With less than six weeks left until the 2023 college football season kicks off, the time has come to start taking a serious look at the Big 12 landscape and where teams stack up against one another.
With 14 teams in the conference in 2023, there are a lot of new names and playmakers to get familiar with, but we are here to help. Leading up to the 2023 season, Heartland College Sports has taken the liberty of power ranking the position units in the Big 12 heading into the year.
Today, we continue the Power Rankings with the defensive back units from around the league. Let’s take a look.
Projected Starter(s): CB Josh Newton, CB Avery Helm, SS Mark Perry, FS Bud Clark, NB Millard Bradford
Despite the Horned Frogs losing first-team All-American DB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, TCU finds itself atop the Big 12 Defensive Back power rankings. Josh Newton, Bud Clark, and Millard Bradford all return after making the All-Big 12 team last year, while Mark Perry returns after being second in tackles in 2022. The only newcomer to the unit, Avery Helm, is a former four-star DB from Florida and should fit into the group nicely with Hodges-Tomlinson’s production needing to be replaced.
Projected Starter(s): FC Terrance Brooks, BC Ryan Watts, BS Jerrin Thompson, FS Jalen Catalon, NB Jahdae Barron
Texas had an argument for the top spot on this list but lands just behind TCU in our rankings. The Longhorns return 3rd Team All-Big 12 DB Jahdae Barron, as well as CB Ryan Watts and S Jerrin Thompson, who were both honorable mention All-Big 12 selections a year ago. Sophomore Terrance Brooks is in line to start as the field corner, while Wake Forest transfer Gavin Holmes will provide another option there as well. Arkansas transfer Jalen Catalon looks to be the new starter at safety and brings both physicality and experience to this group. Texas should once again be strong against the pass.
Projected Starter(s): NB Justin Harrington, CB Kendal Dolby, CB Woodi Washington, SS Billy Bowman, FS Reggie Pearson
Despite getting carved up at times last season, the Sooners’ secondary actually led the Big 12 in interceptions, with 17 on the year. In 2023, they return starters Woodi Washington and Billy Bowman, as well as Justin Harrington, who has been a main talking point for the Sooners this offseason at the Cheetah position. Oklahoma adds hard-hitting safety Reggie Pearson from Texas Tech, as well as five-star safety Peyton Bowen. On top of that, the Sooners added the top JUCO DB Kendal Dolby in 2023, who was an All-American and SJCFC Defensive Player of the Year. Oklahoma’s secondary has the chance to take a leap in Brent Venables’ second year.
Projected Starter(s): HAWK Craig Young, CB Cobee Bryant, CB Mello Dotson, FS OJ Burroughs, BS Kenny Logan
Kansas brings back each of its top six defensive backs from a season ago, led by Cobee Bryant (1st Team All-Big 12) and Kenny Logan (3rd Team All-Big 12). Craig Young is back at the HAWK position, while Mello Dotson and OJ Burroughs return at corner and safety, respectively. The Jayhawks also added LSU transfer Damarius McGhee, and have another year’s worth of experience under their belt. They might not lead the conference in passing defense by season’s end, but it won’t be because the secondary isn’t equipped to succeed. If KU can generate any kind of pass rush, this secondary will be solid.
5. Iowa State
Projected Starter(s): STAR Beau Freyler, LC Myles Purchase, RC TJ Tampa, BS Malik Verdon, FS Jeremiah Cooper
Iowa State led the Big 12 in passing defense a season ago, allowing just 178.3 yards per contest. They lose Anthony Johnson at safety, but otherwise, are in great shape heading into 2023. The Cyclones return TJ Tampa (2nd Team All-Big 12) and Myles Purchase (HM All-Big 12) at corner, Beau Freyler at STAR (HM All-Big 12), and have Malik Verdon and Jeremiah Cooper at safety, who combined for nine starts. The Cyclones have depth and experience across the board in the secondary and should be solid again in 2023.
6. Texas Tech
Projected Starter(s): STAR CJ Bakersfield, BC Rayshad Williams, FC Malik Dunlap, BS Tyler Owens, FS Dadrion Taylor-Demerson
A season ago, Texas Tech gave up 256.8 yards through the air per game, ranking sixth in the conference. Although they lose Pearson to Oklahoma, the Red Raiders return three super seniors in the secondary, led by Malik Dunlap (2nd team All-Big 12). In addition to three returning starters, the Red Raiders added CJ Bakersfield (SDSU) at nickel, as well as Bralyn Lux at corner. This group should improve in 2023, especially if their defensive line is as good as we expect it to be.
Projected Starter(s): STAR Bryson Jackson, CB Ajani Carter, CB Tevin Williams, S Devin Lemear, S AJ McCarty
The Baylor Bears lost four starters from the secondary a season ago, but still have the pieces to be in the top half of the league in the secondary. After ranking second in the Big 12 with 222.8 passing yards allowed per game, BU should again be stout. Bryson Jackson should excel stepping into an expanded role, while Devin Lemear (HM Big 12) brings back plenty of experience at safety. AJ McCarty and Tevin Williams need to take the next step, and newcomers Isaiah Dunson and Ajani Carter will need to be as advertised, but we expect this group to be good despite a lot of new faces.
8. Oklahoma State
Projected Starter(s): ROV Kendal Daniels, CB Cam Smith, CB Korie Black, SS Lyrik Rawls, FS Trey Rucker
Oklahoma State’s defense took a tumble in 2022 after being among the best in the nation in 2021, but there were some bright spots. One of those was the emergence of Kendal Daniels, who might just be one of the most underrated players in this league. With Daniels now at rover, Trey Tucker will have to step up at safety. Lyrik Rawls flashed in the bowl game against Wisconsin and should be a mainstay this season. Korie Black gives the Pokes an experienced starter at corner, while Cam Smith offers upside at the other corner position. There’s more experience in this group in 2023, and they should improve on last year’s numbers.
9. Kansas State
Projected Starter(s): CB Jacob Parrish, CB Will Lee, SS Kobe Savage, FS Marques Sigle
Kansas State is going to have to deal with life after losing the best CB duo in the Big 12, with Julius Brents and Ekow Boye-Doe both gone. They do return Jacob Parrish, and add one of the top JUCO DBs in the country with Will Lee, but they will likely take a step back on the outside. 2nd Team All-Big 12 safety Kobe Savage returns, giving the Wildcats one of the best safeties in the league, while Marquis Sigle brings 24 games of experience from NDSU. This group might not be as dominant as it was a season ago, but they’re still plenty good enough to give opposing quarterbacks issues.
Projected Starter(s): NB Deshawn Pace, BC Jordan Young, FC Sammy Anderson, SS DJ Taylor, FS Bryon Threats,
A year ago, Cincinnati might have had one of the top secondaries in the Big 12, but heading into 2023 they have a lot to replace. Bryon Threats returns at safety, and Deshawn Pace will play nickel, which helps. Florida transfer Jordan Young will need to jump right in at corner, as will DJ Taylor (Arizona State) at the other safety spot. Taj Ward moves from nickel to safety and could help with that spot as well, but there are a lot of new faces and moving parts with this group right now.
Projected Starter(s): NB Nikai Martinez, CB Decorian Patterson, CB Brandon Adams, SS Quadric Bullard, FS Jireh Wilson
UCF is tasked with replacing three heavy contributors from their secondary a season ago, and took the transfer portal “Frankenstein” approach. The Knights added corners Fred Davis (Clemson) and Decorian Patterson (Middle Tenn.), plus safeties DeJordan Mask (Texas State) and Jireh Wilson (ECU) in hopes of getting depth and experience infused into the group. Nikai Martinez and Quadric Bullard combined for eight starts a season ago and will have another year’s worth of growth in the system. This group has a high ceiling, but a lot of questions to answer.
12. West Virginia
Projected Starter(s): NB Lance Dixon, CB Montre Miller, CB Beanie Bishop, CS Marcis Floyd, FS Aubrey Banks
West Virginia ranked ninth in the Big 12 in passing yards allowed (262.3 ypg), and last in interceptions (4) and avg yards per reception (8.2). They return two starters in Marcis Floyd and Aubrey Banks while adding fifth-year senior Montre Miller at corner. A pair of transfers in CB Beanie Bishop (Minnesota) and Anthony Wilson (Ga Southern) will help ease the losses from last year’s unit, but overall, they’re likely in a better spot heading into 2023.
Projected Starter(s): LC Jakob Robinson, RC Eddie Heckard, SS Micah Harper, FS Talan Alfrey
BYU’s passing defense had some issues a season ago, allowing 234.3 yards per game. They return Micah Harper (2nd Team All-Independent) and Talan Alfrey at safety, plus Jakob Robinson and Jacob Boren at corner. This group lost its two most experienced CBs and adds two transfers from Weber State that should help with depth. With a new DC and a new system heading into the Big 12, we expect this group to have some growing pains.
Projected Starter(s): NB Alex Hogan, CB Malik Fleming, CB Jalen Emery, BS Antonio Brooks, FS AJ Haulcy
Antonio Brooks and Alex Hogan both started games last season for the Cougars but suffered season-ending injuries before returning for 2023. The duo is expected to start, but a lot of the faces around them will be new. Malik Fleming (ECU), AJ Haulcy (New Mexico), and Isaiah Hamilton (Texas Southern) are expected to play roles in this new-look group, while Hogan will make the move from CB to nickel. With a lot of new members and several pieces moving positions, UH could have a rough first year in the Big 12 after giving up 278.6 ypg through the air in 2022 (122nd nationally).