Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor: Hager is the reigning titleholder in the Big 12 after making 124 stops a year ago. He's a speedster in the middle of the Bears defense and made 12 more tackles than any returning player in the Big 12 a year ago. He had six games with double-digit tackles and should again be a fixture on the Bears defense.
Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas: Heeney got loose from blockers to make 112 stops last season. Coach Charlie Weis says he'd like it if Heeney didn't have to do it again and upgraded the defensive line with some juco talent in hopes of taking some of that responsibility off Heeney. The 6-foot, 227-pound Hutchinson, Kan., native could break through as a junior this season.
Jeremiah George, LB, Iowa State: From Jesse Smith to Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, the linebacker tradition at Iowa State has been super strong in recent years. George looks in position to continue that run. He filled in admirably for an injured Knott in the final month of the season and finished with 87 tackles, good for 16th in the Big 12 in 2012. Look for that number to grow as he moves into a full-time starting role.
Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia: Joseph led all returning players with 76 solo tackles last season and 102 total stops. He's the most talented member of a West Virginia defense that struggled through 2012. It's never a good sign when your safety logs 100-plus tackles, but it happened in Morgantown. WVU fired its cornerbacks coach and switched play-calling duties from Joe DeForest to Keith Patterson, but Joseph may be called on to play a similar role this season.