Big 12: Texas Longhorns
In today's Twitter mailbag we discuss 400-pound tight end LaQuan McGowan, players off the radar that could become All-Big 12 selections, and the backfields at TCU and Oklahoma.
Condolences to West Virginia fans for Thursday's historical beatdown. Still, I know of eight other Big 12 fanbases that wished their teams would have advanced to the Sweet 16.
On to the 'bag:
- Baylor Bearmada (@BaylorBearmada) March 26, 2015
I actually asked Seth Russell which would be worse, getting sacked by Shawn Oakman or trying to tackle McGowan. He said Oakman. I respectfully have to disagree. Oakman is a bad dude, but nobody is stopping McGowan with a head of steam, Oakman included.
@Jake_Trotter over under 5.5 players this year that avoid tackling LaQuan McGowan in the open field over concern for their individual health
- John Wheeler (@J3Wheeler) March 26, 2015
Trotter:You mean in one game? By the way, I hope you guys took time to read my McGowan piece earlier in the week. I enjoyed interviewing him. Interesting kid with a fascinating backstory.
@Jake_Trotter Which Big 12 school has the best chance at landing one of the Ohio State QB's if they decide to transfer?
- Kyle Jacobson (@_KyleJacobson) March 26, 2015
Trotter: Texas would be the most attractive destination. Any of Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones would start with little resistance from what the Longhorns have on the roster. And Texas would be an option for any of the three for obvious reasons, including the track record of Charlie Strong and his staff working with Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville.
@Jake_Trotter How does Texas Tech fair against Arky in Fayetteville this year? Thanks!
- Jøhn L. Hawley (@JohnLHawley7) March 26, 2015
Trotter: At this moment, it's difficult to envision the game going much differently than it did last season. The addition of transfer linebacker Mike Mitchell and freshman defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko will help the run defense, and coordinator David Gibbs will have the players in the right gaps. But the Razorbacks completely mowed over the Red Raiders last season. You either have the horses or you don't, and Tech has long way to go to prove it can up its own again up front against a power-running team such as Arkansas.
@Jake_Trotter not much conference realignment talk lately, any update on possible Big12 expansion?
- Kyle Marcus (@KyleLMarcus) March 26, 2015
Trotter: No update. Carry on.
@Jake_Trotter who's ou's quarterback? Is he successful? Does the defense improve ?
- Luke Eisel (@sheepdogg92) March 26, 2015
Trotter: If I had to bet, I'd put heavy money on Baker Mayfield being the opening-day starter. There's a lot to like about Mayfield, notably his confidence and savvy. But people, notably Sooners fans, seem to forget that Mayfield really struggled against the better teams while at Texas Tech two years ago. Can OU win a Big 12 championship with Mayfield behind center? I'm not sure.
@Jake_Trotter is Keith Ford going to transfer?
- Blaine Brown (@blainebrown24) March 26, 2015
Trotter:It's a possibility. He's going to be buried on depth chart behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. True freshman Rodney Anderson had been turning heads this spring, too, before he suffered an MCL sprain. Apparently, Keith Ford's sister posted something on Facebook suggesting he might transfer. But Ford was at practice this week.
@Jake_Trotter how good will TCU's backfield be next season? Shaun Nixon has awful good vision and cutting ability. And of course Aaron Green
- Steve Godich (@_CaptainCowboy) March 26, 2015
Trotter:The TCU backfield is going to be good. Aaron Green, who can reel off big plays, is an all-conference caliber talent; Shaun Nixon, meanwhile, was highly touted coming out of high school. But I don't know that it's necessary going to be markedly better than last year's group. Don't forget, B.J. Catalon was excellent before suffering the head injury.
@Jake_Trotter How many teams' QBs would you take over Sam Richardson in the B12?
- Teddy Throwsevelt (@Moldy78) March 26, 2015
Trotter:Hmm... I would definitely take Trevone Boykin, Mason Rudolph and Pat Mahomes over Sam B. Richardson. But after that, there are no slam dunks. Seth Russell obviously could have a big season, but he has only one career start. Skyler Howard is going to have to be more accurate to rank near the upper tier of Big 12 QBs. Joe Hubener has potential, but he's an unknown. I mentioned my concerns with Mayfield above. So is it unthinkable that Richardson becomes the fourth- or fifth-best QB in the league? No. He'll have good wideouts to throw to, and he has a ton of experience. The key for Richardson is health. He's been severely banged up the last two years, and when that's happened, his effectiveness has plummeted.
@Jake_Trotter off the radar player that will be an all big 12 selection on offense/defense.
- Mike G (@mikefrogit) March 26, 2015
Trotter: Not sure how off the radar you want to go, but here are a few guys who have never had any honorable-mention recognition that could be first-teamers in 2015: Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns, Baylor nickelback Travon Blanchard, Oklahoma center Ty Darlington, Iowa State guard Daniel Burton, Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel and TCU cornerback Ranthony Texada.
@Jake_Trotter what does TCU's increasingly competitive non-con sched say about Gary's intentions for the frogs to be yearly CFP contenders?
- Luke (@lehockett) March 26, 2015
Trotter:Well, if you believe you're a big-time program that can compete with anyone, you go out and schedule the Ohio States of the world. Oklahoma has been doing it since Bob Stoops arrived, and it served the Sooners well during the BCS era. Texas has recently ramped up its scheduling as well. As a conference champ, you have to beat someone of note in the non-conference to guarantee yourself a spot in the playoff. TCU will have plenty of opportunities to do that in the coming years.
@Jake_Trotter Will Baylor beef up their OOC schedule by adding Allen High School for 2019?
- Paul (@pgdaly84) March 26, 2015
Trotter: Who didn't see that TCU fan tweet coming?
The past two weeks, we've examined some the Big 12 players on the spot this spring. Below in our weekly roundtable, we likewise explore the Big 12 position groups that are also on the spot this spring:
What offensive position group is on the spot this spring?
Jake Trotter: Other than the quarterback derbies taking place in Norman and Austin, which will both be fascinating, I'm interested to see what happens with running back at Kansas State. The Wildcats have several viable contenders for the featured role, including returner Charles Jones, redshirt freshman Dalvin Warmack and true freshman Alex Barnes, who has enrolled early to participate in spring ball. Jones had a prime role in the K-State offense last season, scoring 13 touchdowns. But he also ranked 21st in the Big 12 in yards per carry. Warmack is an intriguing option, having rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 77 touchdowns his final two seasons of high school. Then there's Barnes, who physically looks ready to compete for time now. Whatever happens, with Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett gone, the Wildcats will need more production next season from their primary rusher.
Max Olson: Texas quarterbacks. They've been in a rough spot for a few years now, and I think there's a lot of pressure on Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard this spring. I don't doubt that Texas will pursue a transfer quarterback after spring ball as a necessary move for competition. You have to wonder how much confidence these two can inspire over the course of 15 practices. Swoopes still has the upper hand at the moment, but how much progress can he make? Can Heard grow up and catch up?
Brandon Chatmon: Someone needs to emerge among Oklahoma’s receivers to help All-Big 12 candidate Sterling Shepard. There are some good candidates with Dede Westbrook, a junior college transfer, and Michiah Quick, a sophomore who should improve in Year 2, sitting atop the list. Lincoln Riley’s offense should give the receivers plenty of opportunities to shine and we’ve seen how a system change can completely the effectiveness of a receiver.
What defensive position group is on the spot?
Trotter: I would say the Baylor secondary, except all four returning starters have been limited by injuries this spring. So I'll go with the Oklahoma secondary instead. The Sooners ranked ninth in the Big 12 in pass defense last year, and graduated a pair of starters in Julian Wilson and Quentin Hayes, leaving cornerback Zack Sanchez as the only proven performer. Former ESPN 300 signee Steven Parker could make a big jump after playing a key role as a true freshman last season. But the Sooners need some combination of Stanvon Taylor, Ahmad Thomas, Hatari Byrd, Jordan Thomas and/or junior-college transfer Will Johnson to step up, as well, in order for Oklahoma to bounce back in 2015.
Olson: Doesn't sound like TCU has found a whole lot of clarity when it comes to its two vacant linebacker spots, though I did like Gary Patterson's idea that he should start at one spot. Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill and Ty Summers will do a fine job, I'm sure, and I think Patterson is onto something when he mentions possibly moving a safety into the second level. But still, these are inexperienced guys taking over for senior playmakers on a team with giant expectations.
Chatmon: I agree with Max. I’m really intrigued with what is going to happen at TCU as the Horned Frogs try to replace Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallett. Dawson got most of the attention but Mallett was exceptionally productive in his own right. Finding quality linebackers could be the difference between another Big 12 title run, or even College Football Playoff run. Coach Gary Patterson has hinted the Horned Frogs will try plenty of different options including safeties in those spots.
What position group will be most improved?
Trotter: The Oklahoma State offensive line was absolutely dreadful for much of last season, before the lightbulb flickered late in the year. I'm not saying the Cowboys will now be mowing over people. But with the bulk of last year's group back, coupled with the addition of capable transfer tackles Victor Salako and Brandon Pertile, Oklahoma State should be able to build off last year's encouraging finish to field one of the league's better lines in 2015.
Olson: I think a group poised to take a big step is Texas Tech's secondary. That's a super young group and I'm interested to see how David Gibbs' teachings influence them. I look at that roster and see some talented guys like Justis Nelson, Nigel Bethel II, Tevin Madison, Jalen Barnes and Payton Hendrix who ought to develop more confidence under the guidance of Gibbs and Kevin Curtis and force more turnovers in the fall.
Chatmon: I expect Baylor’s secondary to be much improved. A talented group of athletes will be a year older, a year wiser and much more comfortable as the back end of BU’s defense. Not to mention it won’t hurt to go against the Bears receiving corps on a regular basis. Improvement from guys like Xavien Howard, who has loads of potential, and the addition of talented newcomers such as redshirt freshman Verkedric Vaughns could help the Bears defensive backs be much better this fall.
Running back Chris Carson could hold the key to Oklahoma State’s offense, wide receiver DeDe Westbrook could take Oklahoma’s new spread attack to another level and defensive tackle Demond Tucker could provide much-needed strength in the middle of Iowa State’s defense.
That trio is among the nine ESPN Junior College 50 recruits who signed with Big 12 schools and have the potential to become household names in the conference this fall.
Which ESPN JC 50 newcomer do you expect to have the biggest impact?
Carson was a late addition to the Cowboys' signing class as OSU looked to secure a backfield mate for quarterback Mason Rudolph. The No. 12 player in the ESPN JC 50, Carson brings good size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and the ability to be a workhorse for Mike Gundy’s program.
Westbrook is already on campus and participating in spring drills with the Sooners. The No. 14 player in the ESPN JC 50 combines quickness and speed with good size (6-1, 175), which makes him a candidate to excel in the slot or on the outside in Lincoln Riley’s offense.
Rasul Douglas will add to a talented West Virginia secondary in the summer. The No. 23 player in the ESPN JC 50 has the size (6-2, 200) and athleticism to be a versatile asset for WVU’s defense, with the skills to play cornerback or safety.
Tucker was a much-needed addition for the Cyclones defense. After Iowa State struggled with its depth and production along its defensive front in 2014, Tucker is participating in ISU’s spring practices with a eye on making an major impact this fall. His quickness could help him become a disruptive force for the Cyclones defense.
Five other ESPN JC 50 signees could have a similar impact in the Big 12. Cornerback Will Johnson (No. 15 in the ESPN JC 50) is already impressing during the first few practices at OU, and the Sooners secondary is looking for playmakers heading into the fall.
Offensive tackle Maurice Porter (No. 31 in the ESPN JC 50) could add additional depth for Baylor’s offensive line when he arrives in the summer.
Guard Jamal Danley (No. 39 in the ESPN JC 50) is going through spring drills with OU as he battles to make an impact on a Sooners offensive line that must replace four starters.
Motekiai Maile (No. 49 in the ESPN JC 50) could help replace James Castleman in the interior of OSU’s defense, helping free opportunities for returning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year Emmanuel Ogbah.
Who do you think will have the biggest impact? Vote now and leave a comment below.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas Longhorns' first day back in the world of spread ball looked just like any other in Big 12 country.
Quarterbacks Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard practiced faking handoffs -- a nod to prepping for pop passes -- before firing throws. They got the Longhorns lined up in three-receiver shotgun and pistol sets. They didn’t hesitate to tuck and dash for the sideline when they found space. And once one play ended, the next began seconds later.
“It’s very fast,” running back Johnathan Gray said. “We hit the field running and didn’t stop until practice was over. Guys were pretty dog tired.”
Gray and his Texas teammates are embarking on their third offensive overhaul in three years, though this round feels like more of a redesign than a full reboot.
In fact, the first comparison that crossed Gray’s mind after practice Wednesday was how similar Texas’ practices looked in 2013, back when Mack Brown and Major Applewhite decided to try a more up-tempo approach.
Players welcomed that blueprint two years ago. They sound happy to give it another go this spring.
“I like how it spreads out everything where you can run and pass,” Gray said. “It mixes up everything. The defense doesn't know what's going to happen. It helps out the running back, quarterback, the wide receivers and the offensive line. I love this offense.”
Center Taylor Doyle was reminded of his prep days, back when he grew up in an up-tempo spread at Lake Travis High under now-SMU coach Chad Morris.
"It's always fun to come back to the tempo offense," Doyle said.
Why make the move back to a spread scheme now? After a year on the job, Charlie Strong can admit he has a better understanding of his turf. Pro-style ball won him a lot of games at Louisville. The spread has already won the state of Texas.
“I would say probably 98 percent of this state is a spread offense,” Strong said this week. “The key players that you need to really recruit, those guys are the ones that are in the spread offense. So that's what you're looking for.”
Texas isn’t going to start throwing the ball 60 times on Saturdays. Nor does Strong plan to engage in any 60-59 shootouts. As a defense-first coach, he joked, “I don’t think I can live with that at all.” Still, the transition made too much common sense, especially when considering Texas’ peers as well as its own personnel for 2015.
“But you still have to find a way to go stay physical and go run the football,” Strong said.
The hints of power football were easy to spot Wednesday, starting with Texas utilizing its tight ends as H-backs who motioned pre-snap before locking into blocks. It’s clear the Longhorns intend to pick up their pace, too, after finishing ninth in the Big 12 at 68 plays per game in 2014.
“And we want an explosive team,” Strong said. “We didn't create the big plays.”
Only Kansas did a worse job of creating those big plays in the Big 12 last season. Texas produced explosive gains (defined as 12-plus yards on a rush and 16-plus yards for a pass) on only 10 percent of its snaps, while failing to gain yards on nearly 35 percent. Finding new ways to spark this group was an absolute must.
There’s a reason, though, why this didn’t work out in 2013: quarterback play. When David Ash went down against BYU, Applewhite had to scrap the blueprint. Texas had to find a different way to win with Case McCoy. Watson experienced similar back-to-the-drawing-board challenges last season with Swoopes after losing Ash and three of his best linemen.
What Texas will get from Swoopes and Heard in 2015, or how quickly either gets this spread offense rolling, seems impossible to predict. Then again, this was only Day 1 of spring ball. Pads don't even go on until Saturday.
The Longhorns don't need to know all the answers right now, but at least they're starting off with the right one.
Fielding a strong pass defense is critical in the Big 12.
The conference is full of offenses that look to spread opponents and attack them through the air, putting pressure on defensive backs and pass rushers alike. Yet it can be difficult to measure defensive success against those offenses as passing yards per game and completion percentage can be misleading particularly on teams that feature high-scoring offenses that end up forcing opponents to throw for the majority of the game.
Passing yards per attempt is one key stat that give a good gauge of which teams have efficient pass defenses that are harder to defeat than it may appear. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, here's a look at the Big 12 rankings in passing yards per attempt (conference games only) since TCU and West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.
1. Kansas State 6.7
Summary: The Wildcats are very good at forcing offenses to take what they are willing to give. Opponents 61.5 completion percentage is ninth among Big 12 teams yet their low yards per pass attempt average is a sign they tackle well after limiting opponents to short completions. Outside of standouts Ty Zimmerman and Randall Evans, KSU doesn’t tend to have superstars in the secondary but their performance as a unit is unmatched.
2. Oklahoma State 6.86
Summary: The Cowboys allow 277.85 passing yards per game but their yards per pass attempt average make them one of the Big 12’s top pass defenses. OSU’s up tempo, high scoring offense resulted in the defense facing a conference-high 40.52 pass attempts per game during the past three seasons. Talented defensive backs like Justin Gilbert and Kevin Peterson have helped the Cowboys withstand the barrage.
3. Texas 6.93
Summary: The Longhorns defense has been solid overall, ranking first in passing yards per game (220.3), sack percentage (8.4 percent) and touchdowns per pass attempt (3.6). A combination of talented defensive backs (Kenny Vaccaro, Quandre Diggs) and pass rushers (Jackson Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor) cemented UT’s place in the top three.
4. Oklahoma 7.02
Summary: The Sooners are among the top two in passing yards allowed (241.7) and completion percentage (54.9) helping to land them a spot in the top half of the conference. Current NFLers Aaron Colvin and Tony Jefferson are among the former Sooners who made OU’s pass defense one of the Big 12’s better units before a disappointing 2014 season put dents in that reputation.
5. TCU 7.18
Summary: The Horned Frogs’ opponent completion percentage (54.9), third-down conversion percentage (31.3) and first down per pass attempt percentage (28.8) were the best in the Big 12. But TCU’s yards per completion percentage (13.57) was ninth in the conference and doomed them to a spot outside the top four despite featuring some of the Big 12’s best defensive backs in Jason Verrett, Chris Hackett and Kevin White.
6. Baylor 7.39
Summary: The Bears explosive offense resulted in BU’s pass defense facing 37.67 pass attempts per game which contributed to them finishing in the bottom third of the conference in passing yards per game (278.33, eighth) and third down conversion percentage (43.4, tenth). This is one element of Art Briles program that requires continued improvement if BU is going to extended its Big 12 title run.
7. Texas Tech 7.68
Summary: The Red Raiders ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in several categories but their touchdown-to-interception percentage stands out above the crowd. Tech gave up 3.88 touchdowns per interception during this span, nearly a full touchdown worst than any other team in the Big 12. Nigel Bethel, Tevin Madison and Justis Nelson are among the young defensive backs on the roster with the talent to help turn this Red Raider trend around.
8. Iowa State 7.74
Summary: The Cyclones landed at the bottom of the Big 12 in passing yards allowed per game (292.3) and sack percentage (3) as ISU struggled to slow the pass happy attacks of the Big 12. Cornerback Nigel Tribune and safety Kamari Cotton-Moya provide hope the Cyclones can improve their pass defense in 2015.
9. West Virginia 8.21
Summary: The Mountaineers pass defense is one main reason WVU has been up and down during its first three seasons in the conference. Losing one-on-one battles and shoddy tackling have resulted in a Big 12-worst 13.92 yards per completion. Yet WVU enters the 2015 with the Big 12’s best combination of talent and experience in the secondary so the Mountaineers could start to build a better reputation this fall.
10. Kansas 8.24
Summary: The Jayhawks struggled in pretty much every category, allowing opponents to complete 62.9 percent of their attempts while also allowing 35 percent of those attempts to result in first downs. A lack of sacks (3.6 sack percentage, eighth) and interceptions (2.2 interception percentage, ninth) helped cement KU’s spot at the bottom of the Big 12. To make matters worse KU enters the 2015 looking to replace the bulk of its secondary including All-Big 12 cornerback JaCorey Shepherd.
- Is TCU the No. 3 team in the country right now? Not in the opinion of Gary Patterson, who expressed some displeasure after the Horned Frogs' practice on Tuesday. His team got tired in the heat, his defensive line isn't playing great, his linebackers aren't there yet and he knows there's a long way to go before the season opener. No reason to fret, TCU fans: this is more about Patterson sending a message to his team. He's going to have to guard against complacency and inflated ego in his locker room as expectations continue to rise.
- Kansas opened spring ball on Tuesday, and senior quarterback Michael Cummings took the first-string snaps ahead of Montell Mozart, according to Jesse Newell of the Topeka Capital-Journal. New coach David Beaty says there's no need to read too much into that, though he did declare he plans to pick one starter and won't rotate QBs. More importantly, the Jayhawks got their first taste of their new pace with 94 plays in 44 minutes. That's pretty dang quick.
- E.J. Bibbs quieted a lot of the concerns about his knee on Tuesday at Iowa State's pro day. The tight end, a likely late-round pick who underwent postseason surgery, ran a nice 40 time (4.86) and showed off his athleticism with some good testing numbers in front of NFL scouts. Knowing how hard it is to find good tight ends at the college level, you'd think Bibbs will get a long look from a few organizations during this draft process. Good to hear he's healed up nicely after missing the Cyclones' final two games.
- Texas opens spring practice on Wednesday with some glaring issues along its defensive line. The Longhorns released their pre-spring injury report, and half of the team's scholarship defensive linemen are going to be out or at least limited this spring. That includes potential starters Desmond Jackson, Caleb Bluiett and Quincy Vasser. We won't get to see exciting redshirt freshman Derick Roberson until the fall, either. The good thing for new D-line coach Brick Haley is a bunch of his healthy guys -- Poona Ford, Shiro Davis and Naashon Hughes stand out -- could really use those extra snaps.
- And finally, in case you need a little extra to bring some joy to your morning, here's a video of beloved Baylor tight end LaQuan McGowan catching passes with one hand. We're not worthy! The 400-pound behemoth continues to establish himself as the most interesting man in the Big 12 this spring, and Jake is going to have a lot more on him in a great story today.
Seth Russell's stellar spring scrimmage, Texas Tech's Davis Webb, and West Virginia's chances lead the mailbag. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.
Robert in Tulsa writes: How far away was Seth Russell last Friday from Baylor three-peating?
Brandon Chatmon: Russell had a terrific scrimmage for the Bears, no question about it. He left no doubt he won’t give up his starting spot without a fight with 345 passing yards and four touchdowns. I think we saw the reason Baylor should be considered right alongside TCU as the favorites in the Big 12 despite losing Bryce Petty. A three-peat is a definite possibility.
Lillian in Austin, Texas, writes: If the Longhorns are able to figure out the quarterback problem, will they have a shot at the Big 12 Title?
BC: Absolutely. The Longhorns went 5-2 when ending a game with a Total QBR above 50 (which is considered average) in 2014. A good quarterback can cure a lot of ills, and the Longhorns have enough talent in their locker room to join the fight for a Big 12 title if they are getting consistent quarterback play from Tyrone Swoopes, Jerrod Heard or whoever wants to step up.
BC: False. That sounds like a good way to end up searching for a new job. You can’t favor anyone after a 4-8 season. To be clear, I think Patrick Mahomes should be the guy, and ultimately will be the guy, but I don’t think Kingsbury should be handing out jobs to anyone, particularly a young quarterback with four starts under his belt during a bowl-less season.
Omar C. in Flower Mound, Texas, writes: Do you think it would be justifiable if NCAA mandated all Power 5 conferences to play one Power 5 and one Group 5 in their schedules to level the playing a field a little bit?
BC: First off, you’re giving the NCAA more credit and power than it has. If the Power 5 conferences decided to move forward with this idea, I think it would be a good one for fans and observers alike. I’m all for anything that helps to put schedules closer to an even playing field. I don’t see it happening unfortunately because it would require all of those schools to give up their power over their own schedules while risking losing money and/or games. I don’t see that happening.
Lonely in Lubbock, Texas, writes: When the old Big 12 changed everyone was making a big fuss about Texas losing its second-best rival Texas A&M, but in Lubbock we lost our main and only rival. After three years of this new version, do we have any hope of finding a new rival as good as the Aggies?
BC: I’m not a big fan of creating rivalries. I like when they organically emerge. I could Oklahoma State, TCU or even West Virginia as good potential candidates. But it requires something special to happen and leave a lasting memory for a rivalry to be born. And we haven’t seen that yet. I don't think you can force rivalries to happen so we might have to be patient until one develops on its own.
John Newcomb in Rochester, Pennsylvania, writes: I have to ask you, if William Crest and Dontae Thomas-Williams come out and become the starters with all the new wideouts including Ka'Raun White what levels could this team rise on defense and offense? Shot at the title in the near future?
BC: I don’t see it happening. Crest may win the starting quarterback job but DTW has Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood ahead of him at runing back. Nonetheless, I could see the Mountaineers getting a shot at a Big 12 title as early as this fall. An efficient quarterback could make WVU the surprise of the Big 12 this fall.
Jacob Worcester in Manhattan, Kansas writes: Kyle Klein should be back from an injury, and he even started two games in 2013. What type of impact will he have when he comes back for the Snydercats?
BC: He can be an asset for the Wildcats' offense. I don’t see him replacing Tyler Lockett (who can?) nor do I see him reaching the heights of older brother Collin. But he would bring experience to a relatively inexperienced receiver group.
Chris in Arden, West Virginia writes: What is your take on Joe DeForest at West Virginia?
BC: DeForest is a solid coach who seems to take a lot of undue heat from Mountaineers fans for some reason. His safeties should be among the Big 12’s best with Karl Joseph and Dravon Henry leading the way and his special teams helped win games in 2014 with Josh Lambert coming up clutch several times while punter Nick O’Toole was solid. Granted the WVU punt return unit was laughable at times so his units and players aren’t perfect, but whose are?
Cole in Oklahoma City writes: Will DeDe Westbrook and Joe Mixon share punt return snaps this spring ... leading in to the summer to see who is going to be returning punts for Oklahoma? Would you consider Heard to be the starting QB for Texas? Who is more of a dark horse Big 12 team?
BC: Three for one huh? Punt return duties are at the bottom of OU’s priority list but Westbrook or Michiah Quick would be good candidates. I think Heard should get every opportunity to win the job, and personally think he will. West Virginia is a good dark horse team to keep an eye on, particularly if the quarterback position becomes a strength.
The St. Louis Raiders? Seriously? I'm all for bringing the NFL to L.A., but come on.
- After a break of more than two weeks, Oklahoma returned to the practice field on Monday. Its players are wearing black to continue their efforts toward eliminating racism on OU's campus following the SAE fiasco. You have to respect the fact that Sooners players are taking this problem seriously and haven't just moved on now that the national controversy has seemingly passed. As for on-field news, Joe Mixon and Dede Westbrook are earning praise, and all four quarterbacks are reportedly getting near-equal reps.
- Charlie Strong talked quarterbacks and a whole lot more on Monday to kick off Texas' first week of spring practice. Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News offers a solid recap here and makes some good points about the kind of building that's ahead for Strong and his Longhorns. Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman offers a fine take on talk of rebuilding, too. As I wrote about yesterday, Strong is still working to build up a lot more than just the talent level when it comes to this team.
- Kansas is opening spring practice on Tuesday, and David Beaty sounds fired up to get started. Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World caught up with the new head coach on the eve of practice and got him to lay out some of his goals for spring ball. You will notice Beaty rarely talks about specific players in these interviews -- it sure seems like he's trying to bring a clean-slate mentality to finding out what he's working with on this roster. Beaty's emphasis on establishing a clean brand of football in terms of penalties, turnovers and special teams is probably a good start, too.
- Former Oklahoma tight end Taylor McNamara is transferring to USC, he announced Monday night via Twitter. His plans to depart had been largely expected for the past month, and McNamara seems to be making a smart move here. He'll graduate from Oklahoma in May and play right away for a Trojans team that's thin at tight end while Bryce Dixon is suspended. Blake Bell's move to tight end really marginalized McNamara's chances to help Oklahoma in 2014, so you can't blame him for wanting to start over closer to home.
- Here's an interesting look by Bobby La Gesse of the Ames Tribune at Iowa State's Jake Campos and why improved flexibility is going to be a difference-maker for the touted tackle this fall. It's a close examination of how a 6-foot-8, 295-pound lineman can get more effective simply by making a change as minor as doing more ankle stretches. If you're an O-line junkie, I think you'll enjoy this read.
AUSTIN, Texas -- When Charlie Strong pulled Tyrone Swoopes aside this winter and gave him a new assignment, he didn't need to explain why.
"You're gonna go run with the skill guys."
Swoopes was accustomed to racing linebackers in the "big skill" group during Texas' 5:30 a.m. offseason conditioning drills. So Strong told his junior quarterback to switch sides. Go challenge the receivers and defensive backs.
"When I placed him in that group, he didn't back away at all," Strong said. "You see a big guy like that winning most of the races, and he's beating our skill guys. He didn't back away at all."
And how did Jerrod Heard, Swoopes' top competition at quarterback, react?
"When Jerrod saw me move him, he automatically moved on his own," Strong said. "I turned around and looked and he says, ‘I'm going with the skill guys.'"
That's life these days at Texas, where competition will be the supreme goal for a young team striving to rebuild and find new leaders. The Longhorns will begin spring practice on Wednesday knowing nobody's starting job is guaranteed after a 6-7 season.
That competition starts at quarterback with Swoopes and Heard. Strong would like to have a good feel for that job by the end of the spring, but he'd rather have a fierce battle that brings out the best in both passers.
"Going into spring practice, we're going to give them equal reps and give them a chance to go compete against each other," he said.
His message for them going into the battle is no different than what he told players during a team meeting Sunday: Don't be afraid to separate yourself.
While Strong preaches pride and chemistry and a need for Texas players to come together this spring, it's important to not misunderstand the goal. He didn't think his Longhorns played together as a team in 2014. He recognized cliques within the locker room, and that has to change. But those cliques can hold a team back in another way.
"What's happened is guys don't want to go make a move," he said. "There's nothing wrong with it. Sometimes, you can't always bring your friends with you. You have your teammates, but you can't always bring them with you.
"There can be a separation, and when you have that separation you know, ‘OK this guy here really wants to improve. He wants to be an outstanding player.'"
Strong points to receiver John Harris, the senior a year ago who emerged from the previous Texas staff's doghouse and worked like never to become a 1,000-yard receiver.
There are countless others -- linebackers Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond, safety Dylan Haines, center Taylor Doyle, defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway -- who exceeded expectations and played their best football a year ago under Strong's watch. So who's next?
As Strong puts it: "Anybody can hang back and stay in the pile, but who's going to be the guy to step away from that pile?"
Texas will address those questions throughout its lineup this spring. Texas needs new receivers and linebackers, a reshuffled offensive line, depth at running back and in the secondary and a reliable punter. There needs to be new voices in the locker room, too, after losing so many vital seniors. So it's not hard to see why Strong is dropping hints about the need for Darwinism to win out.
"You go be the best player you can be," he says. "If [a teammate] doesn't want to come with you, just leave him behind and we'll get someone to come with you."
It's not about hurting feelings. It's about finding players who deserve to play and shine at Texas. Quarterback is the No. 1 issue, but this spring, everyone else in burnt orange has been warned.
Spring ball rolls on and a few new commitments rolled in, too. The latest from the Big 12 on the recruiting trail:
Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 4
The latest: The Bears hosted a big group of recruits for its "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage, including incoming freshmen and targets from several classes. One big man on campus was ESPN 300 lineman J.P. Urquidez, a 6-foot-6, 305-pound tackle from Copperas Cove, Texas. Urquidez also visited Miami recently and has those two schools high on his list along with Texas and Oklahoma. He's expected to make his decision this spring.
Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones still have not landed a commitment for 2016. They do continue to pursue defensive end Noah Fant, though that's getting more challenging. The defensive end out of Omaha, Nebraska, recently took an unofficial visit to Nebraska and is expected to check out Purdue next. Getting him in for ISU's junior day was a good move, but Fant is drawing more and more interest these days.
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Kansas could face an interesting battle for offensive lineman Chris Hughes of Harker Heights, Texas. He's been offered by KU, North Texas and now Texas Tech, and you wonder if his stock will rise this spring. The younger brother of Texas players Naashon Hughes and Camrhon Hughes is 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, but doesn't hold an offer from the Longhorns yet. Can KU fight to steal him from the state of Texas?
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats lost a big-time commit over the weekend when defensive end Xavier Kelly elected to reopen his recruitment. Kelly, whose stock has been on the rise this spring, had committed to KSU back in November but is reportedly focusing on Michigan, Oregon and TCU at the moment. He checked in at 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds with a 4.55-second 40-yard dash at The Opening regional camp in Arlington, Texas.
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Sooners got one of the nation's best running back recruits on campus. ESPN 300 running back Devwah Whaley, the nation's No. 34 recruit, took an unofficial visit to Norman over the weekend. Texas A&M is presumed to be the frontrunner for Whaley at the moment, but OU is right there in the mix along with Texas, Georgia and several other programs.
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Who might Oklahoma State take at quarterback for 2016? The favorite sure seems to be Nick Starkel, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound passer from Argyle, Texas. Though his only FBS offers are from Oklahoma State and Old Dominion, Starkel had a good showing at his Elite 11 tryout in Dallas earlier this month and is expected to visit Stillwater again at the end of the month.
Total commits: 8
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Horned Frogs' first commit for 2017 is in the books: Roshauud Paul. The athlete from Bremond, Texas, pulled the trigger on a commitment last Tuesday and is being recruited as a receiver/corner. As a sophomore, he helped lead Bremond to a Class 2A state title as a quarterback with more than 3,200 total yards and 40 TDs.
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: Texas actually has five pledges for 2016, as quarterback Matthew Merrick will grayshirt and enroll next spring. That's his final decision after several schools (led by Florida) pushed hard following signing day to flip Merrick and get him enrolled in the fall. Merrick and ESPN 300 commit Shane Buechele both are expected to arrive in Austin in January. Merrick has a big arm and will be a nice development prospect.
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Texas Tech's staff landed a good one in Donte Coleman. The tight end from West Mesquite High in Texas turned down a dozen other good offers to pick the Red Raiders on Saturday. Coleman, who hauled in four TDs as a junior, could be a matchup nightmare in Tech's scheme at 6-4 and 220 pounds.
Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia's newest pledge came from Zach Sandwisch of Toledo, Ohio, an outside linebacker who likes how he'll fit in the Mountaineers' defensive plans. Sandwich racked up 80 tackles in 10 games while helping lead Central Catholic to a state title as a junior. He took visits to West Virginia, Indiana, Toledo and Bowling Green before reaching his decision last week.
Continuing our series from last week, we're featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2014 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.
Today’s player on the spot: Texas running back Johnathan Gray
Johnathan Gray is too polite a guy to complain about the cards he’s been dealt. That’s just not like him. He would shrug, too, if asked about his former five-star status. Why worry about old expectations?
The Texas senior running back has been a quality contributor for three seasons, but not exactly a star. Gray seemed to be on the fast track to that fame in 2013, during a six-game stretch in which he compiled 628 rushing yards. He was explosive, elusive, savvy.
Then, in an instant, the setback. A freak accident, really, considering Gray tore his Achilles without being touched. Days later, of course, he was still smiling and chuckling about his bad luck.
More than 16 months have now passed since Gray went down that night against West Virginia. He wasn’t the same player last fall. Nobody’s questioning his health today. The Longhorns are about to find out how good Gray can still be.
Coach Charlie Strong needs him to be great. Gray is already there with his leadership and his hard work, but it’s time for the production to match. His workload will be significant -- four of Texas’ five backups this fall will be freshmen -- and 1,000 yards is well within reach for Gray.
He has rushed for 100 yards just five times at Texas. He has logged 20 carries only four times. The Longhorns are undefeated in those games. They are 9-2 when he scores. They are tough to beat on his best days.
Why Gray had so few of those days as a junior had a lot to do with his offensive line, an underwhelming and constantly changing group for most of 2014. Gaping holes for big gains are hard to come by when your line is inexperienced, and even harder when it's unstable.
Texas is working hard to correct its flaws up front with an influx of new talent this spring, but Gray has work to do, too. He didn’t have the same burst last fall. His vision and open-field instincts -- traits that made him ESPN’s No. 2 recruit and made college scouts drool -- weren’t consistently strengths.
But on a Texas team with such big question marks at quarterback, the running back has to be the answer. With the torn Achilles now in the past and a better line now in the works, it’s about time for Gray to become one of the Big 12’s best.
The production from Kansas State's quarterbacks in the past three seasons should make it no surprise the Wildcats have become mainstays in the Big 12 title race.
Since TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, the Wildcats have had the conference's most productive quarterbacks ahead of Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and other Big 12 programs that have a reputation for stellar signal-callers. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, here's a closer look at the Big 12 Total QBR rankings (conference games only) since 2012.
(Note: Total QBR is a ESPN metric used to determine a quarterback's impact. Here is a detailed explanation of Total QBR.)
1. Kansas State, 79.5
2014: 83.5, 1st
2013: 71.8, 3rd
2012: 83.2, 2nd
Summary: The combination of Jake Waters and Collin Klein helped push the Wildcats to the top of the list. Klein’s 83.9 Total QBR in 2012 is the third-best in the Big 12 since 2012, and his 23 rushing touchdowns helped offset a 16:9 touchdown-interception ratio. Waters’ 83.2 Total QBR led the Big 12 in 2014 and was fifth overall during this span. The Wildcats were the only program with two quarterbacks in the top five.
2. Baylor, 78.6
2014: 71.2, 4th
2013: 85.4, 1st
2012: 78.8, 4th
Summary: Bryce Petty had the Big 12’s best season during this span, recording a 86.2 Total QBR and earning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year during the 2013 season. Nick Florence finished with a 79.5 Total QBR in 2012, helping offset Petty’s 71.4 a year ago. The Bears started one of the conference’s top quarterbacks in each of the past three seasons, a feat only K-State can match.
3. Oklahoma, 74.5
2014: 75, 2nd
2013: 57.8, 7th
2012: 83.9, 1st
Summary: Landry Jones had the Big 12’s second-highest Total QBR during this span, recording a 84.4 in 2012 during the last season OU used a air raid-style offense. After a horrible 2013 season full of uncertainty at the position, the Sooners landed third on this list thanks to Trevor Knight’s 79.4 in 2014.
4. Texas Tech, 69.4
2014: 68.9, 5th
2013: 67.2, 5th
2012: 72.5, 6th
Summary: Davis Webb’s 77.7 Total QBR in 2013 is yet another reason to pump the brakes on the Patrick Mahomes coronation. It was the Red Raiders' best and among the top 10 in the conference during this span. Mahomes (70.7 in 2014) and Seth Doege (71.4 in 2012) join Webb among the top 15 in the Big 12 during the past three seasons, giving the Red Raiders three quarterbacks in the top 15, more than any other Big 12 program.
5. Oklahoma State, 66.4
2014: 46.3, 9th
2013: 74.6, 2nd
2012: 72.7, 5th
Summary: Clint Chelf is the sole reason the Pokes finished in the top half of the conference. His Total QBR was second in the Big 12 at 83.8 in 2013 and 13th in the Big 12 at 71.2 in 2012. Chelf was constantly battling for his spot during his final two seasons, but when Oklahoma State turned the offense over to him, he produced.
6. Texas, 65
2014: 58.4, 8th
2013: 70.1, 4th
2012: 66.7, 7th
Summary: This sums up the Longhorns' quarterback struggles. Case McCoy’s Total QBR of 69.1 in 2013 was the Longhorns' highest Total QBR during this span. Tyrone Swoopes recorded a 58.2 in 2014 and David Ash had a 67 in 2012.
7. West Virginia, 64.3
2014: 64, 6th
2013: 44.1, 9th
2012: 81.2, 2nd
Summary: Things went downhill for Dana Holgorsen’s team after Geno Smith recorded a 80.5 Total QBR in 2012, sixth in the Big 12 during this span, then headed to the NFL. Clint Trickett started the 2014 season strong, but his turnover-filled second half of the season dropped his final Total QBR to 61.9. Yet that was still better than the 54.9 he recorded in 2013.
8. TCU, 58.5
2014: 72.5, 3rd
2013: 47.9, 8th
2012: 54.2, 8th
Summary: This underscores just how bad the Horned Frogs production at quarterback was during TCU’s first two seasons in the Big 12. And that lackluster production came partially with Trevone Boykin under center. Boykin recorded a 52 Total QBR in 2013 before jumping to a 71.8 in 2014. It was one of the nation's highest jumps from a returning quarterback.
9. Iowa State, 54.9
2014: 58.8, 7th
2013: 56.7, 6th
2012: 47.5, 9th
Summary: One big reason the Cyclones have been going downhill since TCU and West Virginia entered the league is their subpar quarterback play. Fortunately for Iowa State, Sam Richardson has the potential to make quarterback a strength for the Cyclones in 2015.
10. Kansas, 31.7
2014: 44.5, 10th
2013: 20.2, 10th
2012: 30.7, 10th
Summary: The Jayhawks are the only team that showed no movement in the standings in any of the three seasons. It doesn’t get much worse than KU’s production in 2013. It’s easy to see why Kansas decided to go in a different direction with the hope David Beaty can spark a change at quarterback.
Looks like it's up to you Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
- John Harris of HoustonTexans.com details his experience at Baylor's pro day, including the atmosphere and a few tidbits about Bryce Petty that convinced him the former BU quarterback can be the face of a franchise at the NFL level. It shouldn't be a surprise but Petty has nailed the pre-draft process from his savvy answers to media questions to his on-field work. He is making a strong case to be considered the consensus No. 3 quarterback behind Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota.
- Former Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett has been named the winner of the Jet Award, which is awarded to a primary kick or punt returner who finishes among the national leaders in return categories. After he dazzled in Manhattan, Kansas, for four seasons, I hate to see Lockett go as someone who covers the Big 12 closely. He always seemed to do something special, week in and week out.
- Former TCU linebacker Paul Dawson is back with another draft diary for USA Today. A tight hamstring was to blame for Dawson's poor 40-yard time at the NFL combine and the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year promises he's going to make up for it during TCU's pro day on March 27. It really shouldn't matter if he makes up for it or not. Dawson was a dominant football player in 2014 and should be an NFL starter in 2015.
- Could former Oklahoma defensive tackle Jordan Phillips be the replacement for Vince Wilfork in New England? The New England Patriots have a late first round pick and the former Sooner could be an ideal fit. Like most top draft prospects, Phillips has been making several NFL visits, including Detroit earlier this week.
- A pair of former Big 12 defenders have landed a spot on Charles Davis' All-Underrated list heading toward the NFL draft. Kansas' Ben Heeney and Texas' Cedric Reed make the list. I could see Reed going on to have a solid NFL career. He has the ability, he just needs to maximize it.
It's tourney time!
Here's our effort to take your mind off of your bracket with a few angst-filled days ahead during the NCAA tournament. In today's roundtable we single out potential Cinderella teams, potential overseeded (i.e. overrated) teams and potential underseeded (underrated) teams.
Who could be the Cinderella of the Big 12?
Brandon Chatmon: My vote goes for West Virginia. I have a feeling the Mountaineers are going to get productive and efficient play at the quarterback position from Skyler Howard or William Crest and I think they will answer various questions at receiver, offensive line and defensive line. I love the talent on Dana Holgorsen’s roster and expect WVU to learn from its late-season stumbles a year ago.
Jake Trotter: Who could reprise the role of TCU as Big 12 Cinderella? I think it’s Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are coming off a dreadful 4-8 season in which they fielded a turnover machine of an offense and one of the worst statistical defenses in Big 12 history. But the Red Raiders are not devoid of talent. Patrick Mahomes was one of the most exciting players in the league late last year as a true freshman quarterback. DeAndre Washington is coming off a 1,000-yard season. Jakeem Grant leads a bevy of playmaking receivers. And All-Big 12 performer Le'Raven Clark heads an underrated offensive line. The big question is whether Tech can play better defense. But new coordinator David Gibbs ought to give the Red Raiders an immediate jolt with his ability to coach turnovers. Pete Robertson can get after the quarterback and linebacker newcomer Mike Mitchell should instantly improve the run defense. I’m not saying the Red Raiders are going to win the Big 12. But if you’re looking for Cinderella-like potential, they’re the pick.
Max Olson: Can I say Oklahoma State? I mean, I know it's looking like the Pokes will have top-25 expectations in 2015. But this is still a team that went 1-5 against the Big 12's best teams last season, and got outscored by an average margin of 26 points in those losses. The OU win was epic, but I still think OSU is a sleeper from a national standpoint and poised for a comeback season that'll surprise.
Who could be "overseeded" heading into the preseason?
Chatmon: Oklahoma. I had high expectations for the Sooners last season and got burned for believing Trevor Knight would take things to another level as a sophomore and the defense would be among the Big 12’s best. Now the Sooners will have to make me a believer in September and October before I will expect anything higher than a mid-Big 12 finish.
Trotter: I think Texas has the chance to be very good very soon. But the Longhorns have many questions before I would consider them a top-25 team. And yet, if history is any indication, Texas will likely open in the preseason top 25. The Longhorns still have no definitive answer at quarterback. And they will be replacing their best running back (Malcolm Brown, their two best receivers (John Harris and Jaxon Shipley), their two best defensive linemen (Malcom Brown and Cedric Reed), their leading tackler (Jordan Hicks) and their best defensive back (Quandre Diggs). Texas has some good, young players on campus and on the way this summer. But they’re not top-25 material. At least not yet.
Olson: Kansas State is probably still going to get some benefit of the doubt entering this season -- Bill Snyder magic and all that good stuff -- but the senior leaders they've lost aren't going to be easy to replace. I'm sure a bunch of walk-ons and two-stars will rise up and make me look silly for saying this, but I'm just not convinced K-State is going to be a Big 12 title contender this year.
Who could be "underseeded" heading into the preseason?
Chatmon: Kansas State will exceed expectations. Bill Snyder’s program is likely to enter the season projected to be among the bottom half of the conference but I’m expecting a finish in the top half of the conference even though uncertainty reigns at quarterback, running back and receiver. The Wildcats won’t get much respect heading into the season but they’ll prove everyone wrong yet again.
Trotter: Seemingly every year Kansas State is picked low in the standings. And every year, Bill Snyder & Co. figure out a way to outperform expectations. Sure, the Wildcats have their work cut out in 2015. The bulk of production from last year’s Big 12 contending club is gone, including All-American Tyler Lockett, quarterback Jake Waters and leading tackler Jonathan Truman. But the K-State system is bigger than one player or even one team. It would hardly surprise me if the Wildcats outperformed their preseason seed yet again.
Olson: Takeaways make any defense look a lot better, and I think Texas Tech is going to find a way to get a lot more under new DC David Gibbs. With so much offensive firepower returning along with two confident guys at quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb, I think Tech is getting closer to having what it needs to play with the best in this league. Folks will be wary of expecting much from the Red Raiders, but I think they're moving in the right direction.
Barring some unforeseen catastrophe in Waco or Fort Worth, TCU and Baylor will exit spring ball still as the Big 12 co-favorites heading into 2015.
But the following question will linger well into the summer: Who in the league is most equipped to challenge their conference superiority?
It’s a question sure to foster several opinions, which is why we’re putting it you in our weekly Big 12 poll.
Oklahoma State debuted as the No. 3 team in our Way-Too-Early Big 12 Power Rankings. The Cowboys seem to have a budding standout at quarterback in rising sophomore Mason Rudolph. Oklahoma State returns several starters on either side of the ball as well. But the Cowboys also struggled for much of last season. And without a miraculous comeback in the regular-season finale in Norman, which catapulted Oklahoma State to its bowl victory over Washington, the Cowboys’ 2015 outlook wouldn’t be looking so sunny. This is still a team with much to prove.
Oklahoma was viewed as the co-favorite along with Baylor heading into the 2014 season. The Sooners were in the top five of the polls during the first half of the season, too, before the bottom fell out. The Sooners have some major questions, notably at quarterback and in pass defense. But Samaje Perine and Sterling Shepard are All-American-caliber performers and whoever wins the quarterback battle could flourish in Lincoln Riley’s air-raid system.
Texas has an even bigger question at quarterback. Tyrone Swoopes struggled down the stretch last year, and Jerrod Heard will only be a second-year freshman. The Longhorns will also be replacing several of its best players off last year’s team. Charlie Strong, however, has recruited well. And if the young pieces come along fast, Texas could be a factor.
TCU overshadowed the run that West Virginia made last year until a late-season slide. The Mountaineers have to replace a lot of offensive firepower in wideouts Kevin White and Mario Alford. But Skyler Howard received invaluable experience at quarterback filling in for Clint Trickett. And behind safety Karl Joseph, the Mountaineers should feature the best defensive backfield in the league.
Kansas State doesn’t have much coming back off a team that was a Big 12 title contender going into the final week of last season. The departures of Tyler Lockett, Jake Waters and several other key contributors won’t easily be replaced. But the presence of Bill Snyder alone warrants the Wildcats a spot in this poll.
So, midway through spring ball, who is the biggest threat to TCU and Baylor?
Let us know what you think by casting your vote.