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Sizing up the Big 12's returning tacklers

You can size up Big 12 defenses any way you want, but here's how the Big 12 ranks in terms of experienced tacklers coming back in 2011.

1. Kansas State: The Wildcats bring back all five of their top tacklers, led by senior cornerback David Garrett, who made 92 tackles last year. Cornerback Terrance Sweeney is the only loss for the defense, which struggled last year, but will return eight of its top nine tacklers.

2. Texas: Five of the Longhorns six top tacklers return, led by a pair of linebackers among the best in the Big 12. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho combined for 187 tackles last year and should be the leaders of a Longhorns defense that lost defensive lineman Sam Acho, who turned in an All-American-caliber season as a senior in 2010. Blake Gideon, Kenny Vaccaro and Christian Scott give the Longhorns good experience at safety, too.

3. Iowa State: Linebacker Jake Knott is the Big 12's leading returning tackler after making 131 stops a year ago. The Cyclones return four of their top five tacklers, including junior linebacker A.J. Klein, who made 111 tackles of his own. Middle linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou missed the second half of the season with a broken leg, but he'll be back on the field this year. Safety David Sims will be tough to replace.

4. Texas A&M: The Aggies return eight of 11 starters on defense, but two of the three losses (linebackers Michael Hodges and Von Miller) were among the top four tacklers. The other two starting linebackers, Garrick Willams and Sean Porter, will be counted on as more experienced backers this year.

5. Missouri: The Tigers lose two of their top three tacklers, but speedy linebacker Zaviar Gooden, who tied Andrew Gachkar for the team lead with 84 tackles, is back for a Missouri defense that should be one of the Big 12's best next year. Experienced safety Kenji Jackson, a senior who will enter his fourth year on the field as a major contributor, should be one of the team's leaders next year.

6. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two of their three top tacklers, but bring back a pair of solid safeties in Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas. Leading tackler Orie Lemon made 133 stops last year, and replacing his leadership might be harder than replacing his production on the field. Sophomore Shaun Lewis is the Big 12's reigning co-Defensive Freshman of the Year and looks poised for a huge encore at the Cowboys' "star" linebacker spot.

7. Oklahoma: Three of Oklahoma's top five tacklers, including both starting safeties, are gone. It could have been worse, but linebacker Travis Lewis decided to stick around for his senior season and chase a national title. All-Big 12 corner Jamell Fleming was fourth on the team in tackles, and currently isn't enrolled. Coach Bob Stoops has been cryptic about Fleming's status in the future, and it's hard to tell if he'll be back or not after a reported academic misconduct incident.

8. Texas Tech: Injuries forced that Red Raiders to play a lot of young talent too early last year, but three of their top six tacklers won't be back in 2011. Linebackers Bront Bird (106 tackles) and Brian Duncan are the most notable absences, along with defensive tackle Colby Whitlock. Sam Fehoko and Blake Dees should anchor the middle of the defense this year, and the secondary has lots of quality young talent returning. Cody Davis, Tre Porter, D.J. Johnson and Jarvis Phillips are all back.

9. Kansas: Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler last season, returns after making 95 stops last year, but Kansas loses all four of its next top tacklers. That includes linebacker Justin Springer, but my guess? Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, will lead the Jayhawks in stops this year.

10. Baylor: The Bears take the biggest hit in the Big 12 when it comes to returning tacklers. The team's top five in stops last season were all seniors. Six of the top seven are gone, and senior linebacker Elliot Coffey is the leading returner. He made 61 tackles last year, and missed three games with a sprained ankle.