Big 12: Jimmy Bean

With spring ball a month away, we've been ranking position groups in the Big 12. These evaluations have been based on past performance, future potential and quality depth. We continue the series with defensive line:

1. Baylor: The Bears boast two bona fide All-American candidates up front in tackle Andrew Billings and end Shawn Oakman, who put off the draft to return for his senior season. Both are coming off first-team All-Big 12 seasons. Alongside Billings, Beau Blackshear will be a three-year starter. The group has the potential to be scary good -- and also just plain scary.

2. TCU: The Horned Frogs lose three-time All-Big 12 lynchpin Chucky Hunter; the rest of the D-line, however, is back. Fellow tackle Davion Pierson will finally be out of Hunter's shadow. He quietly was one of TCU's better players last year. The entire playmaking defensive end quartet of Josh Carraway, Mike Tuaua, James McFarland and Terrell Lathan is back, as well. If junior Tevin Lawson or sophomore Chris Bradley can fill Hunter's production, this unit has a chance to be as good as it was in 2014 -- if not better.

3. Texas: Malcom Brown deservedly received all the attention for his magnificent 2014 campaign. But he also overshadowed Hassan Ridgeway, who was one of the Big 12's better tackles by the end of the season. Ridgeway is a breakout bet for 2015. He'll be flanked by Desmond Jackson, who is coming back from season-ending foot injury, and former ESPN 300 signee Poona Ford. At end, the Longhorns lose Cedric Reed, but have Naashon Hughes, Caleb Bluiett and Shiro Davis back as well as Derick Roberson, the team's top overall signee in 2014. ESPN JC50 DE Quincy Vasser rounds out a deep and talented rotation.

4. Oklahoma State: Emmanuel Ogbah is the reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the year, and will only be a junior. Last season in his first as a starter, he finished second in the league with 11 sacks and third with 17 tackles for loss. Jimmy Bean is a two-year starter at the other end. James Castleman and Ofa Hautau are gone inside, but Oklahoma State has ESPN JC 50 recruit Motekiai Maile and several up-and-coming options at tackle, including Vincent Taylor, Vili Leveni and four-star signee Darrion Daniels.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners had a disappointing 2014, due in part to a defensive line that failed to dominate as expected. Yet despite losing Jordan Phillips, Chuka Ndulue and Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma is hardly devoid of talent up front. Charles Tapper is one year removed from a first-team All-Big 12 season. The Sooners need him to return to his disruptive 2013 level. The program is excited about Matt Dimon, Matthew Romar, Charles Walker and D.J. Ward after they served bit roles last season. The biggest question is nose tackle, where Phillips' departure leaves a huge void in Mike Stoops' 3-4 scheme. Jordan Wade is the only returning 300-pound defender on the roster, but he fell out of the rotation last year. ESPN 300 signee Neville Gallimore could be the long-term answer there, but it's unknown how ready he'll be able to assist as a true freshman. The Sooners also have to replace prolific D-line coach Jerry Montgomery, who recently left for the Green Bay Packers.

6. Kansas State: Travis Britz is one of the top returning tackles in the league, and should be healthy after missing K-State's final three games with an ankle injury. Jordan Willis was active at end with four sacks. Veteran backup Marquel Bryant likely will step in for Ryan Mueller opposite Willis. Rotation tackles Will Geary and Demonte Hood will be asked to play bigger roles in 2015. It will be interesting to see if defensive tackle Bryce English, the top signee in K-State's 2015 class, or defensive tackle Trey Dishon, perhaps the sleeper of the class, will be able to help early on, as well.

7. West Virginia: Shaq Riddick was West Virginia's only real pass-rush threat last season, and he's gone. Still, the team can count Kyle Rose, Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown -- all experienced players. The Mountaineers need one of their two incoming juco ends, Larry Jefferson or Xavier Pegues, to supply the pressure Riddick brought off the edge.

8. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders finally have a chance to hold their own. Pete Robertson is a big reason why, having led the Big 12 with 13 sacks last year. Branden Jackson is a two-year starter on the other side of the line and a solid player. To combat what was a disastrous run defense in 2014, Tech is hopeful that former juco transfers Rika Levi and Keland McElrath will be more effective in their second seasons. The "X" factor will be incoming freshman Breiden Fehoko, who was the No. 51 overall recruit in the country. If Fehoko can give the Red Raiders something early, they will instantly be better.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks have the fewest returning starters in the Big 12, but they do bring back two-year starter Ben Goodman. Andrew Bolton is Kansas' top returner on the inside. Juco transfer Jacky Dezir should add depth in the middle. Incoming freshman end Dorance Armstrong has the potential to be a difference-maker in time.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones were awful against the run in 2014, giving up an average of 5.67 yards per carry. Only New Mexico, New Mexico State and Georgia State allowed a worse average. The playing status of Iowa State's best returning defensive lineman, Mitchell Meyers, is also up in the air after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. The Cyclones need a major impact from ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Demond Tucker, as well as fellow juco addition Bobby Leath.

Stats to improve: Defense

June, 4, 2014
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It was an unusual year in the Big 12 in 2013, with several defenses carrying their teams to success in a conference known for high-scoring offense a year ago. Yet every Big 12 defense will head into 2014 with room to improve.

We looked at key offensive stats each school could improve this fall on Tuesday. On Wednesday, with the help of ESPN Stats and Information, we take a team-by-team look at one key defensive stat from last season and how to improve the number in 2014.

Baylor

Key stat in 2013: Much like its offense, BU’s defense finished atop the Big 12 in most categories but still had room to improve. The Bears allowed touchdowns on 5.2 percent of opponents’ pass attempts, ranking No. 9 in the Big 12 and No. 78 in the nation. Baylor’s struggles to stop the passing game were particularly apparent in its losses to Oklahoma State and Central Florida.

How to improve in 2014: It’s not going to be easy with Baylor forced to replace the bulk of its starting secondary this fall. But BU could have one of the top defensive lines in the Big 12, possibly the nation, which could help drop this number significantly with disruptive pressure that knocks quarterbacks out of their comfort zone.

Iowa State

Key stat in 2013: The Cyclones' defense wasn’t very good in 2013, finishing near the bottom of the Big 12 in almost every category. ISU allowed touchdowns on 28.9 percent of opponents' drives, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 93 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: It’s going to require the unit playing as a whole as opposed to a few standout individuals making most of the plays like linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington did in 2013. ISU has a lot of unknowns on defense but if they jell as a unit, the defense could improve.

Kansas

Key stat in 2013: Big plays were a problem for the Jayhawks defense. KU allowed 10 yards or more on 21.4 percent of opponents' plays last season, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 92 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: The Jayhawks defense is too talented to allow so many big plays. The defense has several veteran playmakers, including linebacker Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson, so a season playing together should help this number drop.

Kansas State

Key stat in 2013: The Wildcats struggled to get off the field at times in 2013. KSU forced opponents to go three-and-out on just 13.8 percent of drives last season, last in the Big 12 and No. 118 nationally. The other seven teams that joined K-State in the bottom eight of the FBS in this category combined for 13 wins in 2013.

How to improve in 2014: KSU added speed and playmaking to its defense with several junior college signees in February which should help its defense be more aggressive and athletic. The Wildcats are losing some veterans, but the overall athleticism of the defense should be improved. A more talented defense should help improve this number this fall.

Oklahoma

Key stat in 2013: The Sooners defense was strong in 2013 but could have been more opportunistic. OU forced a fumble on just 1.5 percent of opponents’ running plays, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 103 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: One of the Sooners’ spring goals was to be more physical in the running game. If they are, more forced fumbles are likely to be the result in 2013. Improving this category is one way OU can strive to field the Big 12's and possibly the nation’s top defense in 2014.

Oklahoma State

Key stat in 2013: The Cowboys had one of the Big 12’s best defenses last season but one of the worst pass rushes. OSU had a 4.4 sack percentage, ranking No. 8 in the Big 12 and No. 103 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: OSU could have one of the better defensive lines in the conference this fall, particularly with improvement from defensive ends Jimmy Bean and Emmanuel Ogbah. That duo finished 1-2 in sacks for the Pokes and could be much improved this fall, helping improve OSU’s pass rush and helping a young and inexperienced secondary.

Texas

Key stat in 2013: Texas' defense struggled to step up in key moments last season. UT allowed opponents to score 68.4 percent of the time once they got inside the Longhorns’ 40-yard line. UT ranked ninth in the Big 12 in that category and No. 79 nationally. Baylor, OSU and OU ranked 1-2-3 in the category in 2013.

How to improve in 2014: The arrival of Charlie Strong will be a huge help. His Louisville squad finished tied for third nationally with Florida State, allowing opponents to score on 50 percent of drives inside the 40-yard line in 2013.

TCU

Key stat in 2013: TCU’s defense finished among the top three in several categories last season. The Horned Frogs could improve however, allowing 12.71 yards per completion in 2013, ranking No. 8 in the Big 12 and No. 91 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: The TCU defense doesn’t need much improvement but the return of defensive end Devonte Fields should help, particularly if TCU can replace cornerback Jason Verrett, an NFL first-round draft pick.

Texas Tech

Key stat in 2013: The Red Raiders' defense finished in the middle of the Big 12 in most categories, but one major area of improvement is missed tackles. Texas Tech missed 82 tackles in 2013, the third-most in the Big 12 behind Texas (88) and Kansas (85). For comparison’s sake, Baylor (68) and Oklahoma (71), ranked 1-2 in missed tackles.

How to improve in 2014: Working on tackling fundamentals will help, and Tech will need each defender to take pride in his individual tackling prowess. Texas Tech is replacing several starters so the Red Raiders could see more playmakers emerge to help lessen the number of missed tackles.

West Virginia

Key stat in 2013: The Mountaineers’ defense was horrible on third down. WVU allowed opponents to convert an eye-popping 46.6 percent, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 118 nationally.

How to improve in 2014: Improving its third-down defense has to be a focus for new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. Shuffling on the defensive staff should help as will the addition of transfer defensive end Shaquille Riddick, who should help improve the pass rush.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Monday with defensive line. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a healthy and productive Devonte Fields this fall, TCU's defensive line could be an elite unit.
1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 2): Devonte Fields appears to be back, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12. The 2012 Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year basically had a fruitless sophomore campaign, which ended with season-ending foot surgery. But this spring, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas noted that Fields was making the plays he did as a freshman All-American. Even without Fields, this would be a good D-line, headlined by veteran tackles Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson. But with Fields playing up to his potential, this line could be elite.

2. Oklahoma (1): Not only did the Sooners return the entire line that destroyed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they’ve added three redshirt freshmen who are clamoring for playing time. Charles Walker is the most athletic tackle on the roster, and he ran the fastest tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) of the Bob Stoops era. Tackle Matt Romar quietly emerged this spring and could be on the verge of taking away snaps from some of the veterans inside. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo showed this spring he's yet another Sooner capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge. There's a debate on the best D-line in the league. There’s no debate on the deepest, with Oklahoma capable of going three-deep across the board.

3. Baylor (6): Coach Art Briles believes he has one of the best defensive lines in the country, and there's reason to believe he might be right. The Bears made the biggest jump on this list, thanks to the development of end Shawn Oakman and emergence of tackle Javonte Magee. Briles called the 6-foot-9 Oakman “unblockable” during the spring. Oakman already flashed plenty of potential last season as a sophomore, finishing sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. Magee, who might be the most highly-touted high school defender Briles has ever signed, sat out his freshman season while dealing with a personal issue. But he established himself this spring and could beat out returning starter Beau Blackshear. With former four-star signee Andrew Billings (who played as a true freshman) also poised for a big year at the other tackle spot, Briles could indeed be proven correct in the fall.

4. Texas (3): The Longhorns boast two of the league’s blue-chip defensive linemen in end Cedric Reed and tackle Malcom Brown. But whether this unit rises to the top of the league will hinge on the supporting cast. If athletic end Shiro Davis and run-stuffing tackle Desmond Jackson play up to their potential, and the Longhorns can get a boost from incoming freshmen Derick Roberson and Poona Ford, this could be a foundational positional unit in Charlie Strong’s first season.

5. Kansas State (4): Like Texas, the Wildcats have two blue-chip pieces returning up front in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz. They’re banking they’ll soon be adding a third in Terrell Clinkscales, who will be arriving to Manhattan shortly. Clinkscales, whom the Wildcats snatched away from Nebraska, was the nation’s No. 4-rated juco DT, and at 315 pounds, could be the run-stuffer K-State currently lacks.

6. Oklahoma State (5): With so much turnover elsewhere, the Cowboys will be counting on their line to be their anchor defensively. There’s reason to believe it could be that and more. Sam Wren received votes for Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, while Emmanuel Ogbah garnered consideration for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Throw in promising redshirt freshmen Vili Leveni, Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor, who all showed signs this spring they might be ready to contribute, along with veterans James Castleman, Ofa Hautau and Jimmy Bean, and Oklahoma State could have the anchor up front it needs while the rest of the defense retools.

7. West Virginia (7): This will probably be the weakest area of West Virginia defense, but with their talent at linebacker, the Mountaineers don’t have to be great up front. Dontrill Hyman, Christian Brown and Kyle Rose are currently the starters coming out of the spring. But the player to watch up front is sophomore Darrien Howard, who rapidly progressed since having his redshirt pulled late in 2013. If Howard develops into an impact player, he could give the Mountaineers a huge jolt up front.

8. Texas Tech (9): The Red Raiders tried to get by this spring while awaiting the horde of defensive line help set to arrive this summer. All told, the Red Raiders signed four juco D-linemen, only one of which – Keland McElrath -- enrolled early (McElrath was hobbled by a stress fracture all spring to boot). To be better up front, Tech, which ranked ninth in run defense last fall, will need at least a couple of its juco transfers to hit.

9. Kansas (10): Keon Stowers quietly has become as one of the better tackles in the league. He was the defensive MVP of Kansas' spring game after collecting eight tackles from his defensive tackle spot, and he was voted captain for a second straight year. Stowers and linebacker Ben Heeney will lead a defense that returns nine starters and could surprise after gaining confidence from playing Oklahoma and Texas tough last season.

10: Iowa State (8): The Cyclones took it on the chin this spring, with projected D-line starters Rodney Coe and David Irving both getting kicked off the team. Iowa State got a boost shortly after spring ball ended when 2013 starting tackle Brandon Jensen changed his mind about leaving the team. The Cyclones should be solid at end with Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, but even with Jensen’s return, interior line depth is a major concern.

Oklahoma State spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
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A recap of what we learned about Oklahoma State this spring as the Cowboys try to replace a senior-laden defense and find a quarterback.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Big 12 defensive coordinators aren’t going to like Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer made a smooth transition into the Oklahoma State program after starring on the track earlier this semester. Hill showed he can be a game-breaking threat as a running back or receiver and should be one of the centerpieces of the offense this fall.

2. J.W. Walsh is the best option at quarterback. True freshman Mason Rudolph stepped on campus with all the accolades and Daxx Garman impressed during spring drills, but Walsh brings veteran maturity and experience to the offensive backfield. His experience was apparent during the spring as he operated the offense like someone who has started eight games during the past two seasons. Coach Mike Gundy says the competition rages on, but Walsh looks like a clear favorite.

3. The Cowboys’ defensive line should be pretty good. Defensive tackle James Castleman, defensive end Jimmy Bean and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah look as if they could be the foundation of a disruptive defensive front. There are major question marks at linebacker and in the secondary, but the Cowboys defensive line is a great starting point.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Rebuild or reload? The Cowboys have won 50 games in the past five seasons but has Gundy raised the level of this program to simply reload instead of rebuild after losing so many seniors? In addition, a lot of the players who helped build the program are no longer in Stillwater, Okla. Do the new players understand what it will take to win 50 games in the next five seasons at OSU?

2. Will the young Cowboys mature quickly? They had better. If Oklahoma State's young players aren’t ready for the big stage, they are likely to be embarrassed by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and Florida State in the season opener. Oklahoma State has upgraded its talent in the past five years and features a deeper and more athletic roster, so a loss is not a certainty. But those players will have to show they’ve matured and are ready to produce in order to knock off the reigning national champions.

3. Is Walsh the answer? Walsh is the clear favorite to start the season at quarterback, but is he the long-term answer? He can prove doubters wrong with a strong start to the season. But if he stumbles out of the blocks, he can expect Cowboys fans to start calling for Garman or Rudolph to take over.

One way-too-early prediction:

The Cowboys will have an up-and-down season but will show an competitive nature and resolve after being humbled early in the season. Oklahoma State will finish the 2014 campaign strong, thus setting up the Cowboys to be considered one of the Big 12 favorites in 2015, with several key playmakers returning.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring, continuing Wednesday with Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have yet to release an official depth chart, so this is only a projection:

OFFENSE (projected starters in bold)

QB: J.W. Walsh (Jr.), Daxx Garman (Jr.) OR Mason Rudolph (Fr.)

Walsh lost the job to Clint Chelf last season, but he all but reclaimed it with a steady spring. Coach Mike Gundy said the competition would continue into the fall, but barring injury, it’s only a matter of time before Walsh is named the starter for the opener against Florida State.

[+] EnlargeTyreek Hill
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiExpectations are high for newcomer Tyreek Hill.
RB: Desmond Roland (Sr.) OR Tyreek Hill (Jr.), Rennie Childs (So.)

FB: Jeremy Seaton (Jr.), Teddy Johnson (Sr.)

The Cowboys added what figures to be the favorite to be named preseason Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year in Hill, who was dynamic in the spring despite splitting duties with the track team. With Roland back to grind out yards between the tackles and Hill a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball, the Cowboys have the opportunity to create problems for opposing defenses when they play on the field at the same time, which should happen a lot next year. Childs, who rushed for 189 yards as a freshman, adds depth to the position, while Seaton is a solid lead-blocking fullback who can also catch passes out of the backfield.

WR: Jhajuan Seales (So.), C.J. Curry (So.)

WR: Marcell Ateman (So.), Brandon Sheperd (Jr.)

IR: Austin Hays (So.), Ra’Shaad Samples (RFr.)

IR: Blake Webb (So.), David Glidden (Jr.)

TE/FB: Blake Jarwin (So.), Jordan Frazier (Fr.)

From Rashaun Woods to Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys have often had the luxury of a superstar wideout to throw the ball up to. The strength of his group, however, will be in its number. Seales, who had 39 catches as a freshman last season, headlines this unit, but Ateman, Hays, Webb, Glidden and Sheperd have all played in big games before. Hill will also boost this group whenever he moves from running back to the slot. Samples was banged up most of the spring, but he’ll also eventually bring speed to the rotation.

LT: Devin Davis (So.), Brandon Garrett (Sr.), Michael Wilson (So.)

LG: Chris Grisbhy (Sr.), Zachary Hargrove (Jr.)

C: Paul Lewis (So.), Jaxson Salinas (RFr.)

RG: Zac Veatch (So.), Colby Hegwood (Jr.)

RT: Daniel Koenig (Sr.), Zachary Crabtree (RFr.)

The Cowboys have some major questions up front that won’t be answered until the fall. Davis missed all of last year after tearing his ACL in the preseason, and still wasn’t cleared in the spring. Garrett’s leg was broken in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and he too is still working his way back. On top of that, longtime position coach Joe Wickline is now at Texas. If Davis and Garrett return to 100 percent, Lewis is able to successfully man his new position at center and new offensive line coach Bob Connelly builds on Wickline’s success, the Cowboys could field yet another banner offensive line. Of course, that is a lot of "ifs."

DEFENSE

DE: Jimmy Bean (Jr.), Trace Clark (Jr.)

DT: James Castleman (Sr.), Vincent Taylor (RFr.) OR Vili Leveni (RFr.)

DT: Ofa Hautau (Sr.), Ben Hughes (RFr.) OR Eric Davis (So.)

DE: Sam Wren (Sr.), Emmanuel Ogbah (So.)

Even though the Cowboys graduated all-conference tackle Calvin Barnett, this should be the strength of the defense. Castleman is capable of performing at an All-Big 12 level, and Wren, Bean and Ogbah can get to the quarterback. Oklahoma State will be even stronger along the defensive line if former four-star signees Hughes and Taylor emerge in their second years on campus.

MLB: Ryan Simmons (Jr.), Dominic Ramacher (So.) OR Demarcus Sherod (So.)

WLB: Devante Averette (Jr.) OR Kris Catlin (Jr.) OR Seth Jacobs (So.)

Simmons moved inside this spring after flanking All-Big 12 veterans Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis last season. Simmons will be the new leader of this unit. The Cowboys also seemed pleased with the development of Averette and Catlin during the spring. Oklahoma State signed a very highly touted linebacking class in February, but chances are, those freshmen won’t be ready to contribute until at least 2015.

NB: D’Nerius Antoine (Jr.) OR Josh Furman (Sr.)

CB: Kevin Peterson (Jr.), Darius Curry (RFr.) OR Taylor Lewis (RFr.)

CB: Ashton Lampkin (Jr.), Miketavius Jones (Jr.)

FS: Jordan Sterns (So.), Larry Stephens (Sr.) OR Jerel Morrow (RFr.)

SS: Deric Robertson (So.), Tre Flowers (RFr.)

Like with so many other teams in the Big 12, Oklahoma State’s secondary is an uncertainty. Peterson, who is one of the top budding cover men in the league, will anchor the group as its lone returning starter. The Cowboys should be in good hands at the other corner with Lampkin, who has appeared in every game his first two years and had a pick-six in Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. Safety is a complete unknown as Robertson and Sterns have little experience. The Cowboys could get some much-needed help from Furman, who transferred in from Michigan during the offseason and will be eligible immediately.
Coach Mike Gundy and Oklahoma State opened up spring practice to the media on Tuesday, with the team holding a lengthy scrimmage that featured several big plays from the offense. Here are five thoughts on the Cowboys after the scrimmage:

1. Daxx Garman is inserting himself into the quarterback competition: QB J.W. Walsh looked like the leader of the offense and has the command of a veteran behind center, making some big plays of his own in the scrimmage. Yet Garman, a walk-on who transferred from Arizona, was the best thrower of the bunch while sharing some snaps with the starters in the scrimmage. He’s proving he can be a solid No. 2 option and make the quarterback competition with Walsh last deep into August no matter how quickly highly regarded freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, who saw limited action in the scrimmage, develops. Garman has received praise throughout the spring for his ability to throw the ball.

“He can really rotate the ball, really spin it, when it comes out of his hands, it’s different,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said of Garman. “It’s not just one throw where he’s able to reach out and do it, he does it when he wants to. Even my wife would look and say, ‘Wow, that dude is really good throwing the football.'"

2. Tyreek Hill is going to create problems for Big 12 defenses: The junior college transfer has made headlines with his track exploits this spring but proved he’s not just a “track guy” during the scrimmage. He took several snaps at running back, showing quickness and big-play ability, including a long touchdown scamper. He should emerge as a playmaker in OSU’s offense as the coaching staff searches for the best ways to utilize him.

“We looked at him some at receiver, and we’ve played him some at tailback," Gundy said. "Hopefully we can fit him into our offense enough to get him the football. He seems to be holding up. If he can figure out what we’re doing based off of the positions we’re playing him at, he should be able to help us because he is really fast.”

[+] EnlargeDaxx Garman
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsWalk-on quarterback Daxx Garman took some first-team reps in the Cowboys' scrimmage.
3. Hill is not the only playmaker: While Hill stood out on offense, several other returning skill players look like playmakers. The Cowboys have a receivers room full of playmakers. Sophomore Jhajuan Seales has All-Big 12 ability -- it’s just a matter of time if he continues to develop -- and Blake Webb made several plays during the scrimmage. Marcell Ateman, C.J. Curry and Austin Hays are among several potential options at the receiver spot, and OSU could go three deep at running back with Hill, Rennie Childs and Desmond Roland, who is sitting out the spring with an injury. Finding playmakers won’t be a problem for Yurcich.

4. None of it will matter if the offensive line doesn’t come around: New offensive line coach Bob Connelly has a tough task ahead putting together a quality offensive line that will allow those playmakers can make big plays. Injuries and attrition made it impossible to evaluate the offensive line during Tuesday’s scrimmage because OSU is down in numbers and without projected starter Devin Davis. Yet the offensive line did win enough battles on Tuesday for Hill and Webb to star, so all is not lost up front for the Cowboys.

5. The defensive line will be the foundation of any success: The Cowboys defensive line is the deepest unit on that side of the ball. The Cowboys should have depth and a solid foundation with their defensive front. Defensive tackle James Castleman will be a solid anchor in the middle and defensive ends Jimmy Bean and Emmanuel Ogbah are talented. OSU is young and inexperienced at linebacker and safety so expect it to lean on an active defensive line to help mask some of the inexperience in the defensive backfield and linebacking corps.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus. Rather, they will include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now. Next up, Oklahoma State:

1. DT James Castleman: Castleman is the Cowboys’ most experienced player after starting the last two seasons alongside All-Big 12 performer Calvin Barnett. With Barnett gone, Castleman will command more attention. He, too, has the ability to be an All-Big 12 player.

2. OT Daniel Koenig: In recent years, the Cowboys have developed a penchant for taking lightly recruited offensive linemen and turning them into All-Big 12 players, notably Levy Adcock, Lane Taylor and Parker Graham. Koenig appears to be the next in that growing line. He can play anywhere along the line but will likely settle in at right tackle, barring injuries elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeJhajuan Seales
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJhajuan Seales is poised for a breakout in 2014.
3. WR Jhajuan Seales: With Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore all gone, the Cowboys will be looking to Seales to take over as the team’s go-to receiver. Seales has the speed and physical tools to be a force, and he produced last season despite being the third or fourth option in the passing progressions. Seales was lightly recruited coming out of high school with a mediocre offer list. But, as they did with Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys appear to have uncovered another diamond in the rough.

4. CB Kevin Peterson: Future NFL first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert was the ace of the Cowboys secondary in 2013. Now that responsibility falls to Peterson, who has been a key part of the secondary since he arrived in Stillwater. Peterson might not have Gilbert’s elite athleticism, but he has the talent to be an elite cover corner.

5. RB Desmond Roland: Roland isn’t the flashiest or fastest running back. But when the Cowboys needed two yards last season, there was no better back in the Big 12 at getting it. After leading the conference with 13 rushing touchdowns despite starting only half the season, Roland is back to anchor the Oklahoma State backfield.

6. ILB Ryan Simmons: Simmons played on the outside last season but will slide to the middle with Caleb Lavey gone. Simmons was overshadowed by Lavey and Shaun Lewis, who were both All-Big 12 linebackers. But he still finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles, including nine for loss. With Lavey and Lewis gone, Simmons will take over as the undeniable leader of the Oklahoma State linebackers.

7. WR Marcell Ateman: Ateman played a major role at wideout as a freshman, even though the Cowboys were loaded at the position. Ateman finished fifth on the offense in receiving with 276 receiving yards. At 6-foot-4 and almost 200 pounds, Ateman has the stature to demolish smaller corners. If he builds off his first season, he could be in for a super sophomore campaign opposite Seales.

8. WR/RB Tyreek Hill: Hill is the only newcomer on this list and has never played a down on the FBS level. But it’s difficult to envision the No. 4 juco prospect in the country not making a major impact in his first season. Hill, who placed fifth in the 200 in the NCAA Indoor Championships, might be the fastest player in college football. This spring, the Cowboys have been devising ways to get Hill the ball in space. If they’re successful, look out.

9. QB J.W. Walsh: This is a big spring for Walsh. He flashed much potential as a redshirt freshman before taking a step back as a sophomore, losing the starting job to Clint Chelf. Walsh is the only quarterback on the roster with any experience, but he’ll have to perform to fend off hot shot true freshman Mason Rudolph, who is already enrolled and participating in spring ball. Walsh struggled last year, but he was also fifth in the country in the Adjusted QBR metric just two seasons ago.

10. DE Jimmy Bean: He started every game for the Cowboys last season as a sophomore and got better as the season progressed. In the AT&T Cotton Bowl, Bean finished with a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss. He also had a sack against Missouri. Together with Emmanuel Ogbah, Sam Wren and Trace Clark, Bean will lead what should be a solid rotation off the edge defensively.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DL

February, 24, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Monday with defensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive lines at the moment:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma end Charles Tapper will lead the Big 12's best defensive line in 2014.
1. Oklahoma: D-line began as a weakness but quickly turned into a strength under first-year position coach Jerry Montgomery. End Charles Tapper was an All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, and tackle Jordan Phillips was on his way to earning similar honors before a back injury ended his season prematurely. Both players are back. So is Geneo Grissom, who had three sacks in the bowl win over Alabama. Nose guard Jordan Wade earned a starting role late in 2013, and Chuka Ndulue will be a starter for a third season. Basically, the entire rotation returns. If Phillips rebounds from the injury, this could prove to be Oklahoma’s finest D-line since 2009, when NFL All-Pro Gerald McCoy roamed the middle.

2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. Even with DT Jon Lewis giving up football, TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.

3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.

4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman will play a bigger role next season.
5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two-time All-Big 12 tackle Calvin Barnett. James Castleman, however, will be a three-year starter, and end Jimmy Bean had a career night in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss. The key to the Cowboys fielding one of the better lines in the league again will be whether Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor and/or Vili Leveni can emerge inside after redshirting in 2013. All three are promising prospects, especially Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class.

6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who played a lot as a sophomore. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.

8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.

10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.

Big 12 all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
1/09/14
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The Big 12 had some memorable bowl performances, and some not-so-memorable ones. Below, we honor the memorable ones with the Big 12's all-bowl team:

OFFENSE

QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma. Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters were marvelous, too, but Knight was simply incredible, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the two-time defending national champs.

RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas. Brown did everything he could to keep the Longhorns in the Valero Alamo Bowl, rushing for 130 yards on 26 carries. Unfortunately, he had little help from the rest of the offense.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett proved just as much a handful for Michigan as he does Big 12 teams.
RB: John Hubert, Kansas State. In his final game at K-State, Hubert went out with a bang, rushing for 80 yards and a touchdown as the Wildcats rolled Michigan.

WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State. The Wolverines became the next team unable to guard Lockett, who had another stellar outing with 10 catches, 116 yards and three touchdowns. Big 12 defensive backs cannot be looking forward to this guy coming back next season.

WR: Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma. Saunders hauled in two of Knight’s touchdown passes, the second a 43-yarder coming off a gorgeous double move that gave OU the lead for good.

TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech. Amaro became the NCAA's all-time single season tight end record holder for receptions and receiving yards, reeling in eight catches for 112 yards against the Sun Devils before revealing he would be turning pro.

OT: Bronson Irwin, Oklahoma. Irwin held up remarkably well against Alabama’s mighty front in his first career start at right tackle, as Knight was sacked only once. Irwin, a guard his entire career, had to move outside because of an injury to Tyrus Thompson.

OT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech. Webb attempted 41 passes and wasn’t sacked once. Clark was a big reason.

OG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State. The Wildcats moved the ball at will against Michigan. Along with Clark, Whitehair is one of the best young returning offensive linemen in the league.

OG: Beau Carpenter, Texas Tech. After missing three straight games with a concussion, Carpenter returned to help shut down Arizona State All-American DT Will Sutton, who basically was a non-factor.

C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma. Even with a makeshift offensive line, OU somehow won the battle in the trenches against Alabama. Ikard, an All-American and quarterback of the line, deserves a ton of credit for keeping the line together.

DEFENSE

DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma. Grissom was a man possessed against the Crimson Tide. The former tight end had two sacks and two fumble recoveries, the latter of which he returned for a touchdown to clinch the Sooners’ victory.

DT: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State. Despite the loss, Barnett tied a career high with five tackles and one sack and repeatedly found his way into the Missouri backfield.

DT: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech. The Red Raiders desperately missed Bush late in the regular season. His performance against Arizona State underscored why, as Bush delivered three tackles and a sack and freed up Kerry Hyder to make plays, too.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSooners LB Eric Striker sacked AJ McCarron three times in the Sugar Bowl.
DE: Jimmy Bean, Oklahoma State. Bean had a breakout game in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, with a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss.

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma. Not even Alabama could block Striker off the edge. Striker had a monster performance against the Tide with seven tackles and three sacks, with his final sack forcing the game-clinching fumble in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

LB: Will Smith, Texas Tech. The senior had a National University Holiday Bowl-high 14 tackles, as the Red Raiders held Arizona State 17 points below its season average.

LB: Blake Slaughter, Kansas State. One of the better linebackers in the Big 12 all year, Slaughter had another fine game in the desert with seven tackles, including one for loss, as Michigan’s offense was held in check all night.

CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma. The Sooners gave up some big plays in the passing game, but Colvin was the exception. He also had a critical, touchdown-saving tackle in the first quarter that resulted in Alabama having to settle for a field goal.

CB: Demetri Goodson, Baylor. The Bears gave up 52 points, but they might have given up more had Goodson not collected an acrobatic interception inside the Baylor 5-yard line.

S: Dante Barnett, Kansas State. Barnett led the Wildcats with eight tackles, and he delivered the exclamation point against Michigan with a 51-yard interception return in the fourth quarter.

S: Tanner Jacobson, Texas Tech. In his last college game for a while, the walk-on freshman had a very solid performance with seven tackles. Jacobson is leaving the program for a two-year Mormon mission to Bolivia.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Michael Hunnicutt, Oklahoma. “Moneycutt” nailed a season-long 47-yard field goal in the second quarter that allowed OU to keep momentum. It was the third-longest field goal of his career.

P: Spencer Roth, Baylor. One of the few bright spots for Baylor in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl was its punter, who was busier than he had been all season. Roth averaged almost 44 yards on seven punts, and pinned UCF inside the 20-yard line three times.

Returner: Reginald Davis, Texas Tech. After Arizona State had trimmed Tech’s lead to 27-20 early in the third quarter, Davis answered on the ensuing kickoff with a 90-yard touchdown return down the sideline. The Sun Devils failed to retake the momentum again the rest of the game.
Here’s what we learned in the Big 12 during the bowl season:

!. The league was better than expected. The Big 12 finished with a .500 record (3-3) despite watching its conference champion, Baylor, lose to UCF, a clear underdog in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Oklahoma’s upset of Alabama is the national story of the bowl season and Texas Tech’s impressive upset of Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl was one of the most unexpected outcomes. Kansas State joined the Sooners and Red Raiders as bowl winners and Oklahoma State was a key play or two away from knocking off Missouri. Things could have turned out badly for the Big 12 but the conference more than held its own during the holiday season.

2. Big game Bob is back. That moniker was rarely used to describe OU coach Bob Stoops in recent years but it jumped back onto the lips of national analysts during his team’s 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Stoops bested Nick Saban using an offensive game plan that relied on a quarterback who entered the game with 171 passing yards as his best passing performance during the regular season. Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight responded by stealing the show with 348 passing yards and four touchdowns against the Tide.

3. Some future stars emerged. Knight wasn’t the only young player who looked like a future star during the bowl campaign. Kansas State safety Dante Barnett was all over the field during his team’s 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Oklahoma State defensive end Jimmy Bean used his length and athleticism to be a terror against Missouri in the Cowboys’ 41-31 loss in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Red Raider quarterback Davis Webb was throwing darts in Texas Tech’s 37-23 win over ASU. Baylor receiver Corey Coleman was one of the few bright spots during the Bears’ 52-42 loss to UCF. If those players continue to improve and start to consistently play at that level, they could see All-Big 12 alongside their names in the future.

4. There could be a new favorite in the Big 12. Heading into the bowl season, Baylor or Kansas State looked like the Big 12 favorite in 2014. The Bears return the conference’s top quarterback in Bryce Petty and coach Art Briles will still have BU on his chest next season, two strong reasons why the Bears cannot be overlooked, and the Wildcats return several playmakers on offense and Bill Snyder is second to none. Yet with OU’s strong Sugar Bowl performance, the Sooners could have catapulted themselves into preseason conference favorite status. The rest of the world finally saw what Stoops and Co. had seen in Knight, and if the young quarterback plays that way as a sophomore he’ll combine with a talented and experienced defense to make a combination that could be hard to beat.

5. Alamo Bowl showed why Mack Brown is no longer at Texas. The Longhorns were the only Big 12 squad to lose by more than 10 points as Oregon ran them off the field, 30-7, in the Valero Alamo Bowl. UT’s offense never looked like a threat to anyone but themselves against the Ducks, who had two interception returns for touchdowns, which overshadowed a solid performance from the defense. The Ducks looked better prepared, more confident and more competitive while UT looked unsure with confidence that could be easily shaken. Not a good look and not the way Brown wanted to end his time in Austin.
Bowl games provide opportunity. Veterans can showcase their skills for NFL scouts while younger players can make their mark. With a strong performance, a core contributor for a bowl team can transform himself into a household name in the Big 12 Conference. Here's a sophomore or freshman for each Big 12 bowl team who could have a big bowl game performance and set themselves up to have a breakout season in 2014.

Baylor receiver Corey Coleman: The redshirt freshman has shown flashes of game-changing ability this season. BU loses blazing-fast Tevin Reese after the Fiesta Bowl but Coleman has the speed to step right in for Reese in the future. He had 28 receptions for 439 yards and two touchdowns while adding a kickoff return for a score. He averaged 19.8 yards per touch this season and could set himself up as a main target for Bryce Petty in 2014 with a strong Fiesta Bowl performance.

Kansas State safety Dante Barnett: Another All-Big 12 safety at Kansas State? It could happen with Barnett. The sophomore has been an impact player since he stepped on campus and finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles after becoming a full-time starter this year. His athleticism and physicality at the safety position could be key against Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl because he has the ability to play the run and pass well without overcommitting to either. If he has a big game against the Wolverines, he could earn consideration for preseason All-Big 12 honors.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight: The Sooners don’t plan to announce a starter for the Sugar Bowl but it would be a surprise if Knight did not take a snap in New Orleans. The redshirt freshman has the ability to test the Crimson Tide’s defense in ways that Blake Bell cannot and could set himself up to be the Sooners’ quarterback of the future if he excels against Nick Saban’s defense.

Oklahoma State defensive end Jimmy Bean: The sophomore tied for the team lead with four sacks this season but he has the potential to be even better as a junior. At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Bean has unique size and athleticism that could help him become a consistent visitor to Missouri’s backfield during the Cotton Bowl. If he has a strong bowl game, Bean could be a name to watch in the Big 12 in 2014.

Texas Tech linebacker Micah Awe: Coming off a 11-tackle performance against Texas, Awe is one of the key playmakers for the Red Raiders defense. He recorded at least five tackles in five of the 10 games he played in this season and has the versatility that could eventually make him an All-Big 12 linebacker. In the Holiday Bowl against an Arizona State balanced offense, Awe will need to show that versatility and be extremely active for the Red Raiders to have a chance. Another productive game could set him up as one of the top young defenders in the Big 12.

Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown: It’s somewhat surprising that Brown didn’t get more All-Big 12 notice this season but don’t expect him to remain unnoticed in 2014. He emerged as a factor in the Longhorns interior this season, finishing with 61 tackles including nine tackles for loss and two sacks. If he can consistently re-establish the line of scrimmage against Oregon in the Alamo Bowl, that could be one way to slow down the Ducks’ uptempo attack.

Miss Oklahoma State's spring game? It was probably the Big 12's most interesting thus far (postgame, anyway). We've got you've covered. Let's have a look.

What happened:
  • Clint Chelf worked with the Orange team and completed 17-of-34 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown with no picks, leading them to a 17-7 win.
  • J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt split reps with the White team. Walsh finished with 123 yards, a touchdown and an interception on 13-of-23 passing. Lunt finished with 122 yards and an interception on 15-of-27 passing.
  • Linebacker Caleb Lavey returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown with just over a minute left to lock in the win.
  • Cornerback Justin Gilbert swiped two interceptions and defensive lineman Jimmy Bean made two sacks and scooped up a fumble.
What we learned:
  • It's going to be an intriguing few months in Stillvegas. Mike Gundy made it clear after the game that he won't be updating the quarterback spot until the season opener. "There's really no reason to talk about what our quarterback situation is. We've been very open about it through the spring, but I don't know if there's anything else we can say other than we're fortunate to have three that are really good," Gundy said. Well, no, he could say who's going to start against Mississippi State, but that would certainly be a lack of gamesmanship. At this point, I'd say the smart money is on Chelf getting the ball to start the season, but this isn't the first time we've seen a coach handle a quarterback competition this way. Nebraska's Bo Pelini waited until starting lineups were announced on opening day to reveal his pick between Cody Green, Zac Lee and Taylor Martinez, but the young, speedy freshman ended up beating the odds and his competition. I'm sure you'll hear a number of anonymously sourced reports between now and then with updates on who's winning, but by now, if it's anyone but Chelf, it'll be a surprise. OSU wants to go faster, and that experience gives him the ability to do so. Not turning the ball over (something that's continually been a huge problem for Lunt) in Saturday's game doesn't hurt, either.
  • Welcome back, Justin Gilbert. I wrote on Friday that I was intrigued to see the cornerback play, and Gilbert made it happen. He went 13 games without an interception last season after nabbing five in 2011. He grabbed two on Saturday. Interceptions aren't necessarily a fair representation of cover skills, but Saturday was a welcome development for everyone involved, minus the quarterbacks, of course. "Justin played very average last year, and he would be the first to admit that," Gundy told reporters. "He's certainly very talented, and he was in position to make plays today, and that's what he needs to do for us. He needs to be a guy who has several interceptions and runs the ball back. As fast he as he is, if he's in the right area, he can get the ball off a tip -- and that's what he did today." OSU really needs that to carry over into the fall, and that position battle opposite Gilbert between Ashton Lampkin and Kevin Peterson should be interesting to watch in the fall, too. Ultimately, both will be in the rotation. The defense as a whole was really, really impressive, and we know what this offense is capable of. Lots to be encouraged about for Pokes fans after Saturday.
  • Don't worry about the run game. The offense as a whole was pretty underwhelming on Saturday, with all three quarterbacks having lower completion percentages than I'm sure they'd like and starting running back Jeremy Smith being held to just two yards on six carries. "I think our run game is going to be fine," Gundy told reporters. "It's all based on how a defense wants to defend us. We're going to rush the football and we're going to throw it. We're not going to change what we do. Obviously, Jeremy has to be the guy now, and Desmond (Roland) backs him up." I buy Gundy here. It's a bit of a red flag for now, and I don't think Smith is quite as talented as a lot of the other backs that have come through OSU in the past few years, but I expect OSU to have a seventh consecutive 1,000-yard rusher this season.
  • Another problem finding a solution? Blake Jackson's unreliable hands were one of the bigger frustrations for OSU in 2012, but he definitely showed some progress on Saturday, catching five balls for 34 yards. "It's a pleasure to show the fans that I'm better than I was last year, and really getting to come out here and show how hard I've been working. It was definitely a fun time for me. The hard work won't stop."
Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Oklahoma State.

Strongest position: Pass-catchers

I'll have to apologize to Oklahoma State's trio of safeties in Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary and Zack Craig here, but I'm going with the guys hauling in balls in OSU's pass-first offense as the strongest position. I don't care to debate whether Blake Jackson is a receiver or a tight end (he's the former), but I'm obviously including him in this group. He'll be an interesting guy to watch this year after struggling with drops but clearly possessing loads of potential and averaging better than 20 yards a catch on his 29 grabs.

Oklahoma State had nine players with at least 12 catches and 150 receiving yards last season and returns six of those players, including Tracy Moore, who was given an extra year of eligibility. He won't be joined by Michael Harrison, who sat out 2012 and was expected to return, but won't be doing so after a strong 2011 season under Justin Blackmon.

Somehow, we've gotten this far without mentioning the unit's headliner, breakout star Josh Stewart. He was overshadowed by a trio of superstars in Baylor's Terrance Williams and West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but all three are gone and Stewart is easily the Big 12's best returning receiver. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores last season, which is more than 150 yards more than any other returning receiver in the league. Stewart's underrated for now, but that could change soon, even though Oklahoma State has a ton of depth at the position with guys like Austin Hays and Charlie Moore filling out the position and Blake Webb emerging late in the season. Will incoming freshmen like Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman find space to make an impact right away? It won't be easy, because this is Oklahoma State's biggest strength.

Weakest position: Defensive end

I've got nothing against juco transfers, who can walk on campus and be game-changers immediately, but if you're bringing in guys to do that, it shows a weakness at the position. Oklahoma State is doing that with Sam Wren, the nation's No. 16 overall juco prospect, after the Pokes lost three defensive ends from last season's team in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett. Tyler Johnson is a solid player who made six tackles for loss a year ago, but OSU needs to find him help on the other side or opponents will be able to shut him down with double teams. Kansas State's Joe Bob Clements is a new addition to the staff who'll coach the position and try to sort it out this spring, but look for guys like Trace Clark, Jimmy Bean and early enrollee Naim Mustafaa to try to earn a starting spot, too.

More Weak and Strong.
We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but let's talk Texas Longhorns.

Big shoes to fill: Oklahoma State's defensive ends

This unit will be getting used to a brand-new position coach in Joe Bob Clements, who came over from Kansas State this offseason. The Cowboys are losing three of their top players at the position in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett, and behind them is a bit of a messy situation. Tyler Johnson is the only guy I'd lock into a starting spot after making four sacks, six tackles for loss and 27 stops last season as a reserve, along with an interception and a pair of forced fumbles. Still, with a new position coach, you can never know for sure. Beyond him, it's a crap shoot. We might see sophomore Trace Clark emerge, or junior Jimmy Bean and sophomore Taylor May. The Cowboys might even slide a guy like Davidell Collins over. Either way, it's a huge spot for the Cowboys next season. You can't underestimate the importance of a pass rush in a league full of great quarterback play and high-powered offenses. Johnson must grow into his increased role if Oklahoma State's defense is going to have a better 2013 under new coordinator Glenn Spencer.

More big shoes to fill:

Big 12 lunch links

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
12:30
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Let's see what's happening in Big 12 country today.

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