Wednesday night, the Big 12 officially lost its preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, as defensive end Devonte Fields announced via Twitter that he would be leaving TCU for Stephen F. Austin. Fields had been “separated” from the university after being charged with assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Fields could have hung around and appealed the separation. But the writing appeared to be on the wall. His days at TCU were numbered.
Even though he missed most of the 2013 season with a suspension and foot injury, Fields was still picked to be the Big 12’s top defender in July. He was dominant as a freshman two years ago, and was named the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the year.
The Big 12 won’t hold a vote to select a new preseason Defensive Player of the Year. But we can have one right here.
Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker received several votes for the award. After a breakout sophomore regular season, Striker dominated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with three sacks, and the game-clinching forced fumble.
Sooners defensive end Charles Tapper is another option. Tapper was the only defensive underclassman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. He and Striker lead an Oklahoma defense that returns nine starters.
Two of the Big 12’s most lethal pass-rushers from last season are also back.
Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller (11.5) and Texas defensive end Cedric Reed (10) combined for 21.5 sacks. Mueller was also second in the league with 18.5 tackles for loss. Reed was right behind him with 16.5. Only Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat (13) had more sacks in the league than Mueller and Reed.
Mueller and Reed also combined for nine forced fumbles, and figure to be the anchors of their respective defenses.
The fifth and final spot in our poll could go to a number of players. Linebacker Ben Heeney is arguably the league’s top returning tackler, but it’s difficult to see a player from Kansas contending for a player of the year award as long as the Jayhawks continue to dwell in the cellar. Baylor linebacker Bryce Hager, TCU safety Sam Carter, TCU defensive tackle Chucky Hunter, Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown and Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs should all be contenders, as well.
But we will give to the final poll slot to Shawn Oakman because of his enormous upside. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound Baylor defensive end was "unblockable" during the spring, according to Bears coach Art Briles. Oakman has the skills to become the most dominating defensive player in the league.
Now we put it to you in our weekly Big 12 poll. Who should be the Big 12’s new preseason Defensive Player of the Year?