Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Notes on the Big 12 depth charts

Most of the Big 12 released depth charts for game week, which is always an exciting time for someone who spends large chunks of the offseason building text edit documents tracking those kinds of things.

The major hesitation on the part of multiple coaches across the country to name their starters at quarterback has been part annoying/part amusing to this writer. Hearing Charlie Strong explain how they aren't hurt in preparing for Notre Dame because they have tape on both guys while then insisting on not wanting to allow the Irish to know which QB to prepare for...amusing.

Alright, here are some of the more interesting depth charts I've seen so far in the Big 12.


There's virtually nothing surprising on the Sooner depth chart, perhaps the most interesting note is that former four-star recruit Ricky DeBerry is option B for the Jack pass-rushing position if Obo isn't up for that featured role. Caleb Kelly is competing for Striker's old position while Mark Jackson is behind DeBerry at the Jack spot, exactly as I anticipated.

Jordan Thomas moved over to the left cornerback spot, which tends to end up on the boundary more often and seems to be where Mike Stoops sticks his best corner. Honestly, that has often looked like a mistake over the last few years as it regularly put Zack Sanchez in positions where he had to make fills against the run game. I always found those instances hilarious...

..."nah, you got this bruh."

It looks like 5'10, 160 pound Dakota Fanning will be mostly spared the indignity of avoiding violence at the right cornerback position. Stolen Baylor recruit Parrish Cobb is already listed as the 2nd team cornerback.

Alright, one more "Sanchez avoiding violence" clip and we'll move on.

Kansas State

The most surprising revelation from the K-State depth chart is the youth across the offensive line. From left to right it goes: Redshirt freshman, redshirt freshman, redshirt junior, redshirt senior, redshirt sophomore.

The redshirt sophomore at right tackle, Dalton Risner, is the only returning starter and he played center last year. Now I've seen film (HS or B12) on all of these guys and I think this is a very talented group, well suited to what the Wildcats want to do on offense. That said, part of being a top five "run-scheming offense" is all of the variety they have in how they run the ball and how effective they always are in getting good double teams at the point of attack.

Will such a young group be up to the challenge of executing their diverse playbook? Something to watch.

Other interesting notes include Byron Pringle listed as the lead WR (called it), Jesse Ertz reclaiming the starting role, JUCO transfer DJ Reed rescuing EMAW from watching Johnny D get burned all year at corner opposite Duke Shelley, and Trey Dishon winning the 3-technique defensive tackle spot.

Matt Seiwert actually played well against Arkansas (at the nose, no less) before he was injured so it may really be something that Dishon won that job. I remember being surprised and bought in when Dishon hurdled over a dude as a 290-pound ballcarrier on his HUDL. The Wildcat defense is looking pretty good.


When my man Eric Nahlin (Inside Texas) texted me the released Frog depth chart we both had a good laugh over everyone who thought this team would struggle on offense this year. The level of speed and athleticism written in at the skill positions in Ft. Worth is insane.

First of all, you have former Longhorn recruit Emmanuel Porter now listed as a starter. That dude is all kinds of big and fast. Then you have JUCO transfer Taj Williams, a big target on the outside to help replace Josh Doctson. Finally there's Kavontae Turpin, who's at the top of my preseason watch list for the "Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person."

Assuming Kenny "Trill" is ready to go, and this nice feature by David Ubben portends good things, I think this offense is going to kill this coming year.

Judging by the small size of the Frog defensive backfield, which averages 6'0", 192 pounds with the largest guy standing at 6'3" 210, I'm guessing Patterson will have alternative packages for teams like Arkansas. My bet is that they move Travin Howard to strong safety for that game, move Denzel Johnson to weak safety in place of Nick Orr, and play whoever the 3rd best LB is in Howard's spot.

Against most of the Big 12, this ultra-quick lineup is going to be a nightmare.

Texas Tech

The Raider lineup is fairly interesting with some shuffling here and there that I didn't foresee. They moved inside receiver D.J. Polite-Bray to cornerback and he apparently won the job of Thierry Ngeuma, who was reasonably decent a year ago. D'Vonta Hinton has remained at weakside linebacker while freshman Jordyn Brooks steps in at middle linebacker after Dakota Allen was kicked out.

I'm high on Hinton but can understand wanting him at the will since they like to ask their middle linebacker to make Tampa-2 drops down the pipe and Hinton wouldn't shine in that role. My impression of Brooks out of high school was that he was a good athlete for linebacker but would have to adjust from playing as a safety. That adjustment will be less at the middle linebacker position that spends a lot of time locking down flat routes in man coverage or dropping into a middle 1/3 in terms of coverage. It'll be interesting to see how well he fills the role of inside-backer against run schemes.

Moving nickel/corner Tevin Madison to free safety behind Jah'Shawn Johnson was an interesting move, I thought Madison was okay at times in 2016 and this would seem to bury him.

Much of their season will probably depend on how healthy and conditioned Ondre Pipkins turns out to be after getting pushed out of Ann Arbor by Harbaugh over concerns about his knees.


Lots of interesting things with the Bears' depth chart. Chance Waz is apparently in trouble and they have moved Orion Stewart over to cover safety, elevating former star recruit Davion Hall to the no. 1 spot at the deep safety position. I called this on Twitter and here, it simply makes a lot of sense to move Stewart (who's good in coverage) over to the field in order to get Hall out there.

They're going all-in on the Okie front with Taylor Young as the "Jack" OLB/DE, where he was brilliant a year ago. If they don't get beat up with injuries or distractions the Bears will be fielding a very talented team to start the year. Of course, both of those seem more than likely with likely stars Travon Blanchard and Ishmael Zamora each already taken out by those two factors.

Oklahoma State, Kansas, Texas, Iowa State, and West Virginia

There's not much interesting about OSU's depth chart other than an absence of Barry Sanders at RB and a little bit of shuffling along the line. I'm still curious to see if they unveil a dime package featuring Derrick Moncrief in the box or not.

I've been talking about Texas' lineup for months over at

The Jayhawks are obnoxiously avoiding naming Ryan Willis the starter, I suspect there's legitimate delusion in Lawrence that Montell Cozart may be up to the challenge. They prefer a mobile guy, hoping to emulate Kingsbury's success with athletic, versatile QBs.

Don't blow your chance to finally win a football game, Beaty.

It looks like Campbell is going full-bore with a youth movement. Not totally sure what to make of them for this year although I'm sure they'll be towards the bottom of the league.

Here's the list of Mountaineers expected to lead the death march of Holgorsen's 2016 season.

Stats to track for Texas in 2016

Over at Inside Texas I broke down some stats to track that should indicate how well Texas is growing and adjusting after a horrible 2015 season ($).

Monday, August 29, 2016

Patrick Mahomes and the future of spread quarterbacking

There are dozens of different forces coming together to shape Patrick Mahomes' junior year at Texas Tech. Regular readers are surely well aware that I'm very high on Mahomes and Kingsbury producing another elite offense in 2016.

Here's a breakdown of what makes Mahomes special, why he's likely to lead an elite offense, and how quarterback evaluation and development is changing due to the success of talents like Mahomes.

Check it out at Vice Sports.

Picking Big 12 games against the spread

Last year I publicly humiliated myself by trying to pick some Big 12 games against the spread. I've decided to try and again with the week one games so that you can all marvel at how brilliant I am or else point and laugh at how horribly off my selections end up being. History says the latter is more likely, I guess we'll see.

Part of the problem last year is that when you don't actually bet and you just make picks for ignore home and away and take bad chances. I'm not going to change the part about betting, I think gambling is a foolish vice, but I'll try and make more measured picks and see what happens.

Baylor vs Northwestern (no line)

Obviously the Bears gonna roll the whatever NW St's mascot is's.

Pick: Baylor will win, can't guess against the line obviously.

Oklahoma -10 at (ish) Houston

Everyone's models on Oklahoma are based on what they did last year against a schedule that was decimated by injuries. Meanwhile the Sooners played four opponents a year ago that relied heavily on the QB run game: Tennessee, Texas, K-State, and Clemson. They went 2-2 in those games and looked out-toughed in the losses and vulnerable to the QB run game in every contest save for against the Wildcats.

This game is going to be a very useful barometer for whether the Sooners can match the hype this year or if they are still vulnerable to A) solid teams that aren't missing their QB or B) the QB run game. In a few weeks they'll face another barometer of whether they can hang with teams that also have elite talent (Ohio State).

In the meantime, I'm not giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Pick: Oklahoma wins but fails to cover.

Kansas State +15 at Stanford

Boy is that ever a lot of points for a team that's replacing their QB facing another team that normally overachieves but were devastated by injuries a year ago. It kinda looks like the oddsmakers just said, "okay so Arkansas beat KSU by 22 points and Stanford basically = Arkansas so..."

Stanford does return McCaffrey and will be playing from the comfort of their own stadium. It'll also help the Cardinal a great deal to have extra time to prepare for the Wildcat offense, which is pretty unique in college football. All that said, I think the markets currently (almost perpetually, really) undervalue K-State.

Pick: Stanford wins, fails to cover.

West Virginia -9.5 vs Missouri

Amongst my various non-consensus takes on the coming season is my firm belief that West Virginia is overrated and won't survive their grievous losses on defense from graduation/injury. Meanwhile, Missouri is probably going to be pretty good on defense and can't possibly be that bad again on offense with Drew Lock now solidly entrenched as the starter in a new system.

At the very least it seems unlikely that West Virginia's offense will be able to drop enough points to cover that spread but I think Missouri might actually have the better team.

Pick: Missouri wins outright

Oklahoma State vs Southeastern Louisiana (no line)

Only interesting thing here will be whether the Cowboys can run the ball or not. Last year doing so even against lower level competition was a real struggle.

Pick: Pokes roll

Kansas vs Rhode Island (no line)

I pause here to remind everyone that Kansas hasn't won a football game yet for David Beaty...people this could be it.

Pick: Celebration in Lawrence!

Texas +3.5 vs Notre Dame

Wow, the money must be pouring in on Notre Dame to give Texas that many points. I'll preview this one over at Inside Texas but I think most of the decisive match-ups in this game are either draws or favor the Irish save perhaps for Sterlin Gilbert vs Brian VanGorder.

Both of the possible Notre Dame starters at QB would start at Texas, for instance. That seems likely to have an impact on this game.

Pick: Notre Dame covers

The rest of the games aren't even worth mentioning. What do y'all think?

Imagining Alabama with Jalen Hurts as QB

Doing so is somewhat akin to downing a bowl of ice cream while watching scary movies, you're just setting yourself up for a sleepless night.

Of course he's just a freshman, so there will probably be growing pains. The Alabama offense isn't exactly high level sodoku though so there's a good chance he can gain a decent mastery of Kiffin's system and be rolling by the end of the year.

Read all about it over at Football Study Hall.

Previewing Auburn vs Clemson

I broke down how Malzahn's squad will have to find some answers in a hurry to take on the contenders in Clemson over at SB Nation.

I think Malzahn's fate was sealed when Sean White was named the starter because John Franklin III wasn't ready to take over. Unless this team has a really good WR and RB on the roster that no one's heard of yet (possible) who can command attention, I think this is Malzahn's last year at the Barn.

Funny thing is, I think the defense might actually be quite good despite hiring everyone's former DC, Kevin Steele. They looked pretty sound in the spring game and they have the right pieces to make his system work.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Texas' easier finish: West Virginia, Kansas, TCU

Over at Inside Texas I concluded my preview of the Longhorns' schedule with their final three-game stretch of West Virginia, Kansas, and TCU. Go there and you can hear my thoughts on how those teams look, how they match-up with Texas, and some extra insights on why the Frogs are a particularly tough challenge for the Longhorns.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Curious that there aren't more TEs in the Big 12

My man @The_Coach_A continues to crank out amazing articles at on how modern quarters defense is played. The most recent one is on defending tight end sets. If you're a fan of most any Big 12 team save for Oklahoma or Texas this article is pretty relevant to how your team plays defense.

The only sense in which it isn't relevant is that the Big 12 doesn't use tight ends very often. Head official Walt Anderson was noting a new rule on tight ends and cut blocks at Big 12 media days and he said he struggled to even find cut-ups from Big 12 play where a team was even using a tight end.

Baylor, perhaps the ultimate spread team in the league, is one of the squads that most regularly utilizes the position. Kansas State does as well as they use just about every formation and position known to man.

You'll also note from the article the importance of the middle linebacker being able to play some coverage and move. I think one of the biggest revelations from the 2015 season was that some inside linebackers are now officially just toughened up box safeties. When Travin Howard is leading one of the league's best defenses in tackles playing middle linebacker at 190 pounds you have to rethink the position some.

Finally, if you're reading regularly or you've watched Baylor or Michigan State play defense a lot over the last few years you'll note that there's little sense in offenses trying to create leverage around the box against these teams.

The shallow and active play of the safeties means that if one of these teams has laterally quick LBs who know what they're doing combined with downhill-filling safeties with a little bit of burst then there's no angle or leverage that can be gained which won't be quickly stymied.

It drove me crazy looking back at Jim Harbaugh's game plan for Michigan State last year when he kept trying to manipulate some angles for their run game when none of his backs had breakaway speed and the Sparty safeties were always going to arrive to clean things up near the line of scrimmage anyways.

You have to attack these aggressive quarters teams deep with the passing game. It's the only way.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Oh the places you'll go...if you have a lockdown corner in the Big 12

Just one. That's all it takes and your average, quarters-based Big 12 defense has a fantastic chance of playing good defense.

I'm not talking about a lead corner, or the guy who you say is the lockdown guy because he's the best guy on the team, I'm talking about a player than can take a receiver in man coverage without help and thrive. If you have that guy on your team, there are endless options for you to make hay against opposing offenses.

I've written that free safety is the most important position, because that guy can't be bad, but there's no higher upside to be had than having a true lockdown corner. A dominant defensive tackle is a close second but the Nebraska Cornhuskers were still good in 2010 after Suh was gone..okay, okay, so maybe they still had Jared Crick.

Nevertheless, if I had my druthers I'd still want the lockdown corner. Especially if my defense was based in quarters. Give me competence everywhere else and we'll be in good shape. The value to be had from having a superstar there is hard to even quantify.

For instance, I've had the debate a few times with people over exactly how good Texas Tech will be this year. They were fantastic on offense last year, finishing second in the whole country in Offensive S&P, but they also lost their LT Le'Raven Clark, RB DeAndre Washington, and WR Jakeem Grant.

Clark was a good player, drafted in the third round, Washington had consecutive 1k yard seasons and was drafted in the fifth round. Jakeem Grant was awarded the "Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person" for TWO different seasons.
All of those guys are big losses...but Texas Tech is quarterbacked by a guy in Pat Mahomes who can hit every part of the field with his cannon arm and they utilize a spread designed by Kliff Kingsbury. Their skill players are going to be operating in a ton of space on a regular basis, you don't have to be Randy Moss to thrive in that setting.

So despite those losses I have zero doubts that Texas Tech will again be highly effective on offense in 2016. I mean, just look at this:
The only way to handle offenses of the sort that guys like Kingsbury can put on the field is to limit the amount of space that they have to work in.

There are a few ways to do that, but if you have a lockdown cornerback your options in this regard expand considerably. Here's a glimpse into the schematic world of containment options afforded to teams that have a man-coverage guru...

Against the run

Thanks to the rise of run/pass option plays (RPOs) you can no longer afford to just be good against the spread passing attack OR the spread rushing attack, which quarters was otherwise a phenomenal means of accomplishing. You gotta be able to stop both simultaneously.

I outlined the easiest way to do this in my article listing the top run-support safeties in the Big 12. You get the boundary safety involved as a free hitter against the run game by asking the cornerback to handle any vertical routes by the boundary side receiver without help over the top.

But because you're on the boundary, the quick hitch or out is pretty hard to cover unless the corner is right up there on the cornerback. It's just such a short throw that even a noodle-armed QB can get the ball out there to hit the window. If the QB and WR are in sync with accurate tosses and that WR is hard to tackle for any reason (size, speed, sheer toughness) then you're going to struggle to avoid giving up easy gains. That means you're now also vulnerable to getting impatient and getting caught by the hitch and go:
Texas' abilities to nail quick routes to big John Harris in 2014 from Swoopes' cannon arm was pretty much the only thing that offense had going for them. The skinny post off play-action, run behind the safety is another lethal throw that's made possible from this style of coverage.

Anyways, a team that relies on playing off coverage on the boundary in order to involve the safety is at risk of either death by a thousand paper cuts on quick easy throws or seeing their players get undisciplined and caught by a double move or play-action.

The ideal solution is to do what Sparty used to do, what Alabama does, and what Baylor has tried to mix in and play press-man without help.
Now the routes and throws that the offense has to try and use to beat the coverage are much more difficult. You're talking about fades, back shoulder fades, or just really sharp breaks that are well executed in order to punish press coverage. If that press corner is elite then you're trading in really high efficiency throws for very, very low efficiency throws and it's happening to your most accessible receiver when the ball is on the hash mark.

I know, I know, I headlined this section about the run game and I'm just talking about the passing game. That's kind of the point though, lockdown corners that can truly lock down a top target's route tree can prevent offenses from punishing a loaded front.

The defense can now load the middle of the field and bring pressure on the run game from one or both edges by utilizing the nickel and/or the boundary safety. Against normal formations I'd argue the best value comes from having the lockdown corner over the boundary side receiver.

Why? Because the other outside receiver is harder to reach thus teams don't really scheme help to the far outside routes. If there's no help to free up then there's little advantage to using the lockdown corner there. The beauty this player offers against the run is the ability to maintain numbers in the middle of the field so that the offense doesn't have space to play in.

Against trips formations

Against a 3x1 set there's an advantage to be had from having a lockdown corner either to the field or the boundary. Again, the value in a lockdown corner is allow the defense to X-out a receiver, forget about him, and focus on stuffing everything else.

So having the lockdown corner aligned to the field can be valuable in allowing a defense like this:
You don't have the benefit mentioned in the above section of a lockdown corner in the boundary, taking away that easy candy, but on third and medium or third and long the defense could play cover 2 on the boundary. Cover 2 takes away the easy candy for the passing game, although it'd be pretty easy to run on unless that corner is a boss on the edge.

If you're reading the links on the side of this blog, you may have read this amazing post on trips coverages by Coach A. on He breaks down some of the specifics of these coverages and mentions this K-State version of the coverage:
K-State virtually never has the athletes to play lockdown corner. They sometimes put a lot on Morgan Burns last year and he was blazing fast but not really up for even what they did ask from him.

As I gleaned from looking at the best defenses of the second Snyder-era, when the Wildcats have been their best is when they have guys that can play off coverage techniques like the one above and then jump routes when the QB makes mistakes or tries to force a ball in without enough zip or accuracy. Duke Shelly is a really complete young DB that might fit that mold if he doesn't ever quite become a true lockdown guy.

The best place to have your lockdown guy vs trips is still on the boundary because then you can use the boundary safety in a variety of different ways to attack the offense. My favorite is the Sparty/Ohio State "solo" adjustments where he picks up the opposite field slot on deep routes and plays aggressively against the run:
This is why Gareon Conley is vitally important to the Buckeyes this year. If he lockdown the boundary they can deny the far hash due to the space on the field, deny the boundary receiver with Conley, and then have their supremely talented linebackers and boundary safety sitting in the middle of the field...
I like Michigan to win the Big 10 but Ohio State will be tough to beat if Conley allows those kinds of options and Meyer builds a strong offensive concept around Barrett. Neither of those are exactly "unlikely scenarios."

On the blitz

The best thing about the split field, quarters-based concept might be the blitzes. When a defense can play a conservative zone coverage to half the field and bring a wild, man-blitz on the other it really mucks up the reads for the QB and can lead to a bad day.

Normally when a QB sees a single linebacker or defensive back coming off the edge or up the middle, he expects to see a single-high safety coverage with man or match-up zone underneath. Not so with modern quarters defenses, who can play different coverages to either side of the field.

With the defense playing man coverage on the boundary, there's no longer a "2 over 1" or "3 over 2" advantage to maintain, which frees up someone to blitz. Many teams like to blitz the cornerback off the edge, but if he's a lockdown guy perhaps you want him locking down that receiver while the weakside LB or safety come after the QB:
The corner can also free up the opposite side of the field to bring pressure if the defense wants to use their freed up boundary safety to roll to the field to help out over there:
For the purpose of blitzing, it's helpful if the entire secondary can at least hold up in man coverage and offer something on the blitz, but a single lockdown player can still free up other players to help each other out.

Scheming advantages against good opponents, especially Big 12 offenses, is very difficult unless the defense has the following traits:

1. No weak links!

Everyone on the field needs roles they can fill and perform without committing egregious errors or being easily targeted. Weak spots will always be isolated and hammered by at least one opponent on the conference schedule.

2. Someone that tilts the advantage back to the defense.

This could be a defensive tackle that has to be double-teamed, a pass-rusher that can't be blocked without leaving a RB or TE home to block, or a lockdown corner that can allow the defense to shrink the field and reduce the stress of spread out formations.

If OU's Jordan Thomas, TCU's Ranthony Texada, or one of Texas' cornerbacks is up for this role in 2016 it could open up the world to their defense and equalize the advantages normally enjoyed by the league's offenses. If not, those teams will need to find advantages elsewhere.

Talking Mizzou's Tampa-2

When Barry Odom took over at Mizzou after leading a strong defense at Memphis I anticipated that he would bring his aggressive, blitzing 3-4 defense with him to Columbia. Instead, he embraced what Mizzou already had going for them in a modern, Tampa-2 oriented defense.

I answered some questions about how their system works and makes the most of Mizzou's athletes here for RockMNation. I'll be curious to see if this defense starts to catch on more elsewhere.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Previewing Wisconsin vs LSU

Should be a good one, I think Wisconsin is about caught up to the SEC powers in terms of size and strength up front on both sides of the ball.

The question now is whether they can handle LSU's athleticism in the secondary. Follow the link for a nice breakdown of typical Dave Aranda blitz genius.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Previewing Texas A&M vs UCLA

Texas A&M should be really good this year, depending on how much they can get out of Trevor Knight at QB. Meanwhile, the UCLA Bruins are revamping their offensive style to get the most out of the Josh Rosen era.

As a result, their opening match-up should be a fascinating battle, particularly in terms of evaluating these quarterbacks. Read about it at SB Nation.

Previewing the toughest stretch of the Texas 2016 schedule

I think the third quarter of the Texas schedule may be the toughest as they travel to Manhattan to take on Snyder-ball with a very young team, come home to play the always explosive Baylor Bears, and then try to "Escape from Lubbock."

I think Notre Dame, TCU, and Oklahoma are the best teams Texas will play in 2016 but this may be the hardest stretch of three games for the young Longhorns.

Read about how I think those teams project against Texas by following this link.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Big 12 Twitter-bag: Volume IV

With fall camps bringing news of Big 12 teams figuring out their depth charts, working out their team identities, and in some cases losing crucial pieces it's a great time to break down news around the league with a round of Twitter-bag!

It's definitely shaping up to be another interesting Big 12 seasons.
Of course! I could see Oklahoma losing two games before conference play starts thanks to early dates with Houston and Ohio State. I suspect the Cougars would currently be one of the better teams in the Big 12 and they have more than enough talent for Herman and Orlando to fashion into a good unit.

Ohio State is one of the most talented teams in the whole country, that's what happens when you combine a school that can get the best players in a talent-rich region with a coaching legend who's excellent both in evaluating and recruiting. The Buckeyes are young and vulnerable but they do have more talent than the Sooners and they return their QB which makes it easier on a young team trying to find a team identity. Everything on offense will fit around what JT Barrett can do, which makes it easier for young guys to nail down roles. On defense they're pretty simple so it's usually fairly easy for them to just plug in athletes.

I doubt the Sooners win both of these games or that they run the table in the Big 12. I'd say the prospects are very good for Oklahoma winning the Big 12 with a 10-2 (8-1) season and then missing the playoffs.
There's a chance but I'm not betting on it. Mixon and Perine have very complementary skill sets whereas D'Onta Foreman and Chris Warren are both excellent power backs that will rotate in for each other. Mixon and Perine can regularly share the field and I think there's a good chance we see Perine rush for 1200 yards or so and then see Mixon add 500+ on the ground and then another 500 or so receiving.

Oklahoma knows that their running game is where it's at and they'll make it a point of emphasis. Last year they worked out some early kinks in their run game and ended up being really good there. This season they return three starting OL and the same OC so I think they'll literally hit the ground running.
Nothing too shocking, really. It's all about Obo for me, and then his back-ups at that Jack OLB position. If OU can get a great pass-rush from those guys then they'll probably be the class of the league.
I doubt they win the Big 12 without Mayfield and they certainly wouldn't make the playoffs. I don't see Oklahoma as being so far above the rest of the league that they could take a huge hit like that and not become vulnerable to losing to K-State, Tech, Texas, Baylor, or in Bedlam. People in this league can drop a lot of points on you and if you're suddenly rolling with an untrustworthy QB then things can get out of hand.

They'd still run the ball pretty well and play defense though so I'll say something like 8-9 wins, depending on which games he missed.

Oklahoma and Texas both have a few OL apiece that will be the biggest, baddest guys on the field on a given Saturday next year. I think the Oklahoma OL will probably be the class of the league but the Texas one may give people some problems as well and West Virginia will run the ball down some people's throats at times.

As I noted in my breakdown of the league's nose tackles, the league is lacking a lot of really strong DL.

Oklahoma's Charles Walker should cause some problems and I'm curious to finally see Neville Gallimore in action because I was really high on his film. TCU's entire defensive front will probably be solid though maybe not dominant, same for their OL. Iowa State's Demond Tucker will be an interesting one to watch, last year they were slanting him around as a 0-tech in their 3-4 defense but this year they return to the 4-3 and will be playing him as a 3-technique where he's a more natural fit. He's supposedly been working on his conditioning also, which would be huge because he was very inconsistent a year ago dashing into the backfield one snap and then getting caught and driven off the ball the next due to lack of effort.

I'm all in on Kansas State's Byron Pringle to have a big impact this year and Kavontae Turpin to win my "Darren Sproles water bug trophy for most outstanding tiny person."

Texas Tech is going to have some guys go off in a big way because, well they always do, but also because Patrick Mahomes is about to go ape on this league. Cameron Batson may surprise people with his numbers in the slot but Derrick Willies and Dylan Cantrell figure to do real damage on the outside. Ian Sadler will of course have a ton of receptions.

If you don't already know the names Ka'Raun White and Shelton Gibson you might start learning them, although word out of Morgantown is that their offense still hasn't put it all together.

I think people will be surprised by how good Dede Westbrook is at Oklahoma, they didn't really have to use all of their WR talent last year because Shepard was always open.
The better question is probably, "who can Baylor afford to redshirt?" I think the WRs and DBs that don't crack the two-deep will shirt, and there will be a few of those, and I suspect LB Deonte Williams will shirt. Everyone else will be needed due to the lack of scholarship players on the roster and the hits from suspensions. I think losing Jeremy Faulk was probably the most grievous to this team since Roy may now be pressed into action as the starting nose tackle.
For Oklahoma: Getting pass-rush from the new OLBs, so Obo or maybe one of the younger guys.

For TCU: Can they foster an identity around the new QB quickly? Hill and Sawyer are fairly different QBs and the Frogs will need to get the most out of whoever the starter is. I'm naming Sawyer the X-factor for how he pushes Hill in fall camp or what he brings if he wins the starting job, presumably a big time arm.

For Okie lite: They HAVE to run the ball some and they have to replace some major athletes on defense. Let's go with Jarell Owens, the young DE, who needs to become the next Jamie Blatnick sooner than later.

For Baylor: They gotta find a nose tackle and avoid all of the distractions. Let's say Seth Russell, if he has the kind of statistical season he was on track for last year then the Bears will be okay. That happens if Chris Platt has a huge year taking the top off opponents.

For K-State: Jesse Ertz needs to be one of the top stories of 2016.

For Texas: Shane Buechele needs to be one of the top stories of 2016.

For Texas Tech: I'll go with young DT Breiden Fehoko, who was promising a year ago but not always assignment-sound. If they make a leap of improvement across their D-line then I'm pretty sure the defensive backfield will end up being fairly solid. Combine that with what could be the league's best offense and you really have something.

West Virginia, Iowa State, and Kansas aren't competing for the Big 12 crown in any possible future I can envision in 2016.
Mike already ruled out a negative change, like perhaps converting the Oklahoma offense into a single-wing that just runs the QB or into a pro-I set that doesn't have any tight ends to work with.

In previous years this would be easy, I'd call for Texas to install a coherent spread system that could allow them to make the most of all the superior young athletes on the roster but now that's finally happened.

Oklahoma State running more of a multiple formation, up-tempo offense with tight ends that really zeroes in on mastering outside zone is something that could actually happen and might yield fruit. They have to run the ball and that'd be one way to do it.

West Virginia adopting K-State's single-wing QB run game and making it the major focus of their offense is something less likely to happen that would have a huge impact and might save their season.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Mike Leach still at it with the Air Raid

You can read about how Leach is plugging away with the Air Raid out at Wazzu while also adopting a modern take on the Tampa-2 defense over at Football Study Hall.

Note that his start QB was a 0-star walk-on that is 6'4" 215. Tell me again about how it's not possible for scouts to miss talent these days.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ranking the best nose tackles in the Big 12

Earlier in the year I broke down some of the common positions and archetypes you tend to find in the Big 12 these days, including the nose tackle who's job it is to keep the linebackers free from blockers and thus limit creases.

Andrew Billings was the best nose tackle in the Big 12 in 2015 and although he wasn't drafted high, his ability to beat double teams was essential in a league where RPOs (run/pass option plays) require that teams be able to play 5.5 defenders in the box.

You can read some about how Baylor accomplished this with Billings and how it works in quarters coverage in general on this phenomenal blog.

No matter the specific tactics, spread formations and RPOs require that quarters defenses be able to widen out their linebackers to deny easy passing lanes without getting mauled in the middle of the field. How do you buy time for that? With a DL that can command and resist a double team for a second or two in the A-gaps before the linebackers commit and arrive to fill creases.

That's a tough gig on a play like inside zone where a quick, 290 pound center and a big, 310 pound guard are coming at you. However, for guys who can play at a low pad level with quick, violent hands, it can be feasible. Andrew Billings was such a guy for Baylor last year.

Here's a ranking of the 10 main defensive tackles that will be called upon to serve in this role in 2016 for the Big 12:

No. 1: Will Geary, Kansas State

6-0, 297. Redshirt junior.
2015 season: 45 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles

Geary was a walk-on at Kansas State and a former HS champion in's funny that a kid who's naturally low to the ground yet thick, powerful, and skilled at grappling would be overlooked as an obvious candidate to excel at defensive tackle yet here we are.

The Wildcat nose is perhaps the best in the conference at standing his ground against double teams but can also add some stunting and pass-rush to a D-line as well.

No. 2: Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State

6-3, 300. Redshirt junior.
2015 season: 48 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks

Taylor is easily one of the better names on this list. He had a strong season a year ago, particularly working in the pass-rush inside of Ogbah and Bean who both commanded some attention. His partner Motekiai Maile was a boost as well, limiting the occasions in which he was battling double teams, but there's simply no denying that Taylor was strong up the middle in his own right.

I bet he'll get more attention in 2016, and more doubles, but he has the quickness to avoid getting washed out and he can dominate a guard in isolation.

No. 3: Matt Romar/Jordan Wade, Oklahoma

6-0, 300. Redshirt junior. 6-3, 310. Redshirt senior.
2015 season: 46 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks (combined)

This position is a timeshare at Oklahoma with Matt Romar technically serving as the starter but Wade getting as many snaps. Wade is probably the more disruptive player when not doubled but both are solid at commanding their A-gap and allowing the linebackers to read flow and run free to the football.

The Sooner front is all about eating blocks and space inside, even for the ends who might otherwise be pretty nasty in a more aggressive front, and these two are solid in their role in the middle. The nature of their alignment (over the center) means that they are typically grappling with the center and looking to fill an A-gap and then make the play if they aren't doubled by the guard. They don't make a ton of plays as a result although Wade's superior length at 6'3" might allow him a better chance to work his way into the backfield in his final year.

No. 4: Breylin Mitchell, TCU

6-3, 270. Sophomore
2015 season: 4 tackles, 1 tackle for loss

Mitchell was a surprise in spring ball after starting behind some other candidates in the Frog DL corps. Once again, you look at nose tackle play and you see something interesting and largely unexamined about a team. TCU looks like they'll be a load on defense in 2016 but they still have to replace Davion Pierson in the middle and will be looking to a true sophomore to lead the way. Mitchell played so little in 2015 that I'm not sure I've seen any snaps of him.

I have seen snaps from the guys he's beating for the job and some of them are pretty solid so I'm still comfortable in my seat on the TCU bandwagon.

No. 5: Chris Nelson, Texas

6-1, 307. Redshirt sophomore
2015 season: 7 tackles, 1 sack

Nelson is the main hope for Texas of fielding a tackle in 2016 that can regularly take on double teams without getting blown off the line of scrimmage. The likely starters, Poona Ford and Paul Boyette, are both much better when attacking guards and looking to shoot gaps but then less effective if they find a 2nd OL in their path. Texas also has some freshman coming in that should grow into fine nose tackles with time and seasoning.

In the meantime, they'll be relying on redshirt sophomore Chris Nelson to be a force in the middle and keep their young, athletic LB corps from getting linemen in their faces all day every Saturday. He showed a lot of promise here in 2015 with a thick, sturdy frame that's low to the ground and hard to move combined with quick feet that allowed him to play fullback and linebacker in high school.

No. 6: Daniel Wise, Kansas

6-3, 290. Redshirt sophomore.
2015 season: 26 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks

The Jayhawk front is designed to try and protect their DTs from double teams by slanting them from 2-technique alignments into the A or B gaps after the snap. Within that system, Wise was pretty active in 2015 and he played with good pad level overall. He's more or less who I would have hoped he'd be (were I a Kansas fan) after evaluating his high school tape when he was an aggressive and active, 240-pound DE.

Given that he was just a redshirt freshman last year, his tape is actually quite good. He'll need to be a bit more disruptive in 2015 to justify a system that defers stress to the linebackers and safeties but he seems to be a solid piece to the puzzle for Beaty and co.

No. 7: Pierre Aka, Iowa State

6-4, 295. Redshirt senior.
2015 season: 20 tackles, .5 tackles for loss

Aka served as a DE in a 3-4 scheme for the Cyclones last year, playing a technique similar to the one employed by the Sooners. Now in Heacock's 4-2 fronts he moves to nose tackle in order to allow the ultra-disruptive Demond Tucker to line up as a 3-technique.

His length will be useful there for keeping down blocks and double teams away from his body and he's been doing so for a year already while working against guards and tackles. With extra bulk and an offseason of coaching in this fine art from the new staff I think he may be quite solid here in 2016.

Tucker's the one you'll hear about though, freed up to play as a weakside 3-tech that guy could make some real noise in 2016.

No. 8: Darrien Howard, West Virginia

6-1, 295. Senior.
2015 season: 16 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack

Last year Howard got some action as the pass-rushing nose option behind sturdy senior, Kyle Rose. He's pretty quick for a squatty DL and offered some nice value there for the Mountaineers. West Virginia uses a zero-technique and tries to help their nose tackles avoid double teams by getting into the chest of the center and then working into either A-gap and there's reason to believe that Howard will be reasonably effective at this. Overall he'll likely be a marginal downgrade from Rose.

No. 9: Byron Bonds, Baylor

6-2, 290. Senior
2015 season: 7 tackles, .5 tackles for loss

The Baylor DL has been devastated by graduation, Billings' early departure to the NFL, and then suspensions for prospective starters Jeremy Faulk and Brian Nance. Faulk was the intended solution for how to replace Billings but now it looks like the Bears will have to play some 3-man fronts and lean on Byron Bonds.

This is a pretty dubious situation, imo. Bonds played mostly as a 3-technique a year ago and was generally just attacking gaps. When he has to stand his ground against down blocks or double teams things don't generally go too well. If the Bears line him up as a zero technique they can avoid him facing many down blocks but if opponents want to single-team him or perhaps send a guard his way for a quick push before moving on to a linebacker I have real doubts about whether he'll be able to make them pay. There probably isn't a DL for Baylor that needs to be double-teamed on run downs, which will be a problem.

Ondre Pipkins/Broderick Washington, Texas Tech

6-3, 330. Redshirt senior. 6-3, 308. Redshirt freshman
2015 season: N/A

If Texas Tech is horrendous at run defense again look no further than this position for an explanation of why. Gibbs will probably have a stronger front overall and regularly use Jah'Shawn Johnson to help out in the box, but both of these guys are big question marks. Pipkins was pressured to retire by Harbaugh at Michigan after knee troubles prevented him from being the Under front nose tackle he was intended to be for basically his entire career. The hope is that a year off for his knee and some conditioning will have him ready to put in a year's work plugging holes for Tech in the Big 12.

I don't doubt the talent, but I question Pipkins' ability to finally have that healthy season. Bad knees+330 pound frames+double teams+Texas heat=....

Then you have Broderick Washington, who's never played a college game and projected as a quick but undersized OL coming out of high school. He's going to be ready to provide 40 snaps or more of double-team consuming play in the interior? Also very iffy.

Talking through Texas' 3-game stretch of Ok St, OU, and Iowa St

Get some of my thoughts on each of these teams and how they currently appear to match up to Texas by following this link.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

My take on the coaches' poll top 25

This poll came out a few days ago but I'm only just now getting around to glancing at it to see what the conventional wisdom is on the upcoming college football season. The interesting thing about the modern information age is how much you can control the information you have access to. This is, no doubt, a part of why politics are becoming increasingly hostile as everyone is largely insulated.

Anyways, here's the top 25 per the coaches' poll with my own annotations on these teams:

1. Alabama

Fair enough, right? Who's their QB again? Doesn't really matter unless it's Jalen Hurts and then this season gets really interesting.

2. Clemson

I'm betting on Florida State to win the ACC but Clemson is just a no-brainer. They're insanely loaded on offense and you don't to bet against Venables on defense.

3. Oklahoma

I think there's little chance that Oklahoma justifies this ranking. Their offense will blow the doors off most of the Big 12 and the defense will be athletic enough for that to be enough more often than not but they won't be as lucky as they were in 2015 and they may not be as good either.

4. Florida State

Like I said last week, I'm high on the 'Noles this year. This is a team that is perfectly assembled to allow Francois to do tremendous damage by just competently getting the ball outside to their underrated receiver corps when they're facing favorable match-ups. Thanks to Dalvin Cook, that will be occurring on the reg.

5. Ohio State

I don't think it's reasonable to put tOSU this high unless you simply have a ton of faith in Urban Meyer's ability to fashion young talent into a team very quickly. I suppose we've seen him do it before. This is a team that could be a rolling ball of butcher knives late in the year if they can hang on early when the young defenders are still figuring things out.

6. LSU

There's actually quite a lot that has to come together for LSU to justify some of their loftier rankings. Aranda's confusing scheme has to translate (not unlikely), their DTs need to play better (not unlikely), Maea Teuhema needs to transition from a phenom freshman guard to a phenom sophomore left tackle (still not unlikely), and Brandon Harris needs to master Cam Cameron's pro-style offense (iffy). Should be easy to tell early in the year if LSU is going to underachieve and join the Tom Herman sweepstakes or keep rolling with the grass-eater.

7. Stanford

I was generally dismissive of concerns about Stanford replacing Kevin Hogan until I noticed recently that the Cardinal finished 5th in the nation last year in 3rd down conversion rate and were one of two power 5 conference teams in the top five. I think a lot of that had to do with McCaffrey, who returns, but certainly Hogan must have played a part as well.

I still think Stanford will be strong, but I'm less bullish on them going to the playoffs now.

8. Michigan

The only questions with Michigan are if they can find a pair of reliable linebackers to replace the decent guys they lost and if Harbaugh can make something of John O'Korn. I wrote an article for MGoBlog's annual publication "Hail to the Victors" where I explained why I think that latter point is a very good bet.

I'd rank Michigan in the top 4, personally. Do you feel better about Harbaugh molding O'Korn or Meyer developing his defense? Michigan overcoming the Big 10 or Oklahoma winning out in the Big 12?

9. Notre Dame

Interesting. This is a team that lost seven guys to the NFL and currently aren't sure which of their two very talented quarterbacks will be the starter. Meanwhile, their defense is largely rebuilt and has struggled with VanGorder's complicated schemes for a few consecutive seasons now. I'm sure they'll be good but top 10 seems generous.

10. Tennessee

They're going to be nasty on defense, that's for sure, but that was also true a year ago. I'm less sold on their offense and am just not confident that they'll put together a season that puts them amongst the nation's elite at the end of the year.

11. Michigan State

This is a "respect Dantonio" choice more than a rational take on the likely prognosis for a team that just lost Connor Cook and several other key pieces from a highly underrated offense that carried them in 2015. The assumption is that the defense will pick up the slack but I've not been convinced that will happen. This looks like an 8-9 win team in a competitive division to these eyes.

12. Ole Miss

It's sorta of disrespectful to Hugh Freeze that although, like Ohio State and Notre Dame, he returns a talented starting quarterback and little else, his team is ranked outside of the top 10. As it happens, I think all three will have some struggles and Ole Miss' schedule is too brutal to bet on them finishing this high.

13. Houston

The Cougars have a fun chance at a special season if Ward is healthy, they beat Oklahoma, and the Sooners go on to beat Ohio State. That will give them a ton of credibility to pad whatever they end up doing to the rest of the AAC. There's a surprising number of good athletes on this team, but Herman and Orlando are also just really good at bringing that out through scheme.

14. TCU

I picked TCU to win the Big 12 and I think they'll end the year ranked higher than this thanks to piling up wins in conference play.

15. Iowa

Iowa wasn't great last year, they were just very solid and impossible to beat unless you had something special about your own roster. This year they face a schedule with more elite talent on the opposing squads so some of their key figures are going to need to make a leap.

16. Georgia

I wish I had paid more attention to how terrible Greyson Lambert was before choosing Georgia to win the championship last year. He was terrible and he's still there. I think Smart is going to have to endure some growing pains before they really get this thing off the ground.

17. USC

I think USC belongs a big higher. For one, Pendergast over Wilcox is a considerable upgrade and the Trojan defense has not been good since he left and Wilcox replaced him. The return of elite defense to Southern Cal would make for a noticeable difference in the win-loss column. Secondly, I'm a fan of their offensive system which is run-centric but well augmented by RPOs and play-action passing. That's how you do pro-style in today's college game. Cody Kessler didn't have that hard a job, I think they can replace him more easily than some might guess.

18. Washington

I didn't watch Washington play last year so I have no comment.

19. Oklahoma State

If they don't start running the ball half-decently then they won't finish in the top 25.

20. North Carolina

The Tar Heels? Where's Arkansas in this? Who's afraid of the Tar Heels?

21. Baylor

Sure, if Kendal Briles is actually coaching this unit and not arranging interviews then Baylor will score points but it's going to be hard to own the trenches like they've been accustomed to with a totally depleted OL and DL.

22. Oregon

The Ducks are being criminally underrated. This is one of the most dangerous offenses in the country with FCS superstar Dakota Prukop stepping in to keep their run game going while Brady Hoke turns their defense into something respectable once more. When they're scoring 40 points a game next year and actually making stops on defense this ranking is going to start to look really silly really fast.

23. Louisville

Some of these teams outside of the top 20 look better to me than much of 10-20. Louisville could compete for the Big 12 crown with that defense combined with Lamar Jackson after another offseason with Petrino.

24. UCLA

Until we see how well their new offense is coming together this seems about right to me. The defense has a few question marks but that defensive backfield is going to be very good so I'm not betting against them.

25. Florida

This seems more an homage to what Jim McElwain has accomplished in his career rather than something based off what the Gators have proven on the field. I can dig it though, I'm sure there's tons of talent still stockpiled on that roster and McElwain has won in the past without tons of it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Previewing Florida State vs Ole Miss

I'm pretty high on Florida State for this coming year. They look like they might be absolutely loaded in the secondary again, the DL has a bunch of physical freaks, and they are plugging in an ultra-talented QB into a loaded offense again.

Their first test comes against Ole Miss, and I previewed that match-up for SB Nation here, I think we may see a sort of coming out party for Deondre Francois in this one. Deondre Francois and big, athletic WR Auden Tate.

Don't sleep on the Seminoles as playoff contenders, just tune in for this game and I think you'll see what I mean.

Previewing the Texas schedule: Part I, the non-conference

I previewed Texas' non-conference slate of Notre Dame, UTEP, and Cal at Inside Texas. Check it out.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Ranking the +1 defenders in the Big 12

The Big 12 is becoming fairly uniform these days in terms of the schemes they run with Over-quarters serving as the dominant system across the league.

Over-quarters means a 3-technique defensive tackle set to the strong side of the offense (determined as opposite the back or with the TE/H-back) backed by some variety of cover 4 (quarters coverage). Most teams are using split field coverages these days (as Gary Patterson has done forever) so they can mix in one variety of cover 4 to one half the field and another to the other half.

Perhaps the best and most common combination you see in football these days is for the defense to play the nickel/sam linebacker and boundary safeties as the force defenders but to ask them to play with depth and a touch of hesitation before they crash towards the line of scrimmage so they don't get burned by run/pass option plays like inside zone mixed with a bubble screen:
In this instance, the boundary safety (labelled here as the strong safety "$") is the extra man against the run. In this instance of a strongside inside zone run paired with a backside bubble screen he's gotta force the ball inside to the linebackers and maintain the edge. This assignment is made easier by the fact that his primary coverage assignment is the tight end, who will give him a pretty clear read on if he's defending a pass or run if he's blocking.

Different schemes and formations will call for different defenders to take on the roll of serving as the extra defender that isn't accounted for by an offensive blocker, but for most Big 12 teams most of the time that +1 defender against the run is that boundary safety.

The ideal +1 player can play with depth but still cover ground and make tackles near the line of scrimmage. He needs to be able to tackle in space but he also needs to be big and sturdy enough to fill the alley against a power back. This player needs to be either really smart/instinctive or have good COD (change of direction) so that he can handle everything on his grocery list in terms of coverage and where he fits against a given run scheme. Finally, this guy needs to have enough burst and power to blast through the wash to make tackles in traffic.

Typically a guy of 200 pounds or more, good downhill acceleration, fearlessness, and the hips to break down in space is going to be the best at executing in this role.

Here's a ranking of the best +1 defenders in the Big 12 heading into the 2016 season:

No. 1: Denzel Johnson, TCU

6-2, 210. Senior
2015 season: 79 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 8 pass break-ups

Gary Patterson always develops hard nosed safeties that play the run well and are physical enough to allow the defense to get away with having smaller personnel on the field. His "strong safety" position is really more of a nickel spot and always plays around the box.

Whereas for most other teams I'm listing the boundary safety as the +1 defender, the Frogs much more regularly involve their nickel/strong safety in that role, especially with Denzel because he's a great run defender. Johnson is excellent at forcing the edge, filling cutback lanes with lateral quickness and power, and he's totally at home playing in the box or blitzing.

Derrick Kindred was one of the better defenders in the Big 12 conference but when the Frogs can put more of a coverage-minded defender at that free safety spot behind Johnson they'll be really tough to beat.

No. 2: Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State

6-0, 200. Senior
2015 season: 108 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 3 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble

Sterns is more or less the standard for the position in the Big 12 and can regularly make tackles at or near the line of scrimmage playing at 10 yards deep or so. Sterns excels playing as a rover that spends most of his time reading flow and attacking the ball or the QB's eyes and he has the strength and short area speed to reach the ball and avoid the wash.

He's not a sensation but he's tailor made for this role and has been a dependable tackler with 100+ tackles each of the last two years plugging away in Spencer's defense the last two years. He's like Orion Stewart but better in the run support role of this position whereas Stewart is better in the coverage elements.

No. 3: Kendall Adams, Kansas State

6-1, 217. Redshirt sophomore.
2015 season: 41 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 

Adams was my favorite recruit in the 2014 K-State recruiting class and it seems the staff likes him quite a bit as well. He was pushed into action last year as a redshirt freshman due to injuries and is now the frontrunner to play opposite Dante Barnett for the 2016 Wildcat defense.

Due to youth and inexperience, the Wildcats were not their typical selves on defense last year and were prone to the kinds of errors in leverage and fundamentals that will gift offenses easy yards. Normally that's not the case at all and they can be defeated only through superior talent. However, if K-State can find a corner and a good tackle to add to the party next year and get back to playing great team defense in 2016 then they will be excellent on defense.

Kendall Adams is a big reason for this as he's both big and powerful but also rangy and fast. He's one of the few legitimate 4.6 safeties in this league and that speed allows him to play with the kind of safe depth that Snyder loves while still reaching the ball close to the line of scrimmage. The better he understands Big 12 offenses and where his help is in the Wildcat defense, the better he's going to become.

No. 4: Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma

6-0, 215. Senior
2015 season: 75 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 3 pass break-ups

Thomas is going to be transitioning in 2016 from playing more as a deep man to getting involved near the ball thanks to the Sooners' move to more of a 3-3-5 nickel approach. Both Thomas and his partner Steven Parker will probably spend some time as the extra man in the 8-man front but at 215 pounds this is more in Thomas' wheelhouse.

He should be quite effective here as he has some nice burst closing on the ball as well as the size to bring down backs and receivers even when they have some momentum. His experience and size combined with a more prominent role than "drop deep and clean up what Striker leaves behind" could result in some bigger numbers this year.

No. 5: Jah'Shawn Johnson, Texas Tech

5-10, 180. Sophomore
2015 season: 85 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 3 pass break-ups, two forced fumbles

You'd like your enforcer and free-hitter in the middle of the field to be a big, intimidating player but Jah'Shawn Johnson has a lot of fight and he's pretty ferocious. He was the best run-support DB on the Tech roster last year as a freshman and they got into real trouble when he wasn't on the field.

As a sophomore playing behind a more experienced front and with a year of Big 12 play under his belt he could be quite good. Again, it's a hard life bringing down power backs when you're only 180 but with the right amount of fearlessness and leverage it can be done and Johnson brings that to the field. If this pup ends up reaching 190 or 200 then his bite will be really nasty.

No. 6: Kyzir White, West Virginia

6-3, 215. Junior

The third White brother is another big, athletic freak just like his siblings. Of course, if he has a huge impact in Morgantown it'll be tempting to call him Keyser Soze and forget about the familial connection...sorry, anyways he plays the "spur" (nickel) position in the Mountaineer 3-3-5 which has many duties but amongst them are tending the edge.

Some of his JUCO highlights look like extra footage from "the Longest Yard" and include some forearm shivers that could have knocked some people out. He's just a big, nasty guy that should thrive in the moderate amounts of space that he'll find himself in when playing in their schemes.

A 6'3" 215 pound savage that can move like this is worth his weight in gold in the Big 12 where defenses are often faced with the challenge of getting more speed on the field without going soft.

No. 7: Kamari Cotton-Moya, Iowa State

6-1, 205. Redshirt junior
2015 season: 40 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 pass break-up

Cotton-Moya had a really promising freshman campaign in 2014 and was expected to break out in 2015 but suffered an injury that cut his season short. Also notable, in 2015 the Cyclones moved to a 3-4 defense that put more of the run-support responsibilities on the outside linebackers while using the safeties either in coverage or as "check deep, then fill alley" defenders. It essentially worked like the Katy Tiger weak eagle defense but without the same measure of effectiveness.

He doesn't have quite as much burst as you'd like but he's similar to Orion Stewart in that he's a versatile player that can do a lot of things pretty well and he also brings more power to bring people down in traffic. One thing Paul Rhoads was always good at in Ames was finding and developing 2nd tier players like this that could be effective if positioned well.

If Iowa State could line him up for kill shots more consistently he'd be a menace. In 2016 he'll probably spend more time down in the box again while also playing in the deep 1/3 and as a deep 1/2 guy.

No. 8: Orion Stewart, Baylor

6-2, 205. Redshirt senior
2015 season: 64 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble

I think Stewart is a fine football player and a real asset on passing downs but he's just never been a particularly forceful player against the run. He's 6'2" 205 now and his wiry frame has just never been one to fly down and lay the wood against the run. Another problem for the Bears is that he's now standing in the way of converted WR and star athlete Davion Hall finding starting snaps.

I assume Hall will replace Stewart after he graduates but then Baylor will have only gotten one good scholarship year from the former four-star. You have to wonder if the Bears will tinker and find a way to get them on the field together. I'd certainly be experimenting to see how Stewart holds up in their cover safety role where Chance Waz was less than inspiring a year ago (although Waz was quite good in run support). You don't want to take Orion off the field, because he's a legitimately good football player, but they could get more out of that position if they had a more intimidating physical presence.

Another possibility is that with another year of S&C and a healthier season, Stewart is even better against the run in 2016 and proves he belongs much higher on this list.

No. 9: Jason Hall, Texas

6-2, 215. Junior
2015 season: 51 tackles, .5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 2 pass break-ups, 1 forced fumble

Hall has great size for the free safety role at Texas at 6'2", 215 pounds, but he's never proven to be very instinctive or aware of how to make the best use of his size. He was fourth on the team in tackles a year ago and is in danger of losing his job in 2016 to young pups like DeShon Elliott or Brandon Jones if he can't make more of the opportunities presented in Texas' schemes for wreaking havoc.

That said, Hall has had a signature knockout blow in each of the last two seasons and is only just now entering his junior year. As a freshman he met Samaje Perine in the hole and drove him off his legs and into the ground. As a sophomore he met Joe Hubener in the hole and seriously reduced the impact from the Wildcat QB run game for the rest the contest with the blow he delivered.

No. 10: Tevin Shaw, Kansas

5-11, 206. Redshirt senior.
2015 season: 65 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 3 pass break-ups

The Jayhawks were at their best in 2015 playing what I call "Aggro-6" which is cover 2 on the boundary and then an aggressive variety of cover 4 to the field that gets (usually) the nickel (sometimes the free safety) quickly involved in the run fits. The nickel was the man for the Jayhawks and that man was Tevin Shaw.

When your nickel is loosed on the edge in this fashion he can do a lot of damage, especially on blitzes where the offense doesn't always have him picked up. Shaw's compadre on the boundary, Fish Smithson, was the more effective edge blitzer while Shaw didn't add as much. It's not clear to me why K-State didn't just use a space-backer here to get more of a physical presence on the perimeter, I suppose their roster is rather limited.