Follow all the action from The Opening New Orleans regional and the IMG Southeast regional this weekend. Coverage begins Saturday at 9 a.m. ET.
In today's Twitter mailbag we discuss 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan, players off the radar that could become All-Big 12 selections, and the backfields at TCU and Oklahoma.
Condolences to West Virginia fans for Thursday's historical beatdown. Still, I know of eight other Big 12 fanbases that wished their teams would have advanced to the Sweet 16.
On to the 'bag:
- Baylor Bearmada (@BaylorBearmada) March 26, 2015
I actually asked Seth Russell which would be worse, getting sacked by Shawn Oakman or trying to tackle McGowan. He said Oakman. I respectfully have to disagree. Oakman is a bad dude, but nobody is stopping McGowan with a head of steam, Oakman included.
@Jake_Trotter over under 5.5 players this year that avoid tackling LaQuan McGowan in the open field over concern for their individual health
- John Wheeler (@J3Wheeler) March 26, 2015
Trotter:You mean in one game? By the way, I hope you guys took time to read my McGowan piece earlier in the week. I enjoyed interviewing him. Interesting kid with a fascinating backstory.
@Jake_Trotter Which Big 12 school has the best chance at landing one of the Ohio State QB's if they decide to transfer?
- Kyle Jacobson (@_KyleJacobson) March 26, 2015
Trotter: Texas would be the most attractive destination. Any of Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones would start with little resistance from what the Longhorns have on the roster. And Texas would be an option for any of the three for obvious reasons, including the track record of Charlie Strong and his staff working with Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville.
@Jake_Trotter How does Texas Tech fair against Arky in Fayetteville this year? Thanks!
- Jøhn L. Hawley (@JohnLHawley7) March 26, 2015
Trotter: At this moment, it's difficult to envision the game going much differently than it did last season. The addition of transfer linebacker Mike Mitchell and freshman defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko will help the run defense, and coordinator David Gibbs will have the players in the right gaps. But the Razorbacks completely mowed over the Red Raiders last season. You either have the horses or you don't, and Tech has long way to go to prove it can up its own again up front against a power-running team such as Arkansas.
@Jake_Trotter not much conference realignment talk lately, any update on possible Big12 expansion?
- Kyle Marcus (@KyleLMarcus) March 26, 2015
Trotter: No update. Carry on.
@Jake_Trotter who's ou's quarterback? Is he successful? Does the defense improve ?
- Luke Eisel (@sheepdogg92) March 26, 2015
Trotter: If I had to bet, I'd put heavy money on Baker Mayfield being the opening-day starter. There's a lot to like about Mayfield, notably his confidence and savvy. But people, notably Sooners fans, seem to forget that Mayfield really struggled against the better teams while at Texas Tech two years ago. Can OU win a Big 12 championship with Mayfield behind center? I'm not sure.
@Jake_Trotter is Keith Ford going to transfer?
- Blaine Brown (@blainebrown24) March 26, 2015
Trotter:It's a possibility. He's going to be buried on depth chart behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. True freshman Rodney Anderson had been turning heads this spring, too, before he suffered an MCL sprain. Apparently, Keith Ford's sister posted something on Facebook suggesting he might transfer. But Ford was at practice this week.
@Jake_Trotter how good will TCU's backfield be next season? Shaun Nixon has awful good vision and cutting ability. And of course Aaron Green
- Steve Godich (@_CaptainCowboy) March 26, 2015
Trotter:The TCU backfield is going to be good. Aaron Green, who can reel off big plays, is an all-conference caliber talent; Shaun Nixon, meanwhile, was highly touted coming out of high school. But I don't know that it's necessary going to be markedly better than last year's group. Don't forget, B.J. Catalon was excellent before suffering the head injury.
@Jake_Trotter How many teams' QBs would you take over Sam Richardson in the B12?
- Teddy Throwsevelt (@Moldy78) March 26, 2015
Trotter:Hmm... I would definitely take Trevone Boykin, Mason Rudolph and Pat Mahomes over Sam B. Richardson. But after that, there are no slam dunks. Seth Russell obviously could have a big season, but he has only one career start. Skyler Howard is going to have to be more accurate to rank near the upper tier of Big 12 QBs. Joe Hubener has potential, but he's an unknown. I mentioned my concerns with Mayfield above. So is it unthinkable that Richardson becomes the fourth- or fifth-best QB in the league? No. He'll have good wideouts to throw to, and he has a ton of experience. The key for Richardson is health. He's been severely banged up the last two years, and when that's happened, his effectiveness has plummeted.
@Jake_Trotter off the radar player that will be an all big 12 selection on offense/defense.
- Mike G (@mikefrogit) March 26, 2015
Trotter: Not sure how off the radar you want to go, but here are a few guys who have never had any honorable-mention recognition that could be first-teamers in 2015: Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns, Baylor nickelback Travon Blanchard, Oklahoma center Ty Darlington, Iowa State guard Daniel Burton, Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel and TCU cornerback Ranthony Texada.
@Jake_Trotter what does TCU's increasingly competitive non-con sched say about Gary's intentions for the frogs to be yearly CFP contenders?
- Luke (@lehockett) March 26, 2015
Trotter:Well, if you believe you're a big-time program that can compete with anyone, you go out and schedule the Ohio States of the world. Oklahoma has been doing it since Bob Stoops arrived, and it served the Sooners well during the BCS era. Texas has recently ramped up its scheduling as well. As a conference champ, you have to beat someone of note in the non-conference to guarantee yourself a spot in the playoff. TCU will have plenty of opportunities to do that in the coming years.
@Jake_Trotter Will Baylor beef up their OOC schedule by adding Allen High School for 2019?
- Paul (@pgdaly84) March 26, 2015
Trotter: Who didn't see that TCU fan tweet coming?
Baylor is losing three playmaking seniors at receiver yet the Bears receiving corps could be even better in 2015 than they were in 2014, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune. Standouts Corey Coleman and K.D. Cannon return and BU adds some supreme talent to the mix including Ish Zamora and Chris Platt, a pair of ESPN 300 receivers who redshirted in 2014.
“I feel the receiving corps is going to be better than last year,” Cannon said.
Newcomers like Zamora and Platt are likely to garner plenty of attention but I have a feeling guys like Jay Lee and Lynx Hawthorne won't just step aside and let those newcomers take their playing time. Sounds like there could be too much receiving talent in Waco, Texas, which is a very good problem to have if you're Art Briles.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2014 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.
Today’s player on the spot: Kansas linebacker Kyron Watson
The last time Kansas was tasked with building a defense without linebacker Ben Heeney as the centerpiece West Virginia and TCU weren’t even in the Big 12. Captain Heeney leaves a major void in the Jayhawks defense after averaging 108.6 tackles per season during his final three years in Lawrence.
Watson could be the Jayhawk who helps fill the void.
The sophomore didn’t make a major impact as a true freshman in 2014, finishing with four tackles in 11 games played, mostly on special teams. But Watson did spend the year learning behind Heeney, who made a point to mentor the true freshman in 2014.
“Here’s an odd-couple relationship for you,” former KU coach Charlie Weis told the Lawrence Journal-World last August. “Heeney has taken him under his wing. Seriously. Even in recruiting, they kind of hit it off. I think that Kyron would like to end up being Heeney when Heeney is gone, and that’s a good thing.”
This spring is the opportunity for Watson to emerge out of Heeney’s shadow and show why he was considered one of the highlight signees in the Jayhawks’ Class of 2014. There are other competitors to replace Heeney’s overall production, particularly Schyler Miles, but Watson could be too talented to keep off the field for a KU defense searching for playmakers. Regardless of the growth and development of any other Jayhawks linebackers, Watson’s athleticism and toughness are sure to become an asset at some point during his career.
This spring is the first chance for Watson, the No. 136 player in the 2014 ESPN 300, to impress new coach David Beaty and show he can be an anchor in the Jayhawks defense for the next few seasons.
New Kansas coach David Beaty wants a program that is built to last.
Sustained success sits alongside integrity as the trademarks Beaty hopes will define the Jayhawks program five years down the line. He wants a program full of players who do the right thing, on and off the field, while performing at a high level. But he also wants a program that is called a Big 12 title contender, year in and year out.
"[I want to build] a program that has not searched for a winning season but searches to become a winner," Beaty said. "To be called a winner you have to do it over time, you have to do it over a long period and that takes time. You don't accomplish that in a year, you don't accomplish that in a day, you accomplish that over years."
Sounds a lot like Bill Self's program.
The Jayhawks basketball coach knows what it takes to dominate the Big 12 and serves as the ideal sounding board for Beaty as he enters his first season as a head coach.
"The thing I love about Bill, he just wants to help people get better," Beaty said. "That door has always been open to me and our staff, we've been in to watch them practice. When I call him and ask questions as the new, young guy on the block, he doesn't blow me off. Bill will call and talk to me and offer advice and ask questions to see how you're doing. He's such a humble guy and a great man on top of what a great coach he is."
Self's basketball squad won its 11-straight Big 12 regular season title this March, placing them second all-time (tied with Gonzaga, 2001-11) for consecutive regular season conference championships behind UCLA's 13 straight Pac-10 crowns from 1967-1969. Self's dominance of Big 12 basketball has been unmatched during his 12 seasons in Lawrence, Kansas. His program provides a first-hand look for Beaty as he hopes to his football program of similar ilk.
"I have learned so much from Bill in the three stints I have been here just watching his teams practice," said Beaty, who was an assistant at KU from 2008-09 and 2011 before being named head coach last December.
"Everybody knows what a great coach this guy is. If you were able to go watch his practice, man it looks like a football practice there's no out of bounds, there are no fouls, those guys are physical as all get out. He values toughness."
Beaty hopes to build a program with similar toughness. Not just a physical, hard-hitting football squad but one with an unyielding mentality and competitive streak. The importance of toughness is something Self has stressed to Beaty over and over.
"As you watch his practices and when I talk to him all the time, he always talks about toughness within his program and his toughest teams have been his best teams," Beaty said.
Beaty also pointed to toughness as one of the biggest takeaways during his time as an assistant under Mark Mangino, who led KU to a Orange Bowl victory in 2008.
Mangino and Self serve as two different mentors who have had exceptional success at KU with a similar focus despite coaching different sports.
"That's kind of the thing that I've seen my career. The mentally toughest teams, usually play the physically toughest," Beaty said. "It's funny that the same characteristics that help you win in football, help you win in other sports too."
Instilling toughness in the program will be a spring focus for the Jayhawks. Their up tempo offense will strive to be just as physical as a run-focused, grind-it-out attack.
"Playing fast but playing physical, that's the thing we're going to stress," offensive coordinator Rob Likens said. "The knock you get in fast, uptempo offenses is that you're not physical. It needs to be the mindset of all your coaches, on a daily basis. It has to be one of your core values."
At one point Devin Davis looked destined to play on Sundays.
Now, he won't play another down of competitive football.
The former Oklahoma State offensive tackle has retired, reports Bill Haisten of the Tulsa World. Davis suffered a major knee injury before the 2013 season and never could recover from the injury.
“It was emotional for him, but he handled it better than I would have ever handled it,” OSU coach Mike Gundy said.
There was hope Davis would have a similar story as Kye Staley, who suffered a major knee injury during preseason camp in 2009 that forced him to miss the 2009 and 2010 seasons while putting his career in doubt. Staley eventually returned to the team after a two-year hiatus to play a significant role as a bruising blocker and special teams ace for OSU from 2011-13.
Although not unexpected, it's a disappointing end to a promising (and potentially lucrative) career for Davis.
The Kansas Jayhawks released the details of David Beaty's contract on Friday, and it's clear the first-time head coach isn't afraid to bet on himself. Beaty will receive a base salary of $800,000 in an incentive-laden deal which features $25,000 bonuses for every Big 12 game the Jayhawks win.
If Beaty is able to lead Kansas to a six-win season, the "professional services" portion of his salary receives a $100,000 raise for the remainder of his five-year deal. He'd also receive a $100,000 bonus for coaching KU in a bowl game.
You have to admire Beaty's confidence. Kansas needed a more affordable coach after paying more than $11 million to buy out Turner Gill and Charlie Weis. Beaty isn't afraid to bet on himself and take the incentives to lead a program that's lost 41 of its last 44 games in Big 12 play.
You can read more about Beaty's contract and incentives at The Kansas City Star.
The past two weeks, we've examined some the Big 12 players on the spot this spring. Below in our weekly roundtable, we likewise explore the Big 12 position groups that are also on the spot this spring:
What offensive position group is on the spot this spring?
Jake Trotter: Other than the quarterback derbies taking place in Norman and Austin, which will both be fascinating, I'm interested to see what happens with running back at Kansas State. The Wildcats have several viable contenders for the featured role, including returner Charles Jones, redshirt freshman Dalvin Warmack and true freshman Alex Barnes, who has enrolled early to participate in spring ball. Jones had a prime role in the K-State offense last season, scoring 13 touchdowns. But he also ranked 21st in the Big 12 in yards per carry. Warmack is an intriguing option, having rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 77 touchdowns his final two seasons of high school. Then there's Barnes, who physically looks ready to compete for time now. Whatever happens, with Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett gone, the Wildcats will need more production next season from their primary rusher.
Max Olson: Texas quarterbacks. They've been in a rough spot for a few years now, and I think there's a lot of pressure on Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard this spring. I don't doubt that Texas will pursue a transfer quarterback after spring ball as a necessary move for competition. You have to wonder how much confidence these two can inspire over the course of 15 practices. Swoopes still has the upper hand at the moment, but how much progress can he make? Can Heard grow up and catch up?
Brandon Chatmon: Someone needs to emerge among Oklahoma’s receivers to help All-Big 12 candidate Sterling Shepard. There are some good candidates with Dede Westbrook, a junior college transfer, and Michiah Quick, a sophomore who should improve in Year 2, sitting atop the list. Lincoln Riley’s offense should give the receivers plenty of opportunities to shine and we’ve seen how a system change can completely the effectiveness of a receiver.
What defensive position group is on the spot?
Trotter: I would say the Baylor secondary, except all four returning starters have been limited by injuries this spring. So I'll go with the Oklahoma secondary instead. The Sooners ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, and graduated a pair of starters in Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes, leaving cornerback Zack Sanchez as the only proven performer. Former ESPN 300 signee Steven Parker could make a big jump after playing a key role as a true freshman last season. But the Sooners need some combination of Stanvon Taylor, Ahmad Thomas, Hatari Byrd, Jordan Thomas and/or junior-college transfer Will Johnson to step up, as well, in order for Oklahoma to bounce back in 2015.
Olson: Doesn't sound like TCU has found a whole lot of clarity when it comes to its two vacant linebacker spots, though I did like Gary Patterson's idea that he should start at one spot. Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill and Ty Summers will do a fine job, I'm sure, and I think Patterson is onto something when he mentions possibly moving a safety into the second level. But still, these are inexperienced guys taking over for senior playmakers on a team with giant expectations.
Chatmon: I agree with Max. I’m really intrigued with what is going to happen at TCU as the Horned Frogs try to replace Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett. Dawson got most of the attention but Mallett was exceptionally productive in his own right. Finding quality linebackers could be the difference between another Big 12 title run, or even College Football Playoff run. Coach Gary Patterson has hinted the Horned Frogs will try plenty of different options including safeties in those spots.
What position group will be most improved?
Trotter: The Oklahoma State offensive line was absolutely dreadful for much of last season, before the lightbulb flickered late in the year. I'm not saying the Cowboys will now be mowing over people. But with the bulk of last year's group back, coupled with the addition of capable transfer tackles Victor Salako and Brandon Pertile, Oklahoma State should be able to build off last year's encouraging finish to field one of the league's better lines in 2015.
Olson: I think a group poised to take a big step is Texas Tech's secondary. That's a super young group and I'm interested to see how David Gibbs' teachings influence them. I look at that roster and see some talented guys like Justis Nelson, Nigel Bethel II, Tevin Madison, Jalen Barnes and Payton Hendrix who ought to develop more confidence under the guidance of Gibbs and Kevin Curtis and force more turnovers in the fall.
Chatmon: I expect Baylor’s secondary to be much improved. A talented group of athletes will be a year older, a year wiser and much more comfortable as the back end of BU’s defense. Not to mention it won’t hurt to go against the Bears receiving corps on a regular basis. Improvement from guys like Xavien Howard, who has loads of potential, and the addition of talented newcomers such as redshirt freshman Verkedric Vaughns could help the Bears defensive backs be much better this fall.
Running back Chris Carson could hold the key to Oklahoma State’s offense, wide receiver DeDe Westbrook could take Oklahoma’s new spread attack to another level and defensive tackle Demond Tucker could provide much-needed strength in the middle of Iowa State’s defense.
That trio is among the nine ESPN Junior College 50 recruits who signed with Big 12 schools and have the potential to become household names in the conference this fall.
Which ESPN JC 50 newcomer do you expect to have the biggest impact?
Carson was a late addition to the Cowboys' signing class as OSU looked to secure a backfield mate for quarterback Mason Rudolph. The No. 12 player in the ESPN JC 50, Carson brings good size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and the ability to be a workhorse for Mike Gundy’s program.
Westbrook is already on campus and participating in spring drills with the Sooners. The No. 14 player in the ESPN JC 50 combines quickness and speed with good size (6-1, 175), which makes him a candidate to excel in the slot or on the outside in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
Rasul Douglas will add to a talented West Virginia secondary in the summer. The No. 23 player in the ESPN JC 50 has the size (6-2, 200) and athleticism to be a versatile asset for WVU’s defense, with the skills to play cornerback or safety.
Tucker was a much-needed addition for the Cyclones defense. After Iowa State struggled with its depth and production along its defensive front in 2014, Tucker is participating in ISU’s spring practices with a eye on making an major impact this fall. His quickness could help him become a disruptive force for the Cyclones defense.
Five other ESPN JC 50 signees could have a similar impact in the Big 12. Cornerback Will Johnson (No. 15 in the ESPN JC 50) is already impressing during the first few practices at OU, and the Sooners secondary is looking for playmakers heading into the fall.
Offensive tackle Maurice Porter (No. 31 in the ESPN JC 50) could add additional depth for Baylor’s offensive line when he arrives in the summer.
Guard Jamal Danley (No. 39 in the ESPN JC 50) is going through spring drills with OU as he battles to make an impact on a Sooners offensive line that must replace four starters.
Motekiai Maile (No. 49 in the ESPN JC 50) could help replace James Castleman in the interior of OSU’s defense, helping free opportunities for returning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Emmanuel Ogbah.
Who do you think will have the biggest impact? Vote now and leave a comment below.
During the next two weeks, we'll be featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2014 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.
Today's player on the spot: TCU backup quarterback Bram Kohlhausen
Who? If you find yourself asking that, it’s perfectly OK. The better question is why.
Last season, only two Big 12 programs managed to survive a full 13-game season with the same starting quarterback from start to finish. Kansas State did it, though Jake Waters was so beat up he probably should’ve missed some time. And TCU pulled it off.
Along the way, Trevone Boykin established himself as a Heisman contender and unquestionably the most improved QB in the country. He took some big hits -- sometimes willingly on touchdown dives -- and he kept on playing. But he didn’t survive unscathed.
Boykin hurt his non-throwing wrist in the middle of the season against Baylor, a bone fracture that will require a procedure later this spring. The Horned Frogs were fortunate this injury wasn’t severe, especially late in the season.
For how special Boykin was, folks at TCU will tell you there’s a good reason why his worst performances came in November at West Virginia and Kansas. Matt Joeckel, his backup, couldn’t travel to those games after enduring a season-ending injury. The senior Texas A&M transfer played a huge role in Boykin’s on-field maturation. He served as a mentor on the sideline, offering up advice and insight about what defenses were bringing. Joeckel was also a trustworthy option in case Boykin went down.
This spring, TCU simply doesn’t have that luxury. And coach Gary Patterson is taking the issue seriously.
“Right now we’ve got one; that’s it,” Patterson said this week. “We’ve got a long way to go with the rest of them. We’ve got one quarterback right now we can win the Big 12 title with.”
Kohlhausen, a juco transfer who started his career at Houston, got mop-up time in four games last season. The senior might be the front-runner for the No. 2 gig by default. Another backup, sophomore Zach Allen, got to take snaps at quarterback in one game. And then there’s redshirt freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, who have promising futures but zero experience.
None of them made a good impression on Patterson and his staff in TCU’s most recent spring scrimmage. Somebody will have to step forward and prove he can handle driving the high-tempo attack against a real defense.
Because no matter how great Boykin plays this fall, it only takes one bad play for the plan to change. A TCU team this good can’t afford to live one snap away from the destruction of its College Football Playoff dream.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Longhorns' first day back in the world of spread ball looked just like any other in Big 12 country.
Quarterbacks Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard practiced faking handoffs -- a nod to prepping for pop passes -- before firing throws. They got the Longhorns lined up in three-receiver shotgun and pistol sets. They didn’t hesitate to tuck and dash for the sideline when they found space. And once one play ended, the next began seconds later.
“It’s very fast,” running back Johnathan Gray said. “We hit the field running and didn’t stop until practice was over. Guys were pretty dog tired.”
Gray and his Texas teammates are embarking on their third offensive overhaul in three years, though this round feels like more of a redesign than a full reboot.
In fact, the first comparison that crossed Gray’s mind after practice Wednesday was how similar Texas’ practices looked in 2013, back when Mack Brown and Major Applewhite decided to try a more up-tempo approach.
Players welcomed that blueprint two years ago. They sound happy to give it another go this spring.
“I like how it spreads out everything where you can run and pass,” Gray said. “It mixes up everything. The defense doesn't know what's going to happen. It helps out the running back, quarterback, the wide receivers and the offensive line. I love this offense.”
Center Taylor Doyle was reminded of his prep days, back when he grew up in an up-tempo spread at Lake Travis High under now-SMU coach Chad Morris.
"It's always fun to come back to the tempo offense," Doyle said.
Why make the move back to a spread scheme now? After a year on the job, Charlie Strong can admit he has a better understanding of his turf. Pro-style ball won him a lot of games at Louisville. The spread has already won the state of Texas.
“I would say probably 98 percent of this state is a spread offense,” Strong said this week. “The key players that you need to really recruit, those guys are the ones that are in the spread offense. So that's what you're looking for.”
Texas isn’t going to start throwing the ball 60 times on Saturdays. Nor does Strong plan to engage in any 60-59 shootouts. As a defense-first coach, he joked, “I don’t think I can live with that at all.” Still, the transition made too much common sense, especially when considering Texas’ peers as well as its own personnel for 2015.
“But you still have to find a way to go stay physical and go run the football,” Strong said.
The hints of power football were easy to spot Wednesday, starting with Texas utilizing its tight ends as H-backs who motioned pre-snap before locking into blocks. It’s clear the Longhorns intend to pick up their pace, too, after finishing ninth in the Big 12 at 68 plays per game in 2014.
“And we want an explosive team,” Strong said. “We didn't create the big plays.”
Only Kansas did a worse job of creating those big plays in the Big 12 last season. Texas produced explosive gains (defined as 12-plus yards on a rush and 16-plus yards for a pass) on only 10 percent of its snaps, while failing to gain yards on nearly 35 percent. Finding new ways to spark this group was an absolute must.
There’s a reason, though, why this didn’t work out in 2013: quarterback play. When David Ash went down against BYU, Applewhite had to scrap the blueprint. Texas had to find a different way to win with Case McCoy. Watson experienced similar back-to-the-drawing-board challenges last season with Swoopes after losing Ash and three of his best linemen.
What Texas will get from Swoopes and Heard in 2015, or how quickly either gets this spread offense rolling, seems impossible to predict. Then again, this was only Day 1 of spring ball. Pads don't even go on until Saturday.
The Longhorns don't need to know all the answers right now, but at least they're starting off with the right one.
Allen Lazard played up to blue-chip reputation during his debut season at Iowa State, but the wide receiver has higher expectations for his sophomore year, writes Tommy Birch of The Des Moines Register.
Cyclones coaches say Lazard, who finished with 593 yards on 45 catches last fall, is noticeably more confident this spring. He's out to win every one-on-one battle and snag every ball thrown his way.
"I think he can be as good as anybody as far as this league's concerned because of the knowledge that he's gained and what it takes to play and to play effectively at this level," ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. "He has the physical tools."
Lazard will draw more attention from opponents in 2015 -- Big 12 defensive coaches aren't going to sleep on a 6-foot-5, 218-pound playmaker -- and he's certainly a second-year guy worth keeping a close eye on. No player is capable of elevating Iowa State's offense quite like he can.
Will Be Making My College Choice April 3rd! @ Ocean Lakes High School 6pm... Anyone Can Come, No Charge Decision, Decisions, & Decisions.=— Levonta Taylor (@iamlevonta) March 24, 2015
Fielding a strong pass defense is critical in the Big 12.
The conference is full of offenses that look to spread opponents and attack them through the air, putting pressure on defensive backs and pass rushers alike. Yet it can be difficult to measure defensive success against those offenses as passing yards per game and completion percentage can be misleading particularly on teams that feature high-scoring offenses that end up forcing opponents to throw for the majority of the game.
Passing yards per attempt is one key stat that give a good gauge of which teams have efficient pass defenses that are harder to defeat than it may appear. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, here's a look at the Big 12 rankings in passing yards per attempt (conference games only) since TCU and West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.
1. Kansas State 6.7
Summary: The Wildcats are very good at forcing offenses to take what they are willing to give. Opponents 61.5 completion percentage is ninth among Big 12 teams yet their low yards per pass attempt average is a sign they tackle well after limiting opponents to short completions. Outside of standouts Ty Zimmerman and Randall Evans, KSU doesn’t tend to have superstars in the secondary but their performance as a unit is unmatched.
2. Oklahoma State 6.86
Summary: The Cowboys allow 277.85 passing yards per game but their yards per pass attempt average make them one of the Big 12’s top pass defenses. OSU’s up tempo, high scoring offense resulted in the defense facing a conference-high 40.52 pass attempts per game during the past three seasons. Talented defensive backs like Justin Gilbert and Kevin Peterson have helped the Cowboys withstand the barrage.
3. Texas 6.93
Summary: The Longhorns defense has been solid overall, ranking first in passing yards per game (220.3), sack percentage (8.4 percent) and touchdowns per pass attempt (3.6). A combination of talented defensive backs (Kenny Vaccaro, Quandre Diggs) and pass rushers (Jackson Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor) cemented UT’s place in the top three.
4. Oklahoma 7.02
Summary: The Sooners are among the top two in passing yards allowed (241.7) and completion percentage (54.9) helping to land them a spot in the top half of the conference. Current NFLers Aaron Colvin and Tony Jefferson are among the former Sooners who made OU’s pass defense one of the Big 12’s better units before a disappointing 2014 season put dents in that reputation.
5. TCU 7.18
Summary: The Horned Frogs’ opponent completion percentage (54.9), third-down conversion percentage (31.3) and first down per pass attempt percentage (28.8) were the best in the Big 12. But TCU’s yards per completion percentage (13.57) was ninth in the conference and doomed them to a spot outside the top four despite featuring some of the Big 12’s best defensive backs in Jason Verrett, Chris Hackett and Kevin White.
6. Baylor 7.39
Summary: The Bears explosive offense resulted in BU’s pass defense facing 37.67 pass attempts per game which contributed to them finishing in the bottom third of the conference in passing yards per game (278.33, eighth) and third down conversion percentage (43.4, tenth). This is one element of Art Briles program that requires continued improvement if BU is going to extended its Big 12 title run.
7. Texas Tech 7.68
Summary: The Red Raiders ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in several categories but their touchdown-to-interception percentage stands out above the crowd. Tech gave up 3.88 touchdowns per interception during this span, nearly a full touchdown worst than any other team in the Big 12. Nigel Bethel, Tevin Madison and Justis Nelson are among the young defensive backs on the roster with the talent to help turn this Red Raider trend around.
8. Iowa State 7.74
Summary: The Cyclones landed at the bottom of the Big 12 in passing yards allowed per game (292.3) and sack percentage (3) as ISU struggled to slow the pass happy attacks of the Big 12. Cornerback Nigel Tribune and safety Kamari Cotton-Moya provide hope the Cyclones can improve their pass defense in 2015.
9. West Virginia 8.21
Summary: The Mountaineers pass defense is one main reason WVU has been up and down during its first three seasons in the conference. Losing one-on-one battles and shoddy tackling have resulted in a Big 12-worst 13.92 yards per completion. Yet WVU enters the 2015 with the Big 12’s best combination of talent and experience in the secondary so the Mountaineers could start to build a better reputation this fall.
10. Kansas 8.24
Summary: The Jayhawks struggled in pretty much every category, allowing opponents to complete 62.9 percent of their attempts while also allowing 35 percent of those attempts to result in first downs. A lack of sacks (3.6 sack percentage, eighth) and interceptions (2.2 interception percentage, ninth) helped cement KU’s spot at the bottom of the Big 12. To make matters worse KU enters the 2015 looking to replace the bulk of its secondary including All-Big 12 cornerback JaCorey Shepherd.