's a tackle machine, leading the Jayhawks with 106 in '07. If Mortensen is completely healed from an offseason knee injury, he'll be a frontrunner for conference Player of the Year. Rivera's been tabbed for the Bednarik watch list and is considered the best pro prospect of the trio. Holt, plucked out of Altus by Mark Mangino and Co., combines speed and consistency. He may not be on any lists — yet — but he and Rivera were honorable mention All-Big 12 a year ago. Missouri's linebacking corps, led by All-Big 12 pick Sean Weatherspoon, is another standout Big 12 group. But overall, the league's backers aren't all that inspiring. Locally, Oklahoma is hoping for a healthy season for Ryan Reynolds and either youngsters or transfers to fill the spots around him. Oklahoma State's Patrick Lavine is proven, but the Cowboys, too, seek emerging talents to surround him.
Kansas linebacker Joe Mortensen, center, is a returning first-team All-Big 12 pick and on the watch lists for the Lombardi and Nagurski awards. The associated press