Texas Longhorns: Ty Zimmerman

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.

SportsNation

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

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    32%
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    12%
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    8%
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    11%
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    37%

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.
Seventeen Big 12 players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft. Many other Big 12 alums will have a chance at the next level as undrafted free agents.

Below is a list of undrafted players who reportedly have agreed to free agent deals. This is not a final list, as teams are still working to sign undrafted free agents. But these are the players we know of so far.

Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
TCU
Texas
Texas Tech
West Virginia
The NFL draft is here.

It all begins tonight at 8 p.m. (ET) and the draft will continue through Saturday. Several Big 12 players should be selected in the next three days, so here is a team-by-team NFL draft primer, which includes each school’s top prospect, one sleeper/value pick and a list of each potential draftee. All projections are courtesy of ESPN Insider's draft board , and the potential draftees listed are players with an ESPN.com Scouts Inc. ranking of 31 or above. All draft projections are listed by day, i.e. Day 1 (Round 1), Day 2 (Rounds 2 and 3) and Day 3 (Rounds 4, 5, 6 and 7).

Baylor

Top prospect: G Cyril Richardson. The Bears’ All-American guard is projected to be an early Day 3 selection and could provide quality depth (or even start) during his first NFL season.

Sleeper pick: WR Tevin Reese. Slated as a late Day 3 selection, Reese could surprise with his speed and take the top off NFL defenses, particularly on a team with a strong running game.

Other potential draftees (projected selection): RB Lache Seastrunk (Day 3), S Ahmad Dixon (Day 3), CB Demetri Goodson (Day 3).

Iowa State

Top prospect: LB Jeremiah George. The Cyclones’ undersized but athletic linebacker didn’t wow scouts with his measurables but it would be unwise to brush him off as a player unable to make an impact on Sundays. He’s projected to go late on Day 3 and could, at the very least, carve out a special teams role.

Sleeper pick: None.

Other potential draftees: None.

Kansas

No Jayhawk is projected to be drafted or has a ESPN.com Scout’s Inc. rating of 31 or above.

Kansas State

Top prospect: S Ty Zimmerman. He was extremely productive during his time at KSU and is projected to go late on Day 3.

Sleeper pick: OT Cornelius Lucas. Projected to be a late Day 3 selection, Lucas would be worth taking a flyer on for most NFL teams due to his mammoth size (6-foot-8, 316 pounds).

Other potential draftees: None.

Oklahoma

Top prospect: CB Aaron Colvin. Projected to come off the board early on Day 3, Colvin would be drafted much higher if he hadn’t torn his ACL during Senior Bowl practices. It’s quite possible some team will eventually get Day 1 or Day 2 production from Colvin if they’re patient with his recovery.

Sleeper pick: FB Trey Millard. Another Sooner coming off an ACL injury, Millard is the type of guy who won’t get any headlines this weekend but will end up playing 10 years in the league as a key contributor on offense and special teams. He projected to be drafted on Day 3.

Other potential draftees: WR Jalen Saunders (Day 3), RB Damien Williams (Day 3), C Gabe Ikard (Day 3).

Oklahoma State

Top prospect: CB Justin Gilbert. Gilbert is projected to go in the first round and is considered one of the top cornerback prospects in the draft. He’s likely to be the first Big 12 player selected.

Sleeper pick: WR Josh Stewart. His physical attributes aren’t going to make NFL scouts drool, but Stewart seems to consistently find ways to make plays and could initially make an impact as a returner. He’s projected to be a late Day 3 selection.

Other potential draftees: None.

TCU

Top prospect: CB Jason Verrett. The elite cover cornerback sits right alongside Gilbert among the draft’s top cornerbacks. He’s projected to join Gilbert as a first-round selection.

Sleeper pick: None.

Other potential draftees: None.

Texas

Top prospect: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. He finished his Texas career with an extremely productive senior season. He’s projected to be an early Day 3 selection.

Sleeper pick: WR Mike Davis. He has a bunch of talent and upside but never really became a difference maker in the Big 12. Davis is projected to be selected on Day 3 and could be a steal if his NFL team can push him to maximize his potential.

Other potential draftees: OG Trey Hopkins (Day 3), DT Chris Whaley (Day 3).

Texas Tech

Top prospect: TE Jace Amaro. The Big 12’s biggest mismatch creator could transition into an individual matchup nightmare in the NFL as well. He’s projected to go early on Day 2 and will give some NFL team a unique weapon.

Sleeper pick: DT Kerry Hyder. The former foundation of the Red Raiders’ defensive line is expected to be drafted late on Day 3. He’s the type of player NFL teams can draft and hope for the best because he does have some NFL traits that could earn him a spot on a roster.

Other potential draftees: None.

West Virginia

Top prospect: HB Charles Sims. It’s quite possible Sims would be projected to go higher if the overall value of running backs as a whole was not trending down. One of the most versatile running back prospects, Sims is projected to be selected on Day 2.

Sleeper pick: DE William Clarke. The lanky defensive end prospect is projected to be drafted early on Day 3. His athleticism and instincts could make in him Saturday steal.

Other potential draftees: None.

Reviewing the Big 12 pro days

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
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Pro day season has come and gone. Draft-eligible players returned to school this month and hit the weight room and practice field to give NFL scouts a taste of their potential. Here’s a rundown of how the Big 12’s top draft prospects fared as well as a few who surprised.

TCU (March 6)
Big name: CB Jason Verrett. A total of 26 NFL teams had reps at the Horned Frogs’ pro day, and you know many of them came for Verrett. He didn’t look to improve his 40 time from the NFL combine (4.38), but he did show off a 39 ˝-inch vertical and benched 19 reps.
Sleeper: QB Casey Pachall. While he’ll have to answer lots of questions about his off-field issues, Pachall’s on-field work at pro day was encouraging. He checked in at 6-foot-3˝ and 216 pounds, ran his 40 in the mid-4.9s and completed 62 of 72 passes, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Kansas State (March 11)
Big name: S Ty Zimmerman. Though 20 Kansas State players worked out at pro day, Zimmerman was not one of them. He’s still recovering from labrum surgery and reportedly plans to hold a workout next month to show his progress.
Sleeper: OT Cornelius Lucas. Hard to project how things will play out for Lucas, a mammoth tackle at 6-8 and 316 pounds, after he discovered a stress fracture in his left foot at the NFL combine. He’s supposed to be out up to eight weeks but plans to work out along with Zimmerman on April 28.

Oklahoma (March 12)
Big name: CB Aaron Colvin. The Sooners had 28 NFL organization represented at their pro day, but a few key players were still on the mend. Colvin, who suffered a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl, did not work out but hopes to be running again by late April and vowed his recovery is ahead of schedule.
Sleeper: C Gabe Ikard. While Ikard elected to stand by his combine numbers, which were strong for his position group, he did use the pro day to show in position drills just how athletic an interior lineman he can be for an NFL club. Running back Damien Williams also made a solid impression, and receiver Jalen Saunders drew mixed reviews after poor shuttle times.

Oklahoma State (March 13)
Big name: CB Justin Gilbert. The Steelers have the No. 15 pick, so it made sense that Mike Tomlin and his GM were among the many coaches in Stillwater to scout Gilbert. He stood by his 4.37 in the 40 from the NFL combine but did agility drills and reportedly wowed in his position drills. He’s a first-rounder, no doubt.
Sleeper: WR Josh Stewart. Well, OK, he’s not much of a sleeper. But Stewart had work to do to raise his stock, and pro day should’ve helped. He improved his 40 slightly, from 4.69 at the combine to 4.59 at pro day, and showed what he can do as a receiver and returner. Safety Daytawion Lowe also made a good impression.

Texas Tech (March 14)
Big name: TE Jace Amaro. The All-America tight end tried to secure a spot in the first round with improvements in the 40 (4.68) and vertical, and at 6-5 and 266 pounds he evoked comparisons to Vernon Davis from one 49ers scout.
Sleeper: CB Bruce Jones. He’s undersized at 5-7 and 183 pounds, but Jones did grab some attention at pro day with a run of a 4.5-second 40 time and team-best vertical of 41 inches.

Kansas (March 14)
Big name: RB James Sims. A dozen scouts showed up for the Jayhawks’ pro day, and the highlight was probably Sims busting off a run of 4.56 seconds in the 40. The 6-foot, 205-pound back was not invited to the NFL combine and told the Lawrence Journal-World he felt good about the numbers he put up.

Baylor (March 19)
Big names: OT Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon. Richardson shed 20 pounds after his senior season, which had to encourage NFL scouts, and he did nothing at his pro day to diminish his chances of being a top-50 pick. Seastrunk was as explosive as expected, with a time of 4.37 in the 40 and a 4.36 second shuttle, and tried to show off his pass-catching ability. Dixon ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the NFL combine and improved that to 4.48 at pro day.
Sleeper: TE Jordan Najvar. At nearly 6-6 and 280 pounds, Najvar certainly has the size to make the NFL. His speed had been a question mark, but his reported best for pro day was 4.86 seconds in the 40.

West Virginia (March 21)
Big name: RB Charles Sims. A nice showing at the NFL combine (40 time: 4.48) meant Sims needed only to do positional drills, and he drew good reviews for his pass-catching ability despite small hands.
Sleeper: DE Will Clarke. Knowing it’s possible he’ll be asked to play outside linebacker in an NFL scheme, Clarke worked out at both end and linebacker on pro day and tried to show what he can bring to pass coverage as a nearly 6-6, 268-pound defender.

Iowa State (March 25)
Big name: LB Jeremiah George. After a subpar showing at the combine, George had a nice day in front of 30 NFL officials. He hit 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, posted a big improvement in his broad jump and was solid in positional work.
Sleeper: CB Jeremy Reeves. How’s this for a success story? Reeves played at ISU from 2010-12, missed last season with a pectoral injury and showed up to pro day to prove he’s still got it. He had a crazy good day: 4.29-second 40, 43-inch vertical, 11˝-foot broad jump. The New York Jets signed him on Friday.

Texas (March 26)
Big name: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Like most other top prospects, Jeffcoat stuck with his NFL combine testing numbers. The 6-3, 253-pound end demonstrated his coverage ability in position drills amid talk that he might have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Sleeper: CB Carrington Byndom. Questions about the three-year starter’s speed were put to rest when he ran his 40 in 4.37 seconds. Byndom was happy with his positional drills and is starting to line up meetings.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

2013 Big 12 Super Seniors

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
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Before we wrap up our review of the 2013 season, it’s time to pay homage to the Big 12’s top seniors.

After much deliberation, we’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period. These players all raised their game this season with their on-field production, leadership and impact to their respective teams.

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIOklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert had 12 career interceptions.
This wasn’t easy, and a lot of talented and deserving seniors did not make the cut. This was a particularly challenging season, with more than 30 seniors earning All-Big 12 honors from the league’s coaches. We looked closely at how these players fared in conference play, their consistency and whether they were able to make it through the full season.

Here are our 2013 Big 12 Super Seniors, listed in alphabetical order:

Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma: His senior-year stats weren’t stunning -- Colvin recorded 55 tackles, an interception and three pass breakups -- but it’s not as if opposing quarterbacks were interested in throwing his way. The three-year starter was a longtime leader of this Sooners defense and now has a long road to recovery ahead after suffering a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl.

Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor: Love him or hate him, the All-American is one of the best playmakers in the Big 12. The hard-hitting safety racked up 81 tackles, six pass breakups and one interception and served as the enforcer over the middle of a much-improved Bears defense.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: After an unsatisfying junior season, Gilbert stepped up big again for the Cowboys with a Big 12-leading seven interceptions along with seven pass breakups and 42 tackles. He’ll go down as both a lockdown corner and elite kick returner in his time at OSU.

Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma: No player is more deserving of making this list than Ikard, an All-America lineman on the field and Capital One Academic All-American of the Year in the classroom. He won the Wuerffel Trophy for his combination of athletic, academic and community service success. He was one of the nation’s best at his position and brought off-the-charts leadership to the Sooners.

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas: Finally injury-free for a full season, Jeffcoat shined in his last year as a Longhorn and led the Big 12 in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (19) to earn consensus All-America honors. When Texas lost its defensive coordinator and two of its first three games, Jeffcoat stepped up and played a big role in turning Texas’ season around.

Eddie Lackey, LB, Baylor: The Bears found one heck of a steal in Lackey, a junior college transfer who finished with 108 tackles (13 for loss), 4.5 sacks and three INTs in his senior season. He earned All-Big 12 honors for his play and probably deserved more than that for what he brought to this unit.

Caleb Lavey, LB, Oklahoma State: Sure seems like this guy was a little too underrated during the 2013 season. Lavey led the Pokes in tackles with 93 and a team-high 13 tackles for loss, and he chipped in four interceptions, three pass breakups and 2.5 sacks. Oklahoma State’s defense emerged as the league’s best for much of the season and Lavey was a big reason why with his play over the middle.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsBaylor linebacker Eddie Lackey was a big part of the Bears' improved defense.
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor: The unanimous All-American entered the season with considerable hype and managed to surpass expectations. He paved the way for the No. 1 offense with 89 knockdown blocks and, at 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, is the kind of menacing guard any coach would love to have leading a line.

Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia: In his only season with the Mountaineers, the Houston transfer was a do-everything workhorse who had no trouble adjusting his game to Big 12 competition. He led the league with 1,496 yards from scrimmage (1,095 rushing, 401 receiving) and scored 14 total touchdowns. The guy wanted to make a name for himself and did just that.

James Sims, RB, Kansas: Sims was quietly one of the best running backs in the Big 12 over the past four years, finishing his career with 3,592 rushing yards after surpassing 1,000 for the second straight year. Though he played for struggling offenses, he made a bigger impact on this program than most realize.

Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: In his only two seasons in the Big 12, Verrett earned All-America honors in back-to-back seasons and was one of the league’s most feared defenders in his final year. The former junior college transfer broke up 14 passes and picked off two, and he didn’t see many more thrown his way.

Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State: He dealt with some injury issues in his final season, but the few games he missed made clear just how important Zimmerman was to this K-State defense throughout his career. He finished with 74 tackles, three interceptions and four pass breakups as a senior and started nearly every game of the past four seasons.

Other Big 12 shoes to fill in 2014

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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Earlier this week, we examined the three underclassmen leaving the Big 12 and who could replace them at their respective schools. Below, we look at 10 of the biggest shoes to fill in the Big 12 in 2014.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Dixon
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWill Baylor's defense be able to replace Ahmad Dixon's leadership?
BAYLOR

Ahmad Dixon, S: Dixon was the heart and soul of coach Art Briles’ best defense at Baylor. The All-American was the Baylor defense’s tone-setter and a tackling machine. He was also its vocal leader, and as someone who grew up in Waco, he fully understood the significance of Baylor’s resurgence. With QB Bryce Petty back, the Bears figure to put up the points again. But whether they find another defensive leader like Dixon will play a big part in whether Baylor can repeat as Big 12 champs.

IOWA STATE

Jeremiah George, LB: George finished first in the Big 12 with 133 tackles and ranked fourth nationally with an average of 11.1 per game. That level of defensive production isn’t easily replaced. The onus will be on heir-apparent Luke Knott to keep Iowa State’s strong linebacking tradition rolling next season.

KANSAS

James Sims, RB: The past two seasons, Sims has been -- by far -- Kansas’ top player. With 211 rushing yards and three touchdowns, he carried the Jayhawks to a 31-19 win over West Virginia to snap the school’s 27-game Big 12 losing streak. Sims was able to produce, even when the focal point of defenses was squarely on him. The All-Big 12 back will not be easily replaced.

KANSAS STATE

Ty Zimmerman, S: The Wildcats just weren’t the same defense when Zimmerman had to sit because of injury. With the hard-hitting safety on the sidelines, Oklahoma gashed the Wildcats for 301 rushing yards. When Zimmerman was on the field, K-State was so much steadier defensively. Just ask Michigan, which struggled to move the chains in Zimmerman’s return in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, which the Wildcats won going away, 31-14.

OKLAHOMA

Gabe Ikard, C: Ikard was the constant on an offensive line that held up throughout the season despite constantly changing parts. In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Ikard was the only Sooners offensive lineman to start in the same spot as the team’s Big 12 opener. And yet, OU became the first team to put 31 first-half points on Alabama under Nick Saban. The Sooners have a nice center prospect in Ty Darlington. But he’ll be stepping in for one of the top centers in college football.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Clint Chelf, QB: The Cowboys lose some key players defensively, notably CB Justin Gilbert, DT Calvin Barnett and LBs Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. Chelf, however, was the biggest reason for Oklahoma State’s November surge, which put the Cowboys in position to win the Big 12 title on the final day of the regular season. The Cowboys will have to replace him with either J.W. Walsh, who struggled before losing the job back to Chelf, or true freshman Mason Rudolph, who has enrolled for spring ball.

TEXAS

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE: Jeffcoat was the only player from the Big 12 to win a national award, capturing the Ted Hendricks Award, given annually to college football's top defensive end. When the switch was turned on, Jeffcoat was as dominant as any end in college football, tying for third nationally with 13 sacks. The Longhorns return one of the nation’s best non-senior defensive ends in Cedric Reed. Jeffcoat, however, was a special talent.

TEXAS TECH

Eric Ward, WR: Overshadowed somewhat by tight end teammate Jace Amaro, Ward too had an outstanding final season in Lubbock. He finished fifth in the Big 12 in receiving and was a consistent big-play threat on the outside. The Red Raiders will be counting on Reginald Davis to replace Ward on the perimeter.

TCU

Jason Verrett, CB: The co-Big 12 defensive player of the year had a stellar senior season, even though the Horned Frogs struggled as a team. Matched up one-on-one, Verrett completely shut down Baylor All-Big 12 wideout Antwan Goodley in TCU’s final game. The Horned Frogs have some talented players coming back in the secondary, but nobody at the level of Verrett.

WEST VIRGINIA

Charles Sims, RB: The Houston transfer was West Virginia’s best and most consistent offensive weapon all season. Even without the best blocking up front, Sims always managed to produce. Sims was superb at making the first tackler miss and led all Big 12 running backs in receiving. Dreamius Smith is a solid returning running back, but West Virginia will have to improve elsewhere offensively to compensate for the loss of Sims’ versatile skill set.

Amaro, Richardson unanimous AA's

December, 18, 2013
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Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro and Baylor guard Cyril Richardson are unanimous All-Americans.

Amaro and Richardson were named first-team All-America by the American Football Coaches’ Association, Football Writers’ Association of America, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Sporting News and Associated Press -- the five All-American teams recognized by the NCAA.

Amaro is the fifth Red Raider to achieve unanimous All-America recognition. The four others were punter Mark Bounds (1991), linebacker Zach Thomas (1995), running back Byron Hanspard (1996) and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).

Richardson is the seventh Baylor player to be named a unanimous All-American, joining guard Bill Glass (1956), linebacker Mike Singletary (1980), safety Thomas Everett (1986), defensive tackle Santana Dotson (1991), punter Daniel Sepulveda (2006) and wide receiver Terrance Williams (2012).

Other unanimous All-Americans this year include Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Boston College running back Andre Williams, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews and Stanford guard David Yankey.

Below is a recap of all Big 12 players honored by the five major All-American teams:

American Football Coaches’ Association

First team
Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Center: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Safety: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

Football Writers’ Association of America

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Second team
Wide receiver: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas
Linebacker: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
Cornerback: Jason Verrett, TCU

Walter Camp Football Foundation

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Center: Ikard, Oklahoma
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas
Cornerback: Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Cornerback: Verrett, TCU
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Sporting News

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Safety: Dixon, Baylor

Associated Press

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas

Second team
Center: Ikard, Oklahoma
Cornerback: Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Cornerback: Verrett, TCU
Safety: Dixon, Baylor
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Third team
Safety: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

Big 12 lunchtime links

December, 18, 2013
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How long did it take you to realize this was just a model?

Big 12 players on AP All-America teams

December, 17, 2013
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The AP has released its All-America team, and the Big 12 is fairly well represented. Here’s a link to the full list. And here are the Big 12 players that earned recognition:

FIRST TEAM

Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

SECOND TEAM

Center: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Cornerback: Jason Verrett, TCU

Safety: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

THIRD TEAM

Safety: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

Big 12's lunch links

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
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Hilarious: "I don't myface, I don't yearbook, I don't do any of those things."

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 9 in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiBlake Bell answered his critics with a big performance in Saturday's victory over previously unbeaten Texas Tech.
Team of the week: After three scuffling weeks, Oklahoma finally broke out with an inspiring 38-30 win over Texas Tech. Most encouraging, QB Blake Bell had his best game since Notre Dame. On a second-quarter touchdown drive that finally got the Sooners going offensively, Bell completed 3 of 4 passes on third downs for 45 yards. After the lone third-down incompletion, Bell rushed for 10 yards on fourth-and-2 to the Texas Tech 14. Two plays later, he found Jalen Saunders for a touchdown. That kind of drive inspires confidence as the Sooners get ready for Baylor -- both for Bell in himself, and for the Sooners in their quarterback.

Disappointment of the week: West Virginia had begun to show signs of life offensively, scoring 30, 42 and 27 points, respectively, in its previous three games. But the Mountaineers took a major step back at Kansas State on both sides of the ball. After taking a 12-7 lead early in the third quarter, West Virginia was thoroughly outplayed the rest of the way. K-State scored four unanswered touchdowns on the next four drives while the Mountaineers mustered nothing, as the Wildcats coasted to a 35-12 win. West Virginia can still get to a bowl game. But the margin for error is running out.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State running back Desmond Roland, K-State QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters and Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard.

Roland proved he’s the Cowboys’ most effective running back, racking up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns in his first game as a featured back. His 58-yard rumble in the third quarter essentially put Iowa State away.

Sams and Waters were stellar in K-State’s win over West Virginia. The dual-threat duo combined to complete 18 of 21 passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and ran for 71 yards.

This will be the last time Millard will be eligible for any game recognition. He tore his ACL in the fourth quarter covering a kick. On the previous drive, he took a pass and hurdled a Tech defender for a 14-yard gain to set up a touchdown from the Tech 3. Millard was also tremendous all game as the lead blocker for Damien Williams, Roy Finch and Brennan Clay. Millard’s great career in Norman comes to a close.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and K-State safety Ty Zimmerman.

Edmond led a Texas defense that completely shut down TCU in the Longhorns’ 30-7 win. He had an interception, two pass breakups and helped thwart the TCU running attack.

Gilbert had a pick-six early that gave OSU an early 14-0 lead. He added three tackles and a pass breakup.

Zimmerman spearheaded the Wildcats defensively with 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble. The forced fumble of West Virginia QB Clint Trickett set up a K-State touchdown that put the Wildcats ahead 28-12 in the fourth quarter, effectively putting the game away.

Special-teams players of the week: Everyone involved with the Texas Tech punt return and kickoff coverage teams. Trey Haverty’s units masterfully executed a pair of maneuvers in the third quarter that almost allowed Tech to knock off the Sooners. Down 21-14, deep man Jordan Davis ran away from the ball to draw the OU punt coverage team toward him. Toward the other side of the field, where the ball actually was, Tanner Jacobson scooped up the ball on the bounce and returned it 17 yards. The play set up a field goal. Immediately after the field goal, Kramer Fyfe's onside kick was recovered by Summitt Hogue. Three plays later, the Red Raiders were in the end zone to take a 24-21 lead.

Play of the week: For the second straight week, Oklahoma wide receiver Lacoltan Bester takes this category. After the Sooners fell behind 24-21, Oklahoma dialed up a double reverse pass for Bester -- the same play that resulted in a touchdown pass last week. But with no one to throw to this time, Bester took off and weaved his way through the Tech defense 35 yards for a touchdown. The Sooners never trailed again.

Stat of the week: By defeating Kansas 59-14, Baylor extended its winning streak to 11 games dating back to last season, the longest winning streak in Baylor history.

Quote of the week: “They’ve all had a goal and a dream to play on Sunday, and now they’ve done it.” -- Longhorns coach Mack Brown, after the weather-delayed Texas-TCU game went past midnight
HornsNation is breaking down Texas' 2013 football schedule every Monday this summer. This week: The Longhorns' fourth game of the season vs. the Kansas State Wildcats on Sept. 21.

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