They're maligned nationally, give it up each Saturday, and love bedazzled jogging suits. I'm speaking of the Real Housewives of Anywhere and Big 12 defenses. That is the popular perception and though there is some truth to it (at least according to the NFL draft), in 2012, the league will feature a few salty defenses to pair with its expected peppering of inadequacy. In fact - defense - not offense - will be the key differentiator in establishing this year's league hierarchy.*
* wrote the hopeful Texas fan who wants to use his team's best attribute to make optimistic projections, but also believes it as a dispassionate observer
I see three distinct tiers for Big 12 defenses in 2012.
Y'all Could Play In The S-E-C, Where Male Fans Wave Pom-Poms
3. Oklahoma State
The first and most necessary qualification for good defense in the Big 12 is good DBs and some ability to rush the passer without looking like the El Paso border at dusk. Although that's straight from Dan Dierdorf's school of NO-SHIT SHERLOCK observations it's also not necessarily true in other leagues (check the anticipated QB play in the Big 10 this year). Ohio State should be just fine on defense in the Big 10 despite a starting secondary of Polaks and tattoo groupies.
Texas looks to be the class of the league on D and though the Longhorn defense held five opponents last year to their respective season lows, this year's unit should be much improved with the league's best defensive backfield, defensive line, and a top half of league group of linebackers. On a relative basis, Longhorn inadequacies on D - at least compared to their Big 12 peers - require a proctoscope to find. That written, a Longhorn fan will still fret over our lack of a clear fifth defensive end in the comment section.
OU hasn't played good defense since 2009, but experience in the secondary and a DC switch back to Angry StoopsBro should serve them well with respect to adhering to core principles and Most Put Upon Sideline Expressions. I expect a firm commitment to bullying bad or incomplete offenses, with struggles against higher quality. I can't find the guy on their starting 11 who fills me with dread, but I suppose Corey Nelson or a properly employed Tony Jefferson can become that. OU's best Ds had good talent, but they also played together. I expect that to return to Norman.
Oklahoma State has the best back 7 in the league and I can no longer write Gundy satires as effectively as I used to - dude has a built an actual program. I offer him my grudging respect and a bottle of Brut cologne. They won't be elite because their DL will be average, but Bill Young's schemes will create turnovers and disruption. The Cowboys won't be out of any games unless their own offense does it to them. And that will happen.
The Doughy Middle
5. Kansas State
6. West Virginia (tied)
6. Iowa State (tied)
TCU would have made the upper tier three months ago, but now I'm skeptical. In fact, they're #4 out of respect for Patterson's proven ability to impart simple schemes that can solve complex problems and the Horned Frogs' aptitude in redefining athletes with position switches and development. TCU will be involved in more shootouts than the preseason pundits believe, and not just over drug money.
It's not easy to separate the next three, as their upside rests largely on the contributions of JUCOs and unproven 1st year starters.
On a per play basis, KSU's defense wasn't very good last year, but Snyder's clock killing offense and + Turnover margins helped their cause substantially. KSU has the highest upside for improvement of any of the Doughy Middle and if they win the league, it will be because their defense got real scrappy. Though they return only six starters, that includes players like Vai Lutui, Arthur Brown, Nigel Malone, and if they can fill in around them, they should be much improved.
I declared a tie between ISU and WVU because I'm pedantic enough to think you care where I rank the bottom half of the league's defenses.
Iowa State picked the wrong league to be exceptional at LB and average everywhere else. I love the duo of Knott and Klein, but I'd prefer cornerbacks and a pass rush. This will be a good tackling, fundamentally sound defense that will show well in some match-ups (home, in a driving rain, opposing QB influenced by gamblers) where they can keep everything in front of them, but they'll struggle with athletes.
West Virginia lost their pass rush in Irvin and Miller, their best coverage guy in Tandy, and they'll be facing a level of athlete week-to-week they they never saw in the Big East. Fortunately, defense is just something to pass the time until the Mountaineer offense can get back on the field. Forget Texas and OU for a moment, Baylor, TCU, and Texas Tech's WR corps will be a bit of a shock for them. Fortunately, they'll have an offense giving as good as they get and they're just looking to keep teams under 30. West Virginia is also a bit light in the ass up front and the Wildcats and Longhorns don't mind that a bit. My forecast for their defense is partly cloudy with a 60% chance of giving up 52 to someone on the road.
Will Hit You With Their Purses
8. Texas Tech
This compilation of turnstiles will count on outscoring opponents or offensive ineptitude to prevent scoring.
I'm told Texas Tech returning 9 starters is a positive, but is it really? They allowed 39 points per game last year and 6.4 yards per play. This is a historically bad defense and I'm not ready to credit it with much until they really show Northwestern State, Texas State, and New Mexico what's what. I don't care what the line is for Tech-West Virginia - I need you to take the over.
Baylor's 10-3 season owed little to their defense as they were every bit the equal of Tech's putrid lot. Like Tech, they return everybody. As with Tech, you will have to convince me that this is a good thing. I'm very firm on my only one Caucasian starting in the defensive backfield rule, and Baylor suffers from ignoring it.
Kansas should hold open tryouts at the intramural fields.