NCF Nation: Keenan Robinson

We're moving on with our postseason position rankings. Today, it's time for linebackers. If you missed it, here's how I ranked them in the preseason.

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.

[+] EnlargeJake Knott
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireIowa State linebackers Jake Knott, 20, and A.J. Klein combined for 231 tackles in 2011.
More postseason position rankings: 1. Iowa State: The Cyclones top the list after a huge year from their outstanding duo, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. They combined for 231 tackles in 2011, both finishing among the top four in the Big 12 in tackles. They had 241 together in 2010, but this season Knott played through injuries and Klein was awarded co-Defensive Player of the Year honors from the league's coaches.

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.

Big 12 recruiting needs in 2012

January, 24, 2012
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Signing day is coming fast. Next Wednesday, the next round of players will sign up for their respective programs and start what could be storied careers.

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.

BAYLOR

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.

IOWA STATE

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.

KANSAS

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.

KANSAS STATE

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.

OKLAHOMA

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.

OKLAHOMA STATE

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.

TEXAS

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.

TCU

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.

TEXAS TECH

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.

Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl

December, 4, 2011
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California Golden Bears (7-5) vs. Texas Longhorns (7-5)

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.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 17, 2011
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Here's what I'm looking for in five games across the Big 12 this weekend.

1. Oklahoma State's focus. This has to be a weekly watch, does it not? OSU is a markedly better team than Iowa State. This is clear. A single-digit win would be fairly inexplicable, especially considering the Cowboys' success on the road.

2. Texas' health. The Longhorns' offense got tied up with injuries last week, playing the majority of the game without its top three running backs and top receiver Jaxon Shipley. Linebacker Keenan Robinson also injured his thumb against Mizzou. He's listed as a co-starter on this week's depth chart, but coach Mack Brown is playing it coy with injuries this week. Who's in and out for the Horns will have a lot to do with the team's success against K-State.

3. Oklahoma's new offense. We still haven't seen Oklahoma play a full game without Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley. They'll have to put points on the board against Baylor on Saturday. How do they compensate for the loss of Broyles?

[+] EnlargeCollin Klein
Scott Sewell/US PresswireCollin Klein is slated to face his toughest challenge of the season Saturday against the Texas D.
4. Collin Klein's "other" threat. Texas will be the best defense K-State has faced this year, so relying solely on the running game won't be enough for K-State to beat the Longhorns. Klein will have to make plays with his arm. He made them against Texas A&M last week for 281 yards, but UT's pass defense is a whole different deal. He'll be tested.

5. Missouri's new look in the backfield. Henry Josey is done for the year, and Kendial Lawrence is back as the starter in Mizzou's backfield. Texas Tech is extremely vulnerable up front, and Lawrence will need to take advantage alongside De'Vion Moore. Can the pair, along with quarterback James Franklin, take advantage of arguably Texas Tech's biggest weakness?

6. Baylor's changing reputation. The Bears have ascended into a very good second-tier Big 12 team, but have not been able to beat the real titans of the league. Oklahoma State blew them out this year. OSU, OU and Texas A&M all did it last year. You want to prove something? Beat Oklahoma. Baylor's never done it in 20 tries.

7. Texas A&M's second half. Don't blame me. The Aggies keep doing it. We'll keep watching. Leads of 14-0 and 31-21 evaporated against Kansas State last week, and the Aggies had better take care of business or the season could find a new low: letting an improving Kansas team get its first conference win on Kyle Field. If you're 5-5 like A&M is, I don't think you can rule anything out.

8. Texas Tech's first half. In the Red Raiders' last three games, Tech's been outscored a combined 104-13 by Iowa State, Texas and Oklahoma State. Can't do that. If Tech can hang with Mizzou for the first half, it would give itself a nice chance to win the game down the stretch. The Red Raiders haven't had a chance lately, though.

9. Kansas' legitimacy. Is this resurgence for real or not? Not many people think Kansas can beat Texas A&M, but the Jayhawks have legitimately come very, very close against Iowa State and Baylor. Can they be competitive against the Aggies and give themselves a shot late?

10. Iowa State's defense. There might not be a tougher test in college football than the experienced, balanced Oklahoma State offense. To give the Cyclones a chance, the ISU defense has to play its best game of the year by far. Iowa State doesn't have enough offense to get in a shootout in the 40s. Both sides will require a lot to make the upset happen, but the Cyclones can't let OSU move the ball at will.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 14, 2011
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We've only got three weeks left in the season. Here's how the Big 12 looks as the clock ticks on the season.

1. Oklahoma State (10-0, 7-0 Big 12, last week: 1): OSU is defining the term "bowing up" on teams. Any ideas Texas Tech had of an upset were over pretty quick in a crazy 66-6 win in Lubbock. It's been awhile (read: never) since anybody's come to Lubbock and won a game like that. The 60-point loss was the worst in school history.

2. Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1, LW: 2): A heck of a weekend for the idle Sooners. Boise State and Stanford both lost and Oklahoma's got a strong case as the nation's top one-loss team. The Big Question: Will voters downgrade Oklahoma's best wins for an ugly loss against Texas Tech, or downgrade the Sooners for being without Ryan Broyles and Dominique Whaley, the team's top receiver and rusher. They'll have to beat OSU to find out. That won't be easy.

3. Kansas State (8-2, 5-2, LW: 4): Cardiac Cats is about right. Another thrilling game for K-State, and another fourth quarter comeback. This one took four overtimes, the longest game in Big 12 history. Collin Klein continues to truck defenders and burrow into the end zone, now with 24 touchdowns on the season.

4. Baylor (6-3, 3-3, LW: 6): That could have been disastrous. Baylor needed fourth-quarter heroics to rescue an awful three quarters, and turned a 24-3 fourth-quarter deficit against Kansas to a 31-30 overtime win. Big-time ballgame in the fourth quarter from Robert Griffin III, but that wasn't too pretty.

5. Texas (6-3, 3-3, LW: 3): You could switch Baylor and Texas in this ranking, but the Longhorns are reeling and banged up fron injuries. Fozzy Whittaker is done for the year, and freshmen Jaxon Shipley, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are still trying to get healthy. The result? A long day in Columbia for quarterback David Ash. Linebacker Keenan Robinson is also likely to miss time with an injured thumb.

6. Missouri (5-5, 3-4, LW: 7): The Tigers got their biggest win of the year with a dominant defensive performance against Texas, holding the Longhorns to their first game without a TD since 2004. Missouri must deal with the loss of Henry Josey, but like he did at the beginning of the season, backups Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore must pick up the slack with one more win needed for bowl eligibility.

7. Texas A&M (5-5, 3-4, LW: 5): Oh, the Aggies. This team should probably be a lot closer to 9-1 than 5-5, but alas, here they sit. Texas A&M has a double-digit lead in every game this season but the loss to Oklahoma. And they're .500. ... Has anyone ever duplicated that feat? Unbelievable.

8. Iowa State (5-4, 2-4, LW: 9): Iowa State's going to need a ton of help to qualify for a bowl game. The two Oklahoma schools are up next, followed by Kansas State. For those of you keeping track, those are the Big 12's top three teams. Talk about a backloaded schedule. Yeesh.

9. Texas Tech (5-5, 2-5, LW: 5): Texas Tech's been one of the league's big disappointments this year, well behind Texas A&M, but still underwhelming. The Red Raiders are 5-5 with five losses in the last six games, but other than the win over Oklahoma, here are Texas Tech's wins: Texas State, Nevada, New Mexico, Kansas. Um ... about that ...

10. Kansas (2-8, 0-7, LW: 10): So close, Kansas. So close. The Jayhawks probably deserved this one, but the Bears offense broke through in the fourth quarter and showed why they entered the game as the nation's No. 2 offense. They're dangerous, and Kansas' defense isn't exactly loaded with talent. If Kansas couldn't get a win in this one, I'm not sure where the next one's coming. A trip to Kyle Field is up next, followed by what will be a heated, somber rivalry game against Missouri, likely the last for awhile. This is me making a sad face.

Building blocks take shape for Longhorns

September, 14, 2011
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The last time UCLA and Texas crossed paths, it was the beginning of the end for the Longhorns.

It was no "Rout 66," but it might as well have been.

UCLA needed only eight pass attempts to roll over an undefeated No. 7 Texas team, 34-12. The Longhorns would only win twice (Nebraska, Florida Atlantic) in their nine final games.

[+] EnlargeTexas' Mack Brown
Brendan Maloney/US PRESSWIREMack Brown has played 25 freshmen this season, 18 of which who are true freshmen, including receiver Jaxon Shipley.
This year, Texas is again undefeated. It's again ranked, albeit far from the top 10.

And last week's gutsy win over BYU was the beginning of, well, something. Exactly what that is might be clearer by early Saturday evening when Texas and UCLA meet in the Rose Bowl at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

"We’re a team that’s going to fight until the end. Basically, no matter what challenge is placed in front of us, we’re going to fight through it and that’s definitely what we did," Texas linebacker Keenan Robinson said.

Trite as it may sound, that didn't happen for Texas last year. It's already shown signs this year is different.

UCLA led 13-3 at halftime of last year's blowout.

"They kind of ran away with a victory," Robinson said.

Last week? BYU carried a 13-0 lead into halftime, but unlike all five times Texas faced a double-digit deficit in 2010, the Longhorns came back to win.

"We were putting seven and eight guys in the box and that put some stress on our DBs, but they were really able to make good plays, stay under control, stay calm," Robinson said.

That resulted in the 17-16 win over the Cougars, thanks to a strong second half from the defense.

But facts are facts: Texas coach Mack Brown isn't blowing smoke about what he's putting on the field this year.

"We're probably even with every team we play from here on out, or more of an underdog," Brown said.

Making that challenge more difficult is Texas' youth. Freshmen haven't had a hard time cracking the depth chart after last year's debacle, and the Longhorns have already played 25, including 18 true freshmen, more than any team in the country.

"It just makes me have to be that much better. They’re going to learn from what leaders do by example in front of them," Robinson said. "We’ve got to make sure we’re doing everything we can to calm guys down, make sure we stay calm, stay collected and not let anything get out of hand or get out of whack."

That's worked well for Texas so far. The Longhorns have let opponents in its red zone six times this season.

They've given up a touchdown just once. That percentage is good for 11th nationally.

The Longhorns are taking that youth to Pasadena, Calif., this weekend, hoping a new environment away from Austin doesn't stunt the early-season growth.

"We want to be a team that dominates no matter where we play," Robinson said.

Texas isn't there yet. It probably won't be this year. But games like this are the building blocks to eventually arriving.

Another Shipley making noise for Texas

September, 9, 2011
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Jaxon Shipley has been around Texas' campus for quite awhile.

So has coach Mack Brown.

Of course, when Shipley first got there, he was rolling down the hills surrounding the practice field. He later graduated to sliding down the hill on cardboard.

Give Shipley a break, though. That was back when big brother Jordan Shipley was practicing and he was "watching."

Now, it's Jaxon Shipley's turn, and he's making noise early in his career.

[+] EnlargeTexas' Jaxon Shipley
AP Photo/Eric GayTexas freshman Jaxon Shipley caught two passes for 54 yards, including this TD in Week 1.
"He’s come in mature beyond his years and he hasn’t been overwhelmed by whatever, the fanfare, the moment, 100,000 people in the stands, he just hasn’t been overwhelmed," said senior safety Blake Gideon.

The result? Shipley became the first true freshman receiver to catch a touchdown pass in a season opener in Texas history. He caught a pass from John Harris on a trick play for his 36-yard touchdown and added another 18-yard catch to finish with 54 yards.

Shipley won the team's offensive MVP award for the game, and Brown had a tough time remembering the last freshman to do so in his first game.

"During 7-on-7 stuff this summer he was hopping in there with the first group very quickly and did a good job, so you know, I knew from the start he was going to be a good player," said junior quarterback Garrett Gilbert. "He really shined the other night."

Gilbert loved what he saw during the summer, but he didn't get to see much of Shipley during the spring. Despite graduating high school early, he decided to spend the spring semester working with the player that he may never stop being compared to: his brother, Jordan Shipley.

Brown called the decision "smart." Shipley's academics were in order and he didn't need to enroll at Texas early. He had a sore knee, too. Jordan Shipley was locked out by the NFL and planned to get married in the spring.

"This gave him a chance to spend more time with his brother than he’ll probably ever get again," Brown said. "He said he could spend all spring working on their route running together, so it made sense to me."

The comparisons are obvious, and far from forced.

Both can "run forever" Brown said, noting that Shipley stood out in Sunday's conditioning workout after the win over Rice. Brown credits having a father as a coach, and, of course, the work with his brother.

"The way they run looks similar and they both run very good routes," Gilbert said. "Jordan is doing it at the highest level right now ... and I’m sure he taught his little brother some of that stuff."

Jaxon Shipley hasn't encountered any of the injuries that kept Jordan on campus for six seasons, but his potential? Undeniable.

"He’s a great young cat," said linebacker Keenan Robinson. "He’s a guy that’s shown me a lot in camp. He hardly ever drops the ball in practice. He’s a guy that’s following in the right footsteps. He could be as good or better than his brother was. He’s definitely that. He definitely has a chance to put up big numbers, and I expect him to possibly be a freshman All-American this season."

That's a long way from sliding down a grass hill during Longhorns' practices.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas had 18 true freshmen play in its 34-9 win against Rice last week.

The team in college football closest to that number? Defending national champion Auburn, with 13.

The Longhorns added efforts from seven more redshirt freshmen, but there's no question about the fresh face that drew the most attention in Week 1.

Running back Malcolm Brown didn't play in the first half, but had 16 carries for 86 yards in the second half -- both game highs -- with his longest runs drawing a rise out of the 101,624 in attendance.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireTexas true freshman Malcolm Brown had 86 yards on 16 second half carries in his college debut.
"As a freshman, you get 80 yards rushing? That’s pretty good," said linebacker Keenan Robinson.

It is, and Brown's debut showed promise of what may come. He came to Texas as the nation's No. 7 overall recruit and No. 2 running back.

The hope for Longhorns' fans? That Brown becomes "The Next Great Texas Running Back" along the lines of Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson or Jamaal Charles.

"Everybody has their 'Welcome to college football' moment. Nobody is exempt from that, so the thing about Malcolm, and really the whole freshman class, is they’ve done a great job of coming in, keeping their mouth shut and going to work," said senior safety Blake Gideon. "They’ve put aside whatever kind of recruiting stars they had and whatever kind of hype they had, because in the end, it’s just hype. They’ve really worked their tails off this summer and this camp, and now we’re going to see who’s producing."

Brown produced in Week 1, but for now, he's just a co-backup behind Fozzy Whittaker and sharing a spot on the depth chart with fellow true freshman Joe Bergeron, who came to Austin with a whole lot less fanfare. And for now, Brown has 86 career yards, a couple short of Williams' 6,592 in his four years at Texas.

"He’s a guy that’s learned to study his playbook really well, and he’s been coachable," Robinson said. "He’s got great examples in front of him [Whittaker and fullback Cody Johnson]. It’s great to have guys in front of you that will coach you and lead you and teach you what you need to do in practice. All through fall camp, he did really well, and now he got a chance in a game and shined."

That wasn't before his "Welcome to college football" moment, which was, admittedly, quite tame. Gideon chuckled thinking back to the first days of summer workouts with new strength and conditioning coach Bennie Wylie, offering only a couple scant details.

"Summer workouts in college are going to be different than summer workouts in high school," he said. "Whenever you’re running with Bennie out there in the heat, it’s definitely going to get your mind right."

Mack Brown helped Bergeron and Malcolm Brown get some time by putting them in a smaller amount packages, and Brown was even further behind after missing 10 days of fall camp with a sore hamstring.

"Probably freshman running back is one of the hardest places to play on a football team, especially when you have that many packages," Mack Brown said.

But early on, the signs are good for Malcolm Brown.

"I thought he did really well. He had good vision, he had good ball security and he ran the ball with some power," Mack Brown said.

Whatever it took, and apparently it wasn't much, Brown's mind sounds like it's right where it needs to be as he tackles his first year of college football.

Before last week's game Whittaker calmed his freshmen position mates by telling them to block out the 101,000 cheering them on and the brand-new surroundings and "just run like you did in high school."

So far, it looks like they're doing it.

"Hopefully they’ll be a big factor for us and be able to be a spark for us," Whittaker said. "Those young guys, they’re going to have a big significant role for us, and just seeing the way that they’ve played, it’s very encouraging."

We know less about Texas than any team in the Big 12.

That's by design, of course, but after the team released its Week 1 depth chart on Monday, that's still the case, with apologies to Kansas State.

Texas hasn't had a practice open to the media all offseason. Quarterbacks spoke to the media today for the first time since a Thanksgiving night loss to Texas A&M.

Players weren't made available to the media during fall camp until 11 days had passed.

So, more so than any team in the league, these Horns are an unknown commodity. Coach Mack Brown provided a peek underneath the veil on Monday, but we won't get a real sense for how good Texas can be until it opens the season Saturday against Rice. We'll learn a good deal more of what we need to know when BYU travels to Austin the following week.

For now, though, here's what we've got:
  • The big news is obvious: Garrett Gilbert gets the nod at quarterback. He was the safe bet all offseason, and the guy I thought would eventually get it. I doubted originally how "open" the job actually was, but to be clear, I don't think this whole QB race was a ruse. It was open. Gilbert re-won it. As for the difference this year? There's no doubt that if Gilbert struggles like he did in 2010, backup Case McCoy will get a look much quicker. "He’s the starting quarterback. If he moves the ball and scores, he’ll keep the job," Brown told reporters on Monday.
  • Hyped freshman corner Quandre Diggs wowed in the spring game, and has mesmerized his teammates all fall. He's a co-starter at one of the cornerback spots alongside Adrian Phillips.
  • Jordan Hicks missed the spring with a broken foot, but he's come on strong in the fall, seizing a starting spot at strongside linebacker. The Ohio native was one of the nation's best linebackers in the 2010 class, but he'll get a chance to grow alongside Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho.
  • Fozzy Whittaker is the starter at running back. His backup? A three-way tie between Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and D.J. Monroe. The race at running back should be fascinating to watch.
  • Good to see Blaine Irby back after his awful knee injury. He'll start at H-back.
  • Look out for Shipley 2.0. Jaxon Shipley, Jordan's younger brother, is the starter at H receiver and will return punts. Every indication we've heard is he's a playmaker and will get a chance to show it early on. He graduated early, but instead of enrolling at UT and going through spring practice, he worked out with Jordan during the NFL lockout.
  • Diggs and Monroe will handle kickoff return duties.
  • Starting center? Redshirt freshman Dominic Espinosa. Tray Allen is back at left tackle, too, after missing all of last season because of a foot injury.
Moving on in our rankings of the top 10 at each position in the Big 12 entering 2011.

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma's Travis Lewis is among the Big 12's top linebackers entering the season.
Here are the top 10s you've missed so far:
The Big 12 is really, really strong at linebacker, just as it is at receiver. Running back and defensive line are two of the Big 12's weakest positions, but linebacker might prove to be a true strength by season's end.

If you're curious, here's how I ranked the units by team.

We might even see big, young talents like Corey Nelson, Tom Wort, Arthur Brown, Jordan Hicks and Huldon Tharp fight for spots on this list by season's end, but overall inexperience keeps them off for now.

Here are the top 10.

1. Travis Lewis, Oklahoma: Lewis took home the Big 12's preseason Defensive Player of the Year Award (as much as someone can take home an award with no actual hardware, anyway), but he'll be the easy favorite for the award entering the season. Of my postseason top 25 Big 12 players, Lewis is the only returning defensive player. He's made 100 tackles in each of his first three seasons at Oklahoma, and eschewed the NFL draft to try and win a title at Oklahoma.

2. Jake Knott, Iowa State: Knott doesn't get the national pub of some other guys on this list, but he should. In just his first year as a starter, Knott made 130 tackles, the most of any returning Big 12 starter. Just a junior, Knott should make even more improvement in 2011.

3. Keenan Robinson, Texas: Robinson has all the physical tools, and should be set loose in new coordinator Manny Diaz's aggressive scheme. Robinson made 106 tackles in 2010, but look for his sack totals (two in 2010) to get a big boost from spending more time in offensive backfields.

4. Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State: Lewis exploded into the Big 12 fan's consciousness as a true freshman in 2010, sharing Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors with Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson after making 58 tackles with eight tackles for loss, despite not officially being a starter until the second half of the season. He's a bit faster than you might expect him to be at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds, but he should be due for a big encore.

5. Emmanuel Acho, Texas: Acho joins Robinson in one of the best linebacker groups in the league, and will likely be a team captain alongside his fellow linebacker. Acho made 81 tackles to rank second on the team, and added 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for an underrated Texas defense in 2010.

6. Zaviar Gooden, Missouri: Gooden is easily the fastest guy out of this group, and should be due for a breakout year on the national stage if Missouri gets the ball rolling with James Franklin at quarterback and becomes a top 25 mainstay. He tied for the team lead in tackles last season (84, 49 solo) during his first year as a starter, and could see that number jump as a junior in 2011.

7. A.J. Klein, Iowa State: As little respect nationally as Klein's teammate, Knott, gets, Klein gets even less. Which is a shame. Klein, like Knott, was a first-year starter but became one of just 11 players in the Big 12 with more than 100 tackles. Was that number (111, 49 solo) aided by a weak defensive line? Sure, but somebody made those stops. And it was Klein. He'll get plenty more chances to further prove himself.

8. Garrick Williams, Texas A&M: Williams returns as one of the leaders of the Wrecking Crew after making 112 tackles in 2011, including five tackles for loss and a forced fumble. The Aggies need him to play well at inside linebacker in Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme, if for no other reason than because of the uncertainty and likely inexperience at the inside linebacker spot.

9. Elliot Coffey, Baylor: Coffey should be one of the lynchpins of a maturing Baylor defense with lots of work to do under new coordinator Phil Bennett. Though there's no formal depth chart just yet, Art Briles admitted that if anyone has solidified a starting spot, it's Coffey. The 6-foot, 230-pounder made 61 tackles (34 solo) and 4.5 tackles for loss as a junior in 2010.

10. Steven Johnson, Kansas: Johnson emerged out of a good group of linebackers last season to lead the team in tackles, with 95 stops (62 solo). He loses fellow linebackers Justin Springer and Drew Dudley, but will get help with the return of Huldon Tharp. Johnson was a former walk-on, but in his first year as a starter in 2010, rewarded the Jayhawks' decision to put him on scholarship.

Just missed: Will Ebner, Missouri; Sean Porter, Texas A&M
The Big 12 has released its All-Big 12 preseason team as voted on by the media, including yours truly.

Here's my ballot, for reference.

And here's the preseason team, in all its glory.

OFFENSE

QB: Landry Jones, Oklahoma
RB: Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M
RB: Bryce Brown, Kansas State
RB: Roy Finch, Oklahoma
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
C: Ben Habern, Oklahoma
OL: Lonnie Edwards, Texas Tech
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DL: Brad Madison, Missouri
DL: Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma
DL: Kheeston Randall, Texas
DL: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
LB: Travis Lewis, Oklahoma
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Keenan Robinson, Texas
DB: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
DB: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB: Blake Gideon, Texas
DB: Demontre Hurst, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS

K: Grant Ressel, Missouri
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Coryell Judie, Texas A&M
PR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma

AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Year: Justin Blackmon, WR, OSU

Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

Newcomer of the Year: Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas

Selections by team: Oklahoma (9), Oklahoma State (4), Texas A&M (4), Missouri (3), Texas (3), Iowa State (2), Kansas State (1)

And a few thoughts:
  • Generally, I agree with most of the selections. Nothing was really shocking. Brandon Weeden vs. Landry Jones is pretty close to a coin flip, and let's not act surprised that the quarterback from the bigger program got the nod. Perception is reality, even if the numbers are so, so close. Jones has the Heisman hype coming into the season, certainly more than Weeden, based on little more than the possibility his team runs the table.
  • Running back is going to get a lot of attention, but let's not get riled up. This is going to sound bad, but believe me when I say I don't mean it to: Bryce Brown's selection is more an indictment of the returning talent at running back in the Big 12 than an endorsement of the hype surrounding Brown, who isn't even the clear-cut starter at K-State just yet. Here's what I wrote when I posted my ballot earlier this month. "The second running back spot is near impossible. Just about anyone might get it on the official vote when its revealed by the Big 12. You could realistically make a convincing case for James Sims, Eric Stephens, Joe Randle, Roy Finch and even newcomers like Malcolm Brown, Bryce Brown or Oklahoma's Brandon Williams. And that's the first team!" Well, there you go. For the record, I voted for Christine Michael, and still feel good about it.
  • Finch and Brown tied for votes, giving the Big 12 three running backs. There weren't three spots on the ballot. And it also explains how Malcolm Brown got Newcomer of the Year and Bryce Brown got first-team All-Big 12 running back, despite both being newcomers. It's a little confusing, I suppose, and maybe not everyone did it, but my guess is a lot of ballots had Finch as the first-team running back and Malcolm Brown as the Newcomer of the Year. Not all that surprising.
  • I originally had Luke Joeckel on my ballot, but took him off for Missouri's Elvis Fisher. I think Joeckel will end up being better, and maybe even by the end of this year, but right now, Fisher is the better lineman, and that's how I define the ballot. Perhaps others see it differently. There's no concrete rubric for this.
  • I'm not very surprised to see Ronnell Lewis and Blake Gideon grab spots on the team, though I voted for Tony Jerod-Eddie and Trent Hunter in those spots on my ballot. Second safety and defensive line were pretty tough for me to fill out. Neither spot is very deep in this league, and both Lewis and Gideon have two of the biggest names, which matters in a media vote.
  • Quite a huge gap between Oklahoma and the rest of the league. The Sooners had a lot of guys on my ballot that were close, but five more selections than anyone else in the league? That's impressive, and if ballot deadlines had been after Jamell Fleming's reinstatement, Oklahoma might have had 10 guys on the team. My ballot had Oklahoma State leading the way with seven selections, followed by Texas A&M with six and Oklahoma with five. My ballot also only had six teams represented. The media's Bryce Brown vote put Kansas State on the board, making it seven teams represented on the official team.
We've taken a look at the Big 12 offensive skill positions in our position rankings, and we'll circle back along to the lines eventually. For now, though, we'll flip to the defensive side of the ball, starting with linebackers.

There's a lot of turnover in this space, and the bottom half was pretty hard to sort out. We haven't seen a lot of these new faces on the field for extended periods of time, so it's somewhat of a crapshoot. I don't feel like there's a wide gap between teams 7-10, and each of those squads have at least one linebacker who could be due for a huge year and shoot them up this list.

I see Nos. 1-3 possibly being great, with dropoffs before the No. 4 and No. 7 teams.

Also, if you missed them, here are the other position rankings we've done so far.
So, without further ado, here's how I ranked the linebackers. (Nickel backs are included in this list, hybrid DE/LBs will be with defensive lines)

[+] EnlargeTravis Lewis
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireOklahoma's Travis Lewis is the Big 12's top returning defender.
1. Oklahoma -- The Sooners boast the Big 12's top returning defender in Travis Lewis, who has notched at least 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons, and he'll be joined by the Big 12's co-Defensive Freshman of the Year, Tony Jefferson. Tom Wort and Corey Nelson are both loaded with potential, and will fill out the rotation, after the starter at middle linebacker, Austin Box, died on May 19.

2. Iowa State -- The Cyclones boast two of the Big 12's best in Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, who combined for more tackles than any two teammates in the Big 12 last season. They had 241 stops, and, after healing from a broken leg suffered midseason last year, Matt Tau'fo'ou should join them at middle linebacker.

3. Texas -- Texas' offense may be lacking, but the defense will be strong once again, led by two others likely to earn spots as some of the Big 12's best. Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho were Texas' top two tacklers last year with 187 stops, and return as likely captains come fall camp. Texas' depth chart is wide open, but look for former blue-chip recruit Jordan Hicks to emerge as another star this year, despite being forced to sit out spring camp with a broken foot. Dravannti Johnson played some defensive end last year at the Buck position for the Longhorns, but may find his way back to linebacker. Tevin Jackson was ineligible last year, but he's ready for 2011, and could make an impact.

4. Oklahoma State -- The Cowboys "Star" linebacker is occupied by co-Defensive Freshman of the Year Shaun Lewis, and sophomore Caleb Lavey is charged with replacing Orie Lemon, the leader of last year's defense. Oklahoma State has questions on the weak side, but LeRon Furr and Chris Dinkins will compete next fall. Kris Catlin could be a factor, too.

5. Texas A&M -- The Aggies must replace their leading tackler, Michael Hodges, and don't have a clear replacement heading into fall camp. The good news: They've got two others with lots of experience in the linebacking corps that look like budding stars. Garrick Williams should be one of the defense's leaders and Sean Porter returns after making 74 tackles last year to rank third on the team.

6. Missouri -- The Tigers have lots of experience at middle linebacker, where a pair of seniors (albeit frequently injured seniors) Will Ebner and Luke Lambert will be on the field a lot. One of the Big 12's most exciting players, junior Zaviar Gooden, will hold down the weakside and perhaps become a household name by season's end. Sophomores Andrew Wilson and Donovan Bonner, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will likely compete for strongside duties in fall camp. Andrew Gachkar, the team's leading tackler, is gone, but here's guessing Gooden emerges as the defense's top playmaker.

7. Kansas -- The Jayhawks linebackers were solid last year, and could be pretty good again, despite losing Drew Dudley and Justin Springer, two of the team's top four tacklers. Steven Johnson, the team's leading tackler in 2010, is back and he'll be joined by possible star Huldon Tharp, who missed all of last season with a leg injury. Fellow sophomore Darius Willis earned a starting role after spring.

8. Kansas State -- K-State's front seven struggled last year, but will get a big boost from Arthur Brown. One man won't be enough to totally fix the Wildcats rush defense problems, though. K-State gave up 26 more yards on the ground per game than any other team in the Big 12 (more than 231 per game) but Brown may be playing in a 4-3 next fall rather than the 4-2-5 the Wildcats have employed since Snyder's return. Alex Hrebec, Emmanuel Lamur, Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter will likely fill the rotation along with Brown.

9. Baylor -- Baylor's defensive depth chart, like Texas', is a bit amorphous after bringing in a new coordinator, but Elliot Coffey figures to be the Bears biggest playmaker at linebacker. Chris McAllister should be solid and Ahmad Dixon is promising at nickelback, too. Brody Trahan is a great story, but him going from third-string quarterback to starting linebacker isn't a ringing endorsement for Baylor's depth at the position.

10. Texas Tech -- Tech will be moving to a 4-2-5 this year under new coordinator Chad Glasgow, and could rise up this list, but the Red Raiders lose a lot of talent from last season's team, which ran the 3-4. Bront Bird and Brian Duncan are both gone, and youth will be a big factor with this group. Cqulin Hubert's outstanding potential is matched by his more outstanding first name, and freshman Blake Dees showed promise after arriving early this spring. They'll likely be the rotation at middle linebacker spot alongside Daniel Cobb and Zach Winbush. Terrance Bullitt could be a playmaker at his new safety spot, listed as a strong safety but with plans to spend lots of time near the line of scrimmage, a la nickelback.
We've taken a few passing glances at some 2012 mock drafts, but NFL.com's Gil Brandt ran down his top 100 draft-eligible prospects for 2012. Here's a look with some thoughts on my end.

From the list:
  • No. 5: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
  • No. 7: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma

Lewis could be this year's version of Von Miller, the No. 2 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. Lewis is a three-year starter at Oklahoma and had 109 tackles in 2010 and 362 in his college career. Lewis, who was a high school running back has the speed and athletic ability to play at the next level.
Named after former Dallas Cowboys coach and Hall of Famer Tom Landry, Jones has the size and arm strength teams look for in quarterbacks but is not a good runner. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 38 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions in 2010. Oklahoma does a great job of coaching quarterbacks; former Sooner Sam Bradford was the No. 1 overall pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2010.
He has the speed and quickness to be explosive, much like the Eagles' DeSean Jackson. Broyles had 131 receptions last season for 1,622 yards and 14 touchdowns
  • No. 21: Kelechi Osemele, OT, Iowa State

He's a left tackle for the Cyclones who will likely play guard or right tackle in the NFL. Teams will make the trip to Ames to check this kid out. A few thoughts:
  • All in all, it's a solid list. That's as high as I've seen Kendall Wright on any list, but he's a solid player with a whole lot of experience and even more speed. Brandt has him as the 14th-best receiver.
  • I won't dwell on it, but my thoughts on Michael Egnew remain the same. If he goes that high, I'd be shocked. If somebody wants to tell me what separates him from Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman at the next level, I'm all ears.
  • I was pretty surprised to see Travis Lewis that high. He's obviously got great toughness and even better football IQ, but I've never been very impressed with his speed in coverage. The comparison to Von Miller is one I haven't seen before. Clearly, he doesn't have that kind of speed, but if he proves himself a solid coverage linebacker as a senior, I could see him making a jump into the top half of the first round.
  • Osemele is the only player NFL teams will be watching from ISU, but I also wonder if anyone from the Cyclones will catch NFL teams' eyes when they're in Ames getting a look at Iowa State's solid bookend.
  • Cyrus Gray seems to be a little polarizing among NFL analysts, just like Landry Jones. I'd expect his production to suffer this year with Christine Michael back on the field, but there's no denying what he did at the end of last season. I always pegged Gray as a balanced guy that leaned toward speed as the lesser half of that duo, but he showed some nice power during his late-season tear. There's no such thing as easy yards against Nebraska and LSU.
The Big 12 saw a pretty big exodus of defensive talent last year, thanks to the NFL draft and Nebraska. Of my top 25 players, just one defensive player among the 11 who made the list will return in 2011.

That means a wide open race for Defensive Player of the Year entering this season.

Travis Lewis is the one player who returns from my list, and assumes his spot for a fourth consecutive year as one of the Big 12's top linebackers.

Brad Madison impressed with his pass rushing skills a year ago. Will the former offensive lineman stake a claim as the Big 12's best in his first year as a starter?

Keenan Robinson is already one of the league's best linebackers, and as one of the featured talents on Texas' revamped defense, will a big year mean Austin is home to the league's top defender?

The potential is there for Arthur Brown, whose speed is much-needed for the Wildcats. Will the impact he makes exceed even the most optimistic of K-State fans?

Shaun Lewis shared the Big 12's Defensive Freshman of the Year award with Tony Jefferson last year, but can the Cowboys' "Star" linebacker convince people that he's the best in the league?
We've been all over the place so far this offseason, taking a look at some of the budding stars in the Big 12. Here's what we've covered so far:
Now it's time to look at the guys that seem to be in on every play: players who will notch 100 tackles next year. A little context: This is a bigger group than the others.

Last year, 11 players topped the 100-tackle mark, and just five return. Across the country, 75 players had at least 100 tackles, by far the largest group we've examined so far this year.

So this time, instead of looking at the players most likely to crack the mark, we'll just run down the players I believe will have at least 100 tackles next year, in order of the likelihood they do so. As usual, this is not a ranking of each linebacker's overall skill, just the probability that they reach the benchmark statistic for their position.

1. Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: Lewis tops the list based on his history. In three years, he has 360 tackles for the Sooners, and has topped 100 in all three seasons. He's got a hungry youngster in Corey Nelson nipping at his heels, but he's one of the defense's leaders. There's no reason to think he won't have another huge year.

[+] EnlargeJake Knott
Reese Strickland/US PresswireIowa State's Jake Knott is the top returning tackler in the Big 12.
2. Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: After making 130 stops in 2010, Knott is the Big 12's leading returning tackler. He broke his arm late in the spring (following it up with the most hard-core recovery of the spring), but he should be back to full strength well before fall camp and geared up for 130 more.

3. Garrick Williams, LB, Texas A&M: Williams already had 112 stops in 2010, and without Michael Hodges and Von Miller around, he and Sean Porter (74 tackles in 2010) should rack up even more in 2011.

4. A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State: Klein gets overshadowed by his teammate, Knott, but he had 111 tackles of his own as a first-year starter last year. The Cyclones defensive line is one of the weakest in the Big 12, but fortunately for ISU, it's got some solid linebackers.

5. Keenan Robinson, LB, Texas: Robinson is the last of the returning 100-tackle linebackers, but he'll have an even bigger role in the Longhorns' defense in 2011 after making 106 stops last year.

6. Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: I'm officially buying on Arthur Brown. I'm on the fence about Bryce Brown, but the combination of the tales from last year's scout team, plus his 14 tackles in the spring game followed by an endorsement from Bill Snyder after it has me on board. He's the fastest linebacker Snyder's coached since his return, and speed takes you a long way in the Big 12. Big year on the way for Brown.

7. Caleb Lavey, LB, Oklahoma State: Lavey is the likely successor to resident brick wall Orie Lemon at middle linebacker for the Cowboys. He may not reach Lemon's 133 tackles in 2010, second-most in the Big 12, but I like what I saw from Lavey as a freshman last year and I like his chances to hit the triple digits.

8. Zaviar Gooden, LB, Missouri: Like Brown, Gooden has crazy speed for a linebacker, and at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, his body type is more like that of a hulking safety. Missouri, in part because of injury, didn't have a player with 100 tackles last year, but Gooden tied for the team lead with 84. If Will Ebner stays healthy, he could crash this list, too.

9. Prince Kent, S, Baylor: Two defensive backs hit the mark last year, but I've got just one on my list for 2011. Kent played sparingly as a freshman last year, but still led the team with two interceptions. The Bears' cornerbacks aren't great, and here's betting that means Kent leads the team in tackles this year.

10. Huldon Tharp, LB, Kansas: Tharp will be coming back from a knee injury, and he's not full strength just yet, but he's got the most raw talent of any defender on the Jayhawks' roster. I'll tack him on the end of this list for a nice comeback year.

Just missed: Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M; Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas, Cody Davis, S, Texas Tech

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