Big 12: Texas Tech Red Raiders

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.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
Scott Sewell-/USA TODAY SportsTyrone Swoopes has the upper hand for Texas' starting quarterback job but can he keep it?

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.

Dominating Florida is always critical for Florida State, but another secret to the Seminoles' success is doing well in Virginia, and highly-coveted corner Levonta Taylor could be the Noles' next big get from the state.

Fielding a strong pass defense is critical in the Big 12.

The conference is full of offenses that look to spread opponents and attack them through the air, putting pressure on defensive backs and pass rushers alike. Yet it can be difficult to measure defensive success against those offenses as passing yards per game and completion percentage can be misleading particularly on teams that feature high-scoring offenses that end up forcing opponents to throw for the majority of the game.

Passing yards per attempt is one key stat that give a good gauge of which teams have efficient pass defenses that are harder to defeat than it may appear. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, here's a look at the Big 12 rankings in passing yards per attempt (conference games only) since TCU and West Virginia joined the conference in 2012.

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

1. Kansas State 6.7
Summary: The Wildcats are very good at forcing offenses to take what they are willing to give. Opponents 61.5 completion percentage is ninth among Big 12 teams yet their low yards per pass attempt average is a sign they tackle well after limiting opponents to short completions. Outside of standouts Ty Zimmerman and Randall Evans, KSU doesn’t tend to have superstars in the secondary but their performance as a unit is unmatched.

2. Oklahoma State 6.86
Summary: The Cowboys allow 277.85 passing yards per game but their yards per pass attempt average make them one of the Big 12’s top pass defenses. OSU’s up tempo, high scoring offense resulted in the defense facing a conference-high 40.52 pass attempts per game during the past three seasons. Talented defensive backs like Justin Gilbert and Kevin Peterson have helped the Cowboys withstand the barrage.

3. Texas 6.93
Summary: The Longhorns defense has been solid overall, ranking first in passing yards per game (220.3), sack percentage (8.4 percent) and touchdowns per pass attempt (3.6). A combination of talented defensive backs (Kenny Vaccaro, Quandre Diggs) and pass rushers (Jackson Jeffcoat, Alex Okafor) cemented UT’s place in the top three.

4. Oklahoma 7.02
Summary: The Sooners are among the top two in passing yards allowed (241.7) and completion percentage (54.9) helping to land them a spot in the top half of the conference. Current NFLers Aaron Colvin and Tony Jefferson are among the former Sooners who made OU’s pass defense one of the Big 12’s better units before a disappointing 2014 season put dents in that reputation.

5. TCU 7.18
Summary: The Horned Frogs’ opponent completion percentage (54.9), third-down conversion percentage (31.3) and first down per pass attempt percentage (28.8) were the best in the Big 12. But TCU’s yards per completion percentage (13.57) was ninth in the conference and doomed them to a spot outside the top four despite featuring some of the Big 12’s best defensive backs in Jason Verrett, Chris Hackett and Kevin White.

6. Baylor 7.39
Summary: The Bears explosive offense resulted in BU’s pass defense facing 37.67 pass attempts per game which contributed to them finishing in the bottom third of the conference in passing yards per game (278.33, eighth) and third down conversion percentage (43.4, tenth). This is one element of Art Briles program that requires continued improvement if BU is going to extended its Big 12 title run.

7. Texas Tech 7.68
Summary: The Red Raiders ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in several categories but their touchdown-to-interception percentage stands out above the crowd. Tech gave up 3.88 touchdowns per interception during this span, nearly a full touchdown worst than any other team in the Big 12. Nigel Bethel, Tevin Madison and Justis Nelson are among the young defensive backs on the roster with the talent to help turn this Red Raider trend around.

8. Iowa State 7.74
Summary: The Cyclones landed at the bottom of the Big 12 in passing yards allowed per game (292.3) and sack percentage (3) as ISU struggled to slow the pass happy attacks of the Big 12. Cornerback Nigel Tribune and safety Kamari Cotton-Moya provide hope the Cyclones can improve their pass defense in 2015.

9. West Virginia 8.21
Summary: The Mountaineers pass defense is one main reason WVU has been up and down during its first three seasons in the conference. Losing one-on-one battles and shoddy tackling have resulted in a Big 12-worst 13.92 yards per completion. Yet WVU enters the 2015 with the Big 12’s best combination of talent and experience in the secondary so the Mountaineers could start to build a better reputation this fall.

10. Kansas 8.24
Summary: The Jayhawks struggled in pretty much every category, allowing opponents to complete 62.9 percent of their attempts while also allowing 35 percent of those attempts to result in first downs. A lack of sacks (3.6 sack percentage, eighth) and interceptions (2.2 interception percentage, ninth) helped cement KU’s spot at the bottom of the Big 12. To make matters worse KU enters the 2015 looking to replace the bulk of its secondary including All-Big 12 cornerback JaCorey Shepherd.

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.

[+] EnlargeRussell
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsSeth Russell's spring has given Baylor fans every reason to believe a third consecutive title is a real possibility.

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.

Michael in Dallas writes: True or false: Kliff Kingsbury continues to favor Davis Webb in order to try and prove that letting Baker Mayfield slip away was the right call?

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.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 morning links

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

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

Thursday wasn't pretty for Big 12 basketball. Never fear, I'm here to put ailing minds back on football. In Friday's Twitter mailbag, we discuss a potential undefeated Revivalry showdown, Texas Tech's underrated offensive weapon, and whether Baker Mayfield will win the starting QB job in Norman.

On to the 'Bag:

Trotter: The easy answer on offense is either TCU or Baylor or both. The Horned Frogs return 10 starters off an attack that ranked second in the country (behind Baylor). Quarterback is the only real question in Waco, and the early returns on Seth Russell this spring have been good. Defensively, keep an eye on Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will have four cornerbacks who can really play. Jordan Sterns is an All-Big 12-caliber safety. The linebacking corps will be the deepest of the Mike Gundy era. And Emmanuel Ogbah is the reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Trotter: At this point, I'd be surprised. A lot can happen this spring. But the Sooners got a long look at Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas last year, and it was very evident that neither was the answer, at least in their 2014 form. Given his time at Texas Tech and his skill set, Mayfield is also a better fit for the air raid offense that new coordinator Lincoln Riley is installing. Knight could get another shot if Mayfield struggled next season. But my money would be on Mayfield opening the year as the starter.

Trotter: You forced me to look up that 1935 Iron Skillet showdown. That was a big one, considering both the Frogs and Ponies were undefeated. But a "Revivalry" featuring an unbeaten TCU and Baylor would be monstrous. The winner would be all but guaranteed a spot in the playoff. I feel pretty comfortable in saying that would constitute the biggest college football game in Fort Worth history.

Trotter: I expect a step back offensively. But maybe a step forward on defense. It would be almost impossible for any offense to immediately replace the production that Kevin White, Mario Alford and Clint Trickett supplied last year. The Mountaineers also have some retooling to do on the offensive line. Even in a best-case scenario, it's hard to see the Mountaineers being close to as explosive as they were last year. That said, West Virginia could have the league's top secondary with Karl Joseph, Dravon Henry and Daryl Worley. The linebackers have experience. And though pass rush is a concern, this has a chance to be West Virginia's best defense in years. Will that be a net plus given the losses on offense? Probably not. But the possibility is there.

Trotter: I'm not sure what preview you're referring to, but Washington definitely gets overlooked, due to Tech's overall struggles last year. But he's a dynamic all-around back, who can reel off big plays and inflict damage as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. This is one of the league's better offensive players. With more consistent quarterbacking in front of him, he could have a huge 2015 season.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 morning links

March, 20, 2015
Mar 20
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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.

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
Jerod Foster/Icon SportswireIn Patrick Mahomes' last three games, the Texas Tech QB had eight TD passes and no picks.

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.

Big 12 morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
9:00
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Is that Dahntay Jones?

  • The Dallas Morning News looks at the five biggest issues facing Baylor football this spring, including health. Shehan Jeyarajah contends that it is important for the Bears to enter the fall with a healthy roster. While there are some position battles to be decided, I'd largely agree. There's really no reason to put established stars like Spencer Drango, Andrew Billings or Corey Coleman in harm's way repeatedly for Art Briles' program. It would be a good idea to have players like those take minimal reps in contact situations this spring. What do they have to prove?
  • The Oklahoma football team is the wrong messenger in the protest against the racist fraternity video at OU, suggests The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel. It's a thought-provoking piece that is worth a read and Tramel makes several good points, yet there are so many deeper issues in play here that it is hard to properly address them in one single attempt.
  • The Dallas Morning News also looks at the five biggest issues facing Oklahoma, including the Sooners secondary. The installation of Lincoln Riley's offense will get plenty of attention once the Sooners return to the field on Monday but none of it will matter if new secondary coach Kerry Cooks doesn't fix OU's secondary. There is talent on the roster but the group underachieved in 2014 and this spring should show if Cooks has turned the boat in the right direction.
  • Texas Tech is another team with five issues to address via the Dallas Morning News including a switch to the 4-3 defense under new defensive coordinator David Gibbs. The lack of continuity for the Red Raiders defense is pretty shocking with Gibbs set to become the seventh defensive coordinator at Tech in seven years. It's not hard to understand why the defense has struggled with players pretty much having to adapt to new coaching on a yearly basis.
  • The Dallas Morning News also looked at five issues the Texas Longhorns need to address this spring. Leadership is No. 2 on the list after Charlie Strong repeatedly questioned the leadership on his team in 2014. Even with some of the questions on the roster, I could be convinced leadership should be No. 1. Why? Because I think it will be critical for the Longhorns not to underachieve this fall. And that starts with leadership.
Despite being only a sophomore in high school, Jack Anderson has already developed into one of the top offensive linemen in Texas and could easily become the top line target in the nation for the 2017 class.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Over the next two weeks, we'll be featuring 10 Big 12 players who are on the spot this spring. Maybe they are coming back from injury. Maybe they have much to prove after a disappointing 2013 season. Maybe they are embroiled in a key position battle. Whatever the case, this spring is big for them.

Today's player on the spot: Texas Tech QB Davis Webb

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTech Tech quarterback Davis Webb will have his hands full to regain the starting job in Lubbock.

This time last year, the expectations for Webb were unbridled. For good reason, too. Webb was coming off a National University Holiday Bowl in which he torched Arizona State and threw touchdown passes on the Red Raiders first four possessions. A preseason illness had set Webb back, forcing him to drop almost 40 pounds. But by the spring, he had put that weight back and them some. Counting the bowl game and Tech's spring scrimmages, Webb finished with 17 touchdowns and no interceptions, suggesting he might be in for a monster sophomore season.

That didn't happen.

Webb struggled with turnovers out of the gate, seemingly forcing the issue with his arm when the Red Raiders sputtered. After sluggish wins over Central Arkansas and UTEP, Tech lost four in a row. In those four games, Webb tossed nine picks.

“I think when you go back and watch the film, he did some good things,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said at the beginning of spring ball. "But regressed in some areas as far as how he handled himself in the pocket, threw off his back foot a bunch and turned the ball over a bunch, which we can’t do."

An ankle injury sidelined Webb the final four games, but even if he had returned early, he probably wouldn't have started. That's because true freshman Patrick Mahomes shined in his absence. Mahomes threw 14 touchdowns with just two picks in Tech's final three games, and he almost led the Red Raiders to an upset of Baylor in their final game of the season.

Kingsbury has stopped short of naming Mahomes the starter for 2015. Which has slightly cracked the door for Webb to begin reclaiming his job this spring. So far, the returns on Webb have been positive, even though he's recovering from offseason surgery on his non-throwing left shoulder.

“He looks good,” Kingsbury told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal two weeks ago. “He’s throwing the ball real well, looks good. If we were playing a game and we were live [hitting] on quarterbacks, he wouldn’t go. But since we’re not tackling quarterbacks, he’s been able to do everything.”

It will be interesting to see how much Webb will be able to do this spring with the shoulder still healing. But with Mahomes also playing baseball this spring, Webb has a prime opportunity to close the gap in the quarterback competition before the summer.

“I think he may have been forcing some things [last season] and trying to make everything happen instead of letting the game come to him at times," Kingsbury said. "But he puts in the work, works as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around, and good things happen to those type of players.”

Big 12 morning links

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

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

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
4:00
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In Tuesday's mailbag we chat about West Virginia's offensive line, Texas Tech's potential standouts and Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Zac in Auburn, Nebraska, writes: A recent article indicated the questions coming out of the spring in Morgantown revolve primarily around quarterbacks and receivers. I'm more concerned with the offensive line, what with Mark Glowinski and Quenton Spain gone. Adam Pankey is being moved to guard on one side of Tyler Orlowski and Marcus Lucus is the only other returning starter. Who fills in the rest? What's WVU's O-Line gonna look like? To me that's the most important question, given, they open the holes for the backs and protect the QB. What are your thoughts?

Brandon Chatmon: Offensive line is definitely a question mark Zac, no doubt about it because if that doesn’t come together it won’t matter who wins the quarterback battle or receiver competition. But I get the sense WVU feels good about its options and the overall competition up front. Offensive line coach Ron Crook wants the ability to move guys around to find his best five players and I think the Mountaineers have options, with guys such as Russell Haughton-James and Tony Matteo set to battle for starting spots, yet the depth and competition to make the entire unit raise its level. Pankey’s move inside to guard is a sign WVU likes its options at tackle, even though there isn’t an unquestioned replacement for him. This spring is about finding those five guys, but I don’t think the offensive line will end up being a weak link in Morgantown.

Thomas James in Bossier City, Louisiana, writes: What do you think Samaje Perine's role will be in Oklahoma's new air raid offense? Will there be a few between-the-tackles runs to keep the defense from selling out 100 percent to the pass? Also, is a Baker Mayfield-Perine backfield good enough for a New Year's Six bowl?

BC: I think Perine will make defenses pay if the Sooners can force opponents to respect their passing game. I expect him to get plenty of carries, but I also expect him to be used in the passing game at times as well. He’s not the pass-catching threat that Joe Mixon or Keith Ford is, but he’s not bad as a pass receiver either. He should get plenty of touches and OU’s running backs should be good enough to get into a New Year’s Six bowl. It’s the quarterback position that is the question mark, and I'm not ready to pencil Mayfield in as the starter. If he runs away with the job this spring, maybe we can start talking about New Year's Six bowls.

Dave Fredriksen in Chicago writes: How did the Kansas State pro day go for all KSU players involved with it? What is the latest on Jake Waters, who had shoulder surgery after the season in mid-January?

BC: Receiver Tyler Lockett and center B.J. Finney had strong showings at the NFL combine, so they didn’t really need to makeup for any missteps in Indianapolis. Lockett and Finney simply followed up with a solid pro day. I think both guys are going to be pretty good NFL players and potential starters as rookies. Receiver Curry Sexton reportedly ran a 4.66 and 4.67 with a 32-inch vertical, which should help him earn a shot in an NFL camp. Waters will have to prove he’s healthy first then he could get his NFL shot.

Nick Tam in Dallas writes: Who do you think will be the top players to watch on offense and defense for the Red Raiders? Is it possible that we'll see a slightly more energetic defense under Gibbs?

BC: It sounds like David Gibbs has definitely brought energy to the Tech defense with the Red Raiders skill guys telling reporters they don’t like the Tech defense’s new tendency to rip at the ball every chance they get. Tech fans should be excited to hear those types of things coming out of Lubbock. It makes me think Gibbs is the guy to get the Red Raider defense turned around. I think quarterback Patrick Mahomes is the guy to watch on offense and cornerback Nigel Bethel on defense. I think both guys could have stellar sophomore seasons that earn them consideration among the best in the Big 12 at their positions.

Tim in Austin, Texas writes: The word on the street is that Tyrone Swoopes is entering spring practice as the frontrunner and the guy to beat. How long before ESPN backtracks on that mantra that you've presented as fact that Swoopes is definitely not the answer?

BC: I’m not going to step back in my opinion that Swoopes is not the answer, Tim. Obviously you think he is. The great thing about sports is it doesn’t matter what I think. Tyrone can shut me up between the white lines. He has shown flashes he can be that guy, but it hasn’t been consistent enough for me to think he’s the answer. Instead I think Jerrod Heard could be. By the way, I don’t know how being the favorite heading into spring practice changes anything. He could start Game 1 of the 2015 season and that doesn’t mean he’s the answer, unless the question is: Who is going to start the season opener? And that’s not the question I’m looking to answer.

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