Big 12: Toben Opurum

Opening camp: Kansas

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
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Kansas begins its season a week later than the rest of the Big 12, which means a late start for preseason camp, too. Let's have a closer look.

Schedule: Players reported on Wednesday and the first practice is scheduled for today. The Jayhawks open their season at home against South Dakota on Sept. 7.

Setting the scene: It's all about improvement for Kansas, and there's only one way to go when you're coming off a 1-11 season with the lone win coming against an FCS team. KU's efforts to bring in almost 20 junior college transfers in the offseason has been well documented by now, and ultimately, the outcome of that rebooting strategy will shape Weis' tenure in Lawrence. Weis is hopeful that BYU tranfer Jake Heaps will have a different season than Dayne Crist, who never showed the ability to be the player KU hoped he would be. The defense was better in 2012 and should improve with more speed and experience this year. On the other side of the ball, though, the lack of a serviceable passing game will make it a long season in Lawrence.

All eyes on: The new guys. Kansas simply hasn't had the necessary talent to compete in the Big 12 in the past three years, but a few FBS transfers and the previously mentioned juco transfers have given them a talent boost. The question is, can those guys be who KU needs them to be and can Weis pull this team together and make it work? There are high hopes for guys like OU transfer receiver Justin McCay and jucos Cassius Sendish and Marquel Combs, as well as a pair of talents who returned to Kansas -- DB Dexter McDonald and RB Darrian Miller--after being kicked off the team before the 2012 season. Ultimately, they hold the key to KU's season.

Breaking out: DL Jordan Tavai. The juco transfer didn't get to join the Jayhawks until fall camp was already underway last season, but didn't take long to win a starting spot and held it down for all 12 games last season. The transition obviously wasn't easy, though he finished the year with 19 tackles. After a spring of practice and offseason in the strength program, he could be due for a much better second year in Lawrence as a senior this fall, especially considering the amount of upgrades along the defensive line this year.

Key battle: Buck. Toben Opurum held down the hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot well last season, and KU thought it had an impact player in juco transfer Chris Martin. He was dismissed after an offseason arrest and the guy who might have been KU's best overall defender was gone before his career at KU really started. Now, sophomores Michael Reynolds and Ben Goodman are battling to fill the void this month.

Instant upgrade: Trevor Pardula. Weis was appalled at his special teams last season, especially the kicking game. Now, he hopes Pardula is the answer. He's likely to handle both placekicking and punting duties. The former soccer player comes to KU from, yes, junior college.

On the move: Tony Pierson. KU's got to figure out exactly how and how much it wants to use him. There's so much depth at running back, and Pierson is the team's best threat for the big play. He's a running back at heart, but he could do a lot of damage in the slot. He proved his ability to catch the ball last season, hauling in 21 balls for 291 yards, mostly out of the backfield. Weis said this spring he saw some Tavon Austin in Pierson, and wanted him to earn some time lining up as a receiver. I'm betting this is one experiment that goes very, very well. The more touches for Pierson, the better.

Outlook: Kansas has its 21-game losing streak in Big 12 play hanging over its head, as well as a road losing streak that goes all the way back to early 2009 when it beat UTEP. The Jayhawks are also stuck on a 21-game losing streak to FBS teams. Weis obviously doesn't have a problem with folks voting the Jayhawks last in the Big 12, but KU's looking to turn close calls like it had last season against Texas and Texas Tech into wins to get off those streaks. It also has a good chance to end the road streak in a game against Rice on Sept. 14.

Quotable: Weis, on his recruiting philosophy. "I needed guys that could play now because, if not, I'm going to be ranked tenth in the league every year. So I needed to go with that high volume. I think that in the long-range plan and the plan that we've laid out as a coaching staff, that sliding scale should start working in the other direction where the majority of the players you bring in are high school players and then you fill the desired holes or gaps you need with those junior college players."

Kansas Jayhawks spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
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2012 record: 1-11
2012 Big 12 record: 0-9
Returning starters: Offense: 5; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners: RB James Sims, RB Tony Pierson, LB Ben Heeney, LB Jake Love

Key losses: OL Tanner Hawkinson, DL Toben Opurum, DB Bradley McDougald, WR Kale Pick, QB Dayne Crist, DB Lubbock Smith

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Dayne Crist (1,313 yards)
Rushing: James Sims* (1,013 yards)
Receiving: Kale Pick (390 yards)
Tackles: Ben Heeney (112)
Sacks: Kevin Young* (2)
Interceptions: Bradley McDougald, Tyler Patmon (3)

Spring answers

1. No questions at quarterback. As expected, there's not much of a quarterback competition this spring. Michael Cummings stepped in last season and earned a few starts after Dayne Crist struggled, throwing nine interceptions to just four touchdowns, but BYU transfer Jake Heaps has claimed the job this spring. He had to redshirt last season after transferring, but dominated on the scout team. The former blue-chip recruit started two seasons at BYU before transferring.

2. Big growth at linebacker. Kansas needs improvement everywhere, so anywhere it happens is a welcome development. Defensively, linebacker should be a clear strength for a KU defense that improved last year but still struggled. Linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love had strong springs and looked much improved. Heeney already played well last season, but he may be a serious All-Big 12 first-team talent next season considering the amount of talent at the position that's left the league since 2012.

3. Defensive playmakers emerging. Kansas brought in tons of junior college talent this offseason, but a few have already stood out in the spring. Defensive back Dexter McDonald left the team and went to junior college last season, but he's back and making an impact, and defensive lineman Ty McKinney stood out during the spring, along with defensive back Cassius Sendish, one of the nation's best juco players at Arizona Western a year ago.

Fall questions

1. Will the streak end? This is by far the most important question of Kansas' 2013 season. The current Big 12 losing streak stands at 21 games, and odds favor it ending before too long. If we're still talking about a 30-game losing streak in Big 12 play this time next year, coach Charlie Weis will be on very, very thin ice. KU came close in losses to Texas Tech and Texas last season, but a win is a win. The Jayhawks haven't experienced that in Big 12 play since a 2010 win against Colorado, and haven't beaten a current Big 12 team since beating Iowa State in the 2009 conference opener.

2. Is Jake Heaps really any different from Dayne Crist? Optimism is high around Heaps after KU's other transfer quarterback, Crist, flamed out last season and lost his starting job to a freshman. Heaps has better weapons than Crist, highlighted by Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, but KU's offense is short on depth at the offensive skill positons, and the offensive line has to prove it can block for him and create holes for the running game to soften up defenses. We'll see how well Heaps ultimately does.

3. Can Kansas find offensive weapons? McCay is a big upgrade, but you can't hide from the fact this team went 12 games last season without a touchdown catch from a receiver. That's simply not good enough in the Big 12 and not a problem one receiver can solve. Tony Pierson and James Sims offer a great 1-2 punch in the running game, but will other receivers like Tre Parmalee or Andrew Turzilli step up?
We'll take a look at some of the Big 12's breakout stars this spring, but we'll move forward with a series today looking at guys who will be stepping into bigger roles this season and what they have to provide for their new teams. Some are emerging from role players into starters. Some are going from starter to star. Some from stars to bona fide superstars.

Let's move on with Kansas.

Kansas' spring step forward: LB Ben Heeney

Heeney came out of nowhere to have a huge 2012 season after playing sparingly as a true freshman in 2011. He earned a starting spot and held down the middle linebacker spot for the Jayhawks all season, making 112 stops, third most in the Big 12 and earning second-team all-conference honors despite the defense's struggles.

This year, Kansas needs even more from him. He's got to continue to progress as a player, but KU needs leadership from him, too. Senior linebacker Huldon Tharp left the team because of injury issues, and Toben Opurum and Bradley McDougald are gone, leaving the defense in need of leaders. That's where Heeney steps in. The 6-foot, 225-pounder has good speed, but with an influx of new junior college and high school talent that will be on the field right away, Heeney has to help set the expectations for what the new coaching staff wants on a day-to-day basis and he's got to know defensive coordinator Dave Campo's system as well as anyone, if not better. Leadership is more than just leading by example. There's going to be a lot more faces and a lot of those faces will encounter times of confusion early this spring and into the season. Campo having a second coach in the locker room and on the field is going to help the entire unit mesh this season and start the path back to being a real threat in the conference.

Heeney can be a big part of making that happen.

See more Big 12 spring steps forward.

The Big 12's 2012 All-Interview Team

January, 25, 2013
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Excluding the shy guys, most players love interviews at first. After time, though, it does get old. Still, these are the players who made stories like mine and others great throughout the season. Players can land here for a variety of reason, but here are the guys who made the 2012 season the most interesting for folks like me, and by default, readers like you.

Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor: Seastrunk's star rose quickly, but he emerged as an entertaining personality even more quickly. He was pretty honest about his struggles at Oregon after blowing up against K-State, and applied an intriguing storyline to the 2013 season when he announced his plans to win the Heisman Trophy. He's perhaps too honest at times, but you can't fault a kid for being confident in himself.

Toben Opurum, DE, Kansas: It was a long season in Lawrence, but getting to talk to Opurum was always good. He was honest about the circumstances the Jayhawks found themselves in--there's no sugarcoating 1-11--but he was also always interesting when he talked about trying to build from that and what it was like to endure loss after loss and keep competing.

Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia: Smith wasn't a very big reason for West Virginia's struggles, but he was always insightful and I've never talked to a player who refused to settle like Smith did. Even when it was going well for WVU early this season, Smith focused on what he could still be doing better and deflected any praise to his teammates.

Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma: Ikard is one of the most humorous guys on the list, but like everyone, he offered some good insight into the game. He did so from an offensive lineman's perspective, which always makes stories better. They're usually some of the easiest-going guys on the team.

Adam Davis, DE, Kansas State: Davis lands on this list for a really eye-opening interview after K-State's win at Oklahoma. Criticism is fair if it's based in fact and comes from a place of education. Davis confirmed what a lot of people thought about Landry Jones heading into the year. Get in his face, and you force him to make mistakes often. He was honest about how much K-State knew that and tailored its defensive gameplan around that. Really interesting.

Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Randle might be the funniest guy on this list, and was always a great source for insight into the game and a quick one-liner.

Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Every year, a few players across the Big 12 have to do a mountain of interviews. The guys who keep doing them and keep providing good answers often go underappreciated. Klein made the All-Interview team last year for rattling off Bill Snyder's 16 Goals for Success in seconds. This year, he grabs the RG III and Brandon Weeden crown for doing more interviews than anybody else in the league.

 

 

All-Big 12 Underrated Team: Defense

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
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Every year, we crown an All-Big 12 team here at ESPN.com, but we also like to give some recognization to guys who don't get enough credit for just how good they really are. These are their stories.

Here's our All-Underrated Offense from Wednesday.

DL: Jake McDonough, Iowa State

McDonough quietly put together a season that was definitely an All-Big 12 first-team type of year. His numbers aren't eye-popping (31 tackles, 5.5 TFL, two sacks), but you can't often grade nose guards on their statistics. The 280-pounder was a force in the middle of the line for the Cyclones.

DL: Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech

Hyder was a big piece of Texas Tech's defensive resurgence under Art Kaufman this year. The defensive tackle bulled his way to 13.5 tackles for loss, the same number as Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Meshak Williams. Tech needed help rushing the passer and slowing the run. Hyder did both.

DL: Adam Davis, Kansas State

Meshak Williams and Arthur Brown get all the press on K-State's defense, but Davis was a huge force, too. He had two sacks in the win over Miami, 1.5 sacks in the win over West Virginia and finished sixth in the league with 11.5 tackles for loss. He was fourth in the league with six sacks.

DL: Toben Opurum, Kansas

Opurum's got a well-chronicled road to his current spot on the D-line, leading KU in rushing in 2009 before switching postitions under Turner Gill. KU's defense was better this year, and so was Opurum. It's tough to put up big numbers when KU was getting beaten, but he made six tackles for loss and forced two fumbles.

LB: Bryce Hager, Baylor

Yes, when your offense is on the field, you get more opportunities to make tackles, but ask K-State what it thinks of Hager. He was a cruise missile against the Cats and seemed to be in Collin Klein's face all night. He led the league with 115 tackles and added eight tackles for loss and three sacks. He also forced two fumbles and had six games with double-digit tackles.

LB: Ben Heeney, Kansas

Heeney's another playmaker all over the field for a defense that struggled at times. He's a speedy, versatile playmaker for the Jayhawks, who made 112 tackles and 12 tackles for loss.

LB: Jarell Childs, Kansas State

Childs' biggest play of the season was the scoop and score against Oklahoma, but he was solid for the Wildcats all year, and filled in admirably after Tre Walker's knee injury forced him into more playing time. He recovered two fumbles and finished with 64 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

DB: Karl Joseph, West Virginia

Joseph broke out as a true freshman and was basically the lone bright spot on a deservedly maligned West Virginia defense this season. He forced three fumbles, intercepted two passes, made seven tackles for loss and racked up 95 tackles. There's a big career ahead of him.

DB: Bradley McDougald, Kansas

McDougald was the Jayhawks' best defender this season and one of the big reasons for KU's big improvement on that side of the ball. He picked off three passes, forced two fumbles, had four tackles for loss and made 92 stops at safety.

DB: Durrell Givens, Iowa State

Givens was a turnover machine this season. He forced four fumbles, picked off three passes and made 77 tackles. His money stat, though? He recovered a nation-high six fumbles for the Cyclones. That's just ridiculous and is good enough on its own to land him on this list.

DB: Cody Davis, Texas Tech

The Red Raiders' leader doesn't get the press of the league's elite safeties like Kenny Vaccaro, Tony Jefferson or even Ty Zimmerman, but he's solid, even if he doesn't have the physical skills of Vaccaro or Jefferson. He's still one of the league's brightest players. That shows up in his decision making and on-field discipline that kept Tech from giving up the bushels of big plays it did a year ago.

Friday Q&A: Kansas DE/LB Toben Opurum

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
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Toben Opurum is one of the bright spots for a Kansas team that's struggled to a 1-5 start under new head coach Charlie Weis this season. The former running back led the Jayhawks in rushing in 2009 before becoming a force at the line of scrimmage for KU under Turner Gill and again this season.

He's got four tackles for loss this season and 29 total tackles. He's also forced two fumbles, broken up three passes and has a sack.

This week, he took some time out to talk to ESPN.com.

How would you describe your play so far this season?

Toben Opurum: I feel like I've improved drastically from last year. I'd like to continue to improve and make a couple more plays on the quarterback, but I think I've been distruptive a lot in the run game and passing game in different ways without the sack number being up there.

What are you most proud of from this season?

TO: I think from me and the defense overall, we've done a really good job of tightening up as teams get closer to our end zone and kind of protecting our home as we call it, and not letting people get in. That's one thing we've improved on. For myself, I think I've done a much better job just understanding the whole defense that we're running and understanding my role, from bouncing around multiple positions to kind of finally understanding what's expected.

This season obviously hasn't started like you guys had hoped, but how would you describe the attitude of this team right now?

[+] EnlargeToben Opurum
AP Photo/ David DurochikToben Opurum said he's finally getting comfortable on defense after starting his Kansas career at running back.
TO: You would think that with our record we'd be down in the tank and dreading coming to practice, but guys are still coming in every day and enjoying practice and just doing everything we can to make sure we can turn this program around. Obviously, we're not in the position we want to be in right now, but I've got to play for these last couple games and also for the players who are coming after me.

You talked a little bit about it earlier, but where do you think this defense has improved the most from last year?

TO: I would definitely say in the red zone again. I feel like we've done a good job of tightening up there. Teams have been able to move the ball a little better than we'd want them to between the 20-yard lines, but as soon as they get in there, the whole mentality changes and guys step up to the challenge of keeping people out of the end zone.

What's the biggest difference between the staff that was coaching you last year versus the staff you've got this year?

TO: There's multiple differences. I really feel like the biggest change is the players more so than the coaches, though. Obviously, they've got coach Weis and coach (defensive coordinator Dave) Campo, who have got a lot of history in the NFL and coaching in the NFL and in college, so they bring a lot of experience and a big variety in their playbooks and they're able to adapt to multiple things, and that's not something we've always had available to us.

So, I think they've done a good job of being able to adjust to different offenses and defenses that we see in the Big 12.

That NFL experience you mentioned, for you as players, where does it come into play the most? Where do you see it?

TO: They recognize talent when they see it. A lot of coaches get stuck on kind of putting players in based just off your reputation of what you can and can't do, and I think they did a good job of evaluating talent for themselves and putting players where they believe can have an impact and help us in the best way.

What has to happen for you guys to end this Big 12 losing streak?

TO: For us to end this streak, it's going to have to start with us winning a game that no one believes we have a chance in. We've been in position to end it multiple times, against teams like TCU and even just last week against Oklahoma State. We've had opportunities to do so, but it's just something that we're not over that hump yet because we weren't able to finish.

I feel like if we were able to capitalize and do so, people would be talking about us in a different light than they are now, but it just shows that we've got a little further to go. I don't think the gap is as big as our record would indicate.

So how close is it, and what has to happen to get this team over that hump?

TO: Hopefully, it's just a matter of days. Like I said, it's going to take us winning a game that no one believes we can win and obviously people have us losing to Oklahoma by 1,000 points, so this will be a good opportunity for us to get over that hump and it's going to take everything in our power to do so.

What has coach Weis done to change the attitude of this team and the mindset going into the season?

TO: Well, you know he doesn't have a magic wand. He's still searching for the right way to change the attitude of every player. It's worked on a majority, but it takes everybody and you've got to have everyone with a winning attitude and guys trying to learn how to win, and not waiting for bad things to happen because that's what they're used to. You've got to get past it and be ready to step up and make the plays, rather than the guys sitting back and waiting for somebody else to do it.

Lunch links: Big 12-SEC games?

August, 31, 2012
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When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I read that one on a can of lemonade. I like to think it applies to life.
Big 12 defensive linemen, we need to have a talk. This isn't getting it done. This position may be the weakest of any in the league. The top five is solid, though there's a little bit of a dropoff after the top three. Beyond the top five, though? A whole lot of question marks, and not a lot of truly impressive talents.

I had some trouble even finding 10 guys who deserved spots on this list. This could be a banner year for quarterbacks. The only thing shallower than the defensive ends in the league this year is the defensive tackles. Sheesh. Unless we see some stars emerge from nowhere this year, this position's going to look a little raw all season long.

More position rankings:

Anyway, here goes.

One final note: No freshmen or newcomers allowed. Sorry, Brandon Moore.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Jody Gomez/US PresswireJackson Jeffcoat is not only the top defensive end in the conference, but is one of the best in the nation.
1. Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas: Jeffcoat is a freak and leads this list as the most talented linemen in the league. He's not as experienced as his teammate who also made this list, but the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder could play his way into the top 10 of next year's NFL Draft.

2. Alex Okafor, DE, Texas: Okafor may be a first-rounder, too. He's moved around along the line during his career, but he's found a home at end. He won the league's preseason Defensive Player of the Year honors after making six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season.

3. Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU: Maponga was extremely productive last season, and we'll see how he does against bigger and better offensive lines in the Big 12. He had nine sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss, and forced five fumbles. He's the most talented player on TCU's defense.

4. Meshak Williams, DE, Kansas State: I'm a bigger proponent of Williams than most, but he's yet another fantastic juco find from Bill Snyder. Last year, he made 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks to tie for sixth in the Big 12 and earn second-team All-Big 12 honors.

5. Toben Opurum, DE/LB, Kansas: Opurum's unbelievable story is about to start its final chapter in 2012. He's played under three different coaches and transitioned from KU's leading rusher in 2009 to one of the league's best along the defensive line in 2012. Nobody else on this list has done anything like that, and he'll be a captain in Year 1 under Charlie Weis.

6. Nigel Nicholas, DT/DE, Oklahoma State: Nicholas sounds like he's moving to defensive end this season, but he's played both throughout his career. The 6-foot-3, 269-pounder is needed at end for the Cowboys, and made 10 tackles for loss last season and two sacks.

7. R.J. Washington, DE, Oklahoma: Washington's got the pedigree and the physical skills, but it's time to see the production after a disappointing 2011 season. He broke up five passes and had five sacks last season, but made just 16 tackles as a member of the DE rotation behind stars Ronnell Lewis and Frank Alexander.

8. Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas: Dorsey has plenty of experience and is pushing 300 pounds in the middle of Texas' line. Jeffcoat and Okafor will attract plenty of double teams, but Dorsey's got the talent to be a wrecking ball in the middle. He had seven tackles for loss and a sack last year.

9. Jamarkus McFarland, DT, Oklahoma: McFarland's been a part-time starter the past two seasons, and could finally break through with a big year as a senior. The 6-foot-3, 288-pounder made 3.5 tackles for loss and had 20 tackles last season.

10. Jake McDonough, DT, Iowa State: McDonough holds down the nose tackle spot for Iowa State, and made 34 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss last season. The 280-pounder needs a big year to help out his talented set of linebackers.
It's time to officially unveil the Big 12's All-Name Team for 2012.

Any player on a current roster, regardless of role on the team, is eligible. The only requirement: Your name must be awesome.

These are, quite simply, the best names of players in the Big 12. Some are catchy. Some are fun to say. Some are just the best. I love all of these.

Here goes:

Coach: Major Applewhite, OC, Texas

OFFENSE

QB: Daxx Garman, Oklahoma State
RB: Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
RB: Brandon Bourbon, Kansas
FB: Glenn Gronkowski, Kansas State
WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
WR: Lynx Hawthorne, Baylor
WR: Kolby Listenbee, TCU
TE: Kurt Hammerschmidt, Iowa State
OL: Dylan Admire, Kansas
OL: Will Ash, Kansas State
OL: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
OL: Blaize Foltz, TCU
OL: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DL: Keba Agostinho, Kansas
DL: Beau Blackshear, Baylor
DL: Noble Nwachukwu, West Virginia
DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU
LB/DE: Toben Opurum, Kansas
LB: Curtis Smelley, West Virginia
LB: Shaq Petteway, West Virginia
DB: Yves Batoba, Oklahoma State
DB: Terrance Bullitt, Texas Tech
DB: Happiness Osunde, Texas Tech
DB: Kip Daily, Kansas State

SPECIALISTS

K: Bobby Stonebraker, Oklahoma State
P: Ryan Erxleben, Texas Tech

Who's your MVP? Anybody get snubbed?
Not everybody gets their just deserts in college football, but it's time to do my part to change that. Sometimes, it's the team they play for. Sometimes, it's an underappreciated position. Other times, it's a combination of several things. Either way, here are the Big 12's most underrated players heading into 2012.

Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese is undersized at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, sure. Who cares? He's productive, and should only be more so without Kendall Wright in Waco this season. Reese will likely be the second option behind Terrance Williams, but the speedster at inside receiver managed to rack up 877 receiving yards, eighth-most in school history, as the third option for RG3 last season.

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireKeep an eye out for Sooners fullback Trey Millard this season.
Toben Opurum, DE/LB, Kansas: Opurum used to be a running back, but he's learned his new position well, playing the "Buck" spot last year for the Jayhawks. Opurum's a high-motor type of player, and ranked 10th in the Big 12 last season with 10.5 tackles for loss and made four sacks.

Trey Millard, FB/TE, Oklahoma: Millard is a jack of all trades for the Sooners, and played three positions last year. He's invaluable for the Sooners, and may be even more so this season. Look for him to grab some touches at tailback this season, probably in short yardage situations that require a power back.

Alex Elkins, LB, Oklahoma State: Elkins was second on the team with 90 stops, including five tackles for loss. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is a solid tackler, but too often, the former walk-on who didn't play football until junior college gets written off as one of the league's top linebackers.

James White, RB, Iowa State: White looked like a non-factor last season, but after Shontrelle Johnson went down with a neck injury, White ascended to starter status. He finished with 743 yards and eight scores, including the game-winner against Iowa in triple overtime.

Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech: Doege's offense put up big numbers last year, but he didn't have much of a chance to win big last season. Doege's name never comes up among the league's best passers, but despite having no running game and tons of injuries on the offensive line, Doege topped 4,000 yards and threw for 28 touchdowns with just 10 picks. If Tech starts winning (which wasn't much of Doege's fault in 2011), his name might come up in the debate for the Big 12's best passer.

Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas: Shipley's instincts and great hands are two things you simply can't coach. Now, he'll only get better as a sophomore, and his numbers will balloon if his quarterback improves and Shipley can stay healthy. Even with the revolving door at QB last year and an injury that caused him to miss three games, he finished with 607 yards and three scores on 44 catches.

K.J. Morton, CB, Baylor: Baylor's defense caught big criticism last year, but Morton was a big bright spot late in the season. The Bears were +10 in turnover margin over the last six games, and Morton was a big reason why. All four of his interceptions came in the final three games of the regular season. Now, he's got to improve his coverage skills.

Tanner Hawkinson, OT, Kansas: Hawkinson's been a constant in a turbulent period for Kansas football, starting 36 consecutive games in Lawrence under two different coaches. Expect the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder to make it 48 starts for three coaches after this year. Hawkinson was a Freshman All-American, but Kansas' struggles have kept him from getting his proper due in the years since. That's a shame. He's a big talent with a bright future.

John Hubert, RB, Kansas State: You know about Collin Klein, but it seems like nobody's paying attention to Hubert, who just so happens to be the Big 12's No. 3 returning rusher with 970 yards on just 200 carries.

Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech: Texas Tech's 2011 season was rough, but Ward emerged as the most consistent target for a receiving corps racked by injuries. It wasn't fun last year, but now, the Red Raiders have some serious depth, and Ward gets no attention, despite catching 84 balls for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Opening camp: Kansas Jayhawks

August, 8, 2012
8/08/12
4:00
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Camp is open up in Lawrence. 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: Kansas.

Media's predicted finish: Tenth.

Biggest story line: The climb begins. Kansas has won just five games the past two seasons, and just one Big 12 game. Along the way, it endured plenty of lopsided losses that were anything but competitive. Enter Charlie Weis, whose tenure at Notre Dame started with a pair of BCS bowl berths, but plummeted to three sub-par seasons before being fired. He's back in his first head coaching job since, and the announcement turned heads and brought on plenty of criticism. Now begins Weis and Kansas' road back, both equally invested in one another. How will Year 1 look? Step one is getting back to being competitive, just five years removed from a BCS bowl win in Lawrence.

Biggest question mark: Defensive line. Kansas brought in Keon Stowers and Nebraska transfer Josh Williams to help bolster a defense that was gashed often last season. The defensive backs are somewhat underrated and the linebackers are pretty good, but none of them had a chance when the D-line was getting blown off the line on running downs and getting zero pass rush (nine sacks, seven fewer than any Big 12 team) in a pass-heavy Big 12. Hope has arrived in Lawrence. Now, it's time to make it happen.

Setting the stage: Kansas coach Charlie Weis set a strong precedent early on, announcing the removal of 10 players all the way back in January, including big-time talents like safety Keeston Terry, running back Darrian Miller and quarterback Brock Berglund. Sorting out the cause/effect is messy, but the Jayhawks saw a huge boost in GPA for the Jayhawks this spring and a clear message sent from Weis to his team: This is serious business. Take your responsibilities seriously or get out.

On the mend: WR Daymond Patterson. Patterson might be the top target in the Jayhawks' passing game, but he's back this year after sitting out with a medical redshirt because of a groin injury suffered in the season opener last year. He's back, healthy and ready for a good run at his senior season.

Who needs to step up: QB Dayne Crist. Crist's career arc has brought him to Lawrence, and last year's 12-game starter, Jordan Webb, transferred out to Colorado when Crist arrived with Weis. He's the guy now. Jake Heaps is in line for this team in 2013, but Crist has no legitimate backup with any real experience, and if he doesn't play well or gets hurt, it's going to be tough for KU to be much better than it was last year.

Breaking out: DE/LB Toben Opurum. Kansas' leading rusher in 2009, Opurum's career has been pretty crazy since, and full of position moves. Now, he's playing a hybrid linebacker/defensive end spot, and when I was filling out my ballot for All-Big 12 preseason nods, Opurum wasn't far from it. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior has emerged as one of the team's leaders, and could help lead a renaissance for the Kansas defense.

Six Big 12 DEs up for Ted Hendricks Award

July, 31, 2012
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The Ted Hendricks Award, given annually to college football's top defensive end, has released its preseason watch list, and six Big 12 defensive ends are on the list. Here they are:
Good list there. All deserving. I might add David King at Oklahoma and Will Clarke at West Virginia, but I don't think I could see either of those guys ultimately winning the whole thing.

Brian Orakpo (2008) is the last Big 12 player to win the award, but TCU's Jerry Hughes won the award as a member of the Mountain West in 2009.

No school has had multiple players win the award since its inception in 2002, but ESPN analyst David Pollack won the award twice at Georgia, back in 2003 and 2004.

More awards watch lists:

Lunch links: Is West Virginia overrated?

July, 31, 2012
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In the end, the greatest snowball isn't a snowball at all. It's fear.

Tallying up All-Big 12 squad by program

July, 23, 2012
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We offered a few thoughts on the All-Big 12 team earlier this morning, but here's how it shook out by team.

T-1. Oklahoma -- (5)

T-1. Oklahoma State -- (5)

3. Texas -- (4)

T-4. West Virginia -- (3)

T-4. Kansas State -- (3)

T-6. Baylor -- (2)

T-6. Iowa State -- (2)

T-8. TCU -- (1)

T-8. Texas Tech -- (1)

10. Kansas -- (0)

A few thoughts:
  • This should be a nice reminder that even without Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State's still going to be OK. Two of its five selections are a) the same guy, Quinn Sharp and b) in special teams, but still. Joseph Randle is the Big 12's best back to begin the season, and Brodrick Brown is a force at cornerback. Add offensive lineman Lane Taylor to the mix, and that's a solid group.
  • The Sooners proved they're the most talented team on paper, but they have to prove their worth in the season, too. Amazing they landed five players and their best player overall, QB Landry Jones, didn't make the team. That should tell you plenty about how good Oklahoma could be this season. Certainly a factor in the national title conversation.
  • Texas' streak is over! The Longhorns didn't have an offensive player on the preseason or postseason team in 2010 or 2011, after playing for the national title in 2009. That's over now. Malcolm Brown's nod made sure of that. What a crazy stretch. It'll take a lot for offensive players other than linemen to make the postseason team, at least the first team.
  • TCU might feel a little down about only getting one guy on the team, but it wasn't far off from landing a lot more. Matthew Tucker and Waymon James both have a case to be included on the team, and might be on it in the postseason. Receiver Josh Boyce has a case to go on ahead of Stills, too. I wouldn't do it, but he's not far off. Offensive lineman Blaize Foltz might have come close, too. If a second or third team had been listed, I'm betting the Frogs would have had a ton of selections.
  • Kansas still has a lot to prove, and got unsurprisingly shut out. Defensive end/linebacker Toben Opurum was probably the Jayhawk with the best case for inclusion. He probably wasn't too far off from making it on the defensive line.

Thoughts on preseason All-Big 12 team

July, 23, 2012
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The Big 12 released its preseason All-Big 12 team last week, as voted on by a panel of media. Here's the full team, if you missed it.

Preseason awards were also announced. I'll unveil my ballots a little later on, but here's a few thoughts.
    [+] EnlargeLandry Jones
    Matthew Emmons/US PresswireAfter a disappointing finish to 2011, Oklahoma QB Landry Jones won't be lacking for motivation this season.
  • Landry Jones isn't the most emotional guy, but even coming off a disappointing 2011, you have to think seeing Geno Smith's name on the first team and preseason Offensive Player of the Year gets him fired up. Smith's a playmaker who was inconsistent at times in 2011, but finished strong. Oklahoma faltered down the stretch with losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State that left a bitter taste in some mouths re: Jones. Still, this battle between the two best passers by far in the Big 12 should be fun to watch.
  • Simply put, I don't get the Alex Okafor hype. No, I didn't vote for him as Defensive Player of the Year. He's a great, productive player, but he might not even be the best defensive end on his own team. And people want to crown him as the Big 12's best defensive player? Jackson Jeffcoat has more upside, and was more productive in just about every way in 2011. Okafor's really good. Probably the second-best defensive end in the league. But the best defender overall? No way.
  • Speaking of absences, I'm not a huge fan of West Virginia's leading receiver getting left off the team in favor of Oklahoma's Kenny Stills. Stedman Bailey proved himself as a No. 1 receiver last year, even against LSU when he caught eight balls for 115 yards and a score. When Ryan Broyles went down, the production simply wasn't there for Stills. The league change is a factor, but why does Stills (61 rec., 849 yards, 8 TD) belong over Bailey (72 rec., 1,279 yards, 12 TD)? Seems to me like the league's media was a bit ignorant over just how good Bailey was last year, in favor of Stills, a talent they're more familiar with. I call shenanigans.
  • Great picks along the offensive line. All very deserving.
  • Jamarkus McFarland was a surprise on the defensive line, but I sort of understand it. The Big 12 simply asks for "defensive linemen," and some people feel like they need to include two ends and two tackles. Generally, I do, but when the depth at defensive end is so much stronger, I can't reason including a tackle, even though McFarland is one of the best. Additionally, in the Big 12, a dominant pass-rusher is far more valuable than a run stopper, and there are a few of those more deserving than McFarland, like Meshak Williams at Kansas State, his teammate R.J. Washington, or even Toben Opurum at Kansas. More than anything, McFarland's inclusion is an indictment of the lack of quality defensive tackles in the league, even though McFarland has big potential for a big 2012.
  • The Big 12 only asks for "defensive backs" but I do feel it's necessary to include two safeties and two cornerbacks. There shouldn't even be a conversation: Kenny Vaccaro and Tony Jefferson deserve the two safety spots and got them on this year's team. At corner, though? There just have to be some necessary snubs. There are no less than six guys who deserve a spot on the first team. Kansas State's Nigel Malone and Oklahoma State's Brodrick Brown got them, but I'd take Texas' Carrington Byndom over both, even though they all deserve a spot. So does Texas' Quandre Diggs, Oklahoma's Demontre Hurst and Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert.
  • What's more ridiculous? That Quinn Sharp earned both the kicker and punter spots? Or that he didn't really have much competition at either spot? I voted Sharp for both and didn't think twice about it.
  • Good picks in Tavon Austin and Tyler Lockett as the return men, but I leaned toward a certain orange-clad speedster at kicke returner, instead of Lockett. It's close, though. Lockett's deserving.

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