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August 7, 2008

Competition high among Big 12 offenses

MORE: 2008 Big 12 Conference Preview

A quick perusal of the Big 12 unit rankings provides ammunition for those who say the league, as a whole, has the best offenses in the nation. There are big-time throwers, runners, receivers and blockers in the Big 12.

The flipside, of course, is that all that offensive firepower taxes Big 12 defenses.

A glance at the unit rankings shows that the defenses in this league have some work to do.

Sure, there are a few solid units on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary. For the most part, though, the defenses lag way behind the offenses in this league.

Here are our Big 12 unit rankings entering the 2008 season:

OFFENSIVE BACKFIELD
1. OKLAHOMA
Quarterback Sam Bradford figures to be a Heisman contender, and tailback DeMarco Murray could emerge as one, too.
2. NEBRASKA
Marlon Lucky is the Big 12's best running back, while quarterback Joe Ganz finished '07 with a bang.
3. TEXAS A&M
Mike Goodson heads a deep and talented list of tailbacks, and Stephen McGee is a better quarterback than he's given credit for.
4. MISSOURI
There are no doubts about quarterback Chase Daniel, but tailbacks Derrick Washington and Jimmy Jackson have to prove themselves.
5. KANSAS
Quarterback Todd Reesing is coming off a big year, and tailback Jake Sharp played well as a backup in 2007.
6. TEXAS TECH
Quarterback Graham Harrell led the nation in passing, but no running back on the roster rushed for more than 439 yards last season.
7. OKLAHOMA STATE
Quarterback Zac Robinson is solid. A new starter is needed at tailback, but Keith Toston and Kendall Hunter have had 600-yard seasons for the Cowboys.
8. TEXAS
The Longhorns are unproven at running back, but Colt McCoy is a productive quarterback who has led Texas to back-to-back 10-victory seasons.
9. KANSAS STATE
The Wildcats are set at quarterback with Josh Freeman. Tailback is a mystery, though.
10. COLORADO
Quarterback Cody Hawkins is getting better. Tailback could get a major upgrade if freshman Darrell Scott is as good as advertised.
11. IOWA STATE
The Cyclones' running backs are solid but unspectacular. Quarterback is unsettled between Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates.
12. BAYLOR
The Bears ranked among the nation's worst rushing teams in 2007 and may go with true freshman Robert Griffin at quarterback.

RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
1. MISSOURI
Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman are All-America candidates. No. 2 receiver Tommy Saunders had 41 grabs last season.
2. TEXAS TECH
Michael Crabtree is the nation's best receiver. Eric Morris and Edward Britton aren't bad, either.
3. OKLAHOMA
Wide receivers Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson are solid, and Jermaine Gresham is a wide receiver in a tight end's body.
4. OKLAHOMA STATE
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is among the nation's best at his position. Wide receiver Dez Bryant might prove to be so as well.
5. KANSAS
Wide receivers Dexton Fields, Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier combined for 132 receptions last season.
6. TEXAS
The Longhorns have sure-handed possession types in Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley, but they need a deep threat.
7. IOWA STATE
The Cyclones' top returning receivers are Marquis Hamilton and R.J. Sumrall, who combined for 99 catches but just one touchdown last season.
8. BAYLOR
Four returning starters had at least 31 catches last season, and David Gettis is crazy fast.
9. KANSAS STATE
Wide receiver Deon Murphy and tight end Jeron Mastrud had solid seasons in 2007. No one else is proven, though, and go-to guy Jordy Nelson is gone.
10. COLORADO
The receivers should be OK, but tight end could be a big problem.
11. NEBRASKA
Senior Nate Swift has been reasonably productive throughout his career. There isn't much else to count on, though high hopes exist for sophomore Niles Paul.
12. Texas A&M
Jeff Fuller projects as the Aggies' best receiver. The problem? He's a true freshman.

OFFENSIVE LINES
1. OKLAHOMA
The Sooners are big, deep and productive. Tackle Phil Loadholt, guard Duke Robinson and center Jon Cooper are all-conference types.
2. TEXAS TECH
Every starter returns from a line that allowed one sack per 42.2 passing attempts.
3. TEXAS
Two all-conference candidates head an experienced group that paved the way for the nation's 13th-ranked offense.
4. OKLAHOMA STATE
Four starters return from a line that opened enough holes for the running game to average 243.2 yards per game.
5. MISSOURI
The Tigers lost all all-conference center Adam Spieker, but tackle Colin Brown has the same kind of ability.
6. NEBRASKA
Remember when the Huskers annually had one of the nation's best offensive fronts? This season might seem like old times.
7. KANSAS
The biggest task facing the Jayhawks is replacing both tackles, including All-America Anthony Collins.
8. KANSAS STATE
Four starters return, but changes are expected.
9. COLORADO
Big things are expected from tackle Ryan Miller and center Daniel Sanders. Questions exist everywhere else.
10. TEXAS A&M
The Aggies are counting on several newcomers to bolster a depleted line.
11. IOWA STATE
The Cyclones hope experience turns into expertise.
12. BAYLOR
Word out of Waco is that this could be the Bears' best line in years. We'll see how big a compliment that is.

DEFENSIVE LINES
1. OKLAHOMA
OU is so good up front you'd think there should be a Selmon in the lineup.
2. TEXAS
A healthy Brian Orakpo at end will be a big boost for the Longhorns.
3. MISSOURI
Three productive starters are back, but All-Big 12 nose tackle Lorenzo Williams will be missed.
4. KANSAS
James McClinton, a rock up front, is gone. Three starters are back, though.
5. COLORADO
George Hypolite is one of the best tackles in the country. Nose tackle Brandon Nicolas isn't bad, either.
6. TEXAS TECH
The Raiders are solid at tackle and counting on newcomers to provide an upgrade at end.
7. OKLAHOMA STATE
Fresh faces like tackle Swanson Miller have to live up to billing, or the Cowboys will be mediocre up front again.
8. NEBRASKA
Four returning starters sounds good, until you consider that the Huskers couldn't stop the run or rush the passer last season.
9. KANSAS STATE
Ian Campbell's move back to end from linebacker should bolster an inexperienced front.
10. BAYLOR
The Bears have three returning starters, but they have to play much better.
11. TEXAS A&M
The Aggies' line was marginal last season, and that was with two players who were selected in the NFL draft.
12. IOWA STATE
At least end Kurtis Taylor has all-star potential.

LINEBACKERS
1. KANSAS
Joe Mortensen, Mike Rivera and James Holt form one of the best trio of linebackers in the nation.
2. MISSOURI
All-America candidate Sean Weatherspoon heads a corps that returns intact.
3. TEXAS
Although Rashad Bobino is the lone returning starter, Texas has guys with star potential ready to step into starting roles.
4. OKLAHOMA
Ryan Reynolds is solid, but he has had injury issues. The Sooners also will be counting on redshirt freshmen on the weak side.
5. COLORADO
Jordon Dizon leaves a gaping hole, but two starters are back.
6. KANSAS STATE
Eric Childs and Reggie Walker have starting experience, though they need to be more productive.
7. OKLAHOMA STATE
Andre Sexton and Patrick Levine give the Cowboys potential to improve.
8. TEXAS TECH
Marlon Williams heads a solid but unspectacular group.
9. BAYLOR
If all Baylor's linebackers were as good as Joe Pawelek, the Bears could be scary. Alas, they aren't.
10. IOWA STATE
Jesse Smith is productive, but the Cyclones will miss Alvin Bowen.
11. NEBRASKA
The Huskers are looking at a converted running back and a former walk-on to shore up this problem area.
12. TEXAS A&M
No starters return. The hope is converted defensive end Von Miller could blossom into something special.

SECONDARIES
1. MISSOURI
William Moore and Justin Garrett form the best safety duo in the Big 12.
2. OKLAHOMA
The Sooners are solid at safety, but projected cornerback starters Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson have one career start between them.
3. KANSAS
The Jayhawks only lost one starter. Unfortunately, that starter was All-America corner Aqib Talib.
4. TEXAS TECH
Cornerback Jamar Wall grabbed five interceptions last season and is an all-conference candidate.
5. TEXAS
The Longhorns are counting on redshirt freshmen to revive an abysmal pass defense. A change in schemes should help.
6. IOWA STATE
The Cyclones' starting secondary returns intact.
7. KANSAS STATE
The Wildcats were 100th in pass defense last season, but starting safeties Chris Carney and Gary Chandler are back.
8. NEBRASKA
Strong safety Larry Asante figures to thrive in new coach Bo Pelini's scheme. Cornerback could be problematic.
9. COLORADO
The safety spots are OK. Cornerback is a big concern, though.
10. TEXAS A&M
Returning defensive backs have a combined 97 starts. But there is no real standout, and the unit wasn't that good last season.
11. OKLAHOMA STATE
Cornerback Jacob Lacey heads a list of four returning starters from a secondary that had big problems a year ago.
12. BAYLOR
Safety Jordan Lake is a keeper, but he doesn't get much help.

SPECIAL TEAMS
1. MISSOURI
Jeremy Maclin is a threat to score on kick returns, and Jeff Wolfert is a reliable kicker.
2. TEXAS
Kicker Ryan Bailey is clutch, and Quan Cosby has all-star ability on returns.
3. OKLAHOMA
DeMarco Murray and Juaquin Iglesias are dangerous return men. The Sooners need to do better on coverage and have to break in a new kicker.
4. NEBRASKA
Punter Dan Titchener and kicker Alex Henery are reliable. The return teams need to improve.
5. OKLAHOMA STATE
Perrish Cox can take it the distance on kickoffs and punts. Matt Fodge is an accomplished punter.
6. KANSAS
Marcus Herford was the Big 12 special teams player of the year last season, but there will be a new kicker and a new punter.
7. KANSASSTATE
Deon Murphy led the Big 12 in punt returns, and kicker Brooks Rossman is accurate. But the Wildcats have a new punter and were terrible on kickoff coverage last season.
8. TEXAS A&M
Senior punter Justin Brantly has a 43.9-yard career average.
9. COLORADO
Punter Matt DiLallo is good, but the Buffs are looking for a new kicker and new return men.
10. TEXAS TECH
The kick-return and coverage teams are good and punter Jonathan LaCour is, too. The Raiders may rely on a true freshman kicker, though.
11. BAYLOR
The Bears were decent on punt returns last season. That's about it.
12. IOWA STATE
The Cyclones were last in kickoff returns, punt returns and kickoff coverage. They have a new kicker this season, too.

COACHING
1. OKLAHOMA
Bob Stoops and Co. have won three of the past four conference championships. And that's with three different starting quarterbacks.
2. TEXAS
Mack Brown's Longhorns have posted at least 10 victories in seven consecutive seasons. Bringing in defensive coordinator Will Muschamp should pay off big.
3. MISSOURI
Gary Pinkel now has won big at two programs, Toledo and Missouri. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen may be a head coach this time next year.
4. TEXAS TECH
Mike Leach's teams seem to lead the nation in passing each season. And each season, they reach a bowl game.
5. KANSAS
Mark Mangino was named national coach of the year in 2007, and was a deserving choice. New defensive coordinator Clint Bowen must prove himself.
6. COLORADO
Dan Hawkins has the Buffaloes on the brink of becoming relevant again. But it may take another season before they're a serious contender.
7. NEBRASKA
Bo Pelini hasn't been a head coach before. But as a defensive coordinator, he was one of the best.
8. OKLAHOMA STATE
After three seasons, Mike Gundy has distinguished himself only with a post-game rant.
9. KANSAS STATE
Ron Prince is like Stoops against Texas. Against everyone else, not quite.
10. TEXAS A&M
New coach Mike Sherman had some success in the NFL. But pro coaches often struggle in college football. Defensive coordinator Joe Kines was a good hire.
11. BAYLOR
Art Briles turned Houston into a winner. Duplicating that feat with Baylor in the rugged Big 12 will be much more difficult.
12. IOWA STATE
As a defensive coordinator, Gene Chizik was excellent. The jury remains out on him as a head coach.

MORE: 2008 Big 12 Conference Preview

Olin Buchanan is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.



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