Big 12: Iowa State Cyclones

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.

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Which ESPN JC50 signee will have the biggest impact in 2015?

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    21%

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    36%

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    23%

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    9%

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    11%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,839)

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.

Texas is hoping Quincy Vasser (No. 45 in the ESPN JC 50) can help lessen the loss of Cedric Reed at defensive end.

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.

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.

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.

[+] EnlargeDavid Porter
AP Photo/LM OteroThe Kansas State Wildcats have allowed only 6.7 yards per pass attempt over the past three seasons.

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.

Big 12 morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
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Deep-fried nachos sound like they have potential, but I'd prefer some Fried S'mOreo.

  • Is TCU the No. 3 team in the country right now? Not in the opinion of Gary Patterson, who expressed some displeasure after the Horned Frogs' practice on Tuesday. His team got tired in the heat, his defensive line isn't playing great, his linebackers aren't there yet and he knows there's a long way to go before the season opener. No reason to fret, TCU fans: this is more about Patterson sending a message to his team. He's going to have to guard against complacency and inflated ego in his locker room as expectations continue to rise.
  • Kansas opened spring ball on Tuesday, and senior quarterback Michael Cummings took the first-string snaps ahead of Montell Mozart, according to Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal. New coach David Beaty says there's no need to read too much into that, though he did declare he plans to pick one starter and won't rotate QBs. More importantly, the Jayhawks got their first taste of their new pace with 94 plays in 44 minutes. That's pretty dang quick.
  • E.J. Bibbs quieted a lot of the concerns about his knee on Tuesday at Iowa State's pro day. The tight end, a likely late-round pick who underwent postseason surgery, ran a nice 40 time (4.86) and showed off his athleticism with some good testing numbers in front of NFL scouts. Knowing how hard it is to find good tight ends at the college level, you'd think Bibbs will get a long look from a few organizations during this draft process. Good to hear he's healed up nicely after missing the Cyclones' final two games.
  • Texas opens spring practice on Wednesday with some glaring issues along its defensive line. The Longhorns released their pre-spring injury report, and half of the team's scholarship defensive linemen are going to be out or at least limited this spring. That includes potential starters Desmond Jackson, Caleb Bluiett and Quincy Vasser. We won't get to see exciting redshirt freshman Derick Roberson until the fall, either. The good thing for new D-line coach Brick Haley is a bunch of his healthy guys -- Poona Ford, Shiro Davis and Naashon Hughes stand out -- could really use those extra snaps.
  • And finally, in case you need a little extra to bring some joy to your morning, here's a video of beloved Baylor tight end LaQuan McGowan catching passes with one hand. We're not worthy! The 400-pound behemoth continues to establish himself as the most interesting man in the Big 12 this spring, and Jake is going to have a lot more on him in a great story today.

Big 12 morning links

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24
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The St. Louis Raiders? Seriously? I'm all for bringing the NFL to L.A., but come on.

  • After a break of more than two weeks, Oklahoma returned to the practice field on Monday. Its players are wearing black to continue their efforts toward eliminating racism on OU's campus following the SAE fiasco. You have to respect the fact that Sooners players are taking this problem seriously and haven't just moved on now that the national controversy has seemingly passed. As for on-field news, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook are earning praise, and all four quarterbacks are reportedly getting near-equal reps.
  • Charlie Strong talked quarterbacks and a whole lot more on Monday to kick off Texas' first week of spring practice. Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News offers a solid recap here and makes some good points about the kind of building that's ahead for Strong and his Longhorns. Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman offers a fine take on talk of rebuilding, too. As I wrote about yesterday, Strong is still working to build up a lot more than just the talent level when it comes to this team.
  • Kansas is opening spring practice on Tuesday, and David Beaty sounds fired up to get started. Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World caught up with the new head coach on the eve of practice and got him to lay out some of his goals for spring ball. You will notice Beaty rarely talks about specific players in these interviews -- it sure seems like he's trying to bring a clean-slate mentality to finding out what he's working with on this roster. Beaty's emphasis on establishing a clean brand of football in terms of penalties, turnovers and special teams is probably a good start, too.
  • Former Oklahoma tight end Taylor McNamara is transferring to USC, he announced Monday night via Twitter. His plans to depart had been largely expected for the past month, and McNamara seems to be making a smart move here. He'll graduate from Oklahoma in May and play right away for a Trojans team that's thin at tight end while Bryce Dixon is suspended. Blake Bell's move to tight end really marginalized McNamara's chances to help Oklahoma in 2014, so you can't blame him for wanting to start over closer to home.
  • Here's an interesting look by Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune at Iowa State's Jake Campos and why improved flexibility is going to be a difference-maker for the touted tackle this fall. It's a close examination of how a 6-foot-8, 295-pound lineman can get more effective simply by making a change as minor as doing more ankle stretches. If you're an O-line junkie, I think you'll enjoy this read.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

March, 23, 2015
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Spring ball rolls on and a few new commitments rolled in, too. The latest from the Big 12 on the recruiting trail:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 4
The latest: The Bears hosted a big group of recruits for its "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage, including incoming freshmen and targets from several classes. One big man on campus was ESPN 300 lineman J.P. Urquidez, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound tackle from Copperas Cove, Texas. Urquidez also visited Miami recently and has those two schools high on his list along with Texas and Oklahoma. He's expected to make his decision this spring.

IOWA STATE
Total commits:
0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones still have not landed a commitment for 2016. They do continue to pursue defensive end Noah Fant, though that's getting more challenging. The defensive end out of Omaha, Nebraska, recently took an unofficial visit to Nebraska and is expected to check out Purdue next. Getting him in for ISU's junior day was a good move, but Fant is drawing more and more interest these days.

KANSAS
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest:
Kansas could face an interesting battle for offensive lineman Chris Hughes of Harker Heights, Texas. He's been offered by KU, North Texas and now Texas Tech, and you wonder if his stock will rise this spring. The younger brother of Texas players Naashon Hughes and Camrhon Hughes is 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, but doesn't hold an offer from the Longhorns yet. Can KU fight to steal him from the state of Texas?

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats lost a big-time commit over the weekend when defensive end Xavier Kelly elected to reopen his recruitment. Kelly, whose stock has been on the rise this spring, had committed to KSU back in November but is reportedly focusing on Michigan, Oregon and TCU at the moment. He checked in at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds with a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at The Opening regional camp in Arlington, Texas.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Sooners got one of the nation's best running back recruits on campus. ESPN 300 running back Devwah Whaley, the nation's No. 34 recruit, took an unofficial visit to Norman over the weekend. Texas A&M is presumed to be the frontrunner for Whaley at the moment, but OU is right there in the mix along with Texas, Georgia and several other programs.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Who might Oklahoma State take at quarterback for 2016? The favorite sure seems to be Nick Starkel, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound passer from Argyle, Texas. Though his only FBS offers are from Oklahoma State and Old Dominion, Starkel had a good showing at his Elite 11 tryout in Dallas earlier this month and is expected to visit Stillwater again at the end of the month.

TCU
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Horned Frogs' first commit for 2017 is in the books: Roshauud Paul. The athlete from Bremond, Texas, pulled the trigger on a commitment last Tuesday and is being recruited as a receiver/corner. As a sophomore, he helped lead Bremond to a Class 2A state title as a quarterback with more than 3,200 total yards and 40 TDs.

TEXAS
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Texas actually has five pledges for 2016, as quarterback Matthew Merrick will grayshirt and enroll next spring. That's his final decision after several schools (led by Florida) pushed hard following signing day to flip Merrick and get him enrolled in the fall. Merrick and ESPN 300 commit Shane Buechele both are expected to arrive in Austin in January. Merrick has a big arm and will be a nice development prospect.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Texas Tech's staff landed a good one in Donte Coleman. The tight end from West Mesquite High in Texas turned down a dozen other good offers to pick the Red Raiders on Saturday. Coleman, who hauled in four TDs as a junior, could be a matchup nightmare in Tech's scheme at 6-4 and 220 pounds.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia's newest pledge came from Zach Sandwisch of Toledo, Ohio, an outside linebacker who likes how he'll fit in the Mountaineers' defensive plans. Sandwich racked up 80 tackles in 10 games while helping lead Central Catholic to a state title as a junior. He took visits to West Virginia, Indiana, Toledo and Bowling Green before reaching his decision last week.

Big 12 morning links

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23
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Best of luck to Texas Tech sports information director Blayne Beal, who is leaving for a job in the private sector. Being SID can be a tireless gig. But Blayne is a great guy who did a great job.

  • Baylor had its "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage (more on this on the blog later this morning) and new Bears QB Seth Russell showed that Baylor should continue to have big-play ability even without Bryce Petty. Russell was little up-and-down with his accuracy in rainy weather, but still tossed four touchdown passes. The Bears only suffered one injury, to cornerback Xavien Howard, who suffered an ankle injury early in the scrimmage. Baylor will be light in the secondary the rest of the spring. Safeties Orion Stewart and Terrell Burt and cornerback Ryan Reid have all sat out this spring, nursing injuries.
  • TCU receiver Josh Doctson will miss the rest of spring practice because of a broken bone in his hand, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. Doctson, who will need surgery to correct the break, led the Horned Frogs with 1,018 receiving yards last season. Doctson is expected to be ready to go for the fall. But his injury will open up an opportunity for some of TCU's younger receivers to make an impression. The Horned Frogs were already without receivers Deante' Gray and Emanuel Porter this spring.
  • Mendez also had un update on how TCU's search at linebacker is going. With Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet both gone, the Horned Frogs have basically had to start from scratch, Mendez writes. "We got a long way to go at linebacker," coach Gary Patterson told Mendez. "There's just a lot of learning to it. They'll get there. Or I'll move somebody there." Despite losing key players elsewhere defensively, the Horned Frogs should be in good shape both in the secondary and up front. Linebacker will be the key to whether the Horned Frogs will field a top-two Big 12 defense for a fourth straight year.
  • Without any other upperclassmen at the position on the roster, the pressure is on Tyler Brown to give Iowa State something at running back, according to the Ames Tribune's Bobby La Gesse. This is a huge spring for Brown, and a big chance for him to establish himself as the Cyclones' featured runner. But he will have to earn it. The Cyclones are high on the potential of freshman Mike Warren, who redshirted last year. Martinez Syria is also back after filling the short-yardage role last season. Running back is by far the biggest question on the Iowa State offense. Sam B. Richardson has solidified his standing as the starting quarterback. The group of receivers is talented with the likes of Allen Lazard and Quenton Bundrage. And the offensive line is experienced.
  • Like Brown, Oklahoma State running back Rennie Childs has a shot this spring to command a big role, points out the Tulsa World's Bill Haisten. With Dez Roland and Tyreek Hill gone and Chris Carson and Jeff Carr not set to arrive until the summer, Childs will get the bulk of the work in the Cowboys' backfield this spring. Last week, we listed Childs as one of our "on the spot" players for this very same reason.

The production from Kansas State's quarterbacks in the past three seasons should make it no surprise the Wildcats have become mainstays in the Big 12 title race.

Since TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, the Wildcats have had the conference's most productive quarterbacks ahead of Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and other Big 12 programs that have a reputation for stellar signal-callers. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, here's a closer look at the Big 12 Total QBR rankings (conference games only) since 2012.

(Note: Total QBR is a ESPN metric used to determine a quarterback's impact. Here is a detailed explanation of Total QBR.)

1. Kansas State, 79.5
2014: 83.5, 1st
2013: 71.8, 3rd
2012: 83.2, 2nd

Summary: The combination of Jake Waters and Collin Klein helped push the Wildcats to the top of the list. Klein’s 83.9 Total QBR in 2012 is the third-best in the Big 12 since 2012, and his 23 rushing touchdowns helped offset a 16:9 touchdown-interception ratio. Waters’ 83.2 Total QBR led the Big 12 in 2014 and was fifth overall during this span. The Wildcats were the only program with two quarterbacks in the top five.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesIn 2013, Baylor's Bryce Petty had the Big 12's best statistical season for a quarterback in the last three years.

2. Baylor, 78.6
2014: 71.2, 4th
2013: 85.4, 1st
2012: 78.8, 4th

Summary: Bryce Petty had the Big 12’s best season during this span, recording a 86.2 Total QBR and earning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year during the 2013 season. Nick Florence finished with a 79.5 Total QBR in 2012, helping offset Petty’s 71.4 a year ago. The Bears started one of the conference’s top quarterbacks in each of the past three seasons, a feat only K-State can match.

3. Oklahoma, 74.5
2014: 75, 2nd
2013: 57.8, 7th
2012: 83.9, 1st

Summary: Landry Jones had the Big 12’s second-highest Total QBR during this span, recording a 84.4 in 2012 during the last season OU used a air raid-style offense. After a horrible 2013 season full of uncertainty at the position, the Sooners landed third on this list thanks to Trevor Knight’s 79.4 in 2014.

4. Texas Tech, 69.4
2014: 68.9, 5th
2013: 67.2, 5th
2012: 72.5, 6th

Summary: Davis Webb’s 77.7 Total QBR in 2013 is yet another reason to pump the brakes on the Patrick Mahomes coronation. It was the Red Raiders' best and among the top 10 in the conference during this span. Mahomes (70.7 in 2014) and Seth Doege (71.4 in 2012) join Webb among the top 15 in the Big 12 during the past three seasons, giving the Red Raiders three quarterbacks in the top 15, more than any other Big 12 program.

5. Oklahoma State, 66.4
2014: 46.3, 9th
2013: 74.6, 2nd
2012: 72.7, 5th

Summary: Clint Chelf is the sole reason the Pokes finished in the top half of the conference. His Total QBR was second in the Big 12 at 83.8 in 2013 and 13th in the Big 12 at 71.2 in 2012. Chelf was constantly battling for his spot during his final two seasons, but when Oklahoma State turned the offense over to him, he produced.

6. Texas, 65
2014: 58.4, 8th
2013: 70.1, 4th
2012: 66.7, 7th

Summary: This sums up the Longhorns' quarterback struggles. Case McCoy’s Total QBR of 69.1 in 2013 was the Longhorns' highest Total QBR during this span. Tyrone Swoopes recorded a 58.2 in 2014 and David Ash had a 67 in 2012.

7. West Virginia, 64.3
2014: 64, 6th
2013: 44.1, 9th
2012: 81.2, 2nd

Summary: Things went downhill for Dana Holgorsen’s team after Geno Smith recorded a 80.5 Total QBR in 2012, sixth in the Big 12 during this span, then headed to the NFL. Clint Trickett started the 2014 season strong, but his turnover-filled second half of the season dropped his final Total QBR to 61.9. Yet that was still better than the 54.9 he recorded in 2013.

8. TCU, 58.5
2014: 72.5, 3rd
2013: 47.9, 8th
2012: 54.2, 8th

Summary: This underscores just how bad the Horned Frogs production at quarterback was during TCU’s first two seasons in the Big 12. And that lackluster production came partially with Trevone Boykin under center. Boykin recorded a 52 Total QBR in 2013 before jumping to a 71.8 in 2014. It was one of the nation's highest jumps from a returning quarterback.

9. Iowa State, 54.9
2014: 58.8, 7th
2013: 56.7, 6th
2012: 47.5, 9th

Summary: One big reason the Cyclones have been going downhill since TCU and West Virginia entered the league is their subpar quarterback play. Fortunately for Iowa State, Sam Richardson has the potential to make quarterback a strength for the Cyclones in 2015.

10. Kansas, 31.7
2014: 44.5, 10th
2013: 20.2, 10th
2012: 30.7, 10th

Summary: The Jayhawks are the only team that showed no movement in the standings in any of the three seasons. It doesn’t get much worse than KU’s production in 2013. It’s easy to see why Kansas decided to go in a different direction with the hope David Beaty can spark a change at quarterback.

Big 12 morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
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Is that Dahntay Jones?

  • The Dallas Morning News looks at the five biggest issues facing Baylor football this spring, including health. Shehan Jeyarajah contends that it is important for the Bears to enter the fall with a healthy roster. While there are some position battles to be decided, I'd largely agree. There's really no reason to put established stars like Spencer Drango, Andrew Billings or Corey Coleman in harm's way repeatedly for Art Briles' program. It would be a good idea to have players like those take minimal reps in contact situations this spring. What do they have to prove?
  • The Oklahoma football team is the wrong messenger in the protest against the racist fraternity video at OU, suggests The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel. It's a thought-provoking piece that is worth a read and Tramel makes several good points, yet there are so many deeper issues in play here that it is hard to properly address them in one single attempt.
  • The Dallas Morning News also looks at the five biggest issues facing Oklahoma, including the Sooners secondary. The installation of Lincoln Riley's offense will get plenty of attention once the Sooners return to the field on Monday but none of it will matter if new secondary coach Kerry Cooks doesn't fix OU's secondary. There is talent on the roster but the group underachieved in 2014 and this spring should show if Cooks has turned the boat in the right direction.
  • Texas Tech is another team with five issues to address via the Dallas Morning News including a switch to the 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. The lack of continuity for the Red Raiders defense is pretty shocking with Gibbs set to become the seventh defensive coordinator at Tech in seven years. It's not hard to understand why the defense has struggled with players pretty much having to adapt to new coaching on a yearly basis.
  • The Dallas Morning News also looked at five issues the Texas Longhorns need to address this spring. Leadership is No. 2 on the list after Charlie Strong repeatedly questioned the leadership on his team in 2014. Even with some of the questions on the roster, I could be convinced leadership should be No. 1. Why? Because I think it will be critical for the Longhorns not to underachieve this fall. And that starts with leadership.

Austin Woods doesn't know Mitchell Meyers personally. But there might not be anyone who knows what Meyers is going through better.

Meyers, one of Iowa State's top defensive players, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma earlier this year.

Three years ago as a junior offensive lineman at Oklahoma, Woods was diagnosed with the same.

[+] EnlargeMitchell Meyers
AP Photo/Luke LuThrough a released statement, Iowa State's Mitchel Meyers says he's "determined to embrace the process and fight this with a positive attitude."

"I've read his story," Woods said. "It's very similar. You're a young guy in the best shape of your life, playing football. Then you go to the doctor and they tell you you have cancer. That's really tough."

But as Meyers has fallen into one of the fights of his life, Woods has a message of hope for the Cyclones' defensive end.

Today, Woods remains in remission. He's in his second year as an offensive quality control coach for the Sooners. It was hardly easy, but he was able to practice through the exhausting chemotherapy treatments during the spring and summer and ultimately fill a key reserve role on the Oklahoma offensive line that 2012 season.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel," Woods said.

Meyers, a defensive lineman who was one of only four Iowa State players to start all 12 games last season as a sophomore, has declined to do interviews since his diagnosis became public. He did release a statement last month that he was "determined to embrace the process and fight this with a positive attitude."

Woods says such a positive attitude is paramount.

"That's the only thing you can control," Woods said. "You can't control how you feel after the chemo. But you can control your attitude. That's the one thing that helped me get through it."

Woods said he was fortunate in that the chemotherapy didn't debilitate him to the point he couldn't go to class or even work out with the team. He didn't lose his hair or drop a ton of weight, either. But as Woods notes, everyone has a different reaction to the treatments. The important part, Woods said, is not to view yourself as a victim.

"You have to keep trucking along," Woods said. "It's hard. After four hours of getting chemicals pumped into you, you get frustrated. There are days you don't want to get up. You're gonna feel tired. You're gonna feel bad. But you can't feel sorry for yourself. You can't see yourself as being ill."

Woods, however, said his support system was his biggest asset to beating the cancer.

"I couldn't have gotten through it without them," Woods said of his family, his friends and his teammates. "They kept me going. They didn't treat me differently. That meant a lot."

Meyers seems to have a similar support system in Ames, where he's staying to get his treatment.

"I have the greatest teammates in the world," he added in his statement. "It's been humbling to see their care and words of encouragement."

Meyers is hoping to play football again, perhaps as soon as this fall. But for now, he's focused on getting better.

"I just hope my story can inspire him," Woods said. "Help him to get through what he's going through."

Big 12 morning links

March, 18, 2015
Mar 18
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Not easy to find football links this morning. Everybody is writing about some basketball tournament. Weird.

  • Recruiting has gotten expensive for Iowa State, which has to travel farther distances than its Big 12 brethren to find players. In 2013, the Cyclones picked up a $584,510 recruiting tab -- the third-highest among Big 12 public schools and roughly $107,000 more than Iowa spent that year, according to a USA Today study, which included money spent on transportation, lodging and meals for recruits on school visits and coaches on recruiting trips. You can see the entire database here. Oklahoma ($834,326) and Texas Tech ($622,897) were the only Big 12 public schools that spent more than the Cyclones.
  • TCU won a recruiting battle with Metroplex rival SMU, and landed 2017 athlete Roshauud Paul. SMU was the first to offer Paul in mid-February. Three days later, Paul attended TCU junior day and picked up an offer there. Paul fits the profile of many past successful TCU recruits. As a sophomore, he finished with 1,545 yards passing, 1,670 yards rushing and 39 total touchdowns; he also recorded 33 tackles as his team won a state title. In case you didn't know, the Horned Frogs are also off to a fast start on their 2016 class, too, with eight commitments, including three from the ESPN Junior 300.
  • Eric Kiesau and Charlie Weis Jr., who were both part of the Kansas staff last season, have landed in off-the-field roles at Alabama, according to the Tuscaloosa News. Kiesau was Kansas' wide receivers coach last season, arriving via Washington last offseason. He'll be an offensive analyst for the Crimson Tide. It's unclear what role Weis Jr. will have.
  • Joe Parker, who worked at Texas, Oklahoma and most recently as the deputy athletic director at Texas Tech is the new athletic director at Colorado State. Parker helped run the day-to-day athletic operations at Texas Tech.
  • Actor/comedian Kevin Hart confessed on the Jimmy Kimmel Show that he threw up after working out with the Texas football team. Did Hart at least enjoy himself before getting sick? “I'm gonna be honest with you… no,” Hart replied. “Not at all. It was one of those things that was a good idea at first. I threw up right after. It's a true story, it's a true story. I didn't let them see it though. They were like, ‘Kev, you good?' And I was like, ‘Yes I am!' And I gave like a Longhorn symbol and walked out and threw up on the wall. I didn't even clean it up, I just ran. I didn't want nobody to know it was me. I just took off.” Good stuff.

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 2013 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: Iowa State receiver Quenton Bundrage

Bundrage entered the 2014 season with the potential to be one of the best receivers in the Big 12.

One drive into the season opener, Bundrage's season was over. The Cyclones junior tore his ACL just four plays into the game against North Dakota State, watching his chance to be the centerpiece of the Cyclones passing game go out of the window.

Bundrage returns to the field this spring, participating in non-contact work with ISU's offense with an eye on resuming his role as the Cyclones' big-play threat in the passing game in 2015.

"He is doing very well," ISU head coach Paul Rhoads said earlier this month. "He will remain in a blue jersey, which is a player that's protected and we don't hit, all spring. I anticipate him being active all 15 days."

ISU needs Bundrage to return to his sophomore production and provide an offensive playmaker in offensive coordinator Mark Mangino's second season. The Florida native would bring a unique combination of quickness, size, explosiveness and experience to the offense after ISU failed to have any receiver finish the 2014 season with more than three touchdown receptions.

Bundrage had 48 receptions for 676 yards and nine touchdowns in 2013 while cementing a spot as one of the conference's top scoring receivers. His 97-yard catch-and-run against Texas was a glimpse at the big play potential he can bring to any offense.

If Bundrage can return to full health, the Cyclones' passing game could be a handful to deal with. Sam Richardson returns as one of the Big 12's most experienced quarterbacks with Allen Lazard and D'Vario Montgomery returning as productive -- and big -- receiving targets. A trio of Bundrage (6-foot-2, 191 pounds), Lazard (6-5, 221) and Montgomery (6-5, 204) would be one of the Big 12's biggest and best receiving groups.

The Cyclones offense sorely missed Bundrage's plays after his injury and this spring could be the first chance to see if the junior will return to his game-changing ability this fall.

Big 12 morning links

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
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Already changed my Final Four picks a couple times. After Kentucky, it's not easy. Also, I think we have four legitimate Final Four contenders out of the Big 12 this year.

  • The linebacker spots are up for grabs in Waco, writes the Waco Herald-Tribune's John Werner. Well, not all linebacker spots. Weakside linebacker Taylor Young is back after earning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors. But the other two spots will be key, especially on the inside, where Baylor is replacing three-time All-Big 12 performer Bryce Hager. Aiavion Edwards and Grant Campbell will be vying to be that replacement. The Bears will also be looking to find a starting nickelback this spring. Travon Blanchard and Patrick Levels are the contenders there.
  • Oklahoma State is on its third offensive line coach in as many years, but the experience of new assistant Greg Adkins could upgrade the unit, in the opinion of the Tulsa World's Mark Cooper. Adkins arrives after a stint with the Buffalo Bills. He was previously an offensive line coach at Syracuse, Tennessee and Georgia. Of the four assistants Mike Gundy brought in this season, Cooper writes that the Adkins’ hire is probably most important. I can't disagree. Offensive line carries a huge key to Oklahoma State's success in 2015. The rest of the offense seems to be in place. If the offensive line, which should be deeper and more experienced, continues to build on the last season's late surge, then the Pokes have a chance to be a force on that side of the ball.
  • The Mountaineers will host an intrasquad scrimmage on April 18 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, at the AdvoCare Sports Performance Center at the Greenbrier, the same complex where the New Orleans Saints hold their training camp. I always think it's a great idea when schools take their spring practices on the road. It gives fans a chance to get a glimpse of their team they might not otherwise have. Nobody is better at this than West Virginia, which held practices in Wheeling and Charleston last year
  • The Orlando Sentinel, which does a great job covering college football on a national level, released its five conference games to watch in the Big 12 this year. I definitely agree with two of them. I'm not sure about the other three. I will, by the way, be ranking every game in the Big 12 again later on in the summer.
  • The Des Moines Register's Courtney Crowder has a fun piece on what it's like to be "Cy," the Iowa State mascot. "Despite the smile permanently plastered across his beak, portraying Cy, who celebrated his 60th birthday in October, is harder than it looks," Crowder writes. "In addition to keeping up with their schoolwork, the five students who inhabit Cy must try out for their spot on the squad and spend about 100 hours in the suit each year."

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

March, 16, 2015
Mar 16
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Several elite recruits in the area were in Dallas over the weekend to battle for a spot in The Opening, an elite Nike football camp held annually in June in Eugene, Oregon.

BAYLOR
Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 4
The latest: The offers continue to roll in for defensive tackle commit Jordan Elliott, who reportedly added offers from Michigan and Florida State last week. Texas, Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma are among the other teams trying to flip Elliott from the commit list of Art Briles team. He claims he is solid with BU but plans to take other visits.

Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones continue to try to find hidden gems in Florida with seven offers to recruits from the Sunshine State including Sarasota Riverview athlete Oshea Grant. The Cyclones join Kentucky, Connecticut and South Florida as teams who have offered the 6-foot, 180-pound prospect.

KANSAS
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks got a pleasant surprise with an unofficial visit from 2017 prospect Najee Harris. The Antioch (California) running back already boasts offers from Alabama, TCU, UCLA, USC and others. In addition the Jayhawks offered Isaiahh Loudermilk, an eight-man football standout. The Howard (Kansas) West Elk prospect also boasts an in-state offer from Kansas State.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats offered a couple of quality prospects in TCU commit D'Eriq King and highly regarded cornerback Jared Mayden. It was a terrific week for Mayden, who also earned an invite to The Opening after a strong showing in the Dallas Regional.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Houston C.E. King running back Trayveon Williams released his top 10 last week with the Sooners making the cut for the ESPN Junior 300 member. The ultra-quick running back would be the ideal fit as a all-purpose threat in Lincoln Riley’s offense. Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas and Texas Tech join the Sooners on his top 10 list.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cowboys landed their third pledge of the Class of 2016 with Arlington (Texas) Lamar cornerback Madre Harper deciding to commit to OSU. Harper turned down several other offers including Oklahoma to join the Pokes' commit list.

TCU
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: TCU offered Washington commit Brandon Wellington as Gary Patterson’s program continues to expand its recruiting reach to the West Coast. The Horned Frogs also missed out in its pursuit of a potential playmaker when California receiver Theo Howard, who had made unofficial visits to TCU and Baylor, picked Oregon over the weekend.

TEXAS
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Longhorns receiver target Devin Duvernay starred at the Dallas Regional, earning a spot at The Opening. He reportedly ran a 4.38 in the 40-yard dash over the weekend and has several schools including the Longhorns, TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and others battling for his signature.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Red Raiders became the first offer for Baldwin Park (California) offensive lineman Francisco Perez. San Diego State and Vanderbilt quickly followed with offers for the 6-foot-5, 300-pounder.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 6
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Mountaineers held junior day on Sunday and it paid off with a pair of commitments. Sandy Spring (Maryland) Sherwood receiver Marcus Simms and Charleston (West Virginia) Capital quarterback Tyrhee Pratt picked the Mountaineers. Simms picked WVU over Maryland, Pittsburgh and others.

Big 12 morning links

March, 11, 2015
Mar 11
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I never recall NFL free agency being this crazy.
  • The fallout from the Oklahoma SAE video scandal continued Tuesday. Two Dallas students were expelled from OU for "creating a hostile learning environment." Their families later released statements expressing remorse.
  • The shutdown of the fraternity, meanwhile, has placed former OU coach Barry Switzer in a weird spot. Switzer is a former OU SAE, and admitted to knowing several of the current members. He even helped them pack once president David Boren shut their house down and gave them a day to vacate. "Most of those kids on that bus -- led by whoever -- they were rookies, freshmen," Switzer told CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd. "I know what the kids are like in the house. They're not associated with that culture." Monday, Switzer and the SAE house mom did a local TV interview, where they both expressed disbelief in what had transpired. But thelostogle.com later released a video with the same house mom rapping the N-word at an SAE party. When asked for comment Tuesday, Boren didn't have much sympathy for Switzer's sentiment for the fraternity. Regardless of his feelings toward the OU SAE chapter, nobody can challenge what Switzer has done for race relations in Oklahoma and college football in general. As he pointed out in his interview with Dodd, Switzer "was playing black quarterbacks before anyone else was recruiting black players." But this is not a debate Switzer can win in the court of public opinion, which has dropped the hammer on SAE.
  • In her column, USA TODAY's Nancy Armour praised the way OU has reacted in the last 48 hours. "By blacks and whites joining together," she wrote, "Stoops and his Sooners told everyone there is no room for hatred and bigotry in Norman -- or anywhere else, for that matter." But in another column, Fox Sports' Clay Travis pointed out a glaring incongruity in the way university has reacted, noting that while OU has stood tall against racism, it didn't in allowing running back Joe Mixon back on the team after he punched a female student in the face. "Oh, so the star running back gets a second chance for breaking four bones on a female student's face on video," Travis wrote, "but the guys in a frat don't get a second chance for saying something racist on a video?" Travis makes a legitimate point that is difficult for OU to rationalize.
  • OU made other news Tuesday, by announcing it would be scaling back its stadium renovation by roughly $200 million -- at least for the time being -- citing the fall in oil prices, to which the Oklahoma economy is closely tied. Still, the university will shortly break ground on a $160 million renovation that will bowl in the south end zone, build a new weight room and construct new coaches offices.
  • Lastly, keep Jamie Pollard in your prayers. The Iowa State athletic director, only 50, underwent open heart surgery in Des Moines after suffering a heart attack at his daughters' track meet Monday.

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