Continuing my series of articles breaking down the 2014 Big 12 teams by position and by offensive and defensive units, today we take a look the Big 12 defenses and how they stack up for the coming gridiron season, which is now a mere four weeks away.
People much more knowledgeable than I on the game of college football are staunch advocates of the principle: Stellar offenses win games, but standout defenses are what win championships.
Over the last decade, the Southeastern Conference has been considered by most experts of the college game as the best football conference in America. The reason for that isn’t because SEC teams put up extraordinarily strong offensive numbers. It’s because they are typically strong upfront, with comparable speed and exceptional skills in the back seven, and are able to shut down the best of offenses.
That winning formula has paid off in producing seven consecutive national championships for SEC teams in the past 10 seasons. Four times over that period, Big 12 teams were involved in the national championship game (Oklahoma and Texas both appeared twice, with Texas defeating USC in a wild shootout in the 2005 title game).
Two times in the past decade, the Oklahoma Sooners went into the BCS Championship game as one of the highest scoring teams in the country. And on both occasions – against USC in the 2004 season and Florida in 2008 – the team with superior defenses skills prevailed. The Sooners also benefited from having the better defense in January 2001, when they defeated highly favored Florida State 13-2 for Oklahoma’s seventh national championship and first under head coach Bob Stoops.
One thing you can count on for the coming college football season – as has been the case for the entire 18 seasons the Big 12 has been in existence – Big 12 teams are going to score a bunch of points. That’s just the way it is.
It is not a prudent strategy, however, to think you are going to be able to outscore every opponent every time out through a 12-game season. That’s when having a solid defense that performs consistently, week in and week out, more times than not, becomes the determining factor in which team ultimately comes out on top.
Ranking the Big 12 Teams on Defensive Play Entering the 2014 Season
- Oklahoma Sooners – OU’s secondary will have to replace All-Big 12 CB Aaron Colvin, but there is a lot of talent back there, albeit young. The Sooners’ front seven, though, is among the best he has had at Oklahoma, says head coach Bob Stoops, and that is a scary thought for opposing offenses.
- Texas Longhorns – The Longhorn defensive line may be the best and most important piece of the Texas defensive unit in 2014. The linebacker corps should be better than last season, as well, particularly with a healthy Jordan Hicks, who missed 10 games in 2013. The D-backs are anchored by Quandre Diggs, an All-Big 12 preseason selection, and the brother of former Longhorn defensive back Quentin Jammer.
- TCU Horned Frogs - As long as Gary Patterson is around as head coach, the Horned Frogs are going to field good defensive teams. The Frogs lose All-American cornerback Jason Verrett, but still probably have the best defensive secondary in the conference. There is a preseason issue surrounding the availability of 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, DE Devonte Fields, who was injured all of last season and faces off-the-field issues entering the 2014 campaign.
- Baylor Bears – Head Coach Art Briles believes his defensive front four can be as good as anybody in America. The Bears lose Eddie Lackey and Sam Hull at the linebacker position, but have Bryce Hager, who is on several national award watch lists, back in 2014. The defensive backfield, however, will be totally rebuilt after the departure of All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and the top three cornerbacks.
- Kansas State Wildcats – It’s always hard to gauge a K-State defense, because coach Bill Snyder always manages to come up with defensive play that is better than what it appears on paper. Defensive end Ryan Mueller is of All-Big 12 quality, but his supporting cast is a drop off in talent. The Wildcats have had solid senior leadership at linebacker the last two season, and this year, senior Jonathan Truman will shoulder that load. The loss of Ty Zimmerman in the secondary will be deeply felt. Junior Donte Barnett will be expected to step up in Zimmerman’s absence.
- West Virginia Mountaineers – A year ago, the West Virginia defense ranked 99th in the nation in scoring defense and was even worse in passing yards allowed. The good news is that coach Dan Holgorsen couldn’t say enough good things about the play of the Mountaineers’ defensive backfield play coming out of the spring. The defensive line, though, appears to be the strength of the WVU defense coming into the 2014 season.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys – OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer told Athlon Sports that his defense is hungry for the start of the 2014 season. That is, they’re “hungry to learn and hungry to show what they can do,” he said last spring when interviewed for Athlon’s college preview magazine. The Cowboys have a lot of holes to fill in a defense that ranked fifth in the conference in overall defensive numbers in 2013. The defensive line should be formidable, and there is a lot of talent in the secondary, but it is very young and unproven.
- Texas Tech Red Raiders – Defense has long been a problem for offense-minded Texas Tech, even when Tommy Tuberville, a defense-oriented head coach out of the SEC was in Lubbock. The Red Raiders have looked to the junior-college ranks to replenish its defensive line for 2014. Even bigger questions exist at linebacker and in the secondary.
- Kansas Jayhawks – The Jayhawks may be the worst team in the standings, but they are not at the bottom as far as defensive play is concerned. The Jayhawks should be good but not great in the secondary, but they are bound to get lots of chances to show what they can do because of a sub-average defensive front. Preseason All-Big 12 selection Ben Heeney anchors the Jayhawk linebacker corps.
- Iowa State Cyclones – A couple of senior defensive lineman were dismissed from the team in the spring, leaving a lot of returning inexperience up front. The Cyclones must replace former All-Big 12 linebacker Jeremiah George, and they are relatively inexperienced in the secondary, where their best player may be Nigel Tribune, who is just in his second season.