Big 12: Aaron Williams

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas has a well-earned reputation as the nation's "DBU," a proverbial factory of NFL defensive backs.

Even so, when three NFL-caliber corners leave a team, like they did at Texas before the 2011 season, doubts will surface.

Can you replace Aaron Williams' versatility? What about Curtis Brown's cover skills and Chykie Brown's knack for being in the right place for the big play at the right time?

[+] EnlargeCarrington Byndom
John Albright/Icon SMICarrington Byndom is part of an experienced Texas backfield.
New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz looked down his depth chart and saw a true freshman, Quandre Diggs, and a little-used sophomore in Carrington Byndom.

By season's end, though, the duo transformed one of the Longhorns' biggest question marks -- and after a 5-7 season in 2010, they had plenty -- into arguably its biggest strength.

"Both of them are both very bright," coach Mack Brown said. "They made an easy transition to the field. Both of them were in very good high school programs."

Diggs showcased his fearlessness early in the spring. He went head-to-head with -- and held his own against -- the team's top and more experienced receivers while he should have been in high school. The contact did not faze the former high school running back.

"Quandre was tough," Brown said. "He got knocked around a lot."

Meanwhile, Brown pointed to Byndom's outstanding athletic ability for his early success. Byndom had the option to play college baseball, but elected to stick to football.

"Carrington has gotten tougher every minute he's been here," Brown said, adding that he was a "very good athlete."

By fall, both were entrenched as starters.

Diggs finished the season with four interceptions, more than all but one freshman in college football (Bryce Callahan of Rice). The league's coaches named him the Big 12's top defensive freshman and Diggs was named a freshman All-American. He landed a spot on the All-Big 12 second team, too.

Byndom, a first-year starter, landed a nod as a first-team All-Big 12 talent and a key cog in a defense that topped the conference in total defense for a fifth consecutive season. He picked off two passes and tied Diggs with a team-high 15, earning the team's defensive player of the week honors on four occasions.

Notes KC Joyner of Football Outsiders:
His 6.2 yards per attempt (YPA) allowed total was better than the YPA marks posted by Alabama Crimson Tide cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (6.6) and LSU Tigers cornerback Morris Claiborne (7.5), two coverage specialists who will likely end up selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.

DBU, indeed.

The Longhorns also were the only team in college football to not allow a touchdown pass for 20 yards or longer before the season finale against Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and receiving champ Kendall Wright.

"They were very responsible," Brown said. "That was one of our biggest question marks sitting there in the spring and in the fall. And I thought you have to give a lot of credit to Manny and to [defensive backs coach] Duane [Akina] for devising a scheme that took pressure off of them as well.

"We didn't play near as much man and didn't put them in as many one-on-one situations, and then because of their confidence you see the play that Carrington made at A&M probably changed that game."

Byndom swung the momentum for the burnt orange in the final chapter of a heated rivalry with the in-state Aggies before they left for the SEC.

Trailing 16-7 at halftime, Byndom stepped in front of a Ryan Tannehill pass early in the third quarter, returning it 58 yards for a touchdown, silencing a rabid Kyle Field crowd and igniting a second-half comeback for the ages.

Brown saw plenty out of both corners in 2011, but they were young and inexperienced. What happens now?

Big 12 receivers, beware.

Mailbag: Does the SEC want A&M?

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
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Thanks for the all the emails.

B. Stautzenberger (@coachrock4) in OKC asked: I hear so much that the a&m will struggle in the sec but at there worst they r better than both miss schools and vandy Kentucky. They are on par with auburn and Arkansas. And that's just football. I don't see why the sec wouldn't love to have the aggies.

David Ubben: Yeah, I don't really get it. The folks that know what they're talking about know that the SEC is crazy not to want the Aggies, which they clearly do. The only problem could be the 14th team.

The fans are kind of another story. As an Arkansas native, I know a pretty large group of Arkansas fans, and the majority of them are not excited about bringing in A&M at all. I spent last weekend in Kansas City with a few of them, and the lack of big-time accomplishments on the résumé and a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach has them and lots of other Hog fans pretty lukewarm to the idea.

The program, facilities and fans make it a good fit from the SEC perspective, though I disagree with the move from the A&M perspective.

I think you'll see all three of those get at least a temporary boost with the move to the SEC. The atmosphere for games will be amped up a bit the first couple of years, but I think the Aggies will have to win over a reasonable percentage of the fans.

Fortunately for them, the same doesn't appear to be true for decision-makers.


Ryan in Tulsa, Okla., asked: David,Im an OSU fan. I just don't think new OC Todd Monken will have the same impact as Dana Holgerson did last year. Dana just had that knack to stay patient and not ever get overwhelmed when it came to crunch time in big games. I feel Todd might get flustered and nervous in those big game situations when he has to call the right play at the right time. He already has to be feeling pressure about it. How do you think he will do? Also, do you think Brandon Weeden will get to be like Peyton Manning and have the ability to make his own play calls at times?

DU: Well, the facts add up to this: We have no idea. There's not a lot to draw on regarding Monken's play-calling prowess. We have Gundy's endorsement. That's about it. Monken might be great. He might be a significant downgrade. He might be OK. We'll find out pretty quick. There's not a lot of evidence pointing to any of those options just yet.

What we do know is this: He's going to have a heck of a lot of talent running his plays. That makes everyone look better.

As for Weeden calling plays, I don't see that happening, but he'll no doubt have a lot of input and impact on what's called. And besides, even after a play is called or even snapped, he still has a lot of effect on what's going on during the play.


Chris in San Jose, Calif., asked: Dubbs, I think you did a great job on the top 25 list, but you missed the mark badly on Michael Egnew from Missouri. I'll be the first to admit that he's no Chase Coffman, but he was a All American and voted MVP of the Missouri team by his teammates (over the others you chose for the list). Your point about how average per catch being 44th among receivers is less spectacular when you figure that the highest TE on that stat is at 37th. That's just not a position that lends itself to high avg per reception. He's the only BCS conference TE in the top 100 in yards per game, and he's top 10 in receptions per game, so even though other teams know it's coming to him, they can't stop him.But more to the point, I just don't see how you can leave a returning consensus All American off your top 25 list. There are only 4 returning consensus All Americans in the entire country.

DU: You make some valid points. And it was close. He was probably the first player just outside the top 25. I may be wrong on this, but I just don't see the physical talents that Martin Rucker and Coffman had. And the facts are also this: The crop of tight ends in college football is weak.

There's no Jermaine Gresham or Martellus Bennett in this group.

Here's the core my general thought process: If Andrew Jones was the only tight end on Missouri's roster, and he was given the exact same opportunities Egnew was given, would he be able to have a similar output?

In my opinion, yes. I don't believe you could say that about the players behind guys like Gresham, Bennett, Rucker or Coffman.


JG in Enid, Okla., asked: This is just awesome. Quinn sharp booting a 62 yard field goal in practice. Not only that the whole team cheering against him and special team coach Joe Defo calling timeout to ice him. Backup QB Clint Chelf taunting him in a manner that makes you think of the Karate Kid. Plus, you have to love Jonathan Rush holding back Grant Garner as he barks like a dog earlier in the video.

DU: Outstanding. Had to get that on the blog somehow.


Andrew in College Station, Texas, asked: Have you noticed that Pac 12 blogger continually picks teams to "whip" A&M in _____ bowl in the Pac 12 Best/ Worst case scenarios? Seriously, I know I've seen it at least three times.

DU: No worries. It's all simple reverse psychology. I hear A&M is shopping a new conference, but not one in particular. Ted's trying to talk them into coming out west and proving him wrong. He's a fiend, but never forget: Those West-Coast types are much, much smarter than the rest of us in the heartland.


Jared in Portland, Ore., asked: Dubbs, what's up with this years bowl schedule? No games on New Years Day? Did the BCS forget about tradition? Am I supposed watch parades when I'm hung over?

DU: No worries, fans. It happened a few years ago, and it's happening again. Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday, so the NFL will be playing that day. The good news: College football will be well-sandwiched around those games.


John Thomas in LeBary, Fla., asked: Not a single Red Raider in the top 25? From the team that has the longest string of bowl appearances in the Big 12? David, Southwest Airlines has several flights a day between Dallas and Lubbock. Book a flight. Spend some time there.

DU: Oh, I've made that flight quite a few times. I was out in Lubbock this spring. This isn't the Red Raiders' year, but who, exactly, would you suggest I put in the top 25 or near it?

Someone from the defense that ranked 118th nationally in stopping the pass and 114th nationally in total defense? Or someone from an offense that lost its top two quarterbacks, a three-year starter at running back and the two top receivers?

The Red Raiders have a lot of potential, but not a lot of proven players. Lonnie Edwards or Cody Davis was probably the closest to making the top 25, but they're going to have be a lot better this year.

Here's betting a few of them make the postseason top 25, but they'll only be there once they earn it.


Daniel in St. Louis, Mo., asked: I hear Aaron Williams and Curtis Brown are doing pretty well in the preseason. Is there any other school who produces more potential nfl starters at defensive back?

DU: No doubt about it. Texas is absolutely DBU. Credit Duane Akina for that, though. He's one of the league's best position coaches, and his secondary proves it every season.

Guys like Quandre Diggs have a lot of potential. Akina grooms them into stars.

Will Texas rebound in 2011? How far?

August, 25, 2011
8/25/11
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Texas is easily the wildest card in the Big 12 deck this season, but how do you see the Longhorns faring in 2010?

The defense returns six starters, and is the strength of the team, despite losing Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams to the NFL. The team's safeties, Kenny Vaccaro, Christian Scott and Blake Gideon are solid, though Scott will be sidelined the first three games because of a suspension.

The front seven is loaded with potential, and the Longhorns have two of the best linebackers in the league, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are exciting defensive ends offsetting Kheeston Randall, one of the league's best overall linemen.

Offensively, well, the Longhorns have a lot to prove. They're the only Big 12 team left that doesn't know its starting quarterback for the opening weekend. Eight starters from last year's offense return, but some of the team's biggest hype is coming from players new to campus.

Running back Malcolm Brown and receiver Jaxon Shipley showed up to campus this summer, but quarterback David Ash impressed coaches after enrolling early this spring.

The offensive line will have to be better, especially if any of those three will have success. Shipley should add some solid playmaking ability to a receiving corps depleted with the losses of Marquise Goodwin (Olympic track qualifying) and Malcolm Williams (personal issues), who won't be with the team this year. Mike Davis will likely be the team's go-to receiver, at least to start the season.

So how do the Longhorns stack up?
We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group? Well, it's not very good. And considering the crazy depth in the Big 12 at receiver, it could be a long season for cornerbacks in this league. I love the upside of many of the Big 12 corners -- namely the guys at Missouri and Texas Tech (especially working with Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 in Lubbock). Texas could also develop fast in its new defense, but outside of Texas A&M and Oklahoma, I don't see any Big 12 teams that should be completely comfortable with their cornerbacks.

Of course, for fans who love points, this could be a welcome development. For secondary coaches and defensive coordinators? Not so much.

[+] EnlargeJamell Fleming
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJamell Fleming returns as the Big 12's top cornerback.
1. Oklahoma -- Jamell Fleming is the Big 12's top returner at the position and gives the Sooners a huge boost after being reinstated last week. Fleming had withdrawn from the university because of academic problems following the season. Aaron Colvin moved to safety during the offseason, but Fleming will still have to beat out Gabe Lynn in fall camp to start opposite Demontre Hurst. Julian Wilson also adds depth.

2. Texas A&M -- Fleming's return pushed the Sooners over A&M as having the Big 12's best group of corners. But Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick could both challenge for first team All-Big 12 honors at the position. They are ahead of reserves Dustin Harris and Lionel Smith, who will get plenty of time on the field.

3. Missouri -- Missouri loses starters Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the coaches consider Kip Edwards a returning starter because of how much he played last season. Edwards could join E.J. Gaines in eventually becoming better than both Gettis and Rutland. Trey Hobson and Robert Steeples will get time in the rotation, too.

4. Oklahoma State -- OSU has to replace the Big 12's interception leader Andrew McGee , but Brodrick Brown's development should continue. He's likely a dark horse to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors after the season. The Cowboys didn't release a post-spring depth chart, but don't be surprised if return specialist Justin Gilbert edges out Devin Hedgepeth for the starting spot before the opener. Andrae May has earned playing time on special teams in both of his first two seasons on campus, but could be counted on for a much bigger role this year as the fourth corner.

5. Texas -- The Longhorns are fairly decimated at corner after losing three to the NFL in one offseason. Curtis and Chykie Brown joined Aaron Williams for one of the most talented sets of corners we've seen in this league, but now, secondary coach Duane Akina will have to replace them. Texas' depth chart is still as in flux as any in college football, but I'd be surprised if Carrington Byndom didn't emerge with a starting spot. True freshman Quandre Diggs might swipe the other, but A.J. White will be on the field, too.

6. Texas Tech -- The Red Raiders are likely to ascend this list by season's end, but for now, find themselves at No. 6. Injuries were costly for the defense last season, but Tre Porter and Derrick Mays should be much better, and Tech fans can be encouraged by the upside in Jarvis Phillips, Jeremy Reynolds and Eugene Neboh.

7. Iowa State -- This group might be a bit underrated, but with Iowa State's defensive problems last season, it's a bit hard to tell. Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson return with loads of experience, and Anthony Young is a great additional piece as the third corner. Matthew Thomas should be in the rotation, too.

8. Baylor -- The Bears return both starters. Chance Casey has 15 career starts to Tyler Stephenson's four, but the Bears secondary struggled last season, especially the corners. Tuswani Copeland should be on the field under new coordinator Phil Bennett, whose work is cut out for him at this spot.

9. Kansas -- Kansas loses Chris Harris from last season's team, but Isiah Barfield is a playmaker at the position. Greg Brown, Tyler Patmon and Anthony Davis fill out the group.

10. Kansas State -- The Wildcats have a huge talent in David Garrett, who led the team in tackles last season and was the nation's leader in tackles for loss, but he's still just one player at a position that needs lots of depth in this league. Also, his coverage leaves a bit to be desired. For now, K-State doesn't look like it has that necessary depth. Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison are gone, but the Wildcats need to find more talents at the position in fall camp. Watch for Thomas Ferguson to emerge as the other starter.

Schedule analysis: Texas Longhorns

June, 14, 2011
6/14/11
10:30
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Time for more schedule analysis, as promised. Here's a look at our next team in line: The Longhorns of Austin.

Nonconference (with 2010 records):
  • Sept. 3: Rice (4-8)
  • Sept. 10: Brigham Young (7-6)
  • Sept. 17: at UCLA (4-8)
Home Big 12 games:
  • Oct. 8: Oklahoma (12-2) at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
  • Oct. 15: Oklahoma State (11-2)
  • Oct. 29: Kansas (3-9)
  • Nov. 5: Texas Tech (8-5)
  • Nov. 19: Kansas State (7-6)
Away Big 12 games:
  • Oct. 1: Iowa State (5-7)
  • Nov. 12: Missouri (10-3)
  • Nov. 24: Texas A&M (9-4)
  • Dec. 3: Baylor (7-6)
Gut-check game: at Iowa State. Regardless of what happens in nonconference play, the real show begins for Texas in conference. Iowa State will be a team that's competitive in the Big 12 this year, and should give a good indication of where Texas will be for the remainder of conference play. The Cyclones walked out of Austin with the first win there in program history last year, and if Texas loses in Ames next year, you can probably expect another long year for the Longhorns. If they win by double digits, chalk that up as evidence that Texas may be back.

Noncon challenge: Brigham Young. Texas' only two wins at home last season were over Wyoming and Florida Atlantic, but if the Horns want to prove they're back, knocking off the Cougars in their second game would be a huge step. BYU brings back Jake Heaps, a sophomore quarterback who started the season's final 10 games, improving rapidly as the season progressed. He won five of his final six games to bring the team to 7-6 from its 2-5 start, and broke Heisman winner Ty Detmer's record at BYU for freshman touchdown passes. That improvement should continue this year and provide a tough, tough test for Texas' young secondary.

Snoozer: Rice. The Owls won four games a year ago, and in Houston, let Texas rack up its second highest point total of the season in a 34-17 win. Texas will be better this year. Rice might be too, but not good enough to in Austin.

Chance to impress: Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry. Texas came within a couple bounces of knocking off the eventual Big 12 champs last year. A Landry Jones fumble deep in Texas territory bounced out of bounds, and with a chance to get the ball back and tie the game, Aaron Williams muffed a punt. With a few recent exceptions, this is always a tough win no matter how much better one team is than the other, and Texas could definitely put an end to all the jokes if it knocked off Oklahoma in its second conference game.

Underrated closer: at Baylor. The Longhorns won't be closing the year with Texas A&M, and as much flack as this game has caught as the warmup for Bedlam later that night, it's easy to forget how compelling last year's matchup was. The Bears, who slipped to No. 25 the week before the game, erased a 19-10 deficit to knock off the Longhorns for the first time since 1997. Joke away, but this could be a great game.

Analysis: Texas is one of the six Big 12 teams with a 4-4-1 home-away set up thanks to a neutral site game, but the Longhorns have a very odd set up. After Red River, Texas comes home for a three-game home stretch in three weeks, one of the longest of any team in the Big 12. However, after that, the season will come to a very, very difficult close that could possibly leave a tough taste in Texas fans' mouths if the team doesn't have itself together midway through the year.

The Longhorns travel to Missouri, Texas A&M and Baylor in the final four weeks of the season -- all very losable games -- sandwiched around a game in Austin against Kansas State, who infamously has proved it has Texas' number, for whatever reason. That was never more evident than last year, when the Wildcats handed out the worst beating of any team against Texas, racing to a 39-0 lead in a 39-14 win, while throwing four passes the entire game and picking off Garrett Gilbert five times.

Will Texas' season end triumphantly with an impressive run away from home, or will the memories of early wins be erased by road losses to good teams?

Click here for more Big 12 schedule analysis.

Texas spring wrap

May, 6, 2011
5/06/11
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TEXAS

2010 overall record: 5-7

2010 conference record: 2-6

Returning starters: Offense (8), Defense (6) P/K (1)

Top returners: RB Fozzy Whittaker, LB Keenan Robinson, LB Emmanuel Acho, DE Jackson Jeffcoat, WR Mike Davis, RB Cody Johnson

Key losses: DE Sam Acho, DC Will Muschamp, CB Curtis Brown, CB Aaron Williams, CB Chykie Brown, DL Eddie Jones, OL Kyle Hix, WR James Kirkendoll

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Cody Johnson* (592 yards)

Passing: Garrett Gilbert* (2,744 yards)

Receiving: James Kirkendoll (707 yards)

Tackles: Keenan Robinson* (106)

Sacks: Sam Acho (8)

Interceptions: Keenan Robinson* (2)

Three spring answers

1. Offseason mission accomplished. Mack Brown hired five new coaches and a new strength coach, Benny Wylie. The players have taken to the younger blood on the sidelines, mostly up-and-comers who have plenty to prove and plenty of energy. Brown lauded the team’s effort in the offseason program, too. Whether or not it pays off on the field immediately, Brown made great hires that his players have bought into.

2. Right place, right time for Okafor. Defensive end Alex Okafor was a defensive tackle last year and figured he’d stay there this year. But days before spring practice, he moved to defensive end and had one of the best springs on the team, capping it with five sacks in the spring game.

3. Recruiting pipelines are still full. Despite all the unrest with the coaching staff and last year’s on-field struggles, Texas hasn’t seen the effects on the recruiting trail. It retained all but one recruit from its 2010 class (an he was an out-of-stater, albeit a five-star lineman) and its 2011 class is already one of the nation’s best.

Three fall questions

1. Is Texas back? There are tons of little questions (secondary, the entire offense), but they all add up to this one. The Longhorns have more money than anyone else. Recruiting is easier for them than perhaps any school in the country. They have a tradition of success. Seasons like last year aren’t supposed to happen at Texas. Was last year a hiccup, or a significant hurdle?

2. What about the QBs? Texas has one of the most jumbled messes in the league at quarterback. Garrett Gilbert started all 12 games last year, but he was unimpressive and threw 17 picks to 10 TDs. The competition was reopened under new OC Bryan Harsin, but after the spring, none of Texas three quarterbacks had separated themselves, and Case McCoy was the most impressive passer in the spring game. Anything could happen this fall. No one is a front runner.

3. Is Malcolm Brown the future or present? We’ve seen impressive freshman running backs in this league before, and the opportunity will be there for Brown if he’s good enough to seize it. Texas has Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but both are seniors and neither has proven to be a reliable every-down threat. What’s in store for the nation’s top running back in the 2011 class?

The Revolving Door: Texas

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
9:00
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I've done it. You've done it.

"Hey, is that guy still around?"

Even with two fewer teams, it's hard to keep track. Our next series, which we did last year, too, takes a look at two key players for every team in the league that are taking their talents elsewhere, returning to campus, or arriving to try and write a legacy of their own.

So really, this series isn't so much for the fans of the teams in the posts, but more for everyone else. It wouldn't be a bad idea to bookmark this series.

Next up: Texas

Going:

Sam Acho, DE

Texas struggled last season, but Acho didn't. The senior lineman was the rock of the defense on and off the field, earning both All-Big 12 first-team honors and the Academic Heisman. He also accompanied his parents on mission trips to Nigeria during the summer and was a semifinalist for the Lombardi Trophy in 2010 and a semifinalist for the Lott Trophy in 2009. He'll be missed by the Longhorns after being drafted in the fourth round by Arizona.

Aaron Williams, CB

Williams crashed Texas' starting lineup for a game as a freshman, but has been a full-time starter for his past two seasons. Williams was one of just three players in the Big 12 to leave school early after last season, forgoing his senior year to have the Buffalo Bills make him the 34th overall selection of last week's draft. Williams played some nickel back, played some cornerback, and he was also the guy who ended Sam Bradford's career with a hit in the first quarter of 2009's Red River Rivalry. Last season, he was an All-Big 12 second-teamer and broke up 13 passes, making 46 tackles and forcing three fumbles.

Staying:

Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, LBs

This pair are close friends and should be the two vocal leaders of the defense in 2011 under new direction. Will Muschamp is gone, and Manny Diaz has arrived. Last season, Robinson and Acho combined for 187 tackles as the team's top two tackles. Emmanuel is Sam's younger brother, so it's clear he'll have somewhere to go if he has questions about stepping into the role as a team leader. Both have nice combinations of size and speed. Robinson (6-foot-3, 235 pounds) and Acho (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) should be among the Big 12's best at their position next season.

Foswhitt Whittaker and Cody Johnson, RBs

Whittaker and Johnson combined for 943 yards and eight scores last season. They'll have to be better this season for Texas to bounce back from its 5-7 record in 2010. Together, their efforts still would have only ranked 11th in the Big 12 if they were one back. Whittaker, a more balanced back, has dealt with a nagging shoulder injury and Johnson, though solid at the goal line for most of his career, doesn't give the Longhorns a big-play threat at 250 pounds. Both are seniors, but if they're not better next season, both could be out of a job. D.J. Monroe is likely to get more touches in space, and the nation's top running back is headed to Austin this fall.

Coming:

Malcolm Brown, RB

Brown is the guy Texas fans have been waiting for. Not since Jamaal Charles has Texas had what could be called a franchise back. Is Brown the guy? There's no way to know for sure until he gets to campus this fall, but the 6-foot, 215-pounder was among the nation's top recruits in the 2011 class and is a power runner with decent speed. The Texas 5A Offensive Player of the Year in 2010, the Cibolo, Texas native rushed for 1,800 yards and 23 scores while leading his team to a state title.

Quandre Diggs, CB

Texas fans have already had a chance to see Diggs, and they had to love it. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder was the nation's top cornerback in the 2011 class, and after enrolling early, is already challenging for a starting spot in Texas' new defense. He was all over the place in Texas' spring game, and has already made a big impression on his teammates for his efforts. Off the field, he helped hold together Texas' top-flight recruiting class in the midst of upheaval on the coaching staff, too. He was on the phone with his future teammates, telling them to hold tight and let Mack Brown do his job. Diggs could be in store for a special, special career.

Click here for more from The Revolving Door.

Mailbag: Test, new QB, coaches, UT slide?

May, 4, 2011
5/04/11
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Thanks for the questions, all. Let's get started.

Little Stoops in Tallahassee, Fla asked: With my brother coming into town week 3 of the season. What match up's on myside of the ball should I have an advantage on, even tho OU's Offense looks better than last years?

David Ubben: Well, I don't see too many. And either way, Oklahoma will find a way to exploit the places on offense that it has the advantage.

Spoiler alert: If anyone beats Oklahoma this year, it's going to have to put up a ton of points or hope for turnovers. Landry Jones should be better than ever, and he's throwing to a deep corps of receivers, deeper than he's ever had.

The offensive line wasn't fantastic last year, but the only spot that it really struggled was trying to get pushes up front in short-yardage situations against good defenses. On the whole, it was pretty good, and Stoops raved -- unprompted, mind you -- about their progress this spring.

E.J. Manuel is going to have to have a heck of a game if Florida State is going to avenge last year's embarrassment in Norman.


Greg in Texas asked: Which first year coordinator has the most to prove? Which will be most successful?

DU: Most to prove is an interesting question. I'll go with Bryan Harsin at Texas, just because so many people still hate Boise State and don't buy that what the program has done is authentic. Having one of its coaches go off and be successful out from underneath the shadow of Chris Petersen could go a long way for both Harsin and the Boise State program.

As for most successful? In year one, that looks like it'll probably be Todd Monken by a long ways, mostly because of the talent he's inheriting. Success is different than impact, I suppose. He could have the same success that Dana Holgorsen had last year, but I don't think many would consider it the same kind of "impact." Does that matter? Well, that's up to you.

As for long-term success? I'll go with either Josh Heupel or Manny Diaz. Both are on the fast track to becoming head coaches very soon and both are in positions that should be conducive to big-time success.


Emperor Norton in San Francisco asked: In an interview with San Francisco radio station and Niner flagship, KNBR (THE Sports Leader!), Aldon Smith let slip that Niner Coach Jim Harbaugh gave him a 49 question test on football history. Questions included "How wide is the football field and who is Knute Rockne?" I guess Smith passed but what question(s) would you put on such a test?

DU: Yeah, I don't think that's a big deal. Aldon Smith said the field was 50 yards wide. It's 53 1/3. As long as he can see the white lines and understand that if he has the ball, he can't go outside of them, he'll be fine. Not an issue. He also didn't know who Knute Rockne was. Just guessing: He's not the only guy on his team who couldn't place Rockne.

That test isn't any kind of predictor for on-field success. All it is is a tool for a coach to get to know the kind of player he has, and what he needs to do to coach him. Harbaugh's a smart guy. Players will, more often than not, tell a coach what he wants to hear.

I imagine Harbaugh learned a lot by administering that test. Apparently, so did his players.


Chet Anderson in Ames, Iowa asked: What do you see as the realistic best and worse case scenario coming out of Iowa State's QB competition going into the season?

DU: We've seen Jerome Tiller. He didn't look great last year. He's good enough for them to win some games next year and maybe get to a bowl game, but he's not a game-changer.

Steele Jantz? He's still a bit of a wild-card. Best-case scenario: The receivers look completely different this year, Jantz is able to hit them and use his legs to make plays and Iowa State wins 7-8 games.

Worst-case scenario: Iowa State's quarterback position becomes a revolving door with no real optimism for the future. (See: Kansas, 2010)


Adam Penny in Austin, Texas asked: Did the draft prove that the problem at Texas last year was a simple lack of talent.they did not have any first round picks and Baylor had 2. If you look at the 2005 squad almost the entire team is in the NFL

DU: No, not necessarily. On offense, I agree with you, but Texas had three corners drafted, as well as DE Sam Acho. Next year, there should be more Longhorns defenders in the draft. Aaron Williams was pretty close to a first-rounder, too.

People want to point to recruiting rankings, but folks who watched Texas play last year have to be able to see the discrepancy on the two sides of the ball.

Defensively, Texas is still solid, and should have another good year.

Offensively, though? From quarterbacks to running backs to receivers to offensive line, Texas was definitely in the bottom third of the Big 12 in all three last year. Recruiting stars don't equal yards.


Luke in Corpus Christi, Texas asked: Should any of the teams in the Big 12 be calling former NC State QB Russell Wilson? If so which ones?

DU: I don't see it happening. Unlike what we thought in the preseason with Nebraska last year, there aren't any great Big 12 teams in need of a quarterback. Wilson will want to play for a contender. Additionally, he's a North Carolina native and as far as I can tell, has no ties to Texas or any other Big 12 states.

Wrapping up the Big 12's draft

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
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The NFL draft has come and gone, and I hope you're all prepared for no more NFL anything for awhile. I know I'm not.

Anyway, here's how the Big 12 shook out over the weekend, with a few thoughts to follow.

First round (8)

Second round (2)
Third round (2)
Fourth round (6)
Fifth round (3)
Sixth round (1)
Seventh round (8)

Here's how the Big 12 teams ranked in terms of total draftees:

1. Nebraska - 7
2. Baylor - 4
2. Colorado - 4
2. Oklahoma - 4
2. Texas - 4
6. Missouri - 3
7. Kansas State -1
7. Oklahoma State - 1
7. Texas A&M - 1
7. Texas Tech - 1
11. Iowa State - 0
11. Kansas - 0

And the major conferences (counting where players actually played):

SEC - 38
Pac-12 - 33
Big 12 - 30
Big Ten - 29
ACC - 35
Big East - 22

  • Texas A&M had just one player drafted, but the Aggies will have plenty next year, including a handful of possible first-rounders. Cyrus Gray, Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller could all go very early in 2012, depending on what happens between now and then.
  • [+] EnlargeJeremy Beal
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal was drafted in the seventh round by Denver.

  • Interesting that Miller went 245 selections before the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year, according to the media, Jeremy Beal. Also an interesting coincidence? The same team drafted both. I do think Beal will have a productive NFL career, and there's no denying what he did at Oklahoma, but the measurables were never quite there for Beal. What's not measurable? How difficult he is to block. That said, Miller was my vote for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Good to see some hard-working, perhaps under-respected guys get drafted. This was an important year for that, considering those left over won't be able to get into NFL minicamps until the lockout ends and won't be able to do anything to further their NFL careers besides work out on their own. I'll have a post later today on some of those snubs. There's no guarantee that late-drafted guys like Baron Batch, Scotty McKnight, Jay Finley or Eric Hagg will catch on in the the pros, but I'd be willing to guarantee they'll do everything in their power to maximize what opportunities they get.
  • One of the most interesting selections? Mikail Baker. He wasn't invited to the combine, and played just one full season on defense at Baylor after working as a kick returner and a cornerback in 2009 before a season-ending knee injury. You don't see that kind of impressive athleticism at Baylor traditionally.
  • Let the debate continue: Kendall Hunter vs. DeMarco Murray. Murray getting drafted 40-some spots earlier only intensified that discussion, if you ask me.
  • Also, what's more impressive from Art Briles? That Baylor had four picks, the most in school history since 1996? Or that despite those four picks, Baylor's returning an even better team than last season, when it ended a 16-year bowl drought?
  • Colorado's draft, meanwhile? Not exactly a ringing endorsement for Dan Hawkins' coaching job in Boulder.
  • Alex Henery didn't win the Lou Groza Award, but his fourth-round selection makes him the earliest kicker draft pick since 2006. Will that end the state of Nebraska's blood feud against respectable OSU kicker Dan Bailey, who did win the Lou Groza Award? I doubt it. (Save your emails. For the 100th time, I agree, Nebraska fans. Henery > Bailey.)
  • A few guys who went way lower than I thought they would. In order of my surprise level: Beal, Gabbert, Amukamara, Hagg, Hunter.
  • A few guys who went way higher than I thought, in the same order: Aldon Smith, Batch, Gachkar, Baker.

Big 12 has a handful of value picks

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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The Big 12 will likely have a pair of top-10 picks tonight and five selections in the first round, but there will still be six more rounds over the next two days, and plenty more Big 12ers will have a new home soon.

Middle and late-round picks are when you really have a chance to build a program, and here are a few folks who won't hear their names called tonight, but will on plenty of Sundays in the future.

Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State

He'll have the best NFL career of any of the Big 12 backs in this year's draft. Better than DeMarco Murray and Kendall Hunter. Roy Helu, too, if you're into that kind of thing.

Thomas is durable (never missed a game in two years), runs with a low center of gravity, making him one of the hardest guys to bring down in the league and is a great balance of power and speed. But what's most impressive? Despite leading the Big 12 in rushing the past two years, he's probably got the most upside of any back in the draft. He's only played the position since leaving junior college, where he was a quarterback.

Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma

He's a tweener at the next level. Not fast enough to be a linebacker and not big enough to play defensive end. He's not physically impressive. But he never has been, really. He's never a guy who wowed me, unless I was looking in the offensive backfield or on the stat sheet. He always had a strong presence in both.

For three years, he's been one of the best defenders in the Big 12, and it's hard to believe he won't exceed his modest expectations at the next level.

Sam Acho, DE, Texas

Unless his teammate, cornerback Aaron Williams, slips in the first round, it'll be the first draft since 1998 without a Sooner or a Longhorn selected in the first round. Even so, Acho assures there are still quality prospects from both programs available later in the draft.

He's got impressive agility for 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, and any player has a distinct advantage if he's got what it takes in the most important part of any NFL player: the brain. Acho definitely does, and won the Academic Heisman for his efforts in the classroom, too. A model citizen, even if Acho isn't an impact player on the field, he can be a big impact in the locker room. Don't be surprised if he ends up being both by the time his career is over.

Kiper's Big Board, mock get final polish

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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The lights will be on shortly, but Mel Kiper has released his final Big Board , a list of the top 25 available prospects, leading up to tonight's draft.

Of his first board a year ago, nine of the top 10 prospects are expected to be first-round picks, and Andrew Luck is still in school.

Here's where the Big 12's talent stacked up:

No. 2: Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M

Analysis: Miller can impact NFL games early in his career as a pass-rushing 3-4 outside linebacker, but he also has coverage skills. Heady, big-time athlete.

No. 12: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri

Analysis: Ideal frame, athleticism to consider for 4-3 or 3-4; still developing but a ton of upside. Athletic enough with size to be versatile. Jumps off tape.

No. 14: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

Analysis: Strong arm, good accuracy, ideal size and physical skills. An underrated athlete. Had a solid but unspectacular pro day. Will go high.

He also submitted his final mock draft before the real thing tonight. Here's where he slotted the Big 12's stars.

No. 2, Denver Broncos: Von Miller, LB, Texas A&M

...if you want dynamic upside, it's hard to go wrong with Miller. ... Miller is a smart, explosive, natural pass-rusher with the speed to track down QBs and also drop into coverage, then play the run down the line. Miller is a special talent and is a common pick as the rookie who can provide the most immediate impact.

No. 7, San Francisco 49ers: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri

This time, I think Gabbert lands here. While Jim Harbaugh has taken the dignified route and stated how much he wants to work with Alex Smith, I think it's pretty fair to assume the Niners will be looking for a long-term solution for their new coach. ... Like Newton, this isn't a quarterback you want starting games in 2011, but if San Francisco is patient, Gabbert is a player it can build with.

No. 11, Houston Texans: Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri

Smith represents a ton of upside for a defense that really needs to add some pass-rushing help opposite the great Mario Williams. Again, a lot of the problems in the Houston secondary started up front.

No. 30, New York Jets: Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor

Taylor is a player that holds up as that immovable anchor against the run, a guy who can eat up blocks and let the linebackers in Rex Ryan's system run free.

No. 31, Pittsburgh Steelers: Aaron Williams, CB, Texas

Williams is the classic young, talented risk-taker at the cornerback position. He has a ton of natural ability, likes to steal a look into the backfield and turn errant passes into six points going the other way. While some see him ultimately becoming a great cover safety, I think he's a got a shot to be coached into a really good cover corner.

No. 32, Green Bay Packers: Danny Watkins, OG, Baylor

This team must do more to run the ball, must do more to shore up protection and must add depth on the offensive line. Watkins is a safe pick, a guy who helps right away.

Breaking down the defensive draft boards

April, 28, 2011
4/28/11
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We took a look at the offensive draft boards on Wednesday, and on the day of the draft we'll turn to the defense.

Analyst Todd McShay broke down the skill sets of each draftable player on the board and ranked them by those skill sets, divided up by position.

Here's what he had to say.

Defensive line
  • Missouri's Aldon Smith was No. 3 on his versatility list, ranking defensive ends by their athleticism and ability to change direction and play in space.
  • Baylor's Phil Taylor ranks No. 3 among defensive tackles as run-stoppers.
  • Smith is No. 7 among overall defensive line prospects.
  • Taylor is No. 11 overall at the position.
  • Texas' Sam Acho is the No. 24 defensive line prospect.
  • Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal is No. 25 on the list.
  • Oklahoma State's Ugo Chinasa is No. 44.
Linebackers
  • Oklahoma State's Orie Lemon is No. 3 on the strength/toughness list among inside linebackers.
  • Texas A&M's Von Miller is No. 2 among outside linebackers in range against the run.
  • Miller is the No. 1 surest tackler among outside linebackers.
  • Miller is the No. 1 overall linebacker prospect.
  • Lemon is the No. 22 linebacker prospect.
Defensive backs

The Big 12 and NFL draft history

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
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For just the second time ever, the first round of the NFL draft will be the only part of the draft's first day, set for primetime on Thursday night.

This year, the Big 12 could have as many as five first-round picks, and five players from the league are in New York for the draft.

So, let's take a look back. Since the first NFL draft of the Big 12 era, who has the most first-rounders?

Texas: 16
Oklahoma: 12
Oklahoma State: 6
Missouri: 4
Kansas State: 3
Texas A&M: 2
  • 2003: DT Ty Warren, 13th overall, New England Patriots
  • 2003: DB Sammy Davis, 30th overall, San Diego Chargers
Texas Tech: 1
Kansas: 1
  • 2008: CB Aqib Talib, 20th overall, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Baylor: 1
Iowa State: none since 1973 (George Amundson)

A few thoughts and observations:
  • I doubt many would be surprised that this list is also a reasonably accurate reflection of overall success since the Big 12's inception in 1996. Obviously, Texas and Oklahoma have dominated. Since 2000, Texas has the nation's fourth-most first-rounders. Oklahoma is No. 6. Their success has paralleled that, along with recruiting rankings.
  • In that same breath, it's impossible to look at this list and not once again be impressed with what Mike Leach did. He obviously has the reputation as an overachiever, but looking big picture, he was able to do it with one first-round pick. Nobody beat Texas and Oklahoma more and Leach helped put together what is still the Big 12's longest bowl streak.
  • Texas' consistency sticks out, too. Since just 2001, Texas has had two first-rounders in six different seasons. If you've got two first-rounders on your team, you're probably going to be pretty good. The Longhorns, if you haven't noticed, have been. Those two first-rounders in six seasons are more or as many as half the league has in the history of the Big 12. What else you should note? Texas is unlikely to have a first rounder this year, and after Aaron Williams is drafted, Sam Acho probably will be the next to go, which won't be until the third or fourth round.
  • Oklahoma State and Missouri's rise over the past three seasons has paid off in the NFL draft. Missouri had three first-rounders in the last two seasons and figures to add two more this year after having just one in the 12-year history of the league before 2009. That's quite a streak, and even more proof of what Gary Pinkel has built at Missouri. One more piece of evidence? Despite losing those two first-rounders, Missouri should be back in the preseason polls next year after losing two of its top players. That's definitely something new in Columbia. The Cowboys figure to add more soon with Justin Blackmon at least. As long as Pinkel and Gundy are at the helm for their respective programs, expect them to continue to rise.
  • Don't be surprised by Texas A&M's swoon following R.C. Slocum's departure. From 1990-1998, the Aggies won nine games every season but one. From 1990-96, the Aggies had eight first-round picks. Since 1998? Two seasons with at least nine wins and just two first-round picks.
  • More evidence you can't underestimate the importance of having first-round picks? None for Baylor in the history of the Big 12 before Art Briles. In just three years, Briles may have three if the Bears add two more this year with Phil Taylor and Danny Watkins. Taylor and Watkins both came from unlikely sources. Taylor was a Penn State transfer and Watkins a juco transfer that formerly worked as a fireman in Canada.

Lunch links: New-look QB competition

April, 12, 2011
4/12/11
12:00
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Marshall, you can't pay your mortgage with hacky sacks and good vibes.

Looking deeper in the upcoming draft

April, 8, 2011
4/08/11
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There's been some debate, but as the draft inches closer, it's becoming clear: Von Miller looks like he'll be the first player selected from the Big 12.

ESPN draftniks Todd McShay and Mel Kiper agree on that.

But they disagree plenty on the rest of the league. You'll need ESPN Insider to read their full comments, but the draft duo released their three-round mock drafts this week, and here's where the Big 12's players fell:

TODD McSHAY

First round:
Second round
Third round
MEL KIPER

First round
  • No. 3 overall: Miller, to Buffalo
  • No. 5 overall: Gabbert, to Arizona
  • No. 16 overall: Smith, to Jacksonville
  • No. 24 overall: Taylor, to New Orleans
  • No. 31 overall: Williams, to Pittsburgh
Second round
  • No. 33 overall: Watkins, to New England
  • No. 42 overall: Brown, to Houston
  • No. 60 overall: Thomas, to New England
Third round
  • No. 80 overall: Oklahoma S Quinton Carter, to Jacksonville
  • No. 88 overall: Hunter, to New Orleans
  • No. 91 overall: Oklahoma RB DeMarco Murray, to Atlanta
Some thoughts:
  • If you haven't figured it out already, this won't be a draft dominated by the Big 12 like last year's when the league had five of the top six picks and nine first-rounders. Part of that is only three players from the Big 12 (Gabbert, Smith, Williams) who left school early and a handful of others (Justin Blackmon, Ryan Broyles, Travis Lewis, Jeff Fuller, Brandon Weeden) who stayed behind.
  • I do find the disagreement between the pair on Kendall Hunter vs. Daniel Thomas interesting. McShay has Thomas going 75th overall, and nine spots behind Hunter. Kiper has Thomas at 60th overall, 28 spots above Hunter. In terms of pro prospects, I'll take Thomas, a balanced back who took a lot of punishment over the last two seasons but stayed healthy and avoided a lot of big hits. Plus, as a guy who's only been a running back for two years, he's got plenty of upside. I think both will have good pro careers, and Hunter had a better college career by a little bit, but if we're drafting for the NFL (which, you know, they are) give me Thomas.

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