Big 12: Texas Longhorns

The Wall Street Journal took an interesting look at how college football’s coaches have fared against AP Top 25 teams during their careers. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops has the best overall record at 50-23, a clear sign of the program’s consistency and success in big games under the veteran coach. He’s earned the nickname “Big Game Bob.”

Here’s a look at how each Big 12 coach has fared against the AP Top 25 at their current school. For a look at their career record, you can go to the original piece on The Wall Street Journal’s website.

Art Briles at Baylor: 7-19

Paul Rhoads at Iowa State: 4-19

Charlie Weis at Kansas: 0-8

Bill Snyder at Kansas State: 23-43

Bob Stoops at Oklahoma: 50-23

Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State: 15-20

Gary Patterson at TCU: 14-14

Charlie Strong at Texas: 0-0 (2-2 at Louisville)

Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech: 2-3

Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia: 5-6

A few quick thoughts:
  • These numbers just reinforce Stoops' ability to win games against top competition. People like to point at OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama as the return of “Big Game Bob” but that conveniently overlooks road wins at Florida State and Notre Dame in games that garnered plenty of national attention in the past three years.
  • It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Gary Patterson join Stoops as the lone current Big 12 coaches with a record of .500 or better against AP Top 25 teams. A couple of substandard seasons in the Big 12 shouldn’t completely erase years of dominating performances from the Horned Frogs under Patterson.
  • It’s quite revealing to see Kingsbury has faced more AP Top 25 teams than Strong. In one season at Tech, Kingsbury saw a Top 25 squad five different times yet Strong coached four games against AP Top 25 teams in four seasons at Louisville. It will be interesting to see how Strong handles the clear step up in competition, week in and week out.
  • Four wins against AP Top 25 teams shows the ability of Paul Rhoads to get the best out of his Iowa State teams. His 4-19 record isn’t great but it could be a lot worse.
  • Bill Snyder and Mike Gundy rank second and third in total wins against AP Top 25 teams which is to be expected as Snyder at KSU and Gundy at OSU have taken their programs to previously unseen levels during their time as head coach at their respective schools.
  • Holgorsen's 5-6 record is solid, particularly for a coach on the hot seat heading into the season. His five wins against AP Top 25 teams in three seasons at WVU could be one reason not to overlook the Mountaineers' chances to surprise in 2014.
With the opening weekend of college football just a little more than a week away, we make some calls on who some of the top passers, rushers and receivers might be:

After Bryce Petty, Davis Webb, Trevor Knight and Jake Waters, who will lead the Big 12 in passing?

Chatmon: This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with West Virginia’s Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have the skill-position talent to support Trickett, and the senior has a year of experience in Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt. I fully expect to see an improved Mountaineers’ offense and Trickett should play a key role in that improvement.

Olson: Gee, we’ve really narrowed that down, haven’t we? The best way I can put my answer is this: Oklahoma State will finish with more passing yards as a team than Texas, so I guess I have to go with J.W. Walsh. While I can envision Daxx Garman earning a couple starts at some point, I still think Walsh will put up good numbers. David Ash might be a smarter choice here, but his injury history makes it a tough call.

Trotter: I can’t pick any of the quarterbacks from Oklahoma State or TCU, since it’s still unclear how much any of them will play. And I can’t go with Montell Cozart, given that his best asset right now is his wheels. That leaves Ash, Trickett and Sam B. Richardson. Ash has an injury history. Then again, so do Trickett and Richardson.And while West Virginia and Iowa State have other intriguing quarterback options, Texas really does not.This is Ash’s show. And he has shown at times in the past he has the ability to put up big passing numbers.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray is a consensus pick to lead the Big 12 in rushing this season.
Who will lead the league in rushing?

Chatmon: Johnathan Gray is a easy choice for me. A healthy Gray is easily the best running back in the Big 12, and Texas’ offense will be built around its running game. Gray, who has a 4.8 yards-per-carry average in his career, will get plenty of opportunities, and he will take advantage of them.

Olson: Gray. It’s a really difficult prediction because I do think Shock Linwood will surpass 1,000 yards. I also think Baylor loves Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson enough that there’s going to be a equitable sharing of carries in Waco. Texas, meanwhile, won’t have Baylor’s passing game and should go all-in on a run-first mentality. Gray was on pace for more than 1,100 yards last year before his Achilles tear. He’s healthy again, and I think he can have a huge year.

Trotter: I have to agree with Brandon and Max. When healthy, Gray has proven to be the best all-around back in the league, and he is the best bet here. But keep an eye on Oklahoma State running back Tyreek Hill. If the Cowboys make him their offensive workhorse, he has the big-play ability to have a monster season. Sure, durability would be a question. But speed would not.

After Tyler Lockett and Antwan Goodley, who will lead the Big 12 in receiving?

Chatmon: Jakeem Grant immediately comes to mind here, but I’m going to go with Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. The Sooners’ passing game should be improved with an improved Knight, and Shepard has the skills to make defenses play for leaving him in one-on-one situations. Grant will garner increased attention from secondaries while Shepard, helped by OU’s running game, should have more chances to make game-changing plays.

Olson: Did you know: In 2013, six of the Big 12’s top eight receivers in yardage played for either Baylor or Texas Tech. So I would be pretty stupid not to go with Grant here. Not only was he one of those six and very productive as a No. 3 option, but he’s also going to get a nice chunk of the 106 receptions (!) and 152 targets (!!!) that went to Jace Amaro last year. Tech’s No. 2 option, Eric Ward, had more catches (83) and targets (122) than Goodley. That’s insane. Grant is going to feast on their leftovers.

Trotter: Grant missed two games and was the third banana in Tech’s passing offense last year. And he still finished sixth in the league in receiving. With Ward and Amaro gone, Grant will take over as the Red Raiders’ primary receiving threat. And with quarterback Webb budding with confidence and the Red Raiders primed to air it out, Grant is easily the best bet here.

Position battle update: Texas WR

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
4:00
PM ET
Texas' wide receiving corps lost three players to discipline and one starter to an injury. Who's left? Who's going to make an impact in the Longhorns' opener against North Texas? Here's a closer look.

Contenders: Junior Marcus Johnson, sophomore Jacorey Warrick, redshirt freshman Jake Oliver, freshmen Armanti Foreman, Dorian Leonard, Lorenzo Joe, Roderick Bernard, Garrett Gray, sophomore Ty Templin, senior John Harris

Not contenders: Jaxon Shipley is sidelined indefinitely with a hamstring injury. Daje Johnson is suspended for at least one game. Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander were dismissed from the program before fall camp.

What they replace: Not only do the Longhorns need a possession receiver as reliable as Shipley while he's recovering, they also must replace top deep threat Mike Davis. There's still no word on how quickly Shipley will be back on the field. Davis, who's now in Oakland Raiders camp, finished with 2,753 career receiving yards and 18 TDs. Sanders was supposed to be a major contributor for this group after catching 37 passes for 361 yards and a TD as a sophomore last year.

What they offer: The only proven commodity in the group is Johnson. He offers serious speed; he was productive last season, including in big games, and he can play inside or outside. With Shipley sidelined, you'd have to think Johnson will be the go-to target for David Ash to start the season.

But who knows what to expect from the rest. Warrick, known by his peers as "Petey," has earned consistent praise from Charlie Strong and his coaches and saw a little mop-up duty last season.

Oliver redshirted last season and could be a nice target on the outside with his 6-foot-3 frame. Harris is a guy who made a few big plays in 2013, but has still yet to really break through and earn consistent playing time.

What remains to be seen is just how far these five true freshmen have come in the past few weeks. The coaching staff has repeatedly said publicly that all five are doing well and haven't singled out one or two as standing out above the rest. But Strong has acknowledged he likes Foreman's explosiveness and playmaking ability. Joe and Leonard seem to have a real shot at playing as well.

And then the surprise of the group has been Templin, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore walk-on whose efforts in fall camp have been called "unbelievable" by Strong. He played on the scout team last year but was getting first-team reps in Texas' only fall practice open to the media.

Prediction: Shipley will fight hard to try to get back for BYU and UCLA, and he just might pull that off. But in the meantime, Texas goes with a starting four of Marcus Johnson, Warrick, Harris and, yes, Templin. Foreman quickly works his way up to the No. 1 offense with a few nice plays against North Texas. And then the pressure is on for Daje Johnson, who needs to get back in good standing before the Longhorns get their rematch with the Cougars.
AUSTIN, Texas – When Texas linebacker Dalton Santos ran onto the field for practice last Sunday wearing a pro wrestling-style title belt, naturally, there were going to be questions.

While the belt and its origins remain shrouded in mystery, some key details have emerged.

The Texas Takeaways belt was introduced this fall as a method for inspiring the Longhorns' defense to take more pride in forcing turnovers, something it didn’t do too much of in 2013.

[+] EnlargeTexas championship belt
btp_longhorn/InstagramPeter Jinkens sports the takeaways belt, which goes to the unit that racks up the most points toward forcing turnovers
Every day, Charlie Strong’s defenders are graded by a point system for every interception, fumble, strip, rip and poke. There might be more criteria, but even Texas’ veterans are hesitant to reveal the criteria and point values.

“It’s just a fun thing we’ve got going on so everyone competes on defense,” defensive end Cedric Reed said.

The points reset every day, and it’s not just about which unit -- defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs -- scored the most in a given practice. If your unit won the day but didn’t meet the coaches’ required number of points, Reed said, no belt for you.

“Whoever wins the most days at the end of the week -- which will be the DBs this week -- will get that belt,” cornerback Quandre Diggs said.

The belt has a Longhorn logo and the word “WARRIOR” printed in the middle of its silver plate. Players say they don’t know where it came from. Cornerback Duke Thomas claimed defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn brought it in to work one day. Texas’ defense has been battling ever since.

Last season, Texas finished with 10 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles and 16 fumble recoveries. Its 26 takeaways tied for 26th-best nationally, but the turnover margin was a mere plus-four. Only three FBS schools recovered more fumbles, so that’s a positive, but Texas’ interception total ranked eighth in the Big 12 and 82nd nationally, and the 12 forced fumbles tied for fewest in a single season in school history.

Strong’s defense at Louisville put up relatively similar numbers last year, but did have 16 interceptions and the No. 2 turnover margin in the nation at plus-17.

“Whatever you emphasize and whatever you put in, you get out,” said Thomas, whose three interceptions led the Longhorns last year. “That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”

The linebackers evidently won the belt for the first week of fall camp. Three days after Santos ran onto the field to show it off, Texas’ defensive backs earned it back.

And yet, as is the case with most wrestling and boxing belts, this one comes with dispute.

“Just to let y’all know, the D-line is winning it,” Reed said. “We run out there with it pretty much every time.”

Diggs frowned in disgust when told Reed had claimed domination of the belt.

“Look at my face. Ced has told y’all a big, flat-out lie,” Diggs said.

Added an outraged Thomas: “The DBs are going to have the belt regardless. Aww, man, we had like 35 points [on Friday]. Ced doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They didn’t get no points out there.”

After Texas’ first scrimmage on Saturday, the defending champ entering the weekend was holding on tight to his prize. He was confident the DBs were ahead in the points race.

“It’s meant a lot,” Diggs said. “If you go in the locker room right now, it’s in my locker. So that can tell you who’s winning that belt.”

On Monday morning, Reed fired back the best way he could: with a photo of the belt's new true owners.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
1:00
PM ET
We're less than two weeks away from the season and only 170 days away from national signing day. Here's your weekly update on where each Big 12 program stands on the recruiting front:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: ESPN 300 WR Chad President made it official: He's now a Baylor Bear. President, who's been committed since last summer, inked financial aid papers with the Bears this week. Coach Art Briles appears intent to let the 6-foot-3, 195-pound standout from nearby Temple, Texas, play quarterback when he enrolls early.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: ISU will soon get a visit from one of their top targets, junior college CB Antoine Albert of Diablo Valley College in California. The 6-foot-2 defender has seen his offer list grow considerably -- now including Tennessee and Arizona -- but Iowa State got in the mix early and has to like its chances.

KANSAS
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks are having a hard time winning recruiting battles within their own state. That'll make the guys KU can get even more important. Keep an eye on safety Darreon Jackson from Derby, Kansas. He's a move-in who came from a big-time Texas program, Mesquite Horn, where he earned all-district honors at linebacker. Charlie Weis' staff should like its chances with him.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats continue to do an impressive job of locking down their backyard. Their latest pledge came from three-star OT Evan Applegate, who's listed at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds. Applegate turned down offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska to join a KSU class that's off to a nice start.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: The Sooners have missed on a bunch of big-time offensive line targets, but they got a good one last week in Cody Ford. OU coaches convinced the three-star offensive guard from Pineville, Louisiana, to back out of his six-month pledge to TCU and join fellow linemen Bobby Evans and Dominique Hearne in their class.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: OSU beefed up its offensive line class last week with the addition of three-star tackle Joshua Jones and junior college tackle Brandon Pertile. Jones, one of the top linemen in the Houston area, chose the Pokes over Texas Tech and TCU. Pertile spent one year at Georgia State before enrolling at Mesa Community College in Arizona.

TCU
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: TCU has joined what should end up being a long list of suitors for 2016 DE Erick Fowler. The ESPN Junior 300 defender from Manor, Texas, went up to Fort Worth last week to watch a fall practice and went home with an offer. He now has at least six, and that list will continue to grow.

TEXAS
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: The Longhorns are among the top contenders for Mesquite (Texas) Poteet teammates LB Malik Jefferson and ATH DeAndre McNeal, and both have decided to announce their decisions in late December. McNeal might project out best as a linebacker in college, but he now says he wants to play offense. They'll take their official visit to out-of-state schools, and one lucky program could snag both for Christmas.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The leaders of Tech's class, ESPN 300 recruits Jarrett Stidham and Breiden Fehoko, are both set to enroll early and have now signed financial aid papers with the school. The ability to unofficially sign in August is a beneficial deal for all involved, because Tech coaches are now permitted unlimited calls and visits (and even public tweets) with their top two committed guys.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: The Mountaineers already have two QBs committed for their 2015 class, but they could be chasing another in Lamar Jackson. The three-star dual-threat passer from Boynton Beach, Florida, reportedly intends to take an official visit to Morgantown this fall and will also check out Nebraska. With David Sills and Chris Chugunov already on board, it'll be interesting to see how seriously WVU pursues him.

Big 12 morning links

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
8:00
AM ET
Big 12 coaches over the weekend partook in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, including Kliff Kingsbury, Charlie Weis, Charlie Strong and Gary Patterson.
  • The Iowa State quarterback derby appears to be nearing a conclusion, and the Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson writes that Sam B. Richardson will be named the starter. Grant Rohach, who finished off last season as the starter, seemed to be the front-runner to hold on to the job going into the offseason. Rohach also outplayed Richardson and Joel Lanning in Iowa State's spring game. But Richardson, who opened last year as the starter, has re-emerged this preseason. He also gives coordinator Mark Mangino the threat of a running quarterback, which Mangino successfully utilized with Todd Reesing at Kansas. The Cyclones have long been searching for a long-term answer at quarterback. Perhaps Richardson will finally be that answer.
  • While Iowa State is close to settling on one quarterback, Oklahoma State seems to be heading the other direction. The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson reports that the signs are pointing toward the Cowboys playing more than one quarterback this season. If that's indeed the case, it doesn't bode well for J.W. Walsh. He entered the year as the unequivocal leader of the offense and the overwhelming favorite to win the job. But Walsh's lack of arm strength led the Cowboys' wideout-heavy offense to bog down last year. If Mike Gundy is seriously considering giving Daxx Garman or even true freshman Mason Rudolph snaps, that's a signal the offense is still sputtering with Walsh behind center.
  • Oklahoma’s fight to keep starting linebacker Frank Shannon off the field this season will go before the Oklahoma Supreme Court this Wednesday, according to The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey. The Shannon saga has created the most awkward of situations for Shannon and the school. As the university seeks to suspend him after concluding he violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy, the Sooners continue to give their returning leading tackler first-team reps in practice. The situation will get even more awkward if it lingers into the season, which is why the school appealed the case to the state Supreme Court.
  • The West Virginia defense has been showing improvement, in the opinion of the Charleston Gazette's Dave Hickman. It's difficult to remember now, but the Mountaineers played good defense early last season before injuries ravaged the roster. West Virginia has quality players on that side of the ball, notably cornerback Daryl Worley and safety Karl Joseph. Under new coordinator Tony Gibson and assistant Tom Bradley, this has a chance to be one of the more improved units in the league.
  • Lastly, this piece by the San Antonio Express-News' Mike Finger on Texas coach Charlie Strong is outstanding. Read it.

 

Big 12 mailbag: Uniforms, DGB

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
4:00
PM ET
In today’s mailbag, we discuss uniforms, Dorial Green-Beckham and Baylor's home schedule.

I took Twitter questions for this mailbag. But you can always submit a mailbag entry the traditional way by clicking here.

On to the 'bag:

@Jake_Trotter: If Heard is clearly the No. 3 quarterback, then they should try to redshirt him. But remember, he's playing behind a quarterback in David Ash with a severe injury history. And another in Tyrone Swoopes, who has yet to prove he can be a viable Big 12 quarterback. So while I think it would be beneficial to redshirt Heard for his future development, they need to keep him ready to play just in case.

@Jake_Trotter: I don't know who has the "worst" uniform, but there are some pieces in this league I don't like. I love Oklahoma State's alternates, but I'm not a fan of their shiny orange helmet with the interlocking "OSU" logo. Texas Tech's all black is one of the cleanest looks in the league, but their Lone Star Pride uniform is not my favorite. I'm not big on Oklahoma's alternates, but we'll see what they look like in person. The beak on Kansas' Crimson Chrome helmets is way too big, though I did enjoy the alternates the Jayhawks introduced last year.

@Jake_Trotter: I had Iowa State's receiving corps ranked sixth in the spring. With Kendall Sanders gone, Daje Johnson suspended and Jaxon Shipley nursing a hamstring injury, I could see myself slotting the Cyclones ahead of Texas. But if Dorial Green-Beckham were cleared, they would fall back behind Oklahoma. Either way, somewhere around sixth feels about right for Iowa State going into the season.

@Jake_Trotter: Not anytime soon, because there's no one feasible to add at the moment that makes sense for everyone financially, geographically, competitively.

@Jake_Trotter: There are really only three possibilities for a home loss. TCU on Oct. 11; Oklahoma State on Nov. 22; and Kansas State on Dec. 6. The Horned Frogs still have much to prove offensively before I'd pick them to win in Waco. Oklahoma State has traditionally played Baylor well, but the Cowboys are going to be very young this year. That leaves Kansas State as the most likely to pull the upset. That could be a dangerous game for the Bears. But if you're asking me today if Baylor loses at home this year, I say no.

@Jake_Trotter: Depends on who it is. And who that team beat during the nonconference relative to the other 11-1/12-1 teams that would theoretically be in the mix. This is where the Bears could fall into trouble. Baylor's best win would be SMU, which isn't going to stack up well. An 11-1 Big 12 champ would have a great chance. But it wouldn't be a lock, either.

@Jake_Trotter: Well, Shannon isn't technically off the team yet. He's still practicing while waiting to learn the outcome of his appeal. But anytime you lose your leading tackler, it hurts. Shannon has been a good player for the Sooners the past two years. That said, I think it's a defection the Oklahoma defense would be able to overcome. Jordan Evans was solid as a true freshman last year. He should be able to step in and fill Shannon's role. Evans would also be flanked by some very good players, which would help ease the transition.  

Ben R. in San Jose, California writes: How bad is ESPN going to look for ignoring KSU in the initial power rankings? They missed out of the Top 25 and Travis Haney's next four.

Trotter: I didn’t have a vote in the ESPN Top 25, but I would have advocated having the Wildcats ranked ahead of Texas and TCU. K-State is third in my Big 12 power rankings for a reason. So you and I are in agreement, even if others are not.

Kale in Dallas writes: Hey Jake, assuming DGB remains ineligible, there is a ton of talent but little experience at receiver for OU this year. I know Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal are locks to start, and Jordan Smallwood, K.J. Young and Michiah Quick are getting hype, but what about Austin Bennett? He looked really sharp in the spring game, and he could really make an impact.

Trotter: It’s going to come down to who makes plays in practice the next two weeks and the early portion of the schedule. Shepard is the only receiver right now guaranteed to be part of the rotation. Bennett is in that mix. But the competition for inclusion in that rotation will be fierce.

Today, we debut our Big 12 true freshman power rankings, which we’ll update occasionally through August and the season. This list combines the factors of playing time and potential impact.

Without further ado, the Big 12 freshman power ranks:

1. Dravon Henry, FS, West Virginia: After just a few months in Morgantown, Henry is pushing to be the starting free safety for the opener against Alabama, another team that also recruited him hard. The ultra-athletic Henry could also be a factor in the return game. He and cornerback Daryl Worley give the Mountaineers potentially two of the best young defensive backs in the Big 12.

2. Allen Lazard, WR, Iowa State: The gem of Iowa State’s recruiting class has not disappointed this preseason. He is already getting first-team reps alongside Quenton Bundrage and E.J. Bibbs. If he continues to progress, Lazard could round out a dynamic pass-catching trio.

3. K.D. Cannon, WR, Baylor: Cannon is behind Lazard, but only because the Bears are loaded at wide receiver. Cannon has been equally as impressive. Baylor coach Art Briles acknowledged that Cannon has proved to be even faster than he thought while recruiting him.

4. Armanti Foreman, WR, Texas: Foreman has taken full advantage of the injuries and dismissals Texas has endured at the wide receiving position this preseason. He might even have a chance to start the opener against North Texas.

5. Corey Avery, RB, Kansas: Avery could be heir in the Kansas backfield to departed All-Big 12 running back James Sims. Avery has wowed with his ability to make defenders miss and has recently begun to receive first-team snaps.

6. Dimitri Flowers, FB, Oklahoma: The Sooners raved about Flowers in the spring before he suffered an injury in the spring game. The 220-pound Flowers, who has drawn comparisons to former Oklahoma fullback Trey Millard, is healthy again and figures to be a big part of the Sooners’ pistol attack.

7. James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State: Up until late in the recruiting process, this small-school Texas standout’s only other offer was from Texas State. But the Cowboys have apparently uncovered a diamond in the rough in Washington, who has been turning heads with his knack for catching any pass in his direction. Oklahoma State is deep at receiver, but Washington has played himself into a rotation role.

8. William Crest, QB, West Virginia: Clint Trickett was named the starter over the summer, but Crest is vying to become West Virginia’s second-team quarterback. That could be a critical role, considering Trickett’s injury history. Dana Holgorsen also has hinted at installing a special offensive package for his athletic quarterback.

9. Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech: Davis Webb is the clear-cut starter in Lubbock, but Mahomes is showing he might be ready to be a reliable backup. Mahomes tossed five touchdown passes during a scrimmage over the weekend. That might also be an indictment of Tech’s second-team defense. But even against air, five touchdowns is impressive.

10. Emanuel Porter, WR, TCU: With Trevone Boykin still working at quarterback, the Horned Frogs need help at receiver. They’ve been getting it from Porter, who has impressed the coaching staff with his penchant for making big plays downfield.

On the radar: Dalvin Warmack, RB, Kansas State; Jeffery Mead, WR, Oklahoma; Justin Stockton, RB, Texas Tech
AUSTIN, Texas -- Jordan Hicks had to pause last week when the question that has no perfect answer was broached.

“What’s been the highlight of your career?”

“Umm…”

[+] EnlargeHicks
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesJordan Hicks hasn't been able to suit up much the last two seasons, as injuries have detoured his career path.
He’s started 15 games at Texas and played in 17 more. But he’s also been injured and sidelined for 19 of his team’s last 23 games.

“You know, it’s kind of hard to say,” Hicks said. “I think my best moment was that A&M game. I think everyone who experienced that game would say the same. But personally, it’s tough. I haven’t been out there in a long time. It’s hard.”

He’s referring to the win in 2011, but the senior linebacker is one of two Longhorns left who actually played against the Aggies twice. He jokes that he’s been around so long, he even played for Will Muschamp.

After the two years he just got through, after the crutches and boots and the many games spent on a couch or a sideline, Hicks is smiling again. The two-season detour that could've derailed his playing career is over, and he’s still standing.

Hicks came to Texas as a five-star gem from Ohio with immense promise. This is Year Five. Had his career gone according to plan, he’d be gone by now.

“It’s been very, very difficult. Very emotional,” Hicks said. “But I’ve learned a ton about myself and who I am, what I bring to the table. If I go back and think about those times, it makes this year that much more precious to me.”

He played as a true freshman on that Muschamp-coached defense in 2010 and showed flashes of potential. He played through hamstring issues for much of 2011 but capped the season with a Holiday Bowl performance against California (eight tackles, two TFLs, a sack and a pass breakup) that suggested his big break was next.

Three games into 2012, Hicks’ progress halted with one painful pop. Doctors were hopeful the groin and hip injury he suffered at Ole Miss would only keep him out a few weeks, maybe a month.

He didn’t play another snap, and worse, he watched Texas’ defense give up the most yards in school history without him. But he rallied back, received a medical redshirt for his time lost and saw 2013 as a chance for a do-over.

Then came chaos. The BYU game. The Manny Diaz firing. The 1-2 start. And, soon after, more heartbreak.

His season-ending injury in Texas’ Big 12 opener against Kansas State was as random and inexplicable as they come. While running to cover a K-State tight end, he felt another pop.

“I do it every day in practice,” Hicks said of the play that caused his torn Achilles. “I do it every day in a game. It just happens. It’s something you can’t control.”

When his mother, Kelly Justice, told him she was coming down from Cincinnati for the surgery that following week, Hicks said no thanks.

“He’s like, ‘I’m fine, mom, you don’t need to come down,’” she said. “And I said, ‘Are you kidding?’”

The physical pain wasn’t really what bothered Hicks. Sure, he hated the crutches and vows he’ll never touch them again. But it was the mental aspect -- the task of trying to understand why -- that got to him.

“I’d never had an injury before I got here,” Hicks said. “I don’t know what it is, don’t know what happened to me. Maybe one thing led to another. Honestly, I have no clue. Achilles is one of those deals where it just happens. What are you supposed to do about that? I did everything I could to stay healthy. The year before, my groin, I did everything I could.

"I think about it all the time. What else could you have done?”

He was in a boot for more than four months, a spectator for the wild ride that ended in Mack Brown’s ousting. He couldn’t affect anything he was witnessing. He could only heal and wait.

“There was a period when he was pretty down and frustrated,” Justice said. “Anybody in that situation gets kind of angry. It’s out of your control, nothing you can do. You have to accept it and get busy getting better.”

As unfathomable as Hicks’ injuries have been, so is the constant state of change around him. He’s now on his fourth defensive coordinator and his fourth linebackers coach at Texas.

“When we talked to Coach Brown and Coach Muschamp way back during the recruiting days, it seemed like they were a very stable kind of program,” Justice said.

That was 2009, when Texas was chasing a national title. How much has Hicks’ world changed since? Well, during his senior year at Lakota West High School, he took an official visit to Florida.

He came away surprised and impressed by their defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong.

“We both really liked him,” Justice said. “Jordan even said, ‘I’d like playing for him.’ They had an instant connection.”

Strong still sees plenty of potential in Hicks. He’s confident everyone else will if he can just stay on the field. Vance Bedford, the fourth defensive coordinator, says Hicks can be one of the Big 12’s best linebackers this fall. He’s playing like it so far in fall camp.

“You can tell that he’s hungry,” new linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said. “You can just tell by the way he carries himself and the way he’s practicing.”

Hicks shed 10 pounds to get to 235 and vows his speed and strength are back. He already got his first few hits out of the way in practice and sees no reason to play with any hesitation.

If he wants it, Hicks can push the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility in 2015. But he’s already working towards his Master’s in advertising. Most of the guys he signed with in 2010 are gone. When he’s back in Cincinnati, he says some folks are surprised to learn he’s still playing. Mom is trying her best to not be nervous.

“He definitely has that passion again. He has a fire burning,” Justice said. “I honestly don’t know what the future holds. We’re just hoping and praying for a healthy season.”

Hicks is ready for another redo. This time, he just wants to go out with a few good memories. He still needs an answer for that career highlight.

“I understand the pressure I’m under,” he said. “I’ve got to go out and handle my business. I plan on doing that."
Trevor Knight, OklahomaStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThere's reason for optimism in the Big 12 following Oklahoma's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The last time a Big 12 team won a national championship, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was still in junior high. And the last national title game that merely included a Big 12 program, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight had just passed his driver's test.

Yet with the BCS era dead and gone -- and conference realignment in the rearview mirror -- the Big 12 is out to re-establish its legitimacy in the debut season of the College Football Playoff.

And, most importantly, get back to contending for national championships again.

"We have excellent programs in the Big 12," said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. "Is there any reason why this conference couldn't play somebody in the national championship?

"I don't see why not."

At the turn of the millennium, the Big 12 forged an identity on playing for BCS national championships an almost annually. Between 2000 and 2009, in fact, the Big 12 pushed a team into the national title game seven times.

But since Vince Young led Texas to that thrilling Rose Bowl win over USC nine years ago, the league has gone without a national title. And since Colt McCoy quarterbacked the Longhorns to the BCS national championship game five years ago, the Big 12 has not played in one.

[+] EnlargeStrong
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsCharlie strong is hoping to return Texas, the last Big 12 school to play for and win the national title, to its former national standing.
The title drought can be attributed, in part, to bad luck. But it can also be attributed to Oklahoma slipping a bit and Texas slipping a bunch over the past few years.

After hitting grand slams with Young and McCoy, Texas whiffed in its quarterback recruiting, and has failed to reach double-digit victories since 2009 as a result.

After winning six Big 12 titles early in the Bob Stoops era with dominating defense, the Sooners softened on that side of the ball and consequently have won only one outright conference title since 2008.

But there are signs the league could finally be breaking out of its recent malaise. None bigger than Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl smashing of Alabama behind a resurgent defense under coordinator Mike Stoops and the emergence of quarterback Trevor Knight, who torched the Crimson Tide in just his fifth career start.

Texas also took steps to revive its program by bringing in Charlie Strong, who already has installed a no-nonsense approach his first year in Austin.

But unlike the early 2000s, the conference flagships won't have to carry the Big 12 banner alone in the playoff era.

Oklahoma State has won 59 games over the past six years. Kansas State was ranked No. 1 in the polls at one point late in 2012. And Baylor ascended under coach Art Briles, who last season delivered the program its first Big 12 title.

"Name me two leagues that are better," said Briles. "You might could name one. But on a week in, week out basis, name me two. I ain't got them."

The Big 12's mettle, however, will be put to the test in the playoff era. With five major conferences and only four playoff spots, at least one league will be left out every year.

But the Big 12 believes its unique, nine-game, round-robin league schedule -- the same format that doomed the conference during the BCS -- will be a strength in the eyes of the playoff selection committee.

"I think we're in great position," said Bob Stoops. "When you play nine conference games, it's challenging. The more you play, the more you knock each other out. That's what happens generally. That's why it's difficult playing nine conference games. No matter what, it's easier to play eight conference games."

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports"If those other (conferences) round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Art Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."
The Cowboys were ranked second in the BCS standings in 2011 before losing on the road in double overtime at Iowa State in its fifth conference road game.

Kansas State was also undefeated two years ago heading into its fifth Big 12 road game, but ran out of steam at Baylor. Those same Bears went on to win 13 straight, but fell at Oklahoma State last November.

"If those other [conferences] round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."

Even though Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor each won 11 regular-season games in those seasons, none wound up playing for the national championship. All three Big 12 champs, however, might have been strong contenders for a playoff spot.

"I think people across the country have a lot of respect for our league," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. "I think they're aware that teams that come out of this league at the top ... not only can compete, but they can win."

The Big 12 sent such a message during the last bowl season.

Baylor lost to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. But on top of the Sooners defeating Alabama, Kansas State destroyed Michigan while Texas Tech manhandled Arizona State.

Fresh off its banner bowl season, the Big 12 will have several more opportunities to send a message this nonconference season.

Oklahoma State will take on defending national champ Florida State in the opener. That same day, West Virginia will play Alabama.

Later in September, Kansas State will get reigning SEC champion Auburn in Manhattan. Texas will meet seventh-ranked UCLA. Oklahoma will face Tennessee. And Texas Tech will host Arkansas.

"Those games are big," said Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. "To be able to play those teams and beat them would really solidify the Big 12.

"We're a great conference. We just need to get over the hump."

Texas Longhorns season preview

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
10:30
AM ET
video » More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Texas Longhorns:

Key returners: DE Cedric Reed, RB Malcolm Brown, CB Quandre Diggs, DT Malcom Brown, RB Johnathan Gray.

Key losses: DE Jackson Jeffcoat, K/P Anthony Fera, WR Mike Davis, OG Trey Hopkins, QB Case McCoy.

Most important 2014 games: Sept 6. vs. BYU, Sept. 13 vs. UCLA (AT&T Stadium), Oct. 4 vs. Baylor, Oct 11 vs. Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl)

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIDefensive tackle Malcom Brown made 68 tackles as a sophomore at Texas.
Projected win percentage: 57.5 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 7½ wins

Instant-impact newcomers: RB Donald Catalon, WR Armanti Foreman, DT Poona Ford. Texas will count on several freshmen to shore up depth in key spots. Foreman should be one of several young wideouts who play early on, and Catalon is the clear No. 3 option at running back. QB Jerrod Heard isn't listed here simply because, as the current third-string QB, there's no guarantee he plays.

High point from 2013: Defeating Oklahoma 36-20 last season in the Cotton Bowl. The Longhorns were two-touchdown underdogs, a loss away from 3-3 and facing an undefeated, No. 12 Sooners squad that had whipped them for three consecutive seasons. But Texas owned the line of scrimmage, Brown and Gray each rushed for more than 100 yards and Mack Brown got the last laugh.

Low point from 2013: Losing to Oregon 30-10 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Ducks didn't bring their "A" game that night, but Marcus Mariota was masterful. After a crazy, emotional final month, the Longhorns failed to send Brown off with a victory in his final night in burnt orange.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Texas figures out it's really good at two things -- playing defense and running the ball -- and Charlie Strong coaxes more toughness out of his team, especially up front. The Longhorns get 12 healthy, solid games out of David Ash and the pieces all come together. They rally and regroup after a tough loss to UCLA, beat either Baylor or Oklahoma and win five of their final six games to finish 9-3, good for a share of the Big 12 title.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: A few injuries to critical veterans (including Ash) and some tough breaks in tight games makes 2014 a rebuilding year. Strong gets the buy-in he demands and this team isn't lacking for talent, but the schedule does no favors and an oh-fer against the trio of top-10 foes is a real setback. Road losses in nail-biters against Kansas State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State leave the Longhorns at 6-6.

X factor: Coaching. What advantages can Strong and his staff create for this team? The head coach and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford are fine-tuning their aggressive defensive philosophy to fit their personnel and their conference. Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline must mesh their respective styles to create a cohesive plan on offense while also sharing play-calling duties. How quickly can this staff begin to maximize the potential of a roster full of former four-star and five-star recruits?

They said it: "It's all about each and every day just getting better and working hard. Just staying hungry and staying humble. That's what we have to do. That whole attitude has to change; we know that as a football team. This program will never change -- the culture won't change -- until the attitude of the players change. That's what we're seeking to do each and every day." -- Strong
February is still months away, which means there is plenty of time for all of the Big 12 programs to fill holes in much-needed spots. With signing day on Feb. 4, conference programs are hoping the next few weeks will be beneficial from a recruiting standpoint.

Here are some must-get 2015 recruits who will help bolster each Big 12 school’s recruiting class.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Vance Bedford moved out of the dorms at Jester East in 1981 after a five-year stay. Now that Texas Longhorns' defensive coordinator is roaming those halls again, he's not so sure they're ideal for 55-year-olds.

"I tell you what, that bed is not what my bed is at home," he said. "Want you to know that. That bed is wearing me out."

Defensive line coach Chris Rumph had to agree: "I miss my Tempur-Pedic."

But if that's what Charlie Strong demands, they're all for it. The first-year head coach moved all of his coaches and players into the dorms one week ago for the start of fall practice, in a concerted effort to further bond them together.

This is an annual Strong tradition, dating back to at least his Florida years. Last August, Louisville players slept in a hotel during fall camp. This year called for more humble accommodations.

"It's about teamwork and being together and just getting guys together where they can find out who one another really is, because we don't really get that opportunity," Strong said. "A lot of older guys don't get a chance to know who the freshmen are, and now the freshmen can feel comfortable where they can walk into an upperclassman's room and feel good about it."

Offensive players on one floor, defensive players on another. And yes, the $5 million head coach is staying in the same 200-square-foot rooms as everyone else.

"You guys don't think I'd stay in the dorm?" Strong said. "There's no suite over there. Our room is just the same as the players' room. Two beds and a bathroom down the hall."

Defensive end Cedric Reed said moving to the dorms had made this first week of fall ball feel like a true NFL-style training camp. The 6-foot-6 lineman barely fits in his bed, and said he's almost rolled out a few times, but he's not complaining.

Neither is Kent Perkins, the sophomore guard who's trying to earn a starting spot. Having offensive coordinator and line coach Joe Wickline on his floor has proved valuable both for his development and their relationship.

"It's different, very different," Perkins said. "But when you're in the playbook in your room, it's really good if you have a question. You can go down the hall and talk to your coach about it. It's all right to me."

So far, no stories of hallway hijinks or pranks have emerged. There's been no time for that.

"I'll be quite honest with you: When we get there after meetings for curfew, there's not a lot of funny going on," Wickline said. "We've been going since 6 o'clock that morning. They pretty much hit the sack, get up the next morning and go."

That lights-out curfew, usually 10:30 or 11 p.m., hasn't been a problem for players, either. Reed said a curfew is almost pointless; most of his teammates are exhausted and asleep well before the deadline.

"You go to the dorms to sleep," quarterback David Ash said. "Pretty much all the other hours of the day, you're meeting, eating, working, studying. So you might pass them in the hallway on the way to bed or see them in the dining hall, but it's not like it's a ping pong party on the ninth floor with the coaches."

What about the coaches' wives and kids? Strong said his assistants didn't object to the dorm plan. They'll stop by their homes from time to time if necessary, but once August hits, they all know it's time to go to work.

This routine is nothing new for running backs coach Tommie Robinson. He's coached in six NFL training camps and lived out of a hotel last year while an assistant at USC. His family knows not to wait around for him during this hectic month.

"The wives know that once camp comes, most of them go out of town. Most of them aren't here," Robinson said. "The families are gone. They're on their vacation. They take advantage and get out of here."

Wickline said Texas coaches will check out of the dorms this Sunday. So will the upperclassmen. But if you aren't a junior or senior, you're staying in Jester this year. There are few better ways to build up the kind of camaraderie these Longhorns need.

"We're just trying to make sure the team chemistry and the togetherness is there," Strong said.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
1:30
PM ET
You aren't the only one interested in the start of preseason camp at various Big 12 schools. Several recruits have taken the opportunity to visit during preseason preparations to get a better feel for what to expect at each program as recruiting heats up.

BAYLOR
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Manor (Texas) defensive end Erick Fowler, ranked No. 192 in the ESPNJr300, visited Baylor this week. His offers include Baylor, Nebraska, Oklahoma and UCLA. The four-star prospect has the ability to play defensive end or linebacker at the collegiate level.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones landed a commitment from receiver Denver Johnson (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma/Casady) last week. At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, the three-star playmaker would bring terrific size to ISU’s receiving corps. After a slow start, the Cyclones have secured nine commitments since June.

KANSAS
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Former Maryland receiver Nigel King joined the Jayhawks and is eligible immediately. He has the ability to help KU’s passing attack after 33 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns for the Terps in 2013. A graduate transfer, King will be a junior this season.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats have entered the chase for Rancho Santa Margarita (California) Catholic High School prospect Austin Maihen with an reported offer to the 6-foot-5, 285 pound tackle. KSU joins Northern Arizona and San Diego State on his offer list.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: ESPN300 safety Jamile Johnson Jr. (Dallas/South Oak Cliff) decided to decommit from the Sooners and re-open his recruiting last week. The Sooners no longer appear to be in the race for his services with Johnson after finding themselves on the outside looking in when he released his top 5 schools later in the week.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Cowboys joined TCU and Baylor as stops for elite 2017 defensive end Anthony Hines (Plano, Texas/East) last week. Currently committed to Mississippi State, Hines already has around 50 offers and spent the week making stops at several schools in the region.

TCU
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Gary Patterson’s desire to switch offenses to, in part, help recruiting is paying off for the Horned Frogs. TCU’s commitment list is tied with West Virginia as the biggest in the conference and features at least five receivers as it looks to add firepower to its new up-tempo passing attack.

TEXAS
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: Texas joined Oklahoma as one of five teams that are scheduled to get an official visit from ESPN300 receiver Ryan Newsome. The Aledo (Texas) standout plans to visit UT on Oct. 4 and the Sooners on Nov. 8. Newsome is the No. 173 player in the ESPN300.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders continued to make a statement on the recruiting trail with the pledge of Arlington (Texas) Bowie tackle Madison Akamnonu. The No. 248 player in the ESPN300, Akamnonu picked Tech over Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Dana Holgorsen’s program continues to have success in Florida, earning a commitment from Miami (Florida) Norland cornerback Antonio Howard. A three-star prospect, Howard picked WVU over offers from Clemson, Penn State and others. Seven of the Mountaineers’ 17 pledges are from Florida.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Preseason

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
10:00
AM ET

SPONSORED HEADLINES