Big 12: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Position to improve: Offensive line
Why it was a problem: Injuries and graduation caught up with the Cowboys up front in 2014. And after longtime assistant Joe Wickline bolted for Texas, replacement Bob Connelly struggled to put a coherent offensive line together with a collection of unproven performers. Oklahoma State actually ranked next-to-last in the Big 12 in career offensive line starts heading into the opener. As a result, for much of the season, the Cowboys failed to keep immobile quarterback Daxx Garman upright, while the running game stagnated, as Oklahoma State dropped five games in a row.
How it can be fixed: The fix began to occur late in the season. Zachary Crabtree returned from an injury to give the Cowboys a solid pass-protecting tackle. And the emergence of Mason Rudolph at quarterback gave the Cowboys a little more mobility in the pocket, taking the pressure off the rest of the line. Other young players up front like center Paul Lewis and tackle Michael Wilson began to emerge at the end of the season. That culminated with Oklahoma State controlling the line of scrimmage in a 30-22 TicketCity Cactus Bowl win over Washington, which coming in boasted one of the top defensive fronts in the country.
Early 2015 outlook: The line should return to being a strength for the Cowboys again. Crabtree, Lewis, Wilson and guard Jesse Robinson are all back. Oklahoma State also expects to sign a total of seven offensive linemen, including a trio of junior-college recruits as well as transfer Victor Salako, who manned left tackle for UAB last season. Add that all together, and the Cowboys figure to be seasoned and deep in 2015.
A recruit goes largely unnoticed on signing day only to outperform highly regarded recruits in the same class during their first seasons in the program. Earlier today we looked at some "can't miss" recruits from the Class of 2014 during their first fall on campus. This afternoon we take a look at six Class of 2014 signees that went largely unnoticed on signing day but started to impact their teams immediately:
Kansas State linebacker Elijah Lee: The three-star prospect outperformed several five-star signees during their first semesters on campus. Lee forced his way into the Wildcats' plans with a strong preseason, earning a role as a pass-rush specialist. After a season featuring 19 tackles and 4.5 sacks, Lee looks like a future star for KSU’s defense.
Oklahoma State receiver James Washington: A three-star signee, Washington flashed elite potential several times during his freshman season. His competitive nature when the ball is in the air could elevate him to another level as a sophomore after a true freshman season with 28 receptions for 456 yards and six touchdowns.
Texas safety Jason Hall: The Longhorns' lowest-rated signee, Hall had the biggest impact as a true freshman. Hall hits like a fifth-year senior and has the potential to become a tone-setter for Charlie Strong’s defense in the next few seasons. The three-star recruit finished with 36 tackles in 12 games as a true freshman.
Texas Tech cornerback Tevin Madison: The three-star signee led all Tech freshmen in tackles, tackles for loss and pass breakups while starting seven games as a true freshman. ESPN300 member Nigel Bethel II was the Red Raiders’ highly regarded cornerback signee but Madison was second to none among Big 12 true freshmen at the position. He finished his debut season with 56 tackles and seven passes defensed.
TCU receiver Desmon White: The Horned Frogs' lowest-rated high school signee didn’t look like it. White earned a late-season role in TCU’s offense with his terrific open-field ability and quickness in the slot providing another potential option in the passing game. White didn’t have a major impact but he’s setting himself up to be a significant option in the offense as a sophomore. He finished with 14 receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown.
Kansas cornerback Matthew Boateng: A three-star signee, Boateng ended up providing depth at cornerback behind seniors JaCorey Shepherd and Dexter McDonald while playing in seven games for the Jayhawks. He finished with nine tackles, five pass breakups, a forced fumble, fumble recovery and interception as a true freshman. Boateng should play an even bigger role in 2015 with Shepherd and McDonald moving on.
It’s easy to look at a recruiting class on paper and slot newcomers into need positions. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Now is a good team to revisit the Class of 2014 and see what “can’t miss” prospects fulfilled those expectations and which ones are still striving to meet those lofty projections.
Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s most talked about signees a year ago and their impact, or lack thereof, on the Big 12 as true freshmen.
Baylor receiver KD Cannon: Cannon lived up to the hype. The No. 30 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 was the Big 12’s top-ranked recruit and one of the nation’s top freshmen. He looked every bit the five-star recruit he was laveled as, finishing with 50 receptions for 1,030 yards and eight touchdowns. He will enter his sophomore season as one of the Big 12’s most feared playmakers thanks to his blazing speed and sticky hands.
Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard: Another ESPN 300 receiver who lived up to the hype, Lazard was asked to help fill the void when the Cyclones lost Quenton Bundrage in their season opener. The No. 148 player in the 2014 class responded with 45 receptions for 593 yards and three touchdowns.
Kansas center Jacob Bragg: It wasn’t over the top to think that Bragg could slide right into Kansas' offensive line as one of two ESPN 300 signees for the Jayhawks. Yet three-star signee Junior Visalia was KU’s impact true freshman offensive lineman, starting the Jayhawks' final three games after Ngalu Fusimalohi was injured. Bragg redshirted but did impress during his redshirt season and could be poised to force his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman.
Kansas State defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales: The lone Big 12 team without an ESPN 300 signee, the Wildcats did land four players on the ESPN JC 50, including Clinkscales. The junior college transfer was Bill Snyder’s only four-star signee but didn’t make much of an impact for the Wildcats. He finished with two tackles in eight games in 2014.
Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine: As crazy as it sounds, Perine wasn’t even the highest-ranked running back on the Sooners' signee list. Joe Mixon had that honor and looked ready to make an impact before an off-the-field incident took him out of the equation. Perine, who was creating a similar summer buzz, stepped right in to become the Big 12’s top freshman, set the FBS record for single-game rushing yards (427 against Kansas) and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors. The No. 220 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 finished with 1,713 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman.
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph: His unique freshman season has been well-documented, as the Cowboys’ top-ranked signee went from redshirting to beating Oklahoma in Bedlam in a matter of weeks. Rudolph enters the spring as the Cowboys starting quarterback.
TCU running back Shaun Nixon: A preseason knee injury kept the No. 221 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 from having an impact as a true freshman.
Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard: It sure seemed like Heard was supposed to cure all ills at the quarterback position in Austin at this time a year ago. Now many people have already written him off after a redshirt season during his first fall on campus. The No. 149 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 still has the potential to be the answer behind center for UT, but the time is now for Heard to seize the opportunity to be a difference maker for the Longhorns.
Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel II: The Red Raiders lone ESPN 300 signee, Bethel made an impact as a true freshman after missing the first three games due to suspension. The Florida native started seven games during his debut season, finishing with 41 tackles and six pass breakups in nine games. Bethel should be even better as a sophomore.
West Virginia safety Dravon Henry: The ESPN 300 safety was a starter from day one for the Mountaineers. Henry had 45 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games for WVU as a true freshman and should be a key contributor in the secondary in 2015 and beyond. The No. 140 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 has the versatility to expand his role in the defense as a sophomore.
Which Big 12-targeted uncommitted recruit is most intriguing?
Olson: I think Chris Warren III is going to make one Big 12 team very happy on national signing day. He's one of the best running back recruits in the country, and he can make an immediate impact at Texas, Oklahoma State, or Texas Tech. All three earned official visits, and Washington gets his final one this weekend. Don't sleep on that visit -- his father Chris Warren was an All-Pro running back for the Seattle Seahawks, so the distance isn't a prohibiting factor -- but it's a safe bet Warren ends up in Big 12 country, and ends up getting a lot of snaps as a true freshman.
Trotter: Mack would be a tremendous capper for TCU's class at a position of need; he would also seal what already is a fabulous class for Charlie Strong at Texas. Without a high school running back committed, Oklahoma State would love to sign Warren III, though he would boost the classes in Austin and Lubbock, too. But to me, the Kyler Murray saga is the most fascinating storyline in Big 12 country. Forget the schools, the contentions chase for the nation’s No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback has even triggered a feud between recruiting writers in Austin and College Station. If the Longhorns can pluck Murray away, what a message it would send to Texas A&M.
Who is the Big 12 team to pay attention to leading up to signing day?
Chatmon: I’ll be among many keeping an eye on the Longhorns as Texas looks to make a statement with the first full recruiting class under Strong. It’s already a strong class, but it feels like the Longhorns are poised to finish with a couple of surprises. Will they be good surprises, or bad surprises? Well, that’s why Texas is the team to watch as it looks to flip quarterbacks Murray and Kai Locksley, close on Mack and Soso Jamabo, and lock down the rest of its class.
Olson: Texas could be the talk of the country on signing day and finish with a top-three caliber class. Or the Longhorns could strike out. It's a high-risk, insane-reward gamble. If the Longhorns somehow persuade Murray to flip from A&M, I really wouldn't be surprised if Mack, Jamabo, and Damarkus Lodge follow him. Throw in Warren and cornerback Holton Hill, too, and you're talking about a group of potential Day One starters all teaming up in Austin after a 6-7 season. If that pans out, it would be one of the most improbable signing day sweeps we've ever seen.
Trotter: It's definitely the Longhorns, in my opinion. With quarterback issues that date to 2009, Texas is gambling it can flip a quarterback in the final week. But what if Murray sticks with A&M, and Locksley stays true to Florida State? Texas will be in a major hole at the most critical of positions, which could set Strong's rebuilding back for years. The Longhorns also remain in the mix for several high-profile prospects. It will be compelling to see how Texas finishes.
Who is your underrated (non-4 or 5-star) Big 12 commit to watch?
Chatmon: It will be interesting to see what Tony Brown can do in Texas Tech’s offense. The three-star receiver from California decided to play for Kliff Kingsbury despite offers from UCLA, Nebraska, Arizona State, and others. He would bring terrific size (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) to the Red Raiders' receiving corps. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but would bring quickness and good ball skills to Lubbock.
Olson: There are way too many three-stars in the Baylor and TCU classes. And by that, I mean you just know a bunch of these guys are going to outperform those above-average expectations over the next few years. I particularly like several of the Frogs' receiver commits, led by Dallas-area playmakers Jaelan Austin and Jarrison Stewart, and I think Baylor linebacker commit Clay Johnston will be sneaky good.
Trotter: At Kansas State, it will be interesting to see whether quarterback Alex Delton or running back Alex Barnes can become the rare players to see the field for Bill Snyder as true freshmen. The Wildcats have a void at quarterback, though sophomore Joe Hubener will be the massive favorite to succeed Jake Waters. Still, Delton has a skill set in the mold of past K-State signal callers. Though the passing attack with Waters was tremendous, the Wildcats had a mediocre running game last season. At 212 pounds, Barnes brings much needed size to the position. He has a chance to be an immediate factor.
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 27th
The latest: The Bears added a fourth offensive lineman to their class on Sunday in the form of Ringling, Oklahoma, guard Riley Daniel. He chose Baylor after an official visit this weekend and a trip to Texas Tech last weekend. Baylor is also battling the Red Raiders for three-star Louisiana cornerback Henry Black, who visited Waco over the weekend.
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Iowa State is searching for a running back to replace Devine Ozigbo, who flipped to Nebraska earlier this month. Might the answer be Joshua Thomas? The three-star back from Buford, Georgia, appears to be down to Iowa State and Wisconsin. A decision is expected soon. Thomas visited the Badgers this weekend. Another recruit to keep an eye on: Julian Good-Jones, the Cyclones' tackle commit who visited Louisville this weekend.
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Kansas picked up five intriguing pledges from the state of Texas in the last week -- DE Dorance Armstrong, WR Jeremiah Booker, WR Steven Sims, LB Osaze Ogbebor and former Tulsa CB commit Shola Ayinde -- but also lost two significant commits over the weekend. On Sunday, three-star receiver Kevin Thomas flipped to SMU and three-star athlete Arico Evans made his flip to TCU.
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Kansas State will be a finalist for one Georgia prospect on signing day and will have to do some work to ensure another stays in the fold. Three-star defensive end G.G. Robinson, a Louisville commit, visited K-State over the weekend and hails from Lilburn, Georgia. Meanwhile, three-star OLB commit Mohamed Barry took an official visit to Nebraska and will make his final decision between KSU, Nebraska and Miami on Thursday.
Total commits: 20
ESPN 300 commits: 8
ESPN JC50 commits: 3
Class rank: 17th
The latest: The Sooners are likely going to part ways with ESPN 300 defensive tackle Marquise Overton, whose ACT score has the OU staff concerned he won't qualify. A key target to take his place in the OU class is four-star Darrion Daniels. The Dallas defensive tackle visited Iowa this weekend and is expected to decide this week, though Texas Tech might be the favorite at the moment.
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 35th
The latest: The Cowboys moved quickly to land ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown after he parted ways with Texas last weekend. Brown took an official visit to OSU and made his commitment on Saturday night. The Burton, Texas, native will likely play defensive end. OSU also held its first junior day for the 2016 class this weekend.
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 37th
The latest: The Horned Frogs loaded up on speed this weekend. First they secured a commitment from Kavontae Turpin, an electric receiver and returner from Monroe, Louisiana. Then came the commitment from Arico Evans, who'd pledged to Kansas earlier this month. He accounted for 34 total touchdowns as a quarterback at Dallas Hillcrest this season.
Total commits: 23
ESPN 300 commits: 9
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 9th
The latest: Texas had a big-time weekend with five-star DT Daylon Mack, ESPN 300 running back Soso Jamabo and ESPN 300 athlete Kai Locksley in town for official visits. Mack and Jamabo will announce their decisions on signing day. Locksley, an important QB target for Texas after losing Zach Gentry to Michigan, will go home and mull over whether he should flip from Florida State. The Horns also brought in Georgia DB commit Deandre Baker and Dominique Reed, the nation's No. 4 juco receiver. Texas also picked up a re-commitment on Monday from ESPN 300 wide receiver John Burt, who'd backed out earlier this month to reconsider Auburn.
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 33rd
The latest: The Red Raiders picked up a commitment last week from three-star offensive lineman Cody Wheeler of powerhouse Allen High School in Texas. He was one of the many official visitors in Lubbock over the weekend, a list headlined by ESPN 300 running back Chris Warren III. Three-star defensive end pledge Lonzell Gilmore visited Baylor over the weekend.
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 25th
The latest: In addition to landing a commitment from three-star lineman Rob Dowdy, West Virginia had a big-time weekend with three Florida studs visiting Morgantown: four-star Miami pledge RB Mark Walton, four-star Georgia commit WR Shaquery Wilson and ESPN 300 receiver Antonio Callaway. Another Florida native, four-star athlete Jordan Cronkrite, will decide between WVU and Florida on signing day.
Oklahoma State landed a commitment from ESPN300 athlete Louis Brown during his visit to Stillwater, Oklahoma, over the weekend. The Burton (Texas) prospect boasts offers from Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma, Oregon and others. A 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, Brown is a raw talent with extremely high upside and should be a good fit in OSU’s defense. The No. 267 player in the ESPN 300, Brown was a long-time UT commit who parted ways with the Longhorns during his official visit last weekend.
Kavontae Turpin. The receiver prospect picked the Horned Frogs during his visit to Fort Worth. At 5-foot-8, 145 pounds, Turpin could be a good fit for TCU's slot receiver role in its high-scoring attack.
Three-star cornerback Henry Black spent his weekend in Waco, Texas, checking out Art Briles' program. A recent Bears offer, the Shreveport (Louisiana) Woodlawn prospect is a relatively raw talent with good size at 6-foot, 182 pounds. Soso Jamabo (Plano, Texas/West) and Kai Locksley (Baltimore, Maryland/Gilman). Jamabo is the No. 28 player in the ESPN 300 and could kick start UT's offense by providing an immediate big play threat. Locksley, a Florida State commit, is the No. 289 player in the ESPN 300 and could project to several different positions in college including quarterback.
I just want to thank God for the blessings. I want to finally say I have committed to TCU for the next 4 years #??Fam pic.twitter.com/cRFbxwXcFw— KaVontae Turpin" (@KT4_Era_) January 25, 2015
That three sharp..3??? pic.twitter.com/e7dnnezax4— Kai Locksley (@LOCKSnLOADED_3) January 24, 2015
????mountaineers pic.twitter.com/if8UVJdoyR— Gary Jennings (@_gman12) January 24, 2015
On to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter Really enjoyed the Top 25 players series, but curious why the underutilized and underrated DeAndre Washington wasn't on it.— Robert Jones (@wr_jones) January 23, 2015
Trotter: We're big fans of Washington here on the blog. We made him a second-team All-Big 12 selection. But the top 25 player ranking was a tough list to crack. A number of other terrific players like Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard and Baylor's Antwan Goodley didn't make the list, either. Washington has a chance, though, to open next year on the preseason top 25 list as one of the league's top returning running backs.
@Jake_Trotter who takes the opening handoff for Oklahoma State next year?— Brian Murphy (@Bmurphy47) January 23, 2015
Trotter: Rennie Childs is the obvious bet at this point, since he's the only healthy scholarship running back currently on campus. But I think the Cowboys land a marquee back before signing day. Oklahoma State has a powerful pitch to make, and that's immediate playing time. Keep an eye on Chris Carson, who is an ESPN Junior College 50 prospect. Carson has been committed to Georgia since August, but he's reportedly taking a visit to Stillwater this weekend. Because they can offer playing time -- and Georgia can't having Nick Chubb -- I think the Cowboys have a decent chance to flip Carson.
@Jake_Trotter do you believe Art Briles when he said Baylor was only 3 votes short of making the playoff?— Floyd_Sign (@sign_floyd) January 23, 2015
Trotter: I believe that Briles believes or was told that. But after Heather Dinich spoke with College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, it doesn't seem very likely that Briles got good info, considering the playoff votes are taken via secret ballot over computer.
@Jake_Trotter red river rivalry or black Friday showdown more important game next year?— BearsCanClimb (@TideNormand) January 23, 2015
Trotter: The Red River Showdown hasn't been the league's most important game in seven years. I don't see why next season would be any different.
@Jake_Trotter favorite Kurt Russell movie?— Michael Van (@MichaelVan17) January 23, 2015
Trotter: "Miracle." But "Death Proof," "Escape from L.A.," "Tombstone," "Poseidon" and even "Overboard" have high rewatchability.
@Jake_Trotter Should BU redshirt Stidham, letting him backup Seth Russell next year, then having a 3 yr starter with maturity & experience?— Mike McGown (@mikemcgown) January 23, 2015
Trotter: Yes, but only if he's not the best quarterback. If he is, Baylor should start him. That would give him four seasons.
@Jake_Trotter is Joe Hubener Kstates most like go to starter next year at QB?— Nathan Davis (@nate_davis17) January 23, 2015
Trotter: I think so. Incoming freshman Alex Delton is an intriguing prospect, but Bill Snyder isn't prone to playing true freshmen anywhere, much less at quarterback. Joe Hubener has three years in the system, which gives him a huge advantage over the others. He has good size, good speed and a good arm, from what I hear. If he takes care of the ball he will be tough to unseat.
@Jake_Trotter The latest on Big XII expansion/conf. championship game ?— Chris Hartzler (@cykowboyz) January 23, 2015
Trotter: No latest. If you read my Q&A with commissioner Bob Bowlsby from earlier this week, you'll know that there are no immediate plans for either. The only change I see the Big 12 making is eliminating the "co-champions" rule. Otherwise, expect status quo.
@Jake_Trotter if you were doing your preseason power rankings today, who #3?— John Cassidy (@TheRealJCassidy) January 23, 2015
Trotter: I already did a too-early Big 12 power poll for 2015, and I had Oklahoma State third. The Cowboys clearly have something that OU, Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia don't at the moment, and that's a quarterback (Mason Rudolph).
@Jake_Trotter what's tcu's chance of making the playoffs next year without dawson, hackett or kevin white— Sasha Lueck (@Sasha02997) January 23, 2015
Trotter: Pretty good. Last I checked, Trevone Boykin is still on the roster.
Trotter: He will if he flips the gem of Texas A&M's recruiting class, Kyler Murray who is the nation's No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback, to Texas. That would send a strong message to College Station.
Big weekend for Baylor
It's a big recruiting weekend for the Bears with several prospects and commitments set to check out Art Briles' program. Three-star Henry Black (Shreveport, Louisiana/Woodlawn) is a recent Baylor offer who could provide depth to the Bears secondary. Meanwhile, Ringling (Oklahoma) offensive tackle Riley Daniel is a rising prospect who has picked up offers from Florida and Kansas State in recent weeks. Baylor will be hosting the bulk of its current commit list this weekend as one of several schools who elect to bring in the majority of their class on the same weekend. More than anything, it's important for Baylor to keep its commitment list intact as players flip their commitments during the home stretch of the recruiting cycle.
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The tension spilled over with the media, culminating in the final regular-season press conference when the Oklahoma State coach declined comment on virtually every question; at one point in the middle of it, he picked up his phone and answered a text message. After mega-booster Boone Pickens gave Gundy a backhanded vote of confidence, rumors began to surface Gundy and Oklahoma State might part ways after the season, despite the success Gundy had brought the Cowboys over the previous nine seasons. Even the Oklahoma State student newspaper concluded Gundy should be gone.
“We’re climbing back to where we were when we lost all those guys a couple of years ago,” Gundy reportedly told a small group of beat reporters following the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.
The impetus of Gundy’s perceived rejuvenation coincided with Oklahoma State’s stunning, come-from-behind win at Oklahoma -- Gundy’s first Bedlam road victory as a player or coach.
The Sooners led by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. But behind promising true freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State rallied to topple Oklahoma in overtime.
After the game, Gundy got back to having fun, unleashing his patented locker room dance for the players.
Gundy would later call the Oklahoma victory the biggest of his tenure in Stillwater. It not only made the Cowboys bowl eligible, it seemingly changed the mood and perhaps the 2015 trajectory of the program.
Leading up to the TicketCity Cactus Bowl, Gundy shelved the cold demeanor that had defined him for much of the 2014 season. He publicly expressed a desire to patch things up with Pickens. He even took a selfie with the Oklahoma State media.
Then, his team went out and played with the same looseness in the bowl game, handling Washington 30-22 in an inspiring performance that included Gundy putting 300-pound defensive tackle James Castleman at fullback for a touchdown run and a 48-yard reception.
Fresh off their phenomenal finish to last season, the Cowboys now have high hopes they can get back in 2015 to making noise in the Big 12 championship chase.
“We’ve got 21 guys that we played that are either freshmen or redshirt freshmen,” Gundy said. “Those guys are better, but they’re still not where we were because they don’t have that kind of experience. They will toward the middle part of next year.”
The biggest key for the Cowboys, though, will be the continued development of Rudolph, who shined after having his redshirt pulled for Oklahoma State’s final three games.
“When Mason came in -- and timing is important in everything we do -- he just kind of provided a lift,” Gundy said.
“He has some grit and toughness. How much? I don’t know because he has only played three games. I’m going to find out. I’m going to find out about his leadership skills. Is he going to bust his [tail] in the offseason? Is he going to step up? Is he going to have that same demeanor? Is he going to spend all his time in the [meeting room] by himself, like Peyton Manning does? We’re going to find out.”
The Cowboys, however, should be better on the offensive line, a unit that struggled most of last season but came together in front of Rudolph at the end.
Despite facing a talented Washington front seven, Oklahoma State controlled the line of scrimmage in the bowl game. With four starters back and plenty of transfer help on the way, offensive line figures to be a strength again for the Cowboys next season.
"We played with a senior, two sophomores and two freshmen, so I was surprised that they performed as well as they did,” Gundy said. “You’re playing on the road at Norman, and then you’re playing against a Washington team that had three All-Americans on defense. I think we had only one procedure penalty.”
Rudolph will also have his entire receiving corps back, including starters Brandon Sheperd, David Glidden and James Washington, who also had a banner true freshman season.
Defensively, Oklahoma State returns seven starters, including defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Seth Jacobs and safety Jordan Sterns, who all broke out as sophomores.
Still, challenging in the Big 12 won’t be easy. TCU and Baylor are loaded again and will likely open in the top five of the preseason polls. Oklahoma and Texas are banking on having better seasons, too.
But Gundy is back to being his old self again.
Which is exciting news for the Cowboys in 2015.
Remember, criteria for these rankings were based solely on performances from 2014, not a culmination of previous seasons. Pro potential was not a factor. Neither was preseason hype. Number of games played was taken into account.
Without further delay, our countdown goes on to Nos. 11-15:
11. Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor (preseason rank: 7): Oakman inspired countless memes with his intimidating physique. He also produced on the field, racking up 11 sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. Unfortunately for opposing Big 12 offenses, Oakman will be back at Baylor in 2015 after he spurned the NFL draft.
12. B.J. Finney, C, Kansas State (13): Finney capped his fabulous K-State career by earning first-team All-Big 12 honors for a third consecutive season. The former walk-on who started a K-State-record 52 straight games was also a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top center. Finney showcased his value to the Wildcats in the Valero Alamo Bowl, when he swung from center to right tackle in the second half and stabilized K-State’s edge protection against UCLA’s barrage of pass-rushers.
13. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State (NR): Ogbah busted out with two sacks in the opener against Florida State and never slowed down. Ogbah, just a sophomore, tied Oakman for second in the Big 12 with 11 sacks. He also had 17 tackles for loss for a young Cowboys defense that could be salty in 2015 with seven returning starters.
14. Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State (24): Waters’ steady hand helped keep K-State in the Big 12 title hunt up until the final week of the season. Despite playing through an injury to his throwing shoulder during the second half of the season, Waters passed for more than 3,500 yards and completed 66 percent of his attempts. He also didn’t commit a single turnover through K-State’s first five Big 12 games. Waters was a major threat with his wheels, too, finishing second only to TCU’s Trevone Boykin among Big 12 quarterbacks with 484 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. The Wildcats will have their work cut out replacing Waters’ leadership and efficiency next season.
15. Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor (NR): While Antwan Goodley battled through a quadriceps injury for a good chunk of the season, Coleman emerged as Baylor’s No. 1 receiver. Coleman finished second in the Big 12 with 112 receiving yards per game, and tied for the league lead with 11 touchdown receptions despite sitting out the first three games. Coleman was especially brilliant in Baylor’s 48-14 victory at Oklahoma, as he torched the Sooners for 15 receptions and 224 yards. With Kevin White and Tyler Lockett graduating, Coleman could enter 2015 as the Big 12’s top wideout.
Coming Thursday: Nos. 6-10
- Ever wonder which teams spend in waves on the recruiting trail and which teams take a more frugal approach? Bleacher Report has an interesting look at the recruiting expenses for men's teams at FBS schools. The story reveals that no Big 12 is among the top 10 spenders and Oklahoma State gets the most bang for its buck. It isn't a major surprise that the Cowboys are able to combine wise spending with landing well-regarded recruiting classes. With the facilities at OSU, if they can get a recruit on campus, that is half the battle.
- Kansas added another Texan to its commitment list with a pledge from cornerback Shola Ayinde of Richmond, Texas. The Jayhawks were already starting to stick their foot into the state of Texas before David Beaty was named head coach and it continued with Ayinde's decision. KU's class has a strong Texas slant with 15 of its 23 current commits from Texas.
- Tommy Hicks of Al.com took a Senior Bowl player poll asking 20 players if they would have included TCU in the College Football Playoff. The players seemed just as split as the general public with 11 saying the committee got it right and nine saying TCU should have been included. It's good to know college football players are just as uncertain as the rest of us. Although I should note they were kind of busy on Saturdays this fall so it would have been hard for them to see all the teams in action as much as the rest of us. It's an interesting poll nonetheless.
- It's never too early for 2015 predictions and Athlon comes through with its ranking of the Big 12 from top to bottom. They had a couple of teams a little low but West Virginia at No. 7 strikes me as particularly low. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Mountaineers rise towards the top of the standings in 2015 and even possibly force their way into the Big 12 title race. They were on that road this year and played TCU and Baylor as well as anyone in the conference. TCU and Baylor are the clear favorites but WVU could surprise.
- Baylor's Bryce Petty is one of the players with the most to gain at the Senior Bowl, writes ESPN Insider's Todd McShay. Petty could play his way into the conversation as a first-round pick with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. I was asked about Petty's pro prospects in Tuesday's mailbag and I think he will have a solid NFL career. There are a lot of things to like about Petty but, most importantly, he's a winner. It's a big week for several former Big 12 stars with Kansas State's Tyler Lockett and TCU's Kevin White already creating some buzz early in the week. It should be fun to keep track of these guys after watching them excel in the Big 12 the past few weeks.
With signing day just a couple weeks away, we delve into the recruiting storylines around the league in this week's Big 12 roundtable:
Which class has impressed you the most?
Chatmon: It’s hard not to like what Charlie Strong is doing with his first full class at Texas. It’s packed with defensive talent including three ESPN 300 linebackers in Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler and Cameron Townsend. Add five offensive linemen to help address UT’s issues up front and it looks like the Longhorns are on their way to a strong recruiting haul. The cherry on top would be ESPN 300 quarterback Zach Gentry becoming the future behind center.
Olson: Texas has the best class of the Big 12. But I'm also really impressed by what Baylor has done on offense and what Oklahoma is doing on defense. The Bears are loading up again, and I really like Jarrett Stidham, Ja'Mycal Hasty, Devontre Stricklin and Blake Lynch. The Sooners still need linebackers but are stacked everywhere else on D with this group. The group of defensive backs they've landed -- P.J. Mbanasor, Will Sunderland Jr., William Johnson, Kahlil Haughton and Antoine Stephens -- promises to be killer.
Trotter: Texas obviously has the most impressive class, but you have to also be impressed with what Oklahoma has done, despite the mediocre season and the coaching changes. Jerry Montgomery has been an absolute terror on the trail, loading up the Sooners with a trio of ESPN 300 prospects along the defensive line.
Who really needs a strong finish?
Chatmon: Oklahoma State needs some good things to happen in the home stretch of this recruiting cycle. Ronald Jones' decommitment was a crippling blow as he looked like the ideal fit with the chance to become a dynamic quarterback-running back-receiver trio with Mason Rudolph and James Washington. Instead Jones is USC-bound and the Cowboys are searching for answers at the position. OSU’s offense was at its peak when it had NFL running backs carrying the ball, so it’s critical the Cowboys land a running back such as Chris Warren, Jordan Stevenson or juco RB Chris Carson.
Olson: Texas is in a fascinating spot here with two weeks left. The Longhorns have eight spots left to fill in their class and are recruiting a ton of big-name players for those scholarships. Defensive backs Holton Hill and Kris Boyd and running backs Chris Warren III and Nick Brossette are right at the top of that list. All four could end up in Austin. All four really could go elsewhere. Texas still needs another quarterback, too, and Charlie Strong's staff must fight hard to make sure no other commits flip to other schools.
Trotter: I'm with Brandon, Oklahoma State has to land a running back here in the final two weeks. If not, the Cowboys are going to be stuck with Rennie Childs and not much else in the backfield. With Rudolph settling in at quarterback, the Cowboys have no other weaknesses offensively. But to keep the balance Oklahoma State wants to play with, the Pokes have to go out and land a back, whether it's Warren, Carson or somebody else.
Who will be the instant impact freshman recruit in this class?
Chatmon: Jefferson has the athleticism and versatility to slide right into a role in Texas defense. He’s a playmaker who should be ready to play as a true freshman on special teams and on defense. As the No. 31 player in the ESPN300, Jefferson has all the tools to help the Longhorns at a linebacker spot that is losing 222 combined tackles from Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond this offseason.
Olson: How wild would it be if five-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack does end up signing with TCU? The former longtime Texas A&M commit is still strongly considering the Aggies, but Gary Patterson and his coaches have done a deft job of staying in this race throughout. At the Under Armour All-America Game, Mack proved he's ready to wreck college offensive lines right away. Securing the nation's No. 6 recruit would be a heck of a cherry on top of the Frogs' dream season.
Trotter: Texas Tech desperately needs help on the defensive line, and ESPN 300 DT Breiden Fehoko has the talent to bring help right away. But keep an eye on QB Jarrett Stidham. Baylor has an heir apparent to Bryce Petty in Seth Russell, who has been a solid backup the last two seasons. But Stidham has the ability to make a move on the job should Russell struggle this spring or during the season.