Of the 20 opportunities for the Big 12's 10 teams to rank in the top 50 in defensive scoring average or yards allowed per game last season, they only did so twice — Kansas State and West Virginia were 25th and 35th in scoring average, respectively.
From one of then nation's best defensive ends at Kansas to a tackling machine at TCU, the league is littered with a big-time defenders who boast All-American potential.
Here is the best defensive player for each Big 12 team for the 2017 season.
Baylor – Taylor Young, LB
It's tempting to pick defensive end K.J. Smith after he had 12 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year, but new Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Snow made it very clear that Taylor Young is their best defensive player.
"As I watch all the kids, Taylor is our best defensive player, by far" he said. "He’s playing a position that allows you to make a lot of plays, so he should have a really good year.”
Young ranked seventh in the Big 12 with 93 tackles and third in tackles per game (9.3) as a junior last year. He's their lone returning starter at linebacker and is line for some serious defensive production.
Iowa State – Kamari Cotton-Moya, S
Kamari Cotton-Moya is the lone returning senior starter for the Iowa State defense.
When not battling injuries, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder is one of the Big 12's best defensive backs. A hard-hitting safety who can play anywhere on the field, Cotton-Moya was rumored to be transferring after last season but that was false.
“Game-planning against him, playing against him and seeing him on the other sideline, my respect factor was as high as it could be,” head coach Matt Campbell said of playing against him while at Toledo.
Kansas – Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE
It's been a long, long time since Kansas had a defensive player like Dorance Armstrong.
The Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, Armstrong was oftentimes unstoppable last year, recording 20 tackles for loss, 10 sacks and three forced fumbles.
"He’s a good one to have in there because double teams, triple teams take the linemen off of us so we can run through and make plays," linebacker Joe Dineen said. "Dorance is a freak. He’s a stud."
Kansas State – Reggie Walker, DE
Taking a leap here.
D.J. Reed is currently the Wildcats' best defender — and arguably their best overall player — but sophomore defensive end Reggie Walker could emerge as one of the country's elite defensive ends after a strong freshman season.
Walker, who was K-State's first Freshman All-American defensive selection since 2010, had 4.5 sacks and will become their primary pass rusher with Jordan Willis gone.
Oklahoma – Jordan Thomas, CB
Jordan Thomas and Jordan Parker form one of the best corner tandems in the country. Thomas, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior who was an All-Big 12 First-Team selection last year, has seven interceptions and 20 passes defended the last two years.
Despite the success, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops says he can be even better.
“It’s just becoming a more consistent player,” Stoops said. “That’s why he’s still here. He just gave up too many deep balls a year ago. He needs to continue to work on his fundamentals. As he gets stronger in the weight room he can be a more physical player."
Linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo — whose breakout junior season featured 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks — is also a worthy candidate for the Sooners.
Oklahoma State – Tre Flowers, S
Tre Flowers get the nod over Chad Whitener, a reliable linebacker with two years of starting experience, and junior ends Jarrell Owens and Jordan Brailford, both of whom are are busting with pass-rushing potential.
Flowers, who moved from strong safety to free safety over the offseason, has 204 career tackles, two interceptions and seven passes defended.
"Tre is going to be a good free safety,” said safeties coach Dan Hammerschmidt. “He is the best tackler we have right now, so that is huge at that position. He's long, he's got everything you need, plus he can play that deep middle and he is smart and knows the defense."
TCU – Travin Howard, LB
Travin Howard's second-straight 100-tackle season was a big one. He had 130 tackles and ranked ninth in the FBS with 10 tackles per game, all while battling injuries.
“Travin was really hurt most of the year last year,” head coach Patterson said of the now-senior linebacker. “He had 130 tackles in the Big 12 at 198 pounds. Now he can lift, he can run, and he can do things. He’s back up to 215, 217.”
He had 19 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack against Texas Tech.
Texas – Poona Ford, DT
Poona Ford edges out Malik Jefferson and Malcolm Roach. The 6-foot, 275-pounder had a run-stop percentage of 12.0 ranked fifth among all FBS tackles and his 36 solo run stops were second, according to Pro Football Focus.
He also provided decent help against the pass, registering one sack, four hits and 14 quarterback hurries.
Texas Tech – Jordyn Brooks, LB
Even with linebacker Dakota Allen back — starred as a freshman in 2015 but spent 2016 at East Mississippi Community College after being kicked off the team — Jordyn Brooks is their best defender.
Like Allen, Brooks had a superb freshman season and his production — 86 tackles and five tackles for loss — was one of very few bright spots for a defense that allowed an FBS-worst 43.5 points per game.
West Virginia – Dravon Askew-Henry, S
Dravon Askew-Henry is back after missing all of 2016 with an ACL tear suffered in fall camp.
“He’s great with his eyes," safeties coach Matt Caponi said last August. "He makes plays in the open field."
He started all 13 games as a true freshman in 2014 and, following an All-Big 12 selection in 2015, was supposed to the Mountaineers' next star safety, replacing Oakland Raiders' first-round pick Karl Joseph.