Wistrom only played two years in the Big 12 — the first two years of the league, and his last two at Nebraska — and was twice the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. No player has repeated since, and only two other defensive ends have won Big 12 DPOY in the ensuing 14 years, with one of those two sharing the award. But Wistrom, who was also a consensus first-team All-American in both of those seasons, didn't share with anyone, making 37 tackles for loss and 18 sacks in two years. Smith, like Wistrom, was a selection to the Big 12 All-Decade team, after making multiple first-team All-Big 12 squads and earning some All-America mention as a senior. Smith was one of the most daunting physical specimens the Big 12 had seen, blessed with 270-pound size by the end of his college career and surprising speed for his heft and strength. Smith currently ranks fourth all-time among Big 12 defensive ends in tackles for loss with 53, something he accomplished in three seasons. Everyone ahead of him had four.
Orakpo was a unanimous first-team All-American in 2008, flashing in a big way with 17 tackles for loss and 11 sacks in just 12 games. Like Smith, Orakpo was simply too physically superior for the blockers he went up against, showcasing big-time speed and tremendous weight room strength. Orakpo was the only other defensive end, along with Wistrom, to grab sole possession of the league's DPOY. If Orakpo was a flash, Beal was a steadily shining light. He wasn't ever named to a first-team All-America squad at Oklahoma. Shoot, he only made one first-team All-Big 12. But he was second team in two other years, and his career numbers stack up against anybody's. Beal's 58.5 career tackles for loss are more than any other Big 12 defensive linemen. And while he wasn't quite as elite as a sack artist. It's worth noting that his 29 career sacks average out to more than sacks per season for all four years.
Howard might be the most underrated defensive end in Big 12 history. Because his numbers, and his impact on several outstanding Kansas State teams should put him up among the best. Yet you rarely hear Howard's name mentioned with that of guys like Wistrom, Smith or Orakpo, or even his third-team mate Cody. And that's unfortunate. Howard was a force of nature from his end spot, making second team All-Big 12 as a sophomore, then first team as a junior and senior. Only two Big 12 defensive ends can top his 54 career tackles for loss. And then there's this: over his last three years, Howard averaged 16.3 tackles for loss and 9.2 sacks per year. Cody maybe didn't quite jump off the board as much statistically as some players, but he was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 selection, and he had 31 tackles for loss and 17 sacks over those two years. His final season, his performance earned him some first-team All-America mention as well, and Cody was the third and final defensive end named to the Big 12 All-Decade team with Wistrom and Smith. Cody maybe wasn't the elite pass-rusher that some on this list were, but he was better against the run than almost all of them. And that certainly counts for something.
First, a word on the last guys out. Jimmy Wilkerson was an outstanding defensive end for Oklahoma, seemingly forever. But he just didn't quite have the production to make this list. Brian Smith of Missouri had the production in terms of sacks — he and Aaron Hunt are the co-career leaders — but Smith 1) never had a double-digit sack season and 2) he was such a liability against the run that the coaches named him honorable mention All-Big 12 for three of his four years, and second-team in his senior year. Hunt had some similar issues, but was more explosive at his peak than Smith was. Redding was a pleasant surprise, and somebody brought up by experienced Big 12 coaches. He was a two-time first-team All-Big 12 player, and finished his career first among Big 12 defensive linemen in tackles for loss with 57 (he has since been passed by Beal). Redding earned some first-team All-America mention as well. Alexander did not. But Alexander was only the third defensive end to win the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2011, though he shared it with Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein. Alexander often played second fiddle to Beal in his carer, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that he had 32 tackles for loss in his final two seasons.