As the old saying goes, "offense scores points but defense wins championships." When it comes to slowing down the high-power Big XII offenses, the conference defenses have gotten faster and somehow are still getting bigger.
Defensive success rises and falls on the line. If they can't pinch gaps, get into the backfield, and contain the edge then it puts more pressure on the second and third levels of the defense. For years the conference has been known for its prolific offenses, but 2014 may mark the new era where defenses rule the conference, and the guys up front will play a significant role in that.
I would go as far as to say that the top four rankings for this position legitimately have a shot at the conference championship and a playoff berth just because of their defensive lines. Here's how we feel the Big XII is shaking out on the defensive line in 2014.
1. Oklahoma Sooners - Jordan Phillips is set to return to the middle of Oklahoma's line and will be sided by returning starters Chuka Ndulue and Charles Tapper as the ends. Behind the three starters OU has a load of experienced depth.
2. Texas Longhorns - Senior defensive end Cedric Reed had ten sacks in 2013 and was a second team All-Conference selection. He'll be joined by junior Malcolm Brown (12 tackles for loss in 2013) in the middle as a returning starter.
3. Baylor Bears - Baylor loses both defensive ends from 2013, of which Chris McAlliester was an All-Conference selection. Beau Blackshear and Andrew Billings return in the middle of the line while juniors Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer break in as starters on the ends.
4. TCU Horned Frogs - The suspension of All-Conference defensive end Devonte Fields dropped the Frogs in our rankings. James McFarland and Bryson Henderson will compete to replace him in the line up, but Fields' absence leaves Chucky Hunter as the lone returning starter on the line.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys - The Cowboys are banking former JUCO's Sam Wren (DE) and Ofa Hautau (DT) to fill the void for the departed Tyler Johnson and Calvin Barnett, both were All-Conference selections. Senior James Castleman (33 tackles/1 sack) returns to the middle and junior Jimmy Bean (34 tackles/4.5 sacks) returns on the end.
6. Kansas State Wildcats - JUCO transfer Terrell Clinkscales will join Travis Britz (37 tackles/3.5 sacks) in the middle of the Wildcats' defensive line while Ryan Mueller (62 tackles/11.5 sacks) returns at end. Junior Marquel Bryant will take over for Alauna Finau at the other defensive end position.
7. Texas Tech Red Raiders - Tech is starting over in the middle with JUCO transfer Rika Levi and senior Jackson Richards but have Branden Jackson (44 tackles/4 sacks) returning at defensive end.
8. West Virginia Mountaineers - WVU loses two of their three starters on the line with tackle Kyle Rose (49 takles/1 sack) as the lone returner. Former FCS All-American (G-Webb) Shaquille Riddick will make a push for one of the end positions.
9. Kansas Jayhawks - Senior Keon Stowers (26 tackles) returns in the middle of the KU line and former Buck linebacker Ben Goodman (34 tackles/3 sacks) takes over at defensive end.
10. Iowa State Cyclones - Seniors Brandon Jensen (NG) and Cory Morrissey (DE - 52 tackles/2 sacks) return to the line. JUCO transfer Trent Taylor steps in at the other end spot and sophomore Pierre Aka will most likely become the other guy in the middle.