Big 12: Tysyn Hartman

Kansas State spring wrap

May, 9, 2012
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2011 overall record: 10-3
2011 conference record: 7-2
Returning starters: Offense 9; defense 7; P/K (2)

Top returners:
QB Collin Klein, RB John Hubert, LB Arthur Brown, CB Nigel Malone, WR Tyler Lockett, LB Tre Walker, WR Chris Harper

Key losses:
CB David Garrett, LB Emmanuel Lamur, S Tysyn Hartman, DL Ray Kibble, DE Jordan Voelker

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Collin Klein* (1,141 yards)
Passing: Collin Klein* (1,918 yards)
Receiving: Chris Harper* (547 yards)
Tackles: Arthur Brown* (101)
Sacks: Meshak Williams* (7)
Interceptions: Nigel Malone* (7)

Spring answers

1. Filling the void left behind by Garrett: David Garrett was one of the biggest playmakers for the K-State defense, but Allen Chapman seems to have locked down the assignment of replacing him in 2012. The California juco transfer broke up four passes last year and returned his only interception 60 yards for a touchdown. K-State's secondary should be solid. Kip Daily will also help out at corner.

2. Collin Klein can chuck it: You have to take into account that Klein did it against second-teamers and that the quarterbacks have put up big numbers in spring games, but his 47-of-56, 480-yard performance is encouraging. He won't do that during the fall, but it's a good sign that Klein's improvement was obvious in the one practice fans or media were allowed to see.

3. Lockett returns: Tyler Lockett was the most explosive talent on an offense mostly devoid of home run threats, but a lacerated kidney ended his 2011 season early. Lockett returned and practiced this spring, but reportedly had another minor injury before the spring game, depriving us of a chance to see him back in action. Still, it sounds like he'll be back in the fall.

Fall questions

1. Can Kansas State validate its surprising 2011? The Wildcats memorably won eight games in 2011 by a touchdown or less, ascending to a second-place finish in the Big 12 after being picked to finish eighth. Advanced college football statistics suggest K-State is due for a regression in 2012, but this is Bill Snyder we're talking about. His team will be better in 2012. Can its record improve, too? Klein must remain healthy after leading the Big 12 in carries last season.

2. Who's filling in for Tysyn Hartman? Hartman had loads of experience and was one of the most intelligent players on the team. The Wildcats don't have many question marks, but who replaces Hartman is one. They'll still have competition between Thomas Ferguson, Randall Evans and Jarard Milo this fall to win the job.

3. What will the offensive line look like? Kansas State was the Big 12's most physical team in 2011 because of their strong offensive line. K-State loses three starters, and there's no doubt that if there's one thing that derails K-State in the fall, it's the new faces on the line. B.J. Finney is a stud at center, and Nick Puetz is solid, but the other three spots on the line didn't sound like they were sewn up by the end of spring.

Lunch links: Texas Tech TV network?

April, 23, 2012
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In Ron Artest's defense, James Harden's beard told him he was really unimpressed with Artest's dunk.

Lunch links: Big 12 commish candidates

February, 1, 2012
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So many faxes. So little time. Enjoy your 15 minutes of fame, 1991.

Big 12 recruiting needs in 2012

January, 24, 2012
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Signing day is coming fast. Next Wednesday, the next round of players will sign up for their respective programs and start what could be storied careers.

Here's what each team across the Big 12 needs. You'll find Texas A&M and Mizzou on the SEC blog and West Virginia on the Big East Blog.

BAYLOR

Quarterback: This one's pretty simple. Robert Griffin III is taking his talents to the NFL early. Nick Florence is waiting to take over, and the Bears have Bryce Petty behind him, but more reinforcements at quarterback are needed. Dual-threat quarterbacks, ideally.

Defensive tackle: Baylor already was one of the nation's worst teams (102nd nationally) at stopping the run. Now it'll need to replace both its interior linemen, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson.

Offensive linemen: Baylor's offensive line, meanwhile, has been solid. It loses junior college transfer and two-year starter Robert T. Griffin, as well as All-Big 12 center Philip Blake. John Jones, a reserve guard, also has exhausted his eligibility.

IOWA STATE

Receiver: This has been a weak spot for the team for several years, and its top overall talent, Darius Reynolds, is gone. Darius Darks is, too. Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz will be the team's best weapons in 2012, but the pair of shifty slot guys will be seniors. This position needs reinforcements.

Defensive back: The DBs have been a quiet strength for ISU, especially in 2011. Cornerback Leonard Johnson and safety Ter'Ran Benton both have exhausted their eligibility, though, and defensive backs coach Bobby Elliott left for Notre Dame. You'll see plenty of new faces in the Cyclones' secondary next year.

Defensive line: Experienced starters Stephen Ruempolhamer and Jacob Lattimer are both gone, and Iowa State has struggled to stop the run consistently the past few seasons.

KANSAS

Quarterback: Kansas landed high-profile transfers Dayne Crist (Notre Dame) and Jake Heaps (BYU), but this is still a huge position of need. Last year's starter, Jordan Webb, left the team. Quinn Mecham is out of eligibility. Heaps is sitting out his NCAA-mandated year after transferring. Crist is the starter, but he badly needs a backup, especially if Brock Berglund's transfer appeal allows him to leave.

Wide receiver: Kansas lacks a big threat at this position. It needs a talent upgrade in a big way. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay is joining the team, but he's no guarantee to a) be granted immediate eligibility or b) become an impact player.

Defensive tackle: Kansas is thin here, too. Richard Johnson, Patrick Dorsey and Michael Martinovich are gone, and Kansas couldn't stop much of anything on defense. Some push up front could help make everything look better. A late addition to the 2012 class from a junior college seems like a no-brainer. The Jayhawks need physically mature players to contribute immediately.

KANSAS STATE

Offensive line: K-State's offensive line was much better in 2011 and could be again in 2012. It needs help replacing All-Big 12 lineman Clyde Aufner, though. Starter Colten Freeze is also gone.

Defensive line: Kansas State is bringing back about as many starters as anyone in the Big 12, but the biggest losses are along the defensive line. Kick-blocking specialist (five in 2011) Ralph Guidry is gone, along with tackle Ray Kibble. Juco transfer Jordan Voelker exploded onto the scene this year, but he's gone, too.

Defensive backs: Cornerback David Garrett leaves a huge hole behind. Tysyn Hartman may not be as talented as teammate Ty Zimmerman, but his experience leaves a big hole. Zimmerman will have to mentor a younger safety in the near future.

OKLAHOMA

Receiver: The Sooners are thin here in a big way. That was obvious late in the season when Ryan Broyles' storied college career ended a few weeks early with a knee injury. The team also lost Justin McCay (transfer) to Kansas. Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills are the likely top two targets, but they need help.

Tight end: This position inspired a bit of panic at the end of the season. Seniors James Hanna and Trent Ratterree are gone. Austin Haywood wasn't allowed back on the team, and two more tight ends left the team for various reasons. That left the Sooners suddenly without a scholarship player at the position returning in 2012.

Offensive line: Starting tackle Donald Stephenson must be replaced, as will guard Stephen Good, who moved in and out of the starting lineup throughout his career. The Sooners bring back a lot of talent and aren't dying for depth there, but those two will leave holes. Three more offensive line starters will be seniors in 2012.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Offensive line: The Cowboys need a whole lot of help here to fill in behind young players stepping into the starting lineup. Starters Levy Adcock, Nick Martinez and Grant Garner are gone. Backup center Casey LaBrue is gone, too. Those are two All-Big 12 linemen who leave big shoes to be filled.

Receiver: Justin Blackmon surprised no one by leaving a year early, and Josh Cooper leaves with perhaps the most underrated career of any receiver in school history. In OSU's offense, there's always room for depth here. Nine receivers had at least 19 catches in 2011. Blackmon and Cooper combined for 192, though.

Defensive ends: The pass rush was solid for Oklahoma State this year, but both starters, Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, are gone. Replacing both is a necessity.

TEXAS

Receiver: Texas lacks a true game-changer at the position, though Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis may develop into that role in 2012. Former blue-chip recruit Darius White left for Missouri, too.

Quarterback: David Ash and Case McCoy didn't show a ton of potential at quarterback this year, though Ash may grow with an offseason to prepare as starter. Garrett Gilbert got a big chunk of the work in the spring, summer 7-on-7 and fall preseason camp. Even if Ash does grow, the Longhorns need reinforcements at the position.

Linebacker: Two senior impact players are gone. Texas is left trying to replace Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, though Jordan Hicks may mature into a star in 2012.

TCU

Offensive line: TCU's offensive line is headed for some major turnover. OT Robert Deck, OG Kyle Dooley and OG Spencer Thompson are gone. Two more starters, OG Blaize Foltz and C James Fry, will be seniors in 2012.

Defensive linemen: TCU isn't losing a lot at this spot, but Ross Forrest and D.J. Yendrey will be seniors in 2012. The Horned Frogs would be well-served to prepare, and offer some depth next year.

Specialists: TCU will have to break in a pair of new starters on special teams next season. Kicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton have exhausted their eligibility.

TEXAS TECH

Receiver: The Red Raiders' offense requires a lot of depth here. Tramain Swindall is the only loss at the position, but three more (Alex Torres, Cornelius Douglas, Darrin Moore) will be seniors. Douglas moved to cornerback this year after the team was racked with injury, but we'll see whether he moves back this offseason.

Offensive line: Tech has a huge need here. Four players won't be returning in 2012. Lonnie Edwards, Mickey Okafor and center Justin Keown must be replaced.

Defensive linemen: Tech's Donald Langley and Scott Smith are both out of eligibility, and juco transfer Leon Mackey will be a senior.
Seven Big 12 players will take part in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 21 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Tysyn Hartman, S, Kansas State
  • Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DT, Baylor
  • Blake Gideon, S, Texas
  • Dominique Hamilton, DT, Missouri
  • Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas
  • Cody Johnson, FB, Texas
  • David Snow, OL, Texas

Good to hear from each of these guys, who have all been extremely productive over their careers. Traditionally, the Senior Bowl the following week is a more prestigious display, but all seven of these guys will get valuable exposure in front of NFL scouts.

We'll see who takes advantage and improves their draft stock.

You can see the full roster here.

The Big 12's Super Seniors of 2011

December, 15, 2011
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We honored the freshmen in the Big 12 earlier this week, but what about the old guys?

These guys have played at their programs for four or five years each, and earned a spot as one of the greats after providing some big-time senior leadership. Here's each Big 12 team's Super Senior of 2011.

Baylor: Kendall Wright, WR -- How many players lead a program at receiver for four consecutive years? Talk about a rarity. Wright did it emphatically this season, catching 101 passes for 1,572 yards, second-most nationally and the most in the Big 12. Wright got better every season, even in 2009 when Robert Griffin III missed the last nine games with a torn ACL. RG3 was the guy collecting the Heisman, so Wright's value sometimes got lost.

Iowa State: Kelechi Osemele, OT -- Osemele has been a mainstay on the Cyclones' offensive line, helping the program reach two bowl games in three years. He started each of those three seasons, and half of his redshirt freshman year in 2008. He'll carry on Iowa State's reputation into the NFL next year, but he's been valuable to an underrated offensive line.

Kansas: Steven Johnson, LB -- Johnson was a Pennsylvania kid who wanted a chance. Mark Mangino gave it to him, first letting him walk on and then giving him a scholarship. He's been around for two coaching changes now, but he's done after a huge year in 2011, where he led the Big 12 in tackles, with 119. It's been a dark period in Kansas' recent history, but Johnson's been the brightest spot.

Kansas State: Tysyn Hartman, S -- Hartman's a great personification of the "student-athlete," earning a finalist nod for the Campbell Trophy, which is essentially the academic Heisman. He's also been a four-year starter and helped bring about change this season under Bill Snyder, who led the Wildcats to a 10-2 record. Hartman made 62 tackles and intercepted three passes this year.

Missouri: Jacquies Smith, DE/Kenji Jackson, S -- Smith and Jackson were both major contributors for four seasons and shared captain duties for the Tigers this season. Smith's been big on the defensive line for all four seasons, and both have played through injuries. Smith dislocated an elbow this year and Jackson fought through a knee injury last year, as well as a hamstring injury in camp. Jackson made 71 tackles and picked off three passes, while Smith bullrushed his way into All-Big 12 honors with eight tackles for loss and five sacks, as well as four forced fumbles.

We'll review part two later.

Eight in Big 12 honored for academics

November, 11, 2011
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Eight Big 12 players were named to the Academic All-District VII First Team.
  • Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas
  • Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech
  • Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
  • Tysyn Hartman, S, Kansas State
  • Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma
  • Trevor Marrongelli, OL, Kansas
  • Trey Millard, FB, Oklahoma
  • Jordan Voelker, DE, Kansas State

Each of the players is eligible to become a Capital One Academic All-American. Players' on-field performance is also factored into the award.

Hartman has been named to the All-District team for a third consecutive season. Griffin has been named to the the team for the second consecutive season.

Two from Big 12 named top scholar-athletes

October, 27, 2011
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The National Football Foundation has named its 16 finalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy. Each finalist is also named a recipient of the NFF Scholar-Athlete awards.

The Campbell Trophy, also known as the Academic Heisman, was won by Texas' DE Sam Acho last year.

This year, the Big 12 has two finalists:
This year's 16 finalists have an average GPA of 3.81, the highest in the history of the award.
Each finalist will receive an $18,000 postgraduate scholarship an awards dinner in December in New York City.
Collin Klein was handed a laminated card at the first team meeting after Bill Snyder had been re-hired as coach at Kansas State.

On it were the building blocks upon which Snyder started one of the greatest program turnarounds in college football history: Snyder's 16 Goals.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireCoach Bill Snyder's 16 goals have helped rejuvenate Kansas State's football program a second time.
Meetings in which Snyder doesn't reference one or more of them are rare. He's spent the past three seasons imprinting his philosophy on his players.

"You really want me to recite them?" the Wildcats junior quarterback asked.

Oh, yes. Yes, we do.

No problem.

"Commitment. Unselfishness. Unity. Improve. Be tough. Self-discipline. Great effort. Enthusiasm. Eliminate mistakes. Never give up. Expect to win. No self-limitations. Don’t accept losing. Consistency. Leadership. Responsibility," Klein said. "I think that’s in order, if I’m not mistaken."

The philosophy is working. Snyder's team has become a reflection of himself: hard-working, disciplined and making the most of what it puts out on the field every Saturday.

The team didn't feel strongly one way or another about the set of largely abstract objectives when Snyder first introduced them back in 2009.

But now?

"We’ve come to see the value and the importance of their role more recently," Klein said. "The more we’re around them, the more we appreciate them, for sure."

It's no wonder. The media picked the Wildcats to finish eighth in the Big 12. Oddsmakers told Kansas State it would lose the past four weeks.

Snyder's team, though, is 6-0 and ranked No. 11. It's only 60 minutes against rival Kansas on Saturday from setting up one of the biggest games in school history, a showdown with national title contender Oklahoma at, of course, Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium.

This, despite being outgained in each of the past four games: road victories over Miami and Texas Tech and home wins over Missouri and a ranked Baylor team.

"I’m not so sure that statistics win ballgames for you. I don’t think many coaches really believe in that. I think we’ve been-- a lot of things happen. I think we’ve had good fortune. I think our youngsters have played hard," Snyder said. "We’re fortunate to be where we are. I certainly understand that, can appreciate that ... There’s not a great deal of thought given to what’s happened in the first six ballgames, other than mistakes that we’ve made and how we might improve on those and get them corrected."

You can figure by now, his team feels the same way, having long since bought into Snyder's way.

His team has the third-fewest penalties in the Big 12. No Big 12 team has turned the ball over fewer times than the Wildcats' seven.

Can't win in total yards? Win everywhere else. The Wildcats blocked two field goals against Texas Tech and returned an interception and a kickoff for touchdowns.

"We have been able to avoid beating ourselves in most instances. We haven’t put ourselves in extremely bad positions," Snyder said. "We’ve been a little more disciplined during the season that have allowed us not to make mistakes that put your football team in jeopardy. And I think they have the spirit, passion and belief in what they’re doing. They’re doing it and they play together very well."

If you're keeping count, Snyder, in one quote, referenced six of his 16 goals. Nine if you want to count liberally.

It's not hard to get behind Snyder, as his team has. His status as a coaching legend speaks for itself. And that's before Snyder speaks to his players.

Klein, a Colorado native, and safety Tysyn Hartman knew who Snyder was in grade school, and Hartman didn't even follow college football before he began the recruiting process.

"It was kind of one of those awe moments," Hartman says of his first in-person meeting with Snyder after the coach took over for Ron Prince.

What sticks with Klein still is how much Snyder cares about his players. Even from the first meeting, it was obvious, though Klein can't put his finger on exactly what's so attractive about it.

"I was walking into the complex, and he obviously wasn’t coaching at that time, but I met him, shook his hand. He asked how I was doing," Klein said, "but it seemed like he really cared how I was doing. He really cared about me. He obviously didn’t even know me at that time. That was pretty special. ... Once you get to talk to him, once you get to know him, you just feel it. It’s genuine, it’s sincere. It’s constant. I respect it and it's something I definitely will emulate in my own life.

Special is a perfect word for what Kansas State is doing this season. And to see the reason why, just look for that purple windbreaker and silver hair roaming the sidelines.

"Nobody really expected this out of us. We started the season and most people had us winning like four games all season," Hartman said. "It's great."
Kansas State gave up 12 plays of longer than 10 yards to Baylor. It gave up five touchdown passes, including four that were longer than 34 yards.

But the Wildcats won, and bulled their way into the Top 25. Despite the struggles, they did it with defense.

"We played really well when we had to play really well," said coach Bill Snyder, "and you’d like to think that’s the entirety of the ballgame, but you know, when our defense had their backs to the wall, they responded extremely well."

[+] EnlargeTysyn Hartman
Scott Sewell/US PresswireTysyn Hartman and the defense have been a big reason for Kansas State's 4-0 start.
Trailing by two, it forced the first interception of the season by the Big 12's most prolific passer, Robert Griffin III. With a one-point lead, it shut down the Bears' offense to win the game.

"The key was getting stops when we need them," said safety Tysyn Hartman.

How'd that happen? The Wildcats had experience under pressure. A late goal-line stand preserved a shutout against Kent State. The Wildcats beat Miami a week later with a goal-line stand.

A bigger, badder opponent on a bigger stage? Same result.

"When the game’s on the line, when the shutout was on the line, we were getting stops," Hartman said. "Whether it be on the goal line or in a key situation, we’re playing well."

The Wildcats are still just 12 total yards behind the Big 12's leader in total defense (Texas), and give up an average of 56 fewer yards per game than the Big 12's No. 3 defense, Oklahoma.

This week, a new challenge: Missouri, whose quarterback racked up almost 400 yards against the Sooners.

"He’s a good quarterback. I know he had a lot of pressure and big shoes to fill behind Blaine Gabbert, and he’s done a great job so far," Hartman said. "Griffin has a lot of speed -- he’s a track guy -- but I think they’re going to use Franklin to run the ball more. He’s a big guy and he can take those hits."

Franklin already has 260 yards rushing and four touchdowns, which ranks 12th in the Big 12.

Last week's win wasn't enough. The defense still enters Saturday's game angry. The Wildcats are ranked and at home, but are 2.5-point underdogs.

"I told our coaches [Sunday] night, these people spend a lot of money and make a lot of money, and they don’t just do it off the cuff. They have ample information to make those decisions," Snyder said. "I told the team I was quite certain we would be the underdog in this ballgame."

If Kansas State hasn't been fully validated by wins over Baylor and Miami, Missouri would be a nice next step to assuming the Tigers' previous status as Big 12 title dark horse.

"We felt like we had a lot to prove last week, but it’s kind of still the same way," Hartman said. "People picked us to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 and we don’t finish there. We’ve had to get used to that underdog role and it’s no different this week."

The road to shedding that role is driven by the Wildcats' defense.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 5

October, 2, 2011
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Here's what I saw on an eventful week of football across the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeArthur Brown
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelArthur Brown's fourth-quarter interception was huge for Kansas State.
It's time to start taking Kansas State seriously. This is not an elite defense, but it's a very, very good one led by a guy who will finish the season as one of the Big 12's best playmakers: Arthur Brown. I've been aboard the Arthur Brown bandwagon for awhile now, eschewing the Big 12 media's pick of Bryce Brown as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year and voting for Arthur. Check my fearless predictions, too. He's getting it done, and made the biggest play of Kansas State's season on Saturday, intercepting Robert Griffin III for the first time this season. Brown's speed totally changes this defense, which showed an ability to stop the run on Saturday after giving up 3,008 rushing yards last year. Safety Tysyn Hartman said it best last week in regard to Brown: "He really moves at a different speed than everybody else. ... Once he gets you wrapped up, I mean, you’re going down."

Texas A&M may have a very big problem. I was willing to dismiss last week as one off quarter in an otherwise stellar early start to the season. But after another second-half meltdown and another shocking loss, how do you not question the mental toughness of an experienced Texas A&M team with solid senior leadership? "I never felt it was out of our hands. I was consistently getting my guys together and telling them, 'Hey, we're not letting this one go,'" said quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It did, though, and the Texas A&M offense and defense both had plenty of chances to prevent it. That's got to be troubling. Ultimately, we'll learn what this team is made of as conference play progresses, but the past two weeks have been perplexing. Texas A&M still is that good, but it's disappeared when huge games have been on the line.

Oklahoma and Texas are gearing up for what should be a classic. Oklahoma has looked like the team we thought it was, even as Alabama and LSU have been more impressive early this season. Texas has been about as good as we could expect after last year's struggles and an offense stocked with freshmen. But next week, it's the Sooners with everything to lose and Texas with everything to prove. I can't wait. I can smell the corny dogs already. Granted, that might be because I live upwind of the fairgrounds, which opened on Friday.

This loss will cost Baylor late in the season. Baylor just has to win games like this if it wants to be taken seriously as a top-15 team or a Big 12 contender. The Bears still look like an eight- or nine-win team to me, but with a nine-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, you have to win. Great teams don't lose those leads or lose those games. Baylor was a sneaky upset of one of the Big 12's best teams away from an unbelievable 10-win season. Now?

Iowa State's bubble has burst. I was a little more sold on Kansas State than I was on Iowa State, but you can't escape the fact that the Cyclones could just as easily be 0-3. To me, Texas feels like it will finish as a fringe top-20 team, but Iowa State looked like it was playing completely out of its league. The upside for K-State was greater than Iowa State, but the Cyclones didn't leave much to be encouraged about. They have to get better. Elsewhere on Saturday night: UConn lost to Western Michigan at home 38-31.

Five from Big 12 up for 'Academic Heisman'

September, 30, 2011
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Five Big 12 players are semifinalists for the William V. Campbell Trophy, given annually to the "absolute best scholar-athlete in the nation."

There are 127 semifinalists for the award.

The Big 12 nominees:
  • Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas
  • Tysyn Hartman, S, Kansas State
  • Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
  • Grant Ressel, K, Missouri
  • Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State

Texas DE Sam Acho, Emmanuel Acho's older brother, won the award in 2010.

Here are the criteria:
Nominated by their schools, candidates must be a senior or graduate student in their final year of eligibility, have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, have outstanding football ability as a first team player or significant contributor, and have demonstrated strong leadership and citizenship.

Texas' Dallas Griffin in 2007 is the only other Big 12 player to win the award.
Kansas State led the nation in scoring defense and total defense after its first two games.

The problem? The impressive numbers came against FCS Eastern Kentucky and Kent State from the MAC.

"They didn’t give us much credit after we played well the first two nonconference games," said Wildcats safety Tysyn Hartman. "People didn’t expect us to play well against Miami."

[+] EnlargeKansas State's Arthur Brown
AP Photo/J Pat Carter"He really moves at a different speed than everybody else," teammate Tysyn Hartman said of Kansas State's leading tackler, Arthur Brown.
The reason? Kansas State had one of the nation's worst defenses a year ago. They were one of just two teams to give up 3,000 yards rushing and ranked 106th nationally in team defense.

After the strong start against weak competition, there was reason to doubt how long it would be before Kansas State slipped down the national rankings.

Last week, though, the Wildcats gave up just three first-half points to Miami and won the game with a goal-line stand.

"A week ago, they were in a similar situation with the exception of the game wasn’t on the line, but the shutout was, and played as well at that time and had a great goal-line stand," said coach Bill Snyder. "I think it’s given them a great deal of confidence."

This week, an even tougher test awaits Kansas State in its conference opener against Baylor. Slow the red-hot Bears offense, and nobody will doubt the change from 2010 to 2011.

"We struggled last year. It was one of the big concerns of the offseason and we got better and better as the offseason progressed, and really, I don’t think people expected us to play this well," Hartman said. "We’ve been flying under the radar for awhile, but if we put up the numbers we did in the first few games, I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore."

K-State couldn't ask for a better test. Baylor comes into Saturday's game with a quarterback that's shined as one of the brightest stars of the season, and an offense that's outscoring every team in college football but Georgia Tech and Oregon.

"Hopefully we can change that up a little bit, but he’s hot right now. He’s playing great football and then he has great weapons around him," Hartman said. "It’s not really about who we’re playing, it’s about us getting better. As long as we’re getting better week in and week out, that means we can beat anybody and that showed up last week when everybody counted us out."

The change started in the offseason. Last season's struggles were obvious, and the season ended with Syracuse's Delone Carter rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in the Pinstripe Bowl, a Kansas State loss. Goal No. 1 in the offseason was to get faster, a weakness a defense can't afford in the wide-open Big 12 where offenses seek to take advantage of space and athletic ability.

"You can’t stop the run unless you have all 11 guys pursuing to the ball, and just training secondary to trigger it and get down there on the run and that’s really helped," Hartman said.

The defense also added juco transfer Nigel Malone, who now leads the team in interceptions and former blue-chip recruit Arthur Brown. Brown, a former Miami Hurricane, has nine more tackles than any other Wildcat.

"He really moves at a different speed than everybody else. If you’ve got a chance to watch him, really just instincts how fast he gets to the ball and he doesn’t miss tackles," Hartman said. "Once he gets you wrapped up, I mean, you’re going down."

Snyder credits another year of experience and maturity for players like Hartman and cornerback David Garrett, as well as sophomores Ty Zimmerman and Tre Walker, who won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after making three tackles in last week's game-winning goal-line stand.

"We’ve gotten a little bit faster. We’ve played a bit better up front. We’ve gotten more sizeable and quicker linebackers," Snyder said. "Our secondary certainly has gained experience as well and has been reasonably responsible. There’s just a number of things and if you had to identify one, you probably would say the experience factor and the maturity factor combined would probably give us a little reason to believe we’re a little better."

How much better? We'll find out Saturday.

Ranking the Big 12's top 10 safeties

August, 25, 2011
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Safeties are a good group in the Big 12. Not outstanding, but good.

I didn't know what to do with the league's nickel backs, so here's what I came up with. It makes sense to me. For the position rankings, I grouped them with linebackers, because that's where they fit in each team's scheme.

As individuals, however? I lumped them with safeties, because their skill sets are most comparable with those type of players. Make sense? That's how it's going to be.

I see lots and lots of potential with young guys I think will be on this list a year from now, but didn't have the experience to land there just yet.

Aaron Colvin, Ahmad Dixon, Terrance Bullitt? I'm looking at you three.

Here's the top 10s you've missed so far: 1. Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: Martin is the Big 12's most ferocious hitter, and one of its most enjoyable players to watch. His coverage skills improved greatly in 2010 -- intercepting three passes and breaking up 10 more -- and should continue in 2011.

2. Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma: Jefferson already established himself as a force in this league, but one could argue he has the most upside of any player in the league after a strong freshman year in 2010. Drawing comparisons to Roy Williams is one thing. Having them not seem ridiculous is another. Jefferson's natural football instincts have allowed him to at least do that. He'll do plenty more as his experience grows.

3. Trent Hunter, Texas A&M: Hunter took the second safety spot on my All-Big 12 team, and he's probably got the best speed in my top three. At 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, he's a bit undersized, but he's a big playmaker. He made 62 tackles and intercepted two passes for a vastly improved A&M defense.

4. Blake Gideon, Texas: Gideon is approaching his fourth year as a starter for the Longhorns, and should be a huge leader on for a young group of corners that will need him when the season kicks off. Gideon made 63 tackles and picked off one pass, while forcing a fumble and breaking up three passes.

5. Kenji Jackson, Missouri: Like Gideon, Jackson is loaded with experience. He finally got some help from his corners last season in what used to be a struggling secondary, but he'll need to be at his best as the Tigers break in a pair of new ones this season. Jackson has 22 career starts and has played in 38 games, and as a senior, he'll try to build on his career-high 66 tackles, five broken up passes and two picks from 2010.

6. Cody Davis, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders 118th-ranked pass defense (admittedly handcuffed by injuries) didn't have many bright spots in 2010, but Davis was one of them. He was second on the team with 87 stops (68 solo), made 6.5 tackles for loss and intercepted a pass.

7. Johnny Thomas, Oklahoma State: Thomas emerged as a solid option opposite Martin for the Cowboys, and one of the most underrated players in the league. He was a first-year starter at free safety and finished fourth on the team with 63 tackles, adding four interceptions.

8. Tysyn Hartman, Kansas State: Hartman will be one of the team's leaders as one of its most experienced talents and the league's best safeties. The hulking 6-foot-3, 206-pounder is imposing for opposing receivers and made 86 tackles with a pair of interceptions last season.

9. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State: Zimmerman's claim to fame is picking off Garrett Gilbert twice in one game, but he was pretty good in all the other games, too. He was second in the Big 12 in tackles among freshmen (74 stops, 4 TFL) and did it all as a freshman. Big things ahead for Zimmerman.

10. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: Vaccaro will challenge Martin as the league's biggest hitter, but he may move around a lot this year. Vaccaro spent plenty of time at nickel back, and may be there or at one of the traditional safety spots in Manny Diaz's new defense. He was a part-time starter in 2010 and made 75 tackles with eight passes broken up and one interception. The junior will try to add to his four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles, too.

Video: Kansas State safety Tysyn Hartman

August, 24, 2011
8/24/11
1:30
PM ET

David Ubben talks with Kansas State safety Tysyn Hartman about the 2011 season.

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