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Athlon Sports ranks the best Big 12 defensive backs of the BCS Era.
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
The Big 12 is known for its elite quarterback play, record-setting wide receivers and innovative offenses. This tends to put a lot of pressure on the defensive backs and secondary coaches in the Big 12 to stop these powerhouse offenses. Here are the best the league had to offer during the BCS Era.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Roy Williams, Oklahoma (1999-2001)
One of the biggest hitters in college football history, Williams dominated college football during his time in Norman. He helped lead the Sooners to an unbeaten BCS National Championship in 2000 while setting the school record for tackles for loss by a defensive back (12.0). The following year, he claimed the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back as well as the Nagurski and Jack Tatum Trophies and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. He was a unanimous All-American, first-round pick of the Cowboys in 2002 and will go down in Red River Shootout lore for this spectacular play in the Cotton Bowl.
2. Terence Newman, Kansas State (1999-2002)
Newman did a little bit of everything for Bill Snyder and Kansas State. He returned kicks and punts and even played some wide receiver. The lockdown cornerback was a two-time All-Big 12 pick, a unanimous All-American, the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top DB and a first-round pick by the Cowboys in 2003. The 2002 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year also was a two-time Big 12 outdoor track champion in the 100 meters and the league champ in the indoor 60 meters.
3. Derrick Strait, Oklahoma (2000-03)
As the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, Strait helped lead an undefeated (13-0) Sooners team to the BCS National Championship as a freshman. By his senior season, Strait had led Oklahoma back to the BCS national title game and was recognized nationally with the Thorpe and Nagurski Trophies as the nation’s top defensive player and top defensive back. Strait also was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2003 and finished his career with 14 interceptions returned for a Big 12-record 417 yards and three touchdowns. Strait was selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft.
4. Michael Huff, Texas (2002-05)
The superstar safety from Texas was a Freshman All-American in 2002 before earning back-to-back first-team All-Big 12 honors as a junior and senior. Huff was a unanimous All-American on the 2005 BCS National Championship team and was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the nation’s top defensive back. He posted 87 tackles, 9.0 for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles on the historic ’05 squad. Huff was the seventh overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft.
5. Aaron Ross, Texas (2003-06)
Ross was a bit of a late bloomer but played a key role on the 2005 BCS National Championship squad. He capped his career in Austin with a stellar '06 campaign in which he won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top DB. Ross played 51 games during his career but only started 15 times, posting 205 tackles and 10 interceptions. He also was a dynamic punt returner, finishing his Longhorns career with 893 return yards and three touchdowns. Ross was a first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.
6. Earl Thomas, Texas (2008-09)
Thomas redshirted and played only two seasons in Austin or he could have been the best defensive back in the Big 12 during the BCS Era. He started all 27 games, posting 135 tackles, 10 interceptions, 29 passes defended, five forced fumbles and two return touchdowns. He was a freshman All-American in 2008 and was a consensus All-American in ’09. Thomas skipped his final two seasons in Austin and was the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft. He has blossomed into one of the NFL’s finest safeties.
7. Aqib Talib, Kansas (2005-07)
Along with Todd Reesing and others, Talib is responsible for the “glory” years of Kansas football. The two-time all-conference pick won the Tatum Trophy as the nation’s top DB and was a unanimous All-American in 2007 — the year KU went 12-1 and won the Orange Bowl. Talib is a troubled individual who has dealt with serious off-the-field issues but his 162 tackles, 13 interceptions and seven total touchdowns (two defense, five offense) made him one of the Big 12’s top playmakers. He was a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
8. Prince Amukamara, Nebraska (2007-10)
Quarterbacks stayed away from this flamboyant coverman during his four-year career. After a monster junior season (64 tackles, two sacks, five interceptions), the entire Big 12 avoided The Prince in 2010. His work as a senior earned him consensus All-American and Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year recognition. The two-time All-Big 12 pick was a first-round selection by the New York Giants in the 2011 NFL Draft.
9. Jason Verrett, TCU (2011-13)
The star cornerback started 34 of his possible 37 career games at TCU. He posted 160 tackles, 10.0 for loss, 34 passes broken up and nine interceptions during his three-year career after coming to TCU from junior college. Verrett was a first-team All-Big 12 selection in both seasons he played in the league and was named co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
10. Ralph Brown, Nebraska (1996-99)
Brown was a member of the All-Decade All-Big 12 team after being named first-team All-Big 12 three times as a Cornhusker. He intercepted 11 passes for 253 return yards and set a school record with 50 passes deflected. He was a consensus All-American in ’99 for the last Nebraska team to win a conference championship.
Just missed the cut:
11. Quentin Jammer, Texas (1998-2001)
The consensus All-American was a two-time, first-team All-Big 12 selection while at Texas. He finished his career with 195 total tackles and seven picks before being selected fifth overall in the 2002 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers.
12. Mike Brown, Nebraska (1996-99)
The Huskers' star safety was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 pick and a first-team selection as a senior on the last Nebraska team to win a league title. He set a school record for tackles by a defensive back with 102 stops as a junior before his stellar final season that featured 96 tackles, six forced fumbles, five interceptions and two sacks. He was a second-round pick by the Bears.
13. Quinton Carter, Oklahoma (2006-10)
He played sparingly in his first three years but was an important contributor for the 2008 Big 12 champs that played in the BCS title game. He posted 88 tackles as a junior and 96 as a senior with four interceptions in each of his final two seasons. Carter was a consensus All-American in 2010 and was a fourth-round draft pick in '11.
14. Michael Griffin, Texas (2003-06)
Griffin played a big role on the 2005 BCS title team, posting 100 tackles on that historic squad. He made 88 tackles and picked off four passes as a junior en route to first-team All-Big 12 honors. He had a knack for making big plays — try nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries.
15. J.T. Thatcher, Oklahoma (1997-2000)
Originally a wide receiver, Thatcher excelled as an All-American defensive back and all-world special teamer. He is one of just three players in Big 12 history to earn the Mosi Tatupu Award as the nation’s top special teams player. He was a first-team All-Big 12 pick and a consensus All-American on the historic 2000 Sooners team that won the BCS National Championship.
Best of the Rest:
16. Terrence Wheatley, Colorado (2003-07)
17. Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State (2010-13)
18. William Moore, Missouri (2005-08)
19. Nathan Vasher, Texas (2000-03)
20. Josh Bullocks, Nebraska (2002-04)
21. Darrent Williams, Oklahoma State (2000-03)
22. Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma (2010-13)
23. Kenny Vaccaro, Texas (2009-12)
24. Nigel Malone, Kansas State (2009-12)
25. Darcel McBath, Texas Tech (2005-08)