NCF Nation: Shaun Lewis


STILLWATER, Okla. -- With nine minutes still to be played, America’s top offense finally had enough.

So instead of going for another seemingly hopeless fourth-and-long, Baylor called its record-setting offense to the sideline and sent out the punt team. On the other side of the field, sensing the capitulation, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer began hopping up and down, slapping the helmet of any defender passing by his general vicinity.

The 10th-ranked Cowboys always believed they could knock off fourth-ranked Baylor. But nobody, from "College GameDay" guest picker Marcus Smart to the Cowboys themselves, thought they would put the mighty Bears away before the fourth quarter.

Yet, Saturday night before a sold-out Boone Pickens Stadium, Oklahoma State did exactly that, pummeling Baylor into submission 49-17 to ensure the Big 12 title will go through Stillwater.

Again.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty, Daytawion Lowe, Tyler Johnson
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe Oklahoma State defense bottled up Bryce Petty and the high-flying Baylor offense all night.
“We weren’t intimidated,” said Cowboys linebacker Caleb Lavey. “And we were able to shut them down.”

No defense had slowed the Bears down all year, much less shut them down.

Baylor came into the night leading the nation with 61 points per game. After three quarters in Stillwater, the Bears had managed a single field goal.

“The Baylor offense deserved to get the pub it was getting,” Lavey said. “So being able to keep them off the board in touchdowns until the fourth quarter says a lot about this defense. Our defense did a great job.”

Great doesn’t do it justice. The Big 12’s best defense was dominant.

Head coach Mike Gundy said he felt Oklahoma State would need to score 35 points just to have a chance against Baylor. Thanks to his defense, the Cowboys needed only half that.

Even with All-American candidate Justin Gilbert limited to spot duty because of a shoulder injury, fellow cornerbacks Tyler Patmon and Kevin Peterson locked up Baylor’s speed-demon receivers in man-to-man coverage. The Bears, who led the country in completions of 30 yards or more, finished with just two such completions Saturday.

Up front, Oklahoma State tackles James Castleman and Calvin Barnett owned the line of scrimmage. Baylor, which had been averaging more than 300 yards per game on the ground, was held to just 96 yards rushing with a paltry average of 2.6 yards per carry.

And in between, linebackers Lavey and Shaun Lewis came up with huge plays all night.

All told, the Cowboys forced three fumbles, including two from inside their own 5-yard line. In the first quarter two plays after Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty stumbled to the turf at the 1 after a 27-yard dash, Castleman batted the ball out of Shock Linwood’s hands, and recovered it himself. The Cowboys countered with a 99-yard touchdown drive to grab control and a 7-0 lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Baylor finally drove the ball back to the Oklahoma State 2 with a chance to cut the deficit to 35-17. Instead, Petty fumbled a wild snap, and Patmon scooped it up and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown to put the Cowboys up 42-10.

After a three-and-nothing on its the next possession, Baylor punted, starting up the party on the Oklahoma State sideline.

“They’re a great team,” said Spencer, who mixed up eight-man coverages with exotic blitzes all game. “But our kids tonight executed and played great defense.”

Yet as good as it was, the Oklahoma State defense was hardly the whole story.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesOklahoma State QB Clint Chelf had a career day, throwing for 370 yards and accounting for four TDs.
Cowboy quarterback Clint Chelf remained on fire while outgunning Petty, Chelf's Heisman hopeful counterpart.

Chelf completed his first 12 passes, threw for a career-high 370 yards and accounted for four touchdowns as he continued his late-season charge since taking back over the starting job last month.

“He was accurate, and he made good decisions,” Gundy said. “I couldn’t be more proud of what he’s accomplished. He’s been a good leader, and he’s done it quietly. He's been humbled, and for that he's had success.”

Chelf lost the starting job two lackluster series into the season opener against Mississippi State. With J.W. Walsh in at quarterback, the offense languished, including in a 30-21 loss at West Virginia in a conference opener that looks more stunning by the week.

But since reclaiming the job on Oct. 26 at Iowa State, Chelf has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Last week, he delivered the second-highest QBR in the country in a 38-13 win at Texas.

Saturday, he was even better, throwing darts all over the field while picking apart Baylor’s secondary. Then in the third quarter, Chelf delivered the exclamation point, hauling in a throwback pass from Josh Stewart before racing 48 yards to the Baylor 5-yard line to set up a touchdown that put the Cowboys up 28-3.

“Chelf toughed everything out,” Stewart said. “He stayed with it. And tonight he was very impressive.”

So were the Cowboys, who before 2011 had only one conference title -- a three-way split in 1976 – in 58 years. After its stomping of the Bears, Oklahoma State is now one Bedlam win in Stillwater away from winning its second Big 12 title in three years.

“We have made great strides,” Gundy said. “The best way I can explain that is: I don’t know the last time we took the field and our players didn’t think we could win.”

Once again, the Cowboys took the field thinking they could win. They left it in control of the conference title. Again.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
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And then there were four in the conference race:

1. Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12, last week: 1): The Bears have been complaining about a lack of national respect. Thursday night against Oklahoma, they have their chance to gain that respect. It should be noted, though, that Baylor has never played in a game with major conference and national title implications on the line -- and the whole country watching. The Sooners have played in dozens of these games. Are the Bears ready to shine in the spotlight? We’re about to find out.

2. Oklahoma State (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week: 5): Look who’s back in the thick of the Big 12 title conversation. On Saturday, the Cowboys delivered the most impressive Big 12 win of any team this season, dominating Texas Tech before a record crowd in Lubbock. Behind linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, the OSU defense continues to perform at a high level, as they limited Tech to just three touchdowns in 17 possessions. The OSU offense is now beginning to click, too, with QB Clint Chelf making the big plays he did down the stretch like last season and backs Desmond Roland and Rennie Childs reviving the running game. The Cowboys are the only contender that get Baylor at home, and they have dominated the Bears in Stillwater. OSU still has to go to Austin on Nov. 16. But the Cowboys just proved they can win big games on the road.

3. Texas (6-2, 5-0 Big 12, last week: 2): It wasn’t a work of art, but Texas took care of business against Kansas. Next up is a sneaky-tough road game in Morgantown. West Virginia has been a much tougher team at home. The Mountaineers knocked off Oklahoma State and led Texas Tech by double digits in the second half before succumbing in the fourth quarter. West Virginia will also be playing with plenty of momentum after its overtime win at TCU. A showdown with Oklahoma State in Austin looms the following weekend. But Texas needs to escape Morgantown first.

4. Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 Big 12, last week: 3): After struggling in conference play, Blake Bell seemed to turn a corner with a determined performance in last week’s win over the Red Raiders. To have any chance of scoring with Baylor, the Sooners are going to need a similar effort from their quarterback. The running game should be able to pile up yards. And the OU secondary will give Baylor’s speedy receivers their biggest challenge yet. But to pull off the upset as double-digit underdogs in Waco, Bell will have to make the same kind of throws downfield he delivered against Tech.

5. Texas Tech (7-2, 4-2 Big 12, last week: 4): Considering the Red Raiders were picked to finish seventh in the Big 12 in the preseason, this has already been a banner first season for coach Kliff Kingsbury. But the past two weeks, Tech’s flaws have been exposed. The defense hasn’t been able to stop the run without overloading the box. True freshman QB Davis Webb is making true freshman mistakes. And the depth doesn’t seem to be there for Tech to be sound covering punts and kicks. This is still a good team. But as it turned out, just not yet good enough to contend for the conference title.

6. Kansas State (4-4, 2-3 Big 12, last week: 6): Since the return of receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, the Wildcats have featured an efficiently balanced offensive attack. K-State threw for 221 yards and ran for 227 while picking apart Iowa State’s defense. The K-State run defense has been excellent the past month, too. This is not a team anyone will want to face this last month of the season.

7. West Virginia (4-5, 2-4 Big 12, last week: 7): What a win for Dana Holgorsen’s bunch. The Mountaineers seemed to be dead in the water after falling behind 17-3 in Fort Worth. But behind running back Charles Sims and an eight-minute stretch where the Mountaineers forced TCU into three turnovers in five plays, West Virginia emerged with a crucial overtime victory. Had the Mountaineers lost, more questions would have surfaced about Holgorsen’s status in Morgantown. Instead, West Virginia is in great shape to make a bowl game, which would be a solid season for a team that had to replace Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

8. TCU (3-6, 1-5 Big 12, last week: 8): When does basketball season start? Wait, nevermind.

9. Iowa State (1-7, 0-5 Big 12, last week: 9): The Cyclones have not posed much of a threat offensively when running back Aaron Wimberly has not been in the lineup. If they can get him back from a hamstring injury, they could still pick up a couple of Big 12 wins down the stretch, which would give this program some momentum heading into next season.

10. Kansas (2-6, 0-5 Big 12, last week: 10): The Jayhawks have not rolled over in Big 12 play, which has to be an encouraging sign for coach Charlie Weis. It would be huge for the program for that effort to manifest tangibly in the form of an actual win. If Kansas keeps playing hard, it just might get it.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 6 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Baylor. This is starting to get ridiculous. Despite the uptick in opponent, the Bears scored more than 70 points for the third consecutive week, becoming the first FBS team to do so since 1930. The offense has overshadowed how well the defense has also been playing. Baylor, which gave up 70 in Morgantown last year, limited West Virginia to just two offensive touchdowns through three quarters. By that point, the Bears led 66-21. Can anyone stop these guys?

Disappointment of the week: West Virginia. Nobody really expected the Mountaineers would go to Waco and win as four-touchdown underdogs. But this was a litmus test for a defense that had been pretty solid through the first month of the season. Well, the West Virginia defense failed the test miserably, giving up a Big 12-record 864 yards of offense. Baylor had four turnovers and committed 100 yards' worth of penalties. And the Bears still scored 73 points.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
AP Photo/Jose YauBaylor's Lache Seastrunk contributed 172 of Baylor's whopping 468 rushing yards against West Virginia.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Baylor's offensive line. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward he’d never seen a line establish the line of scrimmage the way the Bears did. Up front, Spencer Drango, Cyril Richardson, Stefan Huber, Desmine Hilliard and Kelvin Palmer paved the way for Baylor to rack up 468 yards on the ground against a defensive front that held Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith to just 1 yard on 15 carries a week ago. The Bears have been unstoppable so far, in large part because their offensive line has been paving lanes as well as any line in college football.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Shaun Lewis and Jason Verrett. The Oklahoma State linebacker and TCU cornerback showed over the weekend why they’re all-conference-caliber players. Lewis led the Cowboys with eight tackles, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter. Lewis also chased down Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams with a shoestring tackle in the open field on the Wildcats’ final drive that kept the clock ticking. Verrett, meanwhile, was fabulous in a losing effort at Oklahoma. Verrett had six tackles and two pass breakups, and he basically blanketed any receiver that lined up on his side of the field. TCU's defense dominated the Sooners in the third quarter, which allowed the Horned Frogs to climb back into the game despite a 13-0 halftime deficit.

Special-teams players of the week: Travis Britz and Kip Daily. The Kansas State duo came up with a huge play at Oklahoma State with 2:45 to go in the first half. Britz jumped up and blocked Ben Grogan’s 43-yard field goal attempt, and Daily grabbed the deflection and raced 65 yards for the touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead (Oklahoma State won the game 33-29). Daily is having quite the season. Three weeks ago, he was the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Week after picking off two passes against UMass. Placekickers Michael Hunnicutt and Ryan Bustin get honorable-mention honors here. Hunnicutt set an Oklahoma record with his 49th career field goal. After missing a 32-yard field goal at Kansas, Bustin bounced back to connect on four field goals and six extra points as Texas Tech routed the Jayhawks 54-16.

Play of the week: After getting completely shut down in the second half, the Sooners' offense finally got the play to put TCU away. With OU holding on to a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, running back Brennan Clay got a carry to the left and then cut it back right 76 yards for a touchdown to basically put the game away with 4:37 to play. "We set it up the whole day," Clay said. "The [linebackers] were going over the top and the O-line did a great job just pressing the play, and I was fortunate enough to make the cut backdoor and the safety was a little flat-footed. I made a stutter step and just took it to the crib."

Stat of the week: After six weeks, Baylor QB Bryce Petty leads the nation in opponent-adjusted Total QBR, which takes into account the strength of the opposing defenses faced. Petty has a score of 97.7 (0-100 scale, 50 is average). Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is second (96.8) followed by Georgia’s Aaron Murray (95.6).

Quote of the week: “70 points, I guess, isn’t enough.” – Petty, on those who still doubt the Bears' offense

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
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Recognizing the best and brightest from around the Big 12 in Week 6:

Baylor running backs: Bryce Petty was sharp as usual, but what a night for the Baylor rushing attack. In the 73-42 beatdown of West Virginia, it rushed for 468 yards and a whopping eight touchdowns on 7.5 yards per carry. Lache Seastrunk, the Big 12's leading rusher, put up an 80-yard score and 172 yards on 15 carries, backup Glasco Martin ran for 63 yards, No. 3 back Shock Linwood had 126 and Devin Chafin chipped in 56 yards. Big kudos to the Bear offense line for the mauling on Saturday.

RB Brennan Clay, Oklahoma: Clay locked up the Sooners' 20-17 win over TCU when he went 76 yards untouched to give OU a 10-point lead with less than five minutes left after the Frogs had cut the deficit to three points by the end of the third quarter. He finished with 111 yards on nine carries and is now the Big 12's third-leading rusher this season with 450 yards.

LB Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State: Turnovers were the key to the game in Oklahoma State's 33-29 win over Kansas State, and Lewis forced perhaps the most important one. On KSU's first play on offense after OSU had taken a 30-29 lead late, Lewis picked off an underthrown pass from Daniel Sams and picked up 21 yards. That set up Ben Grogan's field goal to go ahead by four. Lewis also led OSU in tackles with eight, had one tackle for loss and forced and recovered a fumble.

WR Eric Ward, Texas Tech: Fellow receivers Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant are both worthy recipients this week, but we'll go with Ward because he broke out of a slump with seven catches for 122 yards and a touchdown in a win over Kansas. Six of his receptions went for first downs, and his touchdown was a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter. Amaro finished with 96 yards, and Grant added 92.

QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: Petty threw the first interception of his career, which he said will haunt him for the next week, but the junior made up for that rare moment of weakness with 347 passing yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for another score. His night was over after one third-quarter drive, and Petty has still yet to play a four-quarter game thanks to Baylor's blowout wins.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 1

September, 2, 2013
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Taking stock of what happened in Week 1 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Oklahoma State. By knocking off SEC opponent Mississippi State, the Cowboys delivered the Big 12 its best win of the opening weekend. Oklahoma State did it with defense, too, suggesting this could be the best unit Mike Gundy has had in Stillwater.

Biggest disappointment: Kansas State. Losing to an FCS team hurts. But the way the Wildcats lost has to hurt worse. North Dakota State went on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that left just a few seconds on the clock to prevail 24-21. The Wildcats led 21-7 in the third quarter but were dominated the rest of the way. The way the Bison ran between the tackles has to be especially troubling going forward, considering stopping the run has been a calling card for Bill Snyder teams.

Robert Seals
AP Photo/LM OteroTexas Tech freshman Baker Mayfield (6) had quite a debut against SMU.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Texas Tech QB Baker Mayfield. A couple of weeks ago, the college football world had never heard of Mayfield. They have now. The walk-on true freshman completed 43 of 60 passes for 413 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. Kliff Kingsbury might have uncovered his quarterback of the future.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Oklahoma LBs Corey Nelson and Shaun Lewis. Both seniors had big openers in their teams’ big defensive performances. Lewis had three tackles for loss and a sack. Nelson had two tackles for loss and a sack and was constantly in Louisiana-Monroe’s backfield. Combined, the Sooners and Cowboys allowed just one field goal.

Special-teams player of the week: TCU’s B.J. Catalon. The Horned Frogs running back delivered a 100-yard kickoff return in the second quarter that put TCU back in the game after a lackluster first quarter against LSU. Catalon also reeled off a 26-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and finished with 52 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving.

Play of the week: Oklahoma State QB J.W. Walsh’s second-quarter dash. With the Cowboys trailing 3-0 late in the second quarter, Walsh took an option keeper down the left sideline 46 yards to the Mississippi State 14-yard line. Another keeper put the ball at the Bulldogs' 3, and he carried the ball into the end zone two plays later to give Oklahoma State its first lead. Walsh led Oklahoma State with 125 rushing yards.

Stat of the week: Trevor Knight became the first Oklahoma quarterback under Bob Stoops to have more rushing yards than passing yards in a game. Knight ran for 103 yards and passed for 86. The last Sooners QB to rush for more than he passed for in a game was Eric Moore in 1998.

Quote of the week: “Now will you believe me when I say we're not very good? That's what I've been trying to tell you.” -- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder
During the offseason, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops defiantly dismissed the SEC’s supposed superiority over the Big 12 as pure “propaganda.”

“They’ve had the best team in college football,” Stoops bristled, when asked how the Big 12 could narrow the gap with the SEC.

“They haven’t had the whole conference.”

That theory will be put to the test on the field this weekend, as two neutral-site, Big 12-SEC showdowns highlight the opening Saturday of college football.

[+] EnlargeGary Patterson
Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesGary Patterson and TCU could make a huge statement about the strength of the Big 12 with a win over LSU on Saturday.
Preseason Big 12 favorite Oklahoma State will meet Mississippi State at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Later that night, TCU will take on LSU at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

“Any time you get a chance to play a team in the SEC,” said Oklahoma State wide receiver Tracy Moore, “you have something to prove.”

Which is why for the SEC, it’s just another Saturday. For the Big 12, it’s way more. One conference has nothing to prove; the other, most definitely something.

Justified or not, the Big 12 has been fighting a losing battle lately with the SEC in the court of public perception, which anymore is -– and will be -– half the battle in college football.

Just ask Mike Gundy, whose Cowboys lost out to Alabama for a berth in the BCS title game two years ago, even though Oklahoma State had three more wins over ranked opponents than the Crimson Tide did.

"I don’t think there’s any question the Mississippi State game is a big game," Gundy said. "The way the BCS is set up and eventually with the [playoff], these games factor in. If we as an administration decide to play these games, then you have to be ready for that to factor in the nation's perspective of your football team after that game. I don’t think it’s going to be any other way.”

For the Big 12, the national perspective has not been flattering. Even though nine Big 12 teams were good enough to go to bowls last season -– the crux of Stoops’ counterargument -– none apparently were good enough to begin in the Associated Press' Top 10 for the first time in the history of the conference.

“I do think our league has not gotten the credit nationally it deserves,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “As we keep looking at it over the next couple of years, the Big 12 will gain that respect.”

The Big 12 doesn’t have to wait years. Only days, as the weekend offers a prime opportunity for the league to show it can go toe-to-toe against college football’s preeminent conference.

“The only thing that should be talked about is what happens on Saturday –- and that will be the only way we’ll ever change all that,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “The only way we’ll ever catch the SEC -– if that is true that we’re behind them –- is you’ve got to play them.”

Credit the Big 12 for at least doing that.

On top of this weekend’s SEC tilts, Texas will play host to Ole Miss in two weeks. In 2014-15, Oklahoma has a home-and-home with Tennessee; Texas Tech, the same with Arkansas.

The Big 12 has also signed three bowl agreements with the SEC, including the Champions Bowl, which will pit the two best non-playoff teams from each conference against one another in New Orleans.

But there’s a difference between scheduling the SEC and defeating it.

“That’s always been the best way,” Patterson said. “We have to prove when we get the opportunity to play well or win. That’s the key. Obviously, you can’t have what it looked like in the Cotton Bowl, either.”

The last decade of Cotton Bowls, for that matter.

The SEC has won nine of 10 meetings over the Big 12 in the Cotton Bowl, which has been the highest profile bowl game between the two conferences. The SEC’s average margin of victory in those nine wins is two touchdowns, which, of course, includes Texas A&M’s 28-point annihilation of Oklahoma last season.

To stop the hemorrhaging, the Big 12 can ill-afford for two of its contenders to get taken out on national television by programs projected to finish third and sixth in the SEC West.

“It would be something we’ll never be able to overcome, at least until we got another opportunity,” said Cowboys defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, who signed with Arkansas out of high school. “At the end of the day, we are representing the Big 12. It’s a big week for us.”

The Big 12 can’t narrow the entire SEC superiority gap in a week, whether that gap is real or propaganda. But in a day, TCU and Oklahoma State can prove the Big 12 is deserving of more respect.

“The SEC, they deserve the respect they get,” Cowboys linebacker Shaun Lewis said.

“Hopefully we can earn some, too.”
Art Briles had to be in a little disbelief looking up at the scoreboard during his last two dates with Oklahoma State, both in Stillwater.

"They’ve whooped us pretty good the last two years, unless my memory serves me wrong," Briles said. "They’ve kind of had their way with us."

The 56-year-old's memory is just fine. The Bears' fell behind Oklahoma State 49-3 after three quarters a year ago, despite possessing the nation's No. 2 offense and future Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. Baylor moved the ball, but turnovers and red zone failures combined with a hapless defense turned a pivotal Big 12 game into a laugher.

A year earlier, it was much of the same. Oklahoma State raced out to a 41-7 lead late in the third quarter against a ranked Bears team.

Baylor's had a historical run behind Briles, qualifying for three consecutive bowl games for the first time in school history and winning 23 games over that span. Still, Oklahoma State's held a hefty advantage over the Bears, winning six consecutive games in the series.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
AP Photo/LM OteroArt Briles' Bears have been outscored 114-52 by Oklahoma State during their past two meetings.
"It’s hard to explain why sometimes your players have really good weeks and then sometimes they don’t," coach Mike Gundy said of his team's recent dominance against Baylor. "We’ve played them later in the season, and our teams have practiced good and been healthy, but it’s hard to explain."

The Cowboys visit Waco this weekend for the first time since 2009 to close the season. Can Briles get his first win over a fellow Big 12 resurgent squad against OSU? He maintains the last two matchups won't affect this year's team or its confidence.

"One of those was what, 770 days ago or 800 days ago? The other one was 300 something days ago," he said.

Both teams are bowl eligible and out of the Big 12 title race heading into the final weekend, so they're playing for mostly bowl positioning and pride, but even a close loss might have Baylor feeling better about itself than it has the last two times the Cowboys have run the Bears out of Stillwater.

"With any great passing offense, you need to make them one-dimensional, so if you can limit their run game, which has been successful this year, you can get a better rush on the quarterback and make him throw some bad passes," linebacker Shaun Lewis said. "They kill teams with big plays, and if we can limit those big plays and make them drive the field, it might slow them down."

That's what happened the past two games. Before some garbage time scores in both games, OSU prevented the Bears' signature long touchdowns. Last year, a goal line stand, a fumble and an end zone interception left the Bears frustrated and out of the end zone until the game was well out of hand.

The Pokes will be looking for the same result against the Bears this week. Baylor doesn't have RG3 or Kendall Wright this time around, but Gundy's been impressed by his replacement, Nick Florence, who has the Bears back at No. 2 nationally in total offense.

"Coach Briles and their staff do a great job of getting him programmed for each game. He throws the ball, moves around and runs the ball effective enough to make some plays. He’s a very accurate passer. His numbers speak for themselves," Gundy said. "It’s extremely difficult what he’s done … I’m glad he’s a senior, to be honest with you."

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 5

October, 1, 2012
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It's time to pass out some awards and look back on the week that was in the Big 12.

Best offensive performance: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia. Can't be any question on this one, folks. Sorry. Geno had one of the best performances by a quarterback I've ever seen. He threw 51 passes. Eight went for touchdowns. Six were incomplete. I counted maybe two or three (depending on your judgment) that had any chance of getting picked off. That's near perfection. Honorable mention: Nick Florence, QB, Baylor; Terrance Williams, WR, Baylor; Stedman Bailey, WR, West Virginia; David Ash, QB, Texas

[+] EnlargeSmith
Rob Christy/US PresswireGeno Smith was close to perfect Saturday -- throwing for 656 yards and eight touchdowns.
Best defensive performance: A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State. Klein gets the narrow nod here for a huge day that featured 11 tackles and the biggest play of the day for the Cyclones. ISU harassed Seth Doege for most of the first half, but Klein took advantage of a big mistake, stepping in front of a pass over the middle and returning it 87 yards to put ISU up 7-0 in an eventual loss to Texas Tech. Honorable mention: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas; Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State; Devonte Fields, DE, TCU

Best game: West Virginia 70, Baylor 63. This one was too much fun. There was a lot of bad defense but it wasn't all bad. Don't overlook the fact that Smith and Florence are two really, really good quarterbacks throwing to really deep, with really, really good receiving corps. Not many defensive backfields could cover those guys well. Better than giving up 63 and 70 points? Probably. But this one was the game that left everybody talking on Saturday.

Second-best game: Texas 41, Oklahoma State 36. Sadly, this game got overshadowed a bit by the craziness of the early session.The Longhorns and Cowboys traded the lead six times, including four times in the game's final 10 minutes. It featured a pair of clutch Texas drives, and a fourth-down toss from Ash for the books at Texas. It also nearly ended in even more spectacular fashion, but we'll get to that later.

Best offensive performance by a freshman: J.W. Walsh, QB, Oklahoma State. Walsh didn't run as much as some expected, but he helped make a good Texas defense look very average. Much of the trouble was tackling downfield, but Walsh made great decisions for the most part and took care of the ball, moving the chains and capitalizing for big plays. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns, adding 57 yards rushing. Great stuff from the youngster in relief of Wes Lunt.

Best defensive performance by a freshman: Fields. Is there any doubt that Fields is writing the early chapters of a story that ends with him being one of the best defenders to come through this league in a long while? In his first four games as a true freshman, Fields has five sacks. He finished with four tackles for loss against SMU and seven tackles, bringing his TFL total to 8.5, more than any defender in the Big 12. Crazy.

Worst play: TCU punt team. Facing a fourth-and-18 on their 25-yard line, the snap to punter Ethan Perry was mishandled, and SMU took over on TCU's 1-yard line in a 24-10 game early in the fourth quarter. Fortunately for the Frogs, Fields came to the rescue and the defense held, giving up zero points.

Best play: Ash to D.J. Grant for 29 yards. Facing a fourth-and-6 on the Longhorns' final drive with just more than 90 seconds to play, Ash stood tall in the pocket with the crowd at Boone Pickens as loud as it had been all night. He found Grant dragging from his left to right, and hit Grant squarely in the numbers to keep the game alive and extend the eventual game-winning drive. Mack Brown called the toss "unbelievable" after the game.

Biggest eye-opening revelation: West Virginia's coaches. After Saturday's game, they revealed to CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman that Smith checked live at the line of scrimmage into a play that wasn't even in the game plan, because he saw something in the Bears' coverage he could exploit. The result: one of his eight touchdown passes on the day. Ridiculous. Smith's a whole lot more than a big arm, folks.

Second-worst play: West Virginia's defense on the final play of the first half. If somebody says to you, "Prevent this team from reaching the end zone 67 yards away in one play," most defenses would hold up. West Virginia's? Well, Baylor's Lanear Sampson and Florence hooked up to prove they could embarrass WVU to tie the score at 35 after the first 30 minutes.

Best play that nearly became legend: Walsh to Charlie Moore on the final play versusTexas. I was on the sideline for this one, and the play on the south side of the field (Boone Pickens Stadium, if you didn't know, runs east to west) looked like a mess. Walsh fired a backward pass all the way across to the north side of the field to Moore, who was all alone. He caught the ball about 10-to-15 yards right in front of me. I careened my head down the sideline ... all green pastures ahead of Moore. That kind of feeling? That's why we love football. Not much can duplicate that, and I wasn't even playing. I can only imagine what it felt like for Moore. With another block or two, that might have been the greatest play in Big 12 history, edging out Graham Harrell to Michael Crabtree back in 2008.

Best quote: Dana Holgorsen, on Smith's day. "He was 45-of-51 for 656 yards with eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. Can you please explain to me how you can improve on that?"

ESPN.com's preseason All-Big 12 team

August, 29, 2012
8/29/12
9:00
AM ET
The season is only a few days away, and it's time to unveil our official All-Big 12 team.

The criteria for this is pretty simple: I picked the best players at every position in the game, but made room for deserving players. For this league, that meant eliminating the tight end spot and sliding a more deserving Collin Klein onto the team via an all-purpose position.

The quarterbacks are solid in this league, but I'd call the cornerbacks the best and deepest position in the league. The worst? Defensive tackle. I didn't put a single one on the All-Big 12 team, electing to name four defensive ends along the defensive line. I hate doing that, but this year, it's necessary.

Without further ado, here's our team:

OFFENSE

QB: Geno Smith, West Virginia
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
RB: Waymon James, TCU
All-Purpose: Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Kenny Stills, Oklahoma
WR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
C: Joe Madsen, West Virginia
OL: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
OL: Mason Walters, Texas

DEFENSE

DL: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
DL: Stansly Maponga, TCU
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
CB: Carrington Byndom, Texas
CB: Brodrick Brown, Oklahoma State
S: Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
S: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma

SPECIALISTS:

K: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
KR: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
PR: Tavon Austin, West Virginia

Honorable mention/regrettable snubs: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma; Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas; Ivory Wade, C, Baylor; LaAdrian Waddle, OL, Texas Tech; Blaize Foltz, OL, TCU; Kenny Cain, LB, TCU; Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State; Jamarkus McFarland, DL, Oklahoma; Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas; Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State; Demontre Hurst, CB, Oklahoma; Tyler Lockett, KR, Kansas State
If we're going to be technical about this, Oklahoma State broke through last season, winning its first Big 12 title and a bushel of respect in the process.

Just a few months later, the questions are out. The doubts are fresh.

"Losing Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon was too much."

"Welcome back to Earth, Cowboys."

"Their new quarterback is how old?"

[+] EnlargeOklahoma State's Joseph Randle
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtStar RB Joseph Randle has helped Oklahoma State earn national respect in recent seasons.
We've heard all three of those before and will again in 2012. The age jokes are back, but replace jokes about Weeden's AARP status with ones about 18-year-old Wes Lunt's acne and prom date. Then replace "Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon" with "Zac Robinson and Dez Bryant."

The 2011 team was better. It won more and went further, twice setting the school record for wins, racking up 23 in two seasons and bringing some new hardware to Stillwater that had never found a home at Boone Pickens Stadium.

That's just one breakthrough season. Oklahoma State, though? It's about to prove it's a breakthrough program ready to take its place among college football's elite.

The Cowboys have sustained success, winning at least nine games in four consecutive seasons. They'll do it again in 2012, because that's what elite teams do after they win a title. They keep winning, and Oklahoma State has stockpiled plenty of talent outside of Weeden and Blackmon, talent that's ready to shoulder the load and carry the Pokes to a solid season.

They're not built for a title in 2012, but they're built for a solid season. Expect 8-9 wins. Don't be surprised if a bowl win gives the Pokes their third consecutive 10-win season.

That's not a breakout season in the traditional sense, but its further validation that the Cowboys' arrival on the big stage last season didn't precede a humbling rebuilding season in 2012.

Jeremy Smith and Joseph Randle will make life easier for Lunt. A solid, underrated receiving corps is ready to make a name for itself, highlighted by Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and newcomer Blake Jackson filling in for Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison.

The defense led the nation in turnovers last season -- a third consecutive season in the national top 11 -- and will be more experienced and talented in 2012. Linebackers Alex Elkins and Shaun Lewis hold down the middle, while cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown stake a claim as one of the Big 12's best duos on the outside.

Oklahoma State made a name for itself in the 2011 season, but the national audience is fickle. It may have forgotten.

The Cowboys will remind them this year.

And just wait until next year.
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.

OSU defense keeps defying its doubters

October, 29, 2011
10/29/11
9:26
PM ET


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.
Every year, good players become great. Here are a few fresh faces to keep an eye on in 2011.

Mike Davis, WR, Texas: Davis emerged as one of the Longhorns top targets as a true freshman, catching 47 passes for 478 yards and a team-leading two touchdowns. That was in a struggling offense. Texas, one would figure with a renewed purpose and new coordinator, could only improve on offense in 2011. That, combined with Davis' experience from last year and the offseason, could mean a huge year.

[+] EnlargeMike Davis
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMike Davis caught 47 passes for 478 yards and two touchdowns as a Texas freshman.
Josh Gordon, WR, Baylor: Gordon, for now, remains suspended indefinitely, but there's no denying his potential once that suspension ends. Gordon, a 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is built exactly like Texas A&M's Jeff Fuller, and could be due for a similar jump after catching 42 passes for 714 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the Big 12 with an average of 17 yards per catch.

Luke Joeckel, LT, Texas A&M: Joeckel struggled at times early in the season, but was one of the catalysts leading the way for Ryan Tannehill and Cyrus Gray's rise late in the season as a young Texas A&M line jelled. The Aggies return four starters from last year's line that improved late in the year, but Joeckel has the highest ceiling among the five starters.

Ronnell Lewis, DE, Oklahoma: Lewis has unbelievable raw physical skills, but he has yet to turn that potential into hard production, in part because he had an All-American ahead of him on the depth chart. For now, his eligibility for 2010 is still in question, but his 37 tackles and 3.5 sacks will surely grow with more time on the field -- if he gets it.

Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State: Lewis was borderline great in 2010, but he may blossom into a full-blown star in 2011, possibly on a national level. Oklahoma State's defense has a chance to be much better in 2011 than in 2010, and if that happens, he'll join safety Markelle Martin as the two biggest reasons why.

Eric Stephens, RB, Texas Tech: Stephens will step into a starting role and with a new quarterback and new receivers, Stephens could benefit from an emphasis on the running game and an offensive line that returns all five starters. Stephens rushed for 668 yards and a team-leading six scores on just 127 carries last year. With Baron Batch's 177 carries headed to the NFL, could Stephens be the Red Raiders first 1,000-yard rusher in a long while?
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
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.

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