Texas Longhorns: Travis Lewis

Colleague Brandon Chatmon looked at a few guys across the Big 12 who could be "The Next Johnny Manziel" yesterday, but really, those kinds of guys do exist. I will not be encouraging you to curb your collective enthusiasms today. Sometimes, players who haven't played a down of football in the Big 12 end up being some of the best players in the league.

Want a few examples, even from just the past few seasons? I'm glad you asked.

Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech, 2007: A position switch and transcript issues meant a redshirt season in 2006, but Crabtree had one of the greatest debut seasons in Big 12 history. He caught three touchdowns in his first game ever, and finished the season with 1,962 yards and 22 touchdowns on 134 catches. No Big 12 receiver has had more yards since, and he took home the Biletnikoff Award after leading the nation in receiving yards by 356 yards. His closest competition caught just 16 touchdowns, too.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
Nelson Chenault/US Presswire Sam Bradford had a stellar first season at Oklahoma.
Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma, 2007: Bradford narrowly beat out blue-chip recruit Keith Nichol and junior Joey Halzle to win the job after redshirting in 2006, and by the end of the season, he led the nation in quarterback rating, and no Big 12 quarterback was within 20 points of him. He threw for 3,121 yards, 36 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. He won the Heisman Trophy the following season.

Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor, 2008: Griffin committed to Houston first, but followed Art Briles to Baylor and electrified the crowd with early runs in a loss to Wake Forest. He eventually broke the FBS record for passes without an interception, and didn't throw his first until the ninth game of the season. It was clear he was the future of the program, and he finished the season with almost 3,000 yards of offense, accounting for 28 touchdowns.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State, 2009: Thomas joined the long line of junior college stars under Bill Snyder at Kansas State. Thomas arrived in Manhattan as an unknown and led the Big 12 with 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns, showcasing great vision and toughness on the way to an eventual NFL draft selection. He led the Big 12 in rushing again in 2010, too.

Devonte Fields, DE, TCU, 2012: Fields was the Frogs' top recruit in 2012 as the nation's No. 73 overall player and the No. 11 defensive end. By the first week of October, he had 9.5 tackles for loss and cruised to earning the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska, 2010: He's one of the many Blackshirts' greats over the years, and made adjusting to life in the Big 12 from junior college look easy. He led the league with an eye-popping 152 tackles, and anybody who watched the Huskers every week might have sworn it was more. He was everywhere. He added 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, as well as eight pass breakups.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor, 2012: Seastrunk didn't get much time on the field for the first two months of the season, but once November arrived, he broke out in a huge way. The Oregon transfer was stuck behind Glasco Martin and Jarred Salubi on the depth chart, but earned the nod as the featured back heading into November, and rushed for 831 yards in Baylor's final six games, including an upset of No. 1 Kansas State in the Bears' 5-1 run to close the season.

Bruce Irvin, DE, West Virginia, 2010: Irvin's road was incredible, using junior college to turn his life around and earn his way to WVU after dropping out of high school. In his first season as a Mountaineer, he finished second nationally with 14 sacks, and forced a pair of fumbles.

Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma, 2008: Lewis redshirted his first season in Norman, but led the Big 12 with 144 tackles as a redshirt freshman, making 12 tackles for loss and intercepting four passes. It was the start of an incredible career. He led the Sooners in tackles for each of the next four seasons.
We've already gone over my thoughts on the Big 12's first round of the draft. What about the rest? Here are some thoughts:

  • [+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
    Brian Spurlock/US PresswireThe Lions saw enough from Ryan Broyles to take a risk on him in the second round.
    Absolutely fantastic to see Ryan Broyles find a home in Detroit in the second round. Broyles is a second-round talent, and it was great to see him recognized as such -- with NFL teams seeing enough out of his newly-rehabbed knee to know he's a solid prospect. No player in the history of college football had more receptions. I like his chances for a productive career, especially on a building Detroit team with a lot of talent, especially at the offensive skill positions.
  • I've written about it in the past, but I'm intrigued to see what Missouri tight end Michael Egnew does at the next level. He was less productive than his predecessors at Mizzou, Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman, but supposedly is a more talented blocker. Coffman got stuck in a franchise that didn't seem willing to use him for what he is -- a receiving tight end -- but can Egnew shed the Mizzou tight end stereotype? We'll find out in Miami.
  • Really happy to see things work out well for Oklahoma's Frank Alexander, who was drafted in the fourth round by Carolina. He had a scare at the combine. Doctors thought he had a heart condition and his playing career was in jeopardy. Turns out, he was fine. Glad the mixup didn't cost him more than it could have.
  • Allow me to join in the chorus of folks asking, "What the heck is Washington doing drafting Kirk Cousins?" Nothing against Cousins, who I actually think will do well at the next level (or could elsewhere, at least), but this isn't even about bringing in a fellow rookie to "compete with" Robert Griffin III. Washington has plenty of other holes. The Redskins couldn't try to draft and fill it, while finding a backup quarterback in free agency? Seriously. Good grief. And you wonder why Washington hasn't won anything in a long while.
  • Ronnell Lewis' fall from top-25 prospect to fourth-rounder is intriguing. Did NFL teams see him up close and get spooked by his lack of a true position? In my book, he'd be a great defensive end, but if NFL teams think he's too small, I have major, major doubts about his ability to play the linebacker spot. The mental part of the game didn't come easily to Lewis at OU, but his career will be fascinating to watch. He's got a high motor, and if it doesn't work out, it won't be because of a lack of effort.
  • Good on A&M's Randy Bullock, who went in the fifth round. Prepare for a similar fate in 2011, Quinn Sharp.
  • Interesting to see OU's Travis Lewis fall all the way to the seventh round. How much did his broken toe in 2011, which he rushed back from to help his team, hurt his NFL stock? His tape from senior season was underwhelming, no doubt. NFL teams had to be scared about his lack of progression from freshman to senior year, at least not what you'd expect from a guy who topped 140 tackles as a freshman.
  • A year ago, A&M folks were rejoicing a future Big 12 title run when Jeff Fuller announced his intention to return. The Aggies went 7-6 and Fuller went undrafted. I hate to see when guys who make decisions to come back get hurt by them, but Fuller's season started with a hamstring injury, and his production never recovered, even when he got healthy. Almost the exact same scenario with A&M corner Coryell Judie, who couldn't get healthy in 2011 and didn't get drafted, even though he was one of the Big 12's top players in 2010.
  • Meanwhile, Bryce Brown was drafted, and his 2011 tape included three total carries, one of which was a fumble on his own goal line that nearly cost 10-win Kansas State a game early in the season. Take a bow, Mr. Brown.
  • Adding Josh Cooper to the Browns to play with Brandon Weeden? Well played, Cleveland. Well played.
  • How did Leonard Johnson go undrafted? I have no idea. Seemed like a solid middle rounder to me, and he proved his worth plenty of times this year against some great Big 12 receivers. His physical skills don't wow you, but he's instinctive at the position, and was physical and productive.
We're moving on with our postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for linebackers. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

At this position, depth is a major factor in these rankings. Additionally, I included nickelbacks in this grouping. Hybrid defensive end/linebackers will be grouped with defensive lines.

[+] EnlargeJake Knott
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireIowa State linebackers Jake Knott, 20, and A.J. Klein combined for 231 tackles in 2011.
More postseason position rankings: 1. Iowa State: The Cyclones top the list after a huge year from their outstanding duo, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. They combined for 231 tackles in 2011, both finishing among the top four in the Big 12 in tackles. They had 241 together in 2010, but this season Knott played through injuries and Klein was awarded co-Defensive Player of the Year honors from the league's coaches.

2. Texas: The Longhorns will sorely miss an outstanding duo of their own with tons of experience. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are both NFL-bound after combining for 215 tackles.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as good as expected in 2011, but part of that was because of a Travis Lewis preseason toe injury that slowed him for much of the season. Lewis, Tony Jefferson and Tom Wort all topped 70 tackles in 2011, and are a solid group.

4. Kansas State: Arthur Brown reinvigorated this group, finishing eighth in the Big 12 with 101 tackles, but the Wildcats linebackers were more than just Brown. Tre Walker and converted safety Emmanuel Lamur combined for 135 stops and helped lead one of the league's most underrated units and a much-improved run defense.

5. Texas A&M: The Aggies' backers were big pass-rushers, though they struggled in coverage this season. Sean Porter was the Big 12's sack champion with 9.5, and Caleb Russell and Jonathan Stewart combined for six more. Damontre Moore is the rawest talent of the bunch, but built on that in 2011, making 72 tackles.

6. Oklahoma State: OSU's group was good, but not great. Alex Elkins' crazy story came to an end with 90 stops in 2011. He showed up everywhere for the Cowboys, but reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis didn't quite have the sophomore season some had hoped. Caleb Lavey added some solid play for the turnover-hungry unit, producing 74 tackles and five tackles for loss.

7. Missouri: Zaviar Gooden wasn't quite the impact player Mizzou had hoped, but he was solid alongside a group that's been injury prone over the past two years. Sophomore Andrew Wilson emerged as the team's top tackler with 98 stops, and Luke Lambert added 82 more. A high ankle sprain in the season opener kept Will Ebner off the field, but he'll be back in 2012 after the NCAA granted him a fifth year of eligibility.

8. Kansas: Steven Johnson led the Big 12 with 119 tackles, but the rest of the unit left a lot to be desired. Darius Willis has some potential, but the rest of the team's linebackers have their work cut out for them in 2012. Tunde Bakare also returns from a unit that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense.

9. Baylor: The Bears needed help just about everywhere. Elliot Coffey was solid, and finished tied for fourth with 114 stops, but Baylor was eighth in the Big 12 in rush defense. Baylor has solid athlete in the secondary and on the defensive line, but at linebacker, Rodney Chadwick and Brody Trahan leave a bit to be desired. Ahmad Dixon was better in 2011, but still has a lot of potential that needs to be filled.

10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are looking for a new defensive coordinator and the 4-2-5 made a short stop in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were awful everywhere on defense, but especially up front. Nobody in college football was worse at stopping the run, and D.J. Johnson, Daniel Cobb and Cqulin Hubert turned in forgettable performances. Time to get better for 2012.
The season's over, but our look back is just beginning. Here's five things we learned this year in the Big 12.

1. In the national title debate, losses mean a lot more than wins. Oklahoma State deserved its shot at LSU. Period. It was close, yes. Making LSU beat Alabama a second time was unfair to the Tigers, who already waded through one of the most difficult schedules in college football history, dispatching the Big East and Pac-12 champions, who also won BCS bowls. It also beat the national champion and SEC East champion. But OSU deserved a shot, based on its total résumé. Voters, though, weren't willing to look beyond the one awful loss (in double overtime at Iowa State) and focus on the five wins over teams in the final BCS top 25 of the regular season (Alabama only had two). They also looked over the seven wins over bowl teams with winning records (the Crimson Tide had three). Do I think Alabama was a better team? Yes, I do. But in the current system, Oklahoma State deserved its chance, not a second chance for Alabama that rendered the Nov. 5 "Game of the Century" meaningless. It also produced a snoozer of a title game and deprived us of definitively settling the year-long conference dispute, which might be the most frustrating aspect of the entire debate.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezQuarterback Robert Griffin brought the Baylor Bears to record-breaking levels this season.
2. A whole lot of points are a whole lot of fun to watch. Bad defense? Yeah, there was some of that. There was also a whole lot of good offense. Baylor's Robert Griffin III only accounted for one touchdown and the Bears still hung 67 points in a win over Washington -- a bowl record for all of a week before West Virginia posted 70 in the Orange Bowl. Baylor had three 100-yard rushers and Griffin wasn't one of them, even though he had arguably the most memorable run of his season, a Houdini act of slipping out of a handful of tacklers and outrunning the Washington offense to the pylon, taking a hit as he dove into the end zone. The game drew a 5.1 rating, and more than 5 million people watched, making it the fifth most-watched non-BCS bowl in history.

3. Texas looks on its way back up. The whispers were out there: Was 5-7 the beginning of the end of Mack Brown's tenure at Texas? Had he lost it? The problems were plentiful throughout the 2010 season, but the Longhorns bounced back (sort of) in 2011 and fixed many of them. The 21-10 win over Cal was mostly a four-hour advertisement for Texas' best asset: the Manny Diaz-led defense. An enormous, and biggest, void at quarterback remains, but this year the running game was much improved, and will continue to get better in 2012. Malcolm Brown will mature and Johnathan Gray will join him and Joe Bergeron in the backfield. The defense was the Big 12's best and should reclaim that title in 2012. Texas isn't back yet, but 2010 was not the beginning of the end for the burnt orange.

4. The top two teams are all that separates the Big 12 and SEC. Assume all you'd like, but compare the bowl records: The Big 12 was 6-2. The SEC was 6-3, with a win over and loss to itself in the title game. The Big 12 finished 33-5 (.868) in nonconference play, the best mark of any conference since the SEC in 1997. The SEC finished 47-8 (.855). The SEC earned all the headlines by putting LSU and Alabama in the title game, but the difference between the two leagues isn't very wide. They met on the field just twice this season: Arkansas beat both Texas A&M and Kansas State. The Big 12 beat teams like Stanford, TCU, Florida State, Washington, Northern Illinois and California along the way. The league's top five teams returning in 2012 went 19-1 in nonconference play. Four of the five losses came via expatriates-to-be Texas A&M and Missouri, as well as Iowa State and Kansas, who finished in the bottom three in the Big 12 standings. The league was deep, and unfortunately, didn't get many chances to prove it against the SEC.

5. The Big 12 is getting two really, really good teams in 2012. If you didn't watch, you should have. West Virginia put on an absolute show in the Orange Bowl, beating Clemson by a rousing 70-33 final that included 400 yards of passing from one Geno Smith (you'll get to know him better in 2012) and a 99-yard fumble return for a touchdown that featured a review that could have resulted in a touchdown for either team. TCU? All the BCS-snubbed Horned Frogs did was play an uninspired game against underrated Louisiana Tech (who beat, ahem, SEC member Ole Miss by 20) and win by a touchdown. But they're on their way in 2012, and both could win the Big 12. Next year, the league will have three conference champions, and if you include new members, went 8-2 in bowl games. Of course, if you subtract the departing members, it went 6-2, so who's counting?

Early 2012 Big 12 power rankings

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
3:23
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With the season over, it's time to take a look at the Big 12 in 2012. For now, that means assuming a few things. And we all know what assuming does.

It makes us all look like geniuses.

So, for the purpose of this, I'll assume a few predictions. First, I'll assume Robert Griffin III is heading for the NFL. I'll also assume Mike Stoops lands back at Oklahoma.

That said, it's time to project what this league looks like in 2012.

And, before we start, let me make this clear: The Big 12 from 1-6 is absolutely wide open. Last year, the league only had three legitimate title contenders: Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. This year, every one of the top six teams (and maybe seven, if RG3 returns) can win the Big 12 in a realistic scenario. The difference between Nos. 2 and 6 is minuscule and could change a ton by the end of spring practice.

And for the curious: I would have Missouri behind Kansas State on this list, and I'd have Texas A&M right behind Texas.

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners moved into the familiar role of favorite after Landry Jones announced he'd return in 2012, but not nearly as heavy a favorite as they were in 2011. Injuries hurt Oklahoma late this season, and replacing Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander, along with linebacker Travis Lewis and corner Jamell Fleming won't be easy. Receivers Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds have to play big for the Sooners to get the win.

(Read full post)

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.

Re-ranking the Big 12's top 25 players

October, 17, 2011
10/17/11
11:45
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It's time for a new midseason project here on the Big 12 blog.

We've ranked the Big 12's best players before the season. We've done it after the season.

Time for a midseason checkup. This list looks vastly different than the one we made before the season, with guys moving way up, way down and off the list. There will be some surprises, but I feel pretty good about it.

As usual, the list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but before we begin, a quick rundown of the criteria:
  • FIRST RULE: This list is based solely on what players have done over the past six games. I didn't factor in any other part of any player's career. Six games to rule them all. My preseason lists factor in a player's entire career. This list, and postseason lists, do not.
  • NFL Draft potential is not factored into the list.
  • The way I go about this list is as if I were drafting the best overall talents in the league. Each player's personal role or meaning to his team is irrelevant. This is not a "most valuable" list. It's the Big 12's best players.
  • Sometimes stats tell the whole story. Other times, they don't. Player X may have had more tackles or more yards or interceptions than Player Y, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be higher than him on the list.

All that said, let's get started.

No. 21: Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL, Texas A&M: Jerod-Eddie has been a disruption up front all season, and is fourth in the Big 12 with four sacks. He has 4.5 tackles for loss and has broken up a pass and forced a fumble. The Aggies lead the nation with 26 sacks, and though TJE hasn't gotten a ton of them in the stat sheet, his play is a big reason why his teammates have.

No. 22: Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas: Acho leads the Horns with 47 tackles, and ranks fifth in the Big 12 in stops. He has two sacks, six tackles for loss with a pass breakup.

No. 23: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein has been a constant for Kansas State's offense. He's doing it ugly, but he's making the plays necessary to keep Kansas State undefeated. He leads the Big 12 with 10 rushing touchdowns and his 138 carries are 25 more than anyone else in the Big 12. He's turned them into 578 yards rushing, and has thrown for 739 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

No. 24: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: Lewis has been slowed by a broken bone in his foot that forced him to miss the Sooners opener, but Von Miller suffered an injury early last season before rebounding to win the Butkus Award. Will we see a similar rise from Lewis? For now, he has 40 tackles (12th in the Big 12) with two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

No. 25: Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State: Martin is back to his old ways laying big hits on receivers with two forced fumbles and 37 tackles. The senior safety has also broken up five passes.

Stay tuned to the Big 12 blog for the next five players in the rankings.

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