NCF Nation: Duane Akina

We'll move on to the cornerbacks today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
This group? Well, it's not very good. And considering the crazy depth in the Big 12 at receiver, it could be a long season for cornerbacks in this league. I love the upside of many of the Big 12 corners -- namely the guys at Missouri and Texas Tech (especially working with Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 in Lubbock). Texas could also develop fast in its new defense, but outside of Texas A&M and Oklahoma, I don't see any Big 12 teams that should be completely comfortable with their cornerbacks.

Of course, for fans who love points, this could be a welcome development. For secondary coaches and defensive coordinators? Not so much.

[+] EnlargeJamell Fleming
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireJamell Fleming returns as the Big 12's top cornerback.
1. Oklahoma -- Jamell Fleming is the Big 12's top returner at the position and gives the Sooners a huge boost after being reinstated last week. Fleming had withdrawn from the university because of academic problems following the season. Aaron Colvin moved to safety during the offseason, but Fleming will still have to beat out Gabe Lynn in fall camp to start opposite Demontre Hurst. Julian Wilson also adds depth.

2. Texas A&M -- Fleming's return pushed the Sooners over A&M as having the Big 12's best group of corners. But Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick could both challenge for first team All-Big 12 honors at the position. They are ahead of reserves Dustin Harris and Lionel Smith, who will get plenty of time on the field.

3. Missouri -- Missouri loses starters Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland, but the coaches consider Kip Edwards a returning starter because of how much he played last season. Edwards could join E.J. Gaines in eventually becoming better than both Gettis and Rutland. Trey Hobson and Robert Steeples will get time in the rotation, too.

4. Oklahoma State -- OSU has to replace the Big 12's interception leader Andrew McGee , but Brodrick Brown's development should continue. He's likely a dark horse to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors after the season. The Cowboys didn't release a post-spring depth chart, but don't be surprised if return specialist Justin Gilbert edges out Devin Hedgepeth for the starting spot before the opener. Andrae May has earned playing time on special teams in both of his first two seasons on campus, but could be counted on for a much bigger role this year as the fourth corner.

5. Texas -- The Longhorns are fairly decimated at corner after losing three to the NFL in one offseason. Curtis and Chykie Brown joined Aaron Williams for one of the most talented sets of corners we've seen in this league, but now, secondary coach Duane Akina will have to replace them. Texas' depth chart is still as in flux as any in college football, but I'd be surprised if Carrington Byndom didn't emerge with a starting spot. True freshman Quandre Diggs might swipe the other, but Eryon Barnett and A.J. White will be on the field, too.

6. Texas Tech -- The Red Raiders are likely to ascend this list by season's end, but for now, find themselves at No. 6. Injuries were costly for the defense last season, but Tre Porter and Derrick Mays should be much better, and Tech fans can be encouraged by the upside in Jarvis Phillips, Jeremy Reynolds and Eugene Neboh.

7. Iowa State -- This group might be a bit underrated, but with Iowa State's defensive problems last season, it's a bit hard to tell. Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson return with loads of experience, and Anthony Young is a great additional piece as the third corner. Matthew Thomas should be in the rotation, too.

8. Baylor -- The Bears return both starters. Chance Casey has 15 career starts to Tyler Stephenson's four, but the Bears secondary struggled last season, especially the corners. Tuswani Copeland should be on the field, and Romie Blaylock offers some experience as a senior under new coordinator Phil Bennett, whose work is cut out for him at this spot.

9. Kansas -- Kansas loses Chris Harris from last season's team, but Isiah Barfield is a playmaker at the position. Greg Brown, Tyler Patmon and Anthony Davis fill out the group.

10. Kansas State -- The Wildcats have a huge talent in David Garrett, who led the team in tackles last season and was the nation's leader in tackles for loss, but he's still just one player at a position that needs lots of depth in this league. Also, his coverage leaves a bit to be desired. For now, K-State doesn't look like it has that necessary depth. Terrance Sweeney and Stephen Harrison are gone, but the Wildcats need to find more talents at the position in fall camp. Watch for Thomas Ferguson to emerge as the other starter.
Manny Diaz, the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, has been hired for the same job at Texas, confirming multiple reports throughout the day on Wednesday.

"I was very flattered when I heard from Coach [Mack] Brown about this tremendous opportunity," Diaz said in a news release. "It was not something I sought out, but Coach Brown called, was very complimentary of our season and asked if I was interested in talking. I was very interested immediately. I'm really looking forward to being a part of a great team and staff. That all starts with Coach Brown and everything he's done to make Texas great. Just having the chance to be a cog in that wheel is really exciting to me."

Diaz is Texas' third hire after five positions came open at the end of the season. Bo Davis, previously at Alabama, has been hired to coach defensive tackles. Darrell Wyatt, previously at Kansas, has been hired to coach receivers.

The hire also means that Texas' defensive staff is set for the 2011 season.

"After an extensive search, including conversations with head coaches and offensive coordinators around the country, Manny's name continued to come up," Brown said. "He's a bright, young coach who brings a lot of energy to our program. Manny's been a tremendous staff person everywhere he has been, and he will fit in perfectly with our guys here. When you add him and Bo (Davis) to Duane (Akina) and Oscar (Giles), that's a defensive staff I'm really excited about moving forward with."
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

As Texas streaks to its second 9-0 start since 1983, it’s understandable that some are already comparing this year’s team to the other team that started that fast.

Texas’ 2005 national championship team is the benchmark for all of the other Texas teams coached by Mack Brown. And this team appears to be the closest to the national championship squad in many respects.

While Brown says such comparisons are premature, he does say his current team’s fast start makes for some inevitable comparisons.
 
 Brendan Maloney/US Presswire
 Colt McCoy and the Longhorns have drawn comparisons to the 2005 national championship team.


“I would think you could compare them because there’s been only one close game for this team and for that team in 2005,” Brown said. “It was the Ohio State game in 2005 and the Oklahoma game this year that was in question late in the ballgame.”

But in order to meet the challenge of matching the 2005 team, Colt McCoy’s team will have to match the finishing kick of Vince Young’s team.

“At this time, they’ve earned the right to be in conversation with the 2005 team,” Brown said. “But they haven’t earned the right to be considered as good because they have to finish like that bunch did.”

The 2005 national championship led the conference in 11 statistical categories; the current team leads it in five. The 2005 team was the nation’s leading scoring team and led the nation in pass efficiency. The current team is more defensively oriented as it leads the nation in rushing defense and scoring defense and ranks second in kickoff returns.

The 2005 title team ranked 10th or better in 10 of the 17 team statistical categories tracked by the NCAA. The 2009 team ranked 10th or better in eight of those team statistical groups.

Here's a position-by-position comparison of the two teams:

Quarterbacks: Both teams featured quarterbacks who were involved in the Heisman Trophy race. The 2005 team had Vince Young, a multi-purpose player who accounted for 3,036 passing yards and 26 touchdown passes. Most importantly, he provided leadership for a team that had never won a Big 12 title under Brown. McCoy redshirted on that team, earning the opportunity to soak up lessons watching Young’s leadership. He’s capping the most productive statistical career for a Texas quarterback by passing for 2,447 yards and 17 touchdowns with at least three games remaining -- not counting a potential Big 12 championship game and a bowl. And his leadership skills are comparable with Young’s in guiding his team to an undefeated season so far.

Edge: Even

Rushing game: The 2005 team relied on Young, who rushed for a team-high 1,050 yards and scored 12 touchdowns and also had a strong starter in Jamaal Charles and an outstanding change-of-pace player in Ramonce Taylor. That team produced 55 rushing touchdowns and had five different backs with eight rushing touchdowns or more. The current team’s rushing game might be its major weakness without a featured rushing threat, as no current back has rushed for more than 275 yards. Depending on game situations, the team has utilized any of three starters, but its most consistent producer has been Cody Johnson, who will become its fourth starter this week against Baylor.

 
 Mark J. Rebilas/US Presswire
 Vince Young quarterbacked the 2005 Texas team to the national title.
Edge: 2005 Texas

Receivers/Tight end: The 2005 team had a stacked collection of receivers led by top deep threat Billy Pittman and Limas Sweed. But the most consistent receiving threat for Young was tight end David Thomas, who produced 50 receptions, including a career-best 10 in the BCS title game victory over USC. But that team had no receiving threat to match Jordan Shipley, who has already produced 75 catches, four double-figure reception games and broken the school single-game receiving yardage record. Dan Buckner developed early into a receiving threat at flex end and Malcolm Williams, James Kirkendoll and John Chiles all have been strong in an offense that has lived by short passes. But Shipley has been the focal point of a passing game that features short, quick passes as its primary offensive weapon.

Edge: 2009 Texas

Offensive line: The 2005 team featured three-first team All-Big 12 picks in Justin Blalock, Jonathan Scott and Will Allen. Because of Young's mobility, that team allowed only 14 sacks and produced 5.9 yards per carry and 55 rushing touchdowns. The current team is nearly as strong with key players like Adam Ulatoski, Charlie Tanner and Chris Hall, who have currently combined for 99 career starts and should be peaking as the season continues. The current team is producing 3.9 yards per carry, 16 sacks and 20 rushing touchdowns.

Edge: 2005 Texas

Defensive line: The 2005 team featured first-team All-Big 12 players like Rodrique Wright and Tim Crowder and pass-rushing specialist Brian Robison, a converted linebacker who led the team with sacks. But that team didn’t feature anybody as proficient as Sergio Kindle or a run-stuffing tackle like Lamarr Houston. It’s the main reason the current Texas team leads the nation in rush defense (55.33 yards per game), total defense (230.78 yards per game) and ranks in the top 20 in both sacks and tackles for losses. The 2005 team was 39th nationally in sacks and 29th in tackles for losses.

Edge: 2009 Texas

Linebackers: The 2005 unit was at its weakest at linebacker where no players earned All-Big 12 first-team or second-team designation. Robert Killebrew was that team’s only player to earn honorable mention. The current team features an anchor in the middle in senior linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, flanked by Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Will Muschamp’s unit seldom uses three linebackers except in run-stuffing situations, preferring to use a nickel formation. But his current group still has the edge at linebacker over the championship team.

Edge: 2009 Texas

Secondary: The 2005 team might be one of the great college units of all time. That team featured the Thorpe Award winner in Michael Huff and another all-league player in Cedric Griffin. Huff, Cedric Griffin, Michael Griffin, Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown all were drafted in the NFL and had eventual pro careers. The unit was nearly impermeable as it broke up 85 passes and permitted only two teams to pass for more than 200 yards against them. The current group is young and skilled and might develop into as strong of a group with experience.

Earl Thomas has played like the best defensive back in the country this season with six interceptions, including two touchdown returns. Curtis Brown, Chykie Brown, Aaron Williams and Blake Gideon have already helped the defense combine for 16 interceptions. And the group is playing with swagger as the season continues.

The current group could match the eventual production of the 2005 team, but it still has to get there.

Edge: 2005 Texas

Special teams: Neither team had to punt very often, but Hunter Lawrence has a narrow edge over David Pino at kicker for his consistency and range. The biggest difference is in the return game. The current team features two threats with D.J. Monroe (two TDs, 36.5 yards kick return average) and Shipley (14.5 punt return average, two TDs), giving it an edge over Ramonce Taylor and Aaron Ross (14.7 punt return average, two TDs).

Edge: 2009 Texas

Coaching: With largely the same cast of coaches, the 2009 team appears to be better coached. In 2005, Brown was trying for his first Big 12 title and utilized defensive co-coordinators with Gene Chizik and Duane Akina. It often seemed that the individual talents of Young took over the game during that championship season. But this team features a better job by Greg Davis as he compensates for his team’s lack of a consistent running game by developing a crafty passing game utilizing quick short passes. And the defense has taken big steps this season in its second season under Muschamp.

Edge:2009 Texas

Intangibles: The 2005 team was trying to become Brown’s first Big 12 title team and played well throughout. It started with a dramatic comeback victory over Ohio State and continued with a run through the Big 12 that featured no victory less than 19 points. The 2005 team needed a comeback over Oklahoma State, but Young helped the team peak as the Longhorns scored at least 40 points in 12 games. The team rolled to victories of 62, 52 and 11 points in November before notching a record-breaking 70-3 triumph over Colorado in the Big 12 title game and the 41-38 BCS title game victory over USC.

This team hasn’t faced many tests, although it did handle Oklahoma in a 16-13 triumph that ranks as its closest margin. Other than that game, the 2009 Longhorns have rolled up at least 34 points in every game and allowed more than 20 points on only two occasions. But it still has its chance to finish strongly in November like the 2005 team did.

Edge: 2005 Texas

If they met: The 2005 team still would merit a slight edge, mainly because this team doesn’t have a transcendent talent like Young. But the current team is developing and could have a chance to match the championship with a strong finish.

Edge: 2005 Texas

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

AUSTIN, Texas -- Longhorns coaches have been adamant about what they've wanted at each practice from an emerging secondary this spring.

"The coaches are on us hard about getting turnovers after last year," Texas cornerback Chykie Brown said. "Every day in practice our goal is to get at least three turnovers. It's turned out pretty good."

 
  Brian Bahr/Getty Images
  Defensive coordinator Will Muschamp is pleased with the development of the secondary this spring.

And while the Texas secondary didn't exactly reach that goal in Sunday's Orange-White scrimmage with two turnovers, they can feel like they have accomplished something this spring as they get ready for the upcoming season.

If Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp has any doubts about his defensive backs, all he has to think about is where they were at the same time last year.

"Comparing then to now is light years," Muschamp said. "It was an adventure every day as far as installation of our defense from day to day. It's a lot of fun the second year teaching and installing and working more on fundamentals rather than teaching schemes all the time."

The Longhorns struggled making big plays last season, producing a Big 12-low six interceptions and ranking 104th nationally and worst in the Big 12 with only 16 forced turnovers.

"If we had made more turnovers last year, the sky would have been the limit for us," Muschamp said. "But it's all on us. Playing hard and playing relentlessly is the most important thing to me and I think we're getting more guys to buy into that."

This spring, the most important number for the Longhorns' secondary might be eight -- as in the quantity of talented defensive players with a chance to start. That depth will provide the Texas defensive coordinator with all kinds of weapons to tinker with as he attempts to counter the pass-happy offenses in the Big 12.

"It's good because it allows competition," Muschamp said about his secondary's depth. "These guys know if they don't perform, they're on the bench the next day. It allows for our guys to go out every day and play consistently well, and that's what makes guys compete and improve as football players. Your best motivator is competition."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Even though Texas claimed 10 victories last season, and defeated Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl, there weren't many happy people around the Forty Acres after last season.

 
 Scott Wachter/Icon SMI
 Mack Brown and the Longhorns hope to build on 2007's 10-win season.

The Longhorns struggled defensively, ranking 109th nationally in pass defense, 52nd in overall defense and allowed more passing yards than any team in school history. Those struggles led to coach Mack Brown to demote former defensive coordinator Duane Akina and hire fiery new coordinator Will Muschamp from Auburn.

Brown hopes that move will shake some lethargy from a program that too often played without passion last season. It will be interesting to see if that decision shakes up the defensive unit and gets them to play harder. If nothing else, it will likely provide the Longhorns with a few "YouTube" moments from Muschamp's wild sideline rants.

Those disappointments have reduced expectations from most observers to the lowest since the 1999 season. Brown has to be loving that response -- almost as much as the motivational material prompted by some of Howard Schnellenberger's taunts about his team heading into their opener Saturday night against Florida Atlantic.

Heading into that game, here are five pressing concerns for the Longhorns.

1. Can the young secondary hold up?

The secondary is the youngest that Brown has ever had and it got even younger when the most veteran member, Ishie Oduegwu, went down. It will mean that five freshmen defensive backs could see action against a talented Florida Atlantic passing game. And it won't get any easier once Big 12 play begins.

2. How will the defense respond to Muschamp?

So far, so good as the Longhorns seem to have gravitated to his aggressive nature. But will that nature stand up after a little adversity? We'll see.

3. Colt's turnovers

After a record-breaking freshman season, QB Colt McCoy had a tendency to try to do too much last season. It helped lead him to throw 18 interceptions, which tied for the conference lead and were the most thrown by a Texas quarterback in Big 12 history in one season. He's got to do a better job this season.

4. Who will be Texas' featured running threat?

Vondrell McGee and Chris Ogbonnaya will get the first shot with Fozzy Whittaker waiting for his chance after he recovers from his knee injury suffered late in training camp. McGee is more of a move-the-pile runner, Ogbonnaya is a better pass-catcher and Whittaker a more explosive back. The combination should be useful, if all can handle not being the featured back.

5. How will the Longhorns handled the diminished expectations?

Diminished for Texas, anyway. Most observers have them picked for third in the Big 12 South. It's hard to believe that Brown ever would need to play the disrespect card at Texas, but this season looks like the perfect time.

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