This is the no-brainer choice. If you split the defensive line up, and ranked for top defensive ends, and top defensive tackles, the Longhorns probably would have been No. 1 in the league at both spots. No other teams in the Big 12 (or maybe the country) have two first-round talents at defensive end in Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, who players who produced at an All-Big 12 level a year ago. Former five-star end Reggie Wilson could also see more time as a pass-rusher, as could sophomore Cedric Reed or true freshman Torshiro Davis. The defensive tackle group could go five deep. Desmond Jackson might be an All-Big 12 candidate in his first year as a starter, while Ashton Dorsey had seven tackles for loss a year ago. JUCO transfer Brandon Moore was a handful in the fall, and converted running back Chris Whaley provides an athletic pass-rusher. Keep an eye on true freshman Malcom Brown, the nation's top defensive tackle in the 2012 class.
The Sooners might have an argument for the top defensive tackle slot just based on returning production. Casey Walker, Stacy McGee and Jamarkus McFarland offer a nice three-man rotation, while talented redshirt freshman Jordan Phillips could also factor in in a big way. Defensive end is more of a question mark, where Oklahoma must replace Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis. There's talent at the position, led by senior David King and former five-star prospect R.J. Washington, but both players need to step up their games to a higher level. The Sooners went out and grabbed a JUCO All-American just in case in Chaz Nelson, while Chuka Ndulue commandeered the No. 3 end spot in the spring.
Even though Stansly Maponga was selected to the preseason All-Big 12 team, he might still be flying under the radar despite having 13.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks a year ago. He also specialized in helping to change field position, forcing five fumbles. Those numbers stack up there with the best in the league. Ross Forrest is a returning starter as his running mate, and should feed off the double teams Maponga gets, while true freshman end Devonte Fields could be dynamite right off the bat. A lot of times, nose tackles don't put up stats, but that hasn't been a problem for David Johnson, who had seven tackles for loss a year ago. Losing D.J. Yendrey, a probable starter at defensive tackle, hurts, though Jon Lewis played in all 13 games last year. If there's one concern here, it's that the Horned Frogs aren't especially big up the middle.
4) Kansas State
Meshak Williams is back after a year that saw him put up seven sacks. Now, he'll try for more as a full-time starter. At the other end spot, Adam Davis is back to full health after a frustrating battle with some nagging injuries. When he's full-go, he's impressive, like when he had two sacks in the Cotton Bowl. Together, they form a nice pass-rushing duo. Vai Lutui also returns on the inside, where he'll pair with senior John Sua. Kansas State was stout up the middle a year ago, and plans to be this year as well, especially if players like Javonta Boyd can supply quality depth. Knowing Bill Snyder, some of that depth will come from an influx of junior college talent as well.
Nigel Nicholas bumps out to the outside after spending time at tackle, and should be a part of a strong four-man end rotation that includes three seniors. Joining Nicholas are seniors Cooper Bassett and Ryan Robinson, while junior linebacker convert Tyler Johnson could beef up the pass rush. So, too, could sophomore Jimmy Bean. At tackle, the Cowboys are were buoyed by a stellar spring out of JUCO transfer Calvin Barnett, a former top Oklahoma prospect. But the strength of the tackle group is in its depth, with Christian Littlehead, Anthony Rogers, Davidell Collins, James Castleman and Mike Mustafa giving the Cowboys a squad that should be at least four-deep.
Best of the Rest
6) West Virginia — The Mountaineers lost two excellent ends in Bruce Irvin and Julian Miller, though a move to a 3-4 eases some of the burden of replacing those players. But it begs the question: is West Virginia suited to a 3-4? End Tyler Anderson (6-2 244) isn't the type of athlete typically seen in those fronts. Will Clarke will man the strong-side end/tackle spot at 6-6 269. And Jorge Wright (6-2 289) will return at nose tackle. This could be somewhat of a question mark.
7) Iowa State — Jake McDonough is the lone returning starter, and he has big-time potential at tackle. Roosevelt Maggitt returning from injury could help the ends get to the quarterback at a better rate. Sophomore David Irving (6-7 262) could be the next excellent player at the end position, while Cleyon Laing, a former end, gives a penetrating presence next to McDonough inside. There's upside here.
8) Baylor — The Bears need to get to the quarterback more consistently off the edge, and have the returning players to do it in ends Terrance Lloyd, Gary Mason Jr., and Chris McAlister. Add in top prospect Javonte Magee, and there's plenty to work with. Nose guard Kaeron Johnson has all the potential in the world, but needs to realize it. Nick Johnson rounds out the starting four at defensive tackle in a group that could be deeper.
9) Texas Tech — There's moving down in position, and then there's Pete Robertson a scheduled starter at defensive end who used to be a safety. He, along with ends Branden Jackson, Jackson Richards and Dartwan Bush, could help the Red Raiders find the quarterback more often. But in order for improvement, Tech must improve drastically against the run. To that end, former defensive end Leon Mackey was moved inside in the spring, where he'll join Kerry Hyder and Delvon Simmons in trying to shore up that area. Don't be shocked if a newcomer, be it JUCO end Lee Adams or freshman tackle Michael Starts, also finds playing time.
10) Kansas — The Jayhawks were probably the worst line in the Big 12 in 2011, and this year's line is a giant question mark. The lone returnee who figures to start is end Toben Opurum, who had four sacks a year ago. He could be playing next to three newcomers with JUCO defensive tackles Jordan Tavai and Ty McKinney set as likely starters alongside Nebraska transfer Josh Williams at defensive end. Keba Aghostinho is back to supply depth, as is tackle John Williams. JUCO transfer Keon Stowers will be a part of the equation somewhere, either as an end or as a penetrating tackle.