Big 12: Joseph Ibiloye
The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing one player a day leading up to the season.
Next up on the list:
No. 13: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma
2011 numbers: Made 74 tackles (52 solo) and had 7.5 tackles for loss. Picked off four passes and made 4.5 sacks. Also forced a fumble and broke up three passes.
Most recent ranking: Jefferson was unranked in our postseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.
Making the case for Jefferson: No. 13 on this list feels low for Jefferson when it comes to total talent, but for Jefferson the production has to be there too. I expect that to be the case this year, and for Jefferson to make his case as a top 10 player, if not a contender for Defensive Player of the Year.
Why? He's moving back to his more natural position under new coordinator Mike Stoops. Jefferson will be patrolling the free safety spot instead of spending so much time at the nickel back spot. Teammates know that's where Jefferson's strength lies, and we'll see it on display this year. The Sooners have a solid replacement for him at nickel back in Joseph Ibiloye, and the Sooners move arguably their most talented defender to the spot where help is needed most.
The back of the defense was exposed far too often last season, and on big stages. Jefferson's move should plug that up, and give him more freedom to roam where he's far more comfortable. Jefferson shared the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Award in 2010, but was relatively quiet last season. Three of his four interceptions came on consecutive possessions against Ball State.
This year, I hope you're not expecting the 5-foot-11, 212-pound California native to stay quiet for long.
The rest of the list:
- No. 25: Justin Gilbert, CB/KR, Oklahoma State
- No. 24: Ben Habern, C, Oklahoma
- No. 23: Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor
- No. 22: Josh Boyce, WR, TCU
- No. 21: Cyril Richardson, OL, Baylor
- No. 20: Trey Millard, FB/TE, Oklahoma
- No. 19: Quandre Diggs, CB/KR, Texas
- No. 18: Kenny Stills, WR, Oklahoma
- No. 17: Brodrick Brown, CB, Oklahoma State
- No. 16: Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU
- No. 15: Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma
- No. 14: Alex Okafor, DE, Texas
See more fall camp previews.
Next up: Oklahoma
Media's predicted finish: First.
Biggest story line: Is Oklahoma, fresh off a disappointing end to 2011, good enough to bounce back and ascend back into the BCS in 2012 as Big 12 champs? The Sooners are the favorites, and have a decent shot at winning a national title if they stay healthy. This year, they don't have to deal with the crushing pressure of the preseason No. 1 and the expectation of a national title. Even QB Landry Jones admitted to me this preseason that wins last year felt mostly like relief, the calm after holding their breath for 60 minutes. This year should be much more relaxing, with wins feeling more like accomplishments. Will the results show up on the field?
Biggest question mark: Receivers. There's tons of potential here, especially with the addition of Penn State transfer Justin Brown, who'll contribute on punt returns, too. Kenny Stills returns, but offseason suspensions means Brown and Stills will be the only Sooners on the roster who have played a down of college football when the season begins. Trey Metoyer looks likely to emerge as an impact player, but he's got to prove it. Can Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal get in the mix while Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks sit out with multiple game suspensions?
Biggest addition: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is in after nearly a decade in charge of the Arizona program. He'll coach the defensive backs and replace Brent Venables, who left for Clemson after being forced into a co-defensive coordinator role with Stoops.
Who needs to step up: The rest of the offensive line. Oklahoma's camp has gotten off to an awful start. Center Ben Habern left football after lingering neck and back issues, and guard Tyler Evans is out with a torn ACL. That's a pair of three-year starters. Guard Gabe Ikard, the team's most talented lineman, is moving to center, but the Sooners are officially strapped for depth. It's time for junior Bronson Irwin to slide into Evans' spot, and he'll have to be great if OU is going to win another Big 12 or national title.
On the mend: Dominique Whaley. The Sooners' RB suffered a nasty broken ankle last season against Kansas State, but he's back and ready to compete with Roy Finch and Brennan Clay for carries in a crowded backfield.
Don't forget about: S Tony Jefferson. He's moving from the nickel back spot (Joe Ibiloye is expected to take over) back to free safety across from Javon Harris as strong safety, but don't be surprised if Jefferson makes a run at the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award by season's end. He's got the physical talent and his instincts are almost unmatched in this league. At a more natural spot, could he emerge as an All-American, or more?
He turned around, heard his coach's demands and applied them to the next play. The problem? At least a few times, it would put him out of position or ruin a defensive rep.
That's what happens when he takes direction meant for cornerback Joe Powell.
Mike Stoops is back coordinating Oklahoma's defense, a job he held in 2000 during Oklahoma's last national title run, and there are bound to be a few mixups as he gets used to his new surroundings.
"He’s calling me Ibi now, so we’ve got everything squared away," Ibiloye said.
Stoops' arrival, after eight seasons as Arizona's head coach, was cause for Sooner-fan celebrations. Last year's defense had high-profile struggles in the secondary in losses to Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State.
Safety Javon Harris didn't know much about Stoops when he met his new position coach and coordinator, but he knew that much.
"The one thing I knew is when he was here, he put out a lot of All-American DBs and guys who went on to the next level," said Harris, who endured the toughest struggle of anyone in the loss to Baylor, but re-earned a starting position this spring. "I was really excited to know he was coming in here."
The word of the spring for Stoops' new troops was simplification. Brent Venables fielded a whole lot of good defenses before leaving for Clemson this offseason, but the change was welcomed, especially by the Sooners' most scrutinized unit of 2011.
"In talking to some of my other teammates, I think everybody is liking the new defense and knowing exactly what they need to do. One of the things we were lacking last year was just not knowing exactly what’s going on," Harris said. "Now we’re learning those things and we feel one step ahead."
Step one in fixing what ailed the Sooners in 2011? Prevent the big play.
"We’re just trying to get our players in the right positions to be more efficient and more effective players. That’s the consensus of what we saw a year ago. How much we can simplify things, that’s hard to say," Stoops said. "We’re going to do what we need to do to be successful."
Stoops installed most of his defense this spring; the fall will be dedicated to perfecting it. The spring was about finding what the defense did well, establishing an identity, and putting everyone where he needs to be.
"The way he approaches things is easier to learn," Ibiloye said.
The biggest position move? Tony Jefferson is headed to traditional safety after holding down Oklahoma's nickel-back spot the past two seasons, including 2010, when he shared Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors.
"We’re going to have flexibility. Our linebackers give us a lot of flexibility to do some things, and I think we have some secondary guys that give us some flexibility to get our best players on the field," Stoops said. "That’s ultimately, that’s what we’re trying to do, is find the best 11, 12, 13 players and then take it from there."
Said Harris: "He wants to get players to know the defense and know their position and be able to play loose and not think as much."
That'll come with time, but Stoops made one thing clear when he met each of his new defenders.
"I’m not going to put you in those positions where, if I’m not sure you can do something, I’m not going to make you do them," Harris said Stoops told him. "That’s one thing I appreciated from him, that I’ll have that chance to come out here and do what I do best."
Players, particularly experienced seniors, had their doubts about the new coordinator, but the comfort level is high as doubts have receded. One place there's no lack of confidence? The top, where Stoops' brother, Bob Stoops, holds down the head job.
"I’ve got great confidence in him of course and what he sees. It’s been great to have him back," Stoops said. "It gives me a strong sense of security that we’re doing things the best way we can."
- Now is the time for Alex Okafor to become a wrecking ball in the Texas defense, writes Cedric Golden of the Austin American-Statesman.
- West Virginia's passing game gets lots of attention, but coach Dana Holgorsen loves what his running game is doing, too.
- New KU coach Charlie Weis is focusing on fixing an eye-popping problem in the classroom, writes Tom Keegan of the Lawrence Journal-World.
- Once again, Kansas' Toben Opurum is dealing with change at KU, writes Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World.
- Clemson doesn't practice on Saturdays this spring, and coach Dabo Swinney says its an idea he stole from Mike Gundy on a recent visit to OSU.
- What's West Virginia doing to prepare for Big 12 defenses? Bob Hertzel of the Times West Virginian says it's focusing on the Mountaineers' offense.
- The man at the center of Oklahoma State's offense showcases his brains with Gina Mizell of The Oklahoman. She also takes you inside OSU's unorthodox approach to coaching special teams.
- This could be a very, very special year for Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, writes Austin Meek of the Topeka Capital-Journal.
- WVU speedster Tavon Austin might be playing even faster this spring, writes Dave Hickman of The Charleston Gazette.
- Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World takes you into Joseph Ibiloye's transition to a new position coach.
- Iowa State defensive end David Irving is trying to turn physical prowess into production, writes Andrew Logue of the Des Moines Register.
- Trey Metoyer could have the same impact that Kenny Stills had as a freshman, writes Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman.
- Oklahoma State wants to sell 50,000 season tickets for the upcoming season, writes Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World.
- Clint Bowen is coming back to KU, a place he says is special.
- You'll see this get plenty of attention in the coming future.
Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and receiver Kendall Wright made it obvious that wasn't going to work earlier in the season. Apparently, neither will using experienced senior Sam Proctor.
Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson, who most often plays a nickel back position, is playing deep safety, something Bob Stoops has said a handful of times he has no intention of doing. Joseph Ibiloye replaced Jefferson underneath at the nickel back.
Jefferson might be Oklahoma's most instinctive defender outside of lineback Travis Lewis, and having him back there could help. Brandon Weeden hit Tracy Moore underneath for a 52-yard gain to set up a touchdown, but so far, Oklahoma's been solid over the top, where the Bears gave the Sooners big trouble.
It's definitely something to keep an eye on.
The Sooners lost top rusher Dominique Whaley for the season with a broken ankle last week, and senior center Ben Habern is just now returning from a broken bone in his forearm, and has been limited today with a cast on the arm.
Today, though, the Sooners are playing through more injuries.
Linebacker Tom Wort is out with an injury and hasn't been cleared to return. Safety Tony Jefferson is in uniform, but the Sooners have relied more on Joseph Ibiloye while Jefferson nurses an injured knee.
Receiver Kenny Stills also limped off the field early in the game.
Those are three major contributors for the Sooners, but for now, Oklahoma's holding on.
Now, the young players stepping into starting roles will try to showcase their irreplaceable attributes.
Junior Travis Lewis is the only returning starter, but defensive coordinator Brent Venables can't even guarantee that spot isn't up for grabs. Lewis was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year as a freshman, but had 109 tackles in 2009, 35 fewer than his total in 2008.
Ronnell Lewis, who you might remember from earlier today, is the headliner among a crop of linebackers fighting for playing time this spring. Redshirt freshman Tom Wort, No. 85 on the 2009 ESPNU 150, is returning from a torn ACL suffered last fall and isn't quite at 100 percent yet. Junior Austin Box is the most likely to get in the mix immediately, and has started six games in his first two seasons. Sophomore Daniel Franklin and another converted safety, Joseph Ibiloye, will battle for reps this spring while still working some at safety. Sophomore Jaydan Bird, a 6-foot-1, 227-pounder, could also find playing time with an impressive spring.
But where any of them end up playing is as big of a mystery as who's playing.
"We got guys playing everywhere," Venables said. "Box playing all three. Franklin all three; Ronnell's playing two, plus pass rush. Ibiloye has played Will and Sam [both outside linebacker positions]. Trying to see who it’s easy for and trying to develop depth. Try to get guys ready to play."
For Ronnell Lewis, who most likely figures to play inside, that's just fine. Of course, he hopes to start, but where he is on the field and the depth chart isn't of prime concern.
"Special teams, defense, coming in on defense, it doesn’t matter where I am," he said.
“You come in here as a new coach, you really don’t know the entire history, all the reps the players had for three years, whether it’s good or bad, as you progress,” Martinez said.
But Martinez says his unique position, one not often afforded to brand-new position coaches, puts him at an advantage. He’ll get daily help uncovering that history from the man who coached Martinez’s defensive backs last year, Bobby Jack Wright.
Wright moved over to coach defensive ends in place of Chris Wilson, who left Norman for Starkville, Miss. to become the co-defensive coordinator for Mississippi State.
Additionally, he joins the staff of a head coach, Stoops, who also coached defensive backs at Kansas State before moving on to coordinate defenses for the Wildcats and later, Florida.
“That’s one of the things I love about this situation,” said Martinez, who coached the secondary at Georgia from 2001-04 before taking over as defensive coordinator from 2005-09.
“Guys want to compete. They know coach has coached that position. It’s nothing but positive.”
He’ll take over a secondary stocked with both young and experienced talent, and one that allowed just 179.7 yards per game in 2009, third fewest in the Big 12 and less than a yard more than the No. 1 pass defense in the Big 12, Nebraska. It also gave up just 11 passing touchdowns, the second fewest in the league.
“Our expectation is high,” Martinez said. “This is Oklahoma and we expect to be the best.”
Both safeties, senior Quinton Carter and junior Sam Proctor, return. Senior Jonathan Nelson, who started at safety late last season and had interceptions in the Sooners’ final three games, will press for playing time alongside sophomores Marcus Trice and Joseph Ibiloye. Nelson has also played cornerback, and sophomore Demontre Hurst showed potential as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Gabe Lynn, No. 81 on the 2009 ESPNU 150 and the No. 8 defensive back, could also get early playing time.
And though Martinez says he’s still embracing the feeling-out stage of his new position, as the spring moves on, there’s a good chance he’ll like what he sees.
“We’re not going to do anything different. This is about Oklahoma. I’m going to coach the way I know how to coach, but I’m going to coach within the system,” he said. “There’s differences in fundamentals, techniques, but really at the end of the day, this is Oklahoma and I’m going to coach the Oklahoma way.”
"Loaded means that you have a ton of guys that have played and played a lot and played really good. To me, to us in this building," Venables said. So we’re far from it."
Oklahoma returns both starting safeties from a year ago, junior Sam Proctor and hard-hitting senior Quinton Carter. Senior Jonathan Nelson will most likely start at corner this season, but he also started at safety late in 2009, notching 11 tackles against Texas Tech and picking off passes in each of the Sooners' final three games.
Sophomores Marcus Trice and Joseph Ibiloye have also showed promise. Trice appeared in all 13 games last season, and blocked a punt against Idaho State. Ibiloye, at 6-foot-3 and 208 pounds, played some linebacker as a freshman, but has moved back to safety in the spring. He had 15 tackles and also appeared in all 13 games.
"We’ve got a couple guys who have actually played and played pretty good, but not to an All-American level yet. Are they capable? Yes. But we’ve got to bring some young guys along," Venables said. "They're young guys and you recognize potential. We recognize performance."
Oklahoma ranked third in the conference in pass defense in 2009, allowing just under 180 yards per game and intercepting 18 passes. Opposing quarterbacks also completed just 53.7 percent of their passes, the second-lowest in the Big 12.
"So, again, there's a lot of those guys getting reps right now, but we’re not loaded," Venables said. "We’re trying to find the right mix of guys and get them experience while we can here in the spring.
DALLAS -- Freshman wide receiver Marquis Goodwin is coming up with his biggest performance in the second half.
Goodwin snagged three receptions on a scoring drive, capped by a 14-yard TD grab from Colt McCoy to give the Longhorns their first lead of the game.
The Longhorns offensive line appears to be taking control. It was noticeable that McCoy had much more time for his passes on the last drive. He also was able to exploit the Sooners' weak middle of the secondary.
McCoy was clutch with three third-down conversions, including a key pass interference call on Oklahoma redshirt freshman Joseph Ibiloye that kept the drive alive.
The Longhorns appear to have grabbed momentum in the last several minutes. Let's see how the Sooners respond.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
I'll admit I'm a sucker for any achievement award. Give me an All-American squad -- either preseason or after the season is over with -- and I'll peruse it with diligence as I look for familiar players and teams.
And I've seen a bunch of them so far this season in a variety of magazine and Web sites.
But one of my most favorite ones has always been College Football News' redshirt freshman All-America team. It provides an early look at some of the more notable freshmen to watch around the country, both offensively and defensively.
Richard Cirminiello's team had a lot of familiar names from Big 12 schools that merit some watching. Here's a list of his first-team selections from the Big 12.
T -- Tanner Hawkinson, Kansas
C -- Ben Habern, Oklahoma
T -- Bryce Givens, Colorado
DT -- Baker Steinkuhler, Nebraska
LB -- Sean Fisher, Nebraska
LB -- Douglas Rippy, Colorado
S -- Joseph Ibiloye, Oklahoma
It bodes well for the Big 12's passing games if both tackles come from the conference. In particular, I'm intrigued with the selection of Hawkinson, a converted high school tight end who moves over from defense to protect Todd Reesing's blind side.
Oklahoma players tell me that Habern has the skill to perhaps be one of the best at his position at Oklahoma if he can keep developing. And Fisher and Rippy both have the ability to be playmakers in defenses that struggled to make many key stops last season.
Honorable mention selections included quarterback Landry Jones of Oklahoma, tackle Mark Buchanan of Texas, guards Trevor Marrongelli and John Williams of Kansas, defensive end Dravannti Johnson of Texas, defensive tackle Stacy McGee of Oklahoma, linebacker Kyle Mangan of Texas A&M and punters Quinn Sharp of Oklahoma State and Tress Way of Oklahoma.
It wise to keep an eye on these redshirt freshman. Remember that Michael Crabtree won the Biletnikoff Award as a redshirt freshman in 2007. Sam Bradford won the first of two Big 12 titles as a redshirt freshman in the same season. And Travis Lewis developed into one of the most play-making linebackers in the nation as a redshirt freshman last season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Sometimes the spring provides a chance for personnel holes to be filled. Sometimes it doesn't.
Here are some of the notable positions around the Big 12 that picked up some assistance during the spring.
Baylor: The quick development of defensive tackle Phil Taylor, a heralded transfer from Penn State, should turn a traditional position of weakness for the Bears into a strength. Joining him at the position will be Jason Lamb, who showed some promise after moving over from defensive end before spring practice.
Colorado: The emergence of hulking 260-pound middle linebacker Marcus Burton and B.J. Beatty at outside linebacker have helped transform the Buffaloes' defense. Burton led the team in tackles and was a prime playmaker in the spring game with eight tackles, two sacks and a fumble recovery. He had eight tackles in 10 games last season.
Iowa State: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller outplayed starter Austen Arnaud in the spring game, passing for 210 yards and getting free for a 65-yard touchdown run. I'm not sure that Tiller will be starting come September, but he'll make Arnaud work harder to earn his job.
Kansas: The Jayhawks had questions in the defensive line before the spring, even with the return of all-Big 12 honorable mention selections Caleb Blakesley and Jake Laptad and late season starting defensive tackles Richard Johnson and Jamal Greene. The development of tackle Darius Parish and end Max Onyegbule should add to the depth. And that doesn't even account for the arrival of heralded junior college transfer Quintin Woods, who originally signed with Michigan out of high school before heading to Bakersfield (Cal.) Community College to get his grades in order.
Kansas State: The emergence of linebackers like Alex Hrebec, Ulla Pomele and John Houlik has helped turn the position into the strength of the defense, even as the Wildcats are transforming to a 4-2-5 alignment. Hrebec, a former walk-on, contributed 19 tackles in the spring game and Houlik is a huge hitter despite his 5-foot-11, 219-pound size.
Missouri: Redshirt freshman Aldon Smith has only added to the Tigers' depth at defensive end, which already featured Brian Coulter and Jacquies Smith in front of him. Smith was voted as the team's most improved player in the spring. Throw in converted offensive tackle Brad Madison and redshirt freshman Marcus Marlbrough and you'll see why Gary Pinkel considers it his best collection of defensive ends at Missouri.
Nebraska: The Cornhuskers had serious questions at quarterback, particularly after the departure of projected starting challenger Patrick Witt before spring practice and Kody Spano's knee injury. But the strong spring by Zac Lee and the surprising development of converted linebacker LaTravis Washington eased some of offensive coordinator Shawn Watson's concerns. Their strong spring work also should mean that heralded freshman Cody Green likely won't be thrown into action perhaps as quickly as Watson might have feared before the spring.
Oklahoma: After losing starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes, safety was the only position without returning starters for the Sooners on defense. Quinton Carter nailed down one starting position and Sam Proctor and Joseph Ibiloye are poised to fight for the other job beside him. Emmanuel Jones and Desmond Jackson also had strong spring efforts to challenge for playing time.
Oklahoma State: Defensive tackle was enough of a question that new coordinator Bill Young moved Derek Burton inside from defensive end to help bolster depth at the position. Burton and Swanson Miller appear to have won starting jobs with redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas and junior Chris Donaldson providing strong depth. Their strong play helped the Cowboys rack up seven sacks in the spring game - more than half of their 2008 season total of 13.
Texas: The Longhorns were concerned about defensive end after the departure of NFL draft picks Brian Orakpo and Henry Melton from last season. Those fears appear to be assuaged after the seamless transition of Sergio Kindle to the position from linebacker and the quick assimilation by freshman Alex Okafor. Toss in Sam Acho and Russell Carter and the return injured pass-rushing threat Eddie Jones and the Longhorns appear stacked at the position.
Texas A&M: Safety was a question mark before spring camp after the loss of Devin Gregg and Alton Dixon and the move of 2008 starting free safety Jordan Peterson to cornerback. But the strong return to safety by converted cornerback Jordan Pugh and the noticeable development by Trent Hunter helped solidify the position during the spring. And the Aggies' depth at the position was improved after the move of wide receiver Chris Caflisch to the position along with strong play from DeMaurier Thompson.
Texas Tech: The departure of two-time Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree and underrated Eric Morris was supposed to cripple the Red Raiders' receiving corps. Mike Leach appears to have found several serviceable replacements after Tramain Swindall, Lyle Leong, Detron Lewis and walk-on flanker Adam Torres all emerged during the spring. And that doesn't include Edward Britton, who was in Leach's doghouse much of the spring after falling behind in the classroom but still is perhaps their most athletic force on the field.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
We'll be going to a different schedule the next few weeks in which we'll break up the questions. Some will appear on Tuesdays and others will appear on the traditional Friday slot.
Here are some of the best ones I've received over the past several days.
Andrew from Clemson, S.C., writes: Tim, with Kansas getting so much off-season hype to win the Big 12 North, do you think some are underestimating the loss of the members of their offensive line and linebackers from last season? I know here in Clemson after we saw what happens with a young offensive line and linebacker corps.
Tim Griffin: You raise a very good point. That rebuilding is the major reason why I'm a little hesitant to pick the Jayhawks for the North title. Even with Todd Reesing, Dezmon Briscoe, Kerry Meier, Jake Sharp and all the rest, the play of the Kansas defense will be critical.
I'm thinking the Jayhawks will miss Joe Mortensen, James Holt and Mike Rivera. And the loss of guards Chet Hartley and Adrian Mayes and center Ryan Cantrell could be even more of a challenge, considering they anchored of the Jayhawks' line.
I'm also a little leery about the Jayhawks' cross-division opponents. Drawing Texas, Oklahoma and Texas Tech will mean the Jayhawks will be playing three of the four likely toughest South opponents.
It won't be easy. And that's why I think the North will be an interesting race.
John from Austin writes: Tim, I wrote you a couple of weeks ago how Texas doesn't seem to be in the running for guys who like to make the dramatic "hat" choices on ESPN (to announce where they are committing). But I was thinking about the 19 2010 commitments the school has already attracted. Most of them show up, maybe we are cradle robbers instead of the "hat guys?"
Tim Griffin: Or maybe Mack Brown and his staff feel like they can circumvent the whole "hat process" by picking his recruiting targets early and signing them. It looks like he's done a pretty good job so far -- at least this spring anyway.
Abe Clark from Durham, N.C., writes: I'm curious if you misread a question in your last chat? You ranked the best teams in the Big 12 last year as Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Nebraska. Did you think the ranking was for the upcoming season? Where's the love for one of the best Texas Tech teams in history?
Also, I love your blog and your insights.
Tim Griffin: Sorry about that. I did think the question was for the upcoming season. Some of those questions in our chats are a little like the lightning round from "Password," for some of my more television-savvy readers. We try to crank as many out as we can. I'll try to read them a little more clearly next time.
As far as last season, here would be my final Big 12 rankings: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas A&M and Iowa State.
And also I agree that arguably, the last Texas Tech team was the best in the history of the school. The Red Raiders' 10-0 start and No. 2 ranking late last season also made it one of the most memorable seasons as well -- both for Texas Tech fans and Mike Leach's pocketbook with the new contract extension.
Steve from Roanoke, Va., writes: Just wondering what you think about Oklahoma's defense. Will they be much better than last season?
Tim Griffin: I do think the Sooners' defensive unit will be a backbone for the team. The Sooners have nine starters back and some key producers like Gerald McCoy, Travis Lewis, Frank Alexander, Dom Franks, Keenan Clayton, Auston English and Jeremy Beal. The defense will be particularly important in the Big 12 where offenses will again be so predominant. The team with the best defense might end up as the best team, because I think many teams will have big offensive units.
I think the biggest key for the Sooners will be the play of their new safeties after starters Nic Harris and Lendy Holmes both departed. The play of Quinton Carter and Sam Proctor will be critical as the projected starters. And also keep an eye open for a contribution from rangy redshirt freshman Joseph Ibiloye, who has turned heads in winter workouts.
John S. from Williamsport, Pa., writes: Who do you believe assumes power in the North? Missouri loses Chase Daniel, Jeremy Maclin and all of the guys on defense. With the staff changes in Columbia, it looks like they will be taking a step back. My guess is Nebraska or Kansas. Who do you think?
Tim Griffin: I'm thinking that Nebraska would be my slight favorite over Kansas, mainly because of the Cornhuskers' cross-division schedule compared to Kansas'. But it wouldn't surprise me if Colorado creeps into contention and I still think Missouri and Kansas State will be representative teams that have their moments, too. I give Nebraska a slight edge, but I want to take a close look at their quarterbacks this spring before I anoint the team heading into the summer.
Jason Peters from Oklahoma City writes: Tim, what would you consider are the greatest teams in Big 12 history? And are my Sooners included on the list?
Tim Griffin: Most definitely. They aren't the best team, but are among several of the best. Here's how I would rank them.
1. 2005 Texas
2. 2000 Oklahoma
3. 1997 Nebraska
4. 2004 Oklahoma (Maybe higher if Mike Stoops coached them all season)
5. 1999 Nebraska
Keep the letters and e-mails coming and I'll try to answer a representative sampling of them later this week. Thanks again for writing.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Kansas coach Mark Mangino is notoriously reclusive, preferring to prepare his team behind locked gates to maintain some semblance of privacy.
That's all changing after the Jayhawks moved to the new Anderson Family Football Complex, which provides a more expansive viewing by spectators outside the complex of Mangino's practices.
And according to Lawrence Journal-World columnist Tom Keegan, it's providing the Kansas coach with a tough decision. He can practice behind closed gates, irritating fans who want to watch the proceedings. Or he can open his practices and allow all the world to see.
I've known Mangino a long time. I first met him back when he was working as an offensive assistant for Bill Snyder at Kansas State. That same Bill Snyder who used to order his players to huddle around injured teammates along the sidelines at games to keep the prying lens of television cameras away so they couldn't provide a picture that could determine the severity of the injuries.
Considering every one of Snyder's coaching proteges has shared a similar disdain for open practices, I'm betting you won't teach the Jayhawks coach new tricks. And that's why I would imagine some kind of barrier will be erected to keep unwanted eyes from watching Kansas' practice.
On the other hand, these links are present for your enjoyment. Don't be satisfied with just one reading. Come back many times throughout the day. Tell your friends about them.
Read them often. They're good for you.
- Colorado LB B.J. Beatty (fractured bone in left leg) and CB Cha'pelle Brown (fractured left hand) continue to participate in practice drills despite their injuries. Beatty originally thought the injury was a bad bruise and spent one practice pushing wheelbarrows full of sand for Colorado strength coach Jeff Pitman, according to the Boulder Daily Camera.
- John Helsey of the Oklahoman delves deeply into the background of how Oklahoma athletic director Joe Castiglione hired Bob Stoops in 1998. And a healthy dose of pragmatism helped convince Stoops to come to Oklahoma rather than take an open job at his alma mater at Iowa.
- Iowa State TB Alexander Robinson is bracing for a lot of work as the Cyclones break in two new quarterbacks.
- Veteran Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Lutz admires the moxie of Playboy sports editor Gary Cole, who ranked Kansas State 22nd in his preseason top 25 poll. It's the only top 25 mention the Wildcats have received this season.
- As a team, Kansas watched the movie "The Express," about 1961 Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis of Syracuse. And Mangino gave it a solid endorsement. " 'The Express' was both inspiring and educational," Mangino told the Kansas City Star. "It is a movie not just for sports fans, but for everyone. It was outstanding."
- Missouri's experienced linebackers should provide the backbone of the Tigers' rapidly improving defense.
- Tad Stryker of the Web site huskerpedia.com writes that Nebraska must reclaim its home-field advantage. The Cornhuskers were lucky to escape with a 4-3 home record last season. Hall of Fame Nebraska coach Tom Osborne lost 15 home games in his 25-year coaching career.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy will put his team through a "mock game" on Friday, practicing every detail of game day. "[We'll practice] putting the game uniform on, substitutions," Gundy told the Oklahoman. "Everything."
- Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles has been waiting two years for his chance to play with the Sooners, Tulsa World beat writer John Hoover writes.
- Austin American-Statesman columnist Cedric Golden calls T Adam Ulatoski the Longhorns' most important offensive starter, considering he has the job of protecting Colt McCoy's blind side.
- Houston Chronicle reporter Joseph Duarte had a busy day as a multitooled reporter Tuesday in Austin. He captured Texas LB Sergio Kindle for a video interview and provided one of the first glimpses of the Longhorns' new wall of fame at Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium's Ring of Honor, which honors five players with retired jersey numbers.
- Starting Texas Tech CB L.A. Reed was carted off the field with his right knee and right ankle iced after suffering an injury at practice Tuesday afternoon. Tech coach Mike Leach declined to release any information about his injury. Sophomore LaRon Moore took Reed's spot for the rest of the practice.
- Backup Oklahoma SS Quinton Carter will miss at least two weeks after undergoing knee surgery. Freshman Joseph Ibiloye will take his place.
- Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple says that Nebraska hasn't has this much depth and talent along its offensive line since the 2001 team that played for the national championship.
- Texas CB Deon Beasley said the Longhorns didn't always play with passion during their 10-3 season last year.
- Missouri WR Danario Alexander was running routes and doing catching drills after being cleared for light practice as he recovers from a torn ACL.
- Kansas State S Chris Carney was so disappointed in his team's late-season collapse, he failed to watch any bowl games last season.
- Des Moines Register beat writer Andrew Logue breaks down the Cyclones in his weekly chat. Logue said that QBs Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates remain even in the battle for the starting job and calls the Big 12 North more competitive this season than in any previous year.
- Baylor extended a four-year contrac
t with former Southwest Conference rival Rice. The series begins in 2013 in Houston, with games in 2014 and 2015 in Waco and 2016 in Rice.
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini still hasn't distributed "Blackshirt" jerseys to his top defensive players and said there's no timetable. "When I feel it's right," he told reporters. "It's not right yet."
- Nebraska CB Armando Murillo promises a more aggressive secondary under Pelini. "We're going to attack the ball this year," Murillo told the Lincoln Journal-Star. "That's what we're going to do -- no ifs, ands or buts about it."