the guy," Holgorsen said. "We had to wait and see how he did coming off the shoulder surgery." Holgorsen said there was little the other West Virginia quarterbacks could have done this spring to unseat Trickett, who sat out while recovering from the shoulder injury. "He was the best option we had this year, he was the best option we had last year," Holgorsen said. "Once I was pleased with what I saw, it was a no-brainer to me."

Hill will get the ball a lot: Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has had some talented offensive players over the years. But Gundy said it has been a long time since the Cowboys had a playmaker like juco running back Tyreek Hill. "He's very fast," said Gundy, comparing him to former West Virginia standout Tavon Austin. "He gets [past] that first level [of the defense] and no one is caching him." Gundy wants Hill to touch the ball at least 20 times a game. Whether he’s at running back or lined up in the slot, Hill is going to be the focal point of the Oklahoma State attack.

Snyder is still the man: Kansas State coach Bill Snyder is 74 years old, just two years younger than former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer, who popped by media days Monday night. But Snyder is still coaching strong, with a team that was voted third in the preseason poll behind co-favorites Oklahoma and Baylor. Apparently everyone should eat only one meal a day.
In 2008, the Big 12’s strongest position was quarterback with a deep roster that featured Heisman winner Sam Bradford, Heisman finalist Colt McCoy and national passing champ Graham Harrell, among several other noteworthy QBs.

Five years later, the league’s top position turned out to be cornerback, headlined by eventual first-round picks Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 defensive end will have the best 2014 season?

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    22%
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    24%
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    34%
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    11%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,812)

This season, the Big 12’s best position is looking more and more like it will be defensive end, notably thanks to Kansas State’s Ryan Mueller, Texas’ Cedric Reed, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper, Baylor’s Shawn Oakman and TCU’s Devonte Fields -- all of whom have All-American potential.

Mueller was a first-team All-Big 12 selection last year after finishing second in the league with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. Only Jackson Jeffcoat, the departed Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, topped Mueller in either category.

Just one spot behind Mueller, Reed finished third in the league with 10 sacks, and was a second-team All-Big 12 pick. Even though his teammate Jeffcoat racked up all the accolades, many coaches around the league felt Reed was the tougher assignment.

Tapper was another tough assignment, and the only underclassman defender to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. Tapper was timed running the 40-yard dash in 4.55 seconds during the spring, underscoring why he’s such a nightmare matchup for opposing offensive linemen.

Speaking of nightmare matchups, Oakman presents just that with his 6-foot-9, 275-pound frame. Despite being a part-time player last year, Oakman still finished sixth in the conference with 12.5 tackles for loss. According to coach Art Briles, Oakman was unblockable during spring ball and could be in for a monster breakout season.

Fields already broke out two years ago, when he was the AP’s Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a true freshman. A suspension followed by season ending foot surgery turned Fields’ sophomore campaign into a disaster. But by all accounts, Fields was his old self again this spring, and seems primed to have a dominating season.

But which of these defensive ends will have the most dominating 2014 season?

We put the question to you via our weekly Big 12 poll.
There can be various signs of success in the Big 12.

Last week we took a look at potential stats from various offensive players in the conference that could be a sign of success for their respective teams. This week, we look at a stat from one defensive player per school that could be a sign of success this fall.

Here's a look at one stat from a defensive player on each Big 12 team that could be a sign of success for their teams.

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman's total sacks: The Penn State transfer has freakish ability. At 6-foot-9, 275 pounds, Oakman moves like someone half his size and was ultra-productive as a sophomore, compiling 12.5 tackles for loss in 13 games. But he only managed two sacks as a sophomore, although he was deployed in a backup role for most of the season. If Oakman can approach double-digit sacks with increased playing time as a junior, he could help Baylor’s young secondary overcome the mistakes they are certain to make as they gain experience.

Tackles recorded by Iowa State defensive tackle Brandon Jensen: The Cyclones have a potential hole in the middle of their defense with attrition since the end of the season destroying ISU’s depth. Jensen, who quit football after the 2013 season, returned to the team shortly after spring football. His return was much needed and if he’s able to match his production while starting all 12 games a year ago, it will give Paul Rhoads a foundation for his defense that he didn’t have during spring football. If he can raise his tackle total from 18 in 2013 to around 30 in 2014, it could be a sign he’s become a disruptive force in the middle of ISU’s defense.

Kansas linebacker/defensive end Ben Goodman's tackles for loss: The junior is a versatile talent who has moved closer to the line of scrimmage to make more of an impact with his ability to be disruptive and get into the backfield. He finished with 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks in 2013. If he can at least double those numbers, his disruptive nature could combine with a talented secondary to make the Jayhawks defense better than expected this fall.

Kansas State linebacker Mike Moore's total tackles: The junior looks like he could be poised for a breakthrough season with the Wildcats. He’s an active and energetic linebacker who could pair with Jonathan Truman to give KSU one of the conference’s most productive linebacking duos. Moore only had seven tackles in 2013 but finished strong with two tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. If he can match or exceed Blake Slaughter's 110 tackles in 2013 it will be a good sign that the Wildcats’ defense won’t have a major drop off in 2014.

Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips total tackles: If the junior exceeds his tackle total from 2013, that’s a great sign for OU’s defense. Phillips played in just four games as a sophomore, recording seven tackles before a back injury forced him to miss the rest of the season. Anything higher than seven tackles likely means Phillips has returned to the lineup and is healthy and productive. If he does return, he has the potential to take OU’s defense to another level.

Oklahoma State cornerback Ashton Lampkin's pass breakups: The likely replacement for Justin Gilbert will be tested early and often in 2014. If Lampkin responds to the challenge and ends up with double-digit pass breakups, it means he has made a seamless move into the starting lineup. That would be terrific news for the Cowboys because if he can join Kevin Peterson to help lock down the perimeter, OSU won’t have to count on its young and inexperienced safeties to make as many plays in the passing game.

Sack total from TCU defensive end Devonte Fields: If Fields returns to his 2012 form, he’s a game-changing talent. He managed three tackles, including two tackles for loss, before a foot injury ended his 2013 season. In 2012, Fields had 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. If he’s healthy and focused, Fields has the ability to put up career-high numbers in sacks and tackles for loss in 2014. If he does, he can transform TCU’s defense and take the unit to another level.

Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks' total tackles: The senior had 40 tackles in four games last season, so the Longhorns would love to see a full, healthy season from Hicks. If he surpasses 40 tackles in 2014, it’s a great sign for Charlie Strong’s defense. The 2011 season was the last time Hicks played in double-digit games, but he's in impact player when healthy. But he’s spent as much time on the sidelines as he has making plays during the past two seasons.

Texas Tech defensive end Branden Jackson's sack total: The Red Raiders will really need to lean on Jackson, who finished the 2013 season with 44 tackles, including nine tackles for loss, and four sacks. He’s a proven commodity along Tech’s defensive front so it will be critical for him to, at the very least, match those numbers this fall. If he struggles to be productive, the Red Raiders defensive line could be the weak link of the defense and hamper the team as a whole.

Tackles for loss by West Virginia defensive end Shaquille Riddick: The Gardner-Webb transfer has the talent to make a major impact. While it would be great for the Mountaineers if Riddick can register between 5-10 sacks, he could be a difference maker if he can record 15-20 tackles for loss. If he is consistently disruptive and getting into opponents' backfields, the Mountaineers’ talented secondary could take advantage of any mistakes by the quarterback with key turnovers. If Riddick is a matchup nightmare, he will change the future of WVU’s defense.
A wonderful summer tradition is upon us: The college football preseason magazines have hit the newsstands. As usual, they're chocked full of info, predictions and glossy photos. As expected, no matter which one you pick up, it'll be full of love for Florida State and Alabama.

How did the Big 12 fare in this year's preseason publications? Oklahoma and Baylor have the unanimous respect of the pundits -- no surprise there -- but everyone has a different take on how the rest of the league standings will shake out. A rundown of the key predictions you'll find in each magazine:

PHIL STEELE

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBob Stoops' Sooners are a popular pick to make college football's initial playoff.
Ranking the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (4th nationally)
"This year's Sooner squad is stronger on both sides of the ball with nine returning starters back on D and more stability at QB. … The Sooners are a legit national title contender."
2. Baylor (8th)
"QB (Bryce) Petty will likely lead the NCAA in passing, throwing to my No. 1 set of receivers with my No. 2 O-line and No. 2 RBs in the Big 12."
3. TCU (14th)
"If you are looking for this year's Auburn, which is a team that had just 3 or 4 wins the previous year and ends up playing for the national title, you may just have found them."
4. Texas (25th)
5. Kansas State (42nd)
6. Oklahoma State
7. Texas Tech
8. West Virginia
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas
All-Americans: WR Antwan Goodley, BAY (1st team); WR Tyler Lockett, KSU (2nd); DE Ryan Mueller, KSU (2nd); LB Eric Striker, OU (2nd); C BJ Finney, KSU (3rd); T Le'Raven Clark, TTU (3rd); T Spencer Drango, BAY (3rd); DE Devonte Fields, TCU (3rd); DE Cedric Reed, TEX (3rd)
Surprise team: Steele has TCU as his No. 4 team most likely to surprise behind Georgia, USC and Wisconsin. Texas came in at No. 10 on his list. Steele also claims the Horned Frogs will be the nation's most improved team in 2014.
Preseason No. 1: Florida State.
Playoff prediction: Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma.
Heisman: Petty is ranked No. 4 and OU's Trevor Knight is No. 9 among Steele's 2014 Heisman favorites. Lockett also listed as a "contender."

ATHLON

Ranking the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (4th nationally)
"These Sooners can win. And win big."
2. Baylor (10th)
"The Bears probably have too many questions marks to give Oklahoma a serious fight for the top spot."
3. Texas (17th)
"Any improvement from last year's 8-5 record would probably be seen as a good first year for [Charlie] Strong."
4. Kansas State (20th)
5. Oklahoma State (37th)
6. TCU (39th)
7. Texas Tech (41st)
8. Iowa State (66th)
9. West Virginia (67th)
10. Kansas (78th)
All-Americans: Lockett (1st team); Goodley (2nd); Striker (2nd); CB Quandre Diggs, TEX (2nd); Finney (3rd); OG Quinton Spain, WVU (3rd); Mueller (3rd); DT Malcom Brown, TEX (3rd).
Hot seat: Charlie Weis is ranked No. 4 among coaches in the most trouble entering 2014, a list that has Florida's Will Muschamp in the top spot. West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen is sixth on the hot-seat list.
Playoff prediction: Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma.
Heisman: Petty is ranked fifth and Knight is 18th among Athlon's top 20 contenders.

LINDY'S

Ranking in the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (3rd nationally)
"The Sooners have the look and feel of Big 12 bullies again."
2. Baylor (10th)
"The Bears' roster is dynamite, and [Art] Briles is a magician. A repeat Big 12 title would launch this program into the stratosphere."
3. Kansas State (16th)
"Kansas State has enough pieces to challenge for the Big 12 title and to make a name for itself with an early home game against Auburn."
4. Texas (22nd)
5. Texas Tech (33rd)
6. Oklahoma State (37th)
7. TCU (45th)
8. West Virginia (46th)
9. Iowa State (53rd)
10. Kansas (85th)
All-Americans: Goodley (1st team); Lockett (2nd); Drango (2nd); Reed (2nd); Striker (2nd).
Top newcomers: Lindy's predicts that Iowa State WR Allen Lazard will be the league's best instant-impact freshman. Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon is named the newcomer most likely to thrive in the NFL, and Oklahoma State LB Josh Mabin is the "top sleeper" among incoming freshmen.
Playoff prediction: Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon.
Heisman: Petty is ranked fourth and Knight is No. 9 among Lindy's top 10 candidates.

SPORTING NEWS

Ranking the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (1st nationally)
"Enough pieces are in place for Oklahoma to be among the four teams in the inaugural College Football Playoff bracket."
2. Baylor (7th)
"Baylor is capable of hanging a banner after the first year in its new home."
3. Texas (23rd)
"The defense will be improved, but the Longhorns continue to be in game-management mode at quarterback."
4. Oklahoma State
5. Kansas State
6. TCU
7. West Virginia
8. Texas Tech
9. Iowa State
10. Kansas
All-Americans: Lockett (1st team); Goodley (2nd); Clark (2nd); LB Bryce Hager, BAY (2nd); Striker (2nd); Diggs (2nd); Petty (3rd); Drango (3rd); DE Charles Tapper, OU (3rd); Reed (3rd); LB Ben Heeney, KU (3rd); Carter (3rd), P Spencer Roth, BAY (3rd).
POTY: Sporting News names Petty its preseason offensive player in the Big 12 and Fields as the league's top defender, even though he didn't earn a spot on their three All-America squads.
Playoff prediction: Oklahoma, Oregon, Florida State, Alabama.
Heisman: Petty is No. 6 among Sporting News' preseason top 10 candidates.

USA TODAY

Ranking the Big 12:
1. Oklahoma (7th nationally)
"It's hard to find many faults with this team, outside of the potential for a decline in pass defense without (Aaron) Colvin on the outside."
2. Baylor (12th)
"While there's still experience aplenty, Baylor's overall youth could prevent another run to the Big 12 title."
3. Kansas State (13th)
"The pieces are there for the Wildcats to contend for the Big 12 title if they can avoid the sort of sloppy, sluggish start that cut last season down in its tracks."
4. Texas (24th)
5. Oklahoma State (35th)
6. Texas Tech (41st)
7. TCU (57th)
8. West Virginia (74th)
9. Kansas (96th)
10. Iowa State (98th)
All-Americans: Lockett (1st team); Striker (1st); T Daryl Williams, OU (1st); S Sam Carter, TCU (1st).
Big games: USA Today's top three Big 12 games for 2014 are Texas vs. Oklahoma on Oct. 11, Baylor at Oklahoma on Nov. 8 and Kansas State at Baylor on Dec. 6.
Playoff prediction: Florida State, Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon.
Heisman: Petty listed as one of eight candidates capable of dethroning Jameis Winston.
Happy Thanksgiving! We've reached the holiday season.

For the past few weeks, we've taken a closer look at the 2014 Big 12 schedule during our Big 12 Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we'll wrap up the series with the final stretch of the regular season.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let's continue with Week 14.

Week 14

TCU at Texas
Kansas at Kansas State
Baylor vs. Texas Tech (AT&T Stadium in Arlington)
West Virginia at Iowa State

Jake Trotter’s pick: Baylor vs. Texas Tech

Fourth of July is coming up. But on Thanksgiving weekend, there will be another fireworks show in Arlington, Texas.

Last season, Baylor and Texas Tech combined for 97 points, and it’s not unthinkable that both offenses will be even more potent in 2014.

This game will also pit one of the best pure passing quarterbacks in the country in Baylor’s Bryce Petty against one of the best young pure passing quarterbacks in the country in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb.

Coaches Art Briles and Kliff Kingsbury are friends off the field, dating to when Briles was an assistant and Kingsbury was a quarterback at Texas Tech. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want bragging rights in this game, either.

The AT&T Stadium jumbotron will be on overdrive replaying all of the big-time offensive plays made in this game, which could be won by the team that puts up 60 first.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: TCU at Texas

A Thanksgiving day game in Austin, Texas? What could be better?

This should be a great game with two of the Big 12’s top defensive ends, Cedric Reed of Texas and Devonte Fields of TCU, in action. I'd rather see Reed and Fields in action than watch Petty and Webb battle it out in Arlington.

We’ll know a lot more about this Texas team in its final home game of the season. Either the future will look extremely bright after a run toward Big 12 title contention or there wil lbe murmurs about the hiring of Charlie Strong after another disappointing campaign.

For TCU, a bowl appearance is critical in 2014, and this game could be the deciding factor. I wouldn’t think of going to this game if I didn’t believe the Horned Frogs will improve on their 4.5 yards per play against the Longhorns in their past two meetings.

TCU’s offense could have a good rhythm by this point, making a head-to-head battle with Strong’s defense very intriguing, and the Longhorns offense has more than enough playmakers to test TCU’s defense.

I’m expecting a back-and-forth game with plenty of big plays and lead changes to keep everyone engaged. No post-turkey nap needed.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)
Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State
Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma
Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State
Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State
Week 6: Trotter -- Baylor at Texas; Chatmon -- Baylor at Texas
Week 7: Trotter -- Texas vs. Oklahoma; Chatmon -- TCU at Baylor
Week 8: Trotter -- Kansas State at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Oklahoma State at TCU
Week 9: Trotter -- Texas Tech at TCU; Chatmon -- Texas at Kansas State
Week 10: Trotter -- Texas at Texas Tech; Chatmon -- TCU at West Virginia
Week 11: Trotter -- Baylor at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Baylor at Oklahoma
Week 12: Trotter -- Oklahoma at Texas Tech; Chatmon -- Texas at Oklahoma State
Week 13: Trotter --Kansas State at West Virginia; Chatmon -- Kansas State at West Virginia
Only one Big 12 player is projected to be an first-team All-American on Phil Steele’s Preseason All-American teams, which were released on ESPN.com on Friday.

The conference had 13 players earn honors on the four preseason All-American squads selected by Steele. Here’s a look at the honorees:

First team

WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor

Second team

WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
LB Eric Striker, Oklahoma

Third team

C B.J. Finney, Kansas State
T Le’Raven Clark, Texas Tech
T Spencer Drango, Baylor
DE Devonte Fields, TCU
DE Cedric Reed, Texas

Fourth team

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
S Sam Carter, TCU
K Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma

Some quick thoughts:
  • Goodley and Lockett are essentially 1A and 1B in the battle to be considered the top receiver in the conference. Goodley earned the spot from Steele thanks to Petty and the Bears’ stat-stuffing offensive attack.
  • Kansas State and Baylor each have three players on the list, tied for tops in the conference.
  • A strong argument could be made for Petty to be the first-team quarterback, but it’s hard to find fault in Steele’s choices of Marcus Mariota (Oregon), Jameis Winston (Florida State) and Braxton Miller (Ohio State), as all three quarterbacks ahead of Petty are the foundation of their team’s success.
  • Even though the Big 12 has three different defensive ends on the list, a strong argument could be made for Baylor’s Shawn Oakman and Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper to have a place on one of the four teams.
  • Zero Big 12 running backs made the list, a sign of the relative inexperience at the position across the conference. Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Texas’ Malcolm Brown and Oklahoma State’s Desmond Roland have the strongest argument for a spot on one of those teams.
  • Hunnicutt is on the fourth team but is second to none nationally, particularly with his accuracy on field goals inside the 40-yard line. He is 62 of 72 field goal attempts heading into his senior season.
  • Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas and West Virginia didn't have anyone make the list. It's not a huge surprise as those teams and players must enter the season having to earn respect.
It was an unusual year in the Big 12 in 2013, with several defenses carrying their teams to success in a conference known for high-scoring offense a year ago. Yet every Big 12 defense will head into 2014 with room to improve.

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

Baylor

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

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

Iowa State

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

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

Kansas

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

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

Kansas State

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

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

Oklahoma

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

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

Oklahoma State

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

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

Texas

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

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

TCU

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

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

Texas Tech

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

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

West Virginia

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

How to improve in 2014: Improving its third-down defense has to be a focus for new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. Shuffling on the defensive staff should help as will the addition of transfer defensive end Shaquille Riddick, who should help improve the pass rush.
On Wednesday, we ranked the Big 12 position-by-position from strongest to weakest.

Last season the strongest position of the league was defensive back, headlined by Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Ahmad Dixon, Aaron Colvin and Ty Zimmerman, among others.

But those players are all gone. So what will be the strongest position in 2014?

With such players such as TCU’s Devonte Fields, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper and Texas’ Cedric Reed returning, we believe it will be defensive line.

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What will be the Big 12's strongest overall position in 2014?

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    12%
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    8%
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Discuss (Total votes: 3,613)

But do you agree?

Maybe you think it will be another position such as receiver, which includes All-American hopefuls Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, and a host of potential 1,000-yard threats such as Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley.

Perhaps it’s your opinion that the strength of the Big 12 will be at linebacker, where Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU bring their entire units back, and virtually everyone else has at least one proven performer returning.

Maybe the conference’s best unit is the offensive line, with experienced centers BJ Finney (Kansas State), Dominic Espinosa (Texas) and Tom Farniok (Iowa State); talented tackles Spencer Drango (Baylor), Le'Raven Clark (Texas Tech) and Daryl Williams (Oklahoma); and versatile stalwarts Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Quinton Spain (West Virginia) and Daniel Koenig (Oklahoma State).

Or with Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, do you believe quarterback is on its way back to becoming the dominant position in a league that not long ago was the nation’s preeminent conference for that position?

Tell us by voting in the weekly Big 12 poll.
Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Though the 2014 NFL draft ended just last weekend, ESPN Insider Todd McShay posted his way-too-early 2015 mock draft Insider on Wednesday.

McShay had three Big 12 players going in his mock first round: Baylor QB Bryce Petty 15th overall to the Houston Texans, TCU DE Devonte Fields 25th overall to the San Francisco 49ers and Oklahoma LB Eric Striker 29th overall to the Green Bay Packers.

Though we have almost a full year to go, here are some of other top Big 12 prospects for the 2015 draft (in alphabetical order):

  • TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State: Three pass-catching tight ends went in the first two rounds last weekend, and that’s exactly what Bibbs is. He caught 39 passes last season and can far exceed that if QB Grant Rohach settles into new coordinator Mark Mangino’s offense.
  • [+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
    John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown might be the best DT in the Big 12 this season and could make NFL scouts take notice.
  • DT Malcom Brown, Texas: Like his D-line teammate Cedric Reed, Brown has first-round talent. He was rated the second-best DT coming out of high school and began to realize that potential last season.
  • SS Sam Carter, TCU: Carter has manned strong safety at a high level in Fort Worth for the past two seasons and was the only underclassman defensive back to earn first- or second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2013. With teammate Jason Verrett gone, he won’t be as overshadowed next season.
  • OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech: After starting his first two seasons in college at left tackle, Clark could get moved to guard this season. Clark has the strength to be a devastating run-blocking guard, and the NFL loves players who can play multiple positions.
  • CB Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been a starter in Austin since his true freshman season. He is fast, and he’s a solid tackler against the run. Diggs has an NFL pedigree, too. His brother, Quentin Jammer, was a first-round pick in 2002 after starring for the Horns.
  • OT Spencer Drango, Baylor: Drango will get plenty of attention protecting Petty’s blindside. The back injury from last season is a concern, but it also underscored how dominant Drango actually was. Baylor’s pass protection was leaky without him the rest of the year. Like Clark, Drango will just be a junior next season.
  • C BJ Finney, Kansas State: The Big 12 has some other draft hopefuls at center in Iowa State’s Tom Farniok and Texas’ Dominic Espinosa, but Finney seems like the best bet of the three to get drafted. The former walk-on and high school state wrestling champ will be a four-year starter, and has 39 career starts, which is tied for the Big 12 active lead.
  • WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor: He might not be tall at only 5-foot-10, but Goodley is physical and fast. With another ultra-productive season like last fall, he could be one of the top receivers on next year’s board.
  • WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Lockett’s versatility both as an inside or outside receiver and in the return game only makes him a more attractive prospect. With Jake Waters now installed as the full-time QB, Lockett could have a monster statistical senior season.
  • DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor: At 6-9, 275 pounds, Oakman has intriguing size for an NFL defensive line. If he dominates in the fall the way Art Briles said he did in the spring, Oakman could quickly turn into a hot prospect even though he’ll only be a junior.
  • DE Cedric Reed, Texas: According to NFL.com, Reed was one of two players nationally in 2013 to record five sacks, five forced fumbles and four pass breakups. The other? Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, who was the fifth overall pick in last week’s draft. By coming back to school for another year, Reed could potentially become a first rounder, too.
  • DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma: Tapper almost has the size of a defensive tackle and the athleticism of a linebacker. He didn’t have an overly huge statistical sophomore season but was the only underclassman defensive lineman voted All-Big 12 by the coaches. Tapper too will only be a junior.
  • OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma: Even though Tyrus Thompson has manned the left side in Norman, Williams has the better pro outlook. Williams will be a three-year starter and has the athleticism to transition to the left side at the next level.
Others to watch: RB Malcolm Brown, Texas; DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State; C Dominic Espinosa, Texas; C Tom Farniok, Iowa State; ILB Bryce Hager, Baylor; FS Chris Hackett, TCU; LB Ben Heeney, Kansas; DT Chucky Hunter, TCU; FS Karl Joseph, West Virginia; DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State; DT Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma; DT Davion Pierson, TCU; OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia; OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma; CB Kevin White, TCU; OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
Earlier Thursday, we concluded our 22-round draft of current Big 12 players. Below are the three lineup outcomes of that draft, and as you can see, each of us went in different directions.

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Who had the best imaginary Big 12 player draft?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,440)

Like the St. Louis Rams, Max and Brandon built up their defensive lines before worrying about the rest of their rosters. While I grabbed the best quarterback in the league and surrounded him with protection and weapons.

After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.

BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Brandon says about his team: “Offensively, as soon as Petty was gone with the first pick I knew I wouldn’t take a quarterback until my final pick. Knight could be the steal of the draft. Versatility is the name of the game with the rest of the offense. We can put Pierson and Smallwood in the backfield and go read option or really ruin your Saturday and throw Daje back there in the Diamond. When you bring more guys in the box, you leave Seales and Lockett one-on-one. Or we can just go five wide and you can try to cover running backs who run routes like receivers with your linebackers. And an experienced offensive line will be the foundation of it all. Defensively, it would be wise for opposing quarterbacks to tell their families to stay home when facing this group. We’re going to man up and have our mail forwarded to the opposing backfield and make you want to take your ball and go home. And with a secondary full of coverage guys, I’m not concerned about the back end of the defense holding up. We’ll win more battles than we lose. By the final whistle, my team will have earned the moniker 'Chatmon’s chaos creators' with Tapper, Reed, Brown, Hunter, Alexander and Robertson living in your backfield.”

MAX OLSON'S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Max says about his team: “You do not want to play against my team. That was my goal going in, and I constructed exactly the team I wanted. I have a great QB in Webb who gets to throw to Goodley, one of the nation's best receivers, and he'd help Jaxon Shipley put up Jordan Shipley numbers. I have the two-back punch of Linwood and Gray. I have Hill, who can do everything, and a good line. We're going to spread the ball around like crazy. Good luck stopping that. On defense, you have Fields, Oakman and Grissom all rushing the passer. That's deadly. We can go three-man fronts or even put Oakman in the middle, letting the 6-foot-8 stud swat your passes down. And while you're worrying about him and Grissom, you have the Big 12's best defensive player [Fields] coming after you. Hager and Shannon will hold it down at the second level, and the secondary is full of playmakers. This is a fun team, plain and simple, and one that can frustrate the heck out of anybody.”

JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Jake says about his team: “Max and Brandon are good at talking smack. I’ll give them that. But my players do their talking on the field. Once I was fortunate to land reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty as my quarterback, my goal was two-fold: to keep him upright from pressure off the edge; and, to surround him with firepower. I accomplished both ends, and then some. I wasn’t able to get either of the two elite receivers in the league in Goodley or Lockett. But I put together the best overall receiving corps in Grant, Shepard and Bundrage, who could all deliver 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2014. On top of that, I snagged the best pass-catching tight end on the board in Bibbs, as well as Brown, so that we can pound the ball between the tackles when we need. Speaking of tackles, aware that Brandon and Max were focused almost solely on their pass rush in the early rounds, I also added two of the most reliable pass-protecting bookends in the league in Drango and Williams. Defensively, I can bring pressure, too, with Mueller and Striker, who last season respectively placed second and fourth in the Big 12 in sacks. Castleman and Britz are roadblocks, Heeney and Dawson are tackle machines and my entire secondary has All-Big 12 potential. We don’t talk. We just dominate.”
Following up on NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking from current Big 12 players to fill out three 22-man lineups.

Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.

As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 16

  • Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
  • Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayGetting potential Big 12 rushing leader Johnathan Gray in the 17th round could be a big steal for Max Olson.
Round 17

  • Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
  • Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
  • Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
Round 18

  • Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
  • Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
Round 19

  • Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
  • Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
  • Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
  • Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
Round 20

  • Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
  • Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
  • Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
Round 21

  • Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
  • Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
  • Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
Round 22

  • Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
  • Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
  • Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon

Imaginary Big 12 players draft, Part I

May, 13, 2014
May 13
9:15
AM ET
The NFL draft came and went it, but we thought it would be fun -- and possibly revealing -- to conduct a draft of our own of returning Big 12 players. We stole a version of this idea from our colleagues at the ACC blog, who apparently had stolen it before that from the guys over at the Big Ten site.

Anyway, the rules are fairly simple. All players currently on a Big 12 roster are eligible. No departing seniors or early entrees to the draft. No incoming freshmen or jucos scheduled to arrive in the summer. The premise is to fill out a 22-man lineup.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty accounted for 46 touchdowns last season.
As you’ll be able to see, the strengths of the league quickly begin to manifest (last year it was cornerback; guess where it is this year) as a run on a certain position ignites early. You’ll also be able to see the positions that got put off for later, seemingly due to a lack of high impact relative to other positions, or to an indiscernible difference between players of the same position (just like with the NFL draft, where are the running backs?).

Keep in mind, this is NOT a top-25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league is, and the different ways of putting together teams from the current pool of players.

Rounds 1-7 are below. We’ll pick up with Round 8 on Wednesday.

Round 1

Jake Trotter: QB Bryce Petty, Baylor

Brandon Chatmon: WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Max Olson: DE Devonte Fields, TCU

Analysis: "There's really no wrong answer when it comes to choosing one of the Big 12's elite defensive ends. Went with Fields because reports of his comeback this spring were consistently encouraging and we know he has All-America potential." -- Olson

Round 2

Olson: WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor

Chatmon: DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma

Trotter: LT Spencer Drango, Baylor

Analysis: "In the first round, I got the league's top returning QB. With plenty of WRs still on the board, and Brandon and Max going all in on their pass rush, I went ahead and snagged the league's top pass-blocking tackle to protect Petty's blindside. Let's just hope that back is 100 percent by August." -- Trotter

Round 3

Trotter: OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma

Chatmon: DE Cedric Reed, Texas

Olson: DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor

Analysis: “After securing a big play receiver and returner, I’m looking to create pressure on the quarterback. Tapper and Reed should help get it done. Both guys have the ability to win their individual battles consistently, yet haven’t maxed out their potential either. A solid 1-2 punch to build my defense around.” -- Chatmon

Round 4

Olson: QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech

Chatmon: LT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

Trotter: DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State

Analysis: "Did I reach for my quarterback here? You could make the argument, especially if you're a Trevor Knight lover. But Webb is precisely the kind of quarterback I wanted to run my offense. He has a ton of poise and confidence for a sophomore." -- Olson

Round 5

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsDevonte Fields' comeback this spring has been impressive.
Trotter: RT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma

Chatmon: DT Malcom Brown, Texas

Olson: LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma

Analysis: "Really wanted Brown here to complete a monster defensive line. Good job, BC. Instead I went with Shannon, who's probably the best of the available linebackers (though this is a risk pick with his status currently in limbo). This defense is going to be loaded at every level. You'll see." -- Olson

Round 6

Olson: CB Quandre Diggs, Texas

Chatmon: DT Chucky Hunter, TCU

Trotter: WR Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech

Analysis: “I’m loading up on defensive lineman. I want to create havoc for any quarterback who steps on the field against Brown, Hunter, Tapper and Reed. I like creating nightmares.” -- Chatmon

Round 7

Trotter: WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma

Chatmon: CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia

Olson: SS Sam Carter, TCU

Analysis: "In Grant and Shepard, I snatched up two of the league's budding stars at receiver for Petty. I'll have to come back and get some bigger receivers later. But good luck blitzing Petty against this offensive line with those two dynamos operating out of either slot.” -- Trotter
Days after last season ended, we released a Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 power poll. Following the many developments of signing day and spring practice, we’ve updated the poll:

1. Oklahoma Sooners (previous rank – 1): With the bulk of its defense coming back and the league’s most experienced offensive line, Oklahoma gets the top spot. Yet despite the preseason hype coming off the trouncing of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, this is not a team without questions. No returning running back had more than 23 carries last year. No returning receiver (outside Sterling Shepard) had more than 13 catches. And though he torched the Crimson Tide, quarterback Trevor Knight has only five career starts and has been prone to getting nicked. That said, there’s plenty of young talent at the skill positions. If a few of those players emerge, and Knight builds off his Sugar Bowl performance, this could be a team that contends for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor Bears (2): Baylor won the 2013 Big 12 title without a player selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft over the weekend. That speaks to the talent the Bears have back in quarterback Bryce Petty, wideout Antwan Goodley and left tackle Spencer Drango. It’s also not unthinkable that Baylor could lead the nation in scoring again. Petty should be even sharper in his second season as the starter. And running back Johnny Jefferson and receiver Corey Coleman seem primed to make an impact as the next wave of prolific Baylor playmakers. The defense will ultimately determine whether the Bears can defend their crown. The back seven is a work in progress. But Art Briles believes he will have a dominating defensive line. If so, Baylor could become the league’s first repeat champ since 2008.

3. Kansas State Wildcats (3): After rebounding to win six of its final seven games to end last season -- including destroying Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, K-State carried plenty of momentum into the offseason. With only 10 returning starters, there are some holes that need to be filled. But the Wildcats feature some of the best returning standouts in the league in quarterback Jake Waters, wideout Tyler Lockett and defensive end Ryan Mueller. If highly touted juco transfers Terrell Clinkscales, D'Vonta Derricott and Danzel McDaniel successfully step into some of those voids defensively, and an adequate successor to outgoing running back John Hubert surfaces, the Wildcats will have a say in the conference race.

4. Texas Longhorns (4): Discerning what team to rank fourth was the most difficult part of putting this list together. A case could be made here for Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or even TCU with its returning defense. But I couldn’t shake the memory of Texas obliterating both the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs last year while starting Case McCoy at quarterback. Given all the turnover Oklahoma State has, the Longhorns ultimately got the slight nod at fourth. With veterans littering the roster, Texas is solid pretty much everywhere -- well, everywhere except quarterback. But if the Longhorns can get anything out of the position -- David Ash? Max Wittek? Jerrod Heard? -- they could be a load in Charlie Strong’s debut season.

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6): The Red Raiders climbed a spot thanks to the rapid development of sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. Including the National University Holiday Bowl and Tech’s three open spring scrimmages, Webb tossed 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. With added weight and swelling confidence, Webb has been performing like an all-conference-caliber quarterback since the bowl game. Webb will have plenty of big-play weapons to operate with and his protection should be better, as well, with 75 career starts returning along the offensive line. Whether Tech truly emerges as a dark-horse contender, though, hinges on whether its four juco defensive linemen can remedy an ailing run defense that ranked ninth in the league last year.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5): After getting picked in 2010 by some to finish last in the Big 12 South, Oklahoma State reeled off 11 wins. Two years ago, the Cowboys got no love in the preseason again, and won eight games with three different quarterbacks. The recent track record in Stillwater suggests this is not a team to overlook in 2014. But if the Cowboys are going to surprise again, they’ll have to do so with a host of new faces. One reason for optimism is junior quarterback J.W. Walsh, who this spring rekindled his freshman form, when he led the entire Big 12 in Adjusted QBR. The Cowboys love Walsh’s toughness and leadership. If he can recapture the throwing accuracy that escaped him last season, Oklahoma State could be a factor.

7. TCU Horned Frogs (7): The biggest development for the Horned Frogs this offseason occurred after the spring when they added Matt Joeckel. The Texas A&M quarterback transfer, who will be eligible this season, is familiar with the offense new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed this spring, and could give TCU just the jolt it needs at quarterback. The other big development this spring was the reemergence of 2012 AP Big 12 Defensive Player of Year Devonte Fields, who had a nightmare 2013 season. If Fields returns to wreaking havoc off the edge defensively, and Joeckel gives the offense above average quarterback play, TCU could finally be a force in its third year in the Big 12.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers (9): Dana Holgorsen is not lacking offensive firepower, with the league’s deepest running back stable and the entire receiving corps returning. With seven starters back on the other side, the defense has a chance to be much improved in the new Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime, too. West Virginia, however, gained little clarity about the quarterback position this spring, with Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery and the other contenders failing to make a move up the depth chart. To challenge to finish in the top half of the Big 12, the Mountaineers will have to get more out of their quarterback than they did last year -- regardless of the other pieces.

9. Iowa State Cyclones (8): Buoyed by a new play-caller and 10 returning starters, Iowa State could boast its best offense since Seneca Wallace was behind center over a decade ago. Mark Mangino has a proven track record as a coordinator, and plenty of weapons to utilize in running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs. The offensive line is seasoned, and sophomore Grant Rohach might finally be Iowa State’s long-term answer at quarterback following a strong spring. The defense, however, is an even bigger question mark coming out of the spring. Projected starting linemen Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed and safety Devron Moore left after getting homesick. The Cyclones had been stout defensively under Paul Rhoads and coordinator Wally Burnham up until last season, when they ranked last in the league.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (10): Coming out of the spring, the Jayhawks have some definite strengths they can point to, notably linebacker Ben Heeney and cornerback Dexter McDonald. Elsewhere, Kansas still has catching up to do before breaking out of the cellar. At least now the Jayhawks have a long-term quarterback to build around in sophomore Montell Cozart, who was named the starter after shining in the spring game.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Monday with defensive line. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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