Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

A closer look at a few important position battles in the Big 12 entering spring practice:

Baylor: Middle linebacker
Aiavion Edwards vs. Grant Campbell

Replacing Bryce Hager, one of the Big 12’s most underappreciated stars, won’t be easy. He was the quarterback of Baylor’s defense, and his successor inherits a lot of responsibility. Edwards started five games last season while Campbell, a junior college transfer, served as Hager’s top backup. They’ll be aided by the return of exciting sophomore Taylor Young, who took Edwards’ job at weakside linebacker last year. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is going to let Edwards and Campbell keep competing until the right fit is found, and it’s been a good battle so far.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight will need to find consistency this offseason to earn the nod as Oklahoma's starting QB.
Oklahoma: Quarterback
Trevor Knight vs. Baker Mayfield vs. Cody Thomas

The great variable here is new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and the Sooners’ transition to Air Raid-style football. All three of his QB candidates have starting experience in the Big 12. Knight needs to stay healthy and get much more consistent. Mayfield has experience in this scheme and needs to show the spark he provided Texas Tech as a freshman in 2012. And Thomas, who dropped baseball to focus on winning this job, just needs to keep pushing them. All three are in for a rigorous offseason of learning under Riley’s watch.

Oklahoma State: Running back
Rennie Childs vs. Sione Palelei

Chris Carson, the touted juco signee who flipped from Georgia, doesn’t arrive in Stillwater until the summer. Neither does freshman Jeff Carr. That means Childs, Palelei and the rest of the Cowboys' backs have the spring to prove they deserve carries this fall. Childs has rushed for 483 yards and five scores as a reserve over the past two years, while the speedy Palelei redshirted last year. Carson seems like the safe bet to be this group’s workhorse when he arrives, but somebody has to tote the rock this spring.

TCU: Cornerback
Corry O’Meally vs. DeShawn Raymond vs. Nick Orr vs. Cameron Echols-Luper

The Horned Frogs are expected to have a wide-open battle for the spot Kevin White held down for three years, and all four of these guys bring different traits to the table. O’Meally and Orr played as reserves in their first year as Frogs. Raymond, a four-star early enrollee, would be TCU’s biggest option here at 6-foot-1. And Echols-Luper, a prolific returner, just switched from receiver to corner this offseason. There’s not a lot of experience among this group, but there is a lot of potential.

Texas: Quarterback
Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard

Swoopes started 12 games last season and at times showed flashes of an exciting future. He also struggled mightily against TCU and Arkansas to end the year. How much better can he get as a junior? Heard, a redshirt freshman, was nowhere near ready to play last year in the eyes of co-offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. We’ll see how both respond to playing in a higher-tempo offense this spring, and whether ESPN 300 signee Kai Locksley tests them in the summer. Texas badly needs stability and leadership at this spot as well as a much-improved line.

Texas Tech: Defensive tackle
Rika Levi vs. Keland McElrath vs. Demetrius Alston vs. Breiden Fehoko

What’ll makes this group fun to watch is the influence of their new position coach, fiery co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith. He’ll push Tech’s big men like never before. Levi didn’t play up to the hype last year, but he’s looking much better this spring now that he’s dropped 20 pounds. Tech fans will be clamoring to see Fehoko, Tech’s top-rated signee, on the field as soon as possible. Anthony Smith, Marcus Smith and the injured Donte Phillips are also in the mix. Considering Tech’s inability to stop the run last year, finding the right combo here is important.

West Virginia: Quarterback
Skyler Howard vs. William Crest vs. Paul Millard

Howard showed dramatic improvement leading up to his three-game audition to end 2014. He lost two of those three, but threw eight TDs and played with confidence when he got his shot. West Virginia fans are rightfully excited about Crest, a dual-threat redshirt freshman whose first year was cut short by a shoulder issue. Millard and true freshmen Chris Chugunov and David Sills are also battling for this job, giving Dana Holgorsen better QB depth than he’s had in a while. If Crest proves he’s ready to lead now, he might run away with this race.

Big 12 morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
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Congrats to the Jayhawks. Eleven straight Big 12 titles ain't easy.
  • Chuck McGill of the Charleston Daily Mail shares the story of West Virginia assistant JaJuan Seider, whose 14-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer and had two tumors removed in January. Jaden Seider is currently in chemotherapy -- fortunately, his cancer was 100-percent treatable -- and fans from both West Virginia and Marshall have rallied to show their support with a #SeiderStrong hashtag. Jade sure sounds like one tough kid. Be sure to give this one a read.
  • Baker Mayfield has beaten the odds before, so why can't he win the job at Oklahoma? Jason Kersey of The Oklahoman does a nice job of tracing Mayfield's competitive streak and perseverance back to his days at Lake Travis High in Austin, where he earned the starting job after an injury and never gave it up. Those who know him best are confident Mayfield will find a way to become QB No. 1 at OU. He's the guy I'd bet on right now, too, based on that mean streak and his now-convenient knowledge of Air Raid concepts.
  • Art Briles shared some wonderful news on Tuesday: the great 400-pound behemoth LaQuan McGowan is getting work at tight end and H-back this spring. Briles says the Bears will try to experiment with him in non-conference play if possible. The staff is hesitant to let him loose this spring in case he injures someone, which is a reasonable fear. Though McGowan's TD against Michigan State got all the glory, I liked how Baylor found ways late in the season to use McGowan as a bonus blocker in goal-line power sets. Why not see what else he can do?
  • As expected, a lot of eyes at Iowa State are on junior college transfer Desmond Tucker right now. The Cyclones expect the defensive tackle to take a starting job, but he'll have to earn it first. Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune offers a good breakdown of where Tucker stands and what he's working on (hands first) as he tries to prove himself. ESPN's No. 3 rated juco DT prospect is already displaying impressive athleticism and could make a big impact once he gets all caught up.
  • Best of luck to former West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett, who's reportedly set to become the new quarterbacks coach at Eastern Mississippi Community College. Trickett is following in his father's and brother's footsteps and diving right into the coaching world after concussions ended his playing days at WVU. Trickett consistently earned praise during his stint at WVU for his knowledge of the game, and this is no small-time gig. EMCC has won three NJCAA titles in the last four years and its last QB, Chad Kelly, signed with Ole Miss.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

March, 3, 2015
Mar 3
4:00
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In Tuesday's mailbag, Tom Bradley's departure, a May signing day and Kansas State's record are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions (and thanks for not asking about expansion this time around). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Scott in Edgewater, Maryland, writes: Tom Bradley left for UCLA, is this going to negatively effect West Virginia, and why did he leave after just one year?

Brandon Chatmon: I think it hurts the Mountaineers, no question about it. Bradley brought tons of experience and a veteran presence to the WVU coaching staff while helping solidify the defense. It’s a big loss for Dana Holgorsen’s program but not one that is impossible to overcome. As far as why, who wouldn’t want to go to UCLA? Sign me up.


Aaron Terhume in Lenexa, Kansas, writes: With K-State's hardest games at home next year (TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor & West Virginia) what are the odds of an 8+ win season for the CATS?

BC: It feels like you’re overrating the home-field advantage a tad here, Aaron. The Wildcats still have to replace Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Ryan Mueller and B.J. Finney, who were among the best in the Big 12 at their positions. I think the home field will help but 7-8 wins sounds about right before spring football kicks off and we start finding out some answers about the 2015 version of Bill Snyder’s team. Anything above eight could be asking a lot from Snyder and company.


J.J. in Tumalo, Oregon, writes: With its continuing squishy soft out of conference schedule do you agree that Baylor leaves itself no margin of error? A weak SOS will always justify the College Football Playoff Committee kicking Baylor to the curb and 0-2 in its last bowl games does not help the cause.

BC: I agree on both counts. The Bears have decided to minimize their margin of error with their stance on nonconference scheduling and bowl losses to Central Florida and Michigan State, with the nation watching, doesn’t help matters. None of this is something Art Briles' program can’t overcome, however. I don’t think many people would be shocked to see the Bears in the College Football Playoff in 2015 even though they aren’t maximizing their potential routes to the playoff.


Jamie in Austin, Texas, writes: Haven't we heard this song before? Texas Tech quarterback looks great early in his career, gets loads of hype, the fanbase gets super pumped for his prospects, and then… Kliff Kingsbury shuffles the deck and that QB doesn't even finish the season as the starter. Baker Mayfield, Davis Webb, now possibly Patrick Mahomes. Is it time that we pause before we start hyping Tech QBs up?

BC: Well, Jamie, I haven’t seen too many posters touting Mahomes as the Big 12 preseason offensive player of the year. He was extremely impressive to end his freshman season but I’d agree some folks on the fringe who need to take a step back before anointing him as the Big 12’s next elite passer. And when it comes to Kingsbury, I can’t blame him for tinkering with his quarterbacks -- neither Mayfield or Webb were taking care of the ball. Mahomes, in his short time, did a better job protecting the ball (16 TDs, 4 INTs) than either of those other two quarterbacks.


rtXC in Denison, Texas, writes: Are you guys as tired of the coaching carousel extending past signing day as the fans are? Here's my suggestion: move signing day to the first Wednesday of May. By that time, all NFL and NCAA staffs should be complete, with the players getting to see exactly what the new staff members bring to the table throughout spring practice and in the spring games. Gives players more time to sort things out, while giving new staffs more time to get things together. The first season of this change would provide an extra long recruiting cycle, but after that things would feel normal again, while protecting both parties, coaches and players alike. Thoughts?

BC: It’s an interesting idea but I don’t know that moving signing day to May really addresses the problem, which is the natural desire of coaches (or anyone for that matter) to progress in their careers. Coaches are going to leave during players/recruits careers, which is why prospects are repeatedly told to pick the school not the coach. Just because the coach would be there on a May signing day doesn’t mean they would be there five years down the road or even one year down the road. The only answer is players picking the best place/environment to excel, regardless of the coaches.


Cole in Oklahoma City writes: With Riley coming to OU and establishing a new offense, would you take the bet Joe Mixon has more total offense than Samaje Perine since Samaje is more of bruiser type back? And also given OU comes back to what they're known for, who wins the Big XII? My prediction is TCU, OU, Texas, Baylor, Ok St and so on. TCU and OU will probably be the Big XII title game.

BC: I’d bet on Mixon because he’s more versatile, allowing Riley to use him in so many different ways. I’d imagine we will see that duo on the field together plenty of times in 2015 -- both are too talented to waste on the sidelines. TCU and Baylor remain the clear favorites for me with Oklahoma State as the next candidate after that top two. OU has to prove themselves title ready before I'm willing to put them up there with TCU or Baylor.
How is Samaje Perine going to get enough touches?

That was the immediate question when Bob Stoops picked Lincoln Riley to run Oklahoma’s offense. Riley’s philosophy didn’t seem to be the ideal fit for an offense that looked poised to be built around the sophomore running back.

A closer look at Riley’s time at East Carolina shows that his best offenses had balance. Here’s a year-by-year look at Riley’s five seasons with the help of ESPN Stats & Information:

[+] EnlargeLincoln Riley
Greg Thompson/Icon SportswireWhile at ECU, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley didn't just rely on high-powered passing attacks.
2010: 2.65 points per drive, 5.74 yards per play, 43.1 third-down conversion rate, 65.4 pass percentage (percent of total plays which are passes), 15 turnover percentage (percent of drives ending with a turnover).
Summary: In his first season as an offensive coordinator, Riley entered the year with junior college transfer Dominique Davis at quarterback and a returning all-conference receiver in Dwayne Harris. Riley built the offense around Davis -- who finished with 3,967 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 16 interceptions -- and Harris, who eclipsed the 100-catch mark with 101 receptions for 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lance Lewis (89 receptions, 1,116 yards, 14 TDs) joined Harris to give ECU one of the best receiving combos in the nation. Running back Jonathan Williams led the Pirates with 154 carries for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 52 receptions for 431 yards and another score. ECU rushed for 1,542 yards and passed for 4,143 yards in Riley’s first season.
What it could mean for OU: Much like OU, Riley didn’t have an unquestioned, established quarterback to run his offense when he arrived but he did have an returning all-conference receiver. Sterling Shepard could easily see his 2014 receptions (51) double while becoming the top target. And Williams' numbers are a clear sign that Riley aimed to get the ball in the hands of his running back, through the air or on the ground. Perine will be asked to get more involved as a receiver while running back Joe Mixon and Keith Ford could have Riley really exploit their versatility as runners and receivers.

2011: 2.06 points per drive, 5.15 yards per play, 46.1 third-down conversion rate, 60.2 pass percentage, 20.9 turnover percentage.
Summary: Easily Riley’s worst season as turnovers became a problem for ECU’s offense. Davis returned but his touchdowns went down (25) while his interceptions went up (19). And when Riley turned to the running game it struggled to get going, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry while finishing with 1,309 rushing yards on 397 total attempts. No ECU running back averaged more than 4.51 yards per carry or gained more than 500 rushing yards. Riley’s offense finished with 35 turnovers in 12 games. ECU rushed for 1,309 yards and passed for 3,433 yards in Riley’s second season.
What it could mean for OU: Anything similar to this production would be a nightmare for Bob Stoops' new hire. The turnovers in particular would have the potential to cripple any hopes for title contention as Riley would have to rein in the offense, thus limiting its explosive nature. The most important thing for Riley’s offense in 2015 will be to protect the ball, which did wonders for TCU’s offensive rebirth in 2014.

2012: 2.24 points per drive, 5.61 yards per play, 42.9 third-down conversion rate, 54.6 pass percentage, 12.2 turnover percentage.
Summary: The Pirates went out an added junior college running back Vintavious Cooper to bring balance to the offense and he responded with 1,049 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry. He had 226 touches in 13 games, an average of 17.4 touches per game. At quarterback Shane Carden took over after a couple of years as Davis’ understudy and immediately took better care of the football (10 interceptions) while completing 66.1 percent of his throws for 3,116 yards. Justin Hardy emerged as a legit No. 1 target with 86 receptions for 1,105 yards and 11 receptions as a sophomore.
What it could mean for OU: Balance returned to ECU’s offense when Riley had a running back he could count on. The balance, combined with Carden’s ball protection and efficiency, made this one of Riley’s top offenses.

2013: 2.94 points per drive, 5.92 yards per play, 51 third-down conversion rate, 57.9 pass percentage, 9 turnover percentage.
Summary: ECU entered the season with one of the nation’s top quarterback-running back-receiver combos in Carden-Cooper-Hardy. Carden passed for 4,139 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; Cooper rushed for 1,193 yards (5.2 ypc); and Hardy had 114 receptions for 1,294 yards. ECU passed for 4,265 yards and rushed for 1,821 yards.
What it could mean for OU: When Riley had the tools to create a balanced, efficient offense, he built the best offense of his tenure at ECU. He had a quality, experienced quarterback and receiver combo yet made sure to get his talented running back involved, even making him a key part of the passing game (Cooper had 44 receptions for 412 yards as ECU’s third-leading receiver). OU is an experienced and consistent quarterback away from this scenario heading into the spring.

2014: 2.57 points per drive, 6.48 yards per play, 47.4 third-down conversion rate, 62.5 pass percentage, 11.9 turnover percentage.
Summary: With Cooper moving on, Riley really leaned on Carden and Hardy. Carden passed for 4,736 yards while Hardy had 121 receptions for 1,494 yards. The argument could definitely be made that running back Breon Allen, who had 134 carries for 869 yards (6.5) and eight touchdowns, should have gotten the ball more but that would require taking the ball out of the hands of Carden and Hardy, particularly since Carden never had more than 10 interceptions during his three years as the starter.
What it could mean for OU: Quite frankly it underscores the importance of finding a quarterback who makes good decisions to trigger Riley’s offense. Baker Mayfield seems the like the favorite with his experience in similar offenses but Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas have won Big 12 games and possess the talent to excel in the system.

Big 12 coaching carousel recap

March, 2, 2015
Mar 2
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The coaching carousel has finally slowed to a stop (well, almost), so let’s take a look back at who has gone and who is new in the Big 12 heading into spring practice. Iowa State and Kansas State made no changes, but every other program in the conference is breaking in at least two new assistants this fall. A rundown of all the changes:

Baylor

Out: Philip Montgomery (Tulsa), Brian Norwood (Tulsa)
In: Promoted Kendal Briles (OC) and Tate Wallis (WRs), hired Cris Dishman (DBs)

Art Briles is handing the reins of Baylor's offense to his son, Kendal Briles, who had previously coached the Bears’ prolific receivers. He earned the promotion after Montgomery landed the head coaching job at Tulsa and brought Norwood along as his co-defensive coordinator. The younger Briles will now oversee quarterbacks and provide his own innovative touches to playcalling. Dishman, a former Pro Bowler, will also bring fresh ideas to the mix as the safeties coach.

Kansas

In: Hired David Beaty (HC), Rob Likens (OC), Reggie Mitchell (RBs), Klint Kubiak (WRs), Zach Yenser (OL), Gary Hyman (ST/TEs), Kenny Perry (co-DC), Calvin Thibodeaux (DL), Kevin Kane (LBs)

Beaty has been well-received by Kansas fans so far and assembled a staff that will compete on the recruiting trail. Retaining Clint Bowen as co-DC and assistant head coach was his first move and certainly a popular one. Likens and Yenser come from Cal and will help install Beaty’s Air Raid-style vision for the offense. Perry, a high school coach just three years ago, was plucked from TCU’s staff. Bringing back strength coach Je'Ney Jackson, a former Mark Mangino assistant, was another savvy move.

Oklahoma

Out: Josh Heupel (Utah State), Jay Norvell (Texas), Jerry Montgomery (Green Bay Packers), Bobby Jack Wright (retired)
In: Hired Lincoln Riley (OC), Dennis Simmons (WRs), Diron Reynolds (DL), Kerry Cooks (DBs)

Bob Stoops hated having to part ways with Heupel and Norvell, but a change of direction for the offense was necessary. Riley, a Mike Leach disciple who got the Air Raid rolling at East Carolina, seems like a great fit and the perfect guy to deliver on Stoops’ new plan. Simmons, another former Leach assistant, should help with the transition. Cooks was Notre Dame’s ace recruiter in Texas, and Reynolds has more than a decade of NFL coaching experience.

Oklahoma State

Out: Bob Connelly (USC), Jemal Singleton (Arkansas), Van Malone (SMU), Eric Wolford (San Francisco 49ers), Jason Ray
In: Hired Dan Hammerschmidt, Marcus Arroyo, Greg Adkins, Jason McEndoo

Gundy completed his staff last week after enduring a lot of change, including one coach (Wolford) taking an NFL job a week after being hired. The specific roles for OSU’s four new hires have yet to be announced. Hammerschmidt is taking a job on the defense, and the other three will work with the offense. Arroyo was the Tampa Bay Bucs’ interim offensive coordinator last season. Adkins also comes from the pros. McEndoo was a longtime assistant at FCS Montana State.

TCU

Out: Dick Bumpas (retired), Kenny Perry (Kansas)
In: Promoted DeMontie Cross (co-DC), Chad Glasgow (co-DC), Paul Gonzales (CBs), Dan Sharp (DL)

Gary Patterson stuck to promoting from within this offseason, rewarding Cross and Glasgow when Bumpas stepped aside after 11 years as a Frog. Gonzales was promoted after three years as a grad assistant. Sharp, a member of the staff since 2001, was a director of player personnel last season, but has long overseen TCU’s special teams. Patterson says every member of his staff was offered jobs this offseason, and all but one stay put. This much continuity after a big season is critical.

Texas

Out: Chris Rumph (Florida), Les Koenning, Bruce Chambers
In: Hired Brick Haley (DL), Jay Norvell (WRs), Jeff Traylor (ST/TEs)

The abrupt departure of the well-liked Rumph was a surprise, but Charlie Strong found a respected replacement in LSU’s Haley. Bringing in Norvell from the Sooners was a surprise, too, and adds a little extra juice to the rivalry. We’ll see what influence, if any, the former OC has on Texas’ plans to go up-tempo offensively. Traylor, a successful Texas high school coach, gives the Longhorns a better presence in recruiting the valuable East Texas area.

Texas Tech

Out: John Scott Jr. (New York Jets)
In: Hired David Gibbs (DC), Zac Spavital (LBs)

Nobody forced more turnovers over the past two seasons (73) than Houston. That is one of the many reasons why Gibbs was a smart hire to overhaul the Red Raiders' defense. The eighth Texas Tech DC since 2007 should bring a bit more stability, and he also brought along Spavital from Houston. Mike Smith, the interim DC last year, was retained and will now coach the defensive line in addition to keeping his co-DC title.

West Virginia

Out: Tom Bradley (UCLA), Shannon Dawson (Kentucky)
In: Hired Bruce Tall (DL)

Dawson and Bradley left for good promotions, yet it’s hard to say West Virginia took a big hit as a staff this offseason. Dawson’s departure won’t change much, as Dana Holgorsen is still overseeing the offense as its playcaller. New GA hire Michael Burchett will help Holgorsen coach the QBs. Tall returns after a four-year stint as DC at FCS Charlotte. Holgorsen still has one more hire to make: special teams coach. Once they are on board, the Big 12 coaching carousel will officially (probably) come to a stop for 2015.
We're in the middle of junior day season with multiple schools hosting prospects last weekend and others set to host elite talent this weekend. Here's the latest on the recruiting trail:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 5
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Baylor hosted several elite prospects over the weekend including Plano (Texas) East prospect Anthony Hines III, an elite Class of 2017 prospect who boasts offers from most of the Big 12 as well as LSU, Ohio State and others. Fellow Class of 2017 prospects Hezekiah Jones and Jeff Okudah, who was offered over the weekend, were also in Waco for BU’s junior day as Art Briles' program focuses on this recruiting cycle and beyond.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: It’s a big week for the Cyclones with spring football set to kick off and junior day this weekend. ISU also sent out some offers last week including an offer to Allen (Texas) defensive end Levi Onwuzurike. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect also boasts offers from Boston College and Illinois.

KANSAS
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: KU held a junior day over the weekend with Wildwood (Missouri) Lafayette offensive lineman Chase Behrndt among the visitors. The Jayhawks also offered Sachse (Texas) athlete Donovan Duvernay last week. His twin brother, Devin Duvernay, is the No. 12 player in the ESPN Junior 300 and already boasted a KU offer. The Jayhawks joined Boise State as teams who have offered Donovan.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Edmond (Oklahoma) Santa Fe linebacker Calvin Bundage has emerged as one of the rising stars in the Big 12 region as he added an offer from the Wildcats. Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and Michigan are among the schools who have offered the Class of 2016 safety/linebacker hybrid.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 1
The latest: The Sooners could have a big weekend ahead with another junior day set for March 7. New Orleans (Louisiana) Easton linebacker Pernell Jefferson is among the recruits who are set to head to Norman, Oklahoma, this weekend. TCU and Texas Tech are among the other Big 12 teams who have offered Jefferson.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Oklahoma State didn’t see any reason to wait any longer before offering Class of 2018 offensive tackle Brey Walker. The Moore (Oklahoma) Southmoore prospect is 6-foot-6, 285 pounds and excelled on the gridiron and wrestling mat during his freshman season. He’s going to be a name to watch over the next few years.

TCU
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: TCU hopes to go into Arkansas to grab Little Rock (Arkansas) Robinson athlete T.J. Hammonds away from the Razorbacks. The Horned Frogs offered the 5-foot-11, 186-pound prospect this week and he could be a good fit on either side of the ball for Gary Patterson’s program.

TEXAS
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Texas held a junior day over the weekend with several top prospects visiting Austin, Texas, despite the weather playing havoc with the travel plans of many prospects. The Longhorns offered multiple prospects last week including OU offensive line commitment Jean Delance along with running back Darius Anderson and cornerback Eric Cuffee.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Red Raiders looked to the East Coast for one of its latest offers with Washington (D.C.) Woodrow Wilson running back Abdul Adams boasting an offer from Kliff Kingsbury’s program. The No. 277 player in the ESPN Junior 300, Adams has a large offer list which includes OU and West Virginia.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia sent out multiple offers last week with its March 15 junior day on the horizon. Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) Imhotep running back Tylick Raynor and Southfield (Michigan) running back Matthew Falcon are among the recruits who boasted offers from the Mountaineers.
In today's Big 12 mailbag, we discuss coaching hires, QB battles, why I hate everyone and what Big 12 apparel I have in my closet.

On to the 'bag:
Trotter: Never underestimate the power of Bill Snyder's magic wand. That said, I don't see how K-State doesn't take a step back this year without Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Curry Sexton, B.J. Finney, Ryan Mueller and Jonathan Truman.

Trotter: It's funny to me when a particular fan base thinks I only pick on their team. I pick on everyone, when the occasion calls for it. All 10 Big 12 fan bases have gotten mad at me at one time or another. Just check my Twitter mentions sometime.

Trotter: Right now, I have them third in the league behind TCU and Baylor. The Cowboys really don't have any weaknesses on paper, and they boast an up-and-coming quarterback in Mason Rudolph, who was fabulous in three starts last year. The schedule also lines up for the Cowboys, who get TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma in Stillwater.

Trotter: Very solid hire. Adkins has been around the block, with stints coaching offensive line at Tennessee and Georgia. Our SEC guru Chris Low really liked the hire. Doug Marrone obviously thought a lot of Adkins to bring him along from Syracuse to the Bills. Mike Gundy could have done a lot worse.

Trotter: To me, it's a two-man race between William Crest and Skyler Howard. Paul Millard is a nice veteran to have around. David Sills is a solid prospect, and we'll see what Chris Chugunov can do. But Crest's year in the system gives him an edge over the freshmen. And Howard's game experience gives him an edge over everyone.

Trotter: Considering court-storming is probably going to get banned this year, I'd go with the former.

Trotter: For one, what the Lincoln Riley offense will look like. For two, who will emerge in the QB derby. There's plenty of intrigue in Norman this spring.

Trotter: Given that Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas all have a bunch of experience, Hansen is a long shot. Not that those three can't be beaten out. But it's going to be hard for Hansen to shine when he's going to be getting fourth-team reps.

Trotter: Pretty business-as-usual hire. Patterson oversees the defense to a large degree, anyway. By promoting in-house, he keeps that continuity, which is an obvious positive. Patterson might be more involved than when Dick Bumpas was around. But the defense is going to be similar to what we've seen in Fort Worth.

Trotter: I actually have one article of Big 12 apparel in my closet -- a pair of West Virginia sweatpants my wife's family (who are rabid Mountaineers fans) got me at the most recent family reunion (which, by the way, was in West Virginia). They're too comfortable for me to get rid of. So everyone is just going to have to deal with that.
Fully capitalizing on red-zone chances is a trait of championship teams.

Settling for field goals can cost a team a game. Worst yet, turning the ball over in the opponent's red zone can completely change momentum.

Here's a look at the Big 12's rankings in red-zone efficiency in conference games only during the past three years since TCU and West Virginia joined in 2012.

Red-zone points per drive

1. Kansas State, 5.14: The Wildcats' 64.3 red-zone touchdown percentage is the best in the Big 12. Five Wildcats (John Hubert, Collin Klein, Charles Jones, Jake Waters, Daniel Sams) rushed for at least seven red-zone touchdowns.

2. Oklahoma, 5.02: The Sooners average 3.1 yards per carry in the red zone, ranking second in the Big 12. Samaje Perine rushed for 240 yards and 14 touchdowns on 56 red-zone carries in 2014 as he erased any need for a special short yardage package for the Sooners.

3. Baylor, 4.94: The Bears have the unique ability to run defenses ragged with their speed and explosiveness yet buckle down with physical offense when needed. Baylor's 75 red-zone rushing touchdowns are the Big 12's best during this span.

4 (tied). Texas, 4.92: The Longhorns convert 50.7 percent of third-down conversions in the red zone, second in the conference but Texas' 282 total plays and 106 total drives rank eighth in the Big 12 -- a sign UT doesn't sustain long scoring drives on a consistent basis.

4 (tied). Oklahoma State, 4.92: The Cowboys scored on 85.3 percent of their red-zone drives, but a 34.8 third-down conversion rate ranked last in the Big 12. Some of OSU's offensive struggles in recent years followed them into the red zone at times.

6. Iowa State, 4.90: The Cyclones' 3.79 yards per play in the red zone sits atop the Big 12 but their 236 total red-zone plays is ninth in the conference. Paul Rhoads' team was decent when it got inside the 20-yard line but a combination of turnovers and inefficiency slowed ISU down.

7. Texas Tech, 4.79: The Red Raiders' eight red-zone turnovers helped push them down the rankings despite Tech recording a conference-best 61.9 completion percentage inside the red zone.

8. West Virginia, 4.76: The Mountaineers had a 29 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the red zone with one interception in 115 red zone attempts but their 34.9 third-down conversion percentage resulted a poor red-zone touchdown percentage (58.9 percent, eighth in Big 12).

9. TCU, 4.59: The Horned Frogs nine red-zone turnovers were the worst in the Big 12, offsetting TCU's 55.9 completion percentage and 4.88 yards per pass attempt in the red zone, which ranked second in the Big 12 in both categories.

10. Kansas, 3.72: The Jayhawks rank last in pretty much every category including yards per play (2.6), total plays (202) and yards per carry (2.14). Kansas' bad offense followed them any time they ventured within the red zone.

Red-zone points per drive allowed

1. TCU, 4.25: Gary Patterson's program sits atop the Big 12 in total plays (229), yards per play (2.85) and yards per carry (2.39) in the red zone.

2. Oklahoma State, 4.43: The Cowboys allowed 1.98 yards per carry in the red zone and nine red-zone sacks, ranking first in the Big 12, and tied TCU for first at 2.85 yards per play.

3 (tied). Kansas State, 4.64: The Wildcats were terrific on third down, allowing 35.8 percent of conversion attempts to be converted.

3 (tied). Kansas, 4.64: Kansas saw the most total plays (369) yet ranked third behind OSU and TCU in yards per play (3.08). The Jayhawks' defense also added nine red-zone turnovers forced, which is second in the conference.

5. Texas, 4.66: The Longhorns' 8.1 sack percentage in the red zone led the conference, but 33.2 percent of opponents' plays resulted in five yards or more, the worst percentage in the Big 12. It gave the defense a boom-or-bust type of feel.

6. West Virginia, 4.75: The Mountaineers faced the second-highest number of red-zone plays (364) and ranked fourth in yards per play allowed (3.17) yet allowed opponents to convert 50.6 of third-down attempts.

7. Iowa State, 4.82: The Cyclones have forced the most red-zone turnovers in the Big 12 (11) yet have allowed 80 red-zone touchdowns, tied with Kansas for eighth.

8. Oklahoma, 5.06: The Sooners' inability to force turnovers in the red zone is part of the problem as OU forced one red-zone mistake in three seasons.

9. Baylor, 5.39: Baylor's 3.58 yards per play ranked ninth in the conference and didn't record a red-zone sack in three seasons.

10. Texas Tech, 5.42: The Red Raiders allowed a 57.1 third-down conversion rate, worst in the Big 12. By comparison, TCU's 20 third-down conversion rate was the Big 12's best.
In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we examine the biggest keys for new coordinators Rob Likens, David Gibbs and Lincoln Riley.

What is the biggest key for Likens?

Chatmon: The Jayhawks need to figure out if the man who can run their offense from behind center is on campus. Michael Cummings, Montell Cozart and T.J. Millweard will get their chance this spring before a pair of freshmen, Carter Stanley and Ryan Willis, arrive. Frankly, if one of the guys on campus doesn't run away with the job this spring, Kansas should be prepared to turn to one of the freshmen and be willing to take lumps in 2015 if Stanley or Willis are clearly superior fits for the offense.

Olson: This is a start-from-scratch spring for Kansas' offense, and right now teaching is far more important than evaluation. The roster ain't great; there's really no way around that. For Likens and David Beaty, the key has to be installing and instilling an offensive vision and finding out who buys in and steps up. I'd worry about that offensive line, too. Charlie Weis and his staff did a poor job evaluating and developing there, relying too often on juco takes. That group will need extra attention this spring.

Trotter: My goodness, where do we begin? I would start with finding out who can play and who can help. Not only is the staff largely new, the players are largely new, too. No team in the Big 12 returns fewer starters than the Jayhawks. Evaluating and identifying a potential two-deep is Step 1, especially up front along the offensive line.

The biggest key for Gibbs?

Chatmon: How to take advantage of the talent the Red Raiders do have should be first on Gibbs list. Texas Tech has pieces to work with, from linebacker Pete Robertson to cornerback Nigel Bethel, so identifying the best way to take advantage of their skills is key. Gibbs' track record of building defenses that create turnovers means that will be a focus, but figuring out the players who he can trust to win their individual battles consistently then allowing them to excel is a top priority. The plan should be simple: Don't waste time trying to make up for what you don't have, invest time in maximizing what you do have.

Olson: Got to start by finding a way to consistently stop foes from doing what's easiest: running right at these Red Raiders. Opponents ran the ball nearly 50 times per game against Tech last season, 11 more than the league average. No wonder they ended up with the worst run D of all Power 5 teams. I like a lot of the pieces Tech has in its front seven entering 2015 and am curious to see what solution Gibbs can offer for perhaps their big weakness.

Trotter: I'm with Max. If the Red Raiders don't do a better job of stopping the run, then anything else Gibbs does won't matter much. The good news is Tech should be deeper up front with the addition of Breiden Fehoko to the tackle rotation. Mike Mitchell should assist in run support as a potentially sure tackler from the weak side. If the Red Raiders fare better against the run, they'll automatically fare better everywhere else, as well.

The biggest key for Riley?

Chatmon: Identifying his best players is the key for Riley. Oklahoma has talent that could have been misused in the previous offense, resulting in a lackluster passing game and a lack of balance. In other words, preconceived spring plans for how someone like Joe Mixon or Michiah Quick may fit into the system will be Riley's enemy. Once he identifies his playmakers, Riley can then mold his system around their strengths during the summer months. The players should decide what Riley's offense will look like in the fall, not OU's first-year offensive coordinator. And this spring is his chance to see what they can do.

Olson: Leadership at the quarterback position. Which passer will Sooners players rally around this spring? Who's going to do the best job of not only grasping Riley's scheme but also guiding those around him? Riley will have to do a good job of keeping a finger on the team's pulse here. There's no doubt that between Trevor Knight, Baker Mayfield and Cody Thomas, two confident and competitive guys ultimately aren't going to get their way.

Trotter: Like Brandon noted, tailoring the offense to fit the skill set of his personnel will be the key. Riley's air raid system and OU's plethora of talented running backs led by Samaje Perine, who is a between-the-tackles runner, is little like a square peg in a round hole. It can work. But it's going to be a challenge to find the right balance.
Last week, we completed a series ranking the individual position groups in the Big 12 heading into spring ball. We also weighed in with who we thought the best position units in the Big 12 are.

Now, we put to the question to you.

Who has the best individual position group (not including quarterback) in the league?

SportsNation

Who has the Big 12s best individual position group?

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    22%
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    1%
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    40%
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    8%
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    29%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,417)

Despite losing Antwan Goodley off last year's team, the Baylor wide receivers are certainly in the conversation. All-Big 12 selection Corey Coleman and freshman All-American K.D. Cannon both return coming off 1,000-yard receiving seasons and form one the most prolific one-two punches at wideout in college football. The group has depth, too, with veteran Jay Lee, sophomore Davion Hall and a host of up-and-coming prospects including Ishmael Zamora, Chris Platt, Devontre Stricklin and Blake Lynch.

Receiver isn't Baylor's only stocked position, either. The Bears also bring back a devastating defensive line, headlined by a pair of first-team All-Big 12 performers in defensive end Shawn Oakman and defensive tackle Andrew Billings. Together, the two combined for 30 tackles for loss last season -- the highest total among defensive line teammates in the Big 12. Tackle Beau Blackshear is also entering his third season as a starter for the Bears.

Baylor, however, isn't the only Big 12 team with a loaded position.

Samaje Perine is back to lead an Oklahoma running back stable loaded with talent. As a true freshman, Perine led the Big 12 with more than 1,700 yards on the ground and 21 touchdowns. He also broke the FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine is flanked with plenty of talent in the Sooners backfield. Alex Ross led the Big 12 in kick returns last season and averaged 6.8 yards per carry as a change of pace to Perine's barreling style. Keith Ford has 94 career carries. And the Sooners will finally debut Joe Mixon, who was the gem of the 2014 signing class before being suspended for the season.

While Oklahoma will lean on the firepower of its backfield, West Virginia will be relying on a secondary overflowing with talent. Strong safety Karl Joseph, who has forged a reputation as the league's hardest hitter, will be entering his fourth year as a starter. He could emerge as a Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Dravon Henry is coming off a freshman All-American campaign after starting every game at free safety during his season in Morgantown. Daryl Worley is one of the top returning cornerbacks in the league. And West Virginia signed two more would-be contributors in ESPN 300 defensive back Tyrek Cole and ESPN 50 JC corner Rasul Douglas.

Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't include a position group from early Big 12 2015 favorite TCU. The Horned Frogs are obviously strong at several positions. But for the purpose of this exercise, we'll actually feature their special teams units. All-Big 12 kicker Jaden Oberkrom will be a four-year starter. Punter Ethan Perry will be a four-year starter, as well. Cameron Echols-Luper is back after ranking 16th in the country in punt returns. The Horned Frogs have several players with kickoff return experience. And, not only did they lead the country in punt return coverage last year, they became the first team to allow negative punt return yards in the 14 seasons the statistic has been tracked. The TCU special teams have no weaknesses.

Now, it's your to weigh in.

Tell us who you think the best individual position group in the Big 12 is by voting in our weekly Big 12 poll.
Success on third downs can decide games.

Coaches focus on it, quarterbacks can become stars and defenders can become feared by stepping up to another level on those key moments. Here's a look at the Big 12's third-down conversion rate rankings, offensively and defensively, in Big 12 games during the three seasons since TCU and West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.

Third-down conversion rate
  1. Kansas State, 47.1 percent
  2. Baylor, 45.5 percent
  3. Oklahoma, 44.4 percent
  4. Texas, 42 percent
  5. Texas Tech, 41.7 percent
  6. West Virginia, 39.6 percent
  7. Iowa State, 36.9 percent
  8. TCU, 35.5 percent
  9. Oklahoma State, 35.3 percent
  10. Kansas, 30.8 percent
Third-down conversion rate allowed
  1. TCU, 31.2 percent
  2. Texas, 36.6 percent
  3. Oklahoma State, 38.5 percent
  4. West Virginia, 39.6 percent
  5. Oklahoma, 40 percent
  6. Kansas State, 41.2 percent
  7. Texas Tech, 42.5 percent
  8. Iowa State, 42.5 percent
  9. Kansas, 42.7 percent
  10. Baylor, 42.9 percent

Here are some team-by-team thoughts:

Baylor: Clearly the Bears offense overcomes the Bears defensive struggles on third down. The Bears offense had 68 drives without a first down out of 291 drives in the past three seasons. Good quarterback play from Bryce Petty and Nick Florence have played a key role as well as a solid running game that has picked up 90 first downs on the ground, best in the Big 12.

Iowa State: Ranking in the bottom half in both categories is not a good look for Paul Rhoads program. Limited production at the quarterback position and 14 third-down sacks from the defense have played a major role as well as injuries to key players like Quenton Bundrage in 2014 and Tom Farniok in 2013 have made life a lot harder on the Cyclones.

Kansas: The only team to rank in the bottom two in both categories, it's easy to see why David Beaty is taking charge in Lawrence, Kansas. It's somewhat surprising to see the Jayhawk defense so far down the list but KU had 13 third-down sacks during this span. And the quarterback position has been a major problem at KU since Todd Reesing left in 2009.

Kansas State: Yet again the Wildcats efficient offense leads the Big 12 in a key category. Strong quarterback play from Collin Klein and Jake Waters along with receiver Tyler Lockett made KSU very difficult to stop. To see Bill Snyder's team in the bottom half of the conference in conversion allowed rate is a surprise but the Wildcats have a hard time getting three-and-outs. KSU's 17.8 three-and-out percentage on defense is only better than KU's 17.7.

Oklahoma: The Sooners offense has been good on third down despite some of its recent struggles while the defense has been very average. Offensively, OU has done a good job of getting its playmakers, namely Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard, involved on third-down plays. Defensively, the Sooners have talented players, like Eric Striker, yet sit middle of the road in third down defense.

Oklahoma State: Seeing the Cowboys near the bottom on the list in offensive conversion rate will make Cowboy fans long for the days of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. OSU's defense has been consistently good on third down and its third-down production was one of the reasons for the Cowboys recent Big 12 title contention. OSU's offense will need to be a lot better if the Pokes hope to surprise in 2015.

Texas: UT's 37 sacks is one key reason the Longhorns are among the Big 12's top third-down defenses. The surprise is the Longhorns offense sitting in the top half of the conference, ahead of Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, who have generally put together more productive offenses. It's a sign UT's offense has had its moments of offensive precision even if the bad moments are the most memorable.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders haven't been great on third down but they haven't been horrible either. Improving the turnover margin is priority No. 1 for Kliff Kingsbury as the offense turns the ball over and the defense doesn't take the ball away. Once that is handled, then Tech can work on improving third down conversion rates.

TCU: The Horned Frogs defense is stellar in nearly every category, ranking first in the Big 12 in yards per play allowed (4.62) and yards per carry allowed (2.13) on third down. Its offense was terrible on third down before the 2014 season, when it converted 42.9 percent on its third down attempts. TCU could end up in the top third of the conference in both categories in 2015 unless Gary Patterson's program takes a step backward this fall.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers haven't been particularly good on either side of the ball. WVU's struggles to stop the pass on defense -- 13.63 yards per completion on third down -- have hampered WVU's ability to get off the field. On offense, uneven quarterback play after Geno Smith's departure doomed the Mountaineers to finish in the middle of the pack.
It is an important spring for several players in the Big 12.

Some are fighting to keep their jobs, others are trying not to be forgotten and others have to fight off lauded Class of 2015 recruits. Here's a look at several Big 12 players who have plenty to gain during spring football.

Chris Johnson, QB, Baylor: With Seth Russell as the clear favorite to replace Bryce Petty as the starting quarterback, Johnson needs a strong spring to ensure the competition continues into the fall. He’ll also need to hold off highly regarded true freshman Jarrett Stidham.

Vernell Trent, DT, Iowa State: Trent had a decent redshirt freshman season, starting three games and finishing with 10 tackles in 2014. But ISU signed a pair of defensive tackles in the Class of 2015 with an eye on Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath becoming immediate impact performers. A good spring would help Trent secure a spot in the Cyclones’ defense.

[+] EnlargeMontell Cozart
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMontell Cozart must impress the new Kansas coaching staff this spring.
Montell Cozart, QB, Kansas: The junior went from unquestioned starting quarterback to afterthought in a span of a few months. Former coach Charlie Weis anointed Cozart to be the Jayhawks' quarterback of the future, but he faltered and eventually was replaced by Michael Cummings in 2014. If Cozart has any hope making a major impact during his Jayhawks career, he needs to impress the new coaching staff this spring.

Judah Jones, WR, Kansas State: The Wildcats are hoping to replace the playmaking skills of Tyler Lockett. One player isn’t going to do it, but Jones has the upside to become a key player in KSU’s offense while also making an impact on special teams. KSU has several other options at receiver, so Jones needs to rise above the competition if he hopes to separate himself this spring.

Trevor Knight, QB, Oklahoma: The junior has started 15 games during the past two seasons but faces stern competition to keep his starting spot with Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield becoming eligible in the fall. As Lincoln Riley brings his version of the Air Raid to OU, many assume Mayfield is the best bet to trigger the attack. Knight can use the spring to remind everyone of his unique physical gifts.

Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State: It’s time for Ateman to step up and separate himself at the receiver spot. At 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, he brings size, speed and ball skills that are tough to duplicate, but he doesn’t dominate the way he should. With plenty of competition at the position, he needs to show he is ready to match his All-Big 12 talent with All-Big 12 production.

Daje Johnson, WR, Texas: When he touches the ball, Johnson looks like the dynamic playmaker the Longhorns have longed for during the past few seasons, but he constantly takes himself out of the equation by making bad decisions off the field. This spring is the opportunity for him to show he has the focus needed to make his final season on the 40 acres a breakout year.

Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, QBs, TCU: The battle to back up Trevone Boykin should be interesting, so the spring gives Sawyer and Muehlstein the chance to lay claim to the No. 2 spot. Both quarterbacks should get plenty of chances to impress and the winner of the backup quarterback derby could set himself up to take over in 2016.

Davis Webb, QB, Texas Tech: A strong finish to the 2014 season by Patrick Mahomes has resulted in Webb being overlooked in many ways, but a healthy Webb was productive during his first two seasons in Kliff Kingsbury's program. The job is open heading into spring and Webb can make sure the quarterback battle in Lubbock is one of the most interesting aspects of Big 12 football in the spring.

Daikiel Shorts, WR, West Virginia: The Mountaineers need to fill the void left by Kevin White and Mario Alford. Shorts has been a contributor to the WVU offense since his true freshman season but hasn’t really developed into a game-changing target. This spring will give him the chance to show he can be a primary target for Dana Holgorsen's team.

Ranking the Big 12 coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:25
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This week, ESPN.com ranked the best Power 5 coaching jobs in college football, No. 1 through 65. Below is how we rank the jobs in the Big 12:

1. Texas
The Longhorns have unlimited financial resources with a massive donor base. They are located in the middle of one of the country's pre-eminent recruiting hotbeds, too.

2. Oklahoma
The Sooners have one of the great traditions in college football, a recruiting pipeline into Texas and a supportive administration.

3. Oklahoma State
Thanks to Boone Pickens, Oklahoma State boasts facilities that take a backseat to no one. Over the past 10 years, few teams have won more than the Cowboys, either.

4. Baylor
This job would have ranked near the bottom not long ago. But Art Briles has whipped Baylor into a powerhouse. The Bears have a new stadium, a budding fan base and a brand that seems to be resonating with young recruits.

5. TCU
Facilities and conference used to be impediments for the Horned Frogs. Not anymore. TCU has a newly renovated stadium and state-of-the-art facilities, including an air-conditioned practice facility. TCU's proximity to the Metroplex makes it an attractive recruiting destination, too.

6. Texas Tech
Unlike West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas, the Red Raiders are located in the Lone Star State, which gives them a proximity advantage in recruiting. Texas Tech also has rabid fans and a strong donor base in the Midland/Odessa area, which is pumping money into the stadium renovation.

7. West Virginia
The Mountaineers have severe recruiting challenges, with the lack of in-state talent. Still, this is the equivalent of a pro team in the state, and it has the backing necessary to win.

8. Kansas State
Nobody does more with less than Bill Snyder. Manhattan has never been a recruiting destination. But the Wildcats have passionate fans (as the court rushing in basketball the other night demonstrated) who make Bill Snyder Family Stadium a tough place to play. The Wildcats also have been making impressive facility upgrades, most recently to the Vanier Football Complex.

9. Iowa State
The Cyclones have obstacles with a small in-state recruiting pool they also have to share with Iowa. The elimination of the Big 12 North hurt Iowa State as well. But the Cyclones have something Kansas does not -- and that's a fan base committed to football.

10. Kansas
Only eight years ago, Mark Mangino took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. It seems even more amazing now. The Jayhawks are behind the rest of the league in every area, from attendance to facilities.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
4:00
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In Tuesday's mailbag, Oklahoma State's defense, Baylor/TCU and Bryce Petty's future are among the topics. As always, thanks for your questions (and thanks for not asking about expansion this time around). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Christian in Missoula, Montana, writes: Even though I love James Castleman and Ofa Hautau, neither seem to be getting much of a sniff from the NFL. Based on this and the players that we brought in to play defensive tackle and the younger guys moving up, is it crazy to think that we could be better across the board on defense next season? Would you be that surprised if Okstate had the best overall defense next year?

Brandon Chatmon: I fully expect Oklahoma State to be better defensively next season than it was in 2014. All those talented young players will be experienced, talented young players along with defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, safety Jordan Sterns and cornerback Kevin Peterson returning to be among the Big 12’s best at their positions. The Cowboys have a ways to go before they can lay claim to the best overall defense moniker, however, as OSU still needs to replace that duo at defensive tackle to help take pressure off Ogbah and a playmaking linebacker needing to emerge to become the missing piece of the puzzle.


David in Dallas writes: After looking at the position by position rankings, were you surprised to see Baylor on top over TCU? Knowing you guys view these two as the upper echelon of the Big 12, are the deciding factors for TCU as the favorite simply Trevone Boykin and playing in Fort Worth?

BC: I wasn’t really surprised, David. BU is built to last with talent up and down the roster. Boykin is definitely the determining factor for me as a legit preseason Heisman candidate who creates problems that are difficult to answer for any defense. Anytime a team has the best quarterback in the league surrounded by a talented roster, that’s always going to be tough to beat. Boykin makes TCU the favorite with BU right on the heels of the Horned Frogs.


Scotty in Waco, Texas, writes: Why is Bryce Petty being projected as a 3rd-4th round pick? Big guy, big arm, can move, proven winner in college. Does it have anything to do with RG3's struggles translating his game to the NFL? Is that fair? Bryce's play in college seems to warrant a first round pick.

BC: I’d imagine Robert Griffin’s struggles may play a role but not a huge one. I’m not a draft expert but questions about how Petty can transition out of BU’s offense into an NFL attack and his ability to handle pressure seem to be holding him back a bit. He had a solid showing at the combine, which should help, but it doesn’t seem like he will rise into the first round barring something unforeseen. It may cost him money on the front end but landing in a good situation should be more important to Petty. We all know mistakes are made on draft day as nobody is batting 100 percent and lower picks outperform first-rounders each year. Going to a good organization, not one full of chaos, is critical for Petty. Or any draftee, to be honest.


Mike McGown in Katy, Texas, writes: I don't understand why you guys rated BU as 4th best in position ratings when it comes to QB. Totally understand Boykin/TCU at #1. But OSU & TTU ahead of BU? Seriously? Look at the track record: RG3/Florence/Petty in successive years--not to mention Seth Russell threw for more than 800 yards and looked pretty doggone good doing it (and running too). Please, justify or rectify. Thanks! Sic ‘em!

BC: I can think of several reasons but I’ll just go with this one: Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, barring a transfer or injury, are guaranteed to go into the 2015 season with a backup quarterback who has won a Big 12 game. Can Baylor say the same? So there’s no reason to just slot the Bears at No. 2 automatically, regardless of the track record of Art Briles’ program. That said, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if the Bears are No. 1 or 2 in the postseason rankings because there’s plenty of talent in Waco. I mean, there’s a reason TCU and Baylor are still clear favorites in my mind despite uncertainty at quarterback for the Bears. I don’t expect that offense to take a step backward no matter who wins that job, but Baylor should not be ahead of OSU or Tech in a pre-spring ranking.


Dagger in Salinas, California, writes: Do you think there is any chance of the Power 5 conferences getting together enough to arrange an five-way interconference challenge for one of the weeks of non-conference play? Reserve one (or 2) weeks. Let each conference (coaches/athletic directors) seed their own teams. Randomly select opponents. 1's play 1's or 2's, and lasts play lasts or second to lasts so everyone is getting a comparable opponent, and there can be a bit more rational basis for selecting playoff teams , no more skating by on cupcake non-conference schedule and whining about being left out.

BC: I love the idea, Dagger, and I’d love to see something similar come into play at some point in the future. But we’re a long way off from something like this becoming reality and all the negotiation and politics involved would be draining. Are you willing do the rest of us a favor and take care of that part? Thanks!
A potential first-round pick and one of the Big 12’s top young defensive coaches have left Oklahoma since the end of the 2014 season, leaving the Sooners searching for answers at the defensive tackle position. The quarterback derby will get the headlines, but here’s a look at another key position battle at OU this spring.

Departed: Defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was an anchor of the Sooners' defense, which finished among the nation’s leaders in run defense. Phillips decided to leave early for the NFL, leaving a hole in the middle of OU’s defense. In addition, veteran Chuka Ndulue, who could play anywhere along the defensive line, has exhausted his eligibility.

Spring contenders: Redshirt freshman Courtney Garnett, sophomore Matthew Romar, sophomore Charles Walker, junior Jordan Wade.

Summer contenders: Neville Gallimore (No. 165 in ESPN 300), Marquise Overton (No. 175 in ESPN 300)

The skinny: Phillips and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery have departed yet the defensive tackle position in Norman remains in good shape. Romar had a solid redshirt freshman season and should help fill the void left by Phillips. Walker joins Romar to give the Sooners a pair of quality sophomores with terrific upside and brings versatility to the defensive line. He showed flashes, particularly with his five tackles and 0.5 sacks against Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Wade is one of the strongest players on the team and has shown he can hold his own after replacing a injured Phillips and starting eight games as a redshirt freshman during the 2013 season. Behind that trio OU has three highly regarded recruits in Gallimore, Overton and Garnett, who have the physical talent to force their way into the rotation. New defensive line coach Diron Reynolds has plenty of young talent to work with as he looks to replace Phillips.

Prediction: Between Walker, Romar and Wade, the Sooners should be able to replace Phillips’ 39 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two sacks. Romar and Walker have the potential to become a pair of disruptive players in the interior while Wade can play the anchor role with his strength and size. If any of the three youngsters steps up and earns a role, OU could end up with the deepest group of interior linemen in the conference.

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