Big 12 Preview: Talking Top Prospects

LOUISVILLE KY - NOVEMBER 20: Geno Smith#12 of the West Virginia Mountaineers throws a pass during the Big East Conference game against the Louisville Cardinals at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 20 2010 in Louisville Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Will a talented Texas defense be able to overcome high-flying passing offenses from TCU, West Virginia and Oklahoma? Our NFL scouting expert weighs in.

Archie Barberio wrote up his list of the top 10 NFL prospects in the Big 12 last week. We brought him in to talk about it as well as how he thinks the conference race will shake out this year.

1) You have UT's starting DE's (Okafor and Jeffcoat) as the top two NFL prospects in the conference. How do they compare to the Brian Orakpo/Sergio Kindle duo from a few years back and how dominant can the Texas defense be this year?

Texas has really done a good job of recruiting and developing their pass rushers the past few years. Even a player like Sam Acho is starting to grow into a very good football player. I believe that Orakpo was such a dynamic athlete that it will be hard for Okafor or Jeffcoat to duplicate his success in the NFL, but that doesn't mean they can't.

It wouldn't shock me to see Jeffcoat become a very good NFL pass rusher, and I see him being able to play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. I get the feeling that Okafor would be best off in a 4-3, but he is going to be very hard to block on the next level. Kindle could be a unique player, but injuries are preventing that from happening, and so far Okafor and Jeffcoat look to be more durable.

Texas is going to be able to contend with any team in the Big 12 because of this tandem on their defense. They will consistently generate pressure from both sides of the defense, and that is going to be very difficult for teams to stop, especially with all the talent in their secondary.

2) Landry Jones might be the biggest enigma in the conference. His play nosedived once Ryan Broyles got hurt last year; do you think he is a legitimate NFL starting QB?

He is a tough quarterback prospect to get a handle on. He has great size (6'4, 218) and athletic ability, but he also has a NFL type of arm that can make most of the necessary throws. I agree, once he lost his best weapon on offense in Broyles, we saw Jones struggle to perform at a consistent level. His doubters will also bring up a valid point, was it all of the talent that he had in a spread offense the reasons for his earlier success? Keep in mind he also lost DeMarco Murray, and he was a huge part of the Oklahoma offense.

What I noticed was that he struggled when teams brought pressure, but he also struggled with his decision making. If Jones wants to hear his name called high in the draft, he must show better decision making and accuracy. He has the physical tools, but does he have the mental side of the game down? That is the question he must answer in 2012.

3) West Virginia has Oklahoma State's old offensive coordinator (Holgorson) and an NFL pass-and-catch duo of Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. How do you think they will do in Year 1 in a new conference?

Dana Holgorsen learned a lot from Mike Leach from his time spent at Texas Tech. In his only year at OSU, Holgorsen turned Kendall Hunter and Justin Blackmon into All-Americans in his system. The transition is going to be a little difficult at first because West Virginia will be facing new teams that they aren't familiar with, but in time that could become a very good program. Holgorsen and his spread offense will utilize the talent he has, and it will put defenses in a difficult position to stop the upbeat tempo.

Geno Smith to Tavon Austin could be a very deadly combination. What separates Austin from other dynamic players is that he can be used like a Percy Harvin. Austin can come out of the backfield or be lined up as a wide receiver, but he also contributes on special teams. Smith is the best quarterback prospect West Virginia has had in a very long time. People loved Pat White, but Geno Smith is a much better overall quarterback prospect. If they play decent defense, then this could become a sleeper team in the Big 12.

4) When Mike Leach was hired at Texas Tech, he said his spread offense would be a way for the Red Raiders to compete against the conference powers without having the same amount of talent. He was right. Now that the Big 12 has become a passing league with everyone running some variation of the spread, would a small school be better off using the triple option or a pro-style attack?

Mike Leach may not be an easy guy to like or root for due to his personality, but the man knows the game of football. You are spot on, he came to Texas Tech and told people he was going to change the game, and he did. What Leach did with Texas Tech was simply amazing to watch, especially when he had Michael Crabtree. Teams saw the spread work for Leach, and they basically stole the idea, but it's a copycat game. Whatever is working at the time is going to be borrowed and stolen, it's just smart football to take what is working and implement into your team.

In my personal opinion, I would rather run the spread over the triple option. Both may be considered "gimmicky", but the spread has actual translation to the NFL, well somewhat. I think the triple option is much more complicated to run, and I also believe you run that offense when you lack a quarterback who can air it out.

With the pro-style attack, you are running a more legitimate offense. You can still run the football, but the passing game is your bread and butter. I am also keeping in mind that if I was a college football coach, I would want to prepare my players for the next level. With the triple option, you will make it very difficult for your players to make it in the NFL because they have never played in a pro style offense. Take a look at Georgia Tech who runs an option offense, wide receivers like Demariyus Thomas and Stephen Hill are going to be so raw from a route running standpoint that it will take them a few years in the NFL to adjust.

5) Who wins the Big 12 conference this year and why?

Oh so you are gonna put me on the spot? That is a very difficult question to answer, partly because I am not big on pre-season predictions anymore. It depends on what team gets hot at the right time, but I think it's going to be between three teams, and those teams are Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia.

Each team has their flaws. Oklahoma has some question marks on the offense, and we don't know what Landry Jones will step up, but they are a very talented football team with the best QB in the conference. Texas, in my opinion, has a question mark at QB, but is loaded at a lot of other key positions.

That leaves West Virginia, who I am predicting to win the Big 12. I was really impressed with how they played against LSU last year, and that tells me that they have the talent to win big games, plus they a big advantage with some games scheduled at home. They are in a new conference, so that means they will have to adjust to seeing different opponents, but I don't want to discount the WVU program because of that. They have a very good quarterback and dynamic weapons on offense, so for me it's their defense. If their defense doesn't blow games, I can see West Virginia being a surprise winner in the Big 12.

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