The league's top group, Oklahoma, is one of just two in the conference that can boast a true shutdown pair of cornerbacks. Other top units like Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech will rely on their big-time safeties to turn the tide against league offenses.
The Big 12's top defensive back groups are below.
It all starts at cornerback, where the Sooners have the Big 12's top lock-down duo in Jamell Fleming and Demontre Hurst. Both are all-conference candidates. And don't forget former top recruit Gabe Lynn, who filled in for Fleming in the spring and looked great. The Sooners don't have as much experience at safety, but are really high on Aaron Colvin, who over from cornerback to strong safety. Sam Proctor and Javon Harris, a pair of really good athletes, are fighting it out for the starting free safety job.
2) Texas A&M
The Aggies return all of their starters, though this group struggled at times to defend the pass a year ago. Still, there's plenty of reason for optimism, starting with Coryell Judie, one of the top man cover corners in the league. Fellow senior Terrence Frederick is a nice cover man at the other cornerback spot as well. Dustin Harris tied for the team lead with four interceptions last year as the team's third corner. The safeties are solid with Steven Campbell, Trent Hunter and Steven Terrell all back from a year ago.
3) Oklahoma State
The Cowboys return three starters from a year ago, and the fourth player — sophomore cornerback Devin Hedgepeth — acquitted himself well as a rotational player a year ago. Brodrick Brown is a solid corner opposite Hedgepeth, and safety Markelle Martin is among the Big 12's best. He's a huge hitter. Johnny Thomas is an excellent free safety, and Daytawion Lowe adds another quality safety to the mix.
Kenny Vaccaro had a huge spring, propelling himself ahead of last year's starter, Christian Scott, and perhaps setting him up for an all-conference run. Blake Gideon is entering his fourth year as a starter. What he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in intelligence. Adrian Phillips appears to be a budding star after moving from safety to cornerback in the spring, and Carrington Byndom has play-making potential at the other cornerback spot. Watch out for true freshman Quandre Diggs, who enrolled early and will make a push for playing time.
5) Texas Tech
The Red Raiders are mostly starting over on defense, with the lone exception being the defensive backfield. Cody Davis is a star and a mass tackler. D.J. Johnson moved to free safety after two years at cornerback and looks like a great complement. Tre' Porter had a big freshman year all over the secondary, and fellow sophomore Derrick Mays, a former wide receiver, will be his partner. Terrance Bullitt is a lanky strong safety who's a physical tackler. Jarvis Phillips and Brett Dewhurst add quality depth.
Best of the Rest
6) Kansas — Among the positives to come from last year's rough season was the emergence of Tyler Patmon and Greg Brown at cornerback. The Jayhawks are even better at safety, where both Bradley McDougald and Keeston Terry have NFL potential. Depth, especially at cornerback, could be an issue.
7) Kansas State — David Garrett was the Big 12's best blitzing defensive back a year ago, and now he'll have to show he can hold up as a cover man. JUCO transfer Nigel Malone will play opposite him. The Wildcats are hoping for a rebound year from Tysyn Hartman, while Ty Zimmerman emerged as a top safety a year ago.
8) Missouri — Safety Kenji Jackson might be the only returning starter in the secondary, but the Tigers figure to have a deep and athletic group. Talented sophomores Tavon Bolden and Matt White will fight it out at strong safety, while Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines will likely handle the cornerback duties.
9) Iowa State — Leonard Johnson is among the Cyclones' top cover corners since the Big 12's inception, and Jeremy Reeves is an able partner. Ter'Ran Benton will earn the start at strong safety after moving from cornerback to linebacker to nickel back. The free safety job will come down to young players Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield.
10) Baylor — The Bears must rebuild, but have Chance Casey and Tyler Stephenson as experienced cornerbacks. At safety, Mike Hicks and Sam Holl will try to replace some of the production lost from All-Big 12 safety Byron Landor's graduation.