Texas Longhorns: Demontre Hurst

Colleague KC Joyner took to ranking the nation's top two secondaries Insider, but there's a pair of surprising teams at the top.

The SEC is the league with the defensive reputation, but the nation's top two teams, Alabama and LSU, both finished below Texas and Oklahoma State, who Joyner says are the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 secondaries.

Both of them are outstanding, but even I was surprised to see those two atop the list.

For both teams, it starts with eye-popping duos at cornerback.

For Texas, it's Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. At Oklahoma State, Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown are the guys stopping receivers on the outside.

All four may make a case by season's end as the Big 12's best cornerback, but according to Joyner, they're the backbones of the nation's top two secondaries.

Joyner is also a believer in Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, who racked up 82 tackles and keeping opposing receivers from gaining more than four yards per pass attempt.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's Gilbert stuck out to Joyner as the best cornerback in college football last season. His five picks and 5.2 yards per attempt suggest that's the case. He also broke up or intercepted 20 passes, second-most in college football.

Those aren't the only two Big 12 teams on Joyner's list.

What about Oklahoma? The Sooners check in at No. 8, with a nice trio of their own in Tony Jefferson, Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst.

Joyner reminds that even though the secondary faltered in high-profile losses to Baylor and Texas Tech, the same unit allowed a passer rating of under 106 in eight games.

Now, new coordinator Mike Stoops is in town to give the Sooners a boost in the secondary. The Sooners lost cornerback Jamell Fleming, but Fleming's 9.2 yards per attempt give Joyner reason to believe the loss will result in addition by subtraction.

I'm not so sure about that, but ultimately, the season will tell.

Are you a believer in the Cowboys and Longhorns as the nation's top two secondaries? What about the Sooners? Too high? Too low?
The Nagurski Trophy, given annually to college football's best defender, has released its 84-man, preseason watch list. From the Big 12:
That's a hefty list. My only possible additions? Quandre Diggs of Texas and maybe Shaun Lewis of Oklahoma State. Other than that, it's basically a who's who of the best defenders in the Big 12.

The league's 13 candidates are third-most among conferences, behind only the SEC (19) and the Big Ten (14).

Texas and Oklahoma are tied for the nation's most Nagurski Trophies, with two. Brian Orakpo in 2008 and Ndamukong Suh in 2009 are the last Big 12 talents to take home the hardware.

Luke Kuechly of Boston College won the award last season.

More awards watch lists:
NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. broke down his top-five prospects at each position among juniors and seniors entering the 2013 draft.

You'll need ESPN Insider to see both (here are the juniorsInsider) (and here are the seniorsInsider), but here's a taste of what you can find among the seniors.

Quarterbacks
Fullbacks
Receivers
Offensive tackles
Centers
Inside linebackers
Cornerbacks
Punters
We're moving on with our 2011 postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for cornerbacks. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

Here are the other position rankings we've done so far:
Depth is somewhat of a factor here, but I weighted it heavily toward the top two starters at the position.

[+] EnlargeCarrington Byndom
John Albright/Icon SMICarrington Byndom went up against some of the Big 12's top receivers and held his own.
1. Texas — The Longhorns duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs were by far the league's best at limiting the big play. Both are physical. Both return. Beware, Big 12 offenses. In just their first year as starters, they helped the Longhorns lead the league in pass defense. Diggs, a true freshman, led the team with four interceptions. Until the regular-season finale against Baylor, Texas and Alabama were the only teams that hadn't given up a touchdown pass longer than 20 yards. Obviously, that's way, way more impressive in the Big 12.

2. Kansas State — K-State overachieved in a lot of ways this year, and perhaps nowhere more than at cornerback. Juco transfer Nigel Malone led the league with seven interceptions. Known entity David Garrett was even more solid, making 88 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss. I ranked this unit 10th in the Big 12 before the season. They finished second. I was wrong.

3. Oklahoma — The Sooners' corners were good, but not great, and underachieved slightly. Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst are supremely talented, but were susceptible to big plays this year. Granted, everybody in the Big 12 was, but the Sooners ranked fourth in pass defense. Fleming broke up 10 passes and intercepted two more. Hurst broke up 11 and had an interception.

4. Oklahoma State — At times, Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown was a legitimate shutdown corner. Justin Gilbert turned in a solid effort in his first year as a starter, which was much more important after a season-ending injury to Devin Hedgepeth in September. Gilbert picked off five passes, second-most in the Big 12.

5. Iowa StateLeonard Johnson was quietly an NFL prospect that put together a huge year. He was a big reason for ISU's upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State, and helped shut down Justin Blackmon. He finished with 71 tackles, eight pass breakups and a pick. Jeremy Reeves added two picks and seven pass breakups.

6. MissouriE.J. Gaines led the Big 12 with 16 pass breakups, and the Tigers ranked fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Fellow first-year starter Kip Edwards added a pick and three pass breakups.

7. Texas A&M — The team's top corner, Coryell Judie, was hampered by a hamstring injury all season, but production is production. It wasn't there for Judie, one of the league's top corners in 2010. Terrence Frederick had a good year with 13 pass breakups and a pick, but the Aggies were susceptible through the air all year. Lionel Smith and Dustin Harris filled in well in Judie's absence, but not well enough. A&M finished eighth in pass defense and helped five QBs set career highs for passing yardage in 2011.

8. BaylorK.J. Morton played well down the stretch for Baylor, but the Bears defense left a lot to be desired almost everywhere. They finished last in the Big 12 in pass defense, giving up over 290 yards a game. Morton picked off four passes and broke up six more. All four of his picks came in the final three games of 2011. Chance Casey broke up six passes and made 48 stops.

9. Texas Tech — How's this for irony? The Red Raiders actually finished second in the Big 12 in pass defense. It doesn't matter much. Tre' Porter had the only interception for a cornerback all season, and broke up two passes. Injuries were a problem all season. Cornelius Douglas, Derrick Mays, Jarvis Phillips and Sawyer Vest filled the unit, but Tech faced 61 fewer pass attempts than Kansas and 111 fewer than the next team in the Big 12. That's what happens when you can't stop the run. Doesn't mean the corners played well.

10. KansasGreg Brown picked off two passes and broke up three more. Isiah Barfield made 35 tackles and broke up five passes. The Jayhawks ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense. They didn't get much of a pass rush to help the corners, but the corners were very poor in 2011.

The Big 12's top returning NFL talents

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
12:00
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This week's Senior Bowl and next month's NFL scouting combine will help decide who will hear their names called, and when, in April's NFL draft, but what about next year?

Mel Kiper unleashed his top five returning players for 2012, the top prospects at their positions in next year's draft.

Lots of interesting names. Here's where the Big 12 talents sit.

Quarterbacks
Fullbacks
My take: Good to see Wilson's name on this list. He's impressed coach Bill Snyder from the start, and Wilson was an underrated reason for K-State's success running the ball the past two seasons with Daniel Thomas in 2010 and Collin Klein/John Hubert in 2011. One of the Big 12's toughest players.

Receivers
My take: Both of those names made me do a double take. Williams was a great player this season, and you perhaps best know him as the player who caught the game-winning touchdown to beat Oklahoma, but he's never looked to me like a player who could be the first receiver drafted. We'll see how he does in 2012 as Baylor's No. 1 receiver, with Nick Florence throwing him the ball instead of Robert Griffin III. Williams could become a star.

Austin always struck me as an undersized player, but there's no denying his playmaking ability. Few can match his game-breaking ability with the ball in his hands.

Offensive tackles
Centers
Defensive ends
My take: No surprise there. Okafor burst on the scene this season, and has that combination of size and speed you rarely see outside of players who become first-round picks.

Inside linebackers
Outside linebackers
Cornerbacks
Punters
It's always fun looking back on what we thought in the preseason, and today, we'll take another look.

Here's who made the postseason team.

How did our All-Big 12 preseason team stack up at season's end?

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
  • Madison ranked 11th in the Big 12 with 4.5 sacks and 16th with 8.5 tackles for loss and didn't earn a spot on any All-Big 12 first or second teams, though his teammate, Jacquies Smith, cracked the media and coaches' second team.
DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M
  • Jerod-Eddie had four sacks and six tackles for loss with 47 total stops, but didn't crack any All-Big 12 first or second teams.
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
  • Randall was eighth on the team with four tackles for loss and had 29 tackles with one sack. He wasn't named to any All-Big 12 first or second teams.
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
  • Alexander led the Big 12 with 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by the media and shared the coaches award with A.J. Klein of Iowa State. He, of course, was a unanimous All-Big 12 first-team selection.
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
  • Lewis suffered a broken toe in preseason camp, and finished second on the team with 79 tackles, his first season at OU with fewer than 108 tackles. He made the media and coaches' second Big 12 teams.
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
  • Knott finished third in the Big 12 with 107 tackles and made the media any my first Big 12 teams. The coaches put Knott on the second team.
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
  • Robinson finished second on the team and 10th in the Big 12 with 90 tackles and made the coaches' second Big 12 team.
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
  • Judie fought a hamstring injury all season and didn't make any All-Big 12 teams after making 21 tackles and forcing one fumble.
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
  • Martin made a few All-American teams and earned All-Big 12 first-team honors from the coaches and me after making 65 tackles and breaking up 11 passes. The media voted him second team.
DB: Trent Hunter, Texas A&M
  • Hunter made 73 tackles and broke up eight passes, but didn't earn any first or second-team honors.
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
  • Hurst earned second-team honors from the coaches after making 51 tackles and having 10 pass breakups. He also returned his lone interception for a touchdown against Texas.
SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
  • Ressel didn't earn any first or second team honors after making just 9-of-16 kicks and making all 30 of his extra points.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
  • Sharp earned All-Big 12 first team honors from the media and coaches after averaging over 46 yards on his 42 punts.
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
  • Injuries prevented Judie from returning more than eight kicks this season. He averaged 25 yards per return on his eight returns and didn't make any All-Big 12 teams.
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
  • Broyles returned 19 punts at an average of just over 10 yards, and didn't earn any All-Big 12 teams as a punt returner.
AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU
Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
  • An injury derailed Lewis' season and he never looked like his usual self during the season, ceding Player of the Year honors to his teammate, Frank Alexander.
Newcomer of the Year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
  • Brown won my Big Newcomer of the Year Award and the Defensive Newcomer of the Year from the coaches and media.

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