In the pass-happy Big 12 a quality pass-rush can be the difference between winning and losing. Offenses have an advantage over defenses these days, and while Big 12 offenses will ultimately outperform the defenses over the longhaul, getting to the quarterback frequently can derail any offense on any given drive. Unfortunately for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey, two outstanding linebackers, are gone now. If the Cowboys’ ambitions include a Big 12 title in 2014, they will probably need freshman Gyasi Akem to make an early impact.
Akem won’t have to carry the linebackers by himself with Ryan Simmons returning, but he should have a chance to step into a starting job early on. The Cowboys are thin at linebacker, so they may not have many other options.
At outside linebacker, Akem may initially be asked to contribute mostly as a pass-rusher but he could be valuable in coverage as well. Akem brings slightly better size to the position than Lewis, at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds, and he may also be a bit quicker. Physically, Akem should be ready to go. His ability to contribute will depend mostly on how well he picks up the defense. Compared to other positions, outside linebacker is an easier spot for a freshman to play right away.
Dan Kelley covers Big 12 football for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @DKelley_CFB