Dallas Colleges: Alex Elkins
2012 Big 12 record: 5-4
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 0
Top returners: QB Clint Chelf, WR Josh Stewart, CB Justin Gilbert, LB Shaun Lewis, LB Caleb Lavey, WR Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett, S Daytawion Lowe, DE Tyler Johnson
Key losses: RB Joseph Randle, LB Alex Elkins, K/P/KOS Quinn Sharp, CB Brodrick Brown, DE Nigel Nicholas, WR Isaiah Anderson
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Passing: Clint Chelf* (1,588 yards)
Rushing: Joseph Randle (1,417 yards)
Receiving: Josh Stewart* (1,210 yards)
Tackles: Alex Elkins, Daytawion Lowe* (75)
Sacks: Tyler Johnson* (4)
Interceptions: Lyndell Johnson*, Daytawion Lowe*, Shamiel Gary* (2)
1. The defense's intentions are clear. Bill Young is out. Glenn Spencer is in, and he's all about playing aggressive. Tight coverage and blitzes are the name of the game, and we'll see if it pays off in a Big 12 lacking in quarterback experience. Last season, OSU's parade of turnovers came to an end, but Spencer seems intent on bringing it back. Nobody's stopping Big 12 offenses, but forcing turnover and holding teams to three in the red zone are how you succeed on defense in this league.
2. The offensive line is set ... for now. Center Evan Epstein and guard Lane Taylor are gone, but the Pokes are going with youth at left tackle in sophomore Devin Davis, moving last year's left tackle, Parker Graham, to left guard. Meanwhile, junior Jake Jenkins is sliding up to take Epstein's spot at center. That's how it ended in the spring, but OL coach Joe Wickline is kind of unpredictable, so those guys better continue to bring it in fall camp.
3. Athletic director Mike Holder is still running the show. Gundy and Holder had a disagreement on scheduling that nearly ended with Gundy packing his bags to succeed Derek Dooley in Knoxville. But Gundy's displeasure with Holder helping schedule Mississippi State this year and Florida State next year -- both on neutral fields -- hasn't changed much. OSU just announced a future home-and-home with Boise State. Who knows what Boise will look like then, but the intent is clear: Holder wants attention-grabbing, money-making games to start the season, not home games against patsies to help OSU run up an easy 3-0 mark before conference play begins.
1. Seriously, what's the deal at quarterback? Chelf is the safe bet at quarterback, but Gundy reneged on a statement midway through spring that he would hold onto his starting spot in Week 1 ahead of J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt. Now, Gundy says the starter for Game 1 hasn't been decided, and quarterbacks are off limits to the media with no updates being given until after the season opener. We'll see if Gundy sticks to it, and if Chelf hangs onto the starting job he earned with strong play to close 2012.
2. Is Oklahoma State a new Big 12 power? The Pokes broke through and won a title in 2011, but one title doesn't mean anything in the big picture. OSU is in position to win another and just may be the league favorite to start the season. They are in my book for sure. Two Big 12 titles in three seasons? That's serious, and the Pokes have a chance to do some special things this season.
3. Is Mike Yurcich the next super coordinator at OSU? Mike Gundy's been a head coach less than a decade, but his coaching tree is already way underrated. He's churning out head coaches year after year, highlighted by guys like Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, Larry Fedora at North Carolina and Tim Beckman at Illinois. Todd Monken just left for Southern Miss, and if Yurcich, who stepped into the new role from a Division II school, keeps the pace for this offense, I'm betting he may attract interest before too long, too. Watching how he handles Year 1 will be interesting. Monken came from being an NFL position coach and made parlaying that into a head coaching job look easy.
1. Sort out the "mess" at quarterback. Let me be clear when I say this: Oklahoma State has a good problem at quarterback. It has three guys who I really think could win a Big 12 title in Stillwater next season, but you've got to make it clear that one is your guy. That's what this spring is about. Clint Chelf will take the tag of starter into his last spring practice as a Poke, but sophomores J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will be right there challenging him. Again, this is a good problem to have, and these guys will all make each other better. I don't expect Walsh's short-yardage package to go anywhere regardless of who wins the job, but I still buy Lunt as the future of the position for Oklahoma State, as long as he stays healthy. The game will slow down for him in his second season, and the mistakes will lessen as a result.
2. Adjust to a new face leading the defense, and mature. The Pokes' defense wasn't awful this past season, but they're going to be loaded with talent in 2013. Can that become production? The defense brings back eight starters, headlined by CB Justin Gilbert, LB Shaun Lewis and DT Calvin Barnett. The secondary loses only Brodrick Brown, but Kevin Peterson is a promising player who can help that secondary bounce back from a disappointing 2012. Linebacker Alex Elkins is gone, but new coordinator Glenn Spencer slides into the role after coaching linebackers under Bill Young, who didn't have his contract renewed at the end of the season. Can Oklahoma State get back to forcing turnovers in bunches like it did under Young, but slow opposing offenses better than ever before?
3. Fill a gigantic hole in special teams. Quinn Sharp has done everything for Oklahoma State's special teams for the past two seasons and has been one of the Big 12's best kickers, punters and kickoff specialists all at once throughout that period. He emerged as a punter, but did a fantastic job in all of his roles after replacing Dan Bailey as kicker. Oklahoma State's had the luxury of not worrying about special teams with Sharp there, and it's hoping to have that continue. We'll see what happens this offseason when the Pokes try to replace Sharp. Oklahoma State actually has three kickers returning (Bobby Stonebraker, Matt Green, Cody Phillips) and one punter, Michael Reichenstein.
More offseason to-do lists:
The Big 12 had nine players with 100 tackles this season. There were 89 players in FBS with at least 100 tackles. Let's have a look at projections vs. reality.
1. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: Knott was on track to hit 100, but a shoulder injury ended his career four games early. He was stuck on 79 tackles to end the season after nine games, capped by a home win over Baylor.
2. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State: Klein was third in the Big 12 with 117 tackles, closing strong with 33 tackles in his final two games. After Knott's injury, Klein had six or fewer tackles in three consecutive games, but the strong finish helped him easily clear the 100-tackle threshold.
3. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: Brown made nine tackles in K-State's loss to Oregon to hit the 100-tackle mark on the number and finish ninth in the Big 12 in tackles.
4. Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas: Hicks got off to a great start, making 20 tackles in Texas' first two games, but a hip injury ended his season early against Mississippi in the third game of the season. He earned a medical redshirt and will still be a sophomore next season.
5. Mike Hicks, S, Baylor: Baylor's linebackers shouldered the load for tackles this year and were much stronger up front. Hicks needed just 67 tackles this season.
6. Alex Elkins, LB, Oklahoma State: Elkins was Oklahoma State's leading tackler, but finished the season with just 75 tackles. In four of his last five games, he had five or fewer tackles.
Here are the guys we overlooked:
Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor: Hager came out of nowhere to lead the Big 12 with 124 tackles. He made just 13 tackles in 2011.
Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma: Oklahoma's scheme change under Mike Stoops funneled a whole lot more tackles Jefferson's way, and he was there to make the plays. He had just 74 tackles in 2011, but racked up 119 this season to finish second in the Big 12.
Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas: Heeney made a rousing eight tackles in 2011, but emerged as a playmaker this season to finish fourth in the Big 12 with 112 tackles.
Eddie Lackey, LB, Baylor: The juco transfer became Baylor's biggest big-play threat on defense late in the season with a pair of pick-sixes, but he also made 104 tackles.
Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia: The true freshman became WVU's defense's biggest playmaker, racking up takeaways but making 102 tackles.
Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor: Baylor had two safeties make 100 tackles last year, but Dixon was the only one this year. It's hard to believe Baylor had three 100-tackle defenders this year, though. Dixon had 102.
Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech: Davis is the least surprising player who I didn't project for 100 tackles. He's been a huge part of Tech's defense, and nearly topped 100 stops in 2011. This year, he made 101 as a senior four-year starter.
OFFENSE: You have to grade this unit on a curve. No other team in the Big 12 had to deal with this kind of injuries to the most important position on the field, quarterback. Wes Lunt was hurt twice (head, knee) and J.W. Walsh magically returned from a season-ending knee injury after missing a handful of games. Ultimately, the man who began the season as the third-stringer, Clint Chelf, was probably the most consistent quarterback on the roster, and mixing in Walsh's short-yardage package was fantastic. Running back Joseph Randle led the Big 12 in rushing by 300 yards, which is a testament to him and the offensive line, which was great again. Josh Stewart proved to be the team's No. 1 receiver, though Blake Jackson and Tracy Moore were a bit underwhelming. Dealing with those quarterback issues and finishing fourth nationally in total offense is pretty amazing. GRADE: A+
DEFENSE: Oklahoma State forced more than three turnovers in a game six times in 2011. This year, the Pokes did it just once, in the bowl game against Purdue. That was kind of the story for this defense, which will be coached by Glenn Spencer next year after Mike Gundy let veteran coach Bill Young go at the end of his contract. Giving up 59 points in a penalty-filled loss on the road to Arizona gave reason to believe this might be a long year for this unit, but Oklahoma State actually gave up fewer yards per play this season than it did in last year's Big 12 campaign. The cornerbacks were a huge disappointment this year relative to expectations following 2011's huge year, and there wasn't a huge standout on defense in Stillwater this year. Calvin Barnett and Daytawion Lowe had good years, and Alex Elkins and Shaun Lewis were solid at linebacker, but didn't get much notice in a super deep position across the Big 12. Oklahoma State dominated the Big 12's lower-tier offenses like TCU, Iowa State and Kansas, and played well against Texas Tech, but it did little to slow the elite offenses in the Big 12. GRADE: B-
OVERALL: You knew the expectations would be lower for this team after losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon alone, despite all the returning talent on defense. Winning five of six Big 12 games in the middle of the season with the lone loss coming to K-State set this team apart and made it clear they would again be an upper-tier Big 12 team, but the losses to Oklahoma and Baylor down the stretch kept them from truly exceeding the reasonable expectations. Oklahoma State can feel happy about a solid year that will build toward a big opportunity in 2013, and Gundy gets a pass for making 2012 the first season in his eight years in Stillwater that he didn't equal or surpass his win total from the previous year. That's what happens when you win 12 games and then lose the best parts of your offense. Kidding aside, kudos to the Cowboys. GRADE: A-
More Big 12 report cards:
1. The Cowboys offense is set up for Wes Lunt to succeed. Most importantly, the bulk of the Cowboys offensive line returns, as does coach Joe Wickline. Never underestimate the power of an extra second in the pocket. Those add up over time. He's got arguably the league's best 1-2 punch at running back in Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and though his receivers aren't the most experienced, they're hardly green, and he's got lots of targets who will be productive, starting with Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Isaiah Anderson. There's no Justin Blackmon or Brandon Weeden in this offense, but Lunt should do well, and he'll have loads of help.
3. The Cowboys know what it takes to win a Big 12 title. Never underestimate the ability of a team that knows what it's like to reach the summit. No, Oklahoma State is not the best team in the Big 12 to begin the season, but it's stocked full of players who know what it takes to be that team. My guess is they're willing to push the rest of the team to that level if the players who need to step up are able to match that effort. You can't duplicate experience, but last year OSU broke the Oklahoma-Texas duopoly that dominated this league. The pieces are in place for the Cowboys to have a reasonable shot to do it again.
Why Oklahoma State won't win the Big 12
1. They're starting a true freshman at quarterback. The offense that Dana Holgorsen brought to Stillwater in 2010 is much simpler than what it ran when Mike Gundy was in charge of the offense piloted by Zac Robinson, but Lunt is still a true freshman. He'll make plays, and he'll make mistakes -- probably too many to ultimately win a title. History is absolutely against him. Only two first-year starting quarterbacks have won Big 12 titles, to say nothing of true freshmen, which has never been done, even if there have only been a handful of true freshmen to start in this league.
2. The turnover avalanche won't be quite as plentiful. Oklahoma State forces turnovers. Period. That's what the defense does. Last season, when the Cowboys forced an FBS-best 44 turnovers, was not a complete aberration. That said, it was still somewhat of an outlier, and in a few of those games, OSU needed every one of the turnovers it forced. OSU forced 34 turnovers in 2010 (fifth nationally) and 30 in 2009 (11th nationally). That's a pretty clear trend since the arrival of defensive coordinator Bill Young. OSU's defense should be very, very good, but it's a little silly to expect another 44 turnovers to roll in this season. No other team in college football had more than 39 last year.
3. The rest of the contenders are more talented. Oklahoma State has a ton of talent, but do the Cowboys have as much as the teams ahead of them in the conference poll? Certainly not Oklahoma. Depending on where you want to see talent, it's close between the Cowboys and West Virginia or Texas when you assess the depth chart from top to bottom. I'd probably lean toward West Virginia and Texas in both of those cases. Last year, OSU had as much talent as any team in the league, if not more. This year, the Cowboys have enough talent to win the league, but they don't have as much as other teams in the Big 12.
Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor: Reese is undersized at 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, sure. Who cares? He's productive, and should only be more so without Kendall Wright in Waco this season. Reese will likely be the second option behind Terrance Williams, but the speedster at inside receiver managed to rack up 877 receiving yards, eighth-most in school history, as the third option for RG3 last season.
Trey Millard, FB/TE, Oklahoma: Millard is a jack of all trades for the Sooners, and played three positions last year. He's invaluable for the Sooners, and may be even more so this season. Look for him to grab some touches at tailback this season, probably in short yardage situations that require a power back.
Alex Elkins, LB, Oklahoma State: Elkins was second on the team with 90 stops, including five tackles for loss. The 6-foot-3, 230-pounder is a solid tackler, but too often, the former walk-on who didn't play football until junior college gets written off as one of the league's top linebackers.
James White, RB, Iowa State: White looked like a non-factor last season, but after Shontrelle Johnson went down with a neck injury, White ascended to starter status. He finished with 743 yards and eight scores, including the game-winner against Iowa in triple overtime.
Seth Doege, QB, Texas Tech: Doege's offense put up big numbers last year, but he didn't have much of a chance to win big last season. Doege's name never comes up among the league's best passers, but despite having no running game and tons of injuries on the offensive line, Doege topped 4,000 yards and threw for 28 touchdowns with just 10 picks. If Tech starts winning (which wasn't much of Doege's fault in 2011), his name might come up in the debate for the Big 12's best passer.
Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas: Shipley's instincts and great hands are two things you simply can't coach. Now, he'll only get better as a sophomore, and his numbers will balloon if his quarterback improves and Shipley can stay healthy. Even with the revolving door at QB last year and an injury that caused him to miss three games, he finished with 607 yards and three scores on 44 catches.
K.J. Morton, CB, Baylor: Baylor's defense caught big criticism last year, but Morton was a big bright spot late in the season. The Bears were +10 in turnover margin over the last six games, and Morton was a big reason why. All four of his interceptions came in the final three games of the regular season. Now, he's got to improve his coverage skills.
John Hubert, RB, Kansas State: You know about Collin Klein, but it seems like nobody's paying attention to Hubert, who just so happens to be the Big 12's No. 3 returning rusher with 970 yards on just 200 carries.
Eric Ward, WR, Texas Tech: Texas Tech's 2011 season was rough, but Ward emerged as the most consistent target for a receiving corps racked by injuries. It wasn't fun last year, but now, the Red Raiders have some serious depth, and Ward gets no attention, despite catching 84 balls for 800 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In other words, they're coming in under the radar. Click here for more players under the radar.
Next up: the Oklahoma State Cowboys
Under the radar: LB Caleb Lavey
Shaun Lewis is the superstar recruit turned Big 12 Freshman of the Year. Alex Elkins is the scrappy linebacker with the amazing story that began on an open call for walk-ons at a junior college. Lavey? Well, he seems to be the forgotten man in Oklahoma State's linebacking corps.
As a first-year starter following a quiet freshman season, Lavey was all over the place for the Cowboys, making 74 tackles to tie for third on the team, with senior safety Markelle Martin in that stat. He intercepted a pass, and made five tackles for loss. One of those came in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl win over Stanford. He also made a sack and forced a fumble last season.
Lavey, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound Celina, Texas native, makes up the forgotten third of a very talented, very experienced set of linebackers for the Cowboys who should emerge as the leaders of a solid defense in 2012. He started every game as a sophomore, making a career-high 12 tackles in the road win over Texas and 10 more in the season-changing, comeback win at Texas A&M.
Look for him to have plenty more double-digit tackle performances in 2012 and land on the radar of plenty of offenses by the time conference play comes around.
Just a few months later, the questions are out. The doubts are fresh.
"Losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon was too much."
"Welcome back to Earth, Cowboys."
"Their new quarterback is how old?"
The 2011 team was better. It won more and went further, twice setting the school record for wins, racking up 23 in two seasons and bringing some new hardware to Stillwater that had never found a home at Boone Pickens Stadium.
That's just one breakthrough season. Oklahoma State, though? It's about to prove it's a breakthrough program ready to take its place among college football's elite.
The Cowboys have sustained success, winning at least nine games in four consecutive seasons. They'll do it again in 2012, because that's what elite teams do after they win a title. They keep winning, and Oklahoma State has stockpiled plenty of talent outside of Weeden and Blackmon, talent that's ready to shoulder the load and carry the Pokes to a solid season.
They're not built for a title in 2012, but they're built for a solid season. Expect 8-9 wins. Don't be surprised if a bowl win gives the Pokes their third consecutive 10-win season.
That's not a breakout season in the traditional sense, but its further validation that the Cowboys' arrival on the big stage last season didn't precede a humbling rebuilding season in 2012.
Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle will make life easier for Lunt. A solid, underrated receiving corps is ready to make a name for itself, highlighted by Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and newcomer Blake Jackson filling in for Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison.
The defense led the nation in turnovers last season -- a third consecutive season in the national top 11 -- and will be more experienced and talented in 2012. Linebackers Alex Elkins and Shaun Lewis hold down the middle, while cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown stake a claim as one of the Big 12's best duos on the outside.
Oklahoma State made a name for itself in the 2011 season, but the national audience is fickle. It may have forgotten.
The Cowboys will remind them this year.
And just wait until next year.
For defenders, 100 tackles is the dividing line of a productive season, even though plenty of other big talents don't hit the triple digits.
As for the ones who will in 2012?
College football had 86 players top 100 tackles in 2011. Only eight from the Big 12 reached that benchmark. Here's who will do it next year:
1. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: Knott's the most physical defender on Iowa State's defense, and he's already got two 100-tackle seasons under his belt. He'll add a third this year alongside his teammate, A.J. Klein, who's brought the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year hardware to Ames in 2011.
2. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State: Klein will do the same thing Knott will in 2012: earn his third consecutive 100-tackle season. Iowa State's defensive line leaves a bit to be desired, but the Cyclones backer duo brings a punch, even if they're not behind the line of scrimmage too often. Klein's the better athlete between the two, but these two will go head to head again for the Big 12 tackles title.
3. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: Brown's speed and sure tackling will pay off again in his second year as the cornerstone of the K-State defense. The Wildcats need him to shut down open spaces, and nobody in the Big 12 closes them faster than Brown.
4. Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas: The Longhorns are losing 215 tackles at linebacker without Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. The time is now for Hicks. Texas' defense will be salty, but Hicks, a former five-star recruit from Ohio, may be a household name very, very soon.
5. Mike Hicks, S, Baylor: Baylor won't have two safeties with 100 tackles this year, but they'll still have one, and Hicks will be that guy for the Bears. The defense will be better in Year 2 under Phil Bennett, but not all that much better. Big plays will happen against Baylor, but Hicks can keep them from being backbreaking plays.
6. Alex Elkins, LB, Oklahoma State: Elkins' story is incredible, and he'll finish it with 100 stops as a senior. Not bad for a guy who responded to an open tryout at junior college. Now, he'll be a lynchpin of a much-improved defense in Stillwater.
Do you see anybody else hitting triple digits?
Who will have the Big 12's best defense? Let's look at the real candidates.
The Longhorns have led the Big 12 in total defense in each of the past four seasons, and coordinator Manny Diaz has a great unit coming back in 2012. Linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are gone, but cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs might be the best and second-best in the entire Big 12. Pass-rushers Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat provide a unit well-equipped to slow the league's best offenses.
Bill Snyder's unit has lots of raw talent and brings back seven starters from a defense that ranked fifth in the Big 12 last season. Linebacker Arthur Brown holds it all together in the middle, but cornerback Nigel Malone could emerge as the Big 12's best by season's end. Fellow defensive back Ty Zimmerman and linebacker Tre Walker are both very underrated.
TCU had a rough 2011 season, and lost former All-American Tanner Brock before the season when he was arrested in a campus drug sting. The Horned Frogs have a tried and true defensive system, though, and safeties coach Chad Glasgow returns after a season at Texas Tech. Under coach Gary Patterson, the Horned Frogs led the nation in total defense in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
The Cowboys came under fire last year under the national microscope, but OSU still forced 44 turnovers in 13 games, six more than any team in all of college football. Eight starters return, including an outstanding cornerback duo in Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown. Linebacker Shaun Lewis could be due for a breakout season, too. There are some questions on the defensive line, but Alex Elkins and Caleb Lavey fill out a strong set of linebackers.
The Sooners' back line caught a lot of criticism last season, but Mike Stoops is back, 11 years after helping carry Oklahoma to its seventh national title, pitching a shutout of Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl. He'll help revitalize the secondary in Norman, and has plenty of talent at his disposal to do so, highlighted by Tony Jefferson, who looks like he's found a home at the traditional safety spot after spending two seasons as nickelback. Corey Nelson and Tom Wort give the Sooners one of the best sets of linebackers in the league.
So, who are you taking?
Gundy called this group of linebackers “the best group…that we've had here that I can remember, as a player or coach.”
All three starters -- senior Alex Elkins (90 tackles) and juniors Shaun Lewis (61 tackles) and Caleb Lavey (74 tackles) -- return, as does key reserve Joe Mitchell. Redshirt freshman Ryan Simmons and sophomore Nico Ornelas are two young players the coaching staff has high hopes for.
“We have more players who can run fast and have natural savvy to make a play,” Gundy said. “I see a very competitive position with a number of guys that can make plays. Some of them are experienced. Some of them aren't.”
I remember sitting down with Gundy for awhile after the Bedlam win against Oklahoma, and he mentioned something to the effect of, "We've got some athletes around here now that we haven't had at Oklahoma State in a long time -- maybe ever."
For the defense, that could pay off this season while the offense finds its stride.
We've already seen Oklahoma State build an offense without superstar recruits, but on defense?
Oklahoma State has just as many -- more in 2011, actually -- top recruits on the defensive side of the ball than Oklahoma, which has provided a benchmark of success in the Big 12 for every other program.
Last season, Oklahoma State gave up a lot of yards, but forced 44 turnovers -- five more than any team in the country. In 2010, it forced 34 turnovers, fifth-most nationally.
If OSU starts slowing offenses and forcing turnovers? Look out.
This season's defense returns eight starters, but it's the depth that has Gundy excited.
"We have a number of young players that can really contribute and help us on that side of the ball,” Gundy told the paper. "It's always been a goal of ours to get enough depth to play a number of guys, like we have on offense. I see this as the first spring that we've really had that opportunity."
Seems like that's worked well for the offense. Could this season be the beginning of big things for the defense? And, perhaps, the beginning of a new dynasty in the Big 12?
If the defense is as good as Gundy believes it can be, and the offense picks up anywhere close to where it left off in 2011, you better believe that's where the Cowboys are headed.
At this position, depth is a major factor in these rankings. Additionally, I included nickelbacks in this grouping. Hybrid defensive end/linebackers will be grouped with defensive lines.
2. Texas: The Longhorns will sorely miss an outstanding duo of their own with tons of experience. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho are both NFL-bound after combining for 215 tackles.
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners weren't quite as good as expected in 2011, but part of that was because of a Travis Lewis preseason toe injury that slowed him for much of the season. Lewis, Tony Jefferson and Tom Wort all topped 70 tackles in 2011, and are a solid group.
4. Kansas State: Arthur Brown reinvigorated this group, finishing eighth in the Big 12 with 101 tackles, but the Wildcats linebackers were more than just Brown. Tre Walker and converted safety Emmanuel Lamur combined for 135 stops and helped lead one of the league's most underrated units and a much-improved run defense.
5. Texas A&M: The Aggies' backers were big pass-rushers, though they struggled in coverage this season. Sean Porter was the Big 12's sack champion with 9.5, and Caleb Russell and Jonathan Stewart combined for six more. Damontre Moore is the rawest talent of the bunch, but built on that in 2011, making 72 tackles.
6. Oklahoma State: OSU's group was good, but not great. Alex Elkins' crazy story came to an end with 90 stops in 2011. He showed up everywhere for the Cowboys, but reigning Big 12 Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis didn't quite have the sophomore season some had hoped. Caleb Lavey added some solid play for the turnover-hungry unit, producing 74 tackles and five tackles for loss.
7. Missouri: Zaviar Gooden wasn't quite the impact player Mizzou had hoped, but he was solid alongside a group that's been injury prone over the past two years. Sophomore Andrew Wilson emerged as the team's top tackler with 98 stops, and Luke Lambert added 82 more. A high ankle sprain in the season opener kept Will Ebner off the field, but he'll be back in 2012 after the NCAA granted him a fifth year of eligibility.
8. Kansas: Steven Johnson led the Big 12 with 119 tackles, but the rest of the unit left a lot to be desired. Darius Willis has some potential, but the rest of the team's linebackers have their work cut out for them in 2012. Tunde Bakare also returns from a unit that ranked ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense.
9. Baylor: The Bears needed help just about everywhere. Elliot Coffey was solid, and finished tied for fourth with 114 stops, but Baylor was eighth in the Big 12 in rush defense. Baylor has solid athlete in the secondary and on the defensive line, but at linebacker, Rodney Chadwick and Brody Trahan leave a bit to be desired. Ahmad Dixon was better in 2011, but still has a lot of potential that needs to be filled.
10. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders are looking for a new defensive coordinator and the 4-2-5 made a short stop in Lubbock. The Red Raiders were awful everywhere on defense, but especially up front. Nobody in college football was worse at stopping the run, and D.J. Johnson, Daniel Cobb and Cqulin Hubert turned in forgettable performances. Time to get better for 2012.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- That's as thorough a beating as any Bob Stoops team has taken since USC back in the Orange Bowl.
I believe for their efforts, the Trojans were given a ... national championship? Just some food for thought.
Followed by some analysis for dessert.
How the game was won: Oklahoma State dominated from start to finish in the 44-10 win. Oklahoma moved it early, but Oklahoma State piled on points after a Landry Jones fumble that set up the Cowboys' second touchdown. The second half never materialized as a real contest, especially after Jones inexplicably fumbled while trying to throw a bubble screen and Oklahoma State DE Richetti Jones scooped and scored from five yards out to make it 34-3 early in the third quarter.
Turning point: Down 10-0 and facing a 3rd-and-6 at OSU's 19, Jones was flushed out of the pocket, but OSU LB Alex Elkins caught him. He stripped the Sooners QB, and Jamie Blatnick returned the fumble 59 yards to the OU 1-yard line. The rout, as they say, was on.
Stat of the game: Remember that opportunistic Oklahoma State defense? The one that ranks second in the nation in turnover margin? It grabbed three turnovers in this one, stuffing an OU drive in OSU territory on one, returning another for a touchdown and returning a third to the 1. A solid beating turns to a rout fast when that happens.
Players of the game: Oklahoma State's offensive line. The holes were huge. Brandon Weeden had all day to throw. The Big 12's best front five played a heck of a game and gave the offense what it needed to operate, despite lots of early blitzes from Oklahoma that the Cowboys countered with screen passes. Late in the game, OSU continued to punish OU up front, too.
Second guessing: Poll voters and BCS computers. OSU didn't get any help from LSU, but Oklahoma State and Alabama were pretty close in my mind coming into Saturday night's game. The beatdown swung it in the Pokes' favor from where I'm sitting. No rematch. Let's see LSU's stifling defense take on an Oklahoma State offense that's scoring on everybody. LSU has never seen an offense like it would see in the Superdome. Oklahoma State's never seen a defense like it would encounter. Who doesn't want to see that?
What Oklahoma learned: It can't bounce back offensively from the loss of Ryan Broyles. It struggled last week against Iowa State. Baylor's defense? Well, it's not very good. But the Sooners struggled all night to put together a drive. Receivers weren't open, and OSU's corners, Brodrick Brown and Justin Gilbert, played outstanding games and both grabbed interceptions. Those receivers were plagued with the drops again, too, and without DE Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma's pass rush was non-existent.
What Oklahoma State learned: It can deliver a beating just like Oklahoma has done time and time again in this rivalry. The worst beating OSU had ever delivered before Saturday was a 47-0 win in 1945. Midway through the fourth quarter of this matchup, Oklahoma State fans started chanting "L-S-U! L-S-U!" in hopes that a date with the Tigers in the Superdome was on the way. Oklahoma State didn't surprise anybody by hanging as many points as it did, but the defense completely shutting down the Sooners? That's a shocker.
What it means: We're in for a very tense next 20 hours or so until the BCS standings are revealed on Sunday night. Virginia Tech, who was ahead of Oklahoma State in both human polls that factor into the BCS, lost to Clemson. That helps, and the lopsided fashion the Cowboys won will make lots of voters think twice about automatically putting Alabama at No. 2 behind LSU on their ballots. Oklahoma State can't hide from its horrible loss at Iowa State. But it has more quality wins than Alabama and has won all but two of its games impressively. Which will carry more weight?
Oklahoma State has completely dominated to this point, even more complete than anyone probably could have expected. A mental block against the Sooners, who have won eight consecutive Bedlams? I think not. OSU is on point. The Cowboys are a better team than Oklahoma, but not this much better. The Cowboys are out to prove something to ... pretty much everyone.
Oklahoma banged in a 48-yard field goal at the halftime gun.
Turning point: Oklahoma needed to move the chains. Facing a 3rd-and-6 at the OSU 19-yard line, OSU brought a big blitz and linebacker Alex Elkins knocked the ball away from quarterback Landry Jones. Defensive end Jamie Blatnick scooped it up and rumbled, young man, rumbled 59 yards down to the Oklahoma 1-yard line. Joseph Randle punched in his 22nd rushing touchdown of the season a play later to give OSU total control at 17-0. OU went three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
Stat of the half: Oklahoma has inexplicably ignored its running game, despite not having receiver Ryan Broyles. Jones has thrown the ball 38 (!) times. The Sooners' backs have carried the ball just eight times.
Best player in the half: Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State. Weeden's been very, very sharp while Jones has struggled. The Cowboys passer has completed 14 of 21 passes for 156 yards and consistently moved the chains, though he hasn't thrown a touchdown pass yet. The Cowboys have been running free on intermediate throws over the middle, and Weeden's been on the money all night.
What Oklahoma needs to do: Find a balance between a fast-paced offense capable of putting up points and an offense that doesn't ignore the running game. If it sounds near impossible, that's because it is. But that's life with a 21-point deficit at halftime against the nation's No. 3 team. Oklahoma's passing game simply isn't the same without Broyles. Against the kind of pressure OSU's defense puts on opposing offenses, that's abundantly clear tonight. Did Oklahoma feel like it had to come out and outgun OSU?
What Oklahoma State needs to do: Uh, everything it just did. Lost in the "24" on the scoreboard is the "3." Oklahoma State's defense has been aided by a few drops, but they've tackled well, hit harder than Oklahoma and has been sound everywhere with no busts. Opportunistic turnovers have surfaced, too. For Oklahoma State, if it wants a chance at the title, it better keep scoring and preventing Oklahoma from answering. Now is not the time for mercy. Now is the time for style points.
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