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Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
10:00
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

Richardson sparks ISU over KU

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
10:35
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It was senior night for Kansas.

It was a glimpse at the future for Iowa State.

Cyclone quarterback Sam Richardson led his team to touchdowns on five of his first six drives as ISU defeated KU 51-23 to ruin the Jayhawks’ senior night at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

A redshirt freshman, Richardson didn’t enter the game until 4:16 left in the first quarter when he replaced starter Steele Jantz. He promptly showed the poise and presence of a veteran quarterback in helping the Cyclones become bowl eligible while improving to 6-5 overall, 3-5 in the Big 12.

In his fourth season in Ames, Iowa, coach Paul Rhoads has the Cyclones poised to make their third bowl appearance.

More importantly, the Cyclones might have found their quarterback of the future. Richardson finished 23-of-27 for 250 yards and four touchdowns with zero turnovers and he added 11 carries for 43 yards and another touchdown. The Winter Park, Fla., native was accurate, confident and efficient in the first extensive action of his career.

The unanswered question that lingers around Richardson: Can he do it consistently, against any and every Big 12 opponent? That remains to be seen, starting with ISU’s home finale against West Virginia on Nov. 24.

Meanwhile, the Jayhawks have plenty of questions of their own. With a 1-10 record and 20-game conference losing streak, all bets are off. Oddly enough, now is the time when KU coach Charlie Weis can learn a lot about his football team.

The players who care will be noticed, the ones who are content playing out the string will be exposed. KU running back Tony Pierson’s hustle to save two points after an interception on a Jayhawk 2-point conversion attempt is the perfect example of a guy who cares and wants to compete. Pierson ran 70-plus yards to tackle Cyclones safety Jacques Washington from behind in a game that his team was trailing by 18 points at the time, with little hope of rallying for a win.

While their record isn’t pretty, Weis will learn a lot about his Jayhawks program when KU battles WVU in its last game of the season on Dec. 1.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
10:15
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Here's what I'm watching in the Big 12 this week:

1. What baseball-sized bruise? David Ash says he's playing, and he's practiced this week with a wrap on his left, non-throwing wrist. He can take snaps, too. Will we see Case McCoy start or play? And will Ash make it through the game without having to sit?

2. You want to be the Lunter, not the Lunted. Wes Lunt has been sidelined for more than a month now, and J.W. Walsh has played pretty well in his absence. Lunt is still "day-to-day" after suffering a knee injury against Louisiana-Lafayette, but is this the week he returns? Offensive coordinator Todd Monken and head coach Mike Gundy seemed to disagree on his availability last week. My guess is Lunt is back.

3. Shuffling the deck. Baylor struggled to run the ball against TCU last week, but now faces the league's worst rushing defense in Texas. Will we see a shuffle in the carry distribution, or will Jarred Salubi hang on to his status as the featured back? Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin will be nipping at his heels, too.

[+] EnlargeTrevone Boykin
Jerome Miron/US PresswireTCU quarterback Trevone Boykin next takes aim at Texas Tech, the Big 12's best defense.
4. Who's who, and which is which? Trevone Boykin threw three picks and fumbled in a frustrating loss to Iowa State, but last week we saw him look like a star against Baylor. The Bears' defense, though? Not strong. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in total defense and will be a much tougher test. How much of last week's performance was Boykin, and how much was Baylor's defense's inability to cover?

5. Check your pants, sir. Meanwhile, at Kansas, Charlie Weis says he plans to play two quarterbacks against the Sooners. Michael Cummings provided a spark in a near comeback against Oklahoma State last week. Everyone saw it, including Weis. Can he do something similar in Norman, Okla., on Saturday, or was last week an aberration?

6. Running away from trouble. Iowa State's linebacker duo of Jake Knott and A.J. Klein can shut down Oklahoma State's running game, and did so last year. Kansas did the same and OSU couldn't beat the Jayhawks convincingly through the air. Iowa State's secondary is strong, led by Jacques Washington. If ISU shuts down the running game, this could be another upset in the making.

7. Accounts receiving ... losses. Texas Tech has one of the deepest receiving units in the league, but suffered major losses this week. Bradley Marquez and Javon Bell are out for the season and tight end Jace Amaro might not play after injuring his ribs against West Virginia. Can Seth Doege and the passing game still survive those hits and move on with business as usual? They'll get a tough test this week against TCU, which leads the nation with 14 interceptions.

8. Achilles' heel ... or ankle. Last week was pretty ugly for the Mountaineers, but was it just an aberration? I'm betting yes, but they'll have to prove it against a very good, very sound Kansas State defense that was shown a way to slow this offense last week when Texas Tech stuffed WVU. Star receiver Stedman Bailey missed the second half last week with an ankle injury and is "day-to-day" this week. Will he even play? And if he does, will he be healthy? When he was out, Tech was able to shut down Tavon Austin. Can K-State do the same?

9. Make sure you've got your contacts in. Oklahoma suited up for the most meaningful game of its season last week against Texas. On Oct. 27, one of college football's most storied programs comes to Norman, likely without a loss on its record. This week ... it's 1-5 Kansas, which hasn't beaten an FBS team this season. Do the Sooners keep their focus and still look sharp, avoiding a letdown ahead of Notre Dame's visit?

10. Those last plays are important, guys. Geno Smith won't throw picks to anybody these days. WVU's not fumbling all that much, either. You want to stop WVU from scoring? Getting fourth-down stops is one of your best bets. How will K-State do? Dana Holgorsen doesn't trust his kicker and loves to roll the dice on fourth down. That stat may just decide the K-State game. WVU was 5-of-5 against Texas and won. It was 2-of-7 last week against Texas Tech and got blasted by five touchdowns. A fourth-down stop isn't listed as a turnover on the stat sheet, but it's just as good.
Thanks for all the e-mails this week. It's always fun to hear what you folks have to say. If you've got more, send it my way.

On to your mail!

Eric in Manhattan, Kan. writes: Come on David...K-State won't be upset by Iowa State. We know this is our trap game, as it's always been a nail biter game the last 3 years at least. Also we know those games haven't been played in Ames. No coach, player, or fan knows not to look past ISU. Because it's always a great game and full of tension. Both teams are getting better every year, but K-State at a faster pace. The team trifecta of Snyder, Klein, and Brown won't let the rest get too far ahead and keep us focused.

David Ubben: For me, this has nothing to do with Kansas State overlooking Iowa State. It's more about matchups. Iowa State's got a great defense, but its strengths are tackling and pursuit at linebacker, and that's what you've got to do to slow down Kansas State. Stop Collin Klein from getting easy yards and swarm to the ball. Iowa State does that well, and loves to play slower, lower-scoring games. It wins in those positions. When Iowa State holds opponents to under 24 points, Paul Rhoads is 19-1.

Iowa State's a good team, too, and playing well enough to beat K-State. It's not about focus or a lack thereof. It's a matter of Iowa State being a good team in good position to knock off the Wildcats. I picked K-State, but it's going to be close.

Steven in Iowa writes: You said you don't think ISU is a top 25 team. Do they have a top 25 D?

DU: I most definitely do. The secondary is way underrated, and I loved what Jacques Washington has done to this point. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein? There's not much to even say about those two. As good as any linebacker in the Big 12, though I might lean Arthur Brown.

The defensive line doesn't have a lot of freaks, but Jake McDonough and Roosevelt Maggitt have been fantastic. For my money, Iowa State may well end up the best defense in the Big 12. You can make a case for the Cyclones right now, and there's not a defense in the league that's been demonstrably better.

Michael Bay in Ames, Iowa writes: Coming soon...TransFarmers: Rhodesbots in disguise.Optimus Klein, IronSnyde, and the rest of the Autocats once again take on Sentinal Klein, WashingTron, and the Deceptaclones....Will the win go to the Autocats since they are on the side of the light? Or can the Deceptaclones rewrite classic story formats everywhere? We will find out Saturday in the battle on CYbertron.

DU: Oh man, this was the best e-mail I got all week. Love my readers only slightly more than the Transformers trilogy. Best trilogy since Spy Kids.

Jay in Kansas City, Mo. writes: Does K-State's style of play and program make it the natural born enemy of teams like WVU, Oklahoma State, Baylor, and Texas Tech and is it one of the reason why K-state went deep last year and is undefeated this year?

DU: To some degree, but I really love it. Kansas State is basically the antithesis of all things Big 12. Bill Snyder has watched the points explosion around the rest of the league and shrugged. His offense doesn't look a whole lot different than it did all the way back in 1998 with Michael Bishop. Can anybody else in the Big 12 say that?

It's one thing to not change. It's another to not change and still win. Snyder's done that.

In the process, you'll always hear Big 12 coaches talk about how difficult it is to prepare for Kansas State's offense. It's complex, it's full of misdirection and it's unlike anything you'll see in the rest of the league. Teams see the spread pretty often in practice.

When Baylor goes over and plays Oklahoma State or West Virginia goes and plays Texas Tech, preparation's not all that difficult. Teams see it in practice every day. But Kansas State? That's a whole different challenge for defenses that are most often built to stop the spread.

No doubt that's a big part of Kansas State's recent success, too. It does things differently and do it well, and always provide a tough matchup.

Eric in Arkansas writes: David,I am starting to hear the engine starting about how the B12 champ will be at a disadvantage due to no conference title game. I dont remember hearing any of this when the B10 or P12 didnt have a title game. I feel that the round robin schedule more than makes up for not having a title game. What say you?

DU: I don't hear that or buy that at all. Look at it this way: If you're playing in the Big 12, you're going to play nine league games, period. So will the SEC and the Big Ten. However, you're guaranteed to play a good team in that ninth game, maybe somebody you've already played. In the Big 12, it's just another conference game.

In the Pac-12, you have to play 10 conference games to reach the national title game, nine league games and a league title game. That's obviously more difficult.

History has shown us the Big 12 title game doesn't really ever propel teams into the national title game. Far more often (four times in Big 12 history, actually), it's cost a team a shot at the national title. The league is strong enough where schedule isn't an issue, and now, coaches don't have to worry about a major hurdle in the last week of the season, perhaps one they've already cleared.

There's no question: The Big 12's schedule, compared to the rest of the leagues, makes it easier to reach the national title game.

Alex in Plano, Texas writes: Is Nick Florence the most underrated QB in the nation? He currently leads the nation in total offense and yet gets no mention anywhere. Thanks!

DU: Yeah, I'd buy it. The biggest reason is probably a) he still plays for Baylor, who despite RG3's best efforts a year ago, isn't a national brand and b) Baylor's not in the top 25.

It'll take a long while to change a), but b) is a little ridiculous, considering the Bears' only loss is by seven points on the road against a top-five team. I had Baylor at No. 22 on my last top 25 poll.

Florence has been outstanding to this point. His decision-making keeps getting better, and he clearly has a mastery of Baylor's offense. He doesn't have the big arm or the sprinter's legs of RG3, but he can play quarterback at a high level, and I'd be surprised if he doesn't get a great shot in the NFL.
We've already seen some shakeups among Big 12 defenses, but which unit has impressed you most? Let's take a vote:

IOWA STATE

The Cyclones rank third in the Big 12 in scoring defense and have forced 12 turnovers, fourth-most in the Big 12. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein are as talented as any two linebackers in the league, and the secondary is way, way underrated. Jacques Washington is tied for the Big 12 lead with three interceptions and the unit ranks fourth in total defense.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 defense has impressed you most?

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    41%
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    32%
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    11%
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    3%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,742)

TCU

TCU has had to replace a lot of personnel, but true freshman Devonte Fields has been as good as any defensive end in the league. Linebacker Joel Hasley has flown around for the defense, and is ninth in the Big 12 with 37 tackles. The Frogs have forced a Big 12-high 14 turnovers, including three picks from Jason Verrett, tied for the most in the Big 12. The Frogs have played a good schedule and are second in the Big 12 in total defense. They're giving up just 13.2 points a game, the lowest mark in the Big 12.

OKLAHOMA

The Sooners have had a tough time forcing turnovers, but Oklahoma is giving up just 16 points a game, and ranks third in the Big 12 in total defense. Aaron Colvin has broken up six passes and to this point, looks like a breakout star on the Sooners defense.

KANSAS STATE

K-State's slow pace helps its defense put up good numbers, but the Wildcats have been big-time thieves this year, their 13 takeaways good for second in the league. That's helped K-State rank second in the Big 12 in scoring defense, and the Wildcats went on the road and held Oklahoma to just 19 points. The Wildcats, though, rank fifth in total defense.

TEXAS TECH

Texas Tech is no longer the nation's No. 1 overall defense after giving up 41 points in three quarters to Oklahoma, but the Red Raiders are easily the most improved unit on this list after finishing 114th in total defense a year ago. That knocked Tech to fifth in the Big 12 in scoring defense, but the Red Raiders are still No. 1 in the Big 12 in total defense. Can they force a few more turnovers? Tech has just seven so far this year.

Big 12 position ranking: Safeties

June, 30, 2011
6/30/11
1:15
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We'll move on to the safeties today in our position rankings across the Big 12.

Here's what we've covered so far:
The group of safeties across the Big 12 isn't fantastic, without any truly elite groups, but it's decent. There aren't any teams that look really hopeless at the position in the immediate future.

I haven't given it real close examination so far on the positions we haven't covered yet, but this is by far the closest gap between 1-10 of any position so far.

Here's how I ranked them. (Remember, I lumped in nickel backs with linebackers, so Ahmad Dixon and Tony Jefferson won't be found anywhere in this post.)

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Markelle Martin
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREOklahoma State's Markelle Martin is the Big 12's best overall safety.
1. Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys have Markelle Martin, the Big 12's best overall safety who's a big talent but a much better hitter than he is a cover man. Johnny Thomas is solid and both safeties got a lot better as the 2010 season progressed. OSU's depth lands them here, though. Daytawion Lowe could start for a few Big 12 teams and is slightly better than A&M and Texas' reserves, the other two teams with the deepest group of safeties.

2. Texas -- Blake Gideon takes his share of criticism, a good deal of it fair, but there's a reason he's starting for Texas for a fourth season this fall. He knows what he's doing. Kenny Vaccaro will challenge OSU's Martin, among others, for the title of the Big 12's biggest hitter and Nolan Brewster and Christian Scott are strong reserves at the position. The Longhorns lose a lot at corner, but all the safeties are back from a defense that allowed just over 170 yards a game through the air in conference play last season.

3. Texas A&M -- The Aggies' Steven Terrell and Trent Hunter are solid, and Hunter is a big playmaker who made 62 stops and picked off two passes last year. Toney Hurd Jr. is the backup and was one of the most impressive freshmen in fall camp last year, joined by Steven Campbell in the rotation.

4. Kansas State -- Tysyn Hartman has loads of experience and is one of the Wildcats that Bill Snyder loves to rave about. Ty Zimmerman was one of the Big 12's best freshman last year, and picked off three passes. They should be solid again next year, and for as much criticism as K-State's defense faced last year, they were fifth in the Big 12 in pass defense. Logan Dold should be in the rotation, too.

5. Oklahoma -- Reserve Sam Proctor has starting experience, but Javon Harris and Aaron Colvin enter fall camp as starters. That says plenty about how Bob Stoops and Brent Venables feel about them. In a word: confident. Colvin has the most potential in the group, but the two starters will have to learn on the go. Proctor, a senior, should be able to help. James Haynes will also be in the rotation.

6. Missouri -- Jasper Simmons is gone, but Missouri's safeties might be a bit underrated in this spot. Kenji Jackson has loads of experience and should be solid, and Tavon Bolden and Matt White are a pair of promising sophomores who should compete at free safety. Kenronte Walker should be in the rotation, too.

7. Texas Tech -- Injuries were a problem last year for the Tech secondary, but Cody Davis and D.J. Johnson will hold down the traditional safety spots away from the line of scrimmage in new coordinator Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5. The unit gave up lots of big plays in 2010 (151 over 10 yards, 46 over 20, and 25 over 30, all the most in the Big 12), but I'd expect that number to drop under Glasgow if the secondary stays healthy. Davis is the team's leading returning tackler, with 87 stops. Brett Dewhurst and Giorgio Durham should be in the rotation.

8. Kansas -- Keeston Terry and Bradley McDougald give Kansas a lot of speed and athletic ability at the position, but both of the team's safeties from 2010 graduated and Terry and McDougald are short on experience. Lubbock Smith should add some solid depth to the position.

9. Iowa State -- Iowa State loses their top playmaker at the position, David Sims, but returns starter Ter'Ran Benton. He'll be helped out by some combination of Jacques Washington, Earl Brooks and Deon Broomfield once the season starts. Iowa State's biggest weakness is on the defensive line, so it's hard to get a good read on how good the safeties really are with such a poor pass rush up front.

10. Baylor -- This group might move up the list during the year under Phil Bennett, but the two best raw athletes (Ahmad Dixon, Prince Kent) at the position moved to nickel back and linebacker, respectively. The team's leading tackler, Byron Landor, graduated, and that left Mike Hicks as the other starter. He'll be helped out at safety by Sam Holl, Josh Wilson and K.J. Morton. Last year, the Bears ranked last in the Big 12 in pass defense in conference play, giving up over 300 yards a game. That'll have to change or Baylor won't get past seven wins.

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