Big 12: Keenan Robinson

Everything seemed fine on the 40 Acres this time two years ago.

The defensive cupboard was well-stocked and Mack Brown was talking up the squad, openly inviting high expectations for his defense and claiming they might be the best in his time in Austin.

With the Acho brothers up front and three future NFL draft picks in the secondary, who could blame him?

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Jody Gomez/US PresswireJackson Jeffcoat, above, and Alex Okafor combine to form the Big 12's best defensive end tandem.
"It didn’t turn out that way," Brown said this week.

The Longhorns defense was good, but not good enough. It led the Big 12 in total defense, but forced just 18 turnovers for 11th in the Big 12.

Oh, and Texas went 5-7.

The Longhorns bounced back with eight wins in 2011, and in 2012 the hype is back for a defense loaded with NFL talent once again. There is talk that it might be among the nation's best, if not the nation's best.

"I want our defense to live up to those expectations," Brown said. "All of us sitting here in preseason have expectations, especially at a school like the University of Texas. But, until you produce on the field, and we’ll have a better idea of how they look on Saturday, then we’re not sure how good they will be."

Brown's tempering the expectations a bit this time around, but he knows what he has.

The league's No. 1 and No. 2 defensive ends are anything but an unknown commodity. Both Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor could hear their names called in the first round of next April's NFL draft, though Jeffcoat said this week he wants to stay and get his degree from Texas.

Cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom morphed a question mark at cornerback into one of the team's strengths late in the season, and safety Kenny Vaccaro might be the best overall defender in the Big 12.

The one thing most closely resembling a question mark? The middle of the defense.

"I’ve consistently talked about the loss of the four seniors down the middle," Brown said, "and that we’ve got new, young guys in their places."

Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the vocal leaders of the defense last season, but have been replaced by super recruits Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks, joining a speedster on the outside in linebacker Demarco Cobbs, who played quarterback, receiver, safety and returned kicks and punts in high school.

Tackle Kheeston Randall is gone, too, but the Longhorns look well suited to replace him by plugging juco transfer Brandon Moore and reformed running back Chris Whaley at the top of a rotation of five capable contributors in the middle of the defense.

Adrian Phillips moves up to replace four-year starter Blake Gideon at strong safety opposite Vaccaro.

"Until they prove it on Saturday that they’re ready to show that leadership and show that ability to handle Big 12 football at a fast pace, then we have to wait until they prove it before we can anoint them as a great defense," Brown said.

Here's guessing we won't wait long.

Opening camp: Texas Longhorns

August, 10, 2012
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Camp is open in Austin. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Texas.

Media's predicted finish: Third.

Biggest storyline: Texas was a lot better last year than it was in 2010's five-win season, but how much better will Texas be in 2012? Eight wins won't cut it with the expectations facing this year's team. An offense full of freshmen is now an offense full of sophomores, but the Longhorns are still trying to climb back up the mountain after a Big 12 title in 2009 and two forgettable seasons since. Is this the year the Horns reach the summit once again?

Biggest question mark: Quarterback. No question about this one. For now, coach Mack Brown still says the position isn't settled between David Ash and Case McCoy, but Ash has reportedly received nearly all of the first-team reps since a strong performance in the win over California in the Holiday Bowl. Ash has the bigger upside and more impressive physical attributes, but he's got to start making good on that upside. He'll have plenty of help around him with a strong backfield and two good, young receivers in Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis.

Who needs to step up: The linebackers. Junior Jordan Hicks is the leader of the group, but there's a huge leadership void there with the loss of Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. That leadership has shifted to guys like Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro and Jackson Jeffcoat. Steve Edmond is a big presence and a promising player at 255 pounds in the middle of the defense, and former blue-chip recruit Demarco Cobbs is ready to take over at the other outside linebacker spot. He missed six games last season with a broken arm, but he's got absurd speed for his position.

Fun fact: Texas has exactly 12 players on its roster who are not from Texas. Who came from furthest away? How about freshman kicker Michael Davidson, from Aberdeen, Scotland.

New addition: Don't underestimate the impact of newcomer Anthony Fera, who gives Texas a huge upgrade at one of its biggest question marks: kicker. He may also get in the mix at punter, but Fera's an experienced kicker who transferred to Texas after the NCAA hammered Penn State with severe sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban. He made 14 of 17 kicks last season. Texas' defense should produce a lot of close, low-scoring games. Here's guessing Fera will have a big influence on how many of those are wins and how many are losses.

Don't forget about: WR Mike Davis. Shipley grabbed a lot of headlines last year, but Davis is still a big talent, too. The junior grabbed 45 passes for 609 yards and a touchdown last year. I'd be shocked if he doesn't have a major boost in production this year.

Breaking out: RB Johnathan Gray. Gray was the nation's top running back in the 2012 recruiting class, and joins Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron in a loaded backfield for the Longhorns. Still, where he fits and what kind of impact he'll have is one of the league's most fascinating developments. It's not every day the nation's Gatorade Player of the Year shows up on a Big 12 campus.

HornsNation links: NFL draft recap

April, 29, 2012
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Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Kheeston Randall were the only Longhorns selected in the NFL draft.

Max Olson writes: Being picked in the late rounds means Texas draft picks Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Kheeston Randall will have to rely on their versatility to make their mark.

HornsNation links: Texas draft numbers

April, 24, 2012
4/24/12
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HornsNation has more coverage of the Texas Longhorns:

Carter Strickland writes Insider: Many factors have shown why Texas went 13-12 over the past two years, but the most telling might be its NFL draft numbers.

Who's overrated, underrated in the draft?

April, 12, 2012
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ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper released his list this week of underrated and overrated prospects Insider in this year's draft.

You'll need Insider to see it all, but here's a few thoughts on the Big 12 talents he pegged.

UNDERRATED
Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: It might feel odd to call a guy who is 28 and likely to go in Round 2 underrated. But evaluators agree that if Weeden were younger he'd be far higher. So what's my case? I think Weeden projects as a start-early QB who can help a franchise for 7-8 years, easy. And who in this league has a nine-year plan?
My take: Totally agree. There's no question in my mind that if Weeden were 23 or 24, he'd be a top-10 pick, instead of a player we'll talk about later. I asked WVU coach Dana Holgorsen about that on Wednesday, and he agreed as well. His arm strength and accuracy are rare, and he proved his worth as a decision-maker for the past two seasons. NFL teams may be hesitant to spend a high pick on him if he's not a 10- or 15-year guy in the league, but whoever gets him will get a gem for however long he plays.

OVERRATED
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: I love Tannehill's upside, and I think he has a great shot to be a good starter, but the market on him has gotten a little out of hand in some respects. Remember, if Matt Barkley, Landry Jones and perhaps Tyler Wilson were in this draft, we're talking about a likelier bet for late-first or second round for Tannehill. Again, he can be a good one, but a lot of it is projecting, because while his physical abilities are so impressive there is much work to be done.
My take: Like Kiper, I don't quite understand how Tannehill has inexplicably floated into the top 10 as demand for quarterback grows and Tannehill looks like the third-best quarterback on the board. He's inexperienced at QB, which could steepen the learning curve, even though there's no question in my mind about his physical skills. Additionally, he raised tons of questions about his decision-making as a big part of A&M's second-half struggles in 2011. Tannehill may have a great career, but he looks more like a second-rounder or late first-rounder to me.
Keenan Robinson, OLB, Texas: Robinson belongs closer to the middle rounds than as high as the second, where I've seen him for some teams. A good outside backer who can hold up against the run, he doesn't take great angles. Robinson can develop but still needs some work.
My take: I'm not sure I agree quite as much here. Robinson's really athletic, and showed some capability to be a serviceable cover man. He probably won't have to do as much of that in the NFL, but I've always loved what he brought to Texas' defense in terms of a physical presence.

Pro days are valuable for underclassmen

March, 23, 2012
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WACO, Texas -- One man lays underneath 225 pounds on a bench press, in the midst of proving to NFL scouts he can lift it a whole lot of times.

Around the bench are at least 15 others who won't get a turn, at least not this year. They're there to provide (extremely) vocal moral support.

Maybe their yells of encouragement mean another rep or two from their former teammate. They're going to do everything possible to make sure.

Their presence isn't just for the benefit of the men running 40-yard dashes or bench-pressing 225 pounds as many times as they can -- the results of each task potentially earning them more money on their first NFL contract.

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Acho
Harry How/Getty Images"If you wait for the three-month stretch after the bowl game, you won't perform at a high level," said Emmanuel Acho.
Players with another year or more before they get a chance to show their stuff to NFL scouts at a pro day or the combine can learn a lot from showing up to pro day, whether they offer moral support or not.

"This is a day about dreams becoming touchable," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "They’re not on paper. They’re not in your head. They’re real. You can see them and touch them."

It's not every day NFL head coaches are walking around a college indoor facility, like they were at Baylor and Texas this week, as well as Stanford on Thursday and tens of others through the spring.

Briles knows the element of the intangible becoming tangible makes pro days special, especially for players who didn't get a prized slot at the NFL combine.

"At the combine, they told us millions of kids play high school football, 65,000 play college football, 350 or so of us get invited to the combine and only 256 get drafted," said Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho. "That’s a harsh reality to come to grips with. If you come to grips with it in college, you’ll work that much harder."

But for all the cloud-floating that can come with a day when dreams are realized, there are plenty of details younger players can pick up on while scouts scrutinize.

"A big main key was, to me, follow directions and listen to what they’re telling you to do. If you can do that, everything else is up to you," Texas running back Fozzy Whittaker said. "You have all control over following directions and just listen to what they’re saying in terms of running a drill or running a route. Staying outside of cones rather than running inside, just the simple things you can control mentally. There’s a lot of things I’ve seen that’ll affect the coaches, because if you have three guys that do the same drill and they all do it right and the fourth guy messes it up, it’s like, what were you doing the whole time the other guys were doing it?"

There's a lot to focus on for everyone involved with pro days, but the undercurrent is the same for everyone -- from first-round picks to probable post-draft free agents.

"All these guys have worked their way into this," Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "It's an earned right to get to do what they’re doing."

They earned the right for NFL coaches to see them, but even underclassmen get that opportunity after pro day is over. Some NFL personnel stick around campus for practice in the afternoon to get a jump on seeing up close the players they'll be seeing at next year's pro day.

"Knowledge is power. If they see you have knowledge of the game, it allows you to play fast. If you have knowledge, you have confidence. That’s what they look for," Bennett said. "Kids call it swagger, or whatever it is, but when you're confident in what you’re doing, you play fast. When pros come in here, that’s what they look for, the guys that know what they’re doing and play like they know what they’re doing."

To prepare for pro day, most prospects leave school for training facilities. Baylor's Robert Griffin III spent the past few months in Arizona. Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson went to California. They're away from teammates for months, and when they return in anticipation of a pro day, it's easy for underclassmen to see what those intense training regimens do. Robinson and Griffin saw it in their own teammates.

"The players hadn’t seen me in a couple months, see the transformation that my body has made, just seeing the work ethic I had to get where I am today, how it really helped improve my stock," Robinson said. "When you go out for training, you can’t just go out there lollygagging and being complacent. You have to go every day with a burden on your back and strive to be the best player, because someone else around the country is doing what you’re doing, and maybe more."

Even with those transformations, training can't begin when the bowl game ends.

"The stuff I was able to do today didn’t come from me training after the season was over," Robinson said. "It came from all the hard work and hard labor I put in from the end of my senior year of high school until now."

Said Acho: "If you wait for the three-month stretch after the bowl game, you won’t perform at a high level. But if you work with that same mentality in every individual period before practice and come out here, it’ll be second nature."

Pro days can be pressure-packed, but ultimately, everyone's faced with the biggest truth of a day that often feels enormous: The biggest work NFL coaches want to see is already done.

"The first thing you can do is play hard, because tape doesn’t lie. One NFL coach was telling me, 'We were watching a play and this kid looked like he turned something down.' I mean, they watch everything," Bennett said. "So, when you’re playing and practicing, you better know, somebody’s watching. And it might not just be your coaches, it might be your future coaches."

HornsNation links: Horns back to work

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
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HornsNation has more coverage of the Texas Longhorns:

Carter Strickland writes Insider: Texas returns to practice after taking off for spring break. With less than two weeks until the spring game, there are a few things left on the Longhorns' to-do list.

The best players who just missed the top 25

March, 13, 2012
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Our top 25 has come and gone, but we're taking a deeper look at the list throughout the day on the blog.

As we do with every list, here are the guys who were probably good enough to be on the top 25, but didn't make the cut. After all, there's only so much room.

These are listed in no particular order.

Carrington Byndom, CB, Texas: Broke up 15 passes and picked off two passes, returning one for a touchdown. Also forced a fumble and of his 54 tackles, seven were for losses.

James Franklin, QB, Missouri: Threw for 2,865 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Also rushed for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns on 217 carries.

Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State: Made 71 tackles and broke up eight passes. Also made two tackles for loss and forced a fumble.

Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas: Led the Big 12 with 119 tackles. Made six tackles for loss and had an interception. Broke up two passes and forced two fumbles.

Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas: Second on the team with 98 tackles. Made 8.5 tackles for loss and had one sack. Broke up seven passes and forced two fumbles.

Jeremiah Hatch, OL, Kansas: Bounced back from a scary injury against Oklahoma and played well enough to earn a second-team All-Big 12 nod.

LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech: Was the most outstanding member of the Texas Tech offensive line, which finished sixth in the Big 12 in total offense.

David Garrett, CB, Kansas State: Picked off two passes and returned one for a touchdown. Made 88 tackles and had 6.5 tackles for loss. Also broke up two passes.

Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State: Made 74 tackles and broke up 11 passes. Made five tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.

Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma: Was the most outstanding member of the Sooners' offensive line, which paved the way for more than 512 yards per game, third-most in the Big 12.

Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M: Missed the final three games of the season, but averaged more than six yards per carry and finished eighth in the Big 12 with 899 yards and eight touchdowns on 149 carries.

Luke Joeckel, OL, Texas A&M: Improved as a second-year starter at tackle, has the most upside of any player on the Aggies' line, which helped produce the Big 12's No. 4 offense.

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas: Third in the Big 12 with 17 tackles for loss. Had eight sacks and broke up three passes. Made 63 tackles.

Clyde Aufner, OL, Kansas State: Aufner helped Kansas State roll to the No. 5 rushing offense in the Big 12 and lead the Big 12 with 606 carries. Earned first-team All-Big 12 honors from the coaches.

Jamie Blatnick, DE, Oklahoma State: Made eight sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Recovered two fumbles, made 50 tackles and had an interception. Forced a fumble and broke up seven passes.
We're moving on with our postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for linebackers. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

At this position, depth is a major factor in these rankings. Additionally, I included nickelbacks in this grouping. Hybrid defensive end/linebackers will be grouped with defensive lines.

[+] EnlargeJake Knott
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireIowa State linebackers Jake Knott, 20, and A.J. Klein combined for 231 tackles in 2011.
More postseason position rankings: 1. Iowa State: The Cyclones top the list after a huge year from their outstanding duo, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. They combined for 231 tackles in 2011, both finishing among the top four in the Big 12 in tackles. They had 241 together in 2010, but this season Knott played through injuries and Klein was awarded co-Defensive Player of the Year honors from the league's coaches.

2. Texas: The Longhorns will sorely miss an outstanding duo of their own with tons of experience. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are both NFL-bound after combining for 215 tackles.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as good as expected in 2011, but part of that was because of a Travis Lewis preseason toe injury that slowed him for much of the season. Lewis, Tony Jefferson and Tom Wort all topped 70 tackles in 2011, and are a solid group.

4. Kansas State: Arthur Brown reinvigorated this group, finishing eighth in the Big 12 with 101 tackles, but the Wildcats linebackers were more than just Brown. Tre Walker and converted safety Emmanuel Lamur combined for 135 stops and helped lead one of the league's most underrated units and a much-improved run defense.

5. Texas A&M: The Aggies' backers were big pass-rushers, though they struggled in coverage this season. Sean Porter was the Big 12's sack champion with 9.5, and Caleb Russell and Jonathan Stewart combined for six more. Damontre Moore is the rawest talent of the bunch, but built on that in 2011, making 72 tackles.

6. Oklahoma State: OSU's group was good, but not great. Alex Elkins' crazy story came to an end with 90 stops in 2011. He showed up everywhere for the Cowboys, but reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis didn't quite have the sophomore season some had hoped. Caleb Lavey added some solid play for the turnover-hungry unit, producing 74 tackles and five tackles for loss.

7. Missouri: Zaviar Gooden wasn't quite the impact player Mizzou had hoped, but he was solid alongside a group that's been injury prone over the past two years. Sophomore Andrew Wilson emerged as the team's top tackler with 98 stops, and Luke Lambert added 82 more. A high ankle sprain in the season opener kept Will Ebner off the field, but he'll be back in 2012 after the NCAA granted him a fifth year of eligibility.

8. Kansas: Steven Johnson led the Big 12 with 119 tackles, but the rest of the unit left a lot to be desired. Darius Willis has some potential, but the rest of the team's linebackers have their work cut out for them in 2012. Tunde Bakare also returns from a unit that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense.

9. Baylor: The Bears needed help just about everywhere. Elliot Coffey was solid, and finished tied for fourth with 114 stops, but Baylor was eighth in the Big 12 in rush defense. Baylor has solid athlete in the secondary and on the defensive line, but at linebacker, Rodney Chadwick and Brody Trahan leave a bit to be desired. Ahmad Dixon was better in 2011, but still has a lot of potential that needs to be filled.

10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are looking for a new defensive coordinator and the 4-2-5 made a short stop in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were awful everywhere on defense, but especially up front. Nobody in college football was worse at stopping the run, and D.J. Johnson, Daniel Cobb and Cqulin Hubert turned in forgettable performances. Time to get better for 2012.
Another day down at the NFL combine.

You'll need Insider to see this post from Steve Muench, but here are a few snippets from our team on the ground in Indianapolis:

West Virginia's Bruce Irvin ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, which is faster than most outside linebackers, let alone defensive ends. That's good for Irvin, who projects as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. He's undersized (6-3, 245) and lacks the power to anchor against the run as an end. He would have been better off working with the linebackers at the combine because he is a developmental prospect, and it showed in his footwork when he dropped.

Obviously, I didn't get a big chance to see Irvin from week to week in the Big East, but that 40 time is nuts. Reminds me of ... wait for it ... Von Miller?

What about another Big 12 pass rusher you know a bit better?
Oklahoma State DE Jamie Blatnick isn't as explosive or athletic as some of the other prospects, and his arms are as short as Ingram's, so there are some red flags. On the other hand, Blatnick performed well during the drill. His hands were active and violent during bag work while he did a good job of staying low in his backpedal when asked to drop.

Blatnick's a tough guy, but like Muench said, doesn't have the jaw-dropping measurables of some other guys we've seen in this league or guys at the combine this week.

He was productive, though, and technique will take you a long way in the NFL. Blatnick isn't lacking in athleticism necessarily, he just doesn't wow you.

Now, time for a few results from Monday at the combine:

LINEBACKERS

Najee Goode, West Virginia
  • 40-yard dash: 4.66 seconds (sixth among inebackers)
Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
  • 40-yard dash: 4.68 seconds (T-8 among linebackers)
  • 225-pound bench press: 36 reps (most among linebackers -- by four reps)
Tank Carder, TCU
  • 40-yard dash: 4.69 seconds (11th among linebackers)
  • 225-pound bench press: 19 reps
Emmanuel Acho, Texas
  • 40-yard dash: 4.73 seconds (14th among linebackers)
  • 225-pound bench press: 24 reps (T-10th among linebackers
Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
  • 40-yard dash: 4.88 seconds
  • 225-pound bench press: 22 reps (14th among linebackers)
Keenan Robinson, Texas
  • 225-pound bench press: 27 reps (T-6th among linebackers)

Breaking down spring camp: Texas

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
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Another spring camp is opening, and it's time to take a closer look. Today, the Texas Longhorns get started.

Schedule: Practice starts today leading up to the spring game on April 1. Practices are closed to fans and media, though the team will have two open practices, a change from last year, when all 15 practices were closed.

What's new: Not much, as opposed to last year, when the answer was "almost everything." The Longhorns' staff all returned for 2012 after Mack Brown shook up his staff and replaced six assistant coaches after going 5-7 in 2010. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have to replace defensive leaders Emmanuel Acho, Blake Gideon and Keenan Robinson, but the offense returns 10 starters, including both quarterbacks, David Ash and Case McCoy.

New faces: Quarterback Connor Brewer joins the fold, but the biggest news may have been a shift in recruiting philosophy with new assistants on staff with SEC ties. The Longhorns took a junior college signee for the first time since 2002. Offensive line coach Stacy Searels came from Georgia last season and will have offensive tackle Donald Hawkins from Mississippi to work with. Meanwhile, defensive tackles coach Bo Davis (Alabama) will work with Brandon Moore from Alabama.

Big shoes to fill: Linebacker Jordan Hicks. The Ohio native and No. 1 linebacker in the 2010 class made 55 tackles last season, but without Robinson and Acho, it's Hicks' time in Austin this year. Look out for a big year, and that starts this spring. He's battled through a broken foot, but if he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder who has added 20 pounds since leaving high school.

Don't forget about: Receiver Mike Davis. He was the team's top target this time last year, but had a slightly disappointing sophomore season and Jaxon Shipley surpassed him as the Longhorns' top receiver. Davis is very talented, though. He and Shipley could both be stars, but don't rule out Davis surging this spring. He turned the coaching staff's collective head last year.

Breaking out: Quandre Diggs was part of the freshman invasion at Texas last year, and he could have made a case for being the best freshman in the Big 12. He's a shutdown corner ready to become a star. In a league with the type of offensive talent the Big 12 has, his skills are invaluable. Don't rule out the sophomore cracking the All-America team next year.

All eyes on: Texas' quarterback battle. Texas will be best off if Ash asserts himself and boxes out McCoy with a strong spring, but there's no guarantee that happens. Ash's physical attributes (size, speed, arm strength) give him a much higher upside than his counterpart, but for now they amount to just that: upside. The two had comparable numbers in 2011 and neither was solid. Will we see separation this spring?

Chat: New rivals, preseason POY, UT's shot

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
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Thanks for all the questions in today's chat. Here's the full transcript.

Time for some highlights:
QueenP (Lubbock, Texas): Being that A&M is no longer in the Big 12, do you see the TTU/UT rivalry growing?

David Ubben: No, probably not. They've obviously had some great games over the year, but I don't think so. If anything, some of that energy may spill over into the Red River Rivalry, as hard as it is to believe.

Tony (Richmond, Calif.): Don't you have to feel the conference is yours for the taking in Austin this season with OU having to travel to both Morgantown and Fort Worth at the end of the season with archrival Okie State sandwiched in between? Texas gets WVU and TCU at home, so they really have no one to blame but themselves if they don't return to the top of the Big XII? Your thoughts?

David Ubben: Texas needs to worry more about its quarterback spot than Oklahoma's schedule. Develop David Ash. Then let's talk Sooners.

Jeremy from Parkersburg, W.Va. [via mobile]: The Mountaineers will have a need to find a new rivalry game now that the Backyard Brawl with Pitt is possibly done. Who from their new Big 12 brothern would most likely step in to fit that bill. By the way, thanks to all for our warm Big 12 welcoming. Looking forward to see how we stack up against big boys.

David Ubben: Texas Tech and Oklahoma State make some sense because of the Holgorsen connection. Ultimately, though, rivalries are born out of great games stacked back to back.

Hornsfan (Best City in the USA): Ubbs, any way that UT qb play is worse next season?

David Ubben: No. I think it'll be better, but still a decent chunk away from being good enough to win the Big 12.

Kevin (Kansas): Collin Klein have a shot at Offensive Player of the Year in the Big 12?

David Ubben: Definitely, but he has to improve as a passer and have similar rushing output. There's going to be some tough competition this year. Look out for the new QBs, Casey Pachall and Geno Smith, too. Landry Jones is probably the frontrunner for the award, though.

Tony (Richmond, Calif.): Will this Texas defense rank among the best in Mack Brown's tenure by season's end?

David Ubben: It's got the talent to do it, but replacing the leadership from Acho, Robinson and Gideon is going to be tough. Those guys kept young players in position and motivated their teammates. UT will have the athletes, but who knows how it looks in Year 2 under Manny Diaz? I think it'll be really good, but you never know. Those guys left big holes.

ClarenceOveur (The Cockpit): David, you believe that TCU has more "potential upside" than WVU in the Big 12 due to its location in the DFW Metroplex and its familiarity with other schools in the conference. Did you consult TCU's prior record in the SWC at all before coming to that conclusion? At one point they went 35 years between conference titles. What about the Frogs makes their outlook that much better this time around? Also David, do you like movies about gladiators?

David Ubben: I think it's unfair to look at TCU's history. Look at it now. Gary Patterson's built something big there since. He's got them rolling. They'll be better with some more talent. He's also made TCU a much better job. He's got a lot of time there, but when he leaves, TCU will be in position to get a great replacement.

Steve (Philadelphia): I am thoroughly enjoying your coverage of my new league so far. However, I have never closely followed any Big 12 team and from BE country there was always a feeling that Big 12 teams were grossly unbalanced with high powered offenses and no defense to speak of. I would cite my Mountaineers Fiesta Bowl victory over the Sooners but that wouldn't be fair would it? Any evidence to the contrary?

David Ubben: Yeah, I think it's unfair to make that assumption. Teams like UT, OU and Nebraska have had some great defenses. The problem is one, the offenses are that much better than every other league, and they run a whole lot more plays. If I remember the numbers correctly, OSU faced something like 1,050 plays before its bowl game. LSU, meanwhile, had faced something like 615.

Ranking the Big 12's top 25 players: No. 16

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
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Our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players continues. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing a new member of the list every day.

Here's a quick rundown on my criteria for this list.

No. 16: Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas

2011 numbers: Made 117 tackles and 14.5 tackles for loss. He had three sacks, broke up five passes and forced a fumble.

Most recent ranking: Acho was ranked No. 24 in our preseason list of the top 25 players.

Making the case for Acho: Acho's older brother Sam carried Texas' defense in 2010. But it was Emmanuel who took the lead in 2011 as one of the leaders of the Big 12's best defense. Acho, Keenan Robinson and Blake Gideon were the elder statesmen of the unit, but Acho was the most productive.

His 117 tackles led the team by 19 stops and were third-most in the Big 12. His 14.5 tackles for loss were fifth-most in the Big 12. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder is a solid rock in the middle of the defense and a sure tackler that plays with tons of instinct. He earned an All-Big 12 nod and was a semifinalist for the Academic Heisman and a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
The rest of the list:

The Big 12 and the Senior Bowl

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
11:00
AM ET
Senior Bowl week has come and gone, and now we wait for the combine (starts Feb. 22) for the next big moves prior to the NFL draft.

Here's how the Big 12 participants did, with a few thoughts to follow.

Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State
  • 5-9, 56 yards, 2 INT, sack
Terrance Ganaway, RB, Baylor
  • five carries, 14 yards; two catches, 8 yards
Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M
  • three catches, 19 yards
Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri
  • one catch, 14 yards
Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M
  • made field goals of 39 and 24 yards. No misses. Two touchbacks on four kickoffs.
Jamell Fleming, CB, Oklahoma
  • four tackles, forced fumble, interception (off Weeden)
Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State
  • one pass breakup
Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas
  • five tackles
Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas
  • three tackles
Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
  • three tackles
Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State
  • two tackles, tackle for loss
Tony Jerod-Eddie, DE, Texas A&M
  • two tackles
A few thoughts:
  • A certain bit of symmetry in Fleming picking off Weeden late. From The Oklahoman: "I told him I owed him one," said Fleming, referring to the Cowboys' 44-10 rout of the Sooners in December. "And I got him." No doubt a rough outing for Weeden, who threw his other interception off an awkward drop back, but I wouldn't worry too much about one game. The practices mean a lot more than spotty game time for everybody in this game, and Weeden impressed a lot of people this week. A big day means just as little as an awful day in this game.
  • What a day for Fleming, though. He grabbed the interception late, but forced a fumble from Arkansas' Joe Adams on the opening drive.
  • Has Weeden taken over the No. 3 spot among QBs behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III? Ryan Tannehill was hurt this past week and couldn't play, but this could be an interesting race. No doubt there's disagreement among NFL teams on where to slot Weeden.

Who's up, who's down at the Senior Bowl

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
3:45
PM ET
The Senior Bowl's in full swing heading into Saturday's game, but the main event is the practices during the week, when players can make or break their NFL draft stock with scouts eyeing prospects' every moves.

Our team in Mobile, Ala., has its latest update from the practices, and as you'd expect, plenty in the Big 12 are up and down.

Brandon Weeden has continued to impress after a strong showing early in the week.

From the notebook:
He is playing with good tempo and during 7-on-7 drills drove the ball into a tight window downfield. He's also throwing with good balance, putting good zip on a hook route to fit the ball between two defenders.

And while Weeden didn't play in a pro-style offense in college, he's adjusting well to five- and seven-step drops and executing play-action without much problem.

Definitely a good sign for Weeden. His teammate, safety Markelle Martin, hasn't fared as well this week.
Oklahoma State S Markelle Martin has shown the ability to deliver big hits, but there are concerns about his coverage ability. Martin is good diagnosing running plays, but he's tight and lacks ideal speed in coverage. He also failed to finish a play against LSU TE Deangelo Peterson that could have been an interception, though he did knock the ball away. Martin has also shown that he will take risks in coverage, but his tightness doesn't allow him to recover when he guesses wrong.

Anybody who watched Martin in college can't be surprised by that revelation. He was one of the most feared hitters in the league throughout his career, but had a disappointing 2011 season and has never been one of the best cover safeties in the league. We'll see if he can make up for some of that later in the week.

Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson has been hit or miss, too.
Keenan Robinson of Texas has been an interesting player to watch this week. Robinson moves well early in practices and during one-on-one drills, but when the team period arrives he does not stack and shed blockers effectively and lacks violence in his hands.

Plenty more coverage in the full notebook from the Senior Bowl, including an update on a former Baylor star. Check it out.

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