Dallas Colleges: Chucky Hunter
2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson, Jon Lewis and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.
3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.
4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.
6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.
7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.
8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.
9. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who started as a sophomore last season. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.
10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.
TCU HORNED FROGS
Coach: Gary Patterson (116-36 overall, 13 seasons; 116-36 at TCU, 13 seasons)
2012 record: 7-6 (4-5 Big 12)
Key losses: WR Josh Boyce, OG Blaize Foltz, DE Stansly Maponga, LB Kenny Cain
Newcomer to watch: With leading receiver Josh Boyce having skipped his senior year for the NFL, TCU will need receivers to step in and produce. One of those could be Ja’Juan Story, a transfer from Florida. Story was formerly rated the No. 6 receiver recruit coming out of high school.
Biggest games in 2013: The month of October will determine whether TCU is a contender or pretender for the Big 12 crown. The Horned Frogs travel to Oklahoma on Oct. 5, go to Oklahoma State two weeks later, then on Oct. 26 play host to Texas. By then TCU could be in the driver’s seat -- or out of the race altogether. Oh, and the Horned Frogs have that season opener against LSU in Arlington, Texas.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Even though top-returning tackler Joel Hasley left the team in the preseason, TCU’s defense figures to be the Big 12’s best. Especially when All-American defensive end candidate Devonte Fields returns from a two-game suspension to begin the season.
TCU, however, doesn’t win the Big 12 title unless prodigal quarterback Casey Pachall returns to form. Pachall left school last year four games into the season to seek treatment for substance abuse. When he left, Pachall had 10 touchdowns passes to just one pick. If he can rediscover that kind of groove, TCU will be formidable.
|TCU head coach Gary Patterson joins Fitzsimmons and Durrett to discuss the maturation of quarterback Casey Pachall, the wide-open Big 12 conference, his expectations for his team heading into the 2013 season and his thoughts on Twitter.
TCU was the only Big 12 team to rank in the top 35 nationally in total defense. The Horned Frogs were 16th. Even without Hasley, they return eight defensive starters, including Fields, who is the overwhelming favorite to earn Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors after winning the Associated Press’ award as a true freshman last year.
Fields will be surrounded by experience and talent in coach Gary Patterson’s 4-2-5 scheme, too. TCU’s top four defensive tackles are back, and the secondary is loaded. Cornerback Jason Verrett is also an All-American candidate in a secondary that returns all five starters, including standout safety Sam Carter.
All that said, TCU was stout on defense last season, too. And the Horned Frogs finished just 7-6. Whether they emerge as a true contender this season hinges heavily on how improved the offense can be with the return of Pachall and running back Waymon James, who missed almost all of last season with a knee injury. James led the Horned Frogs in rushing in 2011 and was averaging 9.9 yards per carry in 2012 before injuring the knee the second game of the season. By the end of the month, TCU had lost Pachall, too, causing the offense to be wildly inconsistent the rest of the season.
If Pachall, James and a host of up-and-coming receivers like Brandon Carter can turn the Horned Frogs into a consistent offensive force, TCU just might be the team to beat in a wide open Big 12.
It won’t take long for the Horned Frogs to find out about their offense. TCU opens with a showdown against LSU in Cowboys Stadium. But if the Horned Frogs can win -- and move the ball consistently -- the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.
Eligibility for the Rotary Lombardi Award is limited to down linemen, end-to-end, either on offense or defense, who set up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball, or linebackers who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage.
Nothing like a little clarity. I've always loved it. Anyway, 12 Big 12 players made the award's 2013 preseason watch list, released on Monday morning.
- Calvin Barnett, DT, Oklahoma State
- Le'Raven Clark, OL, Texas Tech
- Devonte Fields, DE, TCU
- B.J. Finney, C, Kansas State
- Bryce Hager, LB, Baylor
- Ben Heeney, LB, Kansas
- Chucky Hunter, DT, TCU
- Kerry Hyder, DE, Texas Tech
- Gabe Ikard, OL, Oklahoma
- Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
- Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor
- Mason Walters, OG, Texas
Solid list of the Big 12's top talents in the trenches there.
Notre Dame's Manti Te'o won the award last season, and Ndamukong Suh (2009) was the last Big 12 player to win it. He won it a season after Texas' Brian Orakpo in 2008.
In other words, they're coming in under the radar. We'll continue our series looking at those guys who should get more respect and attention than they have this offseason.
Next up: TCU.
More under the radar players.
Under the radar: DT Chucky Hunter
The Big 12 has had a major lack of elite talent at the defensive tackle spot since Ndamukong Suh back in 2009. The position goes underrecruited because having lots of pass-rushers and defensive backs is so crucial to fielding a good defense in the Big 12, and in part because Texas doesn't have the kind of quality that states like Mississippi and Louisiana have at the position.
Now, though, having a big 300-plus pounder who can collapse the pocket is a huge asset that very, very few Big 12 teams have. Oklahoma State's got one in Calvin Barnett, and Texas has some young talents at the position, but Hunter really broke out as a sophomore last season. With Devonte Fields out for TCU's opener against LSU, Hunter will be the man to watch on the defensive line for the Frogs, and he'll get a big test with the Tigers' beef on the offensive line at Cowboys Stadium.
The nature of offenses in the Big 12 prevents defensive tackles from putting up huge numbers, so take Hunter's 36 tackles, six tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks with a grain of salt. He's got a much bigger impact than that, freeing up linebackers to make plays and helping Fields and Stansly Maponga stay free last season. He made 3.5 of his tackles for loss in TCU's final four games, and don't be surprised if he raises his profile around the league (and, perhaps, the country) even further as a junior in 2013.
Phil Steele released his recent rankings of the nation's top 15 quarterback units, and the Big 12 didn't make a single appearance. (Even the WAC had a team in the rankings, with San Jose State.)
It has to be the first time in a long while the Big 12 hasn't made an appearance on the list, but one, it makes sense from Steele's perspective. The amount of returning talent in the Big 12 is pretty dire. TCU's Casey Pachall missed the last nine games of last season and didn't throw a ball or work out from October to January and Texas' David Ash is an above average passer but not a top 15 guy nationally.
Ultimately, I wouldn't fret too much about the Big 12's absence. It's about returning talent, but this time next year, the Big 12's likely to have plenty of solid, productive passers. We've written about that a lot this offseason, and Baylor's Bryce Petty was Steele's pick for the Big 12's first-team QB. I'd probably agree, but you can't put a guy with 14 career passes on your top 15 national rankings in the preseason.
The lack of experience across the league is the only reason you're seeing names like Petty's and Michael Brewer on Big 12 top five lists.
Steele also released his list of the top 15 defensive line units, where the Big 12 fared much better. With Jackson Jeffcoat and Malcom Brown, as well as the addition of Houston transfer Zeke Riser, it's no surprise to see the Longhorns at No. 5.
TCU is the only other Big 12 team on the list, checking in at No. 10. Devonte Fields is the obvious headliner there, but Steele makes a nice catch in giving a shoutout to two very underrated tackles in Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson. Those two guys will make Fields' job a whole lot easier this season, and helped land TCU on the list, proving the Frogs are more than a one-man show up front on defense.
Here's what you've missed so far:
Let's get to it.
1. Devonte Fields, TCU: You could make a case for either of these two guys, and Fields wasn't as productive in conference play, but Fields' raw talent is eye-popping. I give him the No. 1 spot on this list after leading the league with 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
2. Meshak Williams, Kansas State: Williams' motor runs higher than anyone else's in this league, and the juco transfer made a ton of the talent he was given to win the Big 12's Defensive Lineman of the Year Award. He was second in the league with 10.5 sacks and added 15.5 tackles for loss.
3. Alex Okafor, Texas: Okafor finished his career in unbelievable fashion, making 4.5 sacks and dominating Texas' Alamo Bowl win over Oregon State. That jolted him into the Big 12 title with 12.5 sacks and he was second in the league with 16.5 sacks. His career has been a bit up and down, but this was a fitting crescendo to a big talent.
4. Calvin Barnett, Oklahoma State: Barnett was the league's best interior defensive lineman this year, constantly getting a push and generally being a handful for offensive lines. He fixed his early-season penalty issues and finished with nine tackles for loss.
5. Jake McDonough, Iowa State: McDonough wasn't too far behind. He was a breakout star in the middle for Iowa State this season, pushing his way to two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. You can't grade interior linemen on numbers, but watch Iowa State's defense sometime. McDonough freed up a lot of space for the rest of the defense, one of the league's most underrated.
6. Adam Davis, Kansas State: Davis doesn't have the name recognition around the league that Williams did, but he was solid on the other side of the line, ranking fourth in the league with six sacks and eighth in the league with 11.5 sacks. K-State's defense was one of the Big 12's best last year. The D-line was a huge reason why.
7. Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech: Hyder was a breakout star this season for the much-improved Tech defense. He was fifth in the league with 14 tackles for loss and seventh with 5.5 sacks. The 6-foot-2, 281-pounder is versatile along the defensive line and could be due for a big 2013.
8. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat's junior year came to a sad end when he injured his pectoral and underwent surgery, but even with the abbreviated season, he still had four sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in just six games. Ridiculous. He could be a top 10 pick next April after electing to return to Texas for his senior season in 2013.
9. Stansly Maponga, TCU: Maponga was a little underwhelming this year, but still turned in a solid effort when you look from a wide angle and not from the high expectations he brought in as the Frogs' only preseason All-Big 12 selection and an All-Mountain West first-teamer. He battled injuries all year and finished with four sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss.
10. David King, Oklahoma: Maximus was mighty for the Sooners this season, who needed him to do a lot. Injuries and suspensions forced him to move all over the place on the defensive line. He was inside, outside and every other possible side. He finished with 2.5 sacks this season.
Honorable mention: Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech; Vai Lutui, Kansas State; Chris McAllister, Baylor; Chucky Hunter, TCU
Week 14 record: 3-1 (.750)
Overall: 55-20 (.733)
NEW ERA PINSTRIPE BOWL
West Virginia 41, Syracuse 38: Geno Smith finally gets the best of the Orange after going 0-2 in his career and the Big 12 finally gets a win in snowy New York City. Stedman Bailey catches a pair of touchdowns and Tavon Austin rushes for 100 yards and tops 100 yards receiving to help outpace a 350-yard passing day from Ryan Nassib. This wasn't where WVU wanted to finish its season -- in chilly NYC or against a Big East team -- but it gets a satisfying end to an unsatisfying first season in the Big 12.
VALERO ALAMO BOWL
No. 13 Oregon State 27, No. 23 Texas 23: Oregon State continues to wildly fluctuate between overrated and underrated. Texas might lean toward the latter; the Longhorns fall victim to the "Who wants to be here most?" factor. The Beavers have gone two years without a bowl game. Texas' BCS dreams crashed and burned with a Thanksgiving night loss to TCU. David Ash plays OK, but not well enough, and the Longhorns didn't have a running back go over 100 yards. Cody Vaz shrugs off the pressure to get the Beavers a big win in San Antonio.
BUFFALO WILD WINGS BOWL
TCU 21, Michigan State 17: The Frogs' defense was the Big 12's best this season and even though its strength is in the secondary, the front seven plays well. Chucky Hunter, Kenny Cain and Joel Hasley slow down Le'Veon Bell enough, who reaches 100 yards but it'll take 30 or more carries to get there. TCU's offense makes enough plays and the defense proves its opportunistic nature with a couple of forced turnovers to set up a game-deciding score.
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