Texas Longhorns: Sam Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DBs

February, 26, 2014
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As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Wednesday with defensive backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive back groups going into the spring:

1. TCU: TCU has been tenacious defending the pass since joining the league, and even without potential first-round pick Jason Verrett, that shouldn’t change in 2014. Sam Carter was the only non-senior to earn first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors in the secondary last season, and Chris Hackett was one of the best underclassman defensive backs in the league last year. Derrick Kindred is primed to step into TCU’s third safety spot after playing a key role in the rotation. The Horned Frogs also add the nation’s No. 3 juco safety in Kenny Iloka. Throw in senior Geoff Hooker, and the Horned Frogs have an impressive five-man rotation at safety. At corner, Kevin White was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, and will take over for Verrett as the primary corner. The Horned Frogs have several options at the other corner, including incoming three-star recruit Nick Foster.

2. Texas: After playing the nickel role last year, Quandre Diggs will settle back at cornerback in place of Carrington Byndom. Opposite Diggs will be the ultra-athletic Duke Thomas, who was so good in spring ball last year, he forced the coaches to move Diggs to nickelback. Together, Diggs and Thomas could give the Longhorns the best cornerback tandem in the league. Antwuan Davis, who redshirted in his first year, was an ESPN 300 signee and figures to play a big role somewhere in the secondary. Josh Turner (37 appearances) and Mykkele Thompson (12 starts in 2013) each bring a lot of experience at safety.

3. Oklahoma: Oklahoma graduates the heart and soul of the secondary in cornerback Aaron Colvin, who gutted his way through an array of injuries last year. But if the Sooners can find an adequate replacement for him, the Big 12’s best pass defense statistically in 2013 should be stout again. Julian Wilson (nickelback), Zack Sanchez (cornerback) and Quentin Hayes (strong safety) all return as starters, though Hayes could be pushed by Ahmad Thomas and incoming freshman Steven Parker for time. Hatari Byrd, an ESPN 300 signee last year, should step into the vacant spot at free safety. Cortez Johnson will try to fend off Stanvon Taylor, who played as a true freshman, for Colvin’s spot in the only real uncertain area of this secondary.

4. Kansas State: The Wildcats will miss All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman, but his cohort, Dante Barnett, was one of the best young safeties in the league last year. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles and first with four interceptions. Randall Evans also returns after leading the team in pass breakups and gives the Wildcats a versatile defensive back. As usual, Bill Snyder will also be looking for some juco impact. He should get it in Danzel McDaniel, who was the No. 4 juco CB recruit in the country. Cornerback Jesse Mack also could prove to be a key juco signee. If both players pan out, this could become one of the better defensive backfields in the league.

5. West Virginia: The bad news is the Mountaineers had the Big 12’s worst pass defense last year. The good news is they bring back three starters. Karl Joseph has started the last two seasons at free safety, though he could slide to the strong side with Darwin Cook gone. Joseph has All-Big 12 potential, and he needs to elevate his game for the West Virginia defense to take another step forward. Veteran K.J. Dillon could be the front-runner for the job alongside Joseph, though Jeremy Tyler and Jarrod Harper will also be in the mix. West Virginia also brings back both starting cornerbacks in senior Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a freshman. The Mountaineers also signed Keishawn Richardson, the No. 8 juco CB, and Jaylon Myers, the No. 9 juco safety, for depth. Cornerback Dravon Henry, an ESPN 300 signee who had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, could play immediately if one of West Virginia’s veterans struggle.

6. Kansas: The Jayhawks return all five starters from their secondary, including last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, strong safety Isaiah Johnson. Returning cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, a converted wide receiver, were both honorable mention All-Big 12 selections and give the Jayhawks one of the better corner duos in the league. Free safety Cassius Sendish started every game and had 12 tackles in Kansas’ only Big 12 victory in 2013, over West Virginia. Nickelback Courtney Arnick started in six games as a redshirt freshman. If this group collectively improves, Kansas could field a solid defense in 2014.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, who might be selected high in the first round of the NFL draft after a stellar combine performance. The Cowboys welcome back one of the best young corners in the league in Kevin Peterson, who was terrific as a sophomore in coverage opposite Gilbert. Ashton Lampkin has experience, and he will likely fill the other corner spot unless someone else emerges. Lyndell Johnson, who made a transition from linebacker to safety last season, will take over full time at strong safety. The Cowboys will need someone else to emerge at the other safety in place of departed veteran starter Daytawion Lowe. Deric Robertson, Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry, all from the 2013 recruiting class, are possibilities.

8. Texas Tech: How the Red Raiders retool here will be on one of the bigger spring storylines in Lubbock. Keenon Ward and Justis Nelson were thrown in the fire as freshmen last year, and they will be counted on to fill bigger roles. The gem of the incoming recruiting class, four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, could be asked – and has the capability – to play right away. The Red Raiders have to replace both starting safeties, including freshman Tanner Jacobson, who is going on a Mormon mission. To compensate, Tech signed six safeties, including Josh Keys, the No. 5 juco safety in the country, who had offers from Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma State. Getting strong safety J.J. Gaines back from a season-ending injury will be a boost, too.

9. Baylor: The Bears are one of several teams in the league that were decimated in the secondary by graduation. Baylor loses four of its five starters, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon. Safety Terrell Burt is the only returning starter, leaving the other four spots up for grabs. The Bears signed juco corners Tion Wright and Chris Sanders to help fill the void. Both are already on campus and will be battling Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tyler Stephenson for a starting job. Orion Stewart, who backed up Dixon as a redshirt freshman, will likely step in his role, and fellow sophomore Kiante’ Griffin will be the favorite to take over at the nickel.

10. Iowa State: Cornerback Nigel Tribune was the only true freshman to play for the Cyclones last year, and he received votes as Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Tribune, however, is the only returning starter. Veteran safety mainstays Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield are gone. In response, the Cyclones will look for Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd, the Nos. 6 and 7 juco safety recruits, respectively, to step in immediately.

Big 12 lunchtime links

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
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If you haven't already seen the video of Dana Holgorsen sipping Red Bull on the sideline, enjoy.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
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Taking stock of Week 5 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Oklahoma. With their victory over Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers deserved strong consideration here. But by winning in South Bend, the Sooners delivered the Big 12 its best win of the year while vanquishing past demons. OU, which fell to 1-9 all-time against Notre Dame last season, controlled this game wire-to-wire in a 35-21 win. QB Blake Bell operated the Sooners' offense like a veteran in just his second career start. And the OU defense took it to QB Tommy Rees to force three first-half interceptions that allowed the Sooners to pad their lead. OU might have been one of the most overlooked teams during the preseason. After Saturday, the Sooners won’t be overlooked anymore.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys fell in Morgantown 31-21, despite being 18-point favorites. OSU sputtered all day offensively across the board. J.W. Walsh had a QBR of just 38.1 (scale of 0 to 100) and the Cowboys averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. The defense didn’t fare much better, allowing a West Virginia offense that had been completely inept to rack up 21 first downs. Dating to last year, the Cowboys have now lost three consecutive Big 12 games.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Sterling Shepard and Aaron Wimberly. Both the Oklahoma receiver and Iowa State running back sparked their offenses to big wins on the road. Shepard had five catches for 83 yards, and delivered the nail in the coffin to Notre Dame with a 54-yard touchdown reception to put OU back up by two scores in the fourth quarter.

In a 38-21 win at Tulsa, Wimberly produced Iowa State’s first 100-yard rushing game in more than a year with 137 yards on 19 carries. He added a 31-yard reception as the Cyclones came alive in their first win of the season.

Big (defensive) men on campus: The Oklahoma linebackers, and Sam Carter. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Eric Striker came up with huge plays in the first quarter to set the tone for the OU defense the rest of the way against the Irish. On Notre Dame’s first series, Striker blindsided Rees from behind, popping the ball loose into the arms of Nelson, who returned it 24 yards for a TD. On Notre Dame's next play from scrimmage, Shannon caught a tipped pass and returned the interception 17 yards to the Notre Dame 32. The Sooners scored again four plays later on an 11-yard run by Damien Williams. OU rode the defensive flurry all the way to the win.

Carter, TCU’s junior safety, had a huge day against SMU. Carter had two interceptions, forced a fumble and recorded a sack in the Horned Frogs’ 48-17 victory over the Mustangs. For his efforts, Carter was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. With cornerback Jason Verrett ailing with a shoulder injury, Carter might have to take an even bigger leadership role in the TCU secondary moving forward.

Special-teams player of the week: Jaden Oberkrom. In a complete downpour, TCU’s place-kicker nailed two field goals to help the Horned Frogs pull away from SMU in the second half. As the rain began to fall in droves early in the third quarter, TCU had the ball on the SMU 5-yard line trailing 10-7. Because of the rain, a botched shotgun snap resulted in a loss of 20. But Oberkrom made sure the Frogs came away with points with the 35-yard field goal conversion. Had Oberkrom missed, who knows how the game would have gone for TCU? Instead, buoyed in part by getting points off the drive, the Frogs dominated the rest of the way.

[+] EnlargeIshmael Banks
AP Photo/Tyler EvertWVU's Ishmael Banks' interception return for a TD was one of many big plays that cost OSU in a game that changed everything for the Cowboys.
Play of the week: After Josh Stewart took a screen pass 73 yards for the touchdown and Justin Gilbert intercepted Clint Trickett three plays later at midfield, the Cowboys seemed to be on the verge of blowing the game away in the first quarter. Instead, West Virginia cornerback Ishmael Banks read Walsh’s eyes off a rollout, stepped in front of the pass for the pick, then returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys never found their footing again offensively, as West Virginia held them to just two scores the rest of the game.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith rushed for just 1 yard on 15 carries at West Virginia. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Smith’s rushing total was the second worst by an FBS running back with that many carries in any game in the past 10 years.

Quote of the week: "No doubt in my mind that we're a national championship-type of team." – OU running back Brennan Clay, after the Notre Dame win
In today’s mailbag, who has the best safety duo, possibilities of a three-way tie, and Andy from Austin with a not-so-triumphant return.

To the 'bag:

Matt in Kansas writes: The Kansas Jayhawks are going to prove you wrong. Can't wait for the Hawks to prove the non-believers wrong!!

Jake Trotter: It wasn’t me who called your squad a “pile of crap.”




Dan in Atlanta writes: It seems the comments from the West Virginia coaching staff about true freshman WR Daikiel Shorts mirror the camp praise heaped on Karl Joseph last year. Déjà vu all over again?

Jake Trotter: Shorts has turned heads this fall, no doubt. It would not surprise me at all if he eventually earned a starting job -- especially if he stays at inside receiver, where he was moved to last week. The Mountaineers have an opening there, and Shorts could fill it.




Pete in Paw Paw, Mich., writes: I see that Jake’s chats are very Texas and Oklahoma heavy. He mentioned it in one the week previous. I would suggest putting a notice that one is coming up with him on the Big 12 Blog to get more diverse questions. It can only help. Thanks.

Jake Trotter: Quick PSA announcement: starting next week, my Big 12 chat on SportsNation will be moved to Tuesdays at 11 a.m. CST. Colleague Brandon Chatmon will also be holding a chat on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. CST.




Randall in Arlington, Texas, writes: There is no doubt that the SEC has outperformed the Big 12 in football over the last decade and appears they will continue to do so in the near future. Looking at how the SEC has only expanded in recent years into states with rich football cultures, how reliant do you think the Big 12 is on Texas players for their talent and how will their inability to pull away talent away from southern states continue to factor into the disparity between the SEC and Big 12?

Jake Trotter: Texas high school talent is the lifeblood of the Big 12. When SEC powers pluck players away from the Lone Star State, those are players that otherwise would be going go the Big 12. Texas A&M’s SEC exodus has placed the Big 12 in precarious position with respect to recruiting. The Aggies have a strong pitch they can now make to prospects: stay close to home and play in the best conference in college football. It’s an appealing case. Texas A&M being in the SEC has also cracked the door wider for the likes of LSU and Alabama to make inroads in Texas. The Big 12 must continue opening up other pipelines, while reinforcing to Texas kids that staying in the Big 12 is the best thing for them.




Zion in Chester, Va., writes: Hey man! Love the mailbag! Do you think that Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook are the best safety combination in the big 12?

Jake Trotter: I might give TCU the slight edge here. Sam Carter and Elisha Olabode are All-Big 12-caliber players. But West Virginia’s twosome is right there. Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have solid safety duos, as well.




Michael in Clyde, Kan., writes: Are there really no Big 12 teams that have top 10 potential this year? Or is the polls just overrating and putting the SEC teams in there too high? I know the SEC is actually good, but with Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in the same division they can't all be a top 10 teams.

Jake Trotter: Well, five SEC teams finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll last year, so actually they can. But the Big 12 has almost as many top 10 potentials, even if just one team finishes there.




Tom in OKC writes: Will 10-2 win the Big 12 title this year? If so, do you think there is a possibility of a 3-way tie?

Jake Trotter: I don’t really see a 12-0 team in the conference this season; so yeah, 10-2 could definitely win the league. And yeah, because of the parity, there’s opportunity for the first three-way tie since 2008. One obvious scenario in which this happens: OU beats Texas in Dallas; Texas beats OSU in Austin; OSU beats OU in Stillwater; and they all lose one other game along the way. All three would then be 7-2 in the league.




Andy in Austin writes: OK, my nickname for Jaxon Shipley tanked last mailbag. But I will make believers of you all! Let me explain: Shipley is smooth like caramel, his playmaking makes your eyes pop, and, let’s be honest, you've got to be a bit nutty to hang yourself out there for a catch over the middle. Also, I have another UT player nickname for you: Quandre “The Giant” Diggs.

Jake Trotter: Last week, I put Andy on a mailbag ban. The masses, however, clamored for me to give him another chance. So I did. And behold, look what happened. This is not my responsibility. It’s yours. Own it.
DALLAS -- During this era of realignment, a sense of unfamiliarity has become common. Yet that doesn’t make the getting-to-know-you phase any easier.

In 2012, every Big 12 team faced the challenge of preparing for a conference game against an unfamiliar opponent. As teams prepped for TCU and West Virginia during their first season in the league, there was plenty of uncertainty about the different challenges the newcomers would bring to the table.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Texas Tech defensive tackle Kerry Hyder said.

[+] EnlargeDana Holgorsen
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsDana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers have had a full season to acclimate to the rigors of Big 12 football.
Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat added, “It’s kind of like those first three games against teams not in your conference. When I first saw West Virginia on film I was like ‘Wow, we’re really playing them.’ Everybody talked about playing them but to actually play them was cool, it made it real.”

TCU brought solid defense, West Virginia brought explosive offense and nobody in the Big 12 had a great feel for their new conference rivals.

“You had to do more studying than usual,” Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard said. “You may have seen that scheme but you haven’t seen their personnel. If I’ve played a guy at Texas three times, you kind of know a little about them, but I hadn’t played against any of them.”

It wasn’t a major issue that decided games, but it was a noticeable change from the weekly routine of preparing for a well-known conference opponent.

“Every year is different,” Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. “We knew less about TCU and West Virginia a year ago, but this year’s teams [at TCU and WVU] are going to be different than those teams. I don’t know if we have a leg up this year but it’s good to have a library of thoughts and film.”

For the first time since 2010, the Big 12 will enter this football season with the same members as it had the previous season, giving teams a better idea of what it is going to take to win a conference title in 2013.

“This year we’ll have a better game plan for them, we’ll be more prepared for them,” Hyder said of the newest conference members. “Experience helps in every aspect of life.”

On the flip side, TCU and West Virginia will have a much better understanding of what it takes to have success in the Big 12. TCU coach Gary Patterson and WVU coach Dana Holgorsen did their best to prepare their teams with their words, but actually experiencing a Big 12 schedule was a better teacher than anything Patterson or Holgorsen could have said.

After one season in the Big 12, TCU safety Sam Carter came away with a much better idea of what success in the new conference requires.

“One mistake can cost you a game,” Carter said. “Not just on defense, our offense understands that mistakes can kill you in this conference. Our first Big 12 loss [to Iowa State], we gave up a few big plays, and coaches had been telling us the whole summer that one mistake can cost you in the Big 12. And it came up and really cost us in a few games.”

The Mountaineers had a slight advantage with Holgorsen at the helm. He had an extensive Big 12 background with coaching experience at Oklahoma State and Texas Tech before taking over at WVU in 2011. However, Holgorsen believes it will take at least two seasons before the Mountaineers really feel at home in the conference.

“I did my best of explaining what it’s going to be like at the different places,” Holgorsen said. “After a couple years, you start getting some familiarity with it, the fan base understands it, the administration understands it and your players understand it, and they can talk about it with the other guys.”

While the Mountaineers have more experience after one season in the conference, Holgorsen said he’ll still have some teaching do to. For example, since the Mountaineers hosted the Sooners in 2012, the players still don't know what it’s like to play OU in Norman, Okla. Once they have played in stadiums across the Big 12, then he’ll be more confident that his team has a complete understanding of what Big 12 football is all about.

“It’s going to take time for half of our team to understand what it’s like in Lubbock, Texas,” he said. “And be able to relay that to the other kids in the locker room."

All these variables add to what could be one of the most entertaining Big 12 seasons in recent memory.

“It’s the first year with everybody knowing what everybody is going to do,” said OSU receiver Josh Stewart, a junior who has never experienced playing a conference schedule that featured the exact same teams he played the previous year. “It’s going to be some exciting football in the Big 12.”

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