Join the conversation: CFB Saturday Live

NCF Nation: Steven Johnson

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.
Seven Big 12 players will take part in the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 21 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
  • Tysyn Hartman, S, Kansas State
  • Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DT, Baylor
  • Blake Gideon, S, Texas
  • Dominique Hamilton, DT, Missouri
  • Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas
  • Cody Johnson, FB, Texas
  • David Snow, OL, Texas

Good to hear from each of these guys, who have all been extremely productive over their careers. Traditionally, the Senior Bowl the following week is a more prestigious display, but all seven of these guys will get valuable exposure in front of NFL scouts.

We'll see who takes advantage and improves their draft stock.

You can see the full roster here.'s 2011 All-Big 12 Team

December, 9, 2011
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.


[+] 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


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


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.

Big 12 Awards Update: Week 14

November, 30, 2011
We were off last week in the awards update, but we're back with one week of games left.

Offensive Player of the Year

1. Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor: Griffin overtook Weeden after his huge game against Oklahoma two weeks ago, and held on despite the concussion last week. He'll need a big game this week to keep the award though, and even then the voting might be close.

2. Brandon Weeden, QB, Oklahoma State: Weeden could usurp Griffin regardless of what RG3 does if Weeden has a big game and beats the Sooners. Should be some drama on Saturday, but Griffin leads Weeden in total offense per game.

3. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Klein was off last week, but his passing numbers are OK and he's fifth in the Big 12 with 1,013 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. He's also thrown for 11 scores and five interceptions.

Honorable mention: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor; Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State.

Defensive Player of the Year

1. Frank Alexander, DE, Oklahoma: Alexander might be alone at the top for this one. He leads the Big 12 with 18 tackles for loss and tied for the Big 12 lead with 8.5 sacks.

2. Sean Porter, LB, Texas A&M: Porter came back to life with 2.5 tackles for loss against Texas and 1.5 in the win over Kansas. He now has 16 to rank second in the Big 12.

3. Emmanuel Acho, LB, Texas: Acho makes his first appearance on the list after notching four consecutive games with at least 12 tackles, including a season-high 14 against Texas A&M. He's now second in the Big 12 with 105 tackles.

Honorable mention: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State; Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State; Ronnell Lewis, DE, Oklahoma; Damontre Moore, LB, Texas A&M, Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas.

Coach of the Year

1. Bill Snyder, Kansas State: Snyder's Wildcats are still rolling and look likely to win an unbelievable 10 games after being picked to finish eighth in the Big 12. Standing between them: Iowa State, a six-win team picked to finish ninth place in the Big 12. Beware.

2. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State: Rhoads keeps impressing. First the win over Iowa. Then beating Texas Tech by 34 a week after the Red Raiders beat Oklahoma. Two weeks ago, it was the upset over Oklahoma State. Welcome to the postseason for the second time in three years.

3. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State: Gundy probably won't be able to grab any national coach of the year awards after losing to Iowa State, but he might get a few votes if the Cowboys win the Big 12 title outright, and do it impressively.

Honorable mention: Art Briles, Baylor.

Celebrating Halloween across the Big 12

October, 31, 2011
Don't get too spooked. It's just Halloween. Time for a little black-and-orange on the blog.

Scary movie -- Worst loss of the season: Oklahoma State 70, Kansas 28. Kansas' historically bad offense met one of the best offenses in the nation. The result? A 35-7 deficit after the first quarter and a 56-7 halftime score. How bad could this one have gotten? We can only imagine.

Nightmare on Joe Routt Boulevard -- Oklahoma State 30, Texas A&M 29. It had all been so dreamy. Fans at Kyle Field hoped a 17-point halftime lead against a top 10 team in Oklahoma State turned to a coronation. Nope. That lead was gone by the end of the third quarter, and Oklahoma State celebrated on SEC turf with a "Big 12! Big 12!" chant before Mike Gundy broke out some dance moves in the locker room.

Trick or treat -- Bedlam in December. This could be the best or the worst for Oklahoma State. Knock off an elite Oklahoma team to get to the national title game? That's how it should be. But lose a 10th consecutive game against the Sooners to have a dream season finish without the ultimate title chance? The stakes will be high on Championship Weekend.

[+] EnlargeEric Stephens
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanTexas Tech running back Eric Stephens' knee injury halted his quest for a 1,000 yard season.
Boo (boo) -- Eric Stephens, RB, Texas Tech. Stephens was on his way to becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher at Texas Tech since Ricky Williams in 1998. The junior was rolling, until he dislocated his knee against Texas A&M and will miss the rest of the season. Definitely the most costly injury of the season, closely followed by Dominique Whaley at Oklahoma.

Night of the living dead -- Iowa State. Just when you think the movie's over, one last victim gets it from a villain left for dead. Paul Rhoads pulled a sneak attack and the Red Raiders had no chance. The Cyclones walked into a place they'd never won and a team that had lost four consecutive games by at least 16 points. The result? Iowa State 41, Texas Tech 7.

Jason Voorhees -- Missouri. Missouri's taken its share of knocks this year, though all four of its losses came to ranked teams. (OU, OSU, K-State, Arizona State.) The Tigers won't be killed. They rallied from a two-touchdown deficit for a season-changing win to beat Texas A&M in overtime for the program's first road win over a ranked team since 1997.

Black cat -- Texas Tech. Once again, the Red Raiders were a frightful sight. They beat Oklahoma in 2007, Texas in 2008, and moved to 4-3 against Oklahoma since 2005 with a national title hope-killing 41-38 win in Norman earlier this month.

Ghosts, Goblins, Ghouls – under-the-radar players:

  • Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State: Yet again, Iowa State's lack of winning ways has him overshadowed. He's made 70 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
  • Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas: It's been an awful year for Kansas, but the Pennsylvania native and former walk-on brings it every Saturday. He has 19 more tackles than anyone else in the Big 12, with 89 stops.
  • Henry Josey, RB, Missouri: Talk about no respect. Josey doesn't get enough. The Tigers' waterbug has scooted his way to a Big 12-best 1,017 rushing yards, 175 more than anyone else in the Big 12. That's third-best nationally, and nobody with at least 50 carries has a higher YPC average than Josey's 8.55.

And a few suggested Halloween costumes:

  • Brandon Weeden: Barack Obama. The camera loves him, and the man knows how to work a crowd.
  • Robert Griffin III: Superman. He can do it all. However, his kryptonite seems to be Big 12 South powers. And he needs a defensive sidekick.
  • Bill Snyder: The Architect. He knows all and watches all, and seems a step ahead of everyone. Also apparently never leaves K-State's facilities. And Snyder would go with the old-school costume from almost a decade ago.
  • Mike Gundy: The GS Boyz. Whatever you want to call Gundy's dance moves, I have to say, its closest relative is the Stanky Legg.
  • Justin Blackmon: Pitbull. If he's on your offense, you know you're about to have a real good time. If you're defending him, you won't be having a real good time. And if there's a football game on, you're going to see him. And watching him is a real good time, with or without Dr. Pepper.
  • Collin Klein: Tim Tebow. Photo 1. Photo 2. Coincidence? I think not. (Honey Badger is already taken, and too easy.)
  • Christine Michael: The Juggernaut. Somebody's got to take the title of biggest wrecking ball. Nobody runs with more power.
  • Dan Beebe: A scapegoat. His ouster had to happen, but last I checked, the Big 12 has lost another member and endured a public snafu with West Virginia's halted entrance to the league since Beebe was shown the door.

Who would you want to see dress up as what?

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 8

October, 20, 2011
Here's what I'm watching in Saturday's set of games.

1. Missouri's offensive mindset. Oklahoma State is going to score at least 30 points. Period. So, how does Missouri combat that? The Tigers have a lot of playmakers, though it lacks a truly fearsome home-run hitter. Does it lean on Henry Josey and try to control possession a bit to keep the ball out of OSU's hands? Or does it come out guns blazing and look to sling it and outscore an underrated but suspect OSU defense?

[+] EnlargeDustin Harris and Terrance Williams
Patrick Green/Icon SMIDustin Harris finally got the A&M defense a turnover last week, intercepting Baylor's Robert Griffin.
2. Turning point for Texas A&M defense. The Aggies finally busted their 22-quarter slump without a turnover last week, and did it against the nation's stingiest quarterback when it comes to turnovers, Baylor's Robert Griffin III. Now, they face Iowa State's Steele Jantz or freshman Jared Barnett, or perhaps both. Jantz's eight interceptions are two more than any quarterback in the Big 12. We may see a big, big day for the defense in the turnover column.

3. Kansas State's front seven. Kansas' offense is better this year behind Jordan Webb, but the real heart of the offense is its running game. Kansas State has the ability to reduce the offense to one dimension with a strong defensive line and great group of athletic linebackers, headlined by Arthur Brown and Emmanuel Lamur. Does K-State do it and make the rival Jayhawks try to beat them with the pass?

4. Oklahoma State's defense. The raw numbers for OSU's defense aren't encouraging. A closer look shows they're deceiving. Want to prove it? Here's a good chance against a good offense. The Tigers will be tough and Oklahoma State's on the short list of possible upset candidates this weekend. A dominant defensive performance like the Cowboys had against Baylor last year would quickly put a stop to that idea.

5. Changing of the tide? Texas Tech has struggled mightily in Norman. I picked it to lose big to the Sooners. Tech has two quality losses that could have easily gone the other way. With a bowl game looking like no guarantee, does Tech respond? The Red Raiders have had a lot of success against Oklahoma in Lubbock, but can they sneak up on the Sooners in Norman in a game most see as an easy Sooners victory?

6. Iowa State's quarterbacks. Is Jantz's foot the biggest reason Barnett has become a factor in the quarterback race? Or if he starts and makes a few mistakes, is Barnett due for some time? It'll be something to watch in a tough matchup for the Cyclones.

7. Oklahoma's defense. This team has been dominant, but Texas Tech is slinging it as well as any team in the league. Without running back Eric Stephens, look for that to continue. Is the Sooners' secondary up to the task?

8. Progress at Kansas. The Jayhawks took a big step forward against a high-powered offense in Oklahoma last week. This week, they'll face a much more grounded, grinding approach from Kansas State. The Jayhawks have big, physical linebackers led by Steven Johnson. Can they derail K-State's dream season for their first Big 12 win?

Weekend rewind: Big 12

October, 17, 2011
Let's take a look back at the memorable plays, players and moments from Week 7 in the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
AP Photo/Jon EiltsTexas A&M's Ryan Tannehill passed for six TDs and 415 yards against Baylor. He also ran for 55 yards.
Best offensive player: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M. Tannehill threw for a career high six touchdowns and 415 yards on 25-of-37 passing in a 55-28 win against Baylor. Tannehill was precise, accurate and poised, and made plays with his feet, too. He added 55 rushing yards on five carries, highlighted by a 34-yard run. Four of his touchdown passes went to our honorable mention selection. Honorable mention: Ryan Swope, WR, Texas A&M.

Best defensive player: A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State. Klein made 12 tackles, including seven in the first quarter, and returned an interception 78 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Missouri. Honorable mention: Jamie Blatnick, DE, Oklahoma State; Nigel Malone, CB, Kansas State; Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas.

Best quarter: Texas A&M’s fourth-quarter defense. With the win against Baylor still in doubt, the Aggies posted a welcome "0" on the scoreboard. The quarter began with a goal-line stand against the Bears. The first play of the next possession resulted in an interception, which was Texas A&M's first turnover in 22 quarters and Robert Griffin's second pick of the season. A&M gave up just one first down in the quarter and earned a sack on Baylor's final possession while the offense put the game out of reach.

Biggest heart: Jake Knott, LB, Iowa State. The Cyclones linebacker hasn't practiced in two weeks and dislocated his shoulder twice in last week's game, popping it back in himself both times and returning to the game. His shoulder was in a sling all week, but he played on Saturday against Missouri and made four tackles with an interception and a forced fumble.

Testiest exchange: Baylor coach Art Briles and the Bryan-College Station Eagle. A reporter, who later identified himself as an Eagle reporter, asked about what Mike Sherman had said to Robert Griffin III after the game. "Is that an A&M question? He doesn't need to answer that," Briles said, asking if the reporter was from A&M. After he identified himself, Briles said, "OK, he doesn't need to answer that," and ignored questions about what was wrong with the inquiry. Not a fan of the oversensitive, unnecessary reaction to a harmless question. No love lost in this now-defunct rivalry. Here's the full video of the exchange.

Best game: Kansas State 41, Texas Tech 34. A second-half comeback, uncharacteristic interceptions, and a late rally complete with a successful onside kick. It also featured two blocked kicks and an interception for a touchdown. The Wildcats got the dramatic come-from-behind win and moved to 6-0, perhaps setting up one of the biggest games of the year next Saturday when it hosts Oklahoma.

Best play: Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma. Broyles sprinted into the record books the way every player hopes to. His NCAA record-breaking 317th career reception went for a 57-yard touchdown against Kansas to make an historic night even more memorable.

Best team performance: Texas A&M. Facing a top 25 opponent, Texas A&M finally put two big-time halves together, outscoring the Bears 31-14 in the second half to earn an impressive 55-28 win.

Best losing effort: Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor. Griffin didn't make enough plays in the fourth quarter, but he was still outstanding with a career-high 430 yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-40 passing.

Best brick wall impression: Raphael Guidry, DT, Kansas State. No man kicks a field goal with Raphael roaming the line of scrimmage. The 6-foot-4, 290-pound senior blocked two kicks in the win against Texas Tech.

Most efficient effort: Jeremy Smith, RB, Oklahoma State. Who needs volume touches? Smith had just seven carries, but turned them into a game-high 140 yards with touchdown runs of 74 and 30 yards.

Best redemption: Texas Tech's onside kick team. You might have seen this group on YouTube racking up millions of hits for giving up a touchdown to Baylor... a week after giving one up to Iowa State to ice a loss in Ames. Last week, though, this group gave the offense one last chance by recovering an onside kick in the final minutes against Kansas State.
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

Looking ahead to Big 12 Media Days

July, 19, 2011
I love Big 12 Media Days for a handful of reasons, chief among them is it's finally some concrete evidence that the upcoming season will, in fact, happen.

It's usually a fun few days, although it will be shorter this year with a new set up of five teams per day in two days, rather than four teams over three days.

I'm looking forward to someone stealing the show -- on the podium for coaches or in the one-on-one room with players. There are a lot of personalities across the league that haven't been given much face time with the cameras, and we might get a look at some budding stars across the league raise their profiles during the week simply by being themselves.

Missouri receiver T.J. Moe (always entertaining, of course) and Brandon Weeden jump out as a couple guys who should do well in the media days setting, which always inevitably includes repetitive questions that players may start to have fun with as the day moves on.

Expect lots of talk about the new Big 12 and loads of questions from everyone about the new division-less world the players exist in, as well as thoughts on not seeing the Blackshirts or Colorado anymore.

But really, the personalities fuel the week.

Oklahoma linebacker Travis Lewis (a man born to be on camera) will be on site, as will fellow big personality Robert Griffin III, Baylor's quarterback.

But there are plenty of players who could join them as personalities. Iowa State linebacker Jake Knott and offensive tackle Kelechi Osemele are both worth getting to know, and Kansas linebacker Steven Johnson should get plenty of questions about his unique rise to become the Jayhawks leading tackler. Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown should get plenty of attention as a wild card loaded with potential, and I'd expect those in attendance to find Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege pretty endearing as well.

It'll be a fun few days, with video and coverage from yours truly throughout, so be sure to keep it here on Monday and Tuesday and later in the week for more from Dallas.
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.