So far this preseason, we've ranked the conference's best quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers and linebackers. We'll even out the offense-defense balance a little more this afternoon with a ranking of the Big 12's top 10 defensive linemen.
This will encompass both ends and tackles, so get ready. The next few minutes you spend reading this could be among your life's most intense.
1. Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
This season, he'll take on the endless double teams his position-mate Ndamukong Suh saw for all of 2009. He announced his presence loudly with a five-sack day against Baylor last season, but nobody thinks "the other guy on Nebraska's D-line" when they see Crick's name anymore. He's got good speed for his size (6-foot-6, 285 pounds) and will look to improve on his 12.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks as a junior.
2. Sam Acho, DE/DT, Texas
Acho will probably move inside occasionally when the Longhorns put out a four-man front, but he's a more natural fit as an end in a 3-4 scheme from Texas. Regardless, he'll be successful in either role. If Texas is hunting a national title in January, he's a good bet to stop downhill rushing attacks like he saw from Alabama. But he can also rush the passer -- and there are plenty of good ones across the Big 12 who require pressure to be ineffective. Acho led the Longhorns with seven sacks and 13 tackles for loss as a junior and will try to close his career with an even bigger year.
3. Jeremy Beal, DE, Oklahoma
The top three on this list are pretty interchangeable. Beal is Oklahoma's best talent on its front line and has a case as the conference's best after becoming the first Sooner ever to earn three sacks in consecutive games last season, against Tulsa and Miami. He finished tied for third in the conference with 19 tackles for loss and fifth in sacks, with 11.
4. Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri
Smith has the largest upside of any player on this list. Don't expect a sophomore slump for the raw 6-foot-5, 260-pounder. He'll be smarter and possess a more refined technique this season, which should give way to an impressive encore to his 11.5 sacks in 2009, a school record. The Big 12's reigning Freshman of the Year is the dark horse for its 2010 Defensive Player of the Year.
5. Colby Whitlock, DT, Texas Tech
Whitlock will anchor the middle of the Red Raiders new 3-4 defense, and coach Tommy Tuberville won't have trouble getting Whitlock to produce. The 6-foot-3, 294-pounder has been a force for all three seasons in Lubbock. There's no reason to think his senior season will be any different after his 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks -- both career highs -- as a junior in 2009.