Big 12: Garrick Williams

Another Aggies collapse isn't on the way

September, 28, 2011
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For Texas A&M, the season's start has to feel somewhat familiar.

Undefeated in nonconference play.

A big first half lead against Oklahoma State evaporates, morphing into a heartbreaking loss.

"I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like that in my entire coaching career," Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman said. "We didn’t handle it well. We weren’t engaged. They picked the tempo up, went right down the field on us and scored. We didn’t respond well. We didn’t play very well."

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Mike Sherman
Patrick Green/Icon SMI Mike Sherman's Aggies carried a 20-3 lead into halftime against Oklahoma State before losing 30-29. "We didn't handle it well. We weren't engaged," Sherman said.
That's over, and Texas A&M is headed to the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex to take on Arkansas, where it lost the second of three games last year in its 3-3 start.

This team?

It's different than last year.

At least one Aggie doesn't need me to tell them that, either.

"That was a tough loss," said senior quarterback Ryan Tannehill. "I don’t think we’ll have a 3-game losing streak again. We have a different team with a lot of veterans. This won’t affect us the same way it did last year mentally. We’ll be able to fight through it."

He's not pumping sunshine over a dark week in College Station. This team doesn't have two freshmen bookending the offensive line. It isn't coming off a six-win season. It didn't need fourth-quarter magic to erase a double-digit deficit and escape an early-season loss to Florida International. It isn't breaking in a new defense and riding the talents of one freakish athlete with a bum ankle to disrupt defenses. There's no quarterback with a bum shoulder causing awkward suggestions he be benched.

Forget senior quarterback curses. The story in College Station this week, with apologies to the SEC, is senior leadership from a group of players that have contributed for three seasons now.

"We need everybody. Something happened Saturday in the third quarter that really got to us as a whole unit," said linebacker Garrick Williams. "That’s just something that we can’t do. We’re going to be on guys this week in practice and try to get everyone very attentive to detail."

So far, it's worked. The seniors have set a tone.

"Our guys showed up today with resolve. No one was cutting up," said defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter. "We realized we had an opportunity and we let it slip. The great thing about this game when you have games left is on Saturday we have another chance to show what we really are all about as a defense."

This is a team that learned how to win over the second half of last season, when it did it six consecutive times in conference play to win a hard-earned share of the Big 12 South before eventually moving to the only division in football that's more difficult: The SEC West.

But for now, they're just in the division-less Big 12.

And they're just a team that, for one quarter, played badly. There's no maturing left to be done. Only playing. And Texas A&M will get that opportunity on Saturday.

Plenty of new looks on A&M depth chart

August, 30, 2011
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Texas A&M unveiled its depth chart on Monday, too, with a few interesting looks.
  • Damontre Moore, on the heels of his spot duty as a true freshman last season, had plenty of hype heading into 2011. But as fall camp progressed, it was apparent he might not have a starting spot. Caleb Russell, a junior, overtook Moore for the spot and enters the season as the starter at the Joker spot for the Wrecking Crew. Russell, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship on Monday, doesn't have the physical measurables of Moore, but he's proved he deserves the spot. Bully for him.
  • Junior Jonathan Stewart grabbed the inside linebacker spot opposite Garrick Williams for the Aggies in one of the most high-profile position battles in the league. Michael Hodges will be missed at the spot, but Kyle Mangan and true freshman Donnie Baggs are co-backups at the other inside linebacker spot behind Williams.
  • Terrance Frederick is the starter at one corner for the Aggies, but the other? Dustin Harris and Coryell Judie are sharing a spot. Big surprise on that one.
  • Cyrus Gray starts the season on top of the depth chart, ahead of Christine Michael. No worries. Both will get plenty of touches.
  • The offensive line hasn't quite jelled. Evan Eike is listed as a co-starter with sophomore Shep Klinke (a missed possible selection for the all-name team? I think so.)
  • At tight end, Hutson Prioleau has unseated returning starter Nehemiah Hicks, a sophomore who has slid to third behind Prioleau and co-starter Michael Lamothe. Surprised to see that there. Hopes are high for Hicks in College Station, but he's got a lot to prove.
  • Jameill Showers was named the backup quarterback on Monday.

Notes from an up-close look at A&M

August, 15, 2011
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There's only so much you can take from a 90-minute workout without pads, but here are a couple quick thoughts and observations from Sunday afternoon's workout inside the indoor facility at Texas A&M.

I'll be there this morning for a live scrimmage with pads, too.
  • Last year, when I visited College Station in the preseason, it was pretty obvious during team work that Jerrod Johnson had a ways to go before he was back to the same player he was in 2009. He obviously never quite got there. This year? Not the case. All the usual suspects looked great. Ryan Tannehill was as good as you'd expect, Jeff Fuller looked great, and Christine Michael showed some nice explosiveness and lateral movement. Cyrus Gray is limited after suffering a minor hamstring injury on the first day of camp, but he's expected to be 100 percent for the season opener against SMU on Sept. 4.
  • Every time I've come to a practice at College Station, I've been impressed with what Jameill Showers had to offer as a backup quarterback, and Sunday was no different. It's a limited sample size, sure, but he throws an outstanding ball, and he made good decisions throughout Sunday's workout in team drills.
  • An offseason arrest didn't put Damontre Moore in the good graces of the coaching staff, and as a result, the possible star had spent the first week of camp working primarily with the third and fourth groups, according to other A&M reporters who had attended earlier practices. On Sunday, however, he was back working with the first team at the Joker position. A good sign for his future, no doubt. The sophomore may have struggled off the field during the offseason, but remember: Von Miller infamously wasn't the personification of a leader early in his career, and left as one of the program's all-time greats -- on and off the field. There's plenty of time for Moore to shore up his act.
  • Inside linebacker is a primary concern for the Aggies this fall camp, especially after they got a preview of a grim future without Michael Hodges this year when Hodges missed the majority of the Cotton Bowl with a knee injury. Garrick Williams is one of the defense's leaders and a returning starter at one of the two spots in the 3-4 scheme, but Donnie Baggs and Jonathan Stewart have been earning lots of time together with the first team -- and without Williams. Coach Mike Sherman's explanation for the approach: "I always like to see guys with the first group, because that's when you get to evaluate them. When you're with the second group, you're going up against the second group of offense. So let's see how they do against the first group guys, so it's really a more accurate evaluation of where they stand. They could be killers in the second group but go to the first group and it's a little bit more challenging, so I want to see them against the better competition."
  • Sherman says he's still trying to sort out who his starter will be, but I like the approach to throw them in with the first-team and see who outperforms the other. Stewart is the more experienced player, but Baggs, a true freshman, has obviously impressed enough to even be in this position. Sherman expects the position to be more solidified early next week.
  • Sherman played it coy when asked about a "rumor" that Texas A&M's coaches met with university president R. Bowen Loftin about the possibility of a move to the SEC. "Rumors? Really? Are you saying it's a rumor? I don't comment on rumors," he said. "You led with a rumor, so..." A poor choice of words, sure, but a fruitless line of questioning, no doubt, regardless of word choice.
  • Safety Trent Hunter did discuss the prospect of the SEC, but only that the team has been told not to discuss it. "Our coaches made a point on the first day. Don't talk about it, don't tweet about it, don't Facebook about it," Hunter said, adding that it hasn't been difficult to focus on the field while rumors swirled. "It's not anything that's going to affect us playing SMU on that first week."
  • Today's scrimmage will be live with plenty of hitting, Sherman says. Should be exciting. I'll have some notes and stats up on the blog later.
Moving on in our rankings of the top 10 at each position in the Big 12 entering 2011.

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma's Travis Lewis is among the Big 12's top linebackers entering the season.
Here are the top 10s you've missed so far:
The Big 12 is really, really strong at linebacker, just as it is at receiver. Running back and defensive line are two of the Big 12's weakest positions, but linebacker might prove to be a true strength by season's end.

If you're curious, here's how I ranked the units by team.

We might even see big, young talents like Corey Nelson, Tom Wort, Arthur Brown, Jordan Hicks and Huldon Tharp fight for spots on this list by season's end, but overall inexperience keeps them off for now.

Here are the top 10.

1. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma: Lewis took home the Big 12's preseason Defensive Player of the Year Award (as much as someone can take home an award with no actual hardware, anyway), but he'll be the easy favorite for the award entering the season. Of my postseason top 25 Big 12 players, Lewis is the only returning defensive player. He's made 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons at Oklahoma, and eschewed the NFL draft to try and win a title at Oklahoma.

2. Jake Knott, Iowa State: Knott doesn't get the national pub of some other guys on this list, but he should. In just his first year as a starter, Knott made 130 tackles, the most of any returning Big 12 starter. Just a junior, Knott should make even more improvement in 2011.

3. Keenan Robinson, Texas: Robinson has all the physical tools, and should be set loose in new coordinator Manny Diaz's aggressive scheme. Robinson made 106 tackles in 2010, but look for his sack totals (two in 2010) to get a big boost from spending more time in offensive backfields.

4. Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State: Lewis exploded into the Big 12 fan's consciousness as a true freshman in 2010, sharing Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors with Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson after making 58 tackles with eight tackles for loss, despite not officially being a starter until the second half of the season. He's a bit faster than you might expect him to be at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, but he should be due for a big encore.

5. Emmanuel Acho, Texas: Acho joins Robinson in one of the best linebacker groups in the league, and will likely be a team captain alongside his fellow linebacker. Acho made 81 tackles to rank second on the team, and added 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for an underrated Texas defense in 2010.

6. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri: Gooden is easily the fastest guy out of this group, and should be due for a breakout year on the national stage if Missouri gets the ball rolling with James Franklin at quarterback and becomes a top 25 mainstay. He tied for the team lead in tackles last season (84, 49 solo) during his first year as a starter, and could see that number jump as a junior in 2011.

7. A.J. Klein, Iowa State: As little respect nationally as Klein's teammate, Knott, gets, Klein gets even less. Which is a shame. Klein, like Knott, was a first-year starter but became one of just 11 players in the Big 12 with more than 100 tackles. Was that number (111, 49 solo) aided by a weak defensive line? Sure, but somebody made those stops. And it was Klein. He'll get plenty more chances to further prove himself.

8. Garrick Williams, Texas A&M: Williams returns as one of the leaders of the Wrecking Crew after making 112 tackles in 2011, including five tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The Aggies need him to play well at inside linebacker in Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme, if for no other reason than because of the uncertainty and likely inexperience at the inside linebacker spot.

9. Elliot Coffey, Baylor: Coffey should be one of the lynchpins of a maturing Baylor defense with lots of work to do under new coordinator Phil Bennett. Though there's no formal depth chart just yet, Art Briles admitted that if anyone has solidified a starting spot, it's Coffey. The 6-foot, 230-pounder made 61 tackles (34 solo) and 4.5 tackles for loss as a junior in 2010.

10. Steven Johnson, Kansas: Johnson emerged out of a good group of linebackers last season to lead the team in tackles, with 95 stops (62 solo). He loses fellow linebackers Justin Springer and Drew Dudley, but will get help with the return of Huldon Tharp. Johnson was a former walk-on, but in his first year as a starter in 2010, rewarded the Jayhawks' decision to put him on scholarship.

Just missed: Will Ebner, Missouri; Sean Porter, Texas A&M

Mailbag: Rising powers, underrated players

August, 5, 2011
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Another short Friday. Thanks for all the e-mails this week, folks. Have a great weekend.

Christian Gulker in Manhattan, Kansas asked: Who do you think is a team that could be a legit contender for a big 12 title in 2 years other than the teams that are already powerhouses (OU, OSU, TAMU,UT)?

David Ubben: I don't think Texas Tech is getting enough attention for what it's building under Tommy Tuberville. This year's team won't scare anyone, but the defensive line is on the rise in a big way, the secondary will mature, and he's recruiting some big-time receivers in the 2012 class to go with some good talent already on campus.

Additionally, and most importantly, they're going to be set at quarterback. This should be Seth Doege's team for the next two years, but when he's gone, you're going to see a big-time quarterback race between Jacob Karam, Scotty Young and Michael Brewer. They'll have great depth, similar to what they had last year.

The future is definitely bright for the Red Raiders, who could flirt with a Big 12 title as soon as next season.

Philip in Columbia, Mo. asked: David, how can you hate Mizzou so much? Saying they have no chance to make the B12 Championship Game...All kidding aside, when do you think everyone will realize there is no championship game? When they fly to Dallas and are heartbroken to find out that they are an idiot?

Ryan in St. Louis, Mo. asked: Sorry about all the Missouri fans who seem to not realize that we don't have a Big Xii Championship game anymore. Ill try to round them up and show them a film about why there isnt one and what happens now that we dont have one. Now to my question. I have noticed that your preseason top 25 list hasnt had one former north team player other than Missouri. Is that going to continue and does that show just how bad the former north teams, other than Missouri of course, are?

DU: Ha, I enjoyed having a little fun with a few misguided Mizzou fans this week, but I'm sure they're in the minority. I hope no one has tickets to Dallas booked for the first weekend in December this year.

I'd offer to show you around town as a consolation prize, but I'm sure I'll be on my way to Stillwater for an epic Bedlam matchup that weekend.

(Feel free to bookmark this post for an obvious jinx midseason.)

Alex in CR asked: Is A.J Klein overlooked and under-appreciated? Knott may have great numbers but he isn't the only play maker on defense.

DU: I definitely think he is. As little respect as Jake Knott gets nationally and even in his own conference, Klein gets even less, and we're talking about the Big 12's third-leading returning tackler, behind Knott and Texas A&M's Garrick Williams.

Klein had 111 stops of his own, and though I think Knott's physical skills are superior, those two guys turned potential into big-time reality in just one season as starters. They're going to get even better. Iowa State has other problems, but linebacker is going to be a strength for at least a couple more seasons.

Big 12 lands eight on Butkus Award list

July, 14, 2011
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The Butkus Award has released its 2011 preseason watch list, and eight Big 12 linebackers made the cut.

The award is given annually to college football's top linebacker. Here's who made the preseason list:
  • Emmanuel Acho, Texas
  • Arthur Brown, Kansas State
  • Zaviar Gooden, Missouri
  • Jake Knott, Iowa State
  • Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
  • Keenan Robinson, Texas
  • Garrick Williams, Texas A&M
  • Tom Wort, Oklahoma

The folks at the Butkus Award clearly believe in the potential of Wort and Brown, but if they're making this list, I'd have liked to see Iowa State's A.J. Klein make it, too. Also, where's Shaun Lewis?

Other than that, a solid list.

Last year, you may remember some guy named Von Miller accepting the award from the award's namesake, Dick Butkus, at a team meeting.

He was the first Big 12 player to win the award since Texas' D.J. Johnson in 2004, though current Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks won the high school version of the award in 2008.

Oklahoma has the nation's most Butkus Award winners, with four. Brian Bosworth won the first two awards in 1985 and 1986, and no other program has more than two in their history.

Big 12 lands 14 on Lombardi Award list

July, 13, 2011
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The Lombardi Award has released its preseason watch list, and 14 players from the Big 12 cracked it. Here they are:
  • Levy Adcock, OL, Oklahoma State
  • Lonnie Edwards, OL, Texas Tech
  • Stephen Good, OL, Oklahoma
  • Ben Habern, OL, Oklahoma
  • Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL, Texas A&M
  • Luke Joeckel, OL, Texas A&M
  • Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State
  • Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
  • Brad Madison, DL, Missouri
  • Kelechi Osemele, OL, Iowa State
  • Kheeston Randall, DL, Texas
  • Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas
  • Jacquies Smith, DL, Missouri
  • Garrick Williams, LB, Texas A&M

It's a big list, and it's preceded by the best definition of any award in sports, one I'm always reminded of each fall and December.

Got a notepad? Here are the eligbility requirements:
Eligibility for the Rotary Lombardi Award is limited to down linemen, end-to-end, either on offense of defense, who set up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball, and linebackers who set up no father than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage. All candidates also must be eligible to play college sports under the rules and regulations of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Wonderful. The Lombardi Award is also my favorite trophy among the college football awards. Good gracious, granite. (I think.)

The Big 12 has won two of the past three Lombardi Awards, courtesy of Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Texas' Brian Orakpo. Suh was Nebraska's fifth winner, but Tommie Harris in 2003 gave Oklahoma its third winner, tied with Texas for the most of any current Big 12 team.
We've taken a look at the Big 12 offensive skill positions in our position rankings, and we'll circle back along to the lines eventually. For now, though, we'll flip to the defensive side of the ball, starting with linebackers.

There's a lot of turnover in this space, and the bottom half was pretty hard to sort out. We haven't seen a lot of these new faces on the field for extended periods of time, so it's somewhat of a crapshoot. I don't feel like there's a wide gap between teams 7-10, and each of those squads have at least one linebacker who could be due for a huge year and shoot them up this list.

I see Nos. 1-3 possibly being great, with dropoffs before the No. 4 and No. 7 teams.

Also, if you missed them, here are the other position rankings we've done so far.
So, without further ado, here's how I ranked the linebackers. (Nickel backs are included in this list, hybrid DE/LBs will be with defensive lines)

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma's Travis Lewis is the Big 12's top returning defender.
1. Oklahoma -- The Sooners boast the Big 12's top returning defender in Travis Lewis, who has notched at least 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons, and he'll be joined by the Big 12's co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Tony Jefferson. Tom Wort and Corey Nelson are both loaded with potential, and will fill out the rotation, after the starter at middle linebacker, Austin Box, died on May 19.

2. Iowa State -- The Cyclones boast two of the Big 12's best in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, who combined for more tackles than any two teammates in the Big 12 last season. They had 241 stops, and, after healing from a broken leg suffered midseason last year, Matt Tau'fo'ou should join them at middle linebacker.

3. Texas -- Texas' offense may be lacking, but the defense will be strong once again, led by two others likely to earn spots as some of the Big 12's best. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were Texas' top two tacklers last year with 187 stops, and return as likely captains come fall camp. Texas' depth chart is wide open, but look for former blue-chip recruit Jordan Hicks to emerge as another star this year, despite being forced to sit out spring camp with a broken foot. Dravannti Johnson played some defensive end last year at the Buck position for the Longhorns, but may find his way back to linebacker. Tevin Jackson was ineligible last year, but he's ready for 2011, and could make an impact.

4. Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys "Star" linebacker is occupied by co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis, and sophomore Caleb Lavey is charged with replacing Orie Lemon, the leader of last year's defense. Oklahoma State has questions on the weak side, but LeRon Furr and Chris Dinkins will compete next fall. Kris Catlin could be a factor, too.

5. Texas A&M -- The Aggies must replace their leading tackler, Michael Hodges, and don't have a clear replacement heading into fall camp. The good news: They've got two others with lots of experience in the linebacking corps that look like budding stars. Garrick Williams should be one of the defense's leaders and Sean Porter returns after making 74 tackles last year to rank third on the team.

6. Missouri -- The Tigers have lots of experience at middle linebacker, where a pair of seniors (albeit frequently injured seniors) Will Ebner and Luke Lambert will be on the field a lot. One of the Big 12's most exciting players, junior Zaviar Gooden, will hold down the weakside and perhaps become a household name by season's end. Sophomores Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will likely compete for strongside duties in fall camp. Andrew Gachkar, the team's leading tackler, is gone, but here's guessing Gooden emerges as the defense's top playmaker.

7. Kansas -- The Jayhawks linebackers were solid last year, and could be pretty good again, despite losing Drew Dudley and Justin Springer, two of the team's top four tacklers. Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler in 2010, is back and he'll be joined by possible star Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a leg injury. Fellow sophomore Darius Willis earned a starting role after spring.

8. Kansas State -- K-State's front seven struggled last year, but will get a big boost from Arthur Brown. One man won't be enough to totally fix the Wildcats rush defense problems, though. K-State gave up 26 more yards on the ground per game than any other team in the Big 12 (more than 231 per game) but Brown may be playing in a 4-3 next fall rather than the 4-2-5 the Wildcats have employed since Snyder's return. Alex Hrebec, Emmanuel Lamur, Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter will likely fill the rotation along with Brown.

9. Baylor -- Baylor's defensive depth chart, like Texas', is a bit amorphous after bringing in a new coordinator, but Elliot Coffey figures to be the Bears biggest playmaker at linebacker. Chris McAllister should be solid and Ahmad Dixon is promising at nickelback, too. Brody Trahan is a great story, but him going from third-string quarterback to starting linebacker isn't a ringing endorsement for Baylor's depth at the position.

10. Texas Tech -- Tech will be moving to a 4-2-5 this year under new coordinator Chad Glasgow, and could rise up this list, but the Red Raiders lose a lot of talent from last season's team, which ran the 3-4. Bront Bird and Brian Duncan are both gone, and youth will be a big factor with this group. Cqulin Hubert's outstanding potential is matched by his more outstanding first name, and freshman Blake Dees showed promise after arriving early this spring. They'll likely be the rotation at middle linebacker spot alongside Daniel Cobb and Zach Winbush. Terrance Bullitt could be a playmaker at his new safety spot, listed as a strong safety but with plans to spend lots of time near the line of scrimmage, a la nickelback.

Texas A&M spring wrap

May, 6, 2011
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TEXAS A&M

2010 overall record: 9-4

2010 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense (9), Defense (8) P/K (2)

Top returners: RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller, QB Ryan Tannehill, CB/KR Coryell Judie, RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, LB Damontre Moore, LT Luke Joeckel

Key losses: LB Von Miller, DE Lucas Patterson, LB Michael Hodges, C Matt Allen

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Cyrus Gray* (1,133 yards)

Passing: Jerrod Johnson (1,947 yards)

Receiving: Jeff Fuller* (1,066 yards)

Tackles: Michael Hodges (115)

Sacks: Von Milller (10.5)

Interceptions: Dustin Harris*, Coryell Judie* (4)

Three spring answers

1. Gray’s running mate is back on track. Cyrus Gray handled the duties well after Christine Michael went down with a broken leg. Gray finished the season with seven consecutive 100-yard games, but Michael is back and looked good this spring. The Aggies have one of the best running back duos in the country, and it should be better than ever this year.

2. Linebackers looking good. Texas A&M is losing Von Miller and Michael Hodges, but linebackers Sean Porter and Garrick Williams look ready to step into roles as the leaders on the defense. Damontre Moore is likely to replace Miller, while Hodges spot in the middle is up for grabs, with true freshman Donnie Baggs competing to win it alongside Jonathan Stewart and Kyle Mangan. It’s a question mark on a team without many, but the spring had to be encouraging.

3. Offensive line coming together. Texas A&M returns four starters on the line, and loses center Matt Allen. Brian Thomas is likely to replace him and worked most of the spring as the first-team center. On the outside, the Aggies pair of sophomore tackles, Luke Joeckel on the left side and Jake Matthews on the right continue to mature and could be two of the Big 12’s best.

Three fall questions

1. Can the Aggies handle the pressure? There was tons of buzz about the Aggies last year, despite coming off a 6-7 season. After six games, though, Texas A&M was 3-3. Once plenty of folks had written them off, they ripped off an impressive six-game win streak and shared the Big 12 South title. This year, the hype is back, but the Aggies won’t be able to weather a three-game losing streak this time around and still have a shot at the Big 12 title.

2. Will Ryan Tannehill continue his tear? Tannehill replaced the Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year, Jerrod Johnson, midway through the season last year, and helped pace the Aggies during their impressive streak. This time around, with defenses more sure of what to expect from him, can he become a bona fide star? Not to mention that lingering Aggie senior QB curse…

3. How good is Damontre Moore? Von Miller is gone, and Moore looks likely to replace him at the Joker position this year. The Aggies want to see him slide in and re-establish the dominance he showed early in the season when Miller was slowed by an ankle injury, but Miller was perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime player. Moore may be good, but just how good? We’ll find out next year.
We've been all over the place so far this offseason, taking a look at some of the budding stars in the Big 12. Here's what we've covered so far:
Now it's time to look at the guys that seem to be in on every play: players who will notch 100 tackles next year. A little context: This is a bigger group than the others.

Last year, 11 players topped the 100-tackle mark, and just five return. Across the country, 75 players had at least 100 tackles, by far the largest group we've examined so far this year.

So this time, instead of looking at the players most likely to crack the mark, we'll just run down the players I believe will have at least 100 tackles next year, in order of the likelihood they do so. As usual, this is not a ranking of each linebacker's overall skill, just the probability that they reach the benchmark statistic for their position.

1. Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: Lewis tops the list based on his history. In three years, he has 360 tackles for the Sooners, and has topped 100 in all three seasons. He's got a hungry youngster in Corey Nelson nipping at his heels, but he's one of the defense's leaders. There's no reason to think he won't have another huge year.

[+] EnlargeJake Knott
Reese Strickland/US PresswireIowa State's Jake Knott is the top returning tackler in the Big 12.
2. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: After making 130 stops in 2010, Knott is the Big 12's leading returning tackler. He broke his arm late in the spring (following it up with the most hard-core recovery of the spring), but he should be back to full strength well before fall camp and geared up for 130 more.

3. Garrick Williams, LB, Texas A&M: Williams already had 112 stops in 2010, and without Michael Hodges and Von Miller around, he and Sean Porter (74 tackles in 2010) should rack up even more in 2011.

4. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State: Klein gets overshadowed by his teammate, Knott, but he had 111 tackles of his own as a first-year starter last year. The Cyclones defensive line is one of the weakest in the Big 12, but fortunately for ISU, it's got some solid linebackers.

5. Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas: Robinson is the last of the returning 100-tackle linebackers, but he'll have an even bigger role in the Longhorns' defense in 2011 after making 106 stops last year.

6. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: I'm officially buying on Arthur Brown. I'm on the fence about Bryce Brown, but the combination of the tales from last year's scout team, plus his 14 tackles in the spring game followed by an endorsement from Bill Snyder after it has me on board. He's the fastest linebacker Snyder's coached since his return, and speed takes you a long way in the Big 12. Big year on the way for Brown.

7. Caleb Lavey, LB, Oklahoma State: Lavey is the likely successor to resident brick wall Orie Lemon at middle linebacker for the Cowboys. He may not reach Lemon's 133 tackles in 2010, second-most in the Big 12, but I like what I saw from Lavey as a freshman last year and I like his chances to hit the triple digits.

8. Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri: Like Brown, Gooden has crazy speed for a linebacker, and at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, his body type is more like that of a hulking safety. Missouri, in part because of injury, didn't have a player with 100 tackles last year, but Gooden tied for the team lead with 84. If Will Ebner stays healthy, he could crash this list, too.

9. Prince Kent, S, Baylor: Two defensive backs hit the mark last year, but I've got just one on my list for 2011. Kent played sparingly as a freshman last year, but still led the team with two interceptions. The Bears' cornerbacks aren't great, and here's betting that means Kent leads the team in tackles this year.

10. Huldon Tharp, LB, Kansas: Tharp will be coming back from a knee injury, and he's not full strength just yet, but he's got the most raw talent of any defender on the Jayhawks' roster. I'll tack him on the end of this list for a nice comeback year.

Just missed: Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M; Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas, Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech

Spring superlatives: Texas A&M

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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The ninth in our series looking at the strongest and weakest position for each team in the Big 12: The Texas A&M Aggies.

Strongest position: Skill positions

Key returnees: QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Cyrus Gray, RB Christine Michael, WR Ryan Swope, WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, WR Kenric McNeal

Key losses: None

Analysis: You can't pick one position out of this group, really. The Aggies have two of the Big 12's best running backs, both with two years of solid experience in the Big 12.

The same is true of the receiving corps, which is deep and experienced with lots of ability to make sure Tannehill's first full season starting (he was 5-1 in six starts last year) goes well.

In that group of receivers is plenty of balance. Jeff Fuller's size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) makes him one of the best red zone targets in college football, and he caught 12 touchdowns last year. Ryan Swope and Kenric McNeal are some of the league's toughest covers in the slot and Uzoma Nwachukwu is a more balanced receiver with a lot to prove after an underwhelming sophomore year.

Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael are both balanced backs, but Gray's biggest asset is his speed, and Michael is the more powerful back. They complement each other well and could both flirt with 1,000 yards this year. Gray brings a seven-game streak of at least 100 yards rushing into 2011, racked up against defenses like Nebraska, Oklahoma and LSU to close the 2010 season.

The Aggies' backup plan if Tannehill goes down isn't very attractive, with no experience behind him, but he should be among the Big 12's best at the position this year.

Best of all, the offensive line brings back four starters. The Aggies should be among the Big 12's best offenses and defenses, but the biggest asset is its depth and experience at all the skill positions.

Weakest position: Linebacker

Key returnees: Garrick Williams, Sean Porter, Damontre Moore, Kyle Mangan

Key losses: Von Miller, Michael Hodges

Analysis: For the Aggies, linebacker is more of a question mark than a true weakness, but they'll need good players to blossom into great ones if they want to build on last season's strong finish.

Make no mistake, Von Miller and Michael Hodges are huge losses. Miller was the Big 12's best defender last year, and Hodges led the team in tackles, with 115. We already got a preview of what happened to Texas A&M's defense without Hodges in the Cotton Bowl. He went down early with a knee injury and the Aggies fell apart, giving up 41 points to an LSU offense that averaged fewer than 30 last season, ranking ninth in the SEC. It wasn't pretty.

Damontre Moore, at the pivotal Joker position, showed lots of potential last year when Miller was slowed early in the season with an ankle injury, but he was still just a freshman. He'll have to grow up and be counted on for much more as a sophomore this year.

Garrick Williams made 112 tackles last year and should be one of the defense's leaders. Sean Porter may play a bit of the Joker position, but he'll grab another linebacker spot in the Aggies' 3-4 after starting last season and making 74 tackles, third-most on the team.

Replacing Hodges isn't entirely settled yet, but someone will have to step in and be solid in the middle of the defense. Jonathan Stewart and Kyle Mangan played some last year, and freshman Donnie Baggs was in the rotation this spring as well.

More spring superlatives:

Sizing up the Big 12's returning tacklers

April, 26, 2011
4/26/11
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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.

Tallying the Big 12 South returning starters

January, 27, 2011
1/27/11
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God bless you, Phil Steele.

I wasn't planning to tally up the returning starters across the Big 12 until next week, but the college football guru put together a ranking of every team's total returning starters.

For better or worse, this number has quite a bit of impact on people's perceptions of teams entering 2011, so there's no doubt that each team's bottom line has a big influence heading into next year.

We'll close it up with the Big 12 South after taking a look at the North earlier this afternoon. A star signifies that the team's starting quarterback will return.

1. Texas A&M - 19 starters* (9 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists)

Top returners: QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Jeff Fuller, RB Cyrus Gray/Christine Michael, LB Garrick Williams

2. Oklahoma - 17 starters* (8 offense, 7 defense, 2 specialists)

Top returners: QB Landry Jones, WR Ryan Broyles, LB Travis Lewis, CB Jamell Fleming

3. Oklahoma State - 15 starters* (9 offense, 5 defense, 1 specialist)

Top returners: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, S Johnny Thomas, S Markelle Martin

3. Texas - 15 starters* (8 offense, 6 defense, 1 specialist)

Top returners: LB Emmanuel Acho, LB Keenan Robinson, QB Garrett Gilbert, WR Mike Davis

5. Baylor - 14 starters* (8 offense, 5 defense, 1 specialist)

Top returners: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Kendall Wright, DB Chance Casey, LB Elliot Coffey

6. Texas Tech - 13 starters (5 offense, 8 defense, 0 specialists)

Top returners: WR Alex Torres, DB Cody Davis, DB Tre Porter, DB Jarvis Phillips

Are those numbers deceiving for any team on the list?

Any team have a high number of starters that could be overrated entering 2011?

Recruiting needs: Big 12 South

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
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Signing day is exactly a week from Wednesday, and it's time to take a look at who needs what in its 2011 class.

Some schools have addressed these needs with their current class. Some haven't. Others are still trying.

Here's our look at the South, after running down the Big 12 North earlier this morning.

BAYLOR

Defensive tackle: The Bears are loaded on offense and have a ton coming back, but anyone who watched Baylor in 2010 knows the big problems are on defense, starting with the front four. Phil Taylor is headed to the NFL and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste will be a senior next year. Reserve Chris Buford is gone, too. The Bears need to fill out some depth up front to avoid a repeat of their Texas Bowl debacle defending the run against Illinois.

Punter: Derek Epperson was rock solid as a four-year starter for the Bears, averaging near 44 yards a punt for his past three seasons. He's gone now, and the Bears will need a replacement. The good news is Baylor's offense with Robert Griffin III doesn't make the position nearly as important as it used to be.

OKLAHOMA

Receiver: Ryan Broyles, a senior, and Kenny Stills look ready for big years in 2011, but senior Cameron Kenney is gone. Trey Franks, Dejuan Miller and Joe Powell could contribute in 2011, but beyond that, another big-time threat across from Stills would certainly help. One of the Sooners' top 2011 commits, Trey Metoyer, could become that player.

Safety: Both starters, Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson, have graduated, and the Sooners will try to replace them with Sam Proctor, who has started plenty of games, and Javon Harris. The Sooners are pretty well-stocked about everywhere, but more depth in the secondary is always welcome.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Defensive line: Three of the Cowboys' four starters are gone, and it's always necessary to fill in some depth behind them. Shane Jarka, Chris Donaldson and Ugo Chinasa all had good years in 2010.

Offensive line: Oklahoma State brings back all five starters for 2011, but four will be seniors. That means replacing them in 2012, which will be a lot easier if those replacements don't end up being true freshmen. Oklahoma State kept offensive line coach Joe Wickline, a candidate for the same job at Texas, and his development of the line last year with four new starters was a big reason for the Cowboys' success. He'll need to do it again in 2012.

TEXAS

Running back: Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson will both be seniors in 2011, and Tre Newton's career is over because of issues with concussions. Texas would be well-served if its top 2011 commit, Malcolm Brown, can come in and be effective immediately as a true freshman.

Cornerback: Aaron Williams left early. Curtis and Chykie Brown graduated. Texas needs help at corner and will have big problems in the near future if they don't get it.

Linebacker: Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson will be seniors in 2011, and Dustin Earnest and Jared Norton already graduated. New talent behind them will help prevent a drop-off in 2012 after Acho and Robinson split.

TEXAS A&M

Kicker: Randy Bullock will be a senior in 2011, but Texas A&M is already hoping his spot is filled by incoming freshman Taylor Bertolet, the nation's No. 2 kicker who won the Under Armour All-American game with a last-second field goal earlier this month.

Linebacker: Michael Hodges and Von Miller have graduated, and Garrick Williams will follow them in 2011. The Wrecking Crew was pretty stout for most of 2010, but filling those holes in a four-linebacker front will be key in ensuring things stay that way.

TEXAS TECH

Secondary: LaRon Moore and Franklin Mitchem are gone, so Texas Tech will be breaking in some new blood in the secondary for new coordinator Chad Glasgow and cornerbacks coach Otis Mounds. Freshmen cornerbacks Jarvis Phillips and Tre Porter made plays in 2010, but they also allowed offenses to make a few of their own. Stopping that will be a big step in Texas Tech getting things rolling under Tommy Tuberville.

Receiver: Texas Tech already needs to replace Detron Lewis and Lyle Leong, and Tramain Swindall and Jacoby Franks will follow suit after 2011. Alex Torres was hampered by a back injury all year, but the Red Raiders will need some depth around him at receiver to keep the offense humming.

Texas A&M Aggies season recap

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
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The story of Texas A&M's 2010 season will always be told in two parts. There was the frustrating start with close losses to Oklahoma State and Arkansas before "The Year" could pick up any real momentum. Then came the blowout loss to Missouri that gave fans reason to believe there was no real reason to believe.

Then, of course, is the streak that 2010 will ultimately be remembered for. Texas A&M finished its season with six consecutive Big 12 wins to finish 9-3 and land in the Cotton Bowl for the first time since 2004. That streak is the longest for the Aggies since its last Big 12 title which was in 1998.

The early stumbles cost the Aggies a chance at the Big 12 South title, but it knocked off top 10 opponents Oklahoma and Nebraska down the stretch to get inside the top 20. Three goal-line stops against the Sooners and allowing just six points against Nebraska keyed off talk of the return of the "Wrecking Crew" and the Aggies left the field to chants of "Wrecking Crew" after both big wins.

Offensive MVP: Cyrus Gray, RB. Talk about Ryan Tannehill and Jeff Fuller all you'd like. Gray is the biggest reason for the winning streak. Christine Michael went down with a broken leg in midseason, but Gray finished the season with six games of at least 100 yards rushing, including over 200 yards of offense against a stingy Nebraska defense and 223 yards rushing against Texas. During that six-game stretch, Gray averaged 6.3 yards per carry.

Defensive MVP: Von Miller, LB/DE. Miller, like the Aggies, got off to a slow start, too. His came because of an ankle injury, but Miller was one of the league's most productive defenders in Big 12 play, making a late surge into the conversation for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. He didn't have a tackle for loss or a sack in his first four games, but finished with 14.5 TFLs and 9.5 sacks, tied for the Big 12 lead.

Turning point: The switch from Jerrod Johnson to Ryan Tannehill. I'll stress, this isn't the only thing that helped the Aggies rip off six consecutive wins, but it was one of the reasons why. Johnson didn't look like himself after offseason shoulder surgery, but Tannehill got some time at quarterback against Kansas, and took over the starting gig against Texas Tech. In that game, he set a school record with 449 passing yards and didn't give the job back.

What's next: Tannehill's experience this year will carry over to next year, but the Aggies have to hope he doesn't fall victim to the Texas A&M senior quarterback curse as Johnson and Reggie McNeal did, among others before them. The defense made big strides under Tim DeRuyter, and though Miller, linebacker Michael Hodges and defensive tackle Lucas Patterson will be gone next year, the Aggies should still have a solid senior class with Tannehill, safety Trent Hunter and linebacker Garrick Williams. Freshman Damontre Moore will fill Miller's role and could be a breakout star in 2011, too.

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