Big 12: Von Miller

Offensive players dominated the list of top individual seasons at Big 12 schools in ESPN.com’s The Season, with Texas’ Vince Young and Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders advancing to Wednesday's semifinal round.

Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib is the lone Big 12-era defender who landed on the list as an honorable mention for the Jayhawks. Talib earned consensus All-American honors while helping the Jayhawks go 11-1, including a 24-21 win over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl in 2007.

Several Big 12 defenders have had stellar seasons since the conference was born in 1996. Here’s a look at other exceptional individual seasons for defenders during the Big 12 era.

[+] EnlargeVon Miller
Patrick Green/Icon SMIVon Miller was too much to handle in 2009, posting 17 sacks.
Lawrence Flugence, Texas Tech linebacker, 2002: The sheer numbers land Flugence a spot on this list. He had 193 total tackles, including 124 solo stops in 14 games during the 2002 season. The Mike Leach-led Red Raiders finished 9-5 with Flugence anchoring the defense and Kliff Kingsbury triggering the offense.

Derrick Johnson, Texas linebacker, 2004: The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Butkus Award winner, Johnson made plays from sideline to sideline for the Longhorns during the 2004 season. He finished with 130 tackles (70 solo stops), including 19 tackles for loss, eight pass breakups, nine forced fumbles and two sacks.

Curtis Lofton, Oklahoma linebacker, 2007: Lofton was exceptional during the 2007 season, earning All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He had 157 tackles including 10.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions in 14 games for the Sooners. He was the anchor of a defense that allowed 20.3 points per game and 4.98 yards per play as OU finished 11-2 with a Big 12 championship.

Von Miller, Texas A&M defensive end, 2009: The future NFL Pro Bowler was relentless and dominant during the 2007 season. He finished with 17 sacks, 21.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles in 13 games. He accounted for 47.2 percent of the Aggies’ sack total (36) during a 6-7 season. His 17 sacks remain the highest single season total in the Big 12 era.

Terence Newman, Kansas State cornerback, 2002: Newman was a nightmare for opponents during the 2002 season, locking down receivers on defense and putting fear into the hearts of defenders on special teams and offense. He won the Thorpe Award and was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. Even as offenses avoided him, Newman finished with 44 tackles, 14 pass breakups and five interceptions.

Shaun Rogers, Texas defensive tackle, 1999: The junior was a disruptive force in the middle for the Longhorns, finishing with 27 tackles for loss, the highest total from any Big 12 defender since the conference was born in 1996. He joined teammate Casey Hampton to give UT the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo that season.

Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska defensive tackle, 2009: The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Suh’s 2009 season was second to none during the Big 12 era. Offenses focused on keeping Suh from dominating games yet he still dominated on his way to becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist, Lombardi Award and a lengthy list of individual accolades. He finished with 85 tackles including 24 for loss and 12 sacks.

Earl Thomas, Texas safety, 2009: Thomas proved he was NFL ready with a incredible redshirt sophomore campaign. He was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award while earning all-american honors with 77 tackles, five tackles for loss, 16 pass breakups and eight interceptions. He helped UT finish No. 1 nationally in interceptions (35) and forced turnovers (37).

Roy Williams, Oklahoma defensive back, 2001: The Jim Thorpe Award winner, Williams left a lasting legacy with his “Superman” play against Texas in the Red River Rivalry, forcing a Chris Simms’ fumble that sealed an OU win. He finished with 107 tackles including 14 tackles for loss, 22 pass breakups and five interceptions.

Grant Wistrom, Nebraska defensive end, 1997: He had a stellar 1996 season but his 1997 campaign should be considered even better. As the returning Big 12 defensive player of the year, Wistrom had 8.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hurries on his way to Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. He also earned the Lombardi Trophy in 1997.

Big 12 all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
10:00
AM ET
After 16 years, the BCS era is finally over. Next season, college football will have a playoff instead.

With the BCS done, we've come up with our Big 12 all-BCS era team (1998-2013) below:

Offense

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Scott Clarke/Getty ImagesWith Vince Young at the helm, Texas won a national title and Rose Bowl.
QB: Vince Young, Texas (2003-05) -- Young led Texas to its first national title in 35 years with an unforgettable performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. The Heisman runner-up also became the first QB in college football history to throw for 3,000 yards and run for 1,000 in the same season.

RB: Ricky Williams, Texas (1998) -- Williams was part of the BCS era for only one season, but what a season it was. He rushed for 2,327 yards and won the Heisman Trophy going away. Only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne has more career rushing yards than Williams (6,279).

RB: Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma (2004-06) -- Despite battling injuries throughout his career, Peterson still was a beast in college. After rushing for 1,925 yards while leading the Sooners to the national title game, he finished second in the ’04 Heisman voting, even though there was still a stigma then in voting for a freshman.

WR: Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech (2007-08) -- Crabtree became the first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation’s top receiver. In '08, he and QB Graham Harrell led the Red Raiders to an upset of Texas and a No. 2 ranking in the polls.

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State (2009-11) -- Blackmon became the second and only other two-time winner of the Biletnikoff. In his final two seasons, he finished with 233 receptions, 3,304 receiving yards and 38 touchdowns, and he helped propel the Cowboys to their first Big 12 title in '11.

TE: Chase Coffman, Missouri (2005-08) -- Coffman had a monster statistical college career for a tight end with 247 catches for 2,659 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns. He won the ’08 Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end. Missouri won 37 games during the four years Coffman was in the lineup.

OT: Jammal Brown, Oklahoma (2001-04) -- Brown was a unanimous All-American and a three-time All-Big 12 selection. He became the fifth Sooner to win the Outland Trophy, awarded to the nation’s top interior lineman.

OT: Russell Okung, Oklahoma State (2007-09) -- In Okung’s final two seasons, Oklahoma State led the Big 12 in rushing yards. The Cowboys were also third in the country in ’07 in fewest sacks allowed with Okung at left tackle. He was a unanimous All-American and Outland finalist in ’09 and became the sixth overall pick in the ’10 NFL draft.

OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor (2010-13) -- Richardson became Baylor’s seventh all-time unanimous All-American. The Outland finalist was also a key piece on the nation’s highest-scoring offense this season.

OG: Justin Blalock, Texas (2003-06) -- Though a guard in the NFL, Blalock actually started 50 games for Texas, most coming at right tackle. He was a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection and a consensus All-American in 2006.

C: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- Raiola was the inaugural winner of the Rimington Award, named after former Nebraska center Dave Rimington, which recognizes the best center in college football. He was an Outland finalist and a consensus All-American.

APB: Darren Sproles, Kansas State (2001-04) -- One of the most prolific all-purpose performers in college football history, Sproles finished his career with 6,812 all-purpose yards. Among his 39 consecutive starts, his most memorable performance came in the ’03 Big 12 championship, when he had 235 yards rushing and 88 receiving, as K-State upset top-ranked Oklahoma 35-7.

Defense

DE: Brian Orakpo, Texas (2005-08) -- Orakpo captured the ’08 Nagurski Award as the most outstanding defensive player in the country, and the Lombardi Award, given to the best college lineman or linebacker. He also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American while piling up 11 sacks his senior year.

DE: Von Miller, Texas A&M (2007-10) -- Out of a hybrid defensive end/linebacker role, Miller led the nation with 17 sacks in ’09. He was a two-time All-American and won the Butkus Award in ’10 as the nation’s top linebacker.

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- There was no more dominant defensive player in college football during the BCS era. Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in ’09 and won several national awards, including the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski (most outstanding defensive player)and Bednarik (defensive player of the year). He was also a unanimous All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

DT: Tommie Harris, Oklahoma (2001-03) -- Harris was a force from the beginning as a freshman on the OU defensive line. He won the Lombardi his junior year, and he was a two-time consensus All-American, garnering unanimous honors in ’03.

LB: Derrick Johnson, Texas (2001-04) -- Johnson was a menacing linebacker for the Longhorns, earning consensus All-American honors in ’03 and unanimous honors in ’04. He was also a three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and won the Butkus (best linebacker) and Nagurski awards as a senior. Johnson finished his career with 458 tackles.

LB: Rocky Calmus, Oklahoma (1998-2001) -- Calmus played a major role in OU’s resurgence under Bob Stoops. He won the Butkus in ’01 and was a finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik. A three-time All-Big 12 pick, Calmus led the Sooners in tackles in all three of those seasons.

LB: Teddy Lehman, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- Lehman too won the Butkus, beating out Johnson for the award in ’03. He also was Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, captured the Bednarik, was a unanimous All-American and played in two national championship games.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesWest Virginia receiver and returner Tavon Austin had a huge 2012 season.
CB: Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002) -- Newman was a solid player for Bill Snyder his first three seasons, then broke out as a senior. Newman was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a unanimous All-American and the Thorpe winner, given to college football’s top defensive back.

CB: Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03) -- A four-year starter, Strait finished with a school-record 52 career pass breakups. He also won the Thorpe, and was a unanimous All-American.

S: Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001) -- Nicknamed “Superman,” Williams was the Big 12’s most dominating defensive player until Suh came along. He won the Thorpe and Nagurski in ’01, and was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American the same season. He also famously skied over the Texas offensive line to force the game-clinching interception to earn his moniker.

S: Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05) -- Huff became the first Longhorn to win the Thorpe, and was the leader of the ’05 national championship defense. He was also a unanimous All-American that season.

Special teams

K: Mason Crosby, Colorado (2003-06) -- Crosby was three-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection, and twice was a consensus All-American even though he never won the Lou Groza Award, given to the nation's top kicker. He was also the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year as a junior, and converted 66 field goals in his career.

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State (2009-12) -- Sharp became the first three-time All-American in Oklahoma State history, and he earned All-American honors both as a punter and a kicker. He was twice named the Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year. In his career, he made 50 of 59 field goals, averaged 45.9 yards per punt and missed only one extra point.

KR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012) -- Austin was in the Big 12 only one season, but he was unstoppable that one season. On top of being one of the most dangerous kick returners in the country, Austin had 1,289 yards receiving and 643 rushing, and finished second in the country in all-purpose yards.

PR: Ryan Broyles Oklahoma (2008-11) -- On top of being a prolific punt returner, Broyles was one of the most efficient receivers in college football history. He finished his career with an FBS-record 349 receptions, and was a two-time consensus All-American before a knee injury cut his senior season short.

Mailbag: Kingsbury staff, Week 1

March, 29, 2013
3/29/13
4:00
PM ET
Thanks for all your emails, everybody. Here's where you can reach me if you've got more to say. To your mail!

Robert Powell in Plano, Texas, writes: Sir,While I like the Kingsbury hiring, I am concerned about 1. his lack of experience, and possibly more disconcerting, is the coaching staff's overall lack of experience. He seems to have hired friends and a few people he respects, but they are all very young. This is similar to Tubs' first 2 years. Very young and enthusiastic, but short on experience and that cost Tech a couple games. What is the national 'thought' on Tech's coaching staff?

David Ubben: I hear you, Robert. That's a concern I have in some ways, and it's a concern I've heard from others. In general, the youth on the staff is reason for question. In the same breath, I also think it's too early to add a ton of validity to those questions until we see it on the field. Sure, there's a lot of youth on staff, but we haven't seen Tech play a game yet. I spent some time talking to Kevin Sumlin about his thoughts on that issue, and he shared some similar sentiments.

You can go a lot of places and find an experienced coach, but not all experience is good experience, he said. Sometimes, experience on its own can be a little overrated. Gray hair alone doesn't mean you really know anything. There's something to be said for that. Ultimately, we'll see if having such a young staff hurts Tech. I'm guessing it will in some ways, but the payoff in fresh ideas and energy on the recruiting trail will pay off more than the inexperience hurts.




Ron B. in Plano, Texas, writes: David:About the Week 1 Big 12 Ultimate Road Trip. Think about Tech/SMU being a Friday night game and Ford Staduim is in close proximity to Cowboys Staduim. You could actually see Tech/SMU and LSU/TCU the same weekend. What a way to kick off the year!!!

DU: That would be pretty awesome. I like it more on a Friday, honestly, because it's like a bit of a delicious college football appetizer heading into Saturday's main course. On Sunday, after watching two top-20 teams go head-to-head in what should be a great atmosphere in America's best stadium, seeing Tech and SMU play at Ford might be a little disappointing. A great game, most likely, and it'll be good to see Kingsbury and Co. get started, but I like playing it on the Friday. On Saturday, it could be a great game swallowed up by other, bigger games, but it'll have a nice spotlight to kick off the season.




Josh in Manhattan, Kan., writes: If Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, or A&M happened to come knocking back on the Big 12's door, would we answer? Say to get back to 12 teams, would we/ should we one day even offer?

DU: Oh, I don't know that this is really worth discussing past the extremely, extremely theoretical. I just couldn't see a scenario in which either side would ever consider re-establishing those relationships which were so splintered by the time they officially ended.

I do think Missouri would be much better off in the Big 12. Colorado is definitely better off in the Pac-12, though. Nebraska I don't think really matters all that much. They're a huge national brand and would be fine in any league. I don't think its program as a whole would be impacted much by the league it is in, but it wanted a more harmonious conference, and got it in the Big Ten.

A&M is the most complicated case here. I agree that A&M's profile has risen in the SEC, but there's definitely a case to be made that A&M's win over Alabama could have come in the national title game this year if it was in the Big 12. We'll never know, of course, but I think time will tell. The biggest negative for A&M leaving is being in the SEC West makes winning big even harder than it was in the Big 12. They got past that some last year, but they also had the best team the Aggies have had in a long, long time and only made it to the Cotton Bowl, the same bowl they played in two years earlier with a pretty good team led by Ryan Tannehill and Von Miller. Welcome to life in the SEC.




David in St. Cloud, Minn., writes: David, do you think people are underrating North Dakota State, the 2-time defending FCS Champions? As a K-State fan, I"m scared to death of that season opener, and I think the Bison are a far tougher matchup than most of the FBS directional schools. I think they could beat anybody in the Big 12 outside OU and maybe Okie St. But K-State's schedule can't get any love. What gives?

DU: Couple things with this. One, you're giving NDSU a little too much credit. The athletic gap between most teams in the Big 12 and NDSU is really, really wide. K-State has a weird habit of playing poorly in season openers against FCS teams, so you probably have reason to be a little nervous. If you're a competent team, you should have little trouble. KU played one of the ugliest games of the year back in 2010 when it lost to NDSU, and it only lost 6-3. I totally disagree that the Bison could beat anybody in the Big 12, but there's something to be said for being a confident team that knows how to win games. NDSU is absolutely that, and I'd agree that they're a tougher matchup for that reason than low-level FBS teams used to losing. If it gets in a tight game late against a team it knows it can go toe-to-toe against, you're in big, big trouble. K-State needs to be sharper in its opener than it was against Eastern Kentucky in 2011 and in the first few quarters against Missouri State.
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper has two Big 12 players -- Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson and Texas’ Kenny Vaccaro -- potentially going in the first round of this year’s NFL draft.

Fellow expert Todd McShay has the same two as Kiper and also is optimistic about the chances of West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Tavon Austin.

So let’s split the difference and label the potential Big 12 first-round picks as an optimistic three, with Johnson being the only absolute first-round lock.

Those three would represent the fewest Big 12 players taken in the first round of the NFL draft since 2008. Even if four went, the Big 12 still would have the fewest since 2008.

That year, only Kansas -- yep, the Jayhawks -- managed a first-rounder, Aqib Talib to Tampa Bay with the 20th pick. In the four drafts that followed, the Big 12 has always put at least five players into the first round, including the first four overall picks in 2010.

How well this year’s group of first-round picks will fare might not be known for years. What is known, though, is how well Big 12 players have done when they are selected in the first round. With that in mind, here is a ranking -- from worst to best -- of the Big 12’s best first-round draft classes over the past 10 years.

2008: It’s all about quantity, and a little bit of quality. In 2008, the Big 12 only produced one first-round pick, Talib. He has not produced dramatic returns in the NFL. In the past two years, he has only started nine games. He was somewhat productive for Tampa Bay in the previous three seasons, starting 41 games and playing in 53. But, again, he was the only Big 12 player taken in the first round in 2008.

2006: Vince Young is working out at Texas’ pro day at the end of March. Enough said. Davin Joseph and Michael Huff have been solid producers. But when the No. 3 overall pick is out of the league and having to work out at his alma mater's pro day, it means it was a bad year for the Big 12 in the first round of the NFL draft.

2004: Tommie Harris and Marcus Tubbs, the two defensive tackles taken in the first round, were productive for a few years, with Harris selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, '06 and ’07 before he was beset by injuries. Tubbs lasted four seasons in the NFL. Roy Williams had 5,715 receiving yards but never lived up to the hype he generated coming out of Texas. Rashaun Woods played only two years and had seven career catches.

2005: The lack of numbers might be what hurts this group the most. Cedric Benson, Jammal Brown, Derrick Johnson, Mark Clayton and Fabian Washington all proved they could play at the NFL level. Benson has had three 1,000-yard-plus seasons. Johnson is one of the top linebackers in the game. Brown remains a solid option on the offensive line. Clayton played seven NFL seasons; Washington played six. But there were only five guys selected and that isn't enough to push 2005 to the top of the list.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Andy Clayton King/Getty ImagesThe Big 12's 2007 draft class wasn't huge, but did feature 2012 NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
2009: Every Big 12 player selected in the first round in 2009 has produced and appears to be poised to continue to do so. Only Jason Smith didn’t have a start last year. But the offensive lineman still played in all 16 games for the New York Jets. Michael Crabtree, Brian Orakpo, Josh Freeman, Jeremy Maclin, Brandon Pettigrew and Ziggy Hood are all starters for their respective teams.

2007: It wasn’t the biggest group, but it did include Adrian Peterson, so there could be some quibbling that maybe 2007 should be higher in the rankings. Throw in Aaron Ross and Michael Griffin and the debate could get even more heated. Adam Carriker was also taken this year. He started his career strong but suffered an injury and only played in two games last season.

2003: Kevin Williams has been the standout of this group. The defensive tackle has started every game but four in his 10-year career. Terence Newman has been effective as a defensive back, first in Dallas and last season in Cincinnati. Tyler Brayton played at least 15 games on the defensive line in a nine-year career. Ty Warren played eight solid seasons for New England but tailed off last season with Denver. Andre Woolfolk lasted four seasons, mostly as a reserve.

2011: Von Miller, who was the highest pick among Big 12 players this year, has proved to be the top player so far. Aldon Smith is not far behind. Add in Prince Amukamara, Phillip Taylor, who when healthy is a starter at defensive tackle, a somewhat productive Blaine Gabbert and Nate Solder as well as reliable backups Danny Watkins and Jimmy Smith and this proved to be a successful year for Big 12 first-round selections.

2012: Three quarterbacks, and all were not only starters as rookies but also made huge differences for their respective squads. Clearly, Robert Griffin III made the most dramatic impact, but Ryan Tannehill, with the Dolphins, and Brandon Weeden, with Cleveland, were both solid. Kendall Wright and Justin Blackmon each had 64 catches, for Tennessee and Jacksonville, respectively. Blackmon was targeted more (133 to 104) and had 200 more receiving yards.

2010: This list maybe doesn’t have the star power and is not littered with offensive playmakers, but six of the nine players picked were selected for the 2013 NFL Pro Bowl: Gerald McCoy, Trent Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Earl Thomas, Russell Okung and Jermaine Gresham. And the other three players -- Dez Bryant, Sam Bradford and Sean Weatherspoon -- were vital pieces for their respective teams.

Mailbag: Dark horse, best seasons, Klein

June, 6, 2012
6/06/12
4:00
PM ET
I'll be out the rest of this week, so let's get our Mailbag going right now.

You can still share your favorite moments from the greatest seasons in Big 12 history here, though. I'll run those later this week.

On to your mail!

Zack O. in Bryan, Texas, wrote: Ubbs, I'm not ready to leave you yet so I continue to read the Big 12 blog while also staying up to date in the SEC. I liked your top individual seasons and you most definitely had some tough decisions. I noticed my Aggies didn't make the cut. After a quick moment of pouting I realized that they haven't been that outstanding individually; however, I would put Von Miller in 2010 right up there with anyone.

David Ubben: Thanks for the kind words, Zack. I'd disagree with you on Von Miller. For one, 2010 wasn't even his best season. I'd lean toward 2009. Even though A&M's defense was awful that year, Miller was a terror, and led the nation in sacks. Miller was a terror down the stretch in 2010, but he was much more productive in 2009 and he was slowed by an injury early in 2010. Could you really put a pass-rushing specialist who ranked 11th nationally in sacks in a pass-happy league among the best seasons in league history?

I was pretty surprised that the Aggies didn't have a player on my just missed list, but Dat Nguyen was probably the closest to making it.


Lee Barden in Katy, Texas, wrote: What are the milestone dates to watch for this summer (in the coming months)? e.g. BCS discussions of playoffs, ACC drop-dead date for notice (before buy-out price tag increases to 25mm)? I'm figuring any movement will happen after playoffs are determined and before the price increase...

DU: First off, there's no ACC drop-dead date to my knowledge. The Big 12 waited to bring in West Virginia and TCU until the fall, and they're joining the following summer. Also, the ACC voted unanimously to up its buyout to $20 million last year, but I haven't heard anything about it getting hiked to $25 million.

You're right about the second part, though. I highly, highly doubt any movement will happen until after this playoff stuff is settled, and the format can be pitched to TV networks. There's a lot of hope that the BCS meetings around June 20 will produce some very serious results. I'd keep an eye on the month or so that follows if you're watching for Big 12 expansion.


Brett in Kansas City wrote: Ubbs, what are you thinking, I can see why Collin Klein got left off the list of top 5 individule preformances but how did he miss out on the just missed out list?

DU: Here's my thing about Collin Klein's 2011 season (Hang on while I put on a helmet and get a running head start from the torch-bearing purple hordes): It's a little silly to just look at his 27 touchdowns and say, "WOW! One of the best seasons ever!" He put up similar numbers to Eric Crouch during Crouch's Heisman season in 2001, but Crouch ran for 26 fewer yards on 114 fewer carries. Klein's touchdown numbers were eye-popping, but anyone who watched K-State saw that any time the Wildcats were close to sniffing the end zone, it was all Klein all the time. That's not a bad thing. It paid off. These weren't long, game-breaking runs though. Most often, they were sneaks and short runs that most players could make.

Klein had a great year and K-State played a great schedule. His durability was amazing, but I'd probably put his season just outside the "just missed list." After all, I had Klein at No. 7 in the Big 12 this year, and didn't hear all that many complaints.


Derek in Phoenix wrote: Not even a mention for Dominique Whaley to go plus 1k in 2012? You're gonna be wrong on that call, Ubben.

DU: That's probably my mistake, at least for not putting him on the "just missed" list. Whaley should be productive, but I see OU's backfield being too crowded and the offense again relying on Landry Jones for most of its production. Roy Finch was really good down the stretch and Brennan Clay could catch on. It seems like more of a committee approach, and coming off a serious injury, will Whaley quickly reclaim his spot in fall camp?

There's definitely reason to doubt it. I'd be surprised if he hit 1,000 yards this year, but he may get close and top around 800 yards.


Marcel in Austin, Texas, wrote: We all know that in 2012 there's about a good 4 teams that could win the Big 12. But who do you think, that not a lot of people are looking at right now has the best chance of being the dark horse and could possibly be in the title race. I'm thinking Baylor or Tech, thoughts?

DU: I'd say it's four, teetering on five. TCU is lending a whole lot of credence to folks who doubt it and its depth lately. That said, Oklahoma and Kansas State are absolutely contenders. Texas and Oklahoma State are knocking on the door behind them, too.

As a true dark horse, I like Baylor. They've got lots of unheard of guys, but guys who quietly have a lot of experience and won't be wowed by anything they see this year. Tech isn't a bad pick, and Baylor's defense is slightly less of a disaster entering this season. At least Baylor isn't learning a new system.

Beyond the true dark horses (OSU, Texas), I like Baylor's chances. The Bears learned how to win last year. We'll see if they keep it going this year.

The All-Big 12 NFL Team: Defense

May, 31, 2012
5/31/12
10:30
AM ET
Yesterday, we tackled the Big 12's best offensive players in the NFL, but today, it's time for the other side of the ball.

The rules:
  • Players must be active
  • Players are judged by their current skills
  • The 2012 draft class is not eligible
  • Only players from the 2011 configuration of the Big 12 (No Nebraska, Colorado. Mizzou, Texas A&M are included.) are eligible

Let's get to it.

DE: Justin Smith, San Francisco 49ers (Missouri)

Smith has made Pro Bowls in each of the past three seasons and emerged as one of the NFL's premier pass rushers, nearly winning Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. He's forced 14 career fumbles and had 72.5 career sacks.

DT: Phil Taylor, Cleveland Browns (Baylor)

Taylor snuck into the first round of the 2011 draft and started every game for the Browns in 2011, making 59 tackles and four sacks, as well as forcing a fumble.

DT: Casey Hampton, Pittsburgh Steelers (Texas)

Hampton's career has peaked, but the 2001 first-rounder is still effective. He's won two Super Bowls and made five Pro Bowls, the last coming in 2009. He has 350 career tackles with nine sacks and four forced fumbles.

DE: Antonio Smith, Houston Texans (Oklahoma State)

Smith earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl last season, even though it was as an alternate. He has 29.5 career sacks and seven forced fumbles.

LB: Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers (Missouri)

Smith was one of the NFL's best pass rushers as a rookie in 2011. He didn't start a single game, yet came within a half sack of Jevon Kearse's rookie record for sacks, with 14 sacks. That broke the team record, and the Pro Football Writers of America named him the Defensive Rookie of the Year.

LB: Brian Orakpo, Washington Redskins (Texas)

Orakpo edges out Derrick Johnson for this spot, though Johnson was better in 2011. Orakpo was an alternate on this year's Pro Bowl team, but made the squad as a rookie in 2009 and in 2010.

LB: Von Miller, Denver Broncos (Texas A&M)

Miller earned NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors and a trip to the Pro Bowl after notching 11.5 sacks and making 64 tackles. He forced a fumble on the first snap of his career, too.

CB: Terence Newman, Cincinnati Bengals (Kansas State)

Newman's taken his fair share of knocks as a Cowboy before being released, but he made the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2009 and has 32 career interceptions. The Wildcats' former Thorpe Award winner is moving on to the next phase in his career after an up and down career in Dallas.

CB: Aaron Ross, Jacksonville Jaguars (Texas)

Ross won two Super Bowls as a New York Giant, but he's moving on to warmer climates this offseason. He's made 200 career tackles and intercepted 10 passes in five seasons as a Giant before the former Thorpe Award winner signed a new deal with the Jags.

S: Michael Griffin, Tennessee Titans (Texas)

Griffin was a first-round pick in 2007 and made Pro Bowls in 2008 and 2010. He earned an All-Pro selection in 2010 and has 17 career interceptions and seven forced fumbles with his 389 tackles.

S: Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks (Texas)

Thomas gives the Longhorns a third member of the All-Big 12 NFL secondary after a Pro Bowl season in his second year, 2011. Thomas was arguably the Seahawks' top defender and has seven career interceptions.

Mailbag: Best D, ISU upset, recruit rankings

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
4:00
PM ET
Thanks for all the questions this week. Here's where you can reach me.

El Guapo in Washington, D.C. wrote: Ubb-a-Dub: You have a crack stats team roughly the size of Rhode Island at the Worldwide Leader. Riddle them this: when was the last time neither OU, nor Texas had a first round draft pick? Surely it's got to at least date back to the Fresh Prince days, yah?

David Ubben: Wrong, sir. And I just looked this one up myself. The last time it happened was allllll the way back in ... 2008. Texas' Limas Sweed and Oklahoma's Curtis Lofton both went in the second round. The next season, Oklahoma played for the national championship. The year after that, Texas played Alabama for the 'ship.
J. Woody in Fort Worth wrote: "TCU had a rough 2011 season" ... really Ubbs? "Under coach Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense in 2008, 2009 and 2010."I guess 2011 was a down year after three straight #1 seasons ... BTW Ubbs ... TCU ain't ever going to win any popular pole anywhere based on enrollment, grads or popularity. Big schools rule the voter pool.

DU: Now come on, how can any TCU fan deny the defense was a disappointment last season? Sure, inexperience played into it, but TCU fell all the way to 32nd nationally. That's not very good, especially when you consider where TCU ranks among its conference brethren. Boise State was probably more talented than TCU last year, but outside of the Broncos, TCU is head and shoulders above the rest of its league in talent. When you set the bar for defense as high as TCU has these past few years, how is dropping to 32nd anything but a rough year?

We saw that up close when it gave up 50 to Baylor, but the defense gave up 40 to SMU in another loss, but beat Boise State on the smurf turf in its best performance of the year.

I get TCU's not going to win the best defense poll, but you'd be surprised. If you prove you're the rightful winner of one of those deals, people will vote for you, regardless of affiliation.


Andrew in Colorado wrote: People love to complain about recruit rankings but in the latest mock draft 17 outta 32 first round picks were either 4 or 5 star recruits coming out of high school. 4 and 5 star recruits only make up 5% of the incoming class at college but make up better than 50% of the eventual best of the best. It is always very easy to find a random 2 star kid who did great and find a random 5 star kid who was a bust but on average 4 and 5 star recruits are literally 100 times more likely to succeed.

DU: I'm with you on this one, Andrew. Recruiting rankings aren't the be all, end all. You can offer examples of two stars turned superstars and five stars turned flops all day, but the trends are clear across the board. The better you recruit, the better team you are, unless you have an incompetent coaching staff or didn't evaluate prospects well and have players who don't fit what you do.


Klocke in Athens, Ga., wrote: David, have you got a preseason prediction for this year's big Cyclone upset?

DU: I mean, it has to be one of the new guys, doesn't it? They're unaware of Paul Rhoads' magic. Last year, he did it twice, too. Here's betting Iowa State takes down an unsuspecting TCU or West Virginia squad to keep their bowl hopes alive. The Cyclones close the season on Thanksgiving weekend in Ames against West Virginia, but travel to TCU for their second conference game on Oct. 6.


David in Austin wrote: Since the University of Texas has led the Big 12ish in total defense 4 years in a row, why then don't the Longhorns have a nickname for their D yet? In that same time span we saw the resurrection of Nebraska's Blackshirts and A&M's Wrecking "Crew" (Von Miller). I'm the opposite of creative but with Manny Diaz's constant blitzes can we at least call it the Stampede Defense?

DU: Ha, I'd like to see the Longhorns come up with something. We've already coined the backfield the "Texas Taupe Attack" (Brown + Gray), but here's betting the Longhorns just stick with the "Texas defense." The Longhorns have staked a pretty solid claim as the nation's DBU, though. That'll be especially true next year with Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom holding down the corner spots and Kenny Vaccaro roaming around generally wreaking havoc. Texas could easily grab three of the four first-team All-Big 12 spots in the secondary.


Jared Leggett in Morgantown, W.Va., wrote: Just thought you would like to know that it was indeed snowing in Morgantown this morning. Friday it was in the mid-80s. In the fall, it will be like this too. Thank you for your coverage of Morgantown and WVU in the last month or so - much less biased than many reporters have churned out before. Can't wait for Football season.LET'S GO!- Jared Leggett WVU c/o 2015

DU: Please remember this the first time I rip the Mountaineers the first time they do an A&M impression and blow a game they should have easily had. It's never personal. I don't play favorites in this league. I dole out praise when it's deserved. I dole out criticism when it's deserved.


Sky Froehlich in Norfolk, Neb. wrote: Dear West Virginia,Beat Texas and we'll be best buds forever.Sincerely, Nebraska

DU: I'm not sure 1,000 Texas losses to West Virginia will erase the memory of that one, Sky. An unbelievable, unforgettable day at Memorial Stadium for sure.


Chuck Tyrell in Bemidji, Minn., wrote: Dave I enjoy your comments. Just a thought about KU, I think they maybe better than most folks think. They have had a big change in structure, conditioning and expectations. Also much better coaching, plus alot of good transfers and juco talent that fits major areas of need. My two cents worth prediction is 6-6 with a bowl game. (7-6) It will be interesting...and suprising.. Chuck

DU: I'm starting to buy in a little bit to the Jayhawks, Chuck. Not as a bowl team at all, but I'm starting to think this could be a 4-5 win team that scares a few people. The big talent upgrade at quarterback will make KU look a lot better right away. Weis surprised me by lauding his receivers this week. They must have not been able to shine with Jordan Webb at QB last year, or have some talented guys I didn't see last year. That surprised me.

We'll see. The Big 12 is much too deep in the top 6-7 teams to allow KU to win consistently at the start of the Weis era, but he's building in the right direction. It's got to be encouraging for the Jayhawks faithful who've endured some tough times the past few years and not much to be encouraged by.


I like iowa teams in Iowa wrote: Wait Wait Wait Wait Wait.... Iowa doesn't have a good reputation for football culture? Let me take a moment to put on my Iowa University hat, and dispute that. Have you perhaps heard of Hayden Fry? You mention Snyder served under him, why don't you crawl out from under your rock and look up just how MANY coaches were developed under Hayden Fry. Not to mention, with no pro team in state, Iowa college football is the KING sport in the state. Add a heisman winner to that, a one Nile Kinnick, maybe you've heard about him? War hero, died in service, noted for one of the great acceptance speeches of the heisman's history. Football Culture is one of the few things us Iowa folk can hang our hat on. I want an actual blogpost retraction of that comment. Because it's complete BS

DU: Hey, I'm not talking about historical accomplishments or coaching trees. I'm talking purely cultural. Iowa's isn't bad, but do you really believe it compares to some of the great ones around the nation? Are the multimillion-dollar, 10-20,000-seat high school stadiums all over the place? Do people really obsess over the game? I'd say Texas and Oklahoma's football "culture" are markedly better than Iowa's. It's not to say Iowa's is poor, just that it doesn't compare with the best nationally.

So, if you're looking for a retraction, you're out of luck, sir.

Ranking the Big 12's top 25 players: No. 10

February, 28, 2012
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Our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players continues. The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we're revealing a new member of the list every day.

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

We're in the top 10 now, officially. That means it could be a little heated from here on. Got beef? Send it to my mailbag, and we'll have a later post logging and answering your complaints.

No. 10: Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M

2011 numbers: Made 79 tackles (50 solo), including 17 tackles for loss. He also made 9.5 sacks and broke up two passes. Forced a fumble.

Most recent ranking: Porter was unranked in our preseason list of the top 25 players.

Making the case for Porter: Texas A&M's defensive line had a tough time producing pressure and getting sacks in Tim DeRuyter's 3-4, but Porter provided another level of pass rush that helped push Texas A&M to the national title in sacks, with 51. (That's a thing, right?)

His total of 9.5 sacks gave him the Big 12 sack title, and he finished third in the league with 17 tackles for loss. His pass rush won't quite be as valuable in the SEC, but the 6-foot-2, 230-pounder should be poised for a great year as a senior in 2012.

Porter was on pace for a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year nod, but was held without a sack in five of his seven final games, notching just two sacks in that period.

He made just five tackles for loss in his final five games, and was shut out in two of those games. He's got great speed and great flexibility that allows him to dip his inside shoulder on the edge like Von Miller used to.

It wasn't quite the season it looked like it might be early on, but Porter put together a huge year and earned plenty of respect heading into 2012.

The rest of the list:

Season report card: Texas A&M Aggies

January, 27, 2012
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We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 7-6 Texas A&M Aggies graded out in 2011.

More report cards:
OFFENSE: The past two seasons, Texas A&M has had as much, if not more, offensive talent than any team in the Big 12 to begin the season. Yet, it never quite works out. Last season, Jerrod Johnson's shoulder was the biggest problem with an early-season swoon. This season, the late-game collapses didn't have a single culprit, but injuries to Jeff Fuller, Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray certainly didn't help.

Those weren't the biggest problems, though. Too often in the second half of crucial games the Aggies' offense sputtered. Every loss was something different it seemed. After scoring 20 points in the first half against Oklahoma State, it managed just seven in the second. A week later, a 35-point first half was followed by a three-point second half in a loss to Arkansas.

Ryan Tannehill's decision making, especially in those infamous second halves, was poor, and resulted in 15 interceptions for the season. Mike Sherman's play calling didn't help much, running the ball just six times in the second half of the OSU loss that started it all, despite rolling over OSU's defense in the first half.

The Aggies had a lot of firepower. That's hard to ignore. They finished fourth in the Big 12 (seventh nationally) in total offense and 11th nationally in scoring offense, with just under 40 points a game.

But it's impossible to ignore that when that firepower was needed most, it was mostly a dud. With the Aggies, you have to grade on a curve, considering the amount of talent on the field and the depth of offense in the Big 12.

GRADE: D+

DEFENSE: The loss of Von Miller was bigger than maybe anyone could have imagined. The Aggies' Wrecking Crew wasn't so fearsome this season, possessing a powerful pass rush, but doing so by bringing lots of blitzes.

The Aggies had 51 sacks in 2011, five more than any team in the nation. However, they gave up more than 275 passing yards a game, more than all but 11 teams in college football. When opponents passed on the Aggies, it seemed like it was always going to be a big play for at least one team.

Early in the season, the Aggies went 22 quarters without a turnover and finished the season minus-nine in turnover margin, forcing a Big 12-low 15 turnovers. That's unacceptable, and the coverage struggles in the secondary made the defense look hopeless at times, letting five quarterbacks set career highs for pass yardage throughout the season, including 510 yards to Arkansas' Tyler Wilson.

The Aggies were a fun team to watch, but defensively, were too often a mess.

GRADE: D

OVERALL: Well, its coach was fired, so you know this grade won't be a good one. Give the Aggies this, at least: They beat Texas at something. The Aggies were a far bigger disappointment this season than Texas in 2010, when the Longhorns went 5-7.

That was a young team with no proven offense. The Aggies were loaded on both sides of the ball, even without Miller. The pieces were there to win the Big 12 and maybe even the national championship. You don't lead by double digits in 12 of 13 games in the Big 12 without having tons and tons of talent. The Aggies had it.

They finished with seven wins, and only one (Baylor) was impressive. The second-half meltdowns were too much, and led to Sherman's firing after snatching the title of the Big 12's most disappointing team, and having an argument as the nation's biggest disappointment after starting the season in the top 10.

The losses piled up and ended with one final indignity: a loss to Texas that should never have happened. The program will have to live with that loss for decades at least, and perhaps forever. It'll go down as the most painful night in one of the most painful seasons in school history, and the defining moment in a season that Texas A&M would love to forget.

GRADE: F

Pro Bowl rosters and the Big 12

December, 28, 2011
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The NFL Pro Bowl released its rosters on Tuesday, and seven players have their roots in the Big 12.

Texas
Missouri
  • Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco (starter)
Oklahoma
Texas A&M
  • Von Miller, LB, Denver (starter)
  • Shane Lechler, P, Oakland
Texas Tech

Aggies players react to Sherman firing

December, 2, 2011
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Texas A&M players weighed in on the Thursday firing of coach Mike Sherman. Some did so through a school release, and others vented through social-media outlets.

"I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to play for such a great coach and great man as Mike Sherman," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "As a coach and person, he reflected everything that's great about Texas A&M's traditions and values. He helped us become not only better football players but better men. I wish him and his family the very best as they move forward. He will be missed."

Texas A&M
AP Photo/Eric GayThe firing of coach Mike Sherman -- here celebrating after beating Texas in 2010 -- has prompted strong reactions from several current and former Texas A&M players.
Safety Trent Hunter, a senior captain and four-year starter, said Sherman was "a father figure."

"He's a guy that really taught us core values that I will take with me for the rest of my life," Hunter said. "He is a man of integrity, character and honesty. There's not much more that you can ask for in a man than what Coach Sherman brings to the table. His door was always open to us and you could count on him being brutally honest with you no matter what. That's one of the things that I will always respect him for."

On Twitter, more Texas A&M players weighed in, and did so in much more pointed terms.

"What I'm reading better be fake. Not kidding," receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu wrote in a series of tweets as news broke Thursday evening. "Way way wayyyy beyond livid. Furious. Funny how all these decisions are made without thinking of the players. Funny how things work."

Offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi was angry, too.

"Everybody in the front office are so fake I swear, come to us smiling all the time n (expletive) then do this," he tweeted. "People told me its all a business they dont care about the players, but damn! (I don't know) what to think anymore."

Former quarterback Stephen McGee, who played under Sherman and is now with the Dallas Cowboys, weighed in, too.

"Disappointed of news that Coach Sherman will be released. Was a great football coach and an even better man! A&M has lost a really good one!" he wrote on Twitter. "I find it extremely difficult to point to Sherman for the seasons' shortcomings.. He put his team in situations to win every game and at some point players have to make plays.. A&M has made some bold long term decisions. All that being said I will always love and support Texas A&M! Special place, great people and an unmatched spirit!"

Linebacker Von Miller was one of the best Aggies of all time, winning the Butkus Award last season and being selected No. 2 overall in last year's NFL draft.

"It's unfortunate to see Coach Sherm go He is like another father to me He helped me become the person I am today I will never forget, never," he tweeted on his verified account. "Integrity, honor, accountability, faith, brotherhood, and my definition of the aggie spirit all came to me playing for Coach Sherman. gig em"

Mailbag: System QB, A&M doubt, upsets?

November, 18, 2011
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Thanks for all the questions this week. As always, send them here if you want to show up here next week.

Matt Walters in Dallas asked: Graham Harrell was labeled a "system quarterback" in 2008. Should players like Brandon Weeden and Case Keenum be given this label since they are in the exact same 'system'?

David Ubben: Here's the deal with the whole "system quarterback" knock: Most of the time, the criticism comes when quarterbacks don't make difficult throws and mostly rely on dink-and-dunk plays blocked downfield for big yardage. Anybody who watches Oklahoma State knows the Cowboys offense is nothing remotely of the sort. OSU throws it downfield plenty, and Weeden can make every throw. He's got a much bigger arm than Harrell or Keenum has, and OSU's offense shows it.

Also, Weeden is relied upon to make a lot of split-second decisions after the snap. OSU runs a number of plays that have the option to be a run or a pass, and he's the guy who has to read the defense and make the apt decision. I don't know if you've taken a look at OSU's offensive numbers lately, but it seems like he's done OK.

John Schultze in College Station, Texas, asked: After watching Von play at the next level, is Timmy D a great defensive mind? Or just a decent coordinator with an absolute freak on his side of the ball?

DU: It can't be both?

I had a chance to sit in on a lecture about the 3-4 that defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter gave to a couple hundred coaches at a coaching convention in January, and trust this: The guy knows his stuff. A&M's defense has fallen apart for a number of reasons, but DeRuyter's not the only one. You forget how bad this defense was in 2009, before DeRuyter arrived. It gave up about five more points a game than any other Big 12 team.

Former Aggies linebacker Von Miller is an unbelievable player who is having exactly as much success in the NFL as most of us thought he would, but DeRuyter's still a solid coordinator, and one of the best in the Big 12.

John in Ames, Iowa, asked: How big of a deal would it be if ISU pulled off the upset against Oklahoma State?

DU: Uh, the term "Poke Choke" comes to mind. Simply put, Iowa State doesn't have the necessary offense to win this game. Uncharacteristic mistakes like drops, turnovers or a weird night for Weeden is the only way Oklahoma State loses this game. Prepare for it, Iowa State fans. If the Cyclones win this, it's going to be about OSU.

John in Olathe, Kan., asked: What will it take for Collin Klein to be considered nationally as a legit QB talent? He is putting up ridiculous numbers in the nation's second best conference. On ESPN's Heisman Expert polling, there is no mention of his name. Do you think they will ignore him next year, too?

DU: It took a while for a couple reasons, most of which is he's not a big-play guy and he doesn't throw a pretty ball, which is sort of a prerequisite as a quarterback. You saw Taylor Martinez and Denard Robinson get Heisman hype last year because they made highlight runs and terrified defenses. Klein pushing the pile for a 3-yard touchdown run isn't exactly the stuff of legend.

Combine that with an underwhelming early-season schedule and it took a lot of folks (myself included) to realize what Klein really could be. Now, with K-State proving itself as a top 15-20 team or better, and Klein putting up some big-time numbers, he's gained attention. He'll definitely be a guy on Heisman watch lists next year.

Lee in Raleigh, N.C., asked: How can you say that the Texas defense is the best that Kansas St will face? The OU defense stiffled Kansas St (in Manhattan). I think the Wildcats will put up a lot more points on Texas, than they did on OU. And they'll do it in Austin.

DU: It might have something to do with that pesky rumor that Texas is giving up 47 fewer yards per game than any team in the Big 12 and more than 85 fewer than the Big 12's No. 3 team. Combine that with a ton of fantastic athletes at all three levels, and, well ... you get the point.

Kansas State might score a few more points on Texas, but that doesn't mean Texas' defense isn't better. The Longhorns D is legit.

Arnav in St. Louis asked: LSU couldn't score off of Alabama's defense, and if Alabama had had any passing attack whatsoever instead of having [Trent] Richardson try to run through 10 defenders, they might have scored a touchdown. Does OK State's passing juggernaut and pretty solid defense find a win there?

DU: I'm not ready to predict a win just yet, but I think it'd be close and a game that nears the 30s, probably something like 23-20 or 28-24. Could probably go either way. OSU's defense is better than I thought it was early in the year, and the offense isn't going to get totally shut down by any defense.

Mark in Corpus Christi, Texas, asked: BCS selection(s) aside. Which Big 12 team would you consider must watch out of the following. Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Baylor, Texas or Kansas State. List them in order of preference. Thanks.

DU: Give me OSU, Baylor, OU, K-State and then Texas. Oklahoma State's offensive athletes are a thing of beauty. The same's true of Baylor and Oklahoma, especially Robert Griffin III. He might be the most fun player to watch in the league. K-State and UT are doing it ugly.

Chris in Manhattan, Kan., asked: Everyone is saying K-State's offense isn't sexy. But Collin Klein is our offense, right? For the most part yes. Collin Klein is rugged, right? Yes. And being rugged is generally considered sexy, right? I think so. Therefore K-states offense is generally sexy when Klein is on the field.

DU: You just blew my mind.
Unranked Texas A&M's 33-19 upset of then-No. 8 Oklahoma last season left two lasting images.

For the first time in a long time, players left the field to chants of "Wrecking Crew," the moniker ultimately reserved for the best Texas A&M defenses.

The other was the dominant play on the line of scrimmage that birthed those chants.

Three times, Von Miller's crew stuffed Oklahoma at the goal line, the biggest coming in the final minutes to seal the win, denying DeMarco Murray the end zone on three runs inside the 5-yard line.

[+] EnlargeChristine Michael
AP Photo/Brandon WadeChristine Michael will need room to run for the Aggies to upset Oklahoma on Saturday.
Once again, Texas A&M is unranked and facing Oklahoma with three losses. This time, it travels to Norman, where it was beaten 65-10 in its last trip back in 2009.

The Sooners and Aggies are the two most physical offenses in the Big 12, and if A&M is going to spring another upset, it will have to win the battle of the line of scrimmage. The Big 12, with its elite skill-position talent and deep stock of quarterbacks, doesn't always have games decided up front. This one will be.

"Our offensive line is coming around," said Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman, who played true freshmen last year at both offensive tackle spots. "Until this last ballgame, defensively, we’ve been pretty good against the run."

Consider: Oklahoma leads the nation with 34 sacks. The Sooners have allowed three sacks, tied with Boise State for the fewest nationally.

Texas A&M, meanwhile, has given up just seven sacks and is third nationally with 30 sacks.

"A lot of us have definitely stepped up," said Texas A&M defensive lineman Spencer Nealy. "We definitely always play with a lot of effort, and at times, like any other position, we’ll have mistakes, but as a whole, we played pretty good."

The Aggies, though, have ascended to second in the Big 12 at 224 yards rushing per game while Oklahoma has sunk to eighth, though the Sooners possess the league's top passing attack.

Oklahoma will be without leading rusher Dominique Whaley, too, who suffered a broken ankle in Saturday's win over Kansas State.

Texas A&M fields the league's best 1-2 punch at running back, and last year's growth took place without one of them even on the field.

"The maturation of [the offensive line] really helped us. We struggled early in the season. We gave up a lot of sacks in the first half of the season. We didn’t run the ball very well," Sherman said. "We weren’t protecting well, we weren't running the ball well. They started to come into their own. A couple of our young tackles were talented but they didn’t have the experience. I thought they grew up in the second half of the season and we emphasized the run game more and took some pressure off the passing game and tried to stay out of long-yardage situations. ... They had a big part in the second-half run last season."

It's only continued into 2011. Christine Michael's broken leg that forced him out of the second half of the season has healed, and he's on course for a career season with 811 yards, third-most in the Big 12. Cyrus Gray has 704 yards of his own to rank ninth in the league.

Those two are fully capable of carrying the Aggies to the upset.

Despite the high sack numbers for A&M, it's given up more passing yards per game than any team in the country. How?

"It’s not ability at all. We’ve got some of the best players in the Big 12," Nealy said, pointing to fundamentals.

The best way to slow Oklahoma's passing attack is to keep it off the field. That means running the ball well and pressuring Landry Jones.

Texas A&M's offensive and defensive lines can do that. They proved it last year.

Now, it's time to do it again.

Familiar name frequenting Kyle Field

October, 15, 2011
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M fans won't have to rack their brains much to remember today's honorary captain.

Former Aggie linebacker Von Miller made a surprise appearance at Midnight Yell last night, and will be back at Kyle Field today to be recognized as the honorary captain.

Miller, a rookie for the Denver Broncos, won the Butkus Award last season as the nation's top linebacker, and set a school record with a nation-leading 17 sacks in 2009.

His Broncos are on a bye this week.

Miller was also the biggest reason for the rise of the Aggies' defense last season and the late-season revival of the Wrecking Crew.

Expect him to get a big welcome before today's games from a fan base planning to wear white and wave maroon towels, rather than its usual maroon shirt and white towels.

The move is to support wildfire relief throughout Texas.

One final note: I'll be chatting right here until kickoff, so come by and say a last-minute hello.

Midseason review: Texas A&M

October, 11, 2011
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TEXAS A&M AGGIES

Record: 3-2 (1-1 Big 12)

The story for Texas A&M in the season's first half has been simple, yet painful. In the Aggies two biggest games of the year thus far, the pattern has been identical: First-half dominance followed by second-half incompetence. Oklahoma State didn't look like it belonged on the same field as the suddenly scary Aggies that looked befitting of a national title contender with a 20-3 lead. Arkansas was getting outplayed and outmuscled by a physical Texas A&M offense in the first half and trailed, 35-17.

The Aggies lost both games. That's about all there is to say through six games for the Aggies. The offense, though it got away from the powerful running game against Oklahoma State, has been as advertised. Year 2 under defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter hasn't gone as planned, and though the Aggies are second nationally in sacks with 21, they're dead last in pass defense, giving up over 347 yards per game. Oklahoma State and Arkansas set new school records with a combined 948 yards through the air while beating Texas A&M. The second half of the season will feature plenty more chances for the Aggies to prove themselves, but the biggest goals for Texas A&M on the way to the SEC after this season have already been lost.

Offensive MVP: Ryan Tannehill, QB. The running back combo of Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael is right there with Tannehill, but the quarterback has been excellent outside of a few untimely picks late against Oklahoma State. He's completing 67 percent of his passes, has thrown for 1,327 yards and opened the scoring against Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with 65-yard and 19-yard touchdown runs, respectively. Outside the pocket, he's been brilliant this season.

Defensive MVP: Sean Porter, LB. Though the pass defense has struggled, Porter has been one of the Big 12's best defenders over the first half of the season. He leads the Big 12 with 6.5 sacks and has 34 tackles with 8.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The Aggies needed somebody to step up in the linebacking corps without Von Miller this year, and Porter has been at his best this year.

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