Big 12: Demontre Hurst

Oklahoma Sooners spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
5/01/13
9:30
AM ET
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

2012 record: 10-3

2012 conference record: 8-1 (tied for first, Big 12)

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

RB Damien Williams, FB Trey Millard, WR Jalen Saunders, WR Sterling Shepard, C Gabe Ikard, DE/DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin

Key losses

QB Landry Jones, WR Justin Brown, WR Kenny Stills, OT Lane Johnson, DE David King, CB Demontre Hurst, FS Tony Jefferson, SS Javon Harris

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Damien Williams* (946 yards)
Passing: Landry Jones (4,267yards)
Receiving: Kenny Stills (959 yards)
Tackles: Tony Jefferson (119)
Sacks: Chuka Ndulue* (5)
Interceptions: Javon Harris (6)

Spring answers

1. Playmakers abound: The Sooners might have lost leading receivers Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, but there’s plenty of firepower back to support whoever wins the starting quarterback job. Jalen Saunders was actually Oklahoma’s most efficient receiver the second half of last season and seems primed to take over as the go-to target. The Sooners also have several talented up-and-coming receivers who had good springs, led by slot extraordinaire Sterling Shepard. The backfield is even deeper, with leading rushers Damien Williams and Brennan Clay back, to go along with Trey Millard, one of the top all-around fullbacks in the country.

2. Cortez will flank Colvin: The secondary was decimated by graduation and Tony Jefferson’s early entry into the NFL draft. One of those voids was cornerback, where Demontre Hurst had started the previous years. That void at least, however, appears to have been filled. Arizona transfer Cortez Johnson seized the job from the first day of spring drills, and has given the Sooners every indication to believe they’ll have a big, physical corner to pair with All-American candidate Aaron Colvin in the fall.

3. The linebackers will play: In a desperate move to slow down the high-powered passing attacks of the Big 12, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops pulled his linebackers off the field. The plan backfired, as opposing offenses ran at will over the linebacker-less Sooners. This spring, Stoops has renewed his commitment to the linebacker, which, ironically, could be the strength of the defense. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Aaron Franklin are all athletic and capable of generating negative plays, something Oklahoma’s defense sorely lacked last season.

Fall questions

1. Who the QB will be in October: Bob Stoops said he would wait until the fall before naming a starter, and so far, he’s made good on his word. Junior Blake Bell took a lead in the competition during the spring, as expected. But sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who both got equal reps as Bell, played well at times, too. It’s hard to see Bell not starting the first game. But if he struggles against a tough September schedule, it’s not unthinkable one of the younger QBs would be given a shot.

2. How the new offense will fare: Looking to utilize the skill sets of their mobile quarterbacks, the Sooners will be running a very different offense from the one Sam Bradford and Landry Jones both operated. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel kept most of these new plays - including loads of read option -- in his hip pocket during the spring game. But it will be interesting to see how the Sooners -- and just as important, opposing defenses -- adjust to this new era of offense in Norman.

3. Defensive line play: The Sooners went into spring ball with just three defensive tackles on the roster, and little experience at defensive end. The unit showed strides during the spring, with Chuka Ndulue making a smooth transition from end to tackle, and tackle Jordan Phillips coming up big in the spring game. But that was the spring. The defensive line will have to continue to grow rapidly in the fall for the Sooners to have any hope of improving from last year defensively.
Colleague Travis Haney took a look at the 10 teams who will lose the most talent in the country from 2012 to 2013.

There's only one Big 12 team on his list, and it's the 2012 preseason favorite: Oklahoma, which is sitting at No. 3 on a list you probably don't want to see your team on.

Landry Jones is the biggest name gone, but Haney says this might be Bob Stoops' biggest rebuild project ever in more than a decade in Norman.

The team's three most talented players -- Jones, receiver Kenny Stills and safety Tony Jefferson -- are the biggest losses, but don't overlook guys like tackle Lane Johnson and defensive linemen David King and Jamarkus McFarland. Defensive backs Demontre Hurst and Javon Harris won't be easy to replace, either.

Oklahoma was fortunate to keep cornerback Aaron Colvin and do-everything offensive Swiss army knife Trey Millard, who I'd expect to get a whole lot more touches next season. He was criminally underused in the Sooners' offense this past season. Just ask Texas if Millard should get more touches.

Oklahoma's offensive renaissance should be interesting. There won't be major changes, but Stoops is always going to build around what his personnel does best, and next season, likely with Blake Bell at the helm, you can expect the quarterback running game to be featured. It's still likely going to be a pass-first offense, but with Millard and Bell, next season's team might be a little more physical between the tackles.

I'd agree with Haney in that the top of the Big 12 looks really weak for 2013, which may provide opportunity for the Sooners to make a Big 12 title run, despite all the losses.
The Big 12 will have eight players competing in the annual East-West Shrine game, one of a handful of games that serve as showcases for NFL scouts. Here they are:
Klein, of course, made waves when reports leaked that the Senior Bowl wouldn't be inviting him, but he'll get an opportunity to get in front of scouts at the Shrine Game, which takes place on Jan. 19 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

It'll be interesting to see what positions he gets work with, too.

We'll see what Doege can do for his NFL stock as well. More Big 12 players could be invited. We'll keep you posted.
Oklahoma saw the Landry Jones Era end in unspectacular fashion on Friday night, with a 41-13 loss to ex-Big 12 rival Texas A&M. Jones is done, and the defense showed it needed some work under Mike Stoops for 2013, but that job just got a little bit tougher.

Colleague Joe Schad cited a source who told him safety Tony Jefferson and receiver Kenny Stills would be leaving early to enter the NFL draft.

Jones is obviously the Sooners' biggest loss, but Jefferson's one of the defense's most talented members, and cornerback Aaron Colvin still has a draft decision to make. The transition to Jones' successor (Blake Bell, Drew Allen or scout team standout Trevor Knight?) gets a little rougher without an experienced receiver like Stills to smooth it over, too.

Oklahoma, though, will have a very tall order to try and restore a defense that struggled down the stretch after giving up 49 points to West Virginia and 48 to Oklahoma State, which was playing Clint Chelf, who began the season as the team's No. 3 quarterback.

Defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker are all gone, as is star defensive end David King. Safety Javon Harris, the Sooners' biggest standout in the Cotton Bowl loss, ended his career on Friday, as did cornerback Demontre Hurst.

Point is, if Oklahoma's going to fix its defense, it will have to do so without experience. That's difficult in any league, but especially so in the Big 12, where the only thing faster than the receivers is the rate at which offenses evolve and become more difficult to stop.

Expect the Sooners' spring depth chart to look a little crazy and be very fluid throughout spring practice, but without Jefferson and Stills, both sides of the ball will be moving on to 2013 without their most talented pieces.

ESPN.com's preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
9:00
AM ET
The season is only a few days away, and it's time to unveil our official All-Big 12 team.

The criteria for this is pretty simple: I picked the best players at every position in the game, but made room for deserving players. For this league, that meant eliminating the tight end spot and sliding a more deserving Collin Klein onto the team via an all-purpose position.

The quarterbacks are solid in this league, but I'd call the cornerbacks the best and deepest position in the league. The worst? Defensive tackle. I didn't put a single one on the All-Big 12 team, electing to name four defensive ends along the defensive line. I hate doing that, but this year, it's necessary.

Without further ado, here's our team:

OFFENSE

QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
RB: Waymon James, TCU
All-Purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: Mason Walters, Texas

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
CB: Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS:

K: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Honorable mention/regrettable snubs: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma; Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas; Ivory Wade, C, Baylor; LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech; Blaize Foltz, OL, TCU; Kenny Cain, LB, TCU; Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State; Jamarkus McFarland, DL, Oklahoma; Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas; Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State; Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma; Tyler Lockett, KR, Kansas State
Monday, we looked at the Big 12 team most likely to surprise, but what about the other side of the coin?

Who's most likely to underachieve? Let's ask the people.

Here are my five candidates:

OKLAHOMA

SportsNation

Who will be the Big 12's biggest disappointment?

  •  
    22%
  •  
    13%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    17%
  •  
    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,711)

Oklahoma's had the most troublesome preseason camp of anyone in the league, suffering big losses on the offensive line and suspending starting defensive tackle Stacy McGee. The Sooners bring back defensive playmakers in Tony Jefferson and Demontre Hurst, as well as quarterback Landry Jones, but Jones is dealing with a lot of new faces in the receiving corps. The Sooners seem to have at least one annual head-scratching loss. Will the Sooners disappoint and fail to win 10 games, despite starting the season in the top five?

KANSAS STATE

Can Kansas State truly disappoint if no one expects the Wildcats to succeed? The Big 12's second-place team a season ago returns its core, but finds itself outside the preseason top 20 and picked to finish sixth in the Big 12. Kansas State has the potential to win the conference, but will the SnyderCats regress after some magic in 2011? That means a 6-7-win season in Manhattan.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Hopes are high for Oklahoma State, despite the loss of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. The biggest reason? The Cowboys' Air Raid offense and a defense that returns lots of big talents, headlined by cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown, as well as linebacker Shaun Lewis. But do you believe enough receivers will emerge, and that true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt can handle his first year of major college football? Or will OSU slide down the Big 12 standings and win 6-7 games after winning the Big 12 last season?

TCU

TCU is joining the Big 12 and looks like it has the offense to compete, but do the Horned Frogs have enough defense? Offseason departures for drug arrests and academics have the Frogs razor thin at linebacker, and last season was disappointing for a secondary that has had big expectations the past few years. Disappointment for the Horned Frogs, picked in the preseason's top 15, would mean about six wins.

WEST VIRGINIA

The Mountaineers have the league's biggest headliners on offense in quarterback Geno Smith, and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. The Mountaineers are buzzing around the top 10 to start the season, but their 70-point outburst in the Orange Bowl has diverted attention from losses along their front seven and some ugly games last season, including defeats against Syracuse and Louisville, and poor performances against Pitt and South Florida. Will West Virginia fail to contend for a league title, falling to a 7-8 win season?

There's also the option of Texas and Baylor, but we can only have five teams in the poll results. Would you pick someone else who isn't on our poll as the most likely Big 12 team to disappoint?

Nation's top two secondaries are in Big 12

August, 7, 2012
8/07/12
1:00
PM ET
Colleague KC Joyner took to ranking the nation's top two secondaries Insider, but there's a pair of surprising teams at the top.

The SEC is the league with the defensive reputation, but the nation's top two teams, Alabama and LSU, both finished below Texas and Oklahoma State, who Joyner says are the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 secondaries.

Both of them are outstanding, but even I was surprised to see those two atop the list.

For both teams, it starts with eye-popping duos at cornerback.

For Texas, it's Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. At Oklahoma State, Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown are the guys stopping receivers on the outside.

All four may make a case by season's end as the Big 12's best cornerback, but according to Joyner, they're the backbones of the nation's top two secondaries.

Joyner is also a believer in Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro, who racked up 82 tackles and keeping opposing receivers from gaining more than four yards per pass attempt.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's Gilbert stuck out to Joyner as the best cornerback in college football last season. His five picks and 5.2 yards per attempt suggest that's the case. He also broke up or intercepted 20 passes, second-most in college football.

Those aren't the only two Big 12 teams on Joyner's list.

What about Oklahoma? The Sooners check in at No. 8, with a nice trio of their own in Tony Jefferson, Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst.

Joyner reminds that even though the secondary faltered in high-profile losses to Baylor and Texas Tech, the same unit allowed a passer rating of under 106 in eight games.

Now, new coordinator Mike Stoops is in town to give the Sooners a boost in the secondary. The Sooners lost cornerback Jamell Fleming, but Fleming's 9.2 yards per attempt give Joyner reason to believe the loss will result in addition by subtraction.

I'm not so sure about that, but ultimately, the season will tell.

Are you a believer in the Cowboys and Longhorns as the nation's top two secondaries? What about the Sooners? Too high? Too low?
As Oklahoma kicks off football practice this week, here are five storylines to watch this preseason:

1. How does Whaley look in pads?

The injury to Ryan Broyles overshadowed the impact of the loss of Dominique Whaley, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury midway through the 2012 season. Whaley has been cleared to practice, but even Bob Stoops admitted the Sooners won’t know how Whaley will handle cutting and contact until the team practices in pads. The Sooners have other options at running back, but Whaley is the most proven of any of them.

2. How will the offensive adjust to life without Habern?

[+] EnlargeTrey Metoyer
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireFreshman receiver Trey Metoyer is already penciled in as an opening-day starter for the Sooners.
Stoops said this week that the offensive line will be ready to deal with the loss of center Ben Habern, who has given up football because of issues with his neck and back. The Sooners made a seamless transition for six games without Habern last season, sliding Gabe Ikard to center, and inserting Adam Shead in at guard. The Sooners shouldn’t miss much of a beat without Habern, but the line is a lot thinner than it was a week ago. Others like guard Bronson Irwin must step up.

3. Does Trey Metoyer build off his spring?

Other than Landry Jones, Metoyer was OU’s best offensive playmaker of the spring. Can the freshman phenom keep it going? By all accounts, Metoyer has busted it over the summer. So there’s little reason to doubt he won’t lock down a starting job before September.

4. Which other newcomer receivers will emerge?

With Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks expected to serve long suspensions, and Kameel Jackson still working on academics, OU will need wideouts other than Metoyer to emerge. Durron Neal has been slowed by a knee injury this summer, LaColtan Bester just got to campus and Courtney Gardner was unable to qualify. That leaves freshman slot receiver Sterling Shepard as the most likely to step into a prominent role. Shepard has wowed his teammates with his work ethic this summer.

5. Will the secondary regain some of its swagger?

The confidence of the defensive backfield was shaken the second half of the season following porous performances against Texas Tech and Baylor. The group even dropped its “Sharks” nickname. But the return of Mike Stoops has the secondary primed for a bounce-back season. A change of scenery could do wonders for Javon Harris and Gabe Lynn, who both figure to open the season in the starting lineup. If they hold up, the secondary could be awesome, with stars Tony Jefferson, Aaron Colvin and Demontre Hurst manning the rest of the unit.

How I voted: Preseason All-Big 12 team

July, 30, 2012
7/30/12
11:00
AM ET
The All-Big 12 team was revealed earlier this month, but it's time to unveil what was on the ballot I turned into the league office. I had a few big disagreements, but largely agreed with most of the selections. Here goes:

More how I voted:
  • QB: Geno Smith, WVU
Voted Geno as my preseason player of the year, too. It's close between Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Smith, but I didn't debate this pick for too long.

  • RB: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
  • RB: Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State

Hold your angry e-mails, K-State fans, and hear me out. Klein's a great player, but he doesn't deserve the QB spot ahead of Jones or Smith. That said, he deserves a spot. The Big 12 doesn't have an "all-purpose" spot, the same way it doesn't have a nickel back spot, a decision that cost Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson All-Big 12 honors the last couple seasons, too. But among returning players, Klein and Randle are far out in front of every other player in the league in rushing yards. Klein's teammate, Hubert, had 970 yards, but no other player had more than 743. Does a player with 400 fewer rushing yards really deserve a spot ahead of Klein? Imagine Klein was not allowed to throw the football. Discount his passing stats completely. He'd still deserve a spot, and that's why I made room for him in the only spot I could. From my perspective (and intentions), it's a compliment.

  • WR: Tavon Austin, WVU
  • WR: Stedman Bailey, WVU

Nobody else in the Big 12 returns with 1,000 receiving yards. Austin and Bailey combined for better than 2,400 yards. The league's media putting OU's Kenny Stills on the list ahead of Bailey makes no sense. Austin wasn't even his team's leading receiver last season. Bailey was. For the league's voters, familiarity with Stills earned him a spot ahead of Bailey's superior skills and production.

  • C: Ben Habern, OU
  • OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
  • OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
  • OL: Gabe Ikard, OU
  • OL: Mason Walters, Texas

Good group here. LaAdrian Waddle of Texas Tech deserves a spot, too, but I put Walters on the team ahead of him. It's close. No big deal.

  • DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
  • DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU
  • DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
  • DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State

I don't like going so defensive end-heavy, but ultimately, I almost always end up doing it. For one, pass rushers are more important in the Big 12. For two, the defensive tackles in this league heading into 2012 are awful. Nobody deserved it. All four of these guys deserved their spots. The league asks for "defensive linemen" not ends and tackles. I prefer to select two ends and two tackles, but if four ends deserve it, I'm going to put them on my ballot. That's what happened here. Williams deserved a spot over Oklahoma's Jamarkus McFarland, who landed on the team.

  • LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
  • LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
  • LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State

Really good set of linebackers here. Gotta love the Cyclones' duo, and Brown made my awards ballot as Defensive Player of the Year. Oklahoma's Tom Wort probably deserved a nod on this team, and K-State's Tre Walker wasn't far off, either. Should be interesting to see if Texas' Jordan Hicks can break out and make the postseason team. Competition will be really, really tough.

  • DB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
  • DB: Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
  • DB: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
  • DB: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

Vaccaro and Jefferson are slam dunks. There can't be any debate there. Cornerbacks, though? I hated making these selections. Looking across the league, cornerback might be the best overall position. Byndom and Brown deserved a nod, but Byndom is the only must-have on the team. K-State's Nigel Malone, Oklahoma's Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Texas' Quandre Diggs all deserved a spot on the team but there are only two spots for corners. Just a really, really difficult decision.

  • P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
  • PK: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State

No debate here. Silly how dominant Sharp is at both spots. Don't expect that to change this year.

  • PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
  • KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

The Big 12 has a real lack of great punt returners, but I love Austin's explosiveness and threat in the open field. At kick returner, this is ultimately a two-man race between Gilbert and K-State's Tyler Lockett. Both are deserving. Gilbert's got him beat in straight-line speed, but both are fun to watch.

Who's on your teams?

Thoughts on preseason All-Big 12 team

July, 23, 2012
7/23/12
9:45
AM ET
The Big 12 released its preseason All-Big 12 team last week, as voted on by a panel of media. Here's the full team, if you missed it.

Preseason awards were also announced. I'll unveil my ballots a little later on, but here's a few thoughts.
    [+] EnlargeLandry Jones
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireAfter a disappointing finish to 2011, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones won't be lacking for motivation this season.

  • Landry Jones isn't the most emotional guy, but even coming off a disappointing 2011, you have to think seeing Geno Smith's name on the first team and preseason Offensive Player of the Year gets him fired up. Smith's a playmaker who was inconsistent at times in 2011, but finished strong. Oklahoma faltered down the stretch with losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State that left a bitter taste in some mouths re: Jones. Still, this battle between the two best passers by far in the Big 12 should be fun to watch.
  • Simply put, I don't get the Alex Okafor hype. No, I didn't vote for him as Defensive Player of the Year. He's a great, productive player, but he might not even be the best defensive end on his own team. And people want to crown him as the Big 12's best defensive player? Jackson Jeffcoat has more upside, and was more productive in just about every way in 2011. Okafor's really good. Probably the second-best defensive end in the league. But the best defender overall? No way.
  • Speaking of absences, I'm not a huge fan of West Virginia's leading receiver getting left off the team in favor of Oklahoma's Kenny Stills. Stedman Bailey proved himself as a No. 1 receiver last year, even against LSU when he caught eight balls for 115 yards and a score. When Ryan Broyles went down, the production simply wasn't there for Stills. The league change is a factor, but why does Stills (61 rec., 849 yards, 8 TD) belong over Bailey (72 rec., 1,279 yards, 12 TD)? Seems to me like the league's media was a bit ignorant over just how good Bailey was last year, in favor of Stills, a talent they're more familiar with. I call shenanigans.
  • Great picks along the offensive line. All very deserving.
  • Jamarkus McFarland was a surprise on the defensive line, but I sort of understand it. The Big 12 simply asks for "defensive linemen," and some people feel like they need to include two ends and two tackles. Generally, I do, but when the depth at defensive end is so much stronger, I can't reason including a tackle, even though McFarland is one of the best. Additionally, in the Big 12, a dominant pass-rusher is far more valuable than a run stopper, and there are a few of those more deserving than McFarland, like Meshak Williams at Kansas State, his teammate R.J. Washington, or even Toben Opurum at Kansas. More than anything, McFarland's inclusion is an indictment of the lack of quality defensive tackles in the league, even though McFarland has big potential for a big 2012.
  • The Big 12 only asks for "defensive backs" but I do feel it's necessary to include two safeties and two cornerbacks. There shouldn't even be a conversation: Kenny Vaccaro and Tony Jefferson deserve the two safety spots and got them on this year's team. At corner, though? There just have to be some necessary snubs. There are no less than six guys who deserve a spot on the first team. Kansas State's Nigel Malone and Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown got them, but I'd take Texas' Carrington Byndom over both, even though they all deserve a spot. So does Texas' Quandre Diggs, Oklahoma's Demontre Hurst and Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert.
  • What's more ridiculous? That Quinn Sharp earned both the kicker and punter spots? Or that he didn't really have much competition at either spot? I voted Sharp for both and didn't think twice about it.
  • Good picks in Tavon Austin and Tyler Lockett as the return men, but I leaned toward a certain orange-clad speedster at kicke returner, instead of Lockett. It's close, though. Lockett's deserving.

Big 12 lands four on Thorpe watch list

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
10:40
AM ET
The Thorpe Award, given annually to college football's top defensive back, has released its preseason watch list and four DBs from the Big 12 cracked the list.

Here they are:
This is a pretty short list, made up of only 35 players, but no Carrington Byndom from Texas or Demontre Hurst from Oklahoma? I'd agree that Jefferson and Vaccaro are the best overall DBs on their respective teams, but I'd take Byndom ahead of Malone and Brown, and Hurst probably deserved a spot with the whole group, even if he's a minor snub.

Surprising to see that. A reminder: The Thorpe Award takes character into account, so stay out of trouble if you want the award. Last season's suspension for use of synthetic marijuana prevented Tyranne Mathieu from winning the award. Instead, it went to his teammate, CB Morris Claiborne. Another LSU player, Patrick Peterson, won the award in 2010.

Aaron Ross of Texas (2006) was the last Big 12 player to win this award. From 2001 to 2006, the Big 12 won five of six Thorpe Awards, including two for Oklahoma, two for Texas and one for Kansas State.

The league's been blanked since then. Could we see a resurgence in 2012?

Nagurski tabs 13 Big 12ers on watch list

July, 12, 2012
7/12/12
1:45
PM ET
The Nagurski Trophy, given annually to college football's best defender, has released its 84-man, preseason watch list. From the Big 12:
That's a hefty list. My only possible additions? Quandre Diggs of Texas and maybe Shaun Lewis of Oklahoma State. Other than that, it's basically a who's who of the best defenders in the Big 12.

The league's 13 candidates are third-most among conferences, behind only the SEC (19) and the Big Ten (14).

Texas and Oklahoma are tied for the nation's most Nagurski Trophies, with two. Brian Orakpo in 2008 and Ndamukong Suh in 2009 are the last Big 12 talents to take home the hardware.

Luke Kuechly of Boston College won the award last season.

More awards watch lists:
The Bednarik Award, given annually to the nation's top defensive player, has released its preseason watch list complete with 11 Big 12 players up for the award. Here's the list, in alphabetical order:
That's a pretty good list. The biggest snubs in my book are all cornerbacks. Where is Texas' duo of Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs? And what about Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert. All deserving.

Last season, Tyrann Mathieu became the second consecutive LSU player to win the award, following up Patrick Peterson in 2010.

Ndamukong Suh (2009) was the last Big 12 player to win the award. Teddy Lehman of Oklahoma (2003) was the last player among current Big 12 teams to take home the trophy.
To begin the season, I see six teams with a legitimate chance to win the Big 12. Today begins a series looking at why each team will or will not win the league. We'll start with the prohibitive favorite, Oklahoma.

Why the Sooners will win the Big 12

[+] EnlargeLandry Jones
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireLandry Jones gives Oklahoma experience at quarterback, but he'll be throwing to several untested targets this season.
1. They've been there before: Never, ever underestimate the importance of experience. Oklahoma lost a lot from last season's team, but it still boasts essentially a four-year starter at quarterback in Landry Jones, receiver Kenny Stills, and defenders like Tony Jefferson, Tom Wort, and Demontre Hurst. They were all key cogs in a 2010 title run that included a gutsy comeback on a neutral site against a very good Nebraska team. Oklahoma has a lot on its to-do list, but outside of a trip to West Virginia, the Sooners won't encounter anything too foreign this season.

2. Its secondary is fierce, and revitalized: Texas probably has the league's best overall secondary, but Oklahoma's not far behind. Cornerback Hurst and safety Aaron Colvin are solid, and fellow safety Tony Jefferson might, by the end of the season, have a case for being the league's best overall defender after moving back to safety from nickel back. Fellow safety Javon Harris re-emerged this spring after a midseason benching, but still must prove he can prevent the big play in the fall. The best news of all for the unit? Coordinator Mike Stoops is back in Norman coaching them after nearly a decade as the Arizona head coach.

3. Oklahoma has more talent than anyone else: This one's pretty simple. If you line up every team in the league, truly examining everybody's two-deep, Oklahoma stands tall as the league's best team, especially at important positions like quarterback and the secondary. There are some questions along the defensive line, but the Sooners have solid athletes with potential. The same is true of the receivers, and running back will be a strength, even if Dominique Whaley isn't 100 percent next season. The linebackers are loaded again, and so is the offensive line, which might be the most important aspect of this year's team. If these games were played on paper, Oklahoma would be the champs.

Why the Sooners won't win the Big 12

1. Does Landry Jones have enough help? Ryan Broyles is gone, and Oklahoma's passing game seemed to self-destruct when he was gone. There's a lot of talent back, but offseason suspensions mean Stills will be flanked by a horde of freshmen targets. Can Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal and Courtney Gardner be enough? And can Jones string together enough solid games to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 title? The solid offensive line gives some reason to believe he will.

2. There won't be enough pass rush: Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander were an absolute terror last season, even though both were plagued by injuries, and Lewis' season shut down early. Now, they must be replaced. R.J. Washington and David King have plenty of potential, but Lewis and Alexander were mostly experienced, known entities. Washington and King have never been relied on as heavily as they will be this season. Can they handle the load? Oklahoma's Big 12 title hopes -- and defensive passing statistics -- probably depend on it.

3. The pool of Big 12 title suitors is too deep: Oklahoma's the best team on paper, sure, but the Big 12 is going to be brutal, and wide open. Eight (maybe nine) teams could legitimately beat the Sooners. That's just one game. Five others (we'll get to them later in the series) have the chance to prove they're better than the Sooners over the course of a 12-game schedule. Will they do it? Ultimately, that might be up to the Sooners.

Under the radar: Oklahoma Sooners

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
10:30
AM ET
Time for the next team in our series examining one player on each Big 12 team who will enter 2012 with a profile that doesn't quite match his worth to the team.

In other words, they're coming in under the radar.

Next up: the Oklahoma Sooners.

Under the radar: CB Demontre Hurst

Sooners fans know Hurst well after he burst on the scene during spot duty in his freshman year in 2009. The rest of the league, though? Most are painfully in the dark on what Hurst has to offer.

Other corners like Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs at Texas, Brodrick Brown at Oklahoma State and Nigel Malone at Kansas State get a whole lot more press, but Hurst very well could prove he's better than all of them during his senior campaign in 2012.

Jamell Fleming took his talents to the NFL, but Hurst will be the team's top cornerback, with loads of experience to pass down to the team's younger players.

Hurst led the Sooners with 11 pass breakups last season, but earned just second-team All-Big 12 honors, his first appearance on the All-Big 12 squad. He returned his only interception of the season for a touchdown against Texas, but also recovered two fumbles. Hurst has all the pieces to be a shutdown corner in this league, and spent two seasons going head to head in practice against Ryan Broyles, one of the toughest players to cover in the history of the Big 12. He'll be teaching the Sooners' receivers a thing or two this summer and in fall camp, but Hurst is fast, and he's shown the instincts necessary to be a star since he stepped on campus. The Lancaster, Texas, native is under the radar a bit for now, but that'll change quickly for fans of the Big 12 as 2012 kicks off. If you think Hurst is under the radar among the league's wide receivers, you're sorely mistaken.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 10/25