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Unit Rankings: 2012 Big 12 Defensive Lines

Jackson Jeffcoat leads a talented Texas defensive line.

Kickoff for the 2012 college football season is still two months away, but it's never too early to project how the year might play out. Athlon will be taking a look at how each position stacks up in the BCS conferences and nationally until the start of the season.

Each unit ranking was evaluated based upon how it will perform in 2012 - not how the team played in 2011.

Ranking the Big 12's Defensive Lines for 2012

1. Texas Defensive tackle Kheeston Randall is gone, but the Longhorns should still own the Big 12’s top defensive line. Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor form one of the nation’s best end duos after combining for 14.5 sacks last year. Both players have the potential to be first-round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft. Junior Ashton Dorsey is a rising star and will anchor the interior. Sophomore Desmond Jackson is expected to start at the other tackle spot, but junior college transfer Brandon Moore will contribute immediately. Texas finished sixth nationally against the run and ranked 29th with 30 sacks last year. With the talent returning in Austin, the Longhorns could improve those numbers in 2012. 

2. OklahomaThe Sooners need to show vast improvement on defense if they expect to compete for a national title in 2012. The rush defense was average (43rd nationally) but replacing two stars on a unit that was eighth nationally in sacks (3.08 spg) will be tough. Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis’ shoes will be filled by uber-recruit turned senior starter R.J. Washington, who needs to realize his long-assumed athletic ability, and David King. The duo combined for 7.0 sacks last year and needs to develop into leaders. They both received second-team All-Big 12 honors this preseason. The tackles returned largely intact, as a trio of talented options — Stacy McGee, Casey Walker and Jamarkus McFarland — are looking to fulfill their own lofty recruiting hype. Junior college transfer Chaz Nelson and a host of talented underclassmen will provide plenty of depth. Oklahoma has no issues with depth and talent, but the task charged with Mike Stoops is to return the Sooner defense to prominence and a rebuilt line is atop his priority list. It helps that all four starters should be seniors.

3. TCU This unit may not be vintage TCU, but Stansly Maponga will make sure it holds its own. He led the team with 13.5 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles a year ago and has All-American-type potential. His bookend buddy, Ross Forrest, is a fellow returning starter and is the lone senior along the defensive line. At tackle, Jon Lewis and David Johnson both return with plenty of starting experience for Gary Patterson. The starting four has plenty of talent, but the Frogs need to develop some depth behind the front line. This unit finished 25th nationally in rushing defense and only 59th in sacks (1.92 spg) and with most of the talent back in 2012, it could be improved - provided it can stay healthy.

4. Kansas State This unit was underrated nationally last year, as the Wildcats finished 37th in rush defense and held opponents to an average of 4.0 yards per carry. This group returns a couple of key contributors, but will miss second-team All-Big 12 tackle Ray Kibble. Although he didn’t post huge stats (38 tackles), Kibble was a good run-stuffer and will be missed. Meshak Williams led the team with seven sacks last season and is expected to be Kansas State’s top pass rusher once again in 2012. He will be joined at end by senior Adam Davis. Replacing Kibble and Raphael Guidry on the interior will likely fall to seniors Vai Lutui, Javonta Boyd and John Sua. Lutui is the most accomplished out of that group, as he recorded 34 tackles and one sack last year. There’s not a ton of depth coming back, but Williams, Davis and Lutui is a good trio to build around.

5. Oklahoma StateDespite the departures of ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones, the Cowboys’ coaching staff is positive about the outlook for this unit in 2012. Blatnick and Jones combined for 12 sacks last year, so it will be up to seniors Nigel Nicholas (moving from defensive tackle) and Ryan Robinson (21 tackles last year) to generate a pass rush in 2012. Fellow senior Cooper Bassett will also be expected to contribute significantly to the rotation at end. The interior lacks a standout, but the coaching staff has assembled solid depth. Junior college recruit Calvin Barnett is a name to remember for the fall, while junior Anthony Rogers and sophomore Christian Littlehead have significant experience. 

6. West Virginia This team has few glaring weaknesses, but the defensive line might be the biggest. At least, it is the most unknown position on the Mountaineers roster. Losing sackmasters Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller is going to hurt this unit severely. Will Clark is a third-team All-Big 12 pick in the preseason and should be the best of the bunch, while Jorge Wright returns to the nose guard spot in the new 3-4 scheme. These two tackles will need to anchor the middle while Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson find people to rush the passer. Juniors Tyler Anderson and Chidoziem Ezemma need to lock down the defensive end position. The good news for WVU fans is the linebacking corps has plenty of experience and should help get after the quarterback in the new formation.

7. Iowa State While there are no questions with the Cyclones linebackers, coordinator Wally Burnham knows he needs to find answers up front. Losing two veterans from this group will hurt, but senior Roosevelt Maggitt’s return from injury will be closely monitored. He missed all but one game last fall with a knee injury, and should he return to form, has a chance to improve this unit significantly. Otherwise, nose guard Jake McDonough is the lone returning starter. The good news is there are five seniors and a junior in the two-deep, giving this group plenty of experience. Maggitt will be the key, however, if ISU wants to improve on its 98th-ranked rushing defense from a year ago.

8. Baylor Improving the defense is the top priority for coach Art Briles and coordinator Phil Bennett this offseason. This unit gave up 37.2 points a game, while ranking last in the conference in pass defense. Eight starters are back in 2012, but the Bears still have question marks at each level of the unit. The line was pushed around last season, allowing 197.4 yards per game on the ground and barely generated a pass rush (19 sacks). Terrance Lloyd, Gary Mason and Chris McAllister return at end, while the coaching staff anxiously awaits the arrival of Javonte Magee – ranked as the No. 18 overall defensive lineman by Athlon Sports in the 2012 recruiting class. Tevin Elliott was expected to be a key contributor for this unit, but he was suspended indefinitely due to a violation of team rules after spring practice. The interior of the line is a huge concern, especially with the departure of Nicolas Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson. Converted fullback Kaeron Johnson and senior Nick Johnson will get the first opportunity to start at the tackle spots.

9. Kansas One look at the Jayhawks’ depth chart in Athlon’s 2012 Big 12 Preview Annual should say all you need to know about Kansas’ defensive line in 2012. Four newcomers could crack the post-fall two-deep, and there’s very little in the way of proven depth. Senior Toben Opurum is the unit’s biggest reason for hope, and the coaching staff hopes to take advantage of his abilities by sliding him into a hybrid end/linebacker role. Opurum recorded 45 tackles and four sacks last year. Keba Agostinho is a returning starter, but is expected to be pushed by Nebraska transfer Josh Williams for time. The interior of the line is a major concern, especially after Richard Johnson and Patrick Dorsey finished their eligibility last year. Junior college recruits Jordan Tavai and Ty McKinney are expected to contribute right away, while Pat Lewandowski and John Williams will also rotate into the mix. 

10. Texas Tech The defense was a train wreck last fall and the defensive line was a major reason why. Tech ranked 120th in the nation against the run — yes, there were only 120 teams in the country last year. At 1.33 sacks per game, or 100th nationally, the Red Raiders weren’t any better at getting to the quarterback either. The bad news is only one starter returns, while the good news is only one starter returns. Kerry Hyder and Delvon Simmons will man the interior with Leon Mackey and Dennell Wesley backing them up. There is plenty of experience up the middle. Meanwhile, freshman Branden Jackson and sophomore Pete Robertson will hold down the outside with veteran Dartwan Bush relegated to spot duty. Tommy Tuberville has shifted players around, signed junior college athletes, and will play freshman in an effort to somehow improve what is the league’s worst defensive line.


by Braden Gall (@BradenGall) and Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

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