Big 12: Joe Madsen

2012 record: 7-6
2012 Big 12 record: 4-5
Returning starters: Offense: 3; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners: S Karl Joseph, LB Isaiah Bruce, OL Quinton Spain, RB Andrew Buie, RB Dustin Garrison, DL Will Clarke, S Darwin Cook

Key losses: WR Tavon Austin, QB Geno Smith, WR Stedman Bailey, C Joe Madsen, LB Terence Garvin, LB Josh Francis, OG Jeff Braun

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Geno Smith (4,198 yards)
Rushing: Andrew Buie* (850 yards)
Receiving: Stedman Bailey (1,627 yards)
Tackles: Karl Joseph* (102)
Sacks: Terence Garvin (6)
Interceptions: Karl Joseph*, Isaiah Bruce* (2)

Spring answers:

1. Passing weapons found. The Mountaineers sorted out their receivers and found some solid replacements for Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to help ease the transition to a new quarterback. K.J. Myers and Connor Arlia had solid springs, along with newcomer Kevin White, a junior college transfer. Jordan Thompson closed with a big spring game, but he has to prove he can do it in a real game.

2. Corners hit the reset button. Cornerbacks coach Daron Roberts is gone, replaced by Brian Mitchell. Pat Miller graduated, but the corners are strating from scratch this spring. Brodrick Jenkins reclaimed his starting spot, and a pair of young players in Nana Kyeremeh and Brandon Napolean should be in the rotation on the opposite side, too. This was the biggest problem area for the defense last season, which looked completely overmatched against Big 12 offenses.

3. Strength in (backfield) numbers. Dana Holgorsen has a reputation as a guy who wants to throw it all around the yard, but that's not necessarily true. This year, he may prove it. WVU will throw it plenty, but running back may be this team's biggest strength. Dustin Garrison is finally healthy and 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie returns. Juco transfer Dreamius Smith provides even more help at the position. WVU couldn't run the ball consistently last season, but look for them to do it often in the fall.

Fall questions

1. Who's the quarterback? The spring closed with a quarterback competition coach Dana Holgorsen described as "wide open." Texas natives Paul Millard and Ford Childress are neck and neck, and that competition will extend into the fall. Millard has more experience. Childress has more arm strength. This one will be unpredictable going into fall. Anything could happen.

2. Is the defense adjusting? All the leadership and experience this season is on the defensive side of the ball, a stark change from last year's team, where the components of the passing game were better than just about anyone in the Big 12. The new league's offenses got the best of WVU's defense last season, but can they prove they learned from those bumps in the road? No guarantees on that one.

3. Sorting out the offensive line. Joe Madsen leaves a big hole at center for the Mountaineers, and just two starters return from last year's unit. Ron Crook came from Stanford to replace departed OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh and the battle to replace Madsen at center is one of the most interesting. Senior Pat Eger closed the spring as the starter, beating out redshirt freshman Tyler Orlosky, but juco transfer Stone Underwood will muddy up that race come fall.
More than 250 players were drafted over the weekend, but not everyone who plans on playing in the NFL made it happen.

Minicamps aren't far away, but players can sign with teams as soon as the draft ends. Many did over the weekend. Here's a look at the Big 12's notable signings.
A few thoughts:
  • Collin Klein is the obvious headliner on this list, and I'm torn on him. On the one hand, there's nothing like playing quarterback, and that's the position he wants to play and loves to play. On the other, he hasn't looked like an NFL passer at any point in his career, and he did his future career a disservice by not letting scouts get a look at him at receiver or tight end. He's a big body and an athletic, tough guy. If he wants to play quarterback and only quarterback, then fine. That's up to him. If he really is open to doing something else at the next level, he should have done more work at other positions. I don't see him making an NFL roster as a quarterback.
  • Safeties Tony Jefferson and Cody Davis should definitely make their respective rosters, however, and I'll be intrigued to see what Jefferson looks like and says once he's in camp. He sounded pretty salty on Twitter over the weekend. "I can't even attempt to express how I feel right now. Y'all really don't know how hurt/confused I am!" he tweeted. "Y'all don't even understand the fire inside of me man." Him going undrafted was definitely the most shocking Big 12 development of the draft for me, but he'll have a whole lot of motivation and a lot to prove.
  • I have to think Jake Knott would have gotten drafted if not for his shoulder surgery and being limited in workouts for NFL teams. He makes his name on his smarts, instincts and toughness because he lacks speed and a ton of agility, but being banged up and not testing well certainly didn't bode well for him in the immediate future. Mildly surprised that somebody didn't start drooling over his game tape and take a shot on him in the sixth or seventh round.
  • First guy in this group to get paid big soon? My money is on Quinn Sharp, the do-everything special teamer.
  • Very surprised to see Darrin Moore and Meshak Williams go unsigned so far. Moore is physically gifted, but lacked production and didn't make a team fall in love with him. Williams, though? I get that he's not exactly ideal size, but for his effort and production, how does some team not at least bring him into minicamp? That's just insane.
  • Watching the Big 12 quarterbacks is always interesting. Doege didn't have great arm strength, but had solid accuracy. Crist had the big arm, but his decision-making and accuracy were lacking. We'll see if either of those guys can make a splash with a fresh start in a new spot.
  • One final thought: If I have to hear the phrase "chip on their shoulder" another time in the next week, I'm going to lose it. For the record, if you really did have one, I'm fairly certain that's something that would require surgery.

Lunch links: BYU and the Big 12

February, 22, 2013
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I mean, who hasn't made a halfcourt shot while also doing a front handspring?
The NFL scouting combine is the biggest annual showcase of future football stars before the NFL draft, where players who have entered the draft get measured, run through drills and show scouts and coaches what they can do without any pads on.

This year, a record 333 players have been invited, and the Big 12 landed 30 invitations.

Draft stock can swing wildly during the week, with the main event -- the 40 time -- often serving as the catalyst for that stock. Call it silly, and in some ways it is, but it's the reality of the process. Here's who's headed to Indianapolis from the Big 12:
Pretty good set of players there. You can see them when the combine kicks off Feb. 20.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl keys

December, 29, 2012
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Let's take a look at three keys for victory for West Virginia in today's New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

1. Limit the long ball. West Virginia has given up 63 completions longer than 20 yards this season, more than any team since Nevada all the way back in 2008. Syracuse's Ryan Nassib is a future NFL player who can sling it and had a huge senior season with 3,619 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine picks. West Virginia is going to give up yards, but it's got to make Syracuse earn them, and the easiest way to do that is to prevent the big ball over the top. Keith Patterson has taken over defensive play-calling duties from Joe DeForest. Will we see a noticeable difference? WVU's bowl hopes likely depend on it.

2. Give Geno Smith some help. There's lots that goes into this, but for me, it comes down to the offensive line. Center Joe Madsen is the unit's best player, but he's academically ineligible. Smith, the nation's leader with 40 touchdown passes, needs time to to make plays. You can provide that time by blocking well, but it gets a whole lot easier when you run the ball well. WVU has been inconsistent in that area, but if it runs the ball well against Syracuse, keeping up in a high-scoring game without turnovers becomes a very reasonable proposition.

3. Keep it simple, y'all. Feed Tavon the rock. No need to get complex. West Virginia has about a million ways to do it, but the more Tavon Austin touches the ball, the better. Ask Oklahoma, which gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards in a crazy night for the star. Austin is still getting some touches at running back, but WVU has got to work to get him the ball. If he gets fewer than 15 touches, West Virginia is not winning this game.

Lunch links: College football technology

December, 27, 2012
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The library is the worst group of people ever assembled in history. They're mean, conniving, rude and extremely well read, which makes them very dangerous.

Preseason All-Big 12 checkup: Offense

December, 26, 2012
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It's always fun looking back on what we thought in the preseason, and today, we'll take another look.

Here's who made the postseason team.

How did our All-Big 12 preseason team stack up at season's end?

QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia

Smith lost his spot to Collin Klein, but still had a solid season worthy of All-Big 12 honors in most seasons. The Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year was second in the league in passer rating and threw 40 touchdown passes to just six interceptions, and was second in the league with 4,001 passing yards.

RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State

Randle had the season most expected him to, easily leading the league in rushing with 1,351 yards, over 300 yards more than any other back in the Big 12.

RB: Waymon James, TCU

James got off to a solid start with 168 yards and a touchdown on his first 17 carries of the season, averaging nearly 10 yards a touch. However, a knee injury suffered in the second game of the year against Kansas ended his season far too soon. KU's James Sims replaced him on the postseason team.

All-Purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State

Klein's rise made it clear that there was no need for an All-Purpose spot on the postseason team from ESPN.com. He accounted for 37 touchdowns and carried Kansas State to a Big 12 title on the way to an invitation to the Heisman Trophy presentation.

WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

He was Studman Bailey this season, catching 23 touchdowns and earning a spot on the postseason team, as well as a nod as a Biletnikoff Award finalist. No other Big 12 receiver had more than 13 touchdowns and Bailey's 1,501 receiving yards were second-most in the Big 12. He obviously made the postseason team.

WR: Kenny Stills, Oklahoma

Stills was OK, but even he admitted his season was "sub-par." He was surpassed on the team by Terrance Williams, but earned a second-team nod after catching 75 balls for 897 yards and 11 scores, fifth-most in the Big 12.

WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Austin was probably the most dangerous player in the Big 12 this season. Nobody was better in the open field and 909 of his 1,266 receiving yards came after the catch. Ridiculous. He also rushed for 598 yards and three scores on just 61 carries. He made the postseason team.

C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia

Madsen held onto his spot on my postseason team with a solid year for the Mountaineers, who finished third in the league in total offense. Kansas State's B.J. Finney closed the gap by season's end, but I went with Madsen on the preseason and postseason teams.

OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

Ikard had the season most thought. He was arguably the Big 12's best offensive lineman in the preseason and proved to be that player throughout 2012.

OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State

Taylor was loaded with experience for a lot of good offense, and looked the part of an experienced lineman this season. OSU needed three different quarterbacks this year, but the Pokes had the nation's No. 5 offense and gave up just 10 sacks, the fewest in the Big 12.

OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Richardson was the only player who could challenge Ikard as the league's best lineman, and it was razor-thin this season between the two. Either way, Richardson did what most thought he would, helping Baylor rank No. 1 nationally in total offense.

OL: Mason Walters, Texas

Walters was good this season, but he was the only lineman on this list who didn't make my postseason team. I replaced him with Texas Tech's LaAdrian Waddle.

Pretty solid preseason team. No true busts on the entire team, and not a lot of breakout players who came from nowhere to make the team. We'll look at the defense a little later on.

Recruiting rewind: 2012 All-Big 12 offense

December, 17, 2012
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Collin Klein Denny Medley/US PresswireCollin Klein chose to play at Kansas State over Colorado State, Utah and Air Force.
The season has come and gone, and brought with it an All-Big 12 team. But where do these guys come from? How easy is it for a no-name recruit to earn all-conference first-team honors?

Let's take a look at the All-Big 12 offense and see who surprises us.

You'll need ESPN Insider Insider to see each player's recruiting page from back in the day, but I excerpted a bit of what the scouts had to say about each player coming out of high school.

OFFENSE

QB: Collin Klein, Kansas State

  • Klein was graded as a 75 by ESPNRecruiting and the nation's No. 60 quarterback. He picked K-State over Colorado State, Utah and Air Force. Scouts take: Klein has prototypical size and a powerful arm. What you don't expect is how athletic he is and while he is a pocket passer, if he gets on the move, he can build momentum and create a few plays here and there with his legs. He can be unorthodox in his delivery and mechanics can be inconsistent, but he is very productive and has a lot of physical tools to mold at the next level.
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State

  • Randle was the nation's No. 43 athlete from Wichita, Kan., and was also recruited by Arizona, Kansas State and Kansas, as well as Miami and Texas A&M. Scouts graded him at a 78 and gave him three stars. Scouts take: Randle looks good on the hoof in terms of size and has equally impressive athleticism. Tall, lean and very rangy; has some muscle-tone but we do question his narrow base as a future college running back. A really well-rounded back at the high school level; has perimeter speed, in-line strength, hands out of the backfield and can block in pass pro. Has a tight waist and good fluidity to elude defenders but we feel he is more productive now and will be in college when he squares up and gets north. Has the frame, with added bulk and speed, to develop into quality one-cut-and-go back.
RB: James Sims, Kansas

  • The Irving, Texas, native was graded at a 76 and ranked as the nation's No. 76 running back, a three-star recruit. He was also recruited by Arkansas and Iowa State. Scouts take: Sims is a sturdy, good looking running back in the spread offense that will flash a nice downhill presence. He is also adept at exploiting cutback lanes and working comfortably within a zone blocking scheme. He has somewhat of an upright running style and good leg drive. Is a short-strider for a taller back, but has quick feet in the hole and shows a knack for jump cutting and making people miss in the hole. When he can hit the hole with authority, he shows good initial burst and top-end speed.
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma

  • Millard was a three-star prospect and the nation's No. 59 athlete in the 2010 class. He graded out at 78, and was also recruited by Syracuse, Iowa, South Carolina and Tennessee. Scouts take: Millard is a thick inside linebacker prospect with good mobility and downhill burst between the tackles. We like his athleticism as a future tight end or H-back as well. Has a large upper-body and overall frame. Carries his weight well and has above average lateral agility for a defender with his thickness.
WR: Terrance Williams, Baylor

  • Williams, a Dallas native, was the nation's No. 124 receiver and was given a grade of 74 by scouts. He was also recruited by Colorado State, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M. Scouts take: Williams is smooth, well-rounded receiver prospect. He possesses a tall, lean frame that still has room to add good muscle while retaining current speed. Utilizes his size well in traffic shielding defenders and positioning his body for the difficult grab. Excels at snagging the ball in stride and transitioning quickly upfield. Is currently used more as a short-to-intermediate threat at the high school level but flashes good arm extension, coordination and adjustment to the deep ball.
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

  • Austin was the nation's No. 41 running back, and the Baltimore native was given a grade of 78 by scouts. He was also the No. 75 player in his region. Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina and Penn State also recruited him. Scouts take: Austin is a smallish but dynamic prospect who has the skills to be a good change-of-pace or scatback runner at the next level. He lacks great size, but he runs harder and bigger than his measurables suggest. He's dangerous on the perimeter and in space, but also very good between the tackles as a zone runner. Can pick and stab his way through traffic and decisively hit small cutback creases without losing much in transition. Shows good body control, vision and balance. Excels at changing gears and eluding defenders with sudden bursts and sharp cuts.
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia

  • Bailey was the nation's No. 48 receiver and the No. 69 player in the state of Florida. The Miami native was given a grade of 78 by scouts. He was also recruited by Alabama, Ole Miss and South Carolina. Scouts take: This dude catches everything thrown his way. Bailey is one of those receivers that you really begin to like because he shows versatility as a route runner, he can play inside or outside, he has good quickness and run after catch skills and he is tough. An athletically gifted slot receiver type. Possesses good speed, but we would not call him a jet. Tracks the ball well and flashes the ability to get behind the defense. Changes directions well, uses quick feet to set defenders up and is a solid route runner that could become an excellent one.

TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

  • Amaro was the nation's No. 28 tight end and the San Antonio native was the No. 83 player in the state of Texas. He was given a grade of 78 by scouts. Arizona, Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M all recruited him. Scouts take: Amaro is a productive receiving tight end. He has good size and appears on film to have the frame to be able to add more good bulk with time in a college weight program. He will play and block from an in-line position, but at this point it seems the strength of his game is a receiver. He has good hands and displays the ability to consistently extend his arms and the catch the ball away from his body. Displays an adequate vertical, but will go up and try and highpoint the ball. Displays good concentration and can catch the ball in traffic and also displays good body control to be able to adjust to the ball.
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia

  • Madsen was not ranked by our scouting services, and the Chadron, Ohio, native drew interest from Bowling Green. The only notes from our scouts? Madsen was a Division II all-state selection in Ohio.
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor

  • The Fort Worth, Texas, native was the nation's No. 64 offensive tackle and the No. 166 player in his region. He also was recruited by Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas Tech. Scouts take: Richardson is a very steady offensive tackle. He has great size and a large wing span which can be beneficial especially in pass protection. Shows strength in both the lower and upper body. Gets excellent movement when run blocking as long as pads stay low and power angles are maintained. Uses hands better in run game than when pass protecting. Wins most battles at the line of scrimmage when base and drive blocking. ... Richardson should develop into a very good tackle at the next level.
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State

  • Taylor was the nation's No. 111 guard and was also recruited by KU, North Texas and SMU. Scouts gave him a grade of 69. Scouts take: Taylor is a tough-nosed battler at the guard position. He is not the biggest kid but has adequate size. He will need to continue to add bulk and fill his frame out. He plays hard and can create push. He does a good job of quickly getting into defenders. He delivers a good initial pop and brings his hands. He can get hands on but needs to watch his placement. He does not always get ideal placement and can struggle to maintain position and will at times wind up with his hands outside the defender's frame. He does display the ability to get under a defender's pads, generate power from the hips and drive a defender off the line of scrimmage. He does need to watch his pad level, and he will engage a defender with high pads and naturally struggles to get the push he can.
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

  • Ikard was the nation's No. 19 tight end and graded out at 78. He was also recruited by Notre Dame, Stanford and Oklahoma State. Scouts take: Ikard is a good football player and it is tough not to like him. He comes across as a smart, hard working, and productive player. He plays both defensive end and tight end in high school and is a legitimate recruit on both sides of the ball. He is a sound defensive end prospect.
OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech

  • Waddle was the nation's No. 19 offensive tackle in the 2009 class and was grade at 79 by scouts. He also had interest from Ole Miss and Houston, as well as Rice and TCU. The Columbus, Texas, native was the No. 43 player in his region. Scouts take: Waddle is a mountain of a man at offensive tackle. Over three hundred fifteen pounds with good height he looks massive in pads. Must be careful not to gain anymore weight until his foot agility improves. Is usually fairly quick off the ball but often takes a false step or understeps. Completely smothers smaller defensive linemen once in to them. Extremely powerful due to size and follows the initial contact with good leg drive. Sometimes gets beat underneath due to improper first step. Wipes out his side of the line of scrimmage on the down block. Comes off to second level with some authority and gets into linebacker but often can't sustain block due to being too high. Tends to lose some body control when his legs straighten out. Mauls opponent on the double team block with power and leg drive. Decent at pulling but needs to move quicker and lower.

I always enjoy looking these up. There wasn't a true superstar blue-chip recruit in this bunch, but what's even more interesting? Not a single juco recruit in this bunch, either. The only player you could consider a real diamond in the rough in this bunch was Madsen. There were plenty more in last year's group.

Digging into my All-Big 12 picks

December, 10, 2012
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Earlier today, I unveiled my selections for the All-Big 12 team, along with some honorable mentions. Here's some leftover thoughts from that group.
  • The honorable mentions weren't one per position. I selected guys I thought had seasons good enough to merit a spot on the first-team in most years, but not good enough to surpass a better player at their positions this season. There's only one spot available on our team, and it had to go to Collin Klein. Geno Smith and Landry Jones weren't far off, but you can't make a case for either over Klein.
  • Had to go with James Sims ahead of John Hubert. Sims' yards-per-carry average wasn't as high, but KU had no passing threat this season and Sims still managed his first 1,000-yard season, despite missing the first three games. KU gave him tons of carries (as they should have), but KU was in several games solely because of Sims' efforts.
  • No contest for the receivers. Those three are in a league of their own.
  • Went with tight end Jace Amaro ahead of Travis Tannahill. Tannahill's blocking nearly put him on my list, but Amaro is the league's only true game-changer at the position. He'll really excite whoever replaces Tuberville in Lubbock. His late injury was frustrating for him, but he still deserved the spot.
  • Not a ton of tough calls on the offensive line. Gabe Ikard moved around, so I moved him in one of the four offensive line spots and just named Joe Madsen my center.
  • The same defensively. I felt good about every selection in the front seven. The only tough call in the secondary was Ty Zimmerman over Texas' Kenny Vaccaro. Vaccaro's the more physically talented player, but Zimmerman's penchant for forcing turnovers gave him the edge in my book.
  • Houston, we have a defensive tackle! I went all defensive ends in my preseason All-Big 12 team because the crop of DTs in the Big 12 was so poor. Oklahoma State's Calvin Barnett didn't turn in a huge season statistically, but he was disruptive all year and had a big impact in his first season, despite some penalty issues early on.
  • Tavon Austin is shifty as all get out, and WVU worked to get him the ball. That earned him my punt return spot, narrowly ahead of Oklahoma's Justin Brown, who was really productive, but didn't even return punts the whole season. At kick returner, though, you've got to go with Tyler Lockett. Teams worked to get the ball away from him, but he still had a higher average per return than Austin and took two of his 16 returns for scores, compared to just one for Austin on 28 attempts.

ESPN.com's 2012 All-Big 12 team

December, 10, 2012
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Congrats to all these guys for turning in fantastic seasons. Naturally, there will be some snubs and some things that need to be explained. Check the blog later today for more thoughts.

Without further ado, here's the All-Big 12 team from ESPN.com.

OFFENSE

QB: Collin Klein, Kansas State
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
RB: James Sims, Kansas
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Terrance Williams, Baylor
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
TE: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DL: Devonte Fields, TCU
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
DL: Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Jason Verrett, TCU
CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
S: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS:

PK: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Honorable mention: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia; Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma; Anthony Cantele, K, Kansas State; Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas; Justin Brown, PR, Oklahoma; Tanner Hawkinson, OL, Kansas; Jake McDonough, DL, Iowa State; Lane Johnson, OL, Oklahoma; John Hubert, RB, Kansas State; Travis Tannahill, TE, Kansas State; Durrell Givens, S, Iowa State; Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech

ESPN.com's Midseason All-Big 12 Team

October, 18, 2012
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We're at the season's halfway point, and it's time to look back and put together our All-Big 12 team at the midseason.

The criteria for this is pretty simple: I picked the best players at every position in the game, but made room for deserving players. You'll see where that came into play. Let's get to it:

OFFENSE

QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
RB: John Hubert, Kansas State
All-purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Terrance Williams, Baylor
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
DL: Devonte Fields, TCU
DL: Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
CB: Jason Verrett, TCU
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS:

K: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU
P: Kirby Van Der Kamp, Iowa State
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
Tomorrow morning, it will be game day. It's been more almost eight months since we've had one of those. Get excited. Time for the final preseason Mailbag of the year. Let's make it count.

Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say.

Doug T. in Morgantown, W. Va., wrote: Dubss, do you believe that if the PAC-12, SEC, and Big 12 champs are all undefeated, the Big 12 will be shut out of the National Championship game? And what do you think hurts them more: the weak OOC schedule, or lack of a conference championship game?

David Ubben: There's a lot of variables here, and there's no way to answer this question definitively right now.

Here are the questions you have to ask to find the answer. No, some of them aren't right, but it's still reality. So, here goes:

1) How did the rest of their conference do? Did they get a steady diet of top 25 teams, or did everybody in the Pac-12 bomb outside of USC and Oregon.

2) Who did they play out of conference? You never know who'll emerge undefeated, so look beyond the usual contenders like Alabama, USC and Oklahoma. Maybe we're talking about Arkansas and West Virginia or Oregon.

3) Where did they start in the preseason poll? It's never easy to leapfrog undefeated teams.

4) How convincing were their wins? Margin of victory has been factored out of the computer rankings, but human voters take this into account, and how could you not? A team that wins five games in the final minutes is simply less impressive than one that rolls over everybody by double digits.

Those are the four most relevant questions. Some voters put more weight on some than others, but if I had to average out how voters think, that's how I'd rank them.

Cliff in Orlando, Fla., wrote: I love the coverage WVU is getting in the Big 12 blog. I have to ask, however, how is Joe Madsen not on the preseason top 25 payer list, and #24 is Ben Habern. You picked Joe for the All Big12 team. You prefaced the All Big12 team saying that you picked the best player at each position. Something just doesn't add up.

DU: I placed Habern on my top 25 players list, and two days after his entry ran, he announced his retirement because of lingering back and neck injuries. Two weeks later, I developed the All-Big 12 team. It felt like a fitting tribute to let Habern keep his spot on my top 25 players list, but when I made the new list, I felt like I needed to have a player who was actually going to play this season.

Thus, I gave Madsen the narrow nod ahead of Baylor's Ivory Wade. Kansas State' B.J. Finney got consideration, too.

Kris in Hollidaysburg, W. Va. wrote: Dear David, If you (rather ignorantly) insist on referring to the Marshall Thundering Turd as a "rival" of the West Virginia Mountaineers, then you owe it to your readers to explain what makes two teams rivals. MY definition is as follows: there must be some semblance of balance in the all-time series record, i.e., not 0-11; there must be competition for many of the same recruits; there must be hatred between the two schools and their fans, e.g., WVU/Pitt; both schools must have some geographical proximity. Marshall only fits into the last category, and is not even in the same universe as WVU in terms of prestige, either individual or conference-affiliated. So pretty please with sugar on top, explain why you're being so obtuse about this. And don't be a crybaby and ignore this just because I didn't talk nicely in this message; I know I'm not the only one hitting you up for this. Just do us all a favor and explain yourself. Sincerely, Kris

DU: I hear you on this one, Kris, and you're not alone. I heard from plenty of West Virginia fans on this account. Still, where hate is present, so is rivalry. West Virginia fans can deny it's a "rivalry" all they want, but the fact I even get these emails shows some proof that the Mountaineers fans love keeping in-state rival Marshall down.

You're in a small state with two FBS programs. I don't care what the history is between the two teams. There's going to be some level of rivalry there, and that's the case in West Virginia-Marshall.

Howard Mann in Dallas writes: KR - you ever heard of Tyler Lockett? All big 12 KR in 2011 and Pre Season 1st team all american, just checking, kind of the pick until unseated wouldnt you say ???

DU: Am I allowed to have a differing opinion? Bottom line is, it's close between Tyler Lockett and Justin Gilbert. Lockett's got better raw numbers than Gilbert, averaging more than eight yards a return, but consider this: Lockett's two scores came against Texas Tech and Kansas, the Big 12's worst defensive teams by far. His sample size is still a little small for me to feel like you can just hand the reins of the league's best kick returner to Lockett.

Teams kicked away from Gilbert last year, Lockett only returned kicks for four games. Gilbert's shown up in huge spots for the Cowboys for two years. He returned a kick for a score in a tight game against Texas last year when the Cowboys needed it most. He got OSU back into a game last year with a return for a score in the biggest game of the year against Oklahoma.

It's close right now. I wouldn't be surprised if Lockett speeds past Gilbert as the league's best return man next year, but right now, it's Gilbert's crown.

Cameron in Dallas writes: DU,Do you notice the resemblance in TCU's big 12 schedule and the single player arcade mode of Mortal Kombat? Seems like they move progressively tougher up the ladder each week.Welcome to the big 12 purple people

DU: Ha, this gets my vote for the email of the week. I was more of a Street Fighter man myself, but you've got a point. It's not an exact trend, but it might be by the time WVU plays them. I could see Oklahoma State (road game) finishing fifth, West Virginia (road game) sitting in fourth, K-State in third, Texas (road game) in second and Oklahoma in first.

The only question is, where's TCU?

After that schedule, it's not gonna be easy.

Scipio in Houston writes: Your homerism for all things KSU is somewhat idiotic. One aberration of a great season shouldn't have them ahead of traditional powers (ahem--UT)..your boldness is a blip on the college prediction Richter Scale...something's amiss homie.

Derek in Manhappenin writes: What did K-State ever do to you? Every time you write about the Wildcats, you have to mention that everybody's doubting us? Hmmm...could it be because you doubt us, too? So tired of all this hate, from you and everybody else. Optimus Klein will prove the haters like you wrong this year. And then next year I'm sure you'll just keep drooling over OU and UT like you always do.

DU: Oh, Mailbag. You never cease to entertain. Until next time, friends...
Earlier today, I crowned Geno Smith the Big 12's best player entering the 2012 season.

That completed our preseason countdown of the league's top 25 players, but making these lists is always difficult. A lot of deserving players had to be cut. Here's the best of the bunch I couldn't put on the list?

Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State: Malone put up big interception numbers, picking off seven passes a year ago. However, his yards allowed per target last season make it clear he's a bit overrated. That said, he's still one of the league's best corners.

Casey Pachall, QB, TCU: Pachall set a school record with 2,921 yards last year, but in the Big 12, he'd better be ready to break his own record. With 50 fewer yards, he would have ranked just seventh in the Big 12 last year, ahead of Collin Klein and behind Missouri's James Franklin, who also rushed for 981 yards last year. Pachall's good, but the bar is much, much higher for QB play in this league. The first step: Get Pachall more attempts. He only threw the ball 343 times last year, which would have also ranked seventh in the Big 12 in 2011.

Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese is going to make a run at 1,000 yards next season, and Nick Florence will be the man to help him. He's small at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, but his speed gives teams reason to fear him.

Joe Madsen, C, West Virginia: Madsen's been a constant in the Big East, starting the last 38 games of his career and earning All-Big East honors. With Ben Habern out of the Big 12 now, he'll challenge Baylor's Ivory Wade and Kansas State's B.J. Finney as the league's best at the position.

Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech: Doege topped 4,000 yards passing last year, even though his receivers and running backs and offensive line were constantly in the training room and in surgery last year. He takes care of the ball, too, throwing just 10 interceptions to 28 touchdowns in 581 attempts, the most in the Big 12 last year.

Quinn Sharp, K/P/KOS, Oklahoma State: I'm against putting special teamers on my top 25 list, but Sharp's come closer than any kicker ever, surpassing Nebraska legend Alex Henery. Sharp's the league's best kicker, best punter and led the nation in touchbacks by 21.

Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech: Ward seemed like the last man standing in a receiving corps that lost Darrin Moore and Alex Torres last season. He was a constant for Doege, grabbing 84 passes for 800 yards and 11 scores, third-most in the Big 12.

Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State: Lewis cracked into the 2010 postseason list after a huge freshman year, but his numbers stayed pretty constant in 2011, and he got passed up by some of the league's other linebackers. He's still a huge talent, and may be on this list by season's end.

Eric Stephens, RB, Texas Tech: Stephens might have won a Big 12 rushing title last year if he hadn't suffered one of the worst knee injuries of the season. I'm a believer in Stephens, and here's hoping he's back to his usual self this fall. He scored eight touchdowns and had 565 yards last year in just over five games.

ESPN.com's preseason All-Big 12 team

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

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

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

Without further ado, here's our team:

OFFENSE

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

DEFENSE

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

SPECIALISTS:

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

Honorable mention/regrettable snubs: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma; Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas; Ivory Wade, C, Baylor; LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech; Blaize Foltz, OL, TCU; Kenny Cain, LB, TCU; Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State; Jamarkus McFarland, DL, Oklahoma; Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas; Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State; Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma; Tyler Lockett, KR, Kansas State
The Lombardi Award, which has my personal favorite description for its award, released its 145-man preseason watch list (you'll see why in a bit) and the Big 12 landed 17 players on it.

Here's who's eligible:
That's quite a hefty list. Here's the description I love to hear every year for who can win the award:
To be considered for the Rotary Lombardi Award players must be a Division I college football team member and meet the following qualifications:
  • Be a down lineman, end-to-end, either on offense or defense, setting up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball at the time of snap.
  • Be a linebacker on defense, setting up no farther than 5 yards deep from the line of scrimmage.
  • May not come out of the offensive backfield and set up on the line of scrimmage as a blocker or receiver, or be listed as a back or receiver.
  • Shows leadership, courage, desire, respect for authority and discipline.

The voting electorate is made up of the head coaches from all Division I schools, sports media personnel from across the country and former winners and finalists of the Rotary Lombardi Award. Currently the total number of voters is approximately 500.

Complicated, no? It's fun anyway. It also has my favorite trophy of any of the college football awards. I'm an unashamed Lombardi Award lover, folks.

Boston College's Luke Kuechly won the award last season. Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh (2009) was the last player from the Big 12 to win the award. Texas' Brian Orakpo (2008) was the last player from the current Big 12 configuration to win it.

Oklahoma and Texas both have three winners all-time, tied for the fourth-most nationally. Nebraska's five winners is second all-time behind only Ohio State (six).

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