NCF Nation: Markelle Martin

Big 12 spring football preview

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
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Spring football is already under way at Texas Tech, but in the coming weeks, the Big 12's other nine programs will join the Red Raiders in taking the field as a team for the first time since January, December or November for some.

Here's a preview of what to expect:

BAYLOR BEARS

Spring practice start date: March 19
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Nick Florence: It's not official, but the Baylor quarterback job is Florence's to lose. That means he inherits the unenviable task of replacing the school's first Heisman winner. He replaced RG3 in 2009 with mixed results, but showed some major potential in a win over Texas Tech when RG3 took a shot to the head and sat out the second half. Can he keep the bowl streak alive at Baylor? We'll get an idea this spring.
  • The defense's progression: You didn't need to see much more than the 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington to know the Bears needed some work on defense. In the month of November, Baylor became the first team in FBS history to win four consecutive games in a single season while also giving up at least 30 points in each of those games. The defense can't make Florence pick up the slack to that level. Year 2 under Phil Bennett must be better. Baylor has no excuses. The Bears have the athletes on campus necessary to be at least a decent defense.
  • The team's attitude/motivation: Baylor played with a lot of purpose the past two seasons, and made history in both, cracking a 16-year bowl drought and winning 10 games this year. Is that fire still there? Baylor has to prove it is without RG3 (and Kendall Wright) carrying the team on the field, emotionally and mentally.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES

Spring practice start date: March 20
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: Or is it? Jared Barnett looked like the man of the future in Ames late in the season, leading the Cyclones to an historic upset of No. 2 Oklahoma State. But in the ugly Pinstripe Bowl loss to a mediocre Rutgers team, Barnett's inaccuracy posed big questions. He was benched and Steele Jantz stepped in, though he didn't play much better than Barnett. Turnovers were an issue for Jantz early on, but Barnett has to bounce back in the spring to make sure the job doesn't come open.
  • The receivers: Darius Reynolds was the big-play man for the Cyclones, but he's gone. It's going to be tough to replace him. Slot receivers Aaron Horne and Josh Lenz were productive, but did little to stretch defenses like Reynolds did. Can ISU find someone to fill the void?
  • The new man at left tackle: Iowa State had the luxury of having a future pro, Kelechi Osemele, at left tackle for the past three seasons. He earned All-Big 12 nods in each of those seasons, but he's gone now. Junior Carter Bykowski was behind Osemele on the depth chart, but will the converted tight end be the new man at tackle for the Cyclones?
KANSAS JAYHAWKS

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Uh, everything?: I mean, what's not to watch at KU? Charlie Weis steps in for the fired Turner Gill and tries to build KU up from nothing. The Jayhawks were one of the worst teams in Big 12 history last season, losing six games by at least 30 points. Weis will speak his mind and watching him rebuilding the Jayhawks is going to be fun. It all starts next month -- on the field, at least.
  • KU's new pass-catch combo: Dayne Crist is on campus, and so is Oklahoma transfer Justin McCay, a former blue-chip recruit who didn't quite catch on in Norman. Quarterback and receiver were arguably the two biggest positions of need for KU last year, and we'll get a preview of what could be a productive combo next season. McCay isn't officially eligible for the 2012 season yet -- he needs the NCAA to waive its mandated redshirt year after a transfer -- but the coaching staff is confident he'll have it granted.
  • The uncertainty on the depth chart: When a new staff comes in, you never know what to expect. Kansas' leading rusher in its final season under Mark Mangino, Toben Opurum, is now one of its best defensive linemen. Look for Weis to shake things up, too. Where? Who knows?
KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Spring practice start date: April 4
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Collin Klein's maturation: Kansas State's quarterback could be fun to watch this spring and next fall. His throwing motion isn't pretty, but his accuracy improved in a big way throughout the season. If that continues at a pace anything close to what we saw last year, K-State's going to be a load for everyone. Look out.
  • Developing depth at running back: John Hubert is back, and so is seldom-used Angelo Pease. Bryce Brown is gone, though. Klein handles a lot of the heavy lifting in the running game, but it'd be some nice insurance if K-State could establish some more depth in the backfield. Making Klein carry the ball 300 times again is tempting fate.
  • Stars becoming superstars: Kansas State brings back more starters than all but seven teams in college football, so this team is going to look remarkably similar in 2012 to the way it did last year. However, it should get better. And its two transfers could look dominant this spring. Cornerback Nigel Malone and linebacker Arthur Brown emerged as stars last year, but we could see the duo emerge as true game-changers this spring. Look out, Big 12 offenses.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Spring practice start date: March 8
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New faces on, off the field: Mike Stoops' arrival as the defensive coordinator was the biggest news this offseason in the Big 12, and Brent Venables, who had been at OU for all of Bob Stoops' tenure, left for Clemson rather than become co-defensive coordinator. Hopes are high that Stoops can revitalize Oklahoma's defense. He was in charge when the Sooners rode a dominant D to the 2000 national title, and the Sooners have the talent to win it all in 2012. Receiver Trey Metoyer joins the team this spring, and could be a major contributor immediately. Two of the team's four new tight ends are also enrolled early.
  • QB Blake Bell's role: The Belldozer is back … but so is full-time quarterback Landry Jones. How will the balance between the duo look this spring? And what new wrinkles will we see in Oklahoma's simple, yet near-unstoppable short-yardage formation that scored 13 touchdowns in the second half of 2011?
  • The battle at defensive end: Oklahoma must fill two huge holes at defensive end. Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Frank Alexander is gone, as is possible first-round pick Ronnell Lewis. R.J. Washington contributed late and has potential, but David King filled in for Lewis in the final three games of the season. The duo could be great, but it could also be pretty pedestrian. We'll get an idea this spring, but Lewis and Alexander set a high, high bar.
OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS

Spring practice start date: March 12
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The quarterback battle: This will easily be the highest-profile, highest-quality quarterback battle in the Big 12. It won't be at the level of Texas Tech in 2010, but it won't be too far off. Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will go head to head. All have plenty of potential, though Lunt may have the most. The big-armed true freshman also has the least experience. Anything could happen here.
  • Which receivers rise: Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper leave huge holes behind. It's not every day a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner walks on campus. Hubert Anyiam is gone, too. Michael Harrison is unlikely to play for the 2012 season, but the school has offered no confirmation on his status. He had the most potential, but OSU is deep at the position. Who emerges as the top target? Isaiah Anderson? Tracy Moore? Josh Stewart? Anything could happen there, too.
  • Defense needs a leader: Safety Markelle Martin has been the heart of the defense the past two seasons, but his big-hitting days are over. Who becomes the new voice of the defense? It needs to find leadership this spring heading into summer voluntary workouts.
TEXAS LONGHORNS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 23
Spring game: April 1

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition: I still think having a competition at the spot, which Texas says it will, isn't the best option, but David Ash and Case McCoy will go at it alongside early-enrolling freshman Connor Brewer. If Ash secures the job, expect an announcement heading into summer officially anointing the sophomore.
  • More sophistication on both sides of the ball: The progression is natural and likely. Offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had good first years in Austin, but this is Year 2. The spring won't be devoted to learning the playbook. It's time to master it. Both units could look markedly different, and much more refined next fall. Deny it all you like: Texas is back on its way to the top after a rough two years.
  • Maturing offensive weapons: Last season, the Longhorns relied on two true freshman running backs (Malcolm Brown/Joe Bergeron), a freshman/sophomore rotation at quarterback and its top receiver (Jaxon Shipley) was a true freshman. No. 2 (Mike Davis) was a sophomore. I hope I don't have to tell you what freshmen and sophomores do in college football. Look. Out.
TCU HORNED FROGS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 25
Spring end date: April 5

What to watch:
  • Can TCU shut out the scandal? Four team members were arrested in a recent drug sting and kicked off the team. How much of a distraction will that be for a program undergoing the most monumental change in its history? Quantifying the effects of the scandal will be pretty impossible, and we've got no idea how they'll handle the change, but will it be on players' minds?
  • The offense tightens up: The Horned Frogs' offense is absolutely loaded and ready to go for 2012. Quarterback Casey Pachall returns and brings his top three weapons (Josh Boyce, Skye Dawson and Brandon Carter) with him. Running backs Waymon James, Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker each topped 700 yards rushing in 2011 and all return. The spring will be all about fine-tuning an already stellar offense, and it'll be fun to watch.
  • Replacing departed starters: All-America linebacker Tanner Brock was among the four football players arrested and booted from the team, as was all-conference defensive tackle D.J. Yendrey and likely starting safety Devin Johnson. Those were unforeseen losses, but TCU can't feel sorry for itself. Gary Patterson has no choice but to find new faces to fill those holes.
TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS

Spring practice start date: Feb. 17
Spring game: March 24

What to watch:
  • Once again, a new defense: Texas Tech sounds like a broken record these days when it comes to defensive coordinators. This time, Art Kaufman will be stepping to the microphone as the fourth defensive coordinator in Lubbock in four years. He's bringing a 4-3, a shift back to what Ruffin McNeil ran in 2009. Chad Glasgow's 4-2-5 and James Willis' 3-4 failed miserably in 2011 and 2010, respectively, the first two years under Tommy Tuberville.
  • The battle at running back: No one knows yet if Eric Stephens will be back next season. There's still a long way to go in his rehab from a dislocated knee he suffered last season in a loss to Texas A&M. DeAndre Washington is also out this spring after tearing his ACL against Missouri. Harrison Jeffers hung up his cleats. Who will prove to be reliable this spring? Look for the Red Raiders to try to use sophomore Bradley Marquez, freshman Javares McRoy and junior SaDale Foster in a manner similar to the way Oregon uses scatback De'Anthony Thomas, with lots of short passes and bubble screens to get them the ball in space, where they can use their speed and shiftiness to make plays.
  • Team health: Tuberville said earlier this month that the team is missing 15 players this spring. It can't afford any more injuries. It's already going to be tough to get enough done this spring, but Tech can't start getting banged up.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS

Spring practice start date: March 11
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • Dana Holgorsen's offense in Year 2: Holgorsen didn't get a chance to coach his talented offense at Oklahoma State in its second year. The results could have been crazy. They might be at West Virginia in 2012, and the beginning steps will be taken this spring as Geno Smith & Co. get more and more comfortable with the system and Holgorsen adds more wrinkles.
  • The battle at running back: Sophomore Dustin Garrison hurt his knee in practices leading up to the Mountaineers' 70-33 Orange Bowl win over Clemson, and won't be there for the spring. What does senior Shawne Alston have in store for the spring? Garrison was the featured back last season, but a big spring could help Alston earn a few carries next year.
  • Defense needs help: Najee Goode leaves a big hole at linebacker, and defensive back Eain Smith's exit means the Mountaineers enter the season without two of their top three tacklers from a year ago. Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller's talents on the defensive line will be tough to replace, and in a league that requires a great pass rush, Irvin, Goode and Miller's 19 combined sacks must be replaced somehow.

Where Michael Floyd measures up

January, 18, 2012
1/18/12
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Michael Floyd held steady on both Mel Kiper Jr.'s Insider and Todd McShay's Insider draft boards this week, at No. 20 and No. 18, respectively. But a couple of new lists from Kiper may better evaluate where Floyd stacks up heading into the draft, and where he may ultimately end up.

Floyd
Floyd
Kiper released his top five by every position today Insider, and Floyd comes in at No. 2 among wide receivers, behind only Oklahoma State's Justin Blackmon. Also among the top five in his position group is former Notre Dame captain Harrison Smith, who comes in as the fourth-best safety, behind Mark Barron (Alabama), Antonio Allen (South Carolina) and Markelle Martin (Oklahoma State).

And, perhaps most importantly, Kiper has Floyd being taken 19th overall by the Chicago Bears in his first mock draft, writing:
If the Bears learned anything when Jay Cutler went down this season, it was that the offense wasn't very pretty without him. But Cutler also needs help. Last year, Chicago had to start up front because the offensive line was such a weakness. But as the Bears anticipate getting some healthy bodies back up front to start 2012, they now must find some help for Cutler at wide receiver. The current group has some speed, but he could use a big target, and Floyd can be that guy. He has a big frame, but Floyd actually dropped some weight for the 2011 season, and he managed to look quicker and more explosive in and out of his breaks without giving up much as a physical receiver. He'd be a nice option in this offense and a threat in the red zone.

It's important to note that the mock draft is different from the Big Board in that it factors in the drafting teams' needs and doesn't necessarily rank players in order of skill or potential.

The 2011 Big 12 All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
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Here's the All-Bowl team from the Big 12, recognizing the best single-game performances from this year's bowls.

QB: Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma State: Weeden threw for 399 yards and three touchdowns (it could have been four if a game-winning TD pass to Colton Chelf hadn't been overturned) on 29-of-42 passing. His first pass was intercepted, but he had an otherwise solid night and ran for his first career touchdown in the 41-38 win against Stanford.

[+] EnlargeTerrance Ganaway
AP Photo/Darren AbateBaylor's Terrance Ganaway rushed for five TDs in the Alamo Bowl.
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor: The Big 12 rushing champion ran for 200 yards and five touchdowns in the Bears' 67-56 win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

RB: Ben Malena, Texas A&M: Malena stepped in for the injured Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael and had a solid game in the Aggies' 33-22 win against Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. He finished with 77 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, showcasing his physical running style. He also caught six passes for 36 yards.

FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma: Millard carried the ball four times for 21 yards but also helped pave the way for three Blake Bell touchdowns from the Belldozer formation.

WR: Ryan Swope, Texas A&M: Jeff Fuller had better numbers in the bowl, but it was aided by big catches late. Swope kept the Aggies offense humming for most of the game, with eight catches for 105 yards in the win against Northwestern.

WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State: Blackmon was the best offensive player in the Big 12 bowls, spearheading Oklahoma State's offense in the Fiesta Bowl win with eight catches for 186 yards and three touchdowns.

WR: Colton Chelf, Oklahoma State: Chelf made two huge catches over the middle early and a third nearly won the game, but his touchdown was overturned. Still, OSU doesn't win its first BCS bowl without Chelf's 97 yards on five catches.

TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri: By Egnew's standards, it was a quiet game, but he played well with a 25-yard grab and three catches for 39 yards in Mizzou's win.

OL: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State's offensive line is keyed by Garner, who helped the Cowboys handle Stanford's blitzes well and give Weeden plenty of time in the Fiesta Bowl win.

OL: Philip Blake, Baylor: Baylor ran for 482 yards and scored 67 points in its win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl. Blake's the man who keyed it all.

OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State: Adcock's the best overall talent on OSU's line, and he showed it in the win against Stanford.

OL: Dan Hoch, Missouri: Missouri rolled over one of the nation's best rush defenses, North Carolina, for 337 yards on the ground.

OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M: The Aggies' offense was potent for most of its win against Northwestern, and Joeckel was solid in run and pass blocking for the balanced attack.

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: Jeffcoat made five tackles, two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss in the Longhorns' 21-10 win against Cal. The Texas defense dominated, and the defensive line's play was the catalyst. He did it all with a torn pectoral muscle, too. He'll miss the spring after having it surgically repaired this week.

[+] EnlargeAdam Davis
AP Photo/Matt StrasenKansas State defensive end Adam Davis, 97, had two sacks and forced this first-half fumble by Arkansas QB Tyler Wilson in the Cotton Bowl.
DL: Adam Davis, Kansas State: Davis sacked Arkansas' Tyler Wilson twice and had three tackles for loss with a forced fumble in the loss to the Razorbacks.

DL: R.J. Washington, Oklahoma: With Ronnell Lewis ineligible, Washington showed up big in the win against Iowa. He had two sacks and made three tackles.

DL: Tony Jerod-Eddie, Texas A&M: Jerod-Eddie made eight tackles and had a sack in the win against Northwestern.

LB: Damontre Moore, Texas A&M: Moore was a monster in the season finale for the Aggies, making nine tackles and forcing a fumble on his lone sack.

LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State: Klein flew around for the Cyclones, making 15 tackles in a physical game against Rutgers, though the Cyclones lost.

LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas: Could this be a big piece of momentum heading into 2012? Hicks starred with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup in the win against Cal.

CB: Jamell Fleming, Oklahoma: Fleming was the Big 12's best defensive player of the bowls and the best player on the field in the Insight Bowl, making seven tackles, intercepting a pass and returning it 21 yards. He also broke up three passes.

CB: David Garrett, Kansas State: Garrett made 10 tackles and had two tackles for loss in the loss to Arkansas.

S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas: He hates the nickname Machete, but Vaccaro was hacking away at Cal. He made three tackles, including two for loss and a sack.

S: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State: Even if it was illegal (it was), Martin had the hit of the bowl season with a huge blast on Stanford's Ty Montgomery that took Montgomery's helmet off on the opening drive. He finished with nine tackles and a tackle for loss, with a fumble recovery.

SPECIALISTS

P: Tress Way, Oklahoma: Way averaged 50 yards on his six punts, including a 67-yarder.

PK: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M: Bullock made all four of his field goal attempts, including two from beyond 40 yards.

PR: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M: Harris looked the part of the Big 12's best, returning a punt 35 yards and finishing with 54 yards on his four returns.

KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: Gilbert had a 50-yard return and returned his four kicks for a total of 136 yards.
Tonight, Oklahoma State's players won't be taking the field at 8:30 p.m ET in the Superdome. Or at any time, really. The Cowboys season ended last Monday night in grand fashion, with a 41-38 overtime win over No. 4 Stanford in a game that might have a case as the best of the bowl season.

OSU's fate was decided a month ago by a handful of computers and a few hundred voters who said Alabama was better.

Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin? Well, he understandably disagreed.

"If we had the chance to play anybody, we would beat them," Martin told the Wichita Falls Times Record News.

He said he's "fine with everything," but obviously, the Cowboys would love a shot to prove themselves.

"We answered a lot of questions against a great Stanford team," Martin told the paper. "We just let one game slip away from us."

That game was a double overtime road loss to Iowa State in which the Cowboys dropped a 24-7 third-quarter lead. A different result in that game, and OSU would be fighting nerves right about now and not asking about what-ifs or wondering what could have been.

So, what if things were different? Did OSU deserve to get in over Alabama? Could the Cowboys beat the Tide?

And if OSU had qualified to represent the Big 12 in the title game, would they have beaten LSU?

Vote in our poll.
Tonight, Oklahoma State's players won't be taking the field at 8:30 p.m ET in the Superdome. Or at any time, really. The Cowboys season ended last Monday night in grand fashion, with a 41-38 overtime win over No. 4 Stanford in a game that might have a case as the best of the bowl season.

OSU's fate was decided a month ago by a handful of computers and a few hundred voters who said Alabama was better.

Oklahoma State's Markelle Martin? Well, he understandably disagreed.

"If we had the chance to play anybody, we would beat them," Martin told the Wichita Falls Times Record News.

He said he's "fine with everything," but obviously, the Cowboys would love a shot to prove themselves.

"We answered a lot of questions against a great Stanford team," Martin told the paper. "We just let one game slip away from us."

That game was a double overtime road loss to Iowa State in which the Cowboys dropped a 24-7 third-quarter lead. A different result in that game, and OSU would be fighting nerves right about now and not asking about what-ifs or wondering what could have been.

So, what if things were different? Did OSU deserve to get in over Alabama? Could the Cowboys beat the Tide?

And if OSU had qualified to represent the Big 12 in the title game, would they have beaten LSU?

Vote in our poll.

ESPN.com's 2011 All-Big 12 Team

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
10:30
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Editor’s Note: Tune into the “AT&T ESPN All America Team Show” on Saturday (ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET) to see who ESPN’s writers and experts selected.

It's been a fun season across the Big 12, with a few big names who didn't play as well as we thought, and lots of unknowns who became household names by the end of the season.

I'll offer my comments below, but here's our All-Big 12 team for 2011.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Jerome Miron/US PresswireThe heroics of Robert Griffin III got Baylor to 9-3 and made him a Heisman Trophy finalist.
QB: Robert Griffin III, Baylor
All-purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
RB: Terrance Ganaway, Baylor
RB: Henry Josey, Missouri
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Kendall Wright, Baylor
WR: Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR: Ryan Broyles, Oklahoma
TE: Michael Egnew, Missouri
C: Grant Garner, Oklahoma State
OL: Kelechi Osemele, Iowa State
OL: Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M

DEFENSE

DE: Frank Alexander, Oklahoma
DT: Dominique Hamilton, Missouri
DE: Alex Okafor, Texas
DE: Jamie Blatnick, Oklahoma State
LB: Sean Porter, Texas A&M
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Emmanuel Acho, Texas
NB: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
CB: Nigel Malone, Kansas State
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State

SPECIALISTS

P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
PK: Randy Bullock, Texas A&M
PR: Dustin Harris, Texas A&M
KR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Finally, a few notes and explanations:

  • I loved the media's idea to craft an all-purpose spot to accomodate Collin Klein. The Big Ten did the same for Michigan's Denard Robinson last season. I followed suit, and did so on the defensive side of the ball with a nickel-back spot for Oklahoma's Tony Jefferson. Two players that missed first-team designation by the coaches, but clearly deserve to be recognized.
  • Additionally, I prefer the teams to reflect the Big 12 style of play, so the nickel back fits. Each team doesn't have 11 players, but there were deserving linebackers. The same with Egnew and Millard. Does every team use a fullback or a tight end? No, but both are standout performers. They'd rotate in anyway, just as Jefferson would in a theoretical package.
  • Tough call to leave Philip Blake from Baylor off my team, but Garner's been better. Blake is very, very close, though.
  • Hated to leave off Brodrick Brown and E.J. Gaines, but I went with a more traditional two corners and two safeties, rather than four corners like the media's team.
  • Steven Johnson and Arthur Brown would have been right behind my three linebackers. That race was probably closer than at any other position, except maybe cornerback. Difficult to leave either of those guys off my first team, but the three on the team were better. I gave Brown my Newcomer of the Year nod, though.
  • I don't like going with three defensive ends and one defensive tackle, but there wasn't a defensive tackle who deserved the honor more than Okafor, my third defensive end. Okafor was a defensive tackle last year anyway, so that's close enough, right? He moved from tackle to end before spring practice earlier this year. In the Big 12, an additional pass rusher is necessary, too, right?
  • I made a similar move with my offensive line. Went tackle-heavy, but the guards didn't have quite as many standouts.

Landry Jones pressured, not sharp early

December, 3, 2011
12/03/11
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State didn't come after Sooners quarterback Landry Jones in a big way on the opening drive. Jones, however, did have one ugly overthrow to the sidelines and forced another pass deep to James Hanna that was nearly intercepted and got Hanna drilled by Markelle Martin.

Once the Cowboys turned up the blitzes, they worked.

Jones took two huge shots and got planted into the turf and had no time to throw. The result: A three-and-out.

We're still scoreless in Stillwater, but the Cowboys defense has shown up early, and it's clear Jones has noticed. He's 2-of-7 for 11 yards, and Oklahoma State's gotten the best of him so far.

After completing his first two passes, his next five have been incomplete.

Bedlam foes stocked with NFL talent

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will play for the Big 12 title Saturday night, and you'll see a lot of the talent on the field playing on Sundays in the future.

Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. Insider broke down a few of the matchups between NFL talents we're apt to see during Saturday's game.

You'll need ESPN Insider to see the whole thing and more on each matchup, but here's some of what Muench sees.

Oklahoma QB Landry Jones vs. Oklahoma State S Markelle Martin
It's important that Jones get his rhythm back this week, especially when throwing over the middle.

Martin reads quarterbacks' eyes, is instinctive and closes well when the ball is in the air. He's also shown above-average ball skills and he isn't afraid to jump routes.
Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon vs. Oklahoma CB Jamell Fleming
Fleming doesn't have shutdown cover skills, but he can also hold up in underneath coverage thanks to his speed and fluidity. However, Blackmon's strength will be a distinct advantage in this matchup.
Oklahoma State RT Levy Adcock vs. Oklahoma DE Frank Alexander
Oklahoma State's pass-heavy scheme also puts Alexander in a bit of a catch-22 against the run. He can't simply fly upfield and play the run on the way to the passer, because that will make it easy for Adcock to turn him outside when the Cowboys run the ball.

In terms of the passing game, Adcock can anchor and protect the edge working against Alexander. However, Alexander is relentless and won't give up when he doesn't win with his first move.
Oklahoma State RB Joseph Randle vs. Oklahoma WLB Travis Lewis
Lewis is an effective tackler who locates the ball quickly, takes sound pursuit angles and wraps up on contact. He doesn't stack and shed particularly well, though, so Randle must run with vision and make Lewis fight through blocks when pursuing. Lewis can't afford to start running around blocks in an effort to get to the speedy Randle, either, because he isn't explosive enough to recover if he gets caught out of position.

Good stuff from the scouts. Check out the full story.

Oklahoma State's defense states case

November, 12, 2011
11/12/11
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LUBBOCK, Texas -- What more could Oklahoma State's defense possibly do?

At game's end, Mike Gundy had every right to rip his shirt off, grab a microphone and scream, "Are you not entertained?"

Texas Tech hadn't been shut out since 1987. Its defense had never given up more than 65 points. Oklahoma State, thanks to a second-half gift fumble returned for a touchdown, beat Texas Tech, 66-6.

Despite any devilish pleasure Gundy took in the gladiatorlike win, he declined any postgame theatrics.

"It got started with our defense -- a three-and-out," he said. "They played with a lot of energy and ran to the football. Even when [Texas Tech] did make a play, we tackled and we were very physical when we tackled."

Defensive coordinator Bill Young told his unit after the game what happened on Saturday might never happen again. Maybe so, but Oklahoma State did something that had never happened before, too. The Cowboys are 10-0 for the first time in school history and need wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma to play for the national title.

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiOklahoma State 's Josh Stewart, 5, and Lyndell Johnson chase a Texas Tech fumble in the second quarter. Stewart recovered and returned it for a touchdown.
Oklahoma State looked immune to the swirling winds, and Brandon Weeden stated his Heisman case with 423 yards and five touchdowns on 31-of-37 passing.

"When he spins it, it cuts through there pretty good," said Gundy, whose career-yardage mark Weeden surpassed on Saturday. Weeden also took home the school record for career touchdown passes. "Honestly, [the wind] didn't concern me one bit."

Gundy added that wind hasn't come up once this year. Such is life with Weeden taking every snap.

Saturday, though, was about defense. Gone were the gratuitous garbage gains of past games. So were the touchdowns providing misleading final scores.

"I was really happy for the guys on defense," Weeden said, making sure to note that the initial "6" on the scoreboard came courtesy of the offense. "They didn't give up a touchdown."

Oklahoma State hung a shocking score for the nation to see on Saturday, complete with an eye-popping 49-0 halftime score, complete with a touchdown on kickoff coverage.

"It was obviously a very well-played game in all three phases," Gundy said. "Offensively, we just kind of kept up with what we'd done this year, and defense played well. I thought we tackled as good as we had in any game."

Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege was held to a season-low 169 yards on 25-of-43 passing. The Red Raiders had just 101 yards rushing on 30 carries. No Tech receiver had more than 41 yards receiving and no running back had more than 47.

Said safety Markelle Martin: "We flew around. We had fun. I think we were very excited making those plays, and there was no drop-off when backups came in. I'm proud of that."

This looked like a different defense after last week's last-second win over Kansas State, complete with 45 points allowed.

"That was enough [drama] for everybody for a while," Gundy said.

Oklahoma State countered Tech's offensive futility with two 100-yard receivers (Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper) and a 100-yard rusher (Herschel Sims) with Weeden's 400-yard day through (more literal than most days) the air. Josh Stewart added 93 yards and two scores on two catches.

One trip to Ames awaits next week before two weeks of buildup to beat the bullies down South. Oklahoma State hasn't beaten Oklahoma since Les Miles did it in 2001 and 2002, but if Gundy wants to take his team to New Orleans for the national title game, the Sooners are the biggest -- and most fitting -- obstacle in the way.

Play defense like the Cowboys did out on the Plains, and those bullies might get a little bloody.

"They're playing better than what most people would think they are. It's hard to really grade this defense on paper, based on what happened on the other side of the ball," Gundy said, noting that his defense has faced far more plays than his offense. "We take a lot of pride in that side of the ball."

Gundy can say it all he wants. So can any of the players on his defense.

Performances like Saturday's make folks start believing.

OSU defense keeps defying its doubters

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
9:26
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Wednesday afternoon, Oklahoma State safety Markelle Martin and linebacker Shaun Lewis were trying to mind their own business, working out on their own time outside of scheduled team workouts.

They looked up ... and got fired up.

"No D in Stillwater" read the TV report while talking heads laid out the case that Martin and Lewis' unit could be the reason an Oklahoma State national title run ran off the rails.

Martin and Lewis relayed the analysis to their teammates.

"That fire was lit," Martin said. "And we shined."

Said Lewis: "You don't need a pep talk after that."

And for the Cowboys' defensive rebuttal?

"They said everything they needed to say out there on that field," Lewis said.

Just ask Baylor, a team Oklahoma State beat 59-24 on Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium. The Bears entered Saturday as the nation's No. 2 team in total offense and a squad scoring 44 points a game.

When the third quarter ended, Baylor trailed 49-3.

Five times in the first half, Baylor reached Oklahoma State territory. It didn't score, thanks to a goal-line stand on the opening drive, two interceptions, a turnover on downs and a missed field goal.

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Markelle Martin and Baylor's Robert Griffin III
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiMarkelle Martin and Oklahoma State upended Robert Griffin III and Baylor, which trailed 49-3 through three quarters.
Coach Mike Gundy said he's "not sure" why his team is so good on its side of the field, but not all the time. Martin says it boils down to matchups.

"We do a good job of communicating, and at that point, we understand it's not so much space we're worried about, it's just 1-on-1, you versus the guy in front of you," he said. "Our guys have a lot of pride about themselves and we do a good job of staying sound and staying physical at that point."

Oklahoma State forced five turnovers from an offense that had turned it over just 10 times in six games before Saturday. The Cowboys won't cede their national lead in turnover margin at plus-19 after Saturday's win, but don't cry coincidence. It's too common to be crazy.

This same team forced 12 more turnovers than it committed in an 11-win season a year ago, too.

"They harp on it in practice; that's literally all you hear in practice," said quarterback Brandon Weeden, who threw for a casual, clean 274 yards and three touchdowns while his running backs rolled for 327 yards and five touchdowns on 27 carries. "Get the ball out! Get the ball out! That or, attack the football! Coach Gundy's done an unbelievable job of training our corners to go up and get it, to play the ball like a receiver. That's where it comes from. It's unbelievable."

Slowing the offensive wrecking ball that is Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III is unbelievable, too. Griffin somehow had never scored a rushing or passing touchdown against the Cowboys until a 72-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Terrance Williams against Oklahoma State's second-team defense.

He'd thrown just two interceptions in Baylor's first six games. Oklahoma State picked him off twice Saturday.

"If he'd come out early, we wouldn't have to worry about [stopping him] for one more year," Gundy joked.

That touchdown cut Oklahoma State's lead to 56-17 and came after the Cowboys' third one-play touchdown drive of the game, an 81-yard run from reserve freshman running back Herschel Sims.

The touchdown was Griffin's only one of the day, despite entering Saturday's contest with 22 touchdown passes in six games.

Oklahoma State's raw defensive numbers aren't gorgeous. OSU's defense gave up 622 yards, including 446 through the air. But lots of them were late, and turnovers can change a likely win into a blowout in a flash.

"Statistically, on paper, we're not very good," Gundy said. "But productivity, scoring-wise, against teams we play? We're pretty good."

Baylor ran 14 plays inside Oklahoma State's 5-yard line. It didn't score until the very last one, when Oklahoma State led, 59-17.

The Cowboys are the only Big 12 team that hasn't given up 30 points this season, and with arguably the nation's top offense, that's plenty good enough to keep from waking up from this dream season in Stillwater.

"There'll be a day, hopefully not in the near future, when our offense will struggle, and we can't be doing what we're doing defensively," said defensive coordinator Bill Young.

When (if?) that day comes, is Oklahoma State up to the task?

Uh, well, it did come. The Cowboys scored just three points in the first half against Texas A&M this year, a team that averages just fewer than 40 points a game this year.

It didn't give up a second-half point until the Cowboys had already turned a 20-3 deficit into a 30-20 lead with just more than two minutes left in their 30-29 win.

Whether the defense is down big or backed up in its end zone, it's done what's necessary to keep the Cowboys undefeated. Saturday against Baylor was no different.

Doubt the Cowboys if you must, especially their defense. That's easy.

Beating them isn't.

Video: OK State safety Markelle Martin

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
9:15
PM ET


Safety Markelle Martin talks about the Cowboys’ defensive effort in their 59-24 victory.

Re-ranking the Big 12's top 25 players

October, 17, 2011
10/17/11
11:00
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It's time for a new midseason project here on the Big 12 blog.

We've ranked the Big 12's best players before the season. We've done it after the season.

Time for a midseason checkup. This list looks vastly different than the one we made before the season, with guys moving way up, way down and off the list. There will be some surprises, but I feel pretty good about it.

As usual, the list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but before we begin, a quick rundown of the criteria:
  • FIRST RULE: This list is based solely on what players have done over the past six games. I didn't factor in any other part of any player's career. Six games to rule them all. My preseason lists factor in a player's entire career. This list, and postseason lists, do not.
  • NFL Draft potential is not factored into the list.
  • The way I go about this list is as if I were drafting the best overall talents in the league. Each player's personal role or meaning to his team is irrelevant. This is not a "most valuable" list. It's the Big 12's best players.
  • Sometimes stats tell the whole story. Other times, they don't. Player X may have had more tackles or more yards or interceptions than Player Y, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll be higher than him on the list.

All that said, let's get started.

No. 21: Tony Jerod-Eddie, DL, Texas A&M: Jerod-Eddie has been a disruption up front all season, and is fourth in the Big 12 with four sacks. He has 4.5 tackles for loss and has broken up a pass and forced a fumble. The Aggies lead the nation with 26 sacks, and though TJE hasn't gotten a ton of them in the stat sheet, his play is a big reason why his teammates have.

No. 22: Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas: Acho leads the Horns with 47 tackles, and ranks fifth in the Big 12 in stops. He has two sacks, six tackles for loss with a pass breakup.

No. 23: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein has been a constant for Kansas State's offense. He's doing it ugly, but he's making the plays necessary to keep Kansas State undefeated. He leads the Big 12 with 10 rushing touchdowns and his 138 carries are 25 more than anyone else in the Big 12. He's turned them into 578 yards rushing, and has thrown for 739 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.

No. 24: Travis Lewis, LB, Oklahoma: Lewis has been slowed by a broken bone in his foot that forced him to miss the Sooners opener, but Von Miller suffered an injury early last season before rebounding to win the Butkus Award. Will we see a similar rise from Lewis? For now, he has 40 tackles (12th in the Big 12) with two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a forced fumble.

No. 25: Markelle Martin, S, Oklahoma State: Martin is back to his old ways laying big hits on receivers with two forced fumbles and 37 tackles. The senior safety has also broken up five passes.

Stay tuned to the Big 12 blog for the next five players in the rankings.

Defense will decide A&M-OSU showdown

September, 21, 2011
9/21/11
1:00
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The excuses are there, if Oklahoma State wants them. It's fully acceptable to take them.

Tulsa ran the ball well for most of the night (morning, really) -- 365 yards worth -- but it was Oklahoma State's game.

Midway through the third quarter (it was a little after 2 a.m. at this point), the Cowboys led 45-6. Did anybody want to be there? OSU's defense didn't look like it.

"We had a couple letdowns from that point on," said OSU coach Mike Gundy. "Maybe they relaxed a little bit, I don’t know, but as a coaching staff, we have to keep that from happening."

[+] EnlargeTulsa's Ja'Terian Douglas
AP Photo/Dave CrenshawAfter being contained in the first half, Tulsa's Ja'Terian Douglas rushed for 142 of his 173 yards on two long second-half touchdowns runs against Oklahoma State.
In 19 seconds, the lead shrunk from 39 to 26, and though Tulsa never seriously threatened to win the game, the rest of the game provided plenty of film session fodder for the following week.

"We just played kind of soft. We just didn’t really keep them from moving the ball up front," Gundy said. "They just kind of pushed up back a little bit. Guys didn’t sit correctly and weren’t in the right gaps."

Added senior safety Markelle Martin: "We got in our gaps a lot of times, we communicated well, but just rotating a lot of guys, trying to keep guys fresh, we got out of gaps and we weren’t stopping some plays and they gashed us on them."

The good news?

"Everything that happened, there’s an answer for, and a way to correct it," Gundy said.

The bad news? They better do it fast. Texas A&M is waiting on Saturday. The Aggies boast one of the league's best offensive lines, quarterbacks, running backs and receivers.

In short, one of the best everything.

"If you just want to give them 5 yards, they’re going to take it. They’ll just progress down field, they’re going to break you down and keep coming," Martin said. "You never really know what to expect."

And for all the well-deserved attention paid to Oklahoma State's offense, its defense may ultimately decide this year's game against Texas A&M, just like last year. Timely turnovers and a second-half surge helped OSU notch a win and a share of the Big 12 South in 2010.

The same may be on the line in College Station on Saturday. Those problems that surfaced in a sleepy game against Tulsa will have to be eliminated.

"We understand that they’re going to make plays, but with our defense and our type of offense, it’s bend but don’t break, you know? Just stay focused, don’t get your head down," Martin said. "Understand that they’re going to make plays, but at the end of the day, stay in control, no dumb mistakes."
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.

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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