Arizona Wildcats

Phil Steele Lists Six Big 12 Teams with Top 25 Defensive Back Rooms

While it’s no secret that several members of the Big 12 Conference have impressive defensive back units, college football guru Phil Steele confirmed that fact by listing six teams from the league in the nation’s top 25.

After including a total offseason haul paired with returners set to take the field in 2024, Steele featured the likes of Kansas State, Iowa State, UCF, TCU, Utah, and Arizona on his list.



Upon promoting Joe Klanderman from safeties coach to defensive coordinator in 2020, Kansas State’s entire defensive unit took a major step forward. Klanderman has led one of the best secondaries in the Big 12 Conference during his time in Manhattan and the 2024 season appears to be no different.

The Wildcats retained two of their top cornerbacks in junior Jacob Parrish and senior Keenan Garber, who both had sizeable impacts in the previous season. The group’s main departure to address was the loss of veteran safety Kobe Savage, who elected to transfer to Oregon for his final year of eligibility. K-State addressed the loss by adding an impressive player from the MAC in Ball State transfer Jordan Riley, who, alongside VJ Payne and senior Marques Sigle, should make for a great group.


While it is important to note that Iowa State lost one of the nation’s best cornerbacks to the NFL ranks with TJ Tampa heading out the door, the retention they were able to manage is nothing short of incredible.

The Cyclones retained their top overall tackler and the top tackler in the defensive back room with junior Beau Fryler, who posted 106 tackles, one sack, three interceptions, and five pass breakups in 2024. In addition to Fryler, they kept a duo of impressive coverage guys in Myles Purchase and Malik Verdon, as well as sophomore safety Jeremiah Cooper, who led the team with five interceptions.

NO. 18 UCF

To put it simply, UCF’s defensive back room was depleted by the transfer portal. The team had to address the losses of Corey Thornton and Nikai Martinez, as well as several other role players. That’s why it is so impressive to see them among the nation’s best. Gus Malzahn and the Knights hit the portal hard and brought in some studs.

For starters, the team brought in two well-known names for Big 12 fans with Cincinnati safety duo Bryon Threats and Deshawn Pace, who combined for nearly 140 tackles, three interceptions, two forced fumbles, 2.5 sacks, and 11 pass breakups in 2023 at UC. They also added an incredible class of experience mixed with high-upside guys through the portal in Mac McWilliams, Sheldon Arnold II, Tre’Wuan Fegans, Cedrick Hawkins, and Antione Jackson.

NO. 20 TCU

TCU’s biggest loss in the secondary from 2023 was veteran corner Josh Newton, who found himself on an NFL roster with the Cincinnati Bengals. They also lost safeties Millard Bradford and Mark Perry to the NFL ranks but did manage to retain some important pieces.

Sonny Dykes’ group adds the presence of veteran players like Bud Clark, who snagged three interceptions and five pass breakups last season, as well as Abe Camara, Channing Canada, and Avery Helm. They also brought in a nice haul through the transfer portal with veterans like Utah’s JaTravis Broughton, New Mexico State’s Andre Seldon, Old Dominion’s LaMareon James, and more.


As mentioned in the previous ranking, Utah lost starting cornerback JaTravis Broughton to the TCU Horned Frogs. The saga was interesting as Broughton appeared to be on the fence about leaving, but regardless, Utah was down one corner. In addition to the loss of Broughten, they also lost second-round NFL pick Cole Bishop, as well as Sione Vaki.

One of the biggest returners in Salt Lake City is young cornerback Tao Johnson, who posted some solid numbers in his first season of college football. He, alongside defensive back Zemaiah Vaughn, totaled 11 pass breakups, 86 tackles, and one interception. They also added some high-upside veterans in Stanford’s Alaka’i Gilman, Michigan’s Cameron Calhoun, and Georgia Tech’s Kenan Johnson.


Rounding out Phil Steele’s list are the Arizona Wildcats, who some feel were too low in the overall rankings. The team returns one of the best safety units in the country with Dalton Johnson and Gunner Maldonado, who combined for 165 tackles, six forced fumbles, three interceptions, and two pass breakups.

The big question for Arizona is filling the loss of Ephesians Prysock who departed for Washington alongside Jedd Fisch. The next men up for Arizona are pretty impressive in their own right and posted respectable numbers of their own with the top cover man for UA returning in Tecario Davis, as well as Treydan Stukes. The Wildcats didn’t do a ton in the transfer portal as far as defensive backs go but they did add solid players in Demetrius Freeney and Jordan Shaw.

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