The Cyclones' defense will be improved in 2015, but will still be relatively futile in the Big 12. Their DBs, led by reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year safety Kamari Cotton-Moya, are their best asset. Joining him in the secondary are Nigel Tribune, Sam E. Richardson, and rising star Brian Peavy, but T.J. Mutcherson was dismissed from the team in the offseason. Despite potential for younger players to step up, loss of key players is a recurring theme for ISU's defense. Brian Mills shows promise at linebacker, but talented rising junior Luke Knott might not be able to take the field for Iowa State in 2015 due to setback from a hip injury. The same is the case on the defense line, where top JUCO transfer Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath bring promise, but the Cyclones will be hurt by the loss of cancer-striken DE Mitchell Meyers.
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The Jayhawks hope their offensive overhaul can carry them far in 2015, otherwise David Beaty's first year at the helm is going to be a rough one. Replacing star linebacker Ben Heeney and defensive backs JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald will be an uphill task for Kansas. Jake Love will help fill the void at linebacker, but the transfer of safety Isaiah Johnson leaves KU with a depleted secondary beyond rising sophomore Matthew Boateng, whom Shepherd took under his wing in Boateng's true freshman season last year. The defensive line will be bolstered by Ben Goodman, who has started the last two seasons, but 2015 is poised to be a long season for the Jayhawks' run defense, as the Big 12 is expected to have a big rushing year—and Samaje Perine tearing up KU's defense for a record-breaking 427 yards is only a preview.
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The good news is that when you're 123rd out of 125 teams in scoring defense (41.3 points per game) and 122nd in total defense (512.7 yards per game), there's only one way you can go. Tech breaks in yet another coordinator in David Gibbs from Houston, a solid choice with a track record, and someone who should have staying power. His first order of business will be to plug a horrendously porous run defense. Gibbs is bringing a 4-3 scheme, or perhaps more of a 4-2-5 look against spread offenses, with hopes of shoring up the leaky secondary and firing up an overall middle-of-the-pack pass rush behind Pete Robertson, who moves from linebacker to defensive end after leading the Big 12 with 11 sacks. For the first time in a long time, the Red Raiders might find consistency-- and success -- from their defense.
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The Wildcats have a massive rebuilding project on offense after losing the likes of Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters, but they'll have a sturdy defense to fall back on. With Danzel McDaniel, Morgan Burns, and Dante Barnett all returning to K-State's secondary, opposing receivers will be exhausted trying to corral passes. The defense will be without steady seniors Jonathan Truman and Ryan Mueller at linebacker and defensive line, respectively, but they have young talent that will help carry the load. Rising junior defensive end Jordan Willis will help Marquel Bryant and star defensive tackle Travis Britz on the defensive line, and rising sophomore Elijah Lee looks to have a big season at linebacker after an impressive true freshman campaign. KSU has a tall task ahead in 2015, but its defense should alleviate the growing offense.
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The loss of Jordan Phillips and Chuka Ndulue leaves OU with two huge gaps in the middle of the line. Linebacker depth is also a concern, prompting a switch to more four-man fronts. That should give a player like Eric Striker plenty of opportunity to create havoc. The secondary provided its share of worrisome moments last season, but it returns plenty of talent. All in all, the '14 defense underachieved (No. 55 in scoring defense, 51st in total defense) and there's optimism that will change, mainly because there has been change. Fiery defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will take his outbursts upstairs to the box. New secondary coach Kerry Cooks received rave reviews this spring for his approach with players, and Diron Reynolds takes over the defensive line for the popular Jerry Montgomery.
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No matter the conference, Gary Patterson's defenses have remained consistently good. Last year's group was easily the Big 12's best defense, and it could have up to seven players taken in the upcoming NFL Draft, including a trio of linebackers and three defensive backs. Replacing the likes of All-American linebacker Paul Dawson has been Patterson's No. 1 mission this spring. He's got a slew of inexperienced athletes he'll have to coach up, but Patterson knows how to get his defense in gear. The Frogs ranked eighth in the nation in scoring defense and 18th in total defense. In the Big 12, they allowed the fewest first downs, ranked third in sacks and first in third-down conversion rate. One issue was defending the deep ball, and now TCU ushers in an almost entirely new secondary.
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Imagine where Texas would have been without a defense that got progressively better during Charlie Strong's first season. An inept offense put the unit in untenable positions all year, yet it managed to finish 25th in the nation in total defense and 31st in scoring defense. The problem now is that Strong must replace his top players in All-Big 12 performers Malcom Brown and Cedric Reed with players like Hassan Ridgeway and Caleb Bluiett. Then, there's the linebacker position, where All-Big 12 picks Steve Edmond and Jordan Hicks are gone and Dalton Santos suffered an injury during spring practice. Keep an eye on freshman Malik Jefferson, Texas' prized five-star recruit who enrolled early and could win a starting job. The unit should be fast and athletic, and with any luck can get a break from the offense.
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Phil Bennett's defense is always in the crosshairs, partly because his boss' offense is so good that it casts an extra-bright light on every shortcoming by the Bears defense. While last year's unit made enough strides for the athletic department to start using the hashtag #GangGreen, Bennett will be expected to produce in 2015 because of a stocked unit of returning talent. When defensive end Shawn Oakman bypassed the NFL Draft to return for a final season, it sent an electric bolt through the program. Baylor returns a fully intact defensive line that should be as nasty as any in the conference. A fully loaded secondary also returns to Waco. The Bears offense will break in a new quarterback, but it should remain electric. Therefore, the defense doesn't have to be spectacular, but a darn good one could land Baylor in the playoff.
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Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has all the tools he needs to work with to make West Virginia a terrorizing defense in 2015. The Mountaineers have the hardest-hitting defensive backs in the conference in Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon, and with the addition of rising sophomore safety Dravon Henry and rising junior cornerback Daryl Worley, WVU has undeniably the best secondary in the Big 12. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, it doesn't stop there. Led by underrated tackling sensation Nick Kwiatkoski, Dana Holgorsen's squad has a formidable corps of linebackers, which also includes senior Jared Barber, who is returning from a long injury rehab. The defense's biggest question mark is at defensive line, where the Mountaineers are in search of a true pass rusher.
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The Cowboys have the most consistent and most talented defense across the Big 12. They have a ridiculously deep secondary, which includes Kevin Peterson, Ashton Lampkin, and rising sophomore cornerback Ramon Richards -- who survived being thrown to the wolves in his true freshman season -- in addition to Indiana graduate transfer Michael Hunter. There's no downfall as OSU moves closer to the line of scrimmage. Tackling tandem Ryan Simmons and Seth Jacobs will hold down the fort at linebacker in addition to Gyasi Akem and Justin Phillips, who both played as true freshmen. The Cowboys are just as intimidating in the trenches. Emmaneul Ogbah is slated for a breakout year at defensive end and is complemented by rising senior Jimmy Bean, and up-and-comers are slated to fill the void on the inside left by James Castleman and Ofa Hautau.