Big 12: Nigel Tribune

Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Earlier Thursday, we concluded our 22-round draft of current Big 12 players. Below are the three lineup outcomes of that draft, and as you can see, each of us went in different directions.

SportsNation

Who had the best imaginary Big 12 player draft?

  •  
    30%
  •  
    38%
  •  
    32%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,440)

Like the St. Louis Rams, Max and Brandon built up their defensive lines before worrying about the rest of their rosters. While I grabbed the best quarterback in the league and surrounded him with protection and weapons.

After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.

BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Brandon says about his team: “Offensively, as soon as Petty was gone with the first pick I knew I wouldn’t take a quarterback until my final pick. Knight could be the steal of the draft. Versatility is the name of the game with the rest of the offense. We can put Pierson and Smallwood in the backfield and go read option or really ruin your Saturday and throw Daje back there in the Diamond. When you bring more guys in the box, you leave Seales and Lockett one-on-one. Or we can just go five wide and you can try to cover running backs who run routes like receivers with your linebackers. And an experienced offensive line will be the foundation of it all. Defensively, it would be wise for opposing quarterbacks to tell their families to stay home when facing this group. We’re going to man up and have our mail forwarded to the opposing backfield and make you want to take your ball and go home. And with a secondary full of coverage guys, I’m not concerned about the back end of the defense holding up. We’ll win more battles than we lose. By the final whistle, my team will have earned the moniker 'Chatmon’s chaos creators' with Tapper, Reed, Brown, Hunter, Alexander and Robertson living in your backfield.”

MAX OLSON'S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Max says about his team: “You do not want to play against my team. That was my goal going in, and I constructed exactly the team I wanted. I have a great QB in Webb who gets to throw to Goodley, one of the nation's best receivers, and he'd help Jaxon Shipley put up Jordan Shipley numbers. I have the two-back punch of Linwood and Gray. I have Hill, who can do everything, and a good line. We're going to spread the ball around like crazy. Good luck stopping that. On defense, you have Fields, Oakman and Grissom all rushing the passer. That's deadly. We can go three-man fronts or even put Oakman in the middle, letting the 6-foot-8 stud swat your passes down. And while you're worrying about him and Grissom, you have the Big 12's best defensive player [Fields] coming after you. Hager and Shannon will hold it down at the second level, and the secondary is full of playmakers. This is a fun team, plain and simple, and one that can frustrate the heck out of anybody.”

JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Jake says about his team: “Max and Brandon are good at talking smack. I’ll give them that. But my players do their talking on the field. Once I was fortunate to land reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty as my quarterback, my goal was two-fold: to keep him upright from pressure off the edge; and, to surround him with firepower. I accomplished both ends, and then some. I wasn’t able to get either of the two elite receivers in the league in Goodley or Lockett. But I put together the best overall receiving corps in Grant, Shepard and Bundrage, who could all deliver 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2014. On top of that, I snagged the best pass-catching tight end on the board in Bibbs, as well as Brown, so that we can pound the ball between the tackles when we need. Speaking of tackles, aware that Brandon and Max were focused almost solely on their pass rush in the early rounds, I also added two of the most reliable pass-protecting bookends in the league in Drango and Williams. Defensively, I can bring pressure, too, with Mueller and Striker, who last season respectively placed second and fourth in the Big 12 in sacks. Castleman and Britz are roadblocks, Heeney and Dawson are tackle machines and my entire secondary has All-Big 12 potential. We don’t talk. We just dominate.”
Following up on NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking from current Big 12 players to fill out three 22-man lineups.

Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.

As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 16

  • Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
  • Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayGetting potential Big 12 rushing leader Johnathan Gray in the 17th round could be a big steal for Max Olson.
Round 17

  • Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
  • Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
  • Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
Round 18

  • Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
  • Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
Round 19

  • Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
  • Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
  • Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
  • Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
Round 20

  • Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
  • Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
  • Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
Round 21

  • Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
  • Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
  • Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
Round 22

  • Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
  • Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
  • Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon
Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. Thursday, we continue with the Iowa State Cyclones, who released an official two-deep after finishing up spring ball last month:

QB: Grant Rohach (So.) OR Sam B. Richardson (Jr.) OR Joel Lanning (RFr.)

[+] EnlargeGrant Rohach
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesGrant Rohach has the edge in Iowa State's quarterback derby right now, but the competition is far from over.
Building off his strong close to the 2013 season, Rohach had the strongest spring of the three quarterbacks to take an edge in the competition into the summer. The Cyclones, however, are holding off on naming a starter until at least mid-August. That could give Lanning, who has impressed the new offensive regime with his arm strength and his toughness, time to narrow the gap with Rohach before the start of the season.

RB: Aaron Wimberly (Sr.), DeVondrick Nealy (Jr.)

The name of the game here is health. When healthy, Wimberly is one of the best running backs in the league. He was finally healthy again this spring and resembled the running back who rushed for more than 100 yards on Texas. Nealy's emergence gives the Cyclones the luxury of using more discretion when it comes to how many touches to give to Wimberly.

WR (X): Quenton Bundrage (Jr.), D'Vario Montgomery (So.)

WR (Z): P.J. Harris (So.), Tad Ecby (Jr.)

Slot (F): Jarvis West (Sr.), Damien Lawry (So.)

TE: E.J. Bibbs (Sr.), Ben Boesen (Jr.)

For the Cyclones to get to a bowl game and beyond, they really need Bundrage to be a gamebreaker week-to-week instead of every other game. Too many times Bundrage disappeared last season, and he did it again in the spring game, finishing the scrimmage without a catch. The QBs have played a part in Bundrage's inconsistency, but so has Bundrage. Elsewhere, the Cyclones had several receivers step up this spring, notably Harris, Brett Medders and Montgomery. More help is on the way in blue-chip freshman Allen Lazard. If Bundrage plays up to his potential game to game, this could be a very dangerous collection of pass-catchers, which includes Bibbs of course.

LT: Brock Dagel (Jr.), Jake Campos (RFr.)

LG: Oni Omoile (Jr.), Jamison Lalk (Jr.)

C: Tom Farniok (Sr.), Ben Loth (Sr.)

RG: Daniel Burton (So.), Ryan Glenn (Fr.)

RT: Jacob Gannon (Sr.), Jacob Dunning (So.)

The Cyclones actually have the second-most returning starters in the Big 12 up front, trailing only Oklahoma. That isn't just quantity, either. Farniok is a four-year starter who is finally healthy again after an injury-plagued junior season. Dagel suffered an infection after a cut during the spring, but he has the look of a cornerstone left tackle. The new offensive staff also was pleased with the intangibles Burton brought to the line, including toughness and a high football IQ. If the Cyclones can stay healthy up front, and Dagel continues to progress, this could be a top-half-of-the-league offensive line.

DEFENSE

DE: Mitchell Meyers (So.), Darius White (So.)

DT: Robby Garcia (RFr.), Pierre Aka (So.)

DT: Devlyn Cousin (So.), Vernell Trent (RFr.)

DE: Cory Morrissey (Sr.), Gabe Luna (Jr.)

Morrissey and Meyers dominated off the edge in the spring game, but the spring was not a positive for the rest of the D-line. The Cyclones booted tackles Rodney Coe and David Irving, leaving the inside thin and inexperienced. Iowa State did get 2013 starting nose guard Brandon Jensen back following spring ball after he originally quit the team in December. That will help.

[+] EnlargeNigel Tribune
David Purdy/Getty ImagesNigel Tribune is solid at cornerback, but the rest of the Cyclones' secondary is in flux.
SLB: Drake Ferch (Sr.), Jared Brackens (Sr.)

MLB: Alton Meeks (RFr.), Kane Seeley (So.)

WLB: Jevohn Miller (Sr.), Levi Peters (So.)

Transfer Jordan Harris led the juco ranks in tackles last year, but Meeks, a former QB, won the starting job out of spring in the middle. Brackens and nickelback Ferch, a walk-on who also surprised this spring, will rotate on the strong side according to down and distance. When Luke Knott returns from a hip injury, he will likely take over as the starter on the weak side after winning the job last year as a freshman.

CB: Nigel Tribune (So.), Matthew Thomas (Sr.)

CB: Sam E. Richardson (Jr.), Kenneth Lynn (Jr.)

SS: T.J. Mutcherson (So.), Darian Cotton (Jr.)

FS: Kamari Cotton-Moya (RFr.), Kamari Syrie (RFr.)

Iowa State has a very good prospect in Tribune surrounded by a whole bunch of questions marks in its secondary. Richardson and Lynn will probably rotate on the opposite side. After losing starters Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washington, safety is a complete unknown, especially after key juco transfer Devron Moore left in the middle of spring ball after getting homesick (it’s unknown if he’ll return). Instead, Iowa State will be relying on one young safety coming back from a torn Achilles (Cotton-Moya), and another who sprained his MCL in the spring game (Mutcherson). Safety is a position the Cyclones can ill-afford any more adversity at.
With spring ball done, we’ve been re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team. Wednesday, we finish up with defensive backs. Once again, these outlooks could look different in August. But this is how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): Juco safety Kenny Iloka was one of the storylines of the spring in Fort Worth, augmenting an already loaded secondary. In TCU’s spring game, Iloka scored a touchdown off a fumble return and picked off a pass, underscoring pretty much how he performed all spring. Iloka could probably start for the majority of teams in the Big 12. At TCU, he’s a backup. Coach Gary Patterson seemingly praised Ranthony Texada more than anyone else on his roster this spring, and the redshirt freshman cornerback looks poised to step into the starting role vacated by All-American Jason Verrett. At 5-foot-9, Texada isn’t big. Then again, neither was Verrett. Safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett and cornerback Kevin White could play for anyone in the conference. In other words, this TCU secondary is stacked.

2. Texas (2): Texas is one of the few teams in the Big 12 without really any position battle in its secondary coming out of the spring. Senior safeties Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner have been up and down throughout their careers, but they really buttoned up their play in the spring. Thompson delivered a pick-six in the Orange-White game. Turner had the hit of the day and intercepted a pass. At cornerback, Quandre Diggs isn’t an All-American, but he’s developed into a solid veteran leader. Duke Thomas can really run at the other cornerback spot. This is a sound group.

3. Oklahoma (3): The Sooners return two proven players in cornerback Zack Sanchez and nickel back Julian Wilson. Sanchez was erratic at times last season, but he displayed mental toughness and usually came back with big plays of his own after getting burned. Wilson will be a three-year starter. Safety Quentin Hayes had a decent junior season, too. After that, things get murky, and that’s not necessarily a negative. Dakota Austin, who was an unheralded two-star signee last year, is probably the favorite coming out of the spring to start at cornerback opposite Sanchez and over more heralded classmate Stanvon Taylor. Sophomores Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd are both talented young safeties, but they have yet to prove they’re every-down players. Steven Parker II will be the player to watch here. Insiders in Norman believe the incoming true freshman has the talent and the temperament to win a starting job by the opener the way Tony Jefferson did in 2010. If he does, that will allow coordinator Mike Stoops to utilize Byrd and Thomas in certain sub-packages where the scheme will be more simplified.

4. Kansas State (4): K-State already boasts one of the best nickel backs in the league in Randall Evans and an up-and-coming safety in Dante Barnett. The Wildcats had a productive spring elsewhere in their secondary, as Morgan Burns stepped up to essentially nail down a starting job at corner. Coveted juco transfer Danzel McDaniel progressed after arriving on campus and exited spring ball on the cusp of earning the other starting cornerback gig. Dylan Schellenberg, who started the two games Ty Zimmerman missed last season, will go into the fall as the favorite to start at safety alongside Barnett.

5. West Virginia (5): The Mountaineers might have the best underclassman cornerback in the league in sophomore Daryl Worley, who locked up Mario Alford in West Virginia’s spring game. Worley was fabulous all spring, and he brings a maturity and attitude that defies his age. Like Worley, Karl Joseph started as a true freshman, and he could be on the verge of turning into one of the best safeties in the Big 12 as a junior. It will be interesting to see if incoming blue-chip freshman Dravon Henry can break into the rotation at cornerback, which would only make this secondary better.

6. Kansas (6): Senior cornerback Dexter McDonald put in the work during the offseason, and it showed in Kansas’ spring game. He's become a technically-sound player. Fellow cornerback Kevin Short, a juco transfer forced by the NCAA to sit out last season, can fly. Safety Isaiah Johnson, who became the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after picking off five passes last season, had another pick in the spring game. With four starters back from last fall, plus the addition of Short, Kansas’ secondary will be the team's strength next season.

7. Oklahoma State (7): The emergence of Ashton Lampkin was a positive development for the Cowboys. Lampkin had a pick-six in the “Orange Blitz” scrimmage, and after two seasons as a key backup, looks ready to take over as a starting cornerback opposite All-Big 12 hopeful Kevin Peterson. The Cowboys are completely inexperienced at safety, with second-year players Jordan Sterns, Deric Robertson, Jerel Morrow and Tre Flowers basically comprising the position. Only time will determine how effective the Cowboys can be at the back end.

8. Texas Tech (8): The Red Raiders have to feel good about their safeties coming out of the spring. Keenon Ward was the defensive MVP and brought the hammer all spring. J.J. Gaines will soon be completely back from a season-ending shoulder injury. He played extremely well through five games last season. Justis Nelson is oozing confidence after earning a starting job as a true freshman last fall. The biggest question is at the other cornerback spot. Sophomore La’Darius Newbold is currently the starter, but speedy true freshman Nigel Bethel II could make noise once he arrives this summer.

9. Baylor (9): The rebuild of a secondary that graduated four starters remains a work in progress. Sophomore Orion Stewart had the best spring of the young players and looks primed to take over the deep safety role held by All-American Ahmad Dixon. Sophomore cornerbacks Terrence Singleton and Xavien Howard also won starting jobs, but they’ll have to fend off juco transfer Chris Sanders in the preseason. Walk-on senior Collin Brence was the surprise of the spring and is listed as the starter at nickelback. This a group, though, that still has more questions to answer.

10: Iowa State (10): Nigel Tribune, who was the only true freshman to play at Iowa State in the past two seasons, is one of the best young cornerbacks in the league and a cornerstone defender for the Cyclones. The rest of the secondary is a big fat unknown. Juco transfer Devron Moore, whom Iowa State beat TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia for, left school in the middle of spring ball with homesickness. He is dubious to return. That leaves juco transfer Qujuan Floyd, redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya and T.J. Mutcherson, who suffered an MCL injury in the spring game (he should be back in June), as Iowa State’s only remaining options at safety.

Iowa State spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
May 1
10:30
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the Iowa State Cyclones:

1. The offense has pass-catchers: On top of returning tight end E.J. Bibbs, slot receiver Jarvis West and wideout Quenton Bundrage, receivers P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and South Florida transfer D'Vario Montgomery emerged this spring. Blue chip freshman Allen Lazard will also be joining the receiving corps this summer, potentially giving Iowa State its best collection of pass-catchers in years.

2. QB Grant Rohach is the favorite to start: Coach Paul Rhoads said the Cyclones will wait until mid-August before naming a starting QB. But after leading Iowa State to a pair of wins at the end of last season, then outplaying Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning in the spring game, Rohach will go into the summer as the odds-on favorite to be the starter when the Cyclones are finally ready to name one.

3. The OL should be way better: Injuries forced Iowa State to use nine different starting combinations along the offensive line last year. The silver lining? The Cyclones brought back a wealth of starting experience up front, headlined by four-year starter Tom Farniok at center, who was healthy again in the spring. This line should give new coordinator Mark Mangino a strong foundation to build around.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Can the interior of the D-line hold up? The Cyclones suffered major attrition along the defensive line this spring, as projected starters Rodney Coe and David Irving were booted off the team. The Cyclones did get some good news last week as Brandon Jensen, a starting nose guard last year, decided to rejoin the squad after initially quitting. But interior D-line play is still a major question.

2. How will Mangino impact the offense? Rhoads tabbed Mangino to turn around an Iowa State offense that finished 90th nationally in scoring last season. Rhoads was drawn to Mangino’s track record, which included taking Kansas to the Orange Bowl and coordinating a national championship attack at Oklahoma. Mangino brought energy and intensity this spring, but whether that will translate into more points will play out in the fall.

3. Who will be the defensive anchors? Under Rhoads, the Cyclones have seemingly always featured a defensive lynchpin. Last year it was All-Big 12 linebacker Jeremiah George. But with George graduated and several key players off last year’s defense gone, it’s unclear who that foundational defender will be. One possibility is cornerback Nigel Tribune, who started as a true freshman last year.

One way-too-early prediction:

Iowa State has ranked at least second-to-last in scoring offense in every year since 2005. But under Mangino and a host of budding playmakers, the Cyclones will feature their highest scoring attack since that ’05 season, and finish well above the bottom two in the league in scoring.
We’re almost done breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

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

Next up, the Iowa State Cyclones:

1. WR Quenton Bundrage: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads believes Bundrage can be an all-league wide receiver, something Iowa State hasn’t had since Todd Blythe in 2005. Bundrage, who finished third in the Big 12 last season with nine touchdown catches, has the talent. He just needs a little more game-to-game consistency.

2. TE E.J. Bibbs: With Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs is the best returning pass-catching tight end in the league. Despite the lack of stability at quarterback, Bibbs still finished 15th nationally among tight ends in receiving and second in the Big 12, behind only Amaro.

3. C Tom Farniok: With 35 career starts, Farniok is one of the most seasoned offensive linemen in the league. He struggled at times through injury last season, but is the undeniable leader of the offensive line and one of the better centers in the country when healthy.

4. RB Aaron Wimberly: As Texas found out firsthand, Wimberly can be electric when 100 percent. Unfortunately for the Cyclones he wasn’t at that level for a very long span, as an assortment of injuries slowed Wimberly for most of the season. If the speedy, though slight, Wimberly can stay healthy, he has the ability to be one of the five best running backs in the league.

[+] EnlargeEJ Bibbs
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesE.J. Bibbs is the Big 12's top returning tight end and could be primed for a big season.
5. DE Cory Morrissey: With Jeremiah George and Jacques Washington gone, Morrissey has taken on more of a leadership role defensively this spring. Morrissey was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection last season, and a very solid defender off the edge.

6. CB Nigel Tribune: Tribune is the only Cyclone to play as a true freshman in either of the last two seasons. He got off to a rough start, but settled in the last half of the season. Tribune should give Iowa State a reliable primary cover corner for the next three seasons.

7. OT Jacob Gannon: This rising senior has been a key piece of the Iowa State offensive line since his redshirt freshman year, with 12 career starts scattered over three seasons.

8. OT Brock Dagel: Dagel's return is another big reason why the Cyclones are pumped about the potential of their offensive line. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound tackle won a starting job on the strong side as a sophomore and has a lot of potential. Teamed with Gannon, the Cyclones could wind up featuring one of the better bookend combos in the Big 12.

9. WR Jarvis West: West has 71 career catches out of the slot and could see his role expand in new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino’s no-huddle system. West also can be an dynamic return man. He produced Iowa State’s first non-onside kickoff return touchdown in 19 years last season against Texas Tech.

10. RB DeVondrick Nealy: Wimberly will be the featured running back but will have a competent wingman in Nealy, who rushed for 53 yards against Kansas State and 48 yards against Oklahoma late last season. Like West, Nealy is also dangerous on special teams. He was sixth in the Big 12 last year in kickoff returns, returning one for a touchdown in a narrow loss to TCU.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD