Dallas Colleges: Blake Dees
Plenty of big talents played their first season in the Big 12 this year, and here were the best of the bunch.
It should come as no surprise that the bulk of the young talent plays offense, assuring that the Big 12's reputation as an offense-driven league looks as though it'll remain a constant.
Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: The Longhorns were tentative to let Brown start early in the season, but he emerged as the team's top back and into the starting slot, finishing the season as the team's leading rusher, at 707 yards and five touchdowns.
Tyler Lockett, WR/KR, Kansas State: Lockett became one of K-State's best playmakers late in the year and the Big 12's best kick returner. He returned two kicks for scores and averaged more than 35 yards per return, catching 18 passes for 246 yards and three scores. No small accomplishment in the Wildcats' run-heavy offense.
Jaxon Shipley, WR, Texas: Shipley was hampered by a knee injury for much of the season, but he was the Longhorns' most reliable receiver, leading the team with three touchdown catches. He was narrowly edged for the team lead in catches (40) and receiving yards (593).
Jared Barnett, QB, Iowa State: Barnett is best known for playing an unbelievable game against Oklahoma State. He took over for Steele Jantz in midseason and led the Cyclones from 3-4 to 6-4 and a bowl berth, with a blowout win over Texas Tech and dramatic wins over OSU and Kansas. He threw for 376 yards and three scores against OSU and ran 84 more yards.
Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas: Diggs has star written all over him. Don't be surprised if he's the Big 12's best defensive back next year. He showed flashes in the spring game after enrolling early and started nine games for Texas as a true freshman. A rare feat in most years, especially for the defense. He led the team with three interceptions, forced two fumbles and had 43 tackles and 13 pass breakups. An unbelievable freshman year for the Horn.
Darrian Miller, RB, Kansas: Miller's got some great wiggle to his running style as one of the league's most elusive backs, and he ran for 559 yards and four scores on just 136 yards.
Blake Dees, LB, Texas Tech: Dees looked like a potential starter in spring practice and showed up once fall came for the Red Raiders. Despite an ankle injury that basically erased the second half of his season, he made 32 tackles with four tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Tony Pierson, RB, Kansas: Memo to Charlie Weis: You've got a heck of a backfield; you'd better use it. Pierson, Miller and James Sims are all solid for the Jayhawks, and Pierson might have as much upside as any of them. He's an electrifying player like Miller but with more size, and he averaged more than 5.5 yards on his 71 carries, scoring three times. Here's guessing the scoring numbers and touches go up next year.
Josh Stewart, WR, Oklahoma State: Stewart was a nice piece of a powerful OSU offense and showed plenty of promise as a kick returner, too, averaging better than 20 yards on his 11 returns. He caught 19 balls for 291 yards and two scores.
Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma: Bell redshirted before showing up midseason in the valuable BellDozer formation that OU came up with after Dominique Whaley went down with a fractured ankle. He scored an unbelievable 10 touchdowns on 34 carries, but the throwing thing could use some work. In four attempts, he completed as many passes to the other team (one) as his own.
Time for another round of facts and tidbits via ESPN Stats and Info and various sports information departments around the Big 12.
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- The Big 12 played two overtime games last week. That's the same number of overtime games involving Big 12 teams in the past three seasons.
- Since 2009, Landry Jones is 33-of-44 for 18 touchdowns on red zone pass attempts to Ryan Broyles. He's 61-for-120 for 22 touchdowns and two interceptions when targeting the rest of the team.
- On the road, while facing four or fewer pass-rushers, Jones has 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while completing 63 percent of his passes.
- Against blitzes in all games since the 2010 season, he has 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, while completing just under 67 percent of his passes. When targeting Broyles in those scenarios, he has completed 71 percent of his passes, compared to 63 percent for the rest of his offense.
- Broyles' 19 red-zone touchdowns are six more than any active player in college football, but Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller is tied with Michael Floyd at Notre Dame for second, with 13.
- Last year, against Florida State, Broyles finished with 12 catches for 124 yards. Eight of his catches and 67 of his yards came on passes behind or at the line of scrimmage.
- Last week's 26-yard reception on a swing pass was the first catch of Texas running back D.J. Monroe's career.
- Baylor's No. 19 ranking is its highest since 1991.
- Landry Jones has 38 touchdowns and six interceptions in home games during his career. On the road (not neutral site), he has 17 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.
- Through two games, 10 of Texas' 14 passes thrown by David Ash and Case McCoy have been for 10 yards or less, including six screen passes.
- UCLA ran for 264 yards against Texas last year, more than any other Longhorn opponent.
- Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz's 57-yard completion to Aaron Horne was the longest for the Cyclones since 2005.
- Bears quarterback Robert Griffin III leads the nation in passing efficiency, though he's played just one game.
- However, with no limitations on attempts, Baylor receiver Kendall Wright has a passer rating of 496, well ahead of Griffin's 250.6. Wright is 2-of-2 this season for 55 yards and a touchdown.
- Kansas has just one player on its roster from the state of Georgia. Georgia has no Kansans on its roster.
- Kansas State is 11-5 coming off a bye week under Bill Snyder.
- Texas Tech true freshman linebacker Blake Dees graded out as the defense's top performer in the season opener.
- Big 12 officials have reviewed 34 plays so far this season, overturning 12 calls.
- Kansas scored 89 points in its first four games last season. This year, it has 87 points through two weeks.
- Missouri is 10-0 all-time against FCS opponents. It plays Western Illinois on Saturday.
- Baylor and Stephen F. Austin haven't met since 1947, but the Lumberjacks never scored in the previous three meetings.
- Baylor's Wright needs 122 receiving yards to become the school's all-time leader.
- Missouri's streak of 22 consecutive nonconference wins stretching back to 2005 ended with last Friday's loss to Arizona State.
- Texas Tech has nine consecutive seasons of at least eight wins. That's tied for fifth nationally and only Oklahoma has more in the Big 12, with 11. Boise State and Virginia Tech are the only schools with more.
- Oklahoma State has scored a touchdown on its first offensive possession and forced a punt on its first defensive possession in both games this season.
- The only score K-State gave up in its 10-7 opening win against Eastern Kentucky came after a fumble on the Wildcats' one-yard line.
- Oklahoma State has won nine of its past 10 road games.
There's a lot of turnover in this space, and the bottom half was pretty hard to sort out. We haven't seen a lot of these new faces on the field for extended periods of time, so it's somewhat of a crapshoot. I don't feel like there's a wide gap between teams 7-10, and each of those squads have at least one linebacker who could be due for a huge year and shoot them up this list.
I see Nos. 1-3 possibly being great, with dropoffs before the No. 4 and No. 7 teams.
Also, if you missed them, here are the other position rankings we've done so far.
So, without further ado, here's how I ranked the linebackers. (Nickel backs are included in this list, hybrid DE/LBs will be with defensive lines)
2. Iowa State -- The Cyclones boast two of the Big 12's best in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, who combined for more tackles than any two teammates in the Big 12 last season. They had 241 stops, and, after healing from a broken leg suffered midseason last year, Matt Tau'fo'ou should join them at middle linebacker.
3. Texas -- Texas' offense may be lacking, but the defense will be strong once again, led by two others likely to earn spots as some of the Big 12's best. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were Texas' top two tacklers last year with 187 stops, and return as likely captains come fall camp. Texas' depth chart is wide open, but look for former blue-chip recruit Jordan Hicks to emerge as another star this year, despite being forced to sit out spring camp with a broken foot. Dravannti Johnson played some defensive end last year at the Buck position for the Longhorns, but may find his way back to linebacker. Tevin Jackson was ineligible last year, but he's ready for 2011, and could make an impact.
4. Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys "Star" linebacker is occupied by co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis, and sophomore Caleb Lavey is charged with replacing Orie Lemon, the leader of last year's defense. Oklahoma State has questions on the weak side, but LeRon Furr and Chris Dinkins will compete next fall. Kris Catlin could be a factor, too.
5. Texas A&M -- The Aggies must replace their leading tackler, Michael Hodges, and don't have a clear replacement heading into fall camp. The good news: They've got two others with lots of experience in the linebacking corps that look like budding stars. Garrick Williams should be one of the defense's leaders and Sean Porter returns after making 74 tackles last year to rank third on the team.
6. Missouri -- The Tigers have lots of experience at middle linebacker, where a pair of seniors (albeit frequently injured seniors) Will Ebner and Luke Lambert will be on the field a lot. One of the Big 12's most exciting players, junior Zaviar Gooden, will hold down the weakside and perhaps become a household name by season's end. Sophomores Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will likely compete for strongside duties in fall camp. Andrew Gachkar, the team's leading tackler, is gone, but here's guessing Gooden emerges as the defense's top playmaker.
7. Kansas -- The Jayhawks linebackers were solid last year, and could be pretty good again, despite losing Drew Dudley and Justin Springer, two of the team's top four tacklers. Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler in 2010, is back and he'll be joined by possible star Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a leg injury. Fellow sophomore Darius Willis earned a starting role after spring.
8. Kansas State -- K-State's front seven struggled last year, but will get a big boost from Arthur Brown. One man won't be enough to totally fix the Wildcats rush defense problems, though. K-State gave up 26 more yards on the ground per game than any other team in the Big 12 (more than 231 per game) but Brown may be playing in a 4-3 next fall rather than the 4-2-5 the Wildcats have employed since Snyder's return. Alex Hrebec, Emmanuel Lamur, Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter will likely fill the rotation along with Brown.
9. Baylor -- Baylor's defensive depth chart, like Texas', is a bit amorphous after bringing in a new coordinator, but Elliot Coffey figures to be the Bears biggest playmaker at linebacker. Chris McAllister should be solid and Ahmad Dixon is promising at nickelback, too. Brody Trahan is a great story, but him going from third-string quarterback to starting linebacker isn't a ringing endorsement for Baylor's depth at the position.
10. Texas Tech -- Tech will be moving to a 4-2-5 this year under new coordinator Chad Glasgow, and could rise up this list, but the Red Raiders lose a lot of talent from last season's team, which ran the 3-4. Bront Bird and Brian Duncan are both gone, and youth will be a big factor with this group. Cqulin Hubert's outstanding potential is matched by his more outstanding first name, and freshman Blake Dees showed promise after arriving early this spring. They'll likely be the rotation at middle linebacker spot alongside Daniel Cobb and Zach Winbush. Terrance Bullitt could be a playmaker at his new safety spot, listed as a strong safety but with plans to spend lots of time near the line of scrimmage, a la nickelback.
- Junior quarterback Seth Doege threw for 317 yards and four touchdown on 20-of-35 passing. He also had an interception for the only turnover of the day, picked off by Daniel Cobb, who returned it 22 yards.
- Safety D.J. Johnson and linebacker Cqulin Hubert led the team with eight tackles each. Hubert had a sack and led the team with 2.5 tackles for loss. He also broke up a pass.
- Doege's day was highlighted by a pair of long throws. He hooked up with new outside receiver Tramain Swindall for a 55-yard score and hit Alex Torres for a 63-yard gain on Torres' only catch of the day.
- Ben McRoy led the team with 61 yards on seven carries, but likely starter Eric Stephens had 48 yards on seven carries.
- Texas Tech had hoped for 25-30,000 fans, but 12,400 made their way into Jones AT&T Stadium on Saturday. Among them: New athletic director Kirby Hocutt and basketball coach Billy Gillispie.
- As with all these spring games, it doesn't matter much, but the Black team beat the Red team 27-26. It's not out of character for these games, but players switched teams often. Doege, for instance, was 12-of-23 for 231 yards and three scores for the Red team. For the Black team, he was 8-of-12 for 86 yards and a score. Saboteur!
- Doege did everything he could to maintain a stronghold on the starting job over backup Jacob Karam. Coach Tommy Tuberville won't make an official announcement until midway through fall camp, but Doege was receiving the majority of the snaps in practice this spring. It would be very, very surprising if he didn't lock up the job for sure in fall camp. Barring injury, he should finally get his shot next season. "Seth is definitely in front right now,” offensive coordinator Neal Brown told reporters on Saturday. "He’s making better decisions, leading the offense better at this point. Not to a point where he’s the bona fide starter, but there is a difference. Then Jacob and Scotty [Young] are right there duking it out right now to be in that second position and come up and battle Seth."
- Red Raiders fans have to be happy about the contributions from the newcomers. Juco receiver Marcus Kennard enrolled early and caught a 29-yard touchdown pass from Doege in the second quarter. True freshman Ronnie Daniels had impressed all spring, and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Young. Kennard finished with two catches for 32 yards. Daniels finished with 34 yards on 11 carries. The touchdown was his only catch of the day. Another early enrolling freshman, linebacker Blake Dees, had seven tackles and half a tackle for loss.
- The defense still has plenty of work to do, giving up five pass plays of longer than 25 yards, but the Red Raiders are going to be a work in progress on that side of the ball all season. Defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow and Tuberville have been preaching it: It's all about speed for this defense. Part of that comes with recruiting. Part of it comes with making players comfortable with the defense's schemes and playing without thinking. Both of those take time. Glasgow's new scheme puts a heavy emphasis on winning one-on-ones, and the Red Raiders have a lot to prove in showing they can do that consistently in Big 12 play.
"Right now Seth is ahead, but we want to give (Jacob Karam) a chance to throw his name in there. We're not looking for just one quarterback, we're looking for two. We lost both quarterbacks last year. Both of these guys will step up and compete and make each other better." -- Tuberville.
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