Big 12: Kheeston Randall

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Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the vocal leaders of the defense last season, but have been replaced by super recruits Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks, joining a speedster on the outside in linebacker Demarco Cobbs, who played quarterback, receiver, safety and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

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
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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.

The Big 12 and the Senior Bowl

January, 30, 2012
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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.

Part II: Preseason All-Big 12 vs. Postseason

December, 14, 2011
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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?

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
  • Madison ranked 11th in the Big 12 with 4.5 sacks and 16th with 8.5 tackles for loss and didn't earn a spot on any All-Big 12 first or second teams, though his teammate, Jacquies Smith, cracked the media and coaches' second team.
DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M
  • Jerod-Eddie had four sacks and six tackles for loss with 47 total stops, but didn't crack any All-Big 12 first or second teams.
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
  • Randall was eighth on the team with four tackles for loss and had 29 tackles with one sack. He wasn't named to any All-Big 12 first or second teams.
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
  • Alexander led the Big 12 with 18 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year by the media and shared the coaches award with A.J. Klein of Iowa State. He, of course, was a unanimous All-Big 12 first-team selection.
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
  • Lewis suffered a broken toe in preseason camp, and finished second on the team with 79 tackles, his first season at OU with fewer than 108 tackles. He made the media and coaches' second Big 12 teams.
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
  • Knott finished third in the Big 12 with 107 tackles and made the media any my first Big 12 teams. The coaches put Knott on the second team.
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
  • Robinson finished second on the team and 10th in the Big 12 with 90 tackles and made the coaches' second Big 12 team.
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
  • Judie fought a hamstring injury all season and didn't make any All-Big 12 teams after making 21 tackles and forcing one fumble.
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
  • Martin made a few All-American teams and earned All-Big 12 first-team honors from the coaches and me after making 65 tackles and breaking up 11 passes. The media voted him second team.
DB: Trent Hunter, Texas A&M
  • Hunter made 73 tackles and broke up eight passes, but didn't earn any first or second-team honors.
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma
  • Hurst earned second-team honors from the coaches after making 51 tackles and having 10 pass breakups. He also returned his lone interception for a touchdown against Texas.
SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
  • Ressel didn't earn any first or second team honors after making just 9-of-16 kicks and making all 30 of his extra points.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
  • Sharp earned All-Big 12 first team honors from the media and coaches after averaging over 46 yards on his 42 punts.
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
  • Injuries prevented Judie from returning more than eight kicks this season. He averaged 25 yards per return on his eight returns and didn't make any All-Big 12 teams.
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
  • Broyles returned 19 punts at an average of just over 10 yards, and didn't earn any All-Big 12 teams as a punt returner.
AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU
Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
  • An injury derailed Lewis' season and he never looked like his usual self during the season, ceding Player of the Year honors to his teammate, Frank Alexander.
Newcomer of the Year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
  • Brown won my Big Newcomer of the Year Award and the Defensive Newcomer of the Year from the coaches and media.

Will Texas rebound in 2011? How far?

August, 25, 2011
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Texas is easily the wildest card in the Big 12 deck this season, but how do you see the Longhorns faring in 2010?

The defense returns six starters, and is the strength of the team, despite losing Chykie Brown, Curtis Brown and Aaron Williams to the NFL. The team's safeties, Kenny Vaccaro, Christian Scott and Blake Gideon are solid, though Scott will be sidelined the first three games because of a suspension.

The front seven is loaded with potential, and the Longhorns have two of the best linebackers in the league, Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat are exciting defensive ends offsetting Kheeston Randall, one of the league's best overall linemen.

Offensively, well, the Longhorns have a lot to prove. They're the only Big 12 team left that doesn't know its starting quarterback for the opening weekend. Eight starters from last year's offense return, but some of the team's biggest hype is coming from players new to campus.

Running back Malcolm Brown and receiver Jaxon Shipley showed up to campus this summer, but quarterback David Ash impressed coaches after enrolling early this spring.

The offensive line will have to be better, especially if any of those three will have success. Shipley should add some solid playmaking ability to a receiving corps depleted with the losses of Marquise Goodwin (Olympic track qualifying) and Malcolm Williams (personal issues), who won't be with the team this year. Mike Davis will likely be the team's go-to receiver, at least to start the season.

So how do the Longhorns stack up?

The Big 12 Top 25: Honorable mention

August, 24, 2011
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So, after today, we only have three players left in our top 25. The most devoted among you can probably name them. Though I won't divulge the order until the time is right, you'll see.

Anyway, there were lots of players I considered but didn't include. Here are the top players that just missed the cut, in no particular order.

Michael Egnew, TE, Missouri: Egnew, at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, is a heck of an athlete. He showed it with 90 catches for 762 yards and five scores last year. It's not meant as a criticism, but his gawdy numbers are more a product of big opportunities in Missouri's offense than anything he's done individually. Egnew was a huge part of the bubble screen game in 2010, but when that job went more often to Danario Alexander in 2009? Egnew had three catches for 25 yards. His 8.47 yards per catch in 2010 ranked 44th in the Big 12. Very good player. Not an irreplaceable player like so many others on the top 25.

Christine Michael, RB, Texas A&M: Michael has the clear ability to be in the top 25, but you can't put in a player that missed half the season. Here's guessing Michael, who I think enters 2011 second only to his teammate, Cyrus Gray, in ability, cracks the postseason top 25. He's up 12 pounds to 221 this season. No linebacker wants to see that coming through the hole in the offensive line.

Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas; Tony Jerod-Eddie, DT, Texas A&M; Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma: These three are arguably the best defensive linemen in the league, behind Missouri's Brad Madison. I had each on my first-team All-Big 12 ballot. Unfortunately, there aren't any defensive linemen in the Big 12 that truly scare offenses, and defensive lines on the whole are a weak spot in the Big 12. Each of these players may develop into players offensive lines truly fear, but none are there yet. At least not enough to warrant placement on the top 25 list.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: A few Aggies wanted me to take into account Tannehill's receiving acumen in 2008 and 2009, as well as his talents at QB that finally found the spotlight in 2010. Nope. Tannehill took hold of a shaky team in midseason last year, and he was close to the top 25, but six starts with very, very modest numbers aren't enough to put him on the level of Griffin, Weeden or Jones just yet. Maybe by the end of this season, but right now? No way. That said, his status as the fourth-best QB in the league is nothing to shrug off. I see big things for him in 2011.

Trent Hunter, S, Texas A&M: Very good player, but not quite a game changer just yet in a pretty good group of Big 12 safeties. Hunter made 62 tackles and two picks for a much-improved defense. Without Von Miller, it will need his senior leadership.

Josh Cooper, WR, Oklahoma State: Cooper's huge 2010 season got completely dwarfed by some guy named Justin Blackmon. Cooper's 68 catches ranked No. 7 in Oklahoma State school history and were more than six Big 12 team's leading receivers. Receiver in the Big 12 is absolutely stacked, but don't count me among those that hasn't taken notice of Cooper's efforts.

The Big 12's best on-field tandems

August, 18, 2011
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The Pony Express Award is starting up this year, honoring the top on-field tandems in college football.

The award is named for the famed SMU backfield duo of Eric Dickerson and Craig James, now an ESPN analyst, and the award staff has released its watch list for the inaugural season.

Here's who cracked the list:

Oklahoma: CB Jamell Fleming, LB Travis Lewis, S Tony Jefferson

Baylor: QB Robert Griffin III, WR Josh Gordon, WR Kendall Wright

Oklahoma: QB Landry Jones, WR Ryan Broyles, WR Kenny Stills

Oklahoma State: QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon

Texas: LB Keenan Robinson, LB Emmanuel Acho, DT Kheeston Randall

Texas: S Christian Scott, S Blake Gideon

Texas A&M: QB Ryan Tannehill, RB Cyrus Gray, WR Jeff Fuller
We've tackled every other spot, and now we'll wrap up out Big 12 position rankings with the defensive lines across the Big 12.

Here are the rest of the position rankings.
Now that we've finished ranking the complete units, we'll start ranking the top 10 at each position very soon leading into the 2011 season.

This is a decent position for the Big 12 this season, and the top half of the league should feel pretty good about their group. There aren't many studs in this group, but there are a whole lot of solid players.

Brad Madison
AP Photo/Pat SullivanMissouri has one of the Big 12's best pass rushers in Brad Madison.
1. Missouri -- Missouri has the Big 12's best returning pass rusher and a Defensive Player of the Year contender in Brad Madison, but its depth is what lands it on top of the list. Jacquies Smith is solid at the opposite defensive end spot, and Michael Sam and Kony Ealy provide great depth at DE. Dominique Hamilton's absence last season hurt after breaking his ankle against Oklahoma, but he's back, alongside Terrell Resonno. Sheldon Richardson, who may be transferring from junior college, is a wildcard that could be anywhere between a complete game changer, irrelevant or absent.

2. Oklahoma -- Oklahoma's defensive tackles are somewhat suspect, but the defensive end combo of Ronnell Lewis (provided he is eligible come fall camp) and Frank Alexander is on par with the best in the Big 12. Both were preseason All-Big 12 selections, but Jamarkus McFarland needs to make good on his potential. Stacy McGee and Casey Walker should both get time at the other tackle spot.

3. Texas -- Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat is loaded with potential as the nation's former No. 1 recruit. He had a big impact early last season before being slowed by an ankle injury. Alex Okafor moved outside from defensive tackle just before spring and had five sacks in the spring game. Inside, Kheeston Randall is an All-Big 12 favorite, but Ashton Dorsey had a strong spring and could help out with Reggie Wilson opposite Randall.

4. Texas A&M -- The Aggies have one of the best linemen in the league in Tony Jerod-Eddie, but Jonathan Mathis, Eddie Brown Jr. and Ben Bass have a lot to prove around him after the loss of Lucas Patterson, who was outstanding in 2010.

5. Texas Tech -- Sam Fehoko has moved to defensive end from middle linebacker, and should provide some good speed to the front line. Scott Smith looked on his way to an All-Big 12 campaign last season, but was suspended for the remainder of the season by coach Tommy Tuberville and has yet to be officially reinstated. For now, Dartwan Bush and Aundrey Barr will help out at defensive end, outside of Donald Langley, Kerry Hyder and Pearlie Graves. The Red Raiders did snatch a big pickup from departed UNC signee Delvon Simmons, a defensive tackle that could have an impact immediately.

6. Oklahoma State -- Defensive line is the biggest weak spot for the Cowboys, who have a decent set of ends in Jamie Blatnick and former heralded recruit Richetti Jones, but an even bigger question mark at defensive tackle where Christian Littlehead and Nigel Nicholas enter fall camp as starters.

7. Kansas -- Top rusher turned defensive end Toben Opurum came on strong late last season and should be one of the most exciting Jayhawks to watch in 2011, but the rest of the line leaves a bit to be desired. Keba Agostino has the other starting spot at defensive end ahead of Pat Lewandowski, who had a great spring. Patrick Dorsey and John Williams enter fall camp as starters at defensive tackles.

8. Kansas State -- K-State recruited this position hard in its 2011 class. For now, defensive end Brandon Harold will try to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 after a promising 2009. Lance Dunbar and Taylor Martinez think this group is ranked too high, but Meshak Williams could start opposite Harold, while Ray Kibble and Raphael Guidry should be the tackles inside.

9. Baylor -- Tevin Elliott was limited this spring because of offseason shoulder surgery, and Terrance Lloyd exited spring practice as the starter, but I'd expect Elliott to regain the spot by the time the season arrives. Phil Taylor, a first-round pick, is a big loss, but Gary Mason Jr. will try to fill his spot next to Nicolas Jean-Baptiste.

10. Iowa State -- Having a pair of linebackers combine for 241 tackles is a good and bad thing. They've got outstanding linebackers, but the defensive line was the Big 12's worst last season for a unit that ranked 10th in rush defense and had just 11 sacks. That was the fewest sacks in the Big 12 and more than just three teams in all of college football. The good news is all four starters return, but for now, this is where the Cyclones start. Stephen Ruempolhamer has some promise, but Cleyon Laing, Jake McDonough and ends Patrick Neal and Roosevelt Maggitt have a lot to prove. Jacob Lattimer ran into offseason trouble, but re-appeared atop the depth chart released by the Cyclones on Wednesday.
The Big 12 has released its All-Big 12 preseason team as voted on by the media, including yours truly.

Here's my ballot, for reference.

And here's the preseason team, in all its glory.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Bryce Brown, Kansas State
RB: Roy Finch, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Ben Habern, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Blake Gideon, Texas
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

Selections by team: Oklahoma (9), Oklahoma State (4), Texas A&M (4), Missouri (3), Texas (3), Iowa State (2), Kansas State (1), Texas Tech (1)

And a few thoughts:
  • Generally, I agree with most of the selections. Nothing was really shocking. Brandon Weeden vs. Landry Jones is pretty close to a coin flip, and let's not act surprised that the quarterback from the bigger program got the nod. Perception is reality, even if the numbers are so, so close. Jones has the Heisman hype coming into the season, certainly more than Weeden, based on little more than the possibility his team runs the table.
  • Running back is going to get a lot of attention, but let's not get riled up. This is going to sound bad, but believe me when I say I don't mean it to: Bryce Brown's selection is more an indictment of the returning talent at running back in the Big 12 than an endorsement of the hype surrounding Brown, who isn't even the clear-cut starter at K-State just yet. Here's what I wrote when I posted my ballot earlier this month. "The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for James Sims, Eric Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team!" Well, there you go. For the record, I voted for Christine Michael, and still feel good about it.
  • Finch and Brown tied for votes, giving the Big 12 three running backs. There weren't three spots on the ballot. And it also explains how Malcolm Brown got Newcomer of the Year and Bryce Brown got first-team All-Big 12 running back, despite both being newcomers. It's a little confusing, I suppose, and maybe not everyone did it, but my guess is a lot of ballots had Finch as the first-team running back and Malcolm Brown as the Newcomer of the Year. Not all that surprising.
  • I originally had Luke Joeckel on my ballot, but took him off for Missouri's Elvis Fisher. I think Joeckel will end up being better, and maybe even by the end of this year, but right now, Fisher is the better lineman, and that's how I define the ballot. Perhaps others see it differently. There's no concrete rubric for this.
  • I'm not very surprised to see Ronnell Lewis and Blake Gideon grab spots on the team, though I voted for Tony Jerod-Eddie and Trent Hunter in those spots on my ballot. Second safety and defensive line were pretty tough for me to fill out. Neither spot is very deep in this league, and both Lewis and Gideon have two of the biggest names, which matters in a media vote.
  • Quite a huge gap between Oklahoma and the rest of the league. The Sooners had a lot of guys on my ballot that were close, but five more selections than anyone else in the league? That's impressive, and if ballot deadlines had been after Jamell Fleming's reinstatement, Oklahoma might have had 10 guys on the team. My ballot had Oklahoma State leading the way with seven selections, followed by Texas A&M with six and Oklahoma with five. My ballot also only had six teams represented. The media's Bryce Brown vote put Kansas State on the board, and Lonnie Edwards at Texas Tech made it eight teams represented on the official team.

Big 12 lands 14 on Lombardi Award list

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

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

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

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

The Big 12 has won two of the past three Lombardi Awards, courtesy of Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh and Texas' Brian Orakpo. Suh was Nebraska's fifth winner, but Tommie Harris in 2003 gave Oklahoma its third winner, tied with Texas for the most of any current Big 12 team.

Seven from Big 12 on Outland watch list

July, 11, 2011
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The Outland Trophy has released its watch list, and nine Big 12 players made the 65-man list.

The Outland Trophy is given annually to college football's top interior lineman, offensive or defensive.
  • Levy Adcock, OL, Oklahoma State
  • Lonnie Edwards, OL, Texas Tech
  • Ben Habern, C, Oklahoma
  • Dan Hoch, OL, Missouri
  • Kelechi Osemele, OL, Iowa State
  • Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
  • Lane Taylor, OL, Oklahoma State

The Big 12's seven list members are tied with the ACC for fourth most among the conferences. The Big Ten had the most, with 13. The award, which began in 1946, is the third-oldest in college football.


Ndamukong Suh won the award in 2009, becoming the first Big 12 player to win since Jamaal Brown of Oklahoma in 2004. Nebraska's nine winners are four more than any other school in college football.

Oklahoma has the second most, with five winners. Texas has three winners, tied for third-most.

Nine from Big 12 on Nagurski Watch List

July, 11, 2011
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The Bronko Nagurski Trophy has released its watch list, and nine Big 12 players made the 87-man list.

The Nagurski Trophy is given annually to college football's top defender.
  • Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State
  • Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri
  • Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M
  • Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State
  • Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
  • Brad Madison, DE, Missouri
  • Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State
  • Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
  • Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas

I don't see many favorites on this list, but the Big 12 has won the Nagurski Award in two of the past three seasons. Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh won in 2009 and Texas' Brian Orakpo won the award in 2008.

Texas and Oklahoma each have two trophy winners since the award's inception in 1993, and are among just four schools (Northwestern, Miami (Fla.)) to earn the distinction.

ESPN.com's Preseason All-Big 12 team

July, 8, 2011
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The Big 12 asked for preseason All-Big 12 ballots this week in preparation for the team announcement, and here's what mine looked like.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Chuck Cook/US PresswireOklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden earned the first-team All-Big 12 nod over Oklahoma's Landry Jones on David Ubben's preseason ballot.
The full team will probably be released some time before Big 12 media days on July 25-26 in Dallas.

OFFENSE

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Christine Michael, Texas A&M WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: Elvis Fisher, Missouri

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Trent Hunter, Texas A&M
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

Newcomer of the Year: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State

Selections by team: Oklahoma State (7), Texas A&M (6), Oklahoma (5), Missouri (4), Texas (2), Iowa State (2)

And a few thoughts:

  • Before we get into this, let's talk philosophy for a bit. There's no concrete rubric for filling this ballot out, but my approach might be in the minority. This is not a prediction. I'm not a believer in that. That's what the postseason ballot is for, i.e., what actually happened. I'm not predicting anything. My ballot is a reflection of who I see as the best at the position entering the season. This comes into play at the very top of my ballot. Do I think Landry Jones will have a better 2011 than Brandon Weeden? Well yes, yes I do. But coming into the season, I thought Weeden was more impressive than Jones in 2010, if only just barely. For more explanation on this, head over here. I've discussed it at length several times. Check the Weeden or Jones player tags on the blog for even more discussion.
  • Tallying up the team counts, I feel bad that only six teams are represented on my ballot, but I'm not trying to achieve balance. I'm trying to achieve a ballot with the best player at each position heading into the season. That's just how it shook out. I'm surprised no one from Baylor cracked my ballot, and Kansas State, Kansas and Texas Tech went without any first-teamers on my ballot.
  • That said, a few guys who came close: Kansas running back James Sims, Texas Tech running back Eric Stephens, safety Cody Davis and Kansas State cornerback David Garrett. I nearly had Davis on my ballot, but narrowly went with Trent Hunter.
  • On that subject, the biggest observation I had filling this out: The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for Sims, Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team! Unbelievable. Rex Burkhead and Rodney Stewart...where are you? If NU and CU were still in the Big 12, I'd probably put Stewart in that spot.
  • They're not, though. So, I went with Christine Michael. Why? Well, before Cyrus Gray went nuts last season, Michael was significantly better than Gray was. It was obvious. Then Michael broke his leg. Now, based on what I saw this spring and hear from summer workouts, he's back to full strength and even better. Can any other running back in the league say they were better than Cyrus Gray at any point? Much less last season? Absolutely not. So, I went with Michael. Heading into the season, he's the second-best back in the Big 12 when he's healthy. Consider, also: None of those other candidates have topped Michael's 844 yards in 2009 in any of their seasons, and Michael was probably on his way to a 1,000-yard season last year with 631 yards in just over seven games before the injury. So, not only is he what I believe to be the next-best back, he also has had the most impressive career.
  • I wasn't a big fan of putting three tackles and one guard on my ballot, but I did it. Deal with it. Originally, I had Luke Joeckel of Texas A&M on my ballot, but switched him out with the experienced Elvis Fisher, whose career to this point has been more impressive to me. I think Joeckel will be better eventually, but Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune chimed in on Twitter and reminded me of Joeckel's early season struggles, and I recalled just how dominant Fisher was against some of the best defensive ends around, specifically Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Oklahoma's Frank Alexander. I'm a bit embarrassed I even considered Joeckel over Fisher, to be honest.
  • I feel pretty good about my ability to evaluate tackles, but interior linemen? Not so much. There's a lot of other things to watch during live games. So when it comes to guards and centers, I tend to rely more on coaches' evaluations, guys who spend hours in the film room evaluating. Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline isn't one to blow smoke, and he's one of the most respected position coaches in the league. He's also been incredulous this offseason that Grant Garner is criminally underrated at the conference level. So at a position that isn't very strong in the Big 12, I gave Garner the nod.
  • Some of the Big 12's strongest positions? Linebacker and receiver, clearly, where there were big snubs. (i.e., Jeff Fuller, Shaun Lewis and Emmanuel Acho). Some of the weakest positions? Defensive line, where I had some trouble finding four guys I really felt deserved a spot.
  • As for my newcomer of the year, Arthur Brown? Speed kills. K-State didn't have it last year. Brown does. He'll be great.
  • A few minor beefs with no real solution: I'd like to see the Big 12's ballot more reflect the style of play in the league. Not many teams are running two-receiver sets and not many teams are putting three true linebackers on the field. I'd like to see an option for a third receiver on the ballot, either in a WR/TE flex slot or by eliminating one of the running back spots. Big 12 teams aren't putting two backs on the field too often. I'd also like to see a space for a nickel back. Do I think Tony Jefferson or Ahmad Dixon are one of the best linebackers or safeties in the league? No. But at their position, they probably will be by season's end. However, they might get left off all-conference teams because of the ballot's set up.

Lots of Big 12ers up for Bednarik, Maxwell

July, 7, 2011
7/07/11
9:45
AM ET
The Maxwell and Bednarik award watch lists were released this week, and here's a look at the Big 12 players up for the awards.

The Maxwell Award is given to college football's most outstanding player.
I usually think of the Maxwell Award as the "mini-Heisman" and this is a pretty good list of who's who in terms of stars across the Big 12.

Colt McCoy in 2009 was the last Big 12 player to take home the award, giving the Longhorns four Maxwell Award winners, twice as many as any other school in the Big 12.

No Texas players made the watch list, but Gray, Tannehill, Fuller or Griffin would be their respective schools' first Maxwell Award winner.

Jones is probably the favorite of this group to win the award, but a good year could send the award home with Tannehill or Weeden, too. Don't sleep on Griffin if the Bears have a historic season, i.e., 9-10 wins.


The Bednarik Award is given to college football's top defensive player.
  • Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri
  • Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M
  • Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State
  • Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma
  • Kheeston Randall, DT, Texas
  • Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas

I don't see many big favorites in this group, but it was interesting to see Gooden crack the list. He's a bit under the radar nationally, and I think he deserves it, but I was surprised to see him make the list. Meanwhile, two players who quietly had great seasons last year, Knott and Judie, landed on the watch list. Great to see that, too.

Texas A&M (Dat Nguyen, 1998) and Oklahoma (Teddy Lehman, 2003) are the only schools with winners among current Big 12 teams since the award's inception in 1995.

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