Big 12 Football: Power Ranking the Conference's Best Defenses for 2011

Kris HughesCorrespondent IApril 5, 2011

Big 12 Football: Power Ranking the Conference's Best Defenses for 2011

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    Prince Amukamara- 2010 Big 12 Defensive POYDonald Miralle/Getty Images

    Given the departure of one of the best team defenses in Big 12 Conference history—the notorious Blackshirts of Nebraska and 2010 Big 12 Player of the Year Prince Amukamara—analyzing who should become the most dominant defense in the new conference in 2011 becomes a daunting task.

    To take all factors into consideration, we used the following power ranking system:

    All 10 remaining teams were ranked 1-10 by overall 2010 statistical success, assigning point values to categories including total scoring defense, rush defense, pass defense, total defense, interceptions and sacks.

    All 10 remaining teams were ranked 1-10 according to the total number of defensive starters returning for each in 2011.

    All 10 remaining teams were ranked 1-10 according to their ESPN.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com overall team recruiting rankings for the 2011 class.

    With the point values assigned to each individual category and category grouping, it quickly became clear which teams are among the top Big 12 defenses and which are, and should remain, the also-rans in 2011!

10. Kansas Jayhawks

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    Kansas' Top Returning Tackler- Linebacker Steven Johnson

    The Kansas Jayhawks were the worst statistical defense in the Big 12 during the 2010 season, and there is nothing to suggest this will change in 2011.

    With six returning starters on defense, Kansas will be dependent upon production from unproven players at several key positions. With a recruiting class ranked in the 40s by both Rivals.com and Scout.com, the possibility of an impact defensive player emerging from the 2011 recruiting class seems slim.

    2011 Impact Player:

    Steven Jackson, LB

    Steven Jackson had 95 total tackles during the 2010-2011 season, 62 of which were unassisted. For the Kansas defense to have any chance to slow down opponents in 2011, Jackson must lead by example and force an occasional turnover or bring down a quarterback with a sack.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Javonte Daniel, DE

    Javonte Daniel, a 3-star recruit out of LaGrange, Georgia, has the potential to play immediately at defensive end with the departure of senior Jake Laptad. Daniel chose Kansas over offers from several SEC schools, which should be a sign to Kansas fans that he has the ability to make an instant impact for Turner Gill's defense in Lawrence.


9. Baylor Bears

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    Baylor's Top Returning Tackler- Linebacker Elliot Coffey

    The Baylor Bears were one of the Big 12's most inconsistent defensive units during the 2010-2011 season. At times, Baylor looked to be turning the corner and had some mild success forcing teams out of their offensive game plans and into adjustments. At other times, the Bears looked lost and uncertain about their defensive identity.

    Stastically, the Bears were the ninth best team in the Big 12 during 2010, yielding 30.5 points per game and 435.4 yards per game in total offense.

    The loss of the team's five top tacklers also does not bode well for Baylor, as several fresh faces will be depended upon to contribute in 2011.

    With only five returning starters on defense and a recruiting class ranked in the high 40s by both Rivals.com and Scout.com, things probably won't be much brighter in Waco this fall.

    2011 Impact Player:

    Nicholas Jean-Baptist, Nose Guard

    The 2011 Baylor Bears defense will begin and end with Nicholas Jean-Baptiste. With an NFL frame at 6'2", 315, the Stafford, Texas native must play to his potential to help the Bears control the line of scrimmage and allow the young linebackers and defensive ends to get penetration.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Beau Blackshear, Defensive End

    Waco Midway's Beau Blackshear is one of the most important recruits to arrive on the Baylor campus this fall. With the lack of depth at defensive end, the 3-star recruit will be expected to compete for playing time early in fall practice.

8. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State's Top Returning Tackler- Defensive Back David Garrett

    The Kansas State Wildcats enter the 2011 Big 12 season as one of the mystery defenses of the past few years in college football. Bill Snyder's team has shown the ability to compete with the best teams in the conference at times, and at others has seemed completely unable to stop opposing offenses from moving the ball at will.

    In terms of statistics, the Wildcats were the seventh-best team in the Big 12 during 2010, giving up an average of 29.1 points per game and 445.7 yards per game—both among the worst in the conference.

    With a recruiting class that didn't even appear on the radars of the national scouting websites, it would be surprising to see the Wildcats improve much from what we saw from the team during 2010's 6-7 finish.

    2011 Impact Player:

    David Garrett, Defensive Back

    As one of the six returning starters on the defensive side of the ball and the team's best tackler, defensive back David Garrett will be called upon to be a pass stopper and run stopper on occasion. If Garrett can reach a number close to his tackles total of 92 in 2010, the Wildcats' defense could benefit greatly.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Ian Seau, Defensive End

    The most heralded defensive recruit to arrive in Mahattan this fall will be Ian Seau, nephew of NFL legend Junior Seau, and a 4-star recruit from Costa Mesa, California. Seau has the type of athletic ability and football acumen which should see him become an instant starter as a freshman and an impact player to boot.

7. Iowa State Cyclones

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    Iowa State's Top Returning Tackler- Linebacker Jake Knott

    Entering in at No. 7 on our power ranking of the Big 12 defenses is the Iowa State Cyclones.

    After a 5-7 2010-2011 campaign, Cyclones coach Paul Rhodes will be working with a defensive unit that returns seven starters, finished sixth in scoring defense and fifth in total defense in the Big 12 last season.

    Iowa State has never been able to capably recruit against its Big 12 foes and this season is no different with the Cyclones being absent from all three of the major team recruiting rankings.

    2011 Impact Player(s):

    Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, Linebackers

    The two top returning tacklers from the 2010 Cyclones will also be the defensive unit's most valuable duo, linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. With a suspect defensive line, Knott and Klein will be called upon to keep opposing offenses in check and give the Cyclones a chance at some close victories in 2011.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Kenneth Lynn, Cornerback

    Dallas Kimball's Kenneth Lynn enters as the top recruit in the 2011 defensive class for the Cyclones. The 5'10", 155-pound cornerback played in one of the toughest 5A football districts in the state of Texas and has the pedigree to make an instant impact in Ames.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Texas Tech's Top Returning Tackler- Safety Cody Davis

    Tommy Tuberville's Texas Tech Red Raiders are known for putting up a ton of points, trying to outscore their opponents and play defense that is just good enough to get by with a win.

    During the 2010 season, Tech was among the basement in several defensive categories, but with eight returning starters and a recruiting class rated by several scouting services among the Top 20 in the country, the Red Raiders could make an impact on both sides of the ball this fall.

    2011 Impact Player:

    Sam Fehoko, Linebacker

    Junior linebacker Sam Fehoko, a Honolulu, Hawaii native, should be both the vocal and physical leader for the Red Raiders defense in 2011. Fehoko will be the catalyst in new defensive scheme for Tommy Tuberville and needs to make an impact on Saturdays for the Red Raiders to have a successful 2011.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Desimon Green, Cornerback

    One of the best athletes in the 2011 recruiting class for Tech Clairton, Pennsylvania's Desimon Green projects as a cornerback for the Red Raiders and could add much needed athleticism to the position. If Green can adapt to the Tech defensive scheme after playing quarterback in high school, he could be a welcome surprise.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Oklahoma State's Top Returning Tackler- CB Brodrick Brown

    Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State Cowboys had the top rushing defense in the Big 12 during 2010, but could not stop the pass when it mattered. The secondary for the Cowboys was consistently picked apart in spite of the strong effort from the defensive front, often exposing the team to offenses which could quickly adapt to the run being slowed.

    With only five returning starters, it could appear that 2011 might be a rough year for the defense in Stillwater. As a counterbalance, the Cowboys enjoyed a strong recruiting class ranked in the mid 20s by both ESPN.com and Rivals.com and should have several young players which can make an impact as they arrive on campus.

    2011 Impact Player:

    Justin Gilbert, Cornerback

    In the tradition of quality Cowboys cornerbacks, Justin Gilbert looks to be the heart of the Oklahoma State defense for 2011. Gilbert impressed coaches throughout the spring with his improved speed, strength and physical style while slowing down All-American wide receiver Justin Blackmon consistently during practices. If Blackmon can bring this same aggressiveness to the field in 2011, the Cowboys secondary could again be tops in the Big 12.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Nico Ornelas, Linebacker

    Richland, Texas native Nico Ornelas is the top defensive recruit for the 2011 Cowboys class. Ornelas, a 6'3", 200-pound outside linebacker is an outstanding athlete, who with increased muscle mass on his slight frame could quickly contribute for Mike Gundy's squad this fall.

4. Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M's Top Returning Tackler- Linebacker Sean Porter

    As 2010 showed, the once-proud Texas A&M Wrecking Crew defense is on its way back to prominence among the Big 12's elite.

    The Aggies had the top rushing defense in the conference in 2010, holding opponents to a paltry 130.2 yards per game and allowing opponents to score on average only 21.9 points per game.

    With eight returning starters and a top 30 recruiting class nationally, look for more of the same solid performance from the Aggies' defense in 2011, even with the loss of mainstays Von Miller and Michael Hodges.

    2011 Impact Player:

    Garrick Williams, Linebacker

    If anyone can step into the hole left by the departure of Miller and Hodges, it will be senior linebacker Garrick Williams. Williams, one of the team's top tacklers in 2010, has the ability to physically dominate opposing offensive linemen and consistently create havoc in the backfield. This will be important for the Aggies, as a young set of cornerbacks could be susceptible to teams who throw often.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Floyd Raven, Cornerback

    Floyd Raven, a three-star cornerback from Reserve, Louisiana could be called upon early in his Aggies career to play significant minutes in the secondary. Raven chose the Aggies over several SEC schools and he is believed to have the type of explosive athleticism that could make him one of the Big 12's top defensive newcomers in 2011.

3. Missouri Tigers

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    Missouri's Top Returning Tackler- LB Zaviar Gooden

    Statistically, the Missouri Tigers were the best defense in the Big 12 in 2010. The Tigers were first in total scoring defense (16.1 ppg), and sacks (38) and were second in interceptions, pass defense and total defense.

    In simplest terms, they were dominant.

    With six returning starters in 2011, the Tigers will have good experience returning on the defensive side of the ball and should again be one of the Big 12's top units.

    2011 Impact Player:

    Zaviar Gooden, Linebacker

    An honorable mention All Big 12 linebacker in 2010, senior Zaviar Gooden will be looking to make his case for the NFL in 2011, following in the footsteps of recent Mizzou standout Ziggy Hood. Gooden tallied 85 tackles in 2010, 50 of which were solo, and should be the physical, aggressive linebacker that Missouri will need to continue its recent tradition as one of the Big 12's emerging defenses.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Shane Ray, Defensive End

    A 3-star recruit from Shawnee Mission, Kansas, Shane Ray has the ability to make a strong impression in Columbia this fall. The 6'2", 225-pound defensive end was rated as the 35th best player at his position by ESPN.com and is known for his strength and ability to blow blockers off the line of scrimmage and be a nuisance to opposing running backs and quarterbacks.

2. Texas Longhorns

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    Texas' Top Returning Tackler- LB Keenan RobinsonTom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Texas Longhorns struggled through one of their toughest seasons in recent memory in 2010, ending 5-7 and missing a bowl game for the first time in several years.

    New defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has brought a new defensive intensity and swagger with him from Mississippi State, which should translate into a high-pressure, high-flying Longhorns' defense in 2011.

    The Longhorns return six defensive starters, including impact players Emmanuel Acho, Keenan Robinson, Kheeston Randall, and four-year starter Blake Gideon.

    Look for Texas to be one of the best defenses in the Big 12 during 2011.

    2011 Impact Player:

    Keenan Robinson, Linebacker

    Keenan Robinson was not only the statistical leader of the Texas defense during 2010, he was also its foundation. Robinson has wowed NFL scouts with his ability to dominate from the linebacker position, tallying 113 tackles and nine sacks in 2010. Robinson was a standout during this spring's practice sessions as well and has emerged as the vocal and physical leader that the Texas defense will need desperately to return things back to expectations in Austin during the 2011 season.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Quandre Diggs, CB

    In a highly-touted recruiting class for 2011, one athlete is beginning to separate himself from the pack—Angleton's Quandre Diggs. Diggs, a 5'10", 190-pound cornerback, has the potential to see substantial action in 2011 due to the departure of recent NFL draftees Aaron Williams, Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown. If Diggs can parlay his impressive athleticism into the college game, he could be one to watch for the Longhorns on the defensive side of the ball. 

1. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Oklahoma's Top Returning Tackler- LB Travis LewisRonald Martinez/Getty Images

    The Oklahoma Sooners come in at No.1 in our power ranking of the Big 12's top defenses for 2011.

    Returning seven players from a ball-hawking defense which led the conference with 19 interceptions in 2010, the Sooners look to be as strong on the defensive side of the ball as they have ever been.

    With All-American caliber players like linebacker Travis Lewis, it's impossible to place the Sooners anywhere but No.1 on a list of defensive units.

    Look for Oklahoma to continue its dominance of the Big 12 defensively in 2011.

    2011 Impact Player:

    Travis Lewis, Linebacker

    San Antonio, Texas native Travis Lewis should be one of the Big 12's top linebackers in 2011. Look for Lewis to easily break his tackles total of 109 in 2010 and continue to impress NFL scouts with his strength, speed and ability to cover wide receivers and tight ends in the defensive flats. Lewis' eight interceptions in 2010 says all it needs to say about the well-rounded nature of his game, which should make him successful on Sundays very soon.

    Top Defensive Recruit:

    Nathan Hughes, Defensive End

    Freshmen very rarely make a quick impact at Oklahoma due to the overall depth of talent, but if a freshman defensive player is to emerge in 2011, it very well could be defensive end Nathan Hughes. Hughes' 6'6", 255-pound frame is already impressive and with continued work in the weight room this summer, he could surprise people in 2011.