MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Defensive line is not going to be the strongest position for most members of the Big 12. Baylor and Texas both have defensive lines that could terrorize offenses. If the rest of the defensive lines are as weak as thought to be, there could be a lot of high scoring games for fans to enjoy this season.
- Baylor Bears- Shawn Oakman and Andrew Billings:
The Baylor Bears have one of the toughest defensive line tandems in the Big 12. Oakman returned to Baylor for his senior season and is one of the most physically imposing players in the country. The defensive end has continued to improve his technique to build on his 11 sacks in 2014. The 6-foot-9, 280-pound Oakman was first team All-Big 12 last season and is a probable first round draft pick in 2016.
Billings is coming off a first-team All-Big 12 performance as a sophomore. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound nose tackle is a physical Phenom and is difficult to block. In 2013, Billings broke the Texas high school powerlifting record set by Mark Henry 22 years before. He combined to lift a grueling 2,010 pounds (500 pound bench press, 705 pound deadlift and 805 pound squat). The big man can run a 40 in under five seconds. The duo of Oakman and Billings will likely help Baylor make a run at the College Football Playoff this season.
- Texas Longhorns- Hassan Ridgeway and Desmond Jackson:
Texas may have lost Malcom Brown, but Ridgeway is a solid defensive tackle. The 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive end is ready to lead the Longhorns’ defense. Ridgeway stepped up last season when Jackson got injured and became one of Texas’ biggest playmakers. He finished second to Brown in sacks with six. Ridgeway had nine-and-a-half tackles for loss. He is strong and powerful and can get off blocks.
Jackson suffered a season-ending ankle injury against UCLA last season, but is back and ready to help the Longhorns. The 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior nose guard gives Texas a nasty one-two punch. Jackson is expected to be one of the Longhorns’ vocal leaders. Jackson recorded three tackles and a fumble recovery against BYU last season. He had two tackles against UCLA prior to suffering an injury in the second half. Jackson’s career high eight tackles came in 2013 against West Virginia.
- TCU Horned Frogs- Davion Pierson:
Chucky Hunter was a huge loss to the defensive line for the Horned Frogs, leaving lots of question marks. Pierson is expected to lead TCU this season. The senior defensive tackle is the Horned Frogs’ most experienced player, starting in 31 games. He was a captain in all 13 games last season and was highly respected by coaches and teammates. The 6-foot-2, 305-pound senior had eight tackles for loss among his 30 stops last season. He earned an Honorable-mention All-Big 12.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys- Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean
Ogbah tied for the most sacks in the Big 12 last season. He is also a force to reckon with in the run game. The 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive end was a disruptive force against Florida State with six tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and two pass breakups. He was the coaches’ Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2014, and was voted First-Team All-Big 12 by both the coaches and the Associated Press.
At the other end, the Cowboys have Bean, which makes for one of the best starting units in the conference. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior racked up 42 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season. His best game came against Texas Tech when he had an eight tackle and two sack performance. In 2013, he had 34 tackles and five sacks. This dynamic duo could help the Cowboys pull off some upsets this season.
- Oklahoma Sooners- Charles Tapper and Charles Walker
The Sooners have a huge void to fill up the middle with the loss of Jordan Phillips and Chuka Ndulue. Sophomore defensive tackle Charles Walker will likely take over that role, but he will have competition for the starting job from Neville Gallimore, redshirt freshman Courtney Garnett, Romar and junior Jordan Wade. The 6-foot-2, 299-pound Walker has star potential. He played in eight of 13 games but missed games due to an injury. The sophomore defensive tackle had 10 tackles, including a career-high five tackles against Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. If Walker wins the role, look for big things from him.
Tapper should be the best player on the defensive line for the Sooners. The 6-foot-4, 283-pound defensive end had a disappointing season in 2014. In 13 games last season, he had 37 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He wasn’t as disruptive as Oklahoma needed him to be, averaging just a half a tackle for loss per game and finishing the season with three sacks. Tapper will be expected to perform better in 2015 and lead the young Sooners’ defense.
- West Virginia Mountaineers- Noble Nwachukwu and Kyle Rose:
The Mountaineers lost their best defensive lineman Shaq Riddick but Nwachukwu and Rose return after a productive 2014 season. The 6-foot-2, 271-pound Nwachukwu started 13 games for the Mountaineers in 2014. He had 24 tackles, including eight tackles for loss and 21 unassisted tackles, two sacks and four pass breakups.
Rose is expected to be the leader of this unit, but is coming off a disappointing spring, where he was arrested for drunk in public and assaulting a police officer while resisting arrest. In 2014, the 6-foot-4, 295-pound nose tackle had 35 tackles, one tackle for loss and one blocked field goal in 13 games. He became a force in 2013 when he stepped up his game and had 49 tackles and 8.5 tackles for a loss. Last season the Mountaineers were ranked 63rd nationally against the run and 95th in sacks. In order to stand a chance in the Big 12, Rose and the rest of the line need to improve on those numbers.
- Texas Tech Red Raiders- Rika Levi
Levi is a 6-foot-2, 339-pound JUCO transfer from the College of San Mateo. He was rated a three-star prospect by Rivals, Scout and ESPN. The junior defensive tackle started four games for the Red Raiders in 2014 and He had at least one tackle in 9-of-11 games played. Levi showed flashes of brilliance last year but he was also disappointing at times. He has slimmed down and upped his stamina and the Red Raiders will be counting on Levi to be more consistent this season.
- Kansas State Wildcats- Travis Britz
Britz has the potential to develop into a star this season for the Wildcats. The senior defensive tackle will need to be both a leader and playmaker. Britz was named a team captain for the upcoming season and earned 2015 Preseason All-Big 12 honors from Athlon and Phil Steele. The 6-foot-4, 293-pound starter finished the 2014 season with 27 tackles, five tackles for loss and the first three sacks of his career, earning Honorable Mention All-Big 12. Britz started in 10 games for Kansas State before suffering a season-ending injury. He has five career blocked kicks, which ties a school record.
- Kansas Jayhawks- Ben Goodman:
The defensive line is one of the most experienced groups for the Jayhawks this upcoming season. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Goodman started 12 games for Kansas in 2014. He had 21 tackles, one sack, one fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry on the season. The senior will be the anchor of the line and will be leaned tremendously. Goodman is faster than most lineman in the league. With Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen’s plan to have a more aggressive offense, Goodman should be free to attack opponents’ quarterbacks Jayhawks will need him to be more of a vocal leader on and off the field.
- Iowa State Cyclones- Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath:
Tucker is a JUCO transfer from Copiah-Lincoln Community College who signed with the Cyclones in December of last season. The 6-foot-1, 285-pounder is expected to make significant contributions on the Iowa State defensive line. He is confident and despite his small size, can cause damage. Tucker was 2013 JUCO Defensive Player of the Year.
Leath will stir havoc for the Cyclones’ defense. The 6-foot-4, 295-pounder recorder 3 1/2 sacks in 10 games for Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. He recorded 45 total tackles and 3.5 sacks in 10 games for Coffeyville in 2014.The Cyclones were near the bottom of the Big 12 last season in many defensive statistics, including sacks. Tucker and Leath may be able to turn that around.