1. Baylor: All three starters return for Art Briles up front, and all three are formidable. 6-foot-9 colossus Shawn Oakman is the second coming of Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and brute strong Andrew Billings commands double teams inside. Beau Blackshear, always overshadowed by Oakman and Billings, is more than competent in his own right.
2. Texas: Even when the Longhorns are down, they always have superior talent in the defensive line, and this season should be no exception. The strength of the unit will be inside where Hassan Ridgeway (pictured above) should vie strongly for All-Big 12 honors, and Desmond Jackson, provided he can avoid the injury bug, should do the same. Naashon Hughes is a returning starter at defensive end and JUCO transfer Quincy Vasser looks like a strong candidate to nail down the other end position.
3. Oklahoma State: The quality of Big 12 defensive lines drops noticeably at this point, but Oklahoma State’s defensive end extraordinaire Emmanuel Ogbah is about as good as it gets. Jimmy Bean, Ogbah’s opposite bookend, is also capable of bedeviling offenses. Inside, however, there are questions. Vili Leveni and Vincent Taylor figure to get first crack. Leveni is the more experienced of the two.
4. Texas Tech: The Red Raider defensive line bears an at least superficial resemblance to Oklahoma State’s. Pete Robertson, the Big 12’s reigning sack champ, creates havoc on the edge and veteran Branden Jackson is a good anchor on the other side. Presumed interior starters Rika Levi and Keland McElrath were spotty as JUCO transfers last season and need to improve. Cobalt blue chipper Breidan Fehoko will also be in the mix. Depth at end appears iffy.
5. TCU: The Frogs have little star power up front, but do have ample experience, and the coaching they receive will be second to none. The returning starters are ends Josh Carraway and Terrell Lathan, and tackle Davion Pierson (pictured above). Light-in-the-britches Chris Bradley is the early leader to start next to Pierson. TCU’s defensive line depth looks to be above average, too.
6. Kansas State: If I were to nominate a single Big 12 defensive line as a dark horse it would definitely be Bill Snyder’s gang. Only end Jordan Willis and tackle Travis Britz are returning starters, and neither is a bona fide honors candidate, but both players are extremely solid. Furthermore, presumptive starters Will Geary and Marquel Bryant, although not returning starters, saw extensive action in 2014 and acquitted themselves well.
7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers are the only Big 12 defense to sport a base three-man alignment, and two of the three starters from a year ago return. Kyle Rose and Noble Nwachukwu are both capable players. The new member of the starting lineup figures to be Christian Brown.
8. Oklahoma: The Sooners’ questions on the offensive line are very much mirrored on the other side of the ball. Charles Tapper (pictured above), a good one, is the only fulltime starter that returns. The prime candidates to fill the remaining three spots are ends Matt Dimon and Devonte Bond, and tackle Matthew Romar. It’s hard to imagine this group developing into a vintage Sooner defensive line.
9. Kansas: First-year head man David Beaty welcomes back two returning starters on the defensive line in Ben Goodman and T.J. Semke. The latter is adequate, but neither will put the fear of God into opposing defensive coordinators.
10. Iowa State: The Cyclones figure to go with Dale Pierson, Darius White, Devlyn Cousin and Vernell Trent up front. None are returning starters and none boast pedigrees to make one sit up and take notice.