Big 12: Baylor Bears

ESPN 300: Top Big 12 targets 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:45
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The spring evaluation period is upon us, and coaches are traveling and hosting spring games in an effort to evaluate and attract the nation’s elite prospects. Fortunately for coaches, roughly two-thirds of the players making up the 2015 ESPN 300 are still uncommitted. A large majority of those players are considering playing in the Big 12.

Here are five ESPN 300 players heavily targeted by Big 12 schools:


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Big 12's lunch links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
12:00
PM ET
Tap, tap. I can't wait for this 30 for 30.
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WACO, Texas -- Last season, Baylor won 11 games, claimed a Big 12 championship and played in a BCS bowl game -- all first-time accomplishments for the once-woebegone program.

But as much as the Bears accomplished last season -- they also scored more points (52.4 per game) and gained more yards (618.8) than any other FBS team in the country –- their last performance left a bitter taste in their mouths.

Kind of like Texas dust.

After starting the 2013 season with a 9-0 record and then beating then-No. 25 Texas 30-10 to win a Big 12 championship, the Bears were embarrassed in a 52-42 loss to Central Florida in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Knights, who were 17-point underdogs, piled up 556 yards of offense and scored on four straight possessions after Baylor tied the score at 28 in the third quarter. The Bears were penalized 17 times for 135 yards.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
AP Photo/LM OteroArt Briles and Baylor have the talent to be considered the favorite to repeat as Big 12 champs in 2014.
“It was disappointing because that’s the only game you remember,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title. I didn’t even remember it because of what happened in the bowl game, and it’s the best thing that’s happened to Baylor football in a long time.”

Baylor coach Art Briles and his players haven’t forgotten the ugly loss more than five months after the bitter defeat in the Arizona desert. It figures to provide the Bears with plenty of motivation as they head into an unexpected Big 12 title defense this coming season.

“I don’t know how you describe sickening,” Briles said. “You hate to have your motivation fueled by getting slapped in the face, but that’s kind of what happened. We know [UCF] has a good football team, but we had to listen to how good we were for more than a month. Sometimes, reality isn’t perception. There was a hungry team on the field and a happy one on the field. We were the happy one.”

While its lackluster performance in the Fiesta Bowl might have sullied what had been a magical season, Baylor will enter the 2014 season as the team to beat in the Big 12. For a program that hadn’t been to a bowl game for 13 consecutive seasons when Briles arrived in 2008, it’s a rare position for the Bears.

“I think we take being the Big 12 champions as a challenge,” Baylor receiver Levi Norwood said. “Guys are targeting us and wanting what we have. We have to go out and do it again. We all know that when we got here, we weren’t that good and it’s not normal for us to be winning. We’re trying to make it normal.”

There’s nothing normal about Baylor under Briles. The Bears bring back much of the offense that shattered nearly every school record last season, although they’ll miss leading rusher Lache Seastrunk (1,177 yards with 11 touchdowns in 2013), All-America guard Cyril Richardson and receiver Tevin Reese (38 catches for 867 yards with eight touchdowns).

Petty, a senior from Midlothian, Texas, is back after completing 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first season as a starter.

“He needs to be better and he should be,” Briles said. “He’s expected to be better. You can have a lot of money, but you can’t buy experience. Some things should happen on pre-snap reads. We should know what happens before it happens. He’s a good player and a great leader. That’s why he’s who he is.”

Petty will be surrounded by plenty of proven playmakers in Briles’ high-octane offense. All-America receiver Antwan Goodley is back after catching 71 passes for 1,339 yards with 13 touchdowns last season, and three other Bears wideouts caught at least 32 passes. Tailback Shock Linwood returns after running for 881 yards with eight touchdowns.

“We’ve got some people who can play,” Briles said. “We feel really good about everybody who is around [Petty] offensively. We can be very diverse with everybody around him.”

Petty I had to be reminded that we won a Big 12 title. I didn't even remember it because of what happened in the bowl game, and it's the best thing that's happened to Baylor football in a long time.

-- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty
The Bears must replace seven starters on defense, but Briles feels much better about his defensive front. Boise State transfer Sam Ukwuachu and sophomore tackle Javonte Magee, who sat out last season after unexpectedly leaving the team, are expected to bolster the defensive front.

“You’d have to shake the tree pretty hard to find three or four universities that have what we have up front,” Briles said.

Now, Briles’ challenge is to make sure his team doesn’t become complacent after last season’s unexpected success.

“That’s the first thing we talked about when we got back to campus,” Briles said. “We had to learn and grow up. We thought we were an accomplished football team and program. We lost [our edge] and got happy. We have to stay humble.”

If the Bears don’t, they might be a one-hit wonder. The Big 12 figures to be even more rugged this coming season. Oklahoma stunned Alabama 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to finish 11-2 last season, and former Louisville coach Charlie Strong replaced longtime Texas coach Mack Brown.

“To be honest, we got too happy with where we were,” Petty said. “We became complacent. Every game is a big game that you have to prepare for as a hunter. We kind of bought into what everybody was saying about us, and unfortunately UCF put us in our place. You don’t lose; you learn. We learned a lot from that game, and we’re not going to let it happen again. When you’re building a tradition and dynasty, you can’t talk about complacency. It’s not something that Coach Briles is going to allow.”

The Bears open the 2014 season against SMU on Aug. 31 at McLane Stadium, their new $260 million riverfront stadium. They’ll play at Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma and versus Texas Tech in Dallas -- opponents they defeated at home last year.

“I think it’s always tough,” Briles said. “If we jump back a year ago, I don’t think people were picking us to be an outright champion. We’ve got to lock our doors and windows. Everybody is coming for us, but we’re going to protect what we got.”

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
12:00
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It's not like bringing a cat to the spring game but Kliff Kingsbury is still winning ...

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:00
PM ET
Happy Friday, everybody. Here are the links...
We've been doing something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: So far, Oklahoma State running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, TCU safety Kenny Iloka and Kansas receiver Nick Harwell. With his speed, Hill could lead the league in all-purpose yards. Iloka is going to be a key piece in the best secondary in the Big 12. And Harwell should finally give the Jayhawks that go-to receiver they haven’t had since Dezmon Briscoe.

Trotter: The Cyclones get K-State in Ames the second week of the season, which could be a dangerous game for the Wildcats, who might get caught looking ahead to that Thursday night clash with Auburn. Another team that must pay heed is Oklahoma. The Sooners go to Iowa State the week before hosting Baylor in a game that could determine the Big 12 crown. OU can't afford to be looking ahead, either.

Trotter: I'm going to set it at 1 1/2, and I think I would actually bet the over. The Jayhawks are going to be better this season, and quite possibly good enough to steal two conference wins.

Trotter: Right now, the Red Raiders have one on campus, and that's well below the national average. I don't see an issue. The way Davis Webb has improved in the last five months, he's going to be the guy the next three seasons barring something unforeseen. That would still give Jarrett Stidham three seasons of eligibility to be the starter, if he redshirted next year. Patrick Mahomes will get this chances, too. Seems like what TTU is going to do is be really good at quarterback the next six years.

Trotter: I have no inside info here, but if the game is at 11 a.m. again, hit me up in the fall and I'll share with you my shortcut to the Texas State Fair.

Trotter: It was a move that had to be made. Sams is too talented to be standing on the sidelines. He's not going to instantly become an All-Big 12 receiver. But if they can devise ways to get Sams the ball in space, the move could work out well. I see Sams getting a lot of his touches through flares, screens, reverses and maybe a handoff or Wildcat formation here or there. If they can get Sams the ball 10 times a game, that will only help the K-State offense. Think Trevone Boykin in TCU's offense late last year. That's how I see Sams best fitting in.

Trotter: Playing? Yes. Starting? No. I think Williams ultimately favors one side of the ball. The most likely scenario is he still keeps a major role at running back, then gives coordinator Matt Wallerstedt 15-20 plays at outside linebacker, which is more than I would have predicted at the beginning of the spring. Williams can really help the defense, but not at the expense of playing 130 snaps.

Trotter: Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bill Snyder and Gary Patterson have ironclad job security. Paul Rhoads and Kliff Kingsbury have nothing to worry about, either, and Charlie Strong is too new to have to worry (though in Austin, that could change fast). That leaves Charlie Weis and Dana Holgorsen, whose seats are warmest among Big 12 coaches. I think Weis just has to show improvement this season. He can't go 0-12. Holgorsen is the most interesting to watch. Considering the brutal schedule, it's very possible West Virginia is better than last year and still goes 5-7, which might not be enough for Holgorsen to keep his job. But if the Mountaineers go, say, 7-5 against that slate, then I would think Holgorsen would be deserving of another year. West Virginia has been recruiting at an impressive clip, and the schedule will line up more favorably in 2015.


jrodxc07 in Dallas writes: Jake, love the blog, nice work sir. I think you could make a case for incoming Baylor receiver K.D. Cannon as Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Can you explain why you left him off your list?

Trotter: Appreciate it, sir. Cannon was actually on the poll for Offensive Freshman of the Year two weeks ago. The newcomer poll was for transfers, which is why you didn't see him there.


I only care about the Big 12 writes: Please go ahead and give us your way-too early power rankings? That is, if you haven't already...

Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.

Athlon ranks the Big 12 coaches

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
4:00
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Athlon Sports has always been big on lists. And this week, Athlon’s Steven Lassan ranked all 128 FBS coaches. He also pulled out the top 10 Big 12 coaches.

As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.

[+] Enlarge Art Briles
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesArt Briles' status has grown in the eyes of Athlon.
Without further ado:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

2. Art Briles, Baylor

3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

5. Gary Patterson, TCU

6. Charlie Strong, Texas

7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

10. Charlie Weis, Kansas

Some observations:

  • Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
  • I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
  • In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
  • Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
  • As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
  • Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
  • This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.
Bryce Petty can be better.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it?

Yet, it’s true. The Baylor quarterback destroyed Big 12 defenses in his first season as a starter, earning Big 12 offensive player of the year honors in 2013. He finished with 4,200 passing yards and accounted for 46 total touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBaylor's Bryce Petty aims to become more poised in the pocket as a senior.
But Petty strives for perfection and fell short of his goal as a junior. Thus, he entered the offseason with a clear area of improvement in mind.

“A focus for me this offseason is within the pocket,” Petty said. “I felt like there were a couple times where I escaped too soon or my eyes dropped and I looked at the rushers, not really trusting the guys up front. For me, it was a learning year, I saw different looks I hadn’t seen before, and that comes from experience.”

Petty put up big numbers, but his completion percentage dropped when he was blitzed. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Petty’s completion percentage dropped from 63.8 percent against a regular rush to 55.3 percent against a blitz. He didn't make the big mistake, with zero interceptions against blitzing defenses, but his efficiency did drop when opponents brought additional pressure.

Oklahoma and Texas were two of four teams that held Petty to less than a 57 completion percentage, and both squads did it largely with the blitz. He completed 6 of 22 combined passes against the blitz (27.2 percent) when facing OU and UT, two of the Big 12’s better defenses a year ago.

Thus, Petty wants to get more comfortable in the chaos of the pocket with the knowledge that teams are likely to take their chances by coming after him instead of hoping to find a handful of defensive backs to deal with the Bears’ receivers. With that focus in mind, Petty spent his spring break with quarterback guru George Whitfield to help accomplish his goal.

“I wanted to put my body in situations were I stay relaxed in the pocket,” Petty said. “That’s what I wanted to do with George and that’s what I did with George. He’s great about the way he explains things and the way he says things to help it make sense in your mind.”

Petty was the Big 12’s best quarterback in 2013, but his hunger to be even better in 2014 could make BU’s offense more explosive than ever.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
PM ET
You missed a crazy night in Ames, including riots and car flipping.
WACO, Texas – As the story goes, and Phil Bennett likes telling this one, Baylor’s coaching staff held a meeting in the fall of 2011 to discuss bringing in a junior college linebacker.

They pulled up the film from Riverside City College in California. This juco squad had three studs at linebacker.

[+] EnlargePhil Bennett
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBaylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and the Bears staff take pride in finding under-the-radar gems.
The heavily recruited member of the unit, Zaire Anderson, would sign with Nebraska. Will Smith landed at Texas Tech, where he’d start 24 games and win Holiday Bowl defensive MVP.

But Bennett, Baylor's defensive coordinator, had his eyes on the other guy. When he asked the staff to raise their hands for which one they’d take, the vote was unanimous. They wanted No. 10.

That was Eddie Lackey, a former Division II player whose only offers were Hawaii and New Mexico State. So, naturally, he’d verbally committed to Hawaii. Bennett made him a Bear that December.

“I told him, ‘You better be 6-foot or we’re gonna send your ass home,’” Bennett joked last week. “And how good a player was Eddie Lackey?”

A first-team All-Big 12 player, in fact. Nine other Baylor players earned that honor in 2013, including a former Hurricane Katrina refugee whose only offer was BU (Cyril Richardson), a receiver who weighed 138 pounds in high school (Tevin Reese) and a quarterback who’d been dumped by Tennessee (Bryce Petty).

If that’s not enough proof of Baylor’s impressive knack for evaluating talent, Bennett can tell plenty more stories. Like the time his brother tipped him off to go after running back Shock Linwood, the No. 176-rated athlete from a Class 2A school in Linden, Texas, who eventually flipped from TCU and will likely start for Baylor this fall.

Coach Art Briles says he isn’t one for telling these recruiting tales, but he’s proud of plenty of these finds. When he arrived in Waco in 2008, there was no doubt the job of building the doormat Bears back up would require taking chances on kids in recruiting.

“Those guys are out there,” Briles said last week. “This is a big state with a lot of great football players.”

In those early years of rebuilding, Briles leaned on the relationships built from 20-plus years of coaching Texas high school ball. He has now been a college coach in this state for 15 years. Those bonds can pay off big when he and his coaches go hunting for undiscovered talent.

“We know the state of Texas and the state of Texas knows us,” he said. “They know we’re not going anywhere. I’m not trying to cross the border and not come back. I’m home.”

And while Texas, Texas A&M and the state’s recruiting powers cherry-picked from the best of the best, scooping up the big-name kids on the top-100 lists before the summer had even begun, Baylor was forced to take a different approach. You’ve got to be willing to turn over a lot of rocks, in locales near and far, if the blue-chippers aren’t returning your calls.

In seeking kids who fit their high-speed scheme, Briles and his assistants did lots of projecting. They found the quarterbacks (example: Kendall Wright) who could move to receiver or defensive back, the linebackers who could grow into defensive end, the linemen with developing bodies. They had to take gambles.

“The farther you get away from the center and nose tackle, the harder the prediction gets,” Briles said. “Once you get to the skill people on both sides, it’s tough. We just try to find the guys that fit what we’re looking for. If they have an interest in us and vice versa, we’re all in.”

[+] EnlargeEddie Lackey
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Eddie Lackey, who committed to Hawaii before signing with Baylor, was a key member of the Bears' defense in 2013.
But that’s not enough. Briles says he focuses closely on a kid’s commitment and passion, on the kind of stuff that makes good teammates. And he loves the chip on the shoulder.

“I like a guy that, when you look in his eyes, you can see the steely determination to him,” Briles said. “A guy who really wants to do something.”

They’ve found those kinds of kids from Amarillo to Refugio, from Midland to Texarkana. This spring, nearly 30 percent of Baylor’s players came from the always-fertile Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. A fifth of the spring roster hailed from the Central Texas territory that includes Waco and Austin. Greater Houston-area kids made up a little more than 10 percent.

As for the other 40 percent of the squad? There are more than a dozen transfers, five players from out-of-state schools and, of course, a melting pot of guys from all over Texas. A couple were four-star recruits, but more of them are the sleepers and projects that have fueled Baylor’s rise.

The game changed in 2011 thanks to Robert Griffin III. McLane Stadium and a Big 12 title have made Briles’ pitch even easier today. Petty signed in 2009 and can’t help but marvel at how the roster has transformed since then.

“I’m pretty sure I was the last class that had that problem of saying, ‘Baylor was my only offer. I had to go here,’” he joked. “It’s not that way anymore.”

Now that the big-name recruits are visiting Waco, the staff’s approach will have to change.

“It’s a whole different deal,” Briles said. “Our calls are getting answered, and we’ve got to be careful who we ask now -- 'cause there’s a good chance they might say yes. Got to make sure we’re asking the right ones.”

Still, three of Baylor’s six verbal commitments for 2015 are true athletes who could play a variety of positions next season. It’ll be a smaller-than-usual class, but one that will still feature a few three-star recruits few schools wanted. Those kind of kids made Baylor what it is today.

“Has the door opened for us, and are we getting more of the quote-unquote four- and five-stars? Absolutely,” Bennett said. “We’ll look at them. But the thing I’m proud of is, you’ve got to be a player here.

“If you come here, you’ve got to be a player.”

Spring game review: Baylor

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
3:00
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In front of more than 3,000 fans, Baylor held its final spring practice on Saturday and wrapped up with a 51-play scrimmage at the on-campus Highers Athletics Complex practice field. Here’s a recap of what happened:

Best offensive performance: The Big 12’s best quarterback went out and did what he usually does. Bryce Petty spread the ball around to his many, many weapons -- including a few new ones -- and finished the day with a fine stat line: 10-of-15 passing for 135 yards and two touchdowns. One TD was to Jay Lee, on a short sideline route that he broke for a 40-yard score. The second was a 38-yard laser to Robbie Rhodes. Petty hit the practice field this month with the mentality that he must prove he deserves his job, even if nobody was taking it from him, and will get even better.

Best defensive performance: No surprise here. Shawn Oakman gave a sample of what he could achieve as a full-time starter in 2014 with two of the Bears’ five sacks. The 6-foot-9, 275-pound defensive end racked up 12.5 tackles for loss in a part-time role last season and is poised to take his game to the next level as a junior, on a defensive line that coach Art Briles believes can be good as any in the country. “We can’t block him,” Briles said, “and I don’t think anyone else will, either.”

Best debut: Baylor stashed some solid rookie talent on the bench last season, and spring ball brought a chance for those redshirt freshmen to break out. The best of the bunch might be Johnny Jefferson, a 5-11, 200-pound running back from nearby Killeen, Texas. With Shock Linwood out for the scrimmage and Devin Chafin getting just one carry, Jefferson had an opportunity to show what he can do. He rushed for 30 yards on five carries. Jefferson doesn’t have the experience of Linwood and Chafin, but Baylor coaches say he can be their next great home-run threat out of the backfield.

Notable play: Corey Coleman could be the next big name to come out of “WRU.” He hauled in five catches for a game-high 47 yards, the best of a bunch a 20-yard reception from Petty that he hauled in with one arm along the sideline against tight coverage from Terrence Singleton.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
AP Photo/LM OteroBaylor coach Art Briles was excited to see about 3,750 fans show up for the Bears' final practice of the spring.
Developing storyline: After the scrimmage, Briles expressed concern about the state of his running backs heading into the summer. Baylor will likely go with a committee approach to replacing Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, and the head coach isn’t ready to heap praise on that situation just yet. Jefferson and early enrollee freshman Terence Williams got the bulk of the work Saturday and will have to chip in to make this group succeed. “That's not a situation we're proud of; it's just the reality of where we're at,” Briles said. “And one of them is a true freshman. It's a concern right now, without question. But they can play. That's a good thing. Every one of them can play and help us win."

Biggest question answered: Briles wanted to know how his fan base would show up for a scrimmage on a Saturday morning, at a practice field that didn’t offer too much seating, and he was wowed by the answer. An estimated 3,750 fans showed up. “I’m just tickled to death with the crowd, because we didn’t really promote it,” Briles said. “And all of a sudden, you look up, there are people everywhere. It’s certainly evidence of how they respect what our players have done and how they feel about the direction of Baylor football.” That turnout has to be encouraging as the Bears prepare to open McLane Stadium in less than 150 days.

Quotable: "I have to be honest with you. It was OK ... just OK. It wasn't as good as I wanted it. But the whole thing about spring is staying healthy and getting guys looks that haven't had looks, and we've done that. Overall, I thought spring was really productive, maybe not today. We missed some throws here and there, but it's kind of hard when you're going against the same people every day. You try not to game plan too much, but you kind of have to. Guys got looks, and that's what we wanted." -- Petty on the Bears' final spring practice.

Big 12's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
PM ET
This is pretty great. Bravo, Charlie Weis.
On Saturday, Baylor will hold its spring game, Oklahoma State will hold its “Orange Blitz” and TCU will hold its final practice of the spring -- all three of which are open to the public.

Here’s a closer look at all three events:

BAYLOR

When: 11 a.m.

Where: Highers Complex practice fields

What to watch for:
  • Young receivers: Wideout Tevin Reese is gone, but the Bears have a stable of dynamic, young options primed to take his place. Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes were both highly recruited players and should have expanded roles in 2014.
  • Defensive line: In Andrew Billings, Beau Blackshear and Shawn Oakman, the Bears believe this will be the best defensive line they’ve had in the Art Briles era. If the defense is to have any chance of slowing down their offensive teammates on Saturday, the D-line has to dominate, especially with left tackle Spencer Drango still recovering from a back injury.
  • RB Johnny Jefferson: Jefferson is one of the most intriguing players in the league who redshirted last year. The Bears didn’t need Jefferson in 2013 because they had Lache Seastrun, Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood. But Jefferson, who had offers from the likes of Ohio State and Notre Dame coming out of high school, has the talent to play a major role in the Baylor offensive machine alongside Linwood and Devin Chafin next season.
OKLAHOMA STATE

When: 1:30 p.m.

Where: Boone Pickens Stadium

What to watch for:
  • Quarterback battle: For the third straight spring, the Cowboys have a quarterback derby, this time featuring veteran J.W. Walsh, walk-on Daxx Garman and true freshman Mason Rudolph. Walsh still appears to have the edge, but Garman, who possesses a cannon for an arm, has been creating some buzz this spring. He’ll have a chance to create more Saturday.
  • RB/WR Tyreek Hill: Speaking of buzz, no player in the Big 12 has created more than Hill, who might be the fastest player in college football next season. Hill has been devoting some of his spring to a phenomenal track season. But when he has had the football in his hands, he is phenomenal, too. Hill appears to be the real deal.
  • New defensive faces: With seven starters and six all-conference performers gone, Oklahoma State is in rebuild mode defensively. Cowboys fans who show up on Saturday will get a chance to examine the bevy of Oklahoma State newcomers to the two-deep defense, including safeties Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson, linebackers Devante Averette and Seth Jacobs and defensive linemen Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor and Vili Leveni.
TCU

When: 11 a.m.

Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium

What to watch for:
  • New offense: Gary Patterson completely revamped his offense this offseason by bringing in spread gurus Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie. How far along are the Horned Frogs with this new hurry-up, no-huddle approach? Saturday will provide the answer.
  • DE Devonte Fields: After earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year recognition as a freshman, Fields flopped as a sophomore because of suspension, shape and injury. Patterson said earlier this spring that Fields is back to playing the way he did as a freshman, which would be a huge boost for a program also looking for a bounce-back year.
  • QB Trevone Boykin: Boykin has been only a part-time quarterback the last two seasons, but he has practiced the position full time this spring while learning the new spread offense. Boykin has distanced himself from the other quarterbacks on campus this spring, but is he the long-term answer or just the short-term placeholder for one of the two incoming freshman quarterbacks?

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
12:00
PM ET
A bad day for Ball State.
We've done something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To send a mailbag question via Twitter going forward, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You can also still send in questions and comments to the mailbag here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: Right away? Very little chance. The TCU coaching staff seems to be relatively content with the way Trevone Boykin has performed in the new offense this spring. Down the line, Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could get a shot, especially if Boykin struggles or the offense bogs down like it did last year. But I feel fairly confident Boykin will open as TCU's starter.
Trotter: I don't think there's any doubt that running back Alex Ross has created the most buzz this spring among the young offensive players not named Trevor Knight. The assumption around Norman was Keith Ford would swiftly win the starting job after contributing to the running back rotation ahead of Ross last season despite being a year younger. But Ross has turned heads in the Sooners' closed scrimmages, and is carving out a role in the OU backfield, whether he starts or not.
Trotter: I got out of the business of predicting verbal commitments a long time ago. But I will say this: having Jarrett Stidham, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB, already on board is going to make a huge difference for the Red Raiders in a bunch of these battles. He will prove to be an invaluable recruiter, and should sway several high-profile prospects out there to give Texas Tech a second and third look it might not get otherwise.
Trotter: Odds are the Cowboys lose to the defending national champs no matter who they start at quarterback. I doubt J.W. Walsh would lose the job (assuming he starts) based on that one game alone. Daxx Garman has been impressive this spring, and I love the potential of Mason Rudolph. But it could take a while for either to unseat Walsh, whose experience trumps all right now.
Trotter: The three guys I'd be watching for would be safety Steven Parker II, slot receiver Michiah Quick and running back Joe Mixon. The Sooners are in good shape at safety, but blue-chip true freshmen like Parker II have a history of playing immediately in the secondary in the Bob Stoops era. Sterling Shepard is going to need help at receiver, and Quick has the explosiveness to break into the rotation right away. Mixon was one of the best running back recruits in the country, and is probably too talented to redshirt.

YK Lee in Fort Wort, Texas, writes: On College Football Live, comments were made that the Big 12 champ (if OU or Baylor) would be in trouble for the playoffs due to non-conference schedules. But no mention was made of Alabama's non-conference schedule, which includes an FCS team. Why does ESPN seem to have a bone to pick against the Big 12?

Trotter: Are we seriously going to do this every week? To recap from last Friday, here's who else Alabama has scheduled out-of-conference the last five years: West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State and Clemson. Alabama also plays in the toughest conference in college football. There's just no comparison between Alabama's schedule and Baylor's. And while I didn't see it, I'm sure the gist of the College Football Live segment was to point out that a one-loss Baylor has virtually no shot of advancing to the College Football Playoff against, say, a second SEC team with the same record, due to the Bears' lackluster non-conference scheduling, which includes just one opponent (Duke) from the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten or ACC up to 2019.

ImFasterThanYa writes: Will a Big 12 ref throw a flag when I run through the end zone after scoring a touchdown because it takes several steps for me to turn off the engines?

Trotter: Tyreek Hill could score as many touchdowns as Forest Gump did that one year for Alabama. As you imply, the Oklahoma State transfer can flat out fly.

Katie in Sugar Land, Texas, writes: I love the new Big 12, but I feel we need more rivalries. Texas-Oklahoma is a staple of the conference. But what else is there? After all, great rivalries are the major mark of a great conference.

Trotter: Bedlam has become a great rivalry. But you're right, conference realignment has pretty much destroyed all the other notable ones in the league (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Texas Tech-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska). This has really hurt the league, but what can be done? College football rivalries aren't forged overnight.

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