Dallas Colleges: Tyler Johnson
We talked top rushers, passers, receivers and tacklers this month, and I'll take a look at the guys fighting to get into the offensive backfield today. Here are my picks for the five best pass-rushers in the Big 12 for 2013:
1. Devonte Fields, TCU: Fields isn't short on question marks. His two-game suspension to start the season might cost TCU a huge win against LSU and isn't becoming of a future team leader. He also had just 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in his final six games after a huge start to last season. At this time, though, I'd like to remind everyone that Fields has been on TCU's campus and part of the team for less than a year. He's way ahead of everybody else in his class, and even if he's still got some things to prove over the rest of his career, you can't argue with production. He's No. 1.
2. Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat doesn't have the hardware of the man directly above him on this list, but for me, Jeffcoat is a more gifted pass-rusher who has been hampered by injuries. He definitely has a chance to be better than Fields this season. Jeffcoat can't seem to stay healthy for an entire season, but if he finally does, he's going to make a huge impact for the Longhorns and be on the short list for the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year.
3. Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech: Hyder came out of nowhere last season after an average 2011 to be one of the Big 12's best pass-rushers. He earned a bit of starting experience in 2010, and he's ready for what could be a huge season as a third-year starter and senior in 2013. The 6-foot-2, 281-pounder had 5.5 sacks last season and was fifth in the league with 14 tackles for loss. He'll be a lynchpin of a new defense in a new era of Texas Tech football.
4. Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech: Bush isn't far behind as Hyder's partner in crime. The 6-foot-1, 256-pound defensive end equaled Hyder's sack total last season with 5.5. He also added 12 tackles for loss. He had multiple tackles for loss in three games, and a tackle for loss in seven consecutive games. Bush helps Tech boast one of the Big 12's best overall defensive lines after the Red Raiders struggled along the defensive front for much of the past few seasons.
5. Chris McAllister, Baylor: McAllister is an underrated player in the league with almost no name recognition, but he's coming off a great first year as a starter in 2012, when he had six sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, six pass-breakups and two forced fumbles. His six sacks are second-most among returning Big 12 players, behind only Fields. He has a ton of quickness at 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, and has crazy-good instincts for getting his hands up and batting down passes.
6. Tyler Johnson, Oklahoma State: I'm taking a bit of a flyer here on Johnson, but I love his athleticism, instincts and nose for the ball. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and he might be the best first-year starting defender in the Big 12 this season. Like former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, Johnson, now 27, played baseball after high school. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound defensive end didn't have a start in 2012, but had two sacks and two forced fumbles in the bowl game, finishing with six tackles for loss and an interception.
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.
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Strongest position: Pass-catchers
I'll have to apologize to Oklahoma State's trio of safeties in Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary and Zack Craig here, but I'm going with the guys hauling in balls in OSU's pass-first offense as the strongest position. I don't care to debate whether Blake Jackson is a receiver or a tight end (he's the former), but I'm obviously including him in this group. He'll be an interesting guy to watch this year after struggling with drops but clearly possessing loads of potential and averaging better than 20 yards a catch on his 29 grabs.
Oklahoma State had nine players with at least 12 catches and 150 receiving yards last season and returns six of those players, including Tracy Moore, who was given an extra year of eligibility. He won't be joined by Michael Harrison, who sat out 2012 and was expected to return, but won't be doing so after a strong 2011 season under Justin Blackmon.
Somehow, we've gotten this far without mentioning the unit's headliner, breakout star Josh Stewart. He was overshadowed by a trio of superstars in Baylor's Terrance Williams and West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but all three are gone and Stewart is easily the Big 12's best returning receiver. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores last season, which is more than 150 yards more than any other returning receiver in the league. Stewart's underrated for now, but that could change soon, even though Oklahoma State has a ton of depth at the position with guys like Austin Hays and Charlie Moore filling out the position and Blake Webb emerging late in the season. Will incoming freshmen like Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman find space to make an impact right away? It won't be easy, because this is Oklahoma State's biggest strength.
Weakest position: Defensive end
I've got nothing against juco transfers, who can walk on campus and be game-changers immediately, but if you're bringing in guys to do that, it shows a weakness at the position. Oklahoma State is doing that with Sam Wren, the nation's No. 16 overall juco prospect, after the Pokes lost three defensive ends from last season's team in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett. Tyler Johnson is a solid player who made six tackles for loss a year ago, but OSU needs to find him help on the other side or opponents will be able to shut him down with double teams. Kansas State's Joe Bob Clements is a new addition to the staff who'll coach the position and try to sort it out this spring, but look for guys like Trace Clark, Jimmy Bean and early enrollee Naim Mustafaa to try to earn a starting spot, too.
More Weak and Strong.
Big shoes to fill: Oklahoma State's defensive ends
This unit will be getting used to a brand-new position coach in Joe Bob Clements, who came over from Kansas State this offseason. The Cowboys are losing three of their top players at the position in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett, and behind them is a bit of a messy situation. Tyler Johnson is the only guy I'd lock into a starting spot after making four sacks, six tackles for loss and 27 stops last season as a reserve, along with an interception and a pair of forced fumbles. Still, with a new position coach, you can never know for sure. Beyond him, it's a crap shoot. We might see sophomore Trace Clark emerge, or junior Jimmy Bean and sophomore Taylor May. The Cowboys might even slide a guy like Davidell Collins over. Either way, it's a huge spot for the Cowboys next season. You can't underestimate the importance of a pass rush in a league full of great quarterback play and high-powered offenses. Johnson must grow into his increased role if Oklahoma State's defense is going to have a better 2013 under new coordinator Glenn Spencer.
More big shoes to fill:
RB: Lache Seastrunk, Baylor: Seastrunk helped Baylor rout UCLA with 138 yards and a score on 16 carries in the Bears' Holiday Bowl win.
RB: Glasco Martin IV, Baylor: How many rushers did the Big 12 have this bowl season who had at least 95 yards? Two, and both played for Baylor. Martin scored three touchdowns in the Holiday Bowl and carried the ball 21 times for 98 yards. Heck of a night for the Bears backs.
WR: Darrin Moore, Texas Tech: Moore was the most consistent receiver in the bowl season with 11 catches for 84 yards, keeping the chains moving for the Red Raiders in their Meineke Car Care Bowl win against Minnesota.
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia: Despite playing in a snowstorm, Bailey had the best performance of any Big 12 receiver. He caught eight balls for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It wasn't enough to get the Pinstripe Bowl win, but no other Mountaineer scored a touchdown.
WR: Marquise Goodwin, Texas: The track star's touches were limited, but he had a huge impact. His 36-yard grab with 2:24 to play proved to be the game winner, and he finished with four catches for 68 yards. He also had one carry -- which he turned into a 64-yard touchdown, looking as fast as any player in college football while streaking to the end zone.
TE: Ernst Brun Jr., Iowa State: Brun caught four passes for 102 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown, to get the first-quarter party started for the Cyclones, which scored 17 points in the quarter. The rest of the game was forgettable, but Brun had one of the longest plays of Iowa State's season.
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor: The Bears' left guard was a big reason why Baylor had so much success running the ball. Baylor racked up 306 yards on the ground against UCLA.
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State: Purdue's Kawann Short is a stud and arguably the team's best player, but Taylor helped Oklahoma State rack up 58 points and helped hold the Boilermakers defensive tackle to just one tackle and one sack. Short had minimal impact throughout the game.
OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders ran the ball well -- on the few occasions they did -- and Seth Doege had plenty of time. Waddle was a big reason why for both.
OL: Lane Johnson, Oklahoma: Texas A&M wrecking ball Damontre Moore declared for the NFL draft before the Cotton Bowl, but credit Johnson at tackle, who helped hold him to five tackles, one tackle for loss and zero sacks, despite Landry Jones throwing 48 passes.
OL: Ivory Wade, Baylor: Those 306 yards rushing for the Bears didn't come easy. Most of them came on the interior, and Wade was a solid presence in the middle of the line.
DL: Chris McAllister, Baylor: He was one of a handful of guys to hold UCLA's Johnathan Franklin to 34 yards on 14 carries, had five tackles, including two sacks, and batted down a pass to help keep UCLA's passing game grounded.
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas: Okafor is my defensive MVP of the Big 12 bowl season. He gave Oregon State's offensive line nightmares and helped the Longhorns stage a late comeback with 4.5 sacks, five tackles for loss and eight stops. He also forced a fumble.
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State: The Wildcats had a rough night against Oregon, but Williams played pretty well with nine tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
DL: Terrance Lloyd, Baylor: Lloyd was part of the Baylor gang who helped UCLA have its worst running game of the season. He had four tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. No zone read for you.
LB: Terence Garvin, West Virginia: Garvin was everywhere for the West Virginia defense, which largely struggled in a blowout loss to Syracuse. He forced a fumble, recovered a fumble, broke up a pass, had two sacks, made three tackles for loss and had 15 tackles.
LB: Tyler Johnson, Oklahoma State: Johnson blew up what Purdue likes to refer to as its "passing game." He made six tackles, had two sacks and forced two fumbles, including a huge hit on Purdue quarterback Robert Marve.
LB: Eddie Lackey, Baylor: Lackey was another part of Baylor's defense that put together one of its best games of the season. He made 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and five tackles.
DB: Jason Verrett, TCU: Most of Michigan State's night was frustrating in the passing game before some late success, and Verrett was a big reason for those struggles. He broke up two passes, made a tackle for loss and had 12 tackles.
DB: D.J. Johnson, Texas Tech: Johnson made 14 tackles and is on this team for one of the biggest plays of Texas Tech's season. The defense hadn't forced a turnover since Oct. 20, but Johnson picked off a Gophers pass in the final minute with Minnesota driving and the game tied. He returned it 39 yards, helping to set up the winning field goal as time expired.
DB: Jeremy Reeves, Iowa State: Reeves returned a Cody Green interception 31 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Liberty Bowl loss. He had six tackles with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.
DB: Daytawion Lowe, Oklahoma State: No second-half comebacks for Purdue. Lowe opened the half with a 37-yard fumble return for a score and made seven tackles with half a tackle for loss.
KR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech: This one is pretty simple. Grant returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score, giving Texas Tech a 7-3 lead early in the first quarter of its Meineke Car Care Bowl win.
PR: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State: Purdue faked a punt to keep its opening drive alive but punted on its next set of downs. The always-shifty Stewart delivered a 64-yard punt return, giving Oklahoma State the ball on the Purdue 19-yard line. The Cowboys scored for a 7-0 lead to kick off the Heart of Dallas Bowl rout.
K: Jaden Oberkrom, TCU: He edges out Texas Tech's Ryan Bustin, who kicked a 28-yard winner, for making all three of his attempts, including a crazy 53-yarder for a 16-14 lead with 2:42 to play. He also made kicks of 47 and 31 yards.
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State: He narrowly edges out Oklahoma's Tress Way (five punts, three inside 20, long of 58 yards, average 49.4 yards) for this award after pinning Purdue inside its 20-yard line on two of his three punts. He boomed a 65-yarder and averaged nearly 53 yards on his three punts. He was more valuable for Oklahoma State because field position mattered to Purdue. It didn't to Texas A&M.
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