Dallas Colleges: Emmanuel Acho
The defensive cupboard was well-stocked and Mack Brown was talking up the squad, openly inviting high expectations for his defense and claiming they might be the best in his time in Austin.
With the Acho brothers up front and three future NFL draft picks in the secondary, who could blame him?
The Longhorns defense was good, but not good enough. It led the Big 12 in total defense, but forced just 18 turnovers for 11th in the Big 12.
Oh, and Texas went 5-7.
The Longhorns bounced back with eight wins in 2011, and in 2012 the hype is back for a defense loaded with NFL talent once again. There is talk that it might be among the nation's best, if not the nation's best.
"I want our defense to live up to those expectations," Brown said. "All of us sitting here in preseason have expectations, especially at a school like the University of Texas. But, until you produce on the field, and we’ll have a better idea of how they look on Saturday, then we’re not sure how good they will be."
Brown's tempering the expectations a bit this time around, but he knows what he has.
The league's No. 1 and No. 2 defensive ends are anything but an unknown commodity. Both Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor could hear their names called in the first round of next April's NFL draft, though Jeffcoat said this week he wants to stay and get his degree from Texas.
Cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom morphed a question mark at cornerback into one of the team's strengths late in the season, and safety Kenny Vaccaro might be the best overall defender in the Big 12.
The one thing most closely resembling a question mark? The middle of the defense.
"I’ve consistently talked about the loss of the four seniors down the middle," Brown said, "and that we’ve got new, young guys in their places."
Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the vocal leaders of the defense last season, but have been replaced by super recruits Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks, joining a speedster on the outside in linebacker Demarco Cobbs, who played quarterback, receiver, safety and returned kicks and punts in high school.
Tackle Kheeston Randall is gone, too, but the Longhorns look well suited to replace him by plugging juco transfer Brandon Moore and reformed running back Chris Whaley at the top of a rotation of five capable contributors in the middle of the defense.
Adrian Phillips moves up to replace four-year starter Blake Gideon at strong safety opposite Vaccaro.
"Until they prove it on Saturday that they’re ready to show that leadership and show that ability to handle Big 12 football at a fast pace, then we have to wait until they prove it before we can anoint them as a great defense," Brown said.
Here's guessing we won't wait long.
See more fall camp previews.
Next up: Texas.
Media's predicted finish: Third.
Biggest storyline: Texas was a lot better last year than it was in 2010's five-win season, but how much better will Texas be in 2012? Eight wins won't cut it with the expectations facing this year's team. An offense full of freshmen is now an offense full of sophomores, but the Longhorns are still trying to climb back up the mountain after a Big 12 title in 2009 and two forgettable seasons since. Is this the year the Horns reach the summit once again?
Biggest question mark: Quarterback. No question about this one. For now, coach Mack Brown still says the position isn't settled between David Ash and Case McCoy, but Ash has reportedly received nearly all of the first-team reps since a strong performance in the win over California in the Holiday Bowl. Ash has the bigger upside and more impressive physical attributes, but he's got to start making good on that upside. He'll have plenty of help around him with a strong backfield and two good, young receivers in Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis.
Who needs to step up: The linebackers. Junior Jordan Hicks is the leader of the group, but there's a huge leadership void there with the loss of Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson. That leadership has shifted to guys like Alex Okafor, Kenny Vaccaro and Jackson Jeffcoat. Steve Edmond is a big presence and a promising player at 255 pounds in the middle of the defense, and former blue-chip recruit Demarco Cobbs is ready to take over at the other outside linebacker spot. He missed six games last season with a broken arm, but he's got absurd speed for his position.
Fun fact: Texas has exactly 12 players on its roster who are not from Texas. Who came from furthest away? How about freshman kicker Michael Davidson, from Aberdeen, Scotland.
New addition: Don't underestimate the impact of newcomer Anthony Fera, who gives Texas a huge upgrade at one of its biggest question marks: kicker. He may also get in the mix at punter, but Fera's an experienced kicker who transferred to Texas after the NCAA hammered Penn State with severe sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban. He made 14 of 17 kicks last season. Texas' defense should produce a lot of close, low-scoring games. Here's guessing Fera will have a big influence on how many of those are wins and how many are losses.
Don't forget about: WR Mike Davis. Shipley grabbed a lot of headlines last year, but Davis is still a big talent, too. The junior grabbed 45 passes for 609 yards and a touchdown last year. I'd be shocked if he doesn't have a major boost in production this year.
Breaking out: RB Johnathan Gray. Gray was the nation's top running back in the 2012 recruiting class, and joins Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron in a loaded backfield for the Longhorns. Still, where he fits and what kind of impact he'll have is one of the league's most fascinating developments. It's not every day the nation's Gatorade Player of the Year shows up on a Big 12 campus.
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.
You'll need Insider to see this post from Steve Muench, but here are a few snippets from our team on the ground in Indianapolis:
West Virginia's Bruce Irvin ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash, which is faster than most outside linebackers, let alone defensive ends. That's good for Irvin, who projects as a pass-rushing outside linebacker. He's undersized (6-3, 245) and lacks the power to anchor against the run as an end. He would have been better off working with the linebackers at the combine because he is a developmental prospect, and it showed in his footwork when he dropped.
Obviously, I didn't get a big chance to see Irvin from week to week in the Big East, but that 40 time is nuts. Reminds me of ... wait for it ... Von Miller?
What about another Big 12 pass rusher you know a bit better?
Oklahoma State DE Jamie Blatnick isn't as explosive or athletic as some of the other prospects, and his arms are as short as Ingram's, so there are some red flags. On the other hand, Blatnick performed well during the drill. His hands were active and violent during bag work while he did a good job of staying low in his backpedal when asked to drop.
Blatnick's a tough guy, but like Muench said, doesn't have the jaw-dropping measurables of some other guys we've seen in this league or guys at the combine this week.
He was productive, though, and technique will take you a long way in the NFL. Blatnick isn't lacking in athleticism necessarily, he just doesn't wow you.
Now, time for a few results from Monday at the combine:
Najee Goode, West Virginia
- 40-yard dash: 4.66 seconds (sixth among inebackers)
- 40-yard dash: 4.68 seconds (T-8 among linebackers)
- 225-pound bench press: 36 reps (most among linebackers -- by four reps)
- 40-yard dash: 4.69 seconds (11th among linebackers)
- 225-pound bench press: 19 reps
- 40-yard dash: 4.73 seconds (14th among linebackers)
- 225-pound bench press: 24 reps (T-10th among linebackers
- 40-yard dash: 4.88 seconds
- 225-pound bench press: 22 reps (14th among linebackers)
- 225-pound bench press: 27 reps (T-6th among linebackers)
Another spring camp is opening, and it's time to take a closer look. Today, the Texas Longhorns get started.
Schedule: Practice starts today leading up to the spring game on April 1. Practices are closed to fans and media, though the team will have two open practices, a change from last year, when all 15 practices were closed.
What's new: Not much, as opposed to last year, when the answer was "almost everything." The Longhorns' staff all returned for 2012 after Mack Brown shook up his staff and replaced six assistant coaches after going 5-7 in 2010. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have to replace defensive leaders Emmanuel Acho, Blake Gideon and Keenan Robinson, but the offense returns 10 starters, including both quarterbacks, David Ash and Case McCoy.
New faces: Quarterback Connor Brewer joins the fold, but the biggest news may have been a shift in recruiting philosophy with new assistants on staff with SEC ties. The Longhorns took a junior college signee for the first time since 2002. Offensive line coach Stacy Searels came from Georgia last season and will have offensive tackle Donald Hawkins from Mississippi to work with. Meanwhile, defensive tackles coach Bo Davis (Alabama) will work with Brandon Moore from Alabama.
Big shoes to fill: Linebacker Jordan Hicks. The Ohio native and No. 1 linebacker in the 2010 class made 55 tackles last season, but without Robinson and Acho, it's Hicks' time in Austin this year. Look out for a big year, and that starts this spring. He's battled through a broken foot, but if he can stay healthy, the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-2, 235-pounder who has added 20 pounds since leaving high school.
Don't forget about: Receiver Mike Davis. He was the team's top target this time last year, but had a slightly disappointing sophomore season and Jaxon Shipley surpassed him as the Longhorns' top receiver. Davis is very talented, though. He and Shipley could both be stars, but don't rule out Davis surging this spring. He turned the coaching staff's collective head last year.
Breaking out: Quandre Diggs was part of the freshman invasion at Texas last year, and he could have made a case for being the best freshman in the Big 12. He's a shutdown corner ready to become a star. In a league with the type of offensive talent the Big 12 has, his skills are invaluable. Don't rule out the sophomore cracking the All-America team next year.
All eyes on: Texas' quarterback battle. Texas will be best off if Ash asserts himself and boxes out McCoy with a strong spring, but there's no guarantee that happens. Ash's physical attributes (size, speed, arm strength) give him a much higher upside than his counterpart, but for now they amount to just that: upside. The two had comparable numbers in 2011 and neither was solid. Will we see separation this spring?
We'll start taking a look at what each program in the Big 12 needs to deal with during the offseason, whether it be in the spring, summer or fall preseason camp. Maybe all three! Who knows?
Next up: The Texas Longhorns.
Invest in David Ash. Texas will bring on another true freshman this spring, Connor Brewer. The Longhorns have already been down that road. Ash is the most physically gifted of the Longhorns' quarterbacks, and that gives him the most upside. He's been in the program just one calendar year, and he got hardly any practice reps last spring and in the preseason while Texas was trying to prepare Garrett Gilbert to bounce back. If you ask me, forget competition with Case McCoy. Get Ash tons of reps and get him ready to take over in 2012. They'll be better off for it.
Find new defensive leadership. Leadership was one of the Longhorns' downfalls in 2010 after Colt McCoy left. Without Keenan Robinson, Emmanuel Acho and Blake Gideon, the Longhorns have a huge hole once again. Who's going to take over? Senior Kenny Vaccaro's probably the most talented player returning for the Horns, closely followed by junior-to-be Jackson Jeffcoat. What about Alex Okafor, the senior up front? Somebody's got to take hold of this team.
Figure out how the running backs will be used. Texas' backfield next year's going to be real crowded. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron return, and Johnathan Gray, the nation's No. 1 running back and No. 2 prospect overall, will join them. All three could probably start for most teams in the Big 12, if not the country. The Longhorns need to utilize that strength, along with a maturing offensive line. Will offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin debut some new formations to get them on the field? Maybe a Wishbone redux? Copycatting Oklahoma and Oklahoma State's "Backs" or "Diamond" formation? Who takes over for Fozzy Whittaker in the Wildcat formation? Who gets the lion's share of the carries for these Horns? All are questions that have to be answered over the next seven months.
More offseason to-do lists.
Here's what each team across the Big 12 needs. You'll find Texas A&M and Mizzou on the SEC blog and West Virginia on the Big East Blog.
Quarterback: This one's pretty simple. Robert Griffin III is taking his talents to the NFL early. Nick Florence is waiting to take over, and the Bears have Bryce Petty behind him, but more reinforcements at quarterback are needed. Dual-threat quarterbacks, ideally.
Defensive tackle: Baylor already was one of the nation's worst teams (102nd nationally) at stopping the run. Now it'll need to replace both its interior linemen, Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson.
Offensive linemen: Baylor's offensive line, meanwhile, has been solid. It loses junior college transfer and two-year starter Robert T. Griffin, as well as All-Big 12 center Philip Blake. John Jones, a reserve guard, also has exhausted his eligibility.
Receiver: This has been a weak spot for the team for several years, and its top overall talent, Darius Reynolds, is gone. Darius Darks is, too. Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz will be the team's best weapons in 2012, but the pair of shifty slot guys will be seniors. This position needs reinforcements.
Defensive back: The DBs have been a quiet strength for ISU, especially in 2011. Cornerback Leonard Johnson and safety Ter'Ran Benton both have exhausted their eligibility, though, and defensive backs coach Bobby Elliott left for Notre Dame. You'll see plenty of new faces in the Cyclones' secondary next year.
Defensive line: Experienced starters Stephen Ruempolhamer and Jacob Lattimer are both gone, and Iowa State has struggled to stop the run consistently the past few seasons.
Quarterback: Kansas landed high-profile transfers Dayne Crist (Notre Dame) and Jake Heaps (BYU), but this is still a huge position of need. Last year's starter, Jordan Webb, left the team. Quinn Mecham is out of eligibility. Heaps is sitting out his NCAA-mandated year after transferring. Crist is the starter, but he badly needs a backup, especially if Brock Berglund's transfer appeal allows him to leave.
Wide receiver: Kansas lacks a big threat at this position. It needs a talent upgrade in a big way. Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay is joining the team, but he's no guarantee to a) be granted immediate eligibility or b) become an impact player.
Defensive tackle: Kansas is thin here, too. Richard Johnson, Patrick Dorsey and Michael Martinovich are gone, and Kansas couldn't stop much of anything on defense. Some push up front could help make everything look better. A late addition to the 2012 class from a junior college seems like a no-brainer. The Jayhawks need physically mature players to contribute immediately.
Offensive line: K-State's offensive line was much better in 2011 and could be again in 2012. It needs help replacing All-Big 12 lineman Clyde Aufner, though. Starter Colten Freeze is also gone.
Defensive line: Kansas State is bringing back about as many starters as anyone in the Big 12, but the biggest losses are along the defensive line. Kick-blocking specialist (five in 2011) Ralph Guidry is gone, along with tackle Ray Kibble. Juco transfer Jordan Voelker exploded onto the scene this year, but he's gone, too.
Defensive backs: Cornerback David Garrett leaves a huge hole behind. Tysyn Hartman may not be as talented as teammate Ty Zimmerman, but his experience leaves a big hole. Zimmerman will have to mentor a younger safety in the near future.
Receiver: The Sooners are thin here in a big way. That was obvious late in the season when Ryan Broyles' storied college career ended a few weeks early with a knee injury. The team also lost Justin McCay (transfer) to Kansas. Jaz Reynolds and Kenny Stills are the likely top two targets, but they need help.
Tight end: This position inspired a bit of panic at the end of the season. Seniors James Hanna and Trent Ratterree are gone. Austin Haywood wasn't allowed back on the team, and two more tight ends left the team for various reasons. That left the Sooners suddenly without a scholarship player at the position returning in 2012.
Offensive line: Starting tackle Donald Stephenson must be replaced, as will guard Stephen Good, who moved in and out of the starting lineup throughout his career. The Sooners bring back a lot of talent and aren't dying for depth there, but those two will leave holes. Three more offensive line starters will be seniors in 2012.
Offensive line: The Cowboys need a whole lot of help here to fill in behind young players stepping into the starting lineup. Starters Levy Adcock, Nick Martinez and Grant Garner are gone. Backup center Casey LaBrue is gone, too. Those are two All-Big 12 linemen who leave big shoes to be filled.
Receiver: Justin Blackmon surprised no one by leaving a year early, and Josh Cooper leaves with perhaps the most underrated career of any receiver in school history. In OSU's offense, there's always room for depth here. Nine receivers had at least 19 catches in 2011. Blackmon and Cooper combined for 192, though.
Defensive ends: The pass rush was solid for Oklahoma State this year, but both starters, Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, are gone. Replacing both is a necessity.
Receiver: Texas lacks a true game-changer at the position, though Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis may develop into that role in 2012. Former blue-chip recruit Darius White left for Missouri, too.
Quarterback: David Ash and Case McCoy didn't show a ton of potential at quarterback this year, though Ash may grow with an offseason to prepare as starter. Garrett Gilbert got a big chunk of the work in the spring, summer 7-on-7 and fall preseason camp. Even if Ash does grow, the Longhorns need reinforcements at the position.
Linebacker: Two senior impact players are gone. Texas is left trying to replace Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson, though Jordan Hicks may mature into a star in 2012.
Offensive line: TCU's offensive line is headed for some major turnover. OT Robert Deck, OG Kyle Dooley and OG Spencer Thompson are gone. Two more starters, OG Blaize Foltz and C James Fry, will be seniors in 2012.
Defensive linemen: TCU isn't losing a lot at this spot, but Ross Forrest and D.J. Yendrey will be seniors in 2012. The Horned Frogs would be well-served to prepare, and offer some depth next year.
Specialists: TCU will have to break in a pair of new starters on special teams next season. Kicker Ross Evans and punter Anson Kelton have exhausted their eligibility.
Receiver: The Red Raiders' offense requires a lot of depth here. Tramain Swindall is the only loss at the position, but three more (Alex Torres, Cornelius Douglas, Darrin Moore) will be seniors. Douglas moved to cornerback this year after the team was racked with injury, but we'll see whether he moves back this offseason.
Offensive line: Tech has a huge need here. Four players won't be returning in 2012. Lonnie Edwards, Mickey Okafor and center Justin Keown must be replaced.
Defensive linemen: Tech's Donald Langley and Scott Smith are both out of eligibility, and juco transfer Leon Mackey will be a senior.
You can take check those here:
- Big 12 signees in the 2006 ESPNU 150
- Big 12 signees in the 2007 ESPNU 150
- Big 12 signees in the 2008 ESPNU 150
- Big 12 signees in the 2009 ESPNU 150
- Big 12 signees in the 2010 ESPNU 150
- Big 12 signees in the 2011 ESPNU 150
That was before the 2011 season. Now, our recruitniks have taken it upon themselves to provide a new update for the 2008 class.
You'll need ESPN Insider to see the full updates for each player group, but here's how the Big 12 players have done:
Prospects ranked from 1-25
No. 6 Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State (via Miami): Brown committed to Miami (Fla.), where he struggled to see the field in 2008 and 2009. He transferred to Kansas State and was named Big 12 newcomer of the year in 2011 after recording 95 tackles, two sacks and an interception (of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III).
No. 7: Jermie Calhoun, RB, Oklahoma: Calhoun's career never got off the ground at Oklahoma after he redshirted as a true freshman. He appeared in 16 games and rushed for 242 yards on 56 carries. He tore his ACL early in his sophomore season (2010) and decided to transfer to Football Championship Subdivision program Angelo State University.
No. 11: R.J. Washington, DE, Oklahoma: Washington has appeared in 25 games (no starts) for the Sooners, and has 20 tackles and 3.5 sacks. His 13 tackles, three sacks and five pass breakups in 2011 are all career highs.
No. 13: Josh Jarboe, WR, Oklahoma: Jarboe was arrested for bringing a weapon onto his high school campus before enrolling at Oklahoma. His career with the Sooners didn't last long, as he was kicked off the team after a YouTube video emerged with him rapping about guns and violence. Jarboe resurfaced at Troy but couldn't escape the negative headlines and was dismissed in 2009. After a year at Northeast Mississippi junior college, Jarboe returned to the Football Bowl Subdivision ranks at Arkansas State, and had 54 receptions for 730 yards and two touchdowns this season
No. 16: D.J. Grant, WR, Texas: After redshirting in 2008, Grant suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2009 and 2010. He finally got on the field in 2011 and started six games, finishing the season with 16 receptions for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
No. 17: Dan Buckner, WR, Texas: Buckner had 50 receptions for 526 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons with Texas. He was arrested on charges of criminal trespassing and resisting arrest in January 2010 and decided to transfer to Arizona. Buckner had 42 catches for 606 yards and two touchdowns this season for the Wildcats.
Prospects ranked 26-50
No. 38: Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri: It was once thought that Gabbert would be redshirted as a freshman in 2008. Instead, he was the third-string quarterback for the Tigers. He is now a starting NFL quarterback, playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. During his career at Missouri, Gabbert threw for more than 6,800 yards and 40 touchdowns. He left for the NFL after his junior season.
Prospects ranked 51-75
57. Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M: Gray closed out his junior season with seven consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, and he added two more to that streak to open his senior campaign. He missed the final two games of the Aggies' season, but he closed out his career with 312 yards and five scores in his final two games. He was named to the 2011 All-Big 12 second team, and ran for nearly 3,300 yards and 30 touchdowns in his career.
No. 72: Jameel Owens, WR, Oklahoma: In two years with the Sooners, Owens caught four passes for 44 yards. He then transferred to Tulsa before the 2010 season, receiving a transfer waiver so he did not have to sit out a season. But he lasted only one season for the Hurricanes, as he was granted a leave of absence during spring drills in 2011 and never returned to the team.
Prospects ranked 76-100
No. 79: David Snow, OL, Texas: Snow came right in and played as a true freshman. When it was all said and done, he appeared in 51 games, starting 31 at center and both guard positions. He received a Big 12 honorable mention this past season.
No. 84: Stephen Good, OL, Oklahoma: Good has been an active member of the Sooners' offensive line since he arrived in 2008. He was in the two-deep since day one, playing both guard positions.
No. 91: Derrick Hall, ATH, Texas A&M: Hall never made it to College Station because he failed to qualify academically. He went on to Navarro Junior College, where he rushed for more than 2,200 yards and 29 touchdowns in two seasons. Hall then signed with Tulsa, but the NCAA ruled him ineligible.
No. 92: Daniel Franklin, ILB, Oklahoma: Franklin redshirted his freshman season, and has since been a career backup and special-teams player in Norman.
No. 95: DeSean Hales, WR, Texas: Hales redshirted his freshman season in Austin. Through the next three years, he played in 31 games, catching 13 passes for 87 yards. He has one more season of eligibility.
No. 100: Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas: Acho started every game this past season for the Longhorns, leading the team in tackles with 131. He also recorded 19 tackles for loss and three sacks. Acho was named first-team All-Big 12 in 2011, and finished his career with 269 tackles, 40 tackles for loss and eight sacks.
Prospects ranked 101-125
No. 106: Jordan Fields, CB, Texas A&M: Fields committed to Texas A&M but never signed with the Aggies. He enrolled at Blinn JC (Texas) following high school and has yet to sign with an FBS school.
No. 114: Nolan Brewster, OLB, Texas: Brewster played in all 13 games as a true freshman, mainly on special teams, and had eight tackles. He had 24 tackles and an interception as a backup safety as a sophomore and then redshirted his junior year after undergoing shoulder surgery. As a senior, Brewster played in Texas' first four games but had to retire from football due to multiple concussions and post-traumatic migraine headaches.
No. 117: Kye Staley, RB, Oklahoma State: Staley redshirted and then suffered a knee injury that wiped out his 2009 season. He quit the football team and didn't play in 2010 but rejoined the team the following year. He played in 13 games this past season, catching 10 passes for 81 yards and a touchdown.
No. 118: Kendall Wright, ATH, Baylor: He made an immediate impact as a true freshman, leading the team in catches, yards and touchdowns. He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors his sophomore year, catching 66 balls for 740 yards and four touchdowns. Wright broke school records his junior season, catching 78 passes for 952 yards and seven touchdowns to again earn second team All-Big 12. As a senior, Wright earned several All-American honors after catching 108 passes for 1,663 yards and 14 touchdowns, all school records. He's rated as a potential first-round draft pick in April's NFL draft.
No. 122: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Jones will likely shatter every Sooners passing mark after surprisingly deciding to come back for his senior year. He started 10 games his redshirt freshman season after starter Sam Bradford (St. Louis Rams) suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. He set a school freshman record, throwing for 3,198 yards and 26 touchdowns, including a school-record six in one game. He earned All-American honors as a sophomore after throwing for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns and led the Big 12 in total offense. Jones' numbers were down a bit his junior season, but he still threw for 4,463 yards and 29 touchdowns.
No. 125: Justin Johnson, RB, Oklahoma: Johnson's Sooners career was short-lived as he transferred to Abilene Christian following his freshman year. He rushed for 103 yards and had a 100-yard kickoff return for a score as a sophomore but transferred following that season to McMurry, a Division III school. Johnson rushed for 771 yards and eight touchdowns to go with 40 catches for 352 yards and four more scores for the War Hawks as a junior last year.
Prospects ranked 126-150
No. 138: Dravannti Johnson, LB, Texas: Johnson decided to transfer from Texas last month, having already graduated. The junior defensive end saw limited action, playing in only seven games and registering just four tackles, one for a loss. Johnson's most productive season came in 2010, when he started five games and recorded 23 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack and six quarterback pressures. He is expected to transfer to a smaller school for more playing time.
No. 143: Rodrick Davis, DT, Texas A&M: After two uneventful seasons at Texas A&M, Davis transferred to Fort Scott (Kansas) Community College before transferring again to New Mexico following the 2011 season. Davis played in eight games last season for Fort Scott and recorded 28 tackles. He redshirted in 2008 so he has one year of eligibility remaining and can play this season.
We're offering up grades for each team in the Big 12 after their seasons conclude, so here's a look at how the 8-5 Texas Longhorns graded out in 2011.
More report cards:
Instead, he had shoulder surgery and booked a ticket to SMU after struggling in his second start of the season and being benched to a chorus of boos in the second quarter against BYU. Case McCoy and David Ash checked in, and neither grabbed hold of the position. McCoy would make plays (ask Texas A&M), but his limited arm strength and physical measurables made life easy on defenses and tough on his receivers. Enter the fleet-footed Ash. The true freshman didn't get much experience during the spring or in summer 7-on-7 and it showed. His decision-making didn't look much better than Gilbert's, and he finished with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Jaxon Shipley was outstanding as a freshman, though he was slowed by a knee injury during the second half of his season. Still, it's not a good sign when a true freshman receiver has one fewer touchdown pass (3) than the team's leading passer.
Malcolm Brown validated much of the hype in his first year, looking the part of a future star in the running game, alongside Joe Bergeron, though both had the second halves of their seasons marred by injuries that kept them out of action or hobbled when they did play.
There's plenty of potential in this Texas offense, but ultimately, the passing game leaves a lot to be desired. Even with its defense, Texas isn't going to win the Big 12 with a total offense ranked seventh in the Big 12 and 54th nationally. Like we said in the Missouri report card, offenses in this league are graded on a curve. The Longhorns were nearly 80 yards per game behind sixth-place Texas Tech, and ranked eighth in scoring offense for the entire season and in conference play.
DEFENSE: The biggest surprise, and a welcome one for new coordinator Manny Diaz, was the play of the secondary, especially corners Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. They'll both be back in 2012 and Diggs absolutely looks like a future All-American, and as a true freshman, tied for fourth in the league with four interceptions. Byndom, a first-year starter, could make a case as the Big 12's best corner in 2011.
Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson weren't superstars, but both were a step above solid and provided valuable leadership that was missing in 2010. They combined for 215 stops as the team's top two tacklers, and combined for 23 tackles for loss.
Both are gone in 2012, but the Longhorns have plenty of young stars who may mature into superstars. Diggs isn't the only one. Jordan Hicks stayed healthy and looked like he clicked in 2011. The same is true of the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2010, Jackson Jeffcoat, who led the team with 17 tackles for loss in a huge year after the second half of his promising 2010 season was slowed by an ankle injury.
And senior-to-be nickelback/safety Kenny Vaccaro might be the best of the bunch, a versatile, speedy, hard hitter with a nose for the ball who seemed to be everywhere. He finished with 71 tackles (third-most on the team), 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and eight pass breakups. The Longhorns' defense was the best in the Big 12 in a league full of dangerous offenses, and ranking 11th nationally in that stat deserves respect.
OVERALL: This was an improvement. The offense was not quite as good as expected, but that's what happens when the guy who took a huge chunk of snaps in the spring and preseason camp gets benched for good in the second game. Ash and McCoy did what they could, but the Longhorns were tangled by their offense. In losses to Missouri and Kansas State, the Longhorns scored 5 and 13 points, and were held without a touchdown against Missouri, a first since 2004. Texas was back in a bowl, but if the team is to get any further than 8-5, the offense has to be much better.
Texas takes on Cal out in San Diego in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. Let's take a look at what to expect.
WHO TO WATCH: Texas LB Emmanuel Acho. The Longhorns' top talents are all on defense and Acho headlines the group. The senior leader closed the season on a tear, notching at least 12 tackles in four consecutive games before the loss to Baylor. Acho is everywhere on the field for the Longhorns, and led the team with 109 stops.
WHAT TO WATCH: Texas' quarterbacks. You never quite know who's going to be there. The quarterbacks have been shuffled in and out all year. Case McCoy and David Ash replaced Garrett Gilbert in the second game and neither has grabbed hold of the starting job since. McCoy doesn't quite have the big arm you'd like in a Big 12 quarterback, and Ash has been plagued by poor decision-making. McCoy hadn't thrown an interception all season, but in the finale against Baylor, he threw four. He had three touchdowns, too, but Texas lost convincingly and Baylor's Robert Griffin III won the Heisman at the Longhorns' expense. There's no telling who'll be under center for most of the Holiday Bowl. I'll guess Ash for now.
WHY TO WATCH: We haven't had a chance to see full-strength Texas in a long while. Jaxon Shipley is the team's top receiver, but he's been hampered by a knee injury and missed three games in the middle of the season before returning. He's finally back to 100 percent. Running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron have been slowed by injuries, too. They'll be back. Seven wins was about right for this team, but just about everyone will be back next year, and we'll get some idea of how many to expect in 2012 from the offense's performance in the finale.
PREDICTION: No. 24 Texas 20, California 17 -- The Longhorns suffocate another offense in this one, quieting Keenan Allen and Zach Maynard. Texas has seen better offenses and played well. They take care of business out in San Diego to notch a Holiday Bowl win. A healthy backfield of Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron get back down to business and build toward a big sophomore year.
This week, we're taking a look at guys who have invested four or five years into their respective programs, and earned a spot as one of the greats after providing some big-time senior leadership. Here's the rest of each Big 12 team's Super Seniors. (For Part I, click here.)
Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: Weeden's an unbelievable story who did unbelievable things for Oklahoma State's program. He walked on after spending half a decade chasing his minor league baseball dreams. He waited his turn, got a shot in a Thursday night game back in 2009 and led the Cowboys to a comeback win. That was just the beginning. He won the starting job the next season, and all he did in his two years as the starter was set the school record for wins -- twice. Oh yeah, and he broke a ton of Zac Robinson's and Mike Gundy's passing records along the way.
Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas: Acho followed in his brother Sam's footsteps as one of the Longhorns' vocal leaders and perhaps its best defender. He led the team with 109 tackles this year, and was one of its best students and most active members of the community. For those on- and off-the-field efforts, he was named a finalist for the Lott IMPACT Trophy.
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: Tannehill will leave Texas A&M with a rare distinction: A&M believes he's the only player in FBS history with a 400-yard passing game and a 200-yard receiving game. Every year, Tannehill was a major storyline for the team. He led the team in receiving his first two seasons before taking a reduced role last year as insurance for Jerrod Johnson. The team needed it. Johnson never fully healed from shoulder surgery, and Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback, helping the Aggies close with six consecutive wins. This year, he started every game and was a calming presence for a team that hit a few rough patches.
Tramain Swindall, WR, Texas Tech: Texas Tech didn't have many seniors this year, especially any worthy of a "Super Senior" title. Swindall, though, has been a major contributor in the passing game for all four seasons, through a whole lot of quarterbacks.
We took a look at the offense earlier today.
Now, let's examine the All-Big 12 defense and see who surprises us.
You'll need ESPN Insider to see each player's recruiting page from back in the day, but I excerpted a bit of what the scouts had to say about each player coming out of high school.
DE: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
- Was the nation's No. 41 defensive end and graded out at 77 by ESPN. Was also recruited by Auburn and Tulane. Scouts take: Alexander is a high school tight end / defensive end. He has good hands and good speed, but projects best as a defensive end in college. He has the frame to bulk up and play either position and has good size in general for a high school prospect. Right now his strength is rushing the passer.
- Was the nation's No. 22 defensive tackle in 2007 and was recruited by Arizona State, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M. Graded out at a 78. Scouts take: Hamilton is a big, physical presence on the interior of the defensive line. He has good size for a high school prospect and the potential to develop into a physical beast at the college level. You would really classify him at this stage as a bit raw. He plays with a bullying style and not much technique. He is capable of coming off the ball and knocking blockers back.
- Okafor was No. 149 on the 2009 ESPNU 150, and was the nation's No. 12 defensive end. Was also recruited by Oklahoma, Nebraska and LSU. Scouts take: Okafor is a tall wiry defender with a high motor. He needs to get into a college weight program and add some bulk, but for a tall lean kid he displays the ability to play with good leverage. He has a solid get-off and can come out of his stance, keep his knees bent, and on contact generate power from his lower body.
DE: Jamie Blatnick, Oklahoma State
- Was the nation's No. 105 defensive end and graded out at 71. He was also recruited by Texas Tech, TCU and Duke. Scouts take: Blatnick is an effort guy on the football field. He will probably fit best as a six or seven technique in college or add bulk and play defensive tackle. He has a good get-off and charges up-field hard. He does an adequate job of using his hands, but needs to be more consistent coming off the ball and shooting them to create separation.
- Porter was the nation's No. 70 outside linebacker and was originally committed to Houston. He was also recruited by Oklahoma State and Kansas. He graded out at 76. Scouts take: Porter is a good-looking athlete with great upside when projecting for the next level. He is tall, high-cut and layered with good muscle tone. Lean frame with plenty of room to add great bulk while maintaining speed and quickness. Very active and athletic 'backer who can run and is light on his feet. Mirrors ball carriers well, changes direction and transitions smoothly.
- Knott was the nation's No. 114 linebacker, and graded out at 74 by ESPN. He was also recruited by Army, Iowa and Northern Illinois. Scouts take: Knott is a great football player who will make any roster better at the next level. This is a kid who is not going to blow you away at a combine with blazing speed and agility, but he gets it done on both sides of the ball and is a tough, instinctive, productive football player. Is tall, well-built and should continue to pack on good bulk.
- Acho was the nation's No. 9 linebacker and No. 100 on the ESPNU 150 in 2008. He was also recruited by Nebraska, LSU and Michigan. He graded out at an 81. Scouts take: Acho is a very productive outside linebacker who flashes all the tools to be successful. Possesses the size, speed and athletic ability to disrupt an offense on any given play. Displays very good feet that are extremely light for a linebacker with his stature. This allows him to play better in space and in coverage, which is why he will probably remain on the outside in college.
- Jefferson was the nation's No. 4 athlete and No. 21 on the 2010 ESPNU 150. He was a four-star recruit and graded out at an 84. He was also recruited by Arizona, UCLA, USC and Florida. Scouts take: There may not be a more fast-twitched athlete in this class -- period. Jefferson has rare burst and acceleration between the white lines and has the ability to be playmaker on both sides of the ball in college. He lacks ideal height at linebacker but is very compact, tightly-built and his striking explosiveness allows him to play much bigger. Pursues to the football like he was shot out of a cannon.
- Malone was a juco recruit and not rated by ESPN.
- Byndom was the nation's No. 10 cornerback and No. 122 on the 2010 ESPNU 150. He was a four-star recruit that graded out at an 81. He was also recruited by LSU, Oklahoma, Missouri and Oklahoma State. Scouts take: Byndom is a very instinctive defensive back with excellent deep coverage skills and range. While we could see programs recruiting him as strictly a corner, he has all the physical and mental tools that project high as a free safety. Has a taller, rangier frame and its that great length that allows him to be so effective breaking up passes as a deep centerfielder.
- Vaccaro was the nation's No. 42 safety and graded out at a 78. He was also recruited by USC, Florida, LSU and Oklahoma. Scouts take: Vaccaro flies around and makes plays as a safety. He looks the part, tall and stout in stature, he plays like he looks. Really flies around the secondary and attacks the line of scrimmage with ferocity. Instinctive player that reads the run then breaks to the ball with velocity and aggressiveness. Has made many big hits on the blitz and on inside-out contain. Needs to come under a little bit more control; sometimes overruns ball carrier or misses tackle.
- Martin was the nation's No. 15 safety and graded out at a 79. He was also recruited by Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Texas and Kansas State. Scouts take: Martin possesses excellent size, range and toughness at his safety position. He will break off the hash over sideline routes and the next play step down and make a physical hit near the line of scrimmage. He is very versatile and well rounded in all facets. His greatest attribute might be his savvy diagnosing skills. He expertly reads the quarterback and underneath routes.
Gotta say, most of these scouting reports were pretty spot-on for the defense, but there weren't very many small-time recruits that crashed onto the defensive list.
It's been a fun season across the Big 12, with a few big names who didn't play as well as we thought, and lots of unknowns who became household names by the end of the season.
I'll offer my comments below, but here's our All-Big 12 team for 2011.
All-purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor
RB: Henry Josey, Missouri
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Kendall Wright, Baylor
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
C: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
DE: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
DT: Dominique Hamilton, Missouri
DE: Alex Okafor, Texas
DE: Jamie Blatnick, Oklahoma State
LB: Sean Porter, Texas A&M
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Emmanuel Acho, Texas
NB: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
CB: Nigel Malone, Kansas State
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
PK: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M
PR: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Finally, a few notes and explanations:
- I loved the media's idea to craft an all-purpose spot to accomodate Collin Klein. The Big Ten did the same for Michigan's Denard Robinson last season. I followed suit, and did so on the defensive side of the ball with a nickel-back spot for Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson. Two players that missed first-team designation by the coaches, but clearly deserve to be recognized.
- Additionally, I prefer the teams to reflect the Big 12 style of play, so the nickel back fits. Each team doesn't have 11 players, but there were deserving linebackers. The same with Egnew and Millard. Does every team use a fullback or a tight end? No, but both are standout performers. They'd rotate in anyway, just as Jefferson would in a theoretical package.
- Tough call to leave Philip Blake from Baylor off my team, but Garner's been better. Blake is very, very close, though.
- Hated to leave off Brodrick Brown and E.J. Gaines, but I went with a more traditional two corners and two safeties, rather than four corners like the media's team.
- Steven Johnson and Arthur Brown would have been right behind my three linebackers. That race was probably closer than at any other position, except maybe cornerback. Difficult to leave either of those guys off my first team, but the three on the team were better. I gave Brown my Newcomer of the Year nod, though.
- I don't like going with three defensive ends and one defensive tackle, but there wasn't a defensive tackle who deserved the honor more than Okafor, my third defensive end. Okafor was a defensive tackle last year anyway, so that's close enough, right? He moved from tackle to end before spring practice earlier this year. In the Big 12, an additional pass rusher is necessary, too, right?
- I made a similar move with my offensive line. Went tackle-heavy, but the guards didn't have quite as many standouts.
Record: 7-5 (4-5)
This season was all about change for the Longhorns, and they made plenty in the offseason, bringing in offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to inject some youth and new ideas into Mack Brown's coaching staff, as well as a handful of new assistants.
Both were as advertised, though Diaz's side of the ball showed much better results. For a fourth consecutive season, Texas led the Big 12 in total defense, and did so by a wide, wide margin, exactly 67 yards a game. It also finished second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, limiting big plays all season and keeping a struggling offense within reach of several games.
Offensively, youth and injuries were the story all season. Garrett Gilbert made two starts before ceding the quarterback spot to inexperienced sophomore Case McCoy and true freshman David Ash. Their top weapons? True freshman running back Malcolm Brown and receiver Jaxon Shipley, as well as sophomore receiver Mike Davis. That wasn't a recipe for success, at least immediately. Texas didn't bounce back all the way from its 5-7 season in 2010, but it was better this year and much more focused offensively. Injuries to Brown and Shipley, as well as fellow freshman back Joe Bergeron, handcuffed Ash and McCoy late in the season, but the Longhorns had a season to build on.
Offensive MVP: Malcolm Brown, running back. Brown was slowed late with injuries, but helped Texas jump out to a 5-2 start, rushing for over 100 yards in three games over a five game stretch before suffering a toe injury. He didn't play in three games, and rushed for only 78 yards in the two games he appeared in over the final five, but still finished with a team-high 707 yards and five touchdowns, offering lots of hope for the future.
Defensive MVP: Emmanuel Acho, linebacker. Acho, a Lott Trophy finalist, racked up 109 tackles for the Longhorns, and was its most consistent performer, especially with a late charge of at least 12 tackles in four consecutive games before making just four against Baylor's wide-open offense last week. He also had 13.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, forcing a fumble and providing a lot of necessary senior leadership for a solid defense.
Turning point: Gilbert's benching. Quite frankly, Texas looked headed for another 5-7 season after the Longhorns struggled early against BYU, falling behind 13-3 while Gilbert tossed a pair of awful-looking picks. In came McCoy and Ash, who tag-teamed the QB spot for most of the rest of the season, and the duo helped the Horns' rally for a gutsy 17-16 win that included a Jaxon Shipley touchdown pass.
What’s next: Time to build on offense. Ash's decision-making and McCoy's lack of measurables and arm strength present big, big questions about whether either can be the quarterback of the future at Texas. Shipley, Brown, Davis and Bergeron will all be solid. One of the nation's top QBs, Connor Brewer, and running backs, Johnathan Gray, are on the way at Texas, but ultimately, Texas can't go very far in the Big 12 without solid quarterback play. Diaz and Harsin were solid hires who will get better and better, but the Longhorns need a quarterback.
Dec. 28, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Cal take from Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller: California overcame a horrible midseason lull and finished strong, which is why it's heading to the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl to settle on old score.
The Bears will square off with Texas, which some might recall squeezed Cal out of the Rose Bowl in 2004 after coach Mack Brown openly politicked against the Bears.
As for the present state of Cal, it's much different than it was on Oct. 29, when an embarrassing 31-14 loss to UCLA had the Bears reeling, losers of four of five. They certainly didn't look like a bowl team, and quarterback Zach Maynard didn't look like a Pac-12 quarterback.
Then Cal, leaning on its running game and stout defense, pounded Washington State and Oregon State, allowing just 13 points in the two wins. That allowed Maynard to get his confidence -- and mechanics -- back into form. Though the Bears lost at rival Stanford, 31-28, it could be said that Maynard was every bit the match -- at least statistically -- of Andrew Luck.
Cal concluded its season with a strong 47-38 win at Arizona State, which was particularly satisfying based on how poorly the Bears have played on the road the past few seasons.
A 7-5 finish has taken some of the heat off coach Jeff Tedford. Beating Texas would make the Old Blues extremely happy.
Texas take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: For the Longhorns, it's good to be back. After winning 10 games for nine consecutive seasons, the Longhorns spent the holidays at home last year after going 5-7, their fate sealed by a home loss to rival Texas A&M. Not this year. Texas' 7-5 season is still not up to Longhorns' standards. Their defense was hampered by an offense that found its rhythm in midseason but then promptly suffered debilitating injuries. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were rarely healthy over the season's home stretch, when Texas lost three of its final four games.
Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson were the solid anchors of the defense as expected. A solid secondary that refused to give up big plays flanked the pair. It kept opposing offenses from throwing a touchdown pass of longer than 20 yards until Robert Griffin III threw two in the season finale. Nobody in college football went longer, and with the caliber of quarterbacks across the Big 12, that's an amazing feat.
Case McCoy and David Ash are still trading places at quarterback consistently, and McCoy threw the first three interceptions of his career against Baylor. Bowl practices before Texas takes the field again could be interesting, and play a big role in the future of the Longhorns.
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