Jonathan Chambers in Bonneau: Will the Big 12 consider adding two more teams, such as BYU and Boise State, in order to have that coveted conference championship game, or will it petition the NCAA for a 10 team conference championship?
Brandon Chatmon: Doesn't look like that sits atop the priority list for the Big 12. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby addressed a championship game and expansion in this Q&A with Jake Trotter. The first step is to address the tiebreaker rules, which became an issue in 2014 as the TCU-Baylor debate hit its peak. Getting rid of the possibility for co-champions and uncertainty over who should be considered the Big 12’s top team would be a good first step.
Nathan in Boundurant, Iowa: What are the odds Iowa State jucos Demond Tucker and Bobby Leath anchor the defensive line this season and make it back to a bowl game this season?
BC: I’m looking for a big impact from Tucker and Leath and the Cyclones desperately need some impact newcomers along the defensive line. The Cyclones were last in the Big 12 with 15 sacks and 3.2 sack percentage. Paul Rhoads' team needs a disruptive force along the defensive line. But it will be tough for the Cyclones to get to a bowl game unless both sides of the ball take massive steps forward. I like some of the talent in Ames, but I can't say I expect ISU to return to a bowl game quite yet.
Stanley Metz Jr. in Princeton, West Virginia, writes: Way too early question, but ... how can any Big 12 team expect to make the playoffs with their nonconference scheduling being so bad? Texas is the only team I see having a chance considering their nonconference schedule, and that's only if the Irish have a good season.
BC: Man, what’s with all the doom and gloom, Stanley? All this debate and conversation about nonconference scheduling is overblown at this point. It’s pretty simple, if any Big 12 team wins every game in 2015 (or beyond) and is left on the outside looking in at the College Football Playoff, I’ll be shocked. I’d agree that most Big 12 teams should amp up their nonconference schedules in the future but their destiny is still in their own hands, on the field, either way.
Terry in Texas writes: Texas Tech’s Mike Mitchell has been flying under the radar. What are some realistic expectations out of this kid this season?
BC: Global domination. OK, maybe that's too much to ask, but I expect him to become one of the core members of the Red Raider defense. Mitchell, a linebacker who transferred from Ohio State, is talented and he fits a need so I could see him force his way into the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year competition. The Red Raiders' defense needs playmakers and Mitchell could be the guy.
Andrew in Albuquerque writes: How much do you feel Oklahoma's success this season will depend on the QB situation?
BC: For me, success would mean Big 12 championship contention at the very least. So, yes, OU’s success is very much tied into the play of the quarterbacks. Trevor Knight has shown he can play at a high level but he also has shown he can make game-changing mistakes. I think the Sooners learned the past two years that you can’t win Big 12 titles without offensive balance. I think Lincoln Riley will bring that balance and I think he will find an answer at quarterback, whether it’s Knight, Baker Mayfield or one of OU’s other signal-callers. But TCU and Baylor are still the clear favorites in the conference in my eyes, which means OU needs exceptional, not just good, quarterback play to force itself into the mix.
Scott in Overland Park writes: I'm calling shenanigans on KU's Beaty making Kansas a priority in recruiting. It has been pretty much nothing but Texas recruiting since he got here. Didn't he get only one Kansas recruit in his whole class?
BC: First off, I'm pretty happy to be able to sneak the word shenanigans into a mailbag, so thanks for that Scott. But, to answer your question, what did you expect him to do? Just take a bunch of players from Kansas after arriving in Lawrence in December? That sounds like a good way to make a bunch of mistakes on the recruiting trail. Beaty is focused on planting seeds that could blossom two or three years from now, not after two months on the job. It makes sense for him to lean on what he knows, which is Texas, for right now during his short stint in charge. But I’d expect to see signs of Beaty’s in-state philosophy during his first full recruiting cycle in the Class of 2016, when he has had the chance to properly evaluate the top talent in Kansas and decide which players are a good fit for how he's looking to build his program.
Ethan Brown in Waco, Texas, writes: Who do you think will win the Baylor starting QB job this year?
BC: I think Seth Russell will be the guy. He has plenty of experience in the offense and he performed well during his limited opportunities behind Bryce Petty. Chris Johnson and Jarrett Stidham are both talented enough to win the job, but it’s Russell’s job to lose.
But can the Sooners and Longhorns return to being contenders and challenge TCU and Baylor in 2015? And if so, who has the better shot?
We tackle this question with the return of our weekly Take Two debate:
Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- Texas
It may not look pretty now but I have a feeling Texas can force its way into the Big 12 title conversation. Year 2 of the Charlie Strong era should be much better than Year 1. With his first fully evaluated recruiting class on the way and the foundation of his program in place, Strong can focus on exceeding expectations in 2015.
The quarterback position is scary with Tyrone Swoopes showing inconsistency, Jerrod Heard as an unknown and Kai Locksley not even on campus yet. But what’s new? And an overall search for playmakers and big plays should keep the Longhorns' offensive coaches busy this offseason.
Yet, all those problems with the offense don’t stand as an immovable obstacle between Strong’s team and Big 12 championship contention because the Longhorns' defense should be able to keep UT in every game next season. Even though Malcom Brown, Jordan Hicks, Quandre Diggs and Cedric Reed are no longer in Austin, Strong’s roster has the talent to have one of the Big 12’s top defenses yet again. Defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway could take his game to another level as a junior and highly-touted freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson seems college-ready.
Both teams need to find an answer at quarterback and questions about their offenses will linger into the fall, but its defense makes UT the better choice over OU.
Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Oklahoma
Texas is coming. But the Longhorns aren't there yet.
Texas isn't any closer to finding its long-term answer at quarterback. And the Horns graduated its best running back, two best receivers, two best defensive linemen, best linebacker and best defensive back off last year's team.
Considering it may take a while for Strong's recruiting triumphs to pay off on the field, Texas is not built to win big just quite yet.
Oklahoma might not be, either. But the Sooners are definitely closer.
As Bob Stoops would say (and has many times) Oklahoma is only months removed from defeating Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners bring back a front seven capable of wreaking havoc; one of the best receivers in the Big 12 in Sterling Shepard; and one of the best running backs in the country in Samaje Perine.
Like with Texas, the key to Oklahoma contending is better quarterback play. Trevor Knight was good, at times. But when he was bad, he was really bad, leading the Big 12 in pick-six interceptions. The Sooners, however, will be adding Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, who was the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year two years ago, to the competition this spring.
If Mayfield (or Knight or Cody Thomas) can stabilize the position and thrive in new coordinator Lincoln Riley's Air Raid system, Oklahoma has the talent elsewhere to return to contender status.
That might be a big "if." But smaller than what Texas faces in Strong's second season.
1. Oklahoma: The Oklahoma linebackers didn’t quite live up to expectations last season. But Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans are two of the top five returning tacklers in the league. Eric Striker was also tops among Big 12 linebackers with nine sacks, and has All-American potential even if the production wasn’t quite there in 2014. The Sooners are also banking on getting back 2013 leading tackler Frank Shannon, who was suspended from school last year for violating the school’s Title IX conduct policy. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Devante Bond bring depth and speed off the edge.
2. Oklahoma State: Ryan Simmons will be a three-year starter and brings plenty of speed from the inside. Seth Jacobs is also back after a breakout sophomore season. Simmons and Jacobs ranked 11th and 13th in the league in tackles last season, respectively. The Cowboys should also begin to feel the effects of their outstanding 2014 linebacking recruiting class. Gyasi Akem and Justin Phillips both played as true freshmen and warrant bigger roles in 2015. ESPN 300 signee Kevin Henry and junior-college transfer Jordan Burton could both challenge for time at the "star" outside linebacking spot.
3. Texas: The Longhorns graduated leading tackler Jordan Hicks, who chose not to seek a sixth year of eligibility. But veterans Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens are back to anchor the unit. The Longhorns also signed perhaps the best linebacking class in the country this month, headlined by four-star prospects Malik Jefferson, Anthony Wheeler and Cameron Townsend.
4. West Virginia: No returning linebacker has more tackles the last two years than Nick Kwiatkoski's 189. Kwiatkoski is a tackling machine. K.J. Dillon had a solid season after moving down from safety to outside linebacker. Seniors Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber, Shaq Petteway, and Edward Muldrow all have starting experience, as well. No Big 12 team has a deeper corps than the Mountaineers.
5. Baylor: Taylor Young is the AP’s reigning Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. As a redshirt freshman, he produced 91 tackles, eight tackles for loss, and a fourth-quarter interception against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. Who will start alongside him remains a question after the Bears graduated longtime stalwart Bryce Hager. Grant Campbell will probably get the nod starting out in the middle, but Aiavion Edwards, Kendall Ehrlich, Raaquan Davis, and Xavier Phillips will all have opportunities.
6. Kansas State: Elijah Lee shined while getting significant snaps as a true freshman as a pass-rushing specialist. He has a chance to be the Big 12’s next version of Striker. Will Davis started out the season starting alongside Jonathan Truman, but lost snaps to Dakorey Johnson late in the season. The Wildcats will need Davis to bounce back to fill some of the massive production Truman supplied. A healthy return of Charmeachealle Moore from a season-ending injury would help, too.
7. Texas Tech: All eyes in Lubbock will be on Ohio State transfer Mike Mitchell, whom the Red Raiders are hoping will deliver big. The Plano, Texas, native was an ESPN 300 prospect before signing with the Buckeyes. He has the potential to be a difference-maker. Micah Awe was third on the team in tackles last season from the inside. Redshirt freshman Dakota Allen and incoming freshman D'Vonta Hinton could both step into the rotation.
8. Kansas: The Jayhawks graduated one of the best defensive players in school history in linebacker Ben Heeney, who topped the Big 12 with 88 solo tackles last season. To help replace him, Kansas will have to hope that Jake Love can more consistently produce the kind of performance he delivered early last year against Central Michigan, when he had four tackles for loss and a sack. Courtney Arnick returns after finishing sixth on the defense in tackles. Former ESPN 300 signee Kyron Watson figures to play a much bigger role as a sophomore.
9. TCU: There wasn’t a better linebacking tandem in the Big 12 last season than All-American Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet. Both, however, are gone, leaving a gigantic void in the middle of the TCU defense. For the Horned Frogs to challenge for a playoff spot again, someone will have to emerge from the likes of Sammy Douglas, Paul Whitmill, Ty Summers, and incoming freshmen Alec Dunham, Mike Freeze and Semaj Thomas.
10. Iowa State: The Cyclones had one of the worst run defenses in the country last season. Better linebacking will help correct this Achilles' heel. Brian Mills eventually won a starting job as a redshirt freshman last season. He and Luke Knott have the chance to develop into a quality one-two punch from the outside. In the middle, Kane Steely, Jordan Harris, and Alton Meeks will battle for time. Whoever is most consistent will get the majority of the snaps.
- The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey conducted an interesting Q&A with outgoing Sooner defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, who took a job with the Green Bay Packers. Montgomery says he got the call the day after signing day. He also attempted to quell the rumor that acrimony with others on the coaching staff played any part in him leaving Norman. We have to take Montgomery at his word. But I found it curious that he would leave OU after getting promoted to co-defensive coordinator for a job in the NFL as a "defensive front assistant." It doesn't quite pass the smell test for me. Read the Q&A and decide for yourself.
- Athlon ranked the best football and men's basketball coaching combinations in the Big 12. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and Lon Kruger topped the list, followed by Baylor's Art Briles and Scott Drew. This is a difficult list to put together, though it seems a little titled to football side. Bill Self and Fred Hoiberg at No. 7 and 8 seems awfully low. Speaking of Athlon, Oklahoma State running back Chris Carson is listed as one of the magazine's 15 impact junior-college transfers for 2015. "With Desmond Roland (770 yards) out of eligibility, combined with the dismissal of Tyreek Hill (534 yards), Rennie Childs (294 yards) is the team’s top option at running back," Steven Lassan writes. "Expect Carson to at least earn a split of the carries in 2015, as his 6-foot-2 frame should add some punch to the rushing attack." I expect Carson to get more than just a split of the carries. I think he's going to be Oklahoma State's featured back. Former TCU DE Devonte Fields, now with Louisville, also made the list.
- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury continues to make the rounds around the Lone Star State. He most recently was in Midland to discuss the Red Raiders' signing class, calling wide receiver the class' strength. “There’s six guys that can really run, and they’re bigger, longer targets than we have on campus," he told the Odessa American's Adam Zuvanich. "We really need numbers at that position, so I’m excited to get them here.” Regardless of how many freshmen contribute right away, I think Tech will be fine at receiver. Defense, especially in the front seven, is the biggest concern for the Red Raiders heading into 2015.
- Yahoo!'s Eric Edholm did a profile of former West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White, who is being projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft, possibly even in the top 10. "White is quiet and polite, even if his on-field demeanor looks like that of an angry man," Edholm writes. "He plays hard and plays physical, and at 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds he's bigger than nearly every cornerback he faces. That's why some draft analysts are pegging White to land in the top 10-15 picks this coming April, perhaps even going ahead of Alabama's Amari Cooper, the receiver who beat White out for the Biletnikoff Award." If you're going to draft a receiver in the first round, you might as well draft one that caught 109 balls his senior season of college.
- Kansas State has added Buffalo to its 2020 schedule, according to FBSchedules.com. That year, the Wildcats will also play Vanderbilt at home. K-State now has at least two non-conference teams scheduled every year through the 2020 season. Buffalo is 0-5 lifetime against the Big 12, including four losses to Baylor.
Here's a look at the Big 12's points-per-drive rankings since TCU and West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012 (conference games only).
1. Baylor 2.96
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: The Bears have scored 1,213 points, 44.9 points per game, during this three-year span. Bryce Petty earned Big 12 offensive player of the year honors in 2013 as he passed for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and three interceptions while leading the Bears to their first Big 12 title.
Key stat: The Bears have also led the Big 12 in yards per play with 6.65 since 2012.
2. Kansas State 2.71
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: A pair of exceptional quarterbacks, Collin Klein and Jake Waters, have joined Tyler Lockett to give the Wildcats one of the top offenses in the conference. Lockett had 231 receptions for 3,464 yards and 26 touchdowns as the Big 12’s top playmaking threat during the past three seasons.
Key stat: The Wildcats averaged 9.18 yards per pass attempt, best in the Big 12.
3. Oklahoma 2.51
Conference record: 20-7
Summary: This offseason has made it easy to forget the Sooners had one of the Big 12’s top offenses in recent years. Thanks to Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Samaje Perine, OU has rushed for 6,158 yards as the Sooners leaned on their running game, particularly during the past two seasons. Williams, Clay and Perine each recorded at least 1,000 rushing yards during the span.
Key stat: The Sooners have averaged a Big 12-best 5.54 yards per carry.
4. Texas Tech 2.13
Conference record: 10-17
Summary: The Red Raiders have passed for 9,834 yards (364.22 passing yards per game) since 2012. Davis Webb, Seth Doege, Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes have had their time behind center for Tech during this span yet the Red Raiders' passing attack remained productive regardless of who ran the offense. Tech’s 64 turnovers and minus-30 turnover margin have kept it from seeing that offensive production transform into Big 12 title contention.
Key stat: Tech’s 63.5 completion percentage is the Big 12’s best.
5 (tie). Oklahoma State 2.07
Conference record: 16-11
Summary: The Cowboys offense has taken a step backward after being among the Big 12’s best units before 2012. Clint Chelf, Joseph Randle and Josh Stewart were among the Cowboys' key contributors during this three-year span but the explosiveness that became commonplace in Boone Pickens Stadium definitely disappeared at times, particularly in 2014.
Key stat: OSU’s 83.1 goal-to-go touchdown percentage was second in the Big 12 behind OU.
5 (tie). West Virginia 2.07
Conference record: 11-16
Summary: Outstanding receivers helped the Mountaineers remain productive with Kevin White, Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Mario Alford creating problems for defenses. WVU would likely be even higher on this list if Dana Holgorsen’s team capitalized on red zone opportunities. WVU converted 58.3 percent of its red zone possessions into touchdowns, ranking eighth in the Big 12.
Key stat: WVU averaged 4.44 yards per carry (third in the Big 12) during this span, bringing balance to the Mountaineer attack.
7. TCU 1.98
Conference record: 14-13
Summary: TCU’s offense was turnover-ridden during the Horned Frogs first two seasons in the Big 12 before Trevone Boykin sparked an offensive explosion in 2014. Boykin, the 2014 Big 12 offensive player of the year, has been one of the conference’s top playmakers as a passer, runner and receiver but 62 turnovers have served as a anchor to the offense.
Key stat: The Horned Frogs got 62.7 percent of their yardage through the air, ranking third in the Big 12 and higher than Baylor and Oklahoma State.
8. Texas 1.97
Conference record: 17-10
Summary: UT’s quarterback struggles are well-documented and have hampered the Longhorns’ offense. Their 1.2-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio was ninth in the Big 12. There was talent on the 40 acres but the offense never really seemed to find a rhythm or transfer that talent into consistent playmaking.
Key stat: The Longhorns were pretty solid on third down despite their struggles to score, finishing fourth in the Big 12 by converting 42 percent of their third-down attempts.
9. Iowa State 1.56
Conference record: 5-22
Summary: ISU’s offense hasn’t excelled in the running game or the passing game during this span as the Cyclones averaged 5.9 yards per pass attempt and 3.84 yards per carry. Injuries and struggles along the offensive line have hurt but ISU must improve drastically if it hopes to return to a bowl game.
Key stat: The Cyclones offense won’t make a drastic jump on this list without doing better at limiting negative plays. ISU had 38 percent of its plays end up with zero yards or negative yardage, worst in the Big 12.
10. Kansas 1.06
Conference record: 2-25
Summary: David Beaty is tasked with jump-starting this lackluster attack. KU ranked last in most categories. James Sims, who rushed for 1,751 yards and 12 touchdowns, was the main bright spot during this span.
Key stat: The Jayhawks' 4.49 yards per play was, by far, the worst in the Big 12. ISU was second at 4.88 ypp.
Total commits: 5
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Bears got in early on Houston defensive tackle Jordan Elliott, who committed to Baylor last month. But the Bears will have to fight to keep him. Elliott received an offer from Alabama last week, and more big-time offers figure to pour in.
Total commits: 0
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Iowa State continues to battle for in-state offensive lineman Jake Heinrich, whose recruitment outside the state has picked up. Heinrich is not expected to be at Iowa State's junior day this weekend, but his twin brother, John, and Urbandale offensive lineman teammate, Caleb Bright, are.
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks are heading out West to try and land a QB. Last week, Kansas extended offers to a pair of California QBs in Devon Modster of Las Flores and Khalil Tate of Gardena. The connection is offensive coordinator Rob Likens, who previously was at Cal.
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Oregon reportedly has offered Wichita defensive end Xavier Kelly, who has been committed to the Wildcats since November. Kelly committed to the Wildcats shorty after getting an offer from Nebraska, but it will be interesting to see if he gives the Ducks a look.
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 1
The latest: Off their junior day event, the Sooners picked up their first in-state commitment over the weekend in Tulsa's Jon-Michael Terry. Though Terry also plays tight end, the Sooners have targeted him as an outside linebacker. He had 103 tackles and 19 sacks for Victory Christian last season.
Total commits: 1
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: Like the Sooners, Oklahoma State landed its first in-state commitment last week in Tulsa running back Justice Hill, who rushed for 1,426 yards and 22 touchdowns at Booker T. Washington as a junior. The Cowboys have done well replenishing their running back depth in these two latest recruiting classes, which included the signings of Chris Carson, Todd Mays and Jeff Carr earlier this month.
Total commits: 7
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Horned Frogs are in a battle with Texas Tech for three-star Dallas Skyline RB Da'Leon Ward, who is down to the two Big 12 rivals. Ward is expected to be in Fort Worth for TCU's junior day this weekend, then Lubbock for Tech's the weekend after that.
Total commits: 3
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 2
The latest: The Longhorns host junior day Feb. 28 and extended some 2016 offers last week in advance, including LB Dontavious Jackson and a trio of WRs: former Baylor commit Tren'Davian Dickson, LSU commit Dee Anderson and juco standout Taj Williams.
Total commits: 2
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Red Raiders are one of the schools that have jumped on ESPN Junior 300 athlete Christian Wallace, who decommitted from TCU a week ago. The Red Raiders have an in with Wallace in defensive back Collin Wilder, who is committed to Tech and high school teammates with Wallace at Katy High School.
Total commits: 4
ESPN Junior 300 commits: 0
The latest: West Virginia has always been working from a disadvantage in recruiting because of the lack on in-state talent. But this could be a banner year for the state. The Mountaineers have already locked up commitments from linebacker Dylan Tonkery and defensive end Reese Donahue, and they have extended an offer to Charleston quarterback Tyrhee Pratt. The last time West Virginia signed three in-state players was 2007.
1. Baylor: The Bears boast two bona fide All-American candidates up front in tackle Andrew Billings and end Shawn Oakman, who put off the draft to return for his senior season. Both are coming off first-team All-Big 12 seasons. Alongside Billings, Beau Blackshear will be a three-year starter. The group has the potential to be scary good -- and also just plain scary.
2. TCU: The Horned Frogs lose three-time All-Big 12 lynchpin Chucky Hunter; the rest of the D-line, however, is back. Fellow tackle Davion Pierson will finally be out of Hunter's shadow. He quietly was one of TCU's better players last year. The entire playmaking defensive end quartet of Josh Carraway, Mike Tuaua, James McFarland and Terrell Lathan is back, as well. If junior Tevin Lawson or sophomore Chris Bradley can fill Hunter's production, this unit has a chance to be as good as it was in 2014 -- if not better.
3. Texas: Malcom Brown deservedly received all the attention for his magnificent 2014 campaign. But he also overshadowed Hassan Ridgeway, who was one of the Big 12's better tackles by the end of the season. Ridgeway is a breakout bet for 2015. He'll be flanked by Desmond Jackson, who is coming back from season-ending foot injury, and former ESPN 300 signee Poona Ford. At end, the Longhorns lose Cedric Reed, but have Naashon Hughes, Caleb Bluiett and Shiro Davis back as well as Derick Roberson, the team's top overall signee in 2014. ESPN JC50 DE Quincy Vasser rounds out a deep and talented rotation.
4. Oklahoma State: Emmanuel Ogbah is the reigning Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the year, and will only be a junior. Last season in his first as a starter, he finished second in the league with 11 sacks and third with 17 tackles for loss. Jimmy Bean is a two-year starter at the other end. James Castleman and Ofa Hautau are gone inside, but Oklahoma State has ESPN JC 50 recruit Motekiai Maile and several up-and-coming options at tackle, including Vincent Taylor, Vili Leveni and four-star signee Darrion Daniels.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners had a disappointing 2014, due in part to a defensive line that failed to dominate as expected. Yet despite losing Jordan Phillips, Chuka Ndulue and Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma is hardly devoid of talent up front. Charles Tapper is one year removed from a first-team All-Big 12 season. The Sooners need him to return to his disruptive 2013 level. The program is excited about Matt Dimon, Matthew Romar, Charles Walker and D.J. Ward after they served bit roles last season. The biggest question is nose tackle, where Phillips' departure leaves a huge void in Mike Stoops' 3-4 scheme. Jordan Wade is the only returning 300-pound defender on the roster, but he fell out of the rotation last year. ESPN 300 signee Neville Gallimore could be the long-term answer there, but it's unknown how ready he'll be able to assist as a true freshman. The Sooners also have to replace prolific D-line coach Jerry Montgomery, who recently left for the Green Bay Packers.
6. Kansas State: Travis Britz is one of the top returning tackles in the league, and should be healthy after missing K-State's final three games with an ankle injury. Jordan Willis was active at end with four sacks. Veteran backup Marquel Bryant likely will step in for Ryan Mueller opposite Willis. Rotation tackles Will Geary and Demonte Hood will be asked to play bigger roles in 2015. It will be interesting to see if defensive tackle Bryce English, the top signee in K-State's 2015 class, or defensive tackle Trey Dishon, perhaps the sleeper of the class, will be able to help early on, as well.
7. West Virginia: Shaq Riddick was West Virginia's only real pass-rush threat last season, and he's gone. Still, the team can count Kyle Rose, Noble Nwachukwu and Christian Brown -- all experienced players. The Mountaineers need one of their two incoming juco ends, Larry Jefferson or Xavier Pegues, to supply the pressure Riddick brought off the edge.
8. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders finally have a chance to hold their own. Pete Robertson is a big reason why, having led the Big 12 with 13 sacks last year. Branden Jackson is a two-year starter on the other side of the line and a solid player. To combat what was a disastrous run defense in 2014, Tech is hopeful that former juco transfers Rika Levi and Keland McElrath will be more effective in their second seasons. The "X" factor will be incoming freshman Breiden Fehoko, who was the No. 51 overall recruit in the country. If Fehoko can give the Red Raiders something early, they will instantly be better.
9. Kansas: The Jayhawks have the fewest returning starters in the Big 12, but they do bring back two-year starter Ben Goodman. Andrew Bolton is Kansas' top returner on the inside. Juco transfer Jacky Dezir should add depth in the middle. Incoming freshman end Dorance Armstrong has the potential to be a difference-maker in time.
10. Iowa State: The Cyclones were awful against the run in 2014, giving up an average of 5.67 yards per carry. Only New Mexico, New Mexico State and Georgia State allowed a worse average. The playing status of Iowa State's best returning defensive lineman, Mitchell Meyers, is also up in the air after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. The Cyclones need a major impact from ESPN JC 50 defensive tackle Demond Tucker, as well as fellow juco addition Bobby Leath.
Here is the latest on several Sunshine State prospects.
Eli Stove, WR
ESPN Junior 300 ranking: No. 80
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Below are the rest of the spring start dates and spring game schedules for the Big 12:
- Spring practice begins: Feb. 23
- Spring game: March 20
- Spring practice begins: March 3
- Spring game: April 11
- Spring practice begins: March 24
- Spring game: April 25
- Spring practice begins: April 1
- Spring game: April 25 in Kansas City
- Spring practice begins: March 7
- Spring game: TBA
- Spring practice begins: March 9
- Spring game: April 18
- Spring practice begins: March 25
- Spring game: April 18
- Spring practice begins: Feb. 28
- Spring game: April 10
- Spring practice begins: Feb. 28
- Spring game: March 28 in Midland, Texas
- Spring practice begins: March 15
- Spring game: April 25
I hope everyone enjoys their Valentine's Day weekend. Guys, if you're wondering what to do, remember, it's always better to overshoot.
Now, on to the 'bag:
@Jake_Trotter How do you see the Baylor QB battle going in the Spring? Is it Russell's job to lose or open with him, Johnson, and Stidham?— David Hornbeak (@davidhornbeak) February 13, 2015
Trotter: The job is Seth Russell's to lose, but that doesn't mean he has it locked up. Russell has been solid for the most part backing up Bryce Petty the past two seasons, but he was a little shaky filling in for Petty against Texas Tech late last season. Chris Johnson is obviously in the mix and shouldn't be overlooked, but Jarrett Stidham has an impressive skill set that could allow him to ultimately win this job. It might not happen by the end of the spring. It might not happen at the start of next season. But, eventually, it could happen.
@Jake_Trotter do you see any position battles actually being decided in spring ball? anything newsworthy coming out of the Spring?— Andrew Katz (@Andrewpkatz) February 13, 2015
Trotter: I don't know how many of them will actually be decided before the end of the spring, but there will be several other intriguing quarterback battles to follow, including West Virginia (Skyler Howard vs. William Crest), Oklahoma (Trevor Knight vs. Baker Mayfield vs. Cody Thomas), Texas (Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard), K-State (Joe Hubener vs. Alex Delton) and Texas Tech (Pat Mahomes vs. Davis Webb). Who has the best chance to come out of spring as the definitive starter? My money is on Mahomes.
@Jake_Trotter Will 2015 be Paul Millard's (WVU) breakout year or is he a proverbial backup?— JO_P3FE (@Thump8251) February 13, 2015
Trotter: I think Paul Millard's time has come and gone. Never say never, I guess, but the West Virginia quarterback battle is going to be about Howard and Crest. Millard is a nice No. 3 to have. But I don't see him winning the job.
@Jake_Trotter What's the likelihood of TTU replicating TCU's 4-8 to 11-1 season turnaround?— Andrew Hart (@TheHartofTexas) February 13, 2015
Trotter: Tech has quarterback talent, and some receivers that have big-play potential. I also like Tech's offensive line, especially Le'Raven Clark manning left tackle. But that's where the comparisons to TCU stop. The Horned Frogs quietly had another superb defense again last season, with All-Big 12 talents littered across the defensive line (Chucky Hunter), linebacker (Paul Dawson), and the secondary (Chris Hackett, Sam Carter, Kevin White). I don't see the players right now in Lubbock. Sure Pete Robertson is a nice piece, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Breiden Fehoko and Mike Mitchell bring. But to go 11-1, you need a defense that can bring it, too. Tech has a long way to go there.
@Jake_Trotter chances Big 12 gets 1 team in next years playoff? Chances they get 2? If somebody gets in, who is it? Baylor? TCU? Other?— LENNON - JON JON " (@yaboylennon) February 13, 2015
Trotter: As this season showed, it's very difficult for a conference to get two teams in the playoff. Possible, yes. But very difficult. I think the most likely scenario is that the Big 12 champion gets into the playoff as the league's lone rep. Right now, I'd give the edge to TCU over Baylor, because of the quarterback advantage and because Baylor has to go to Fort Worth this time around. If you're looking for a darkhorse, keep an eye on Oklahoma State, which ESPN Insider Brad Edwards actually has in the playoff in his early projection. The Cowboys get TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all in Stillwater, all in the final month of the season. If they get hot, they could be a factor.
Trotter: Yeah, I actually really liked both. Brick Haley had a proven track record of developing big-time defensive linemen. He's familiar with the recruiting area, too. I also liked the addition of Jeff Traylor as tight ends and special teams coach. My one concern with Charlie Strong's original staff was the lack of previous connection to Texas high school football. Traylor, who won three state championships at Gilmer High, has the relationships around the state to help bridge that gap.
@Jake_Trotter with the league losing Lockett, White, & Goodley who are some pass catchers to lookout for we may not know about— MediaMillennialAllen (@ACisWrite) February 13, 2015
Trotter: Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard returns, and would have been a 1,500-yard receiver had he not suffered a groin injury on Nov. 1 that basically knocked him out for the season. Shepard along with Baylor's Corey Coleman and KD Cannon are the top returning wideouts in the league. But some other guys flying a bit under the radar to watch for include Oklahoma State's Brandon Sheperd, Iowa State's Quenton Bundrage, and Texas Tech's Devin Lauderdale. Sheperd exploded after Mason Rudolph took over at quarterback last November; he torched Oklahoma for 156 receiving yards and two TDs in the Cowboys' upset win in Norman. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in TD catches in 2013, then missed all of last year with a knee injury; if he's healthy, he could be a force again. Finally, Lauderdale came on really strong late last season after a slow start; he had at least 80 yards receiving in four of Tech's final five games. He, Bundrage and Sheperd could all have big 2015 seasons.
@Jake_Trotter Big 12 baseball starts today! Do you pay attention to the baseball season?— march_born (@sign_floyd) February 13, 2015
Trotter: I enjoy college baseball -- and baseball overall -- very much. It's even more enjoyable when the Big 12 has so many good teams, like it appears to again this season..
Still, that doesn't mean every Big 12 nonconference game will be a bore. Texas goes to Notre Dame. Oklahoma travels to Tennessee. Texas Tech returns a trip to Arkansas.
But which team has the toughest nonconference slate? And which has the softest? The rankings are below, going from most difficult to least (*denotes FCS opponents):
1. TEXAS: at Notre Dame (8-5), Rice (8-5), Cal (5-7)
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .552
- Toughest opponent: Notre Dame
- Weakest opponent: Rice
- 2014 bowl teams: 2
- Quick take: The Longhorns continue their recent trend of challenging nonconference schedules, opening with a trip to South Bend. The Fighting Irish were up-and-down last year, but they finished with a victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl. Even though it didn't make a bowl, Cal was one of the most improved teams in college football last season, going from 1-11 to 5-7 in Sonny Dykes' second year. Rice is a solid non-Power 5 opponent. It won't take long to find out what Charlie Strong has in Year 2 in Austin.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .675
- Toughest opponent: Memphis
- Weakest opponent: South Dakota State
- 2014 bowl teams: 2
- Quick take: David Beaty will be baptized by fire. The Jayhawks have a tough nonconference slate, including South Dakota State, which made the second round of the FCS playoffs last year. Memphis is coming off a 10-win season; Rutgers on the road will be a big challenge, as well. This is a brutal early series of games for a program transitioning to a new coaching staff which will have the fewest returning starters in the Big 12.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .378
- Toughest opponent: Tennessee
- Weakest opponent: Tulsa
- 2014 bowl teams: 1
- Quick take: The Sooners face potentially the toughest nonconference game of any Big 12 team with a road trip to Tennessee. The Vols have struggled in recent years, but could be on the verge of turning the corner after a series of elite recruiting classes. The Vols also return an SEC-high 18 starters, including Joshua Dobbs, who is one of the up-and-coming quarterbacks in college football. The Sooners will have to play well -- and much better than they did toward the end of last season -- to prevail in Knoxville.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .595
- Toughest opponent: Arkansas
- Weakest opponent: Sam Houston State
- 2014 bowl teams: 1
- Quick take: The Razorbacks smacked the Red Raiders around in Lubbock last year. The return trip to Arkansas is a game the Red Raiders can win. But they have to hold up way better in the trenches. Tech struggled with UTEP last year, too, foreshadowing struggles the rest of the season. The early tilts against Sam Houston State -- a quality FCS program -- and UTEP figure to serve as a harbinger again.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .641
- Toughest opponent: Maryland
- Weakest opponent: Liberty
- 2014 bowl teams: 1
- Quick take: After playing the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big 12 last year, the Mountaineers have a more manageable slate this time around. Still, it's not a cupcake one. Georgia Southern won the Sun Belt last year. Maryland, once again, will be one of the pivotal games on West Virginia's schedule. If the Mountaineers can beat their Atlantic rivals, they should head into Big 12 play with a boost of momentum.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .625
- Toughest opponent: Iowa
- Weakest opponent: Northern Iowa
- 2014 bowl teams: 2
- Quick take: The Cyclones are actually capable of winning all three of these games -- and losing all three, as well. Iowa State has dropped its last two openers to FCS opponents, including two years ago to Northern Iowa. QB Logan Woodside is back to lead a Toledo offense that ranked 15th nationally last year. The Cyclones have had success against Iowa under Paul Rhoads, but the Hawkeyes will be out for revenge after losing on a last-second field goal. This stretch will determine whether the Cyclones will have a shot at getting back to bowl eligibility.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .447
- Toughest opponent: Minnesota
- Weakest opponent: Stephen F. Austin
- 2014 bowl teams: 1
- Quick take: Minnesota surprisingly became a quality nonconference victory for TCU last year. A win at Minnesota, which has 13 returning starters, could be an even better win in 2015. At least the Horned Frogs better hope so. The rest of the nonconference schedule will do little to help TCU's strength of schedule résumé.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .459
- Toughest opponent: Central Michigan
- Weakest opponent: Central Arkansas
- 2014 bowl teams: 1
- Quick take: After opening with defending champion Florida State last year, the Cowboys have dialed down their nonconference slate in 2015. The opener at Central Michigan could be a little tricky; the Chippewas qualified for the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl, and almost rallied to stun Western Michigan with a 34-point fourth quarter. But the rest of the schedule should be a mere warm-up for the Cowboys for Big 12 play.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .395
- Toughest opponent: Louisiana Tech
- Weakest opponent: South Dakota
- 2014 bowl teams: 1
- Quick take: After facing Miami and Auburn in recent years, this schedule is more reminiscent of the early Bill Snyder nonconference slates. Louisiana Tech is decent. But this schedule should give the Wildcats time to adjust after losing so many key starters from last season's team.
- Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .405
- Toughest opponent: Rice
- Weakest opponent: Lamar
- 2014 bowl teams: 1
- Quick take: Once again, Baylor's nonconference schedule is miserable. Then again, Rice would've destroyed anyone Baylor faced last year, so at least it's an upgrade. If the Bears get into the playoff mix again, their nonconference schedule could come back to haunt them. Again.
- Here is a little insight into Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley's plan for the Sooners' offense. Riley reiterates that his focus will be on getting the ball to OU's best players. And he doesn't care if OU scores points by running the ball or throwing it. Most of the questions about the focus of the offense stem from concerns about making sure to feed Samaje Perine, but the Sooners could have the Big 12's best group of running backs with Perine, Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Joe Mixon. Quite frankly, Riley would be wise to be coming up with ways to get two of those guys on the field together in several different packages this fall.
- Indiana transfer cornerback Michael Hunter talked to The Oklahoman's Kyle Fredrickson about joining Oklahoma State's football program for his senior season. The Cowboys have been among the nation's best teams at taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule. People tend to focus on quarterback transfers but Josh Furman and Tyler Patmon were critical transfers into the program who provided experience and playmaking in route to helping OSU to bowl games during their final season in college.
- Former Iowa State basketball coach Tim Floyd's advice played a role in the Cyclones' football Class of 2015, writes Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. Floyd told Paul Rhoads to recruit winners and that's what the Cyclones tried to do with their 2014 class. Hopefully it pays off for Rhoads' sake because the Cyclones have fallen off the map after being a bowl team just a few seasons ago.
- David Beaty doesn't sleep, apparently. Kansas' new football coach was in Hutchinson, Kansas, on Thursday as he talked with KU fans in the area. Beaty went on to tell Brad Hallier of the Hutchinson News why recruits from Kansas are so important to his vision for the program. Kansas isn't a recruiting hotbed but Beaty wants to keep as many Kansas recruits in the state as possible including walk-ons. It's clear Texas will be an important recruiting ground for Beaty but he's aiming to make the state of Kansas a similar priority.
- Former Oklahoma defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery goes into detail about his role with the Green Bay Packers in this story from Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Montgomery's jump to the NFL happened quickly with the Packers expressing interest shortly after signing day then interviewing Montgomery on Monday. It's a pretty crippling loss for the Sooners, who looked like they were done with all of the changes in the coaching staff but now must replace one of the most valuable members of the staff.
Which junior-college transfer will make the biggest impact in 2015?
Chatmon: The door is wide open for receiver DeDe Westbrook to make a major impact for Oklahoma. The Sooners need playmaking receivers, and Westbrook fits the mold. He could be a terrific running mate with Sterling Shepard in Lincoln Riley’s version of the "Air Raid" offense, with the ability to line up in the slot or outside. Westbrook is the No. 14 player the ESPN JC50 as a four-star recruit from Blinn (Texas) Junior College.
Olson: Oklahoma State pulled off one of the better surprise coups of the final week of recruiting by flipping Chris Carson from Georgia. When you look at OSU's running back situation, it's clear he's going to get a lot of work in 2015. He's a complete back and a workhorse capable of answering a big question mark about the Cowboys' offense.
Trotter: I'm a huge fan of both Westbrook and Carson, and I think they are probably the two early favorites to contend for Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors. But on the other side of the ball, incoming Texas defensive end Quincy Vasser could also have a huge impact. The Longhorns are searching for a replacement for Cedric Reed, and Vasser, an ESPN JC50 signee, has the skill set to step in and be a starter from Day 1. It won't hurt him, either, that Texas will have a new defensive line coach, meaning Vasser should open spring ball on equal footing with the returners.
Which junior college transfer is flying too far under the radar?
Chatmon: It worked the first time, right? Receiver Ka'Raun White was somehow overlooked during the recruiting process despite his brother Kevin White becoming a Biletnikoff finalist for the Mountaineers last fall. From his hair free flowing out of the back of his helmet to his ability to run away from defenders, Ka'Raun will spark memories of his older brother. West Virginia needs immediate help at the receiver position, so Dana Holgorsen’s program will be hoping it goes two-for-two with receiver recruits from the White family.
Olson: I've been keeping an eye on Ke'aun Kinner since 2012, when he was perhaps the most productive back in the DFW Metroplex out of Little Elm, Texas. He rushed for more than 2,900 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior but never had the grades to go FBS. At Navarro College, he earned All-America honors in 2014 with more than 1,800 yards of offense and 22 TDs. He packs a lot of electricity into his 5-foot-9 frame, and I bet he'll be productive right away at Kansas.
Trotter: Carson could very well make a huge splash for Oklahoma State, but I'm also intrigued by the other running back they signed, Todd Mays. The East Mississippi Community College product can do it all, including play quarterback, running back, and receiver. He doesn't possess Tyreek Hill's world-class speed. But he can fill the role that Hill did this past season in the Oklahoma State offense as a running back/slot receiver combo player. He could also help the Cowboys on returns, and, who knows, maybe be a threat to pass off trick plays, too.
What team will see the biggest overall impact from its junior college class?
Chatmon: The Mountaineers didn’t need major junior college help, but they got it anyway with White, ESPN JC50 cornerback Rasul Douglas and two other junior college signees (Xavier Pegues, Larry Jefferson) who can help immediately. Douglas will add to secondary that already could be the Big 12’s best unit and Pegues, and Jefferson could kick start the pass rush in 2015.
Olson: I'm definitely a fan of the junior college haul that Oklahoma State put together. Carson is going to get most of the headlines, but defensive tackle Motekiai Maile has the potential to be a monster up the middle. Antwan Hadley is a big 6-foot-4 cornerback, and I'm excited to see what Mike Gundy's staff does with Mays. He's a true athlete -- quarterback/running back/receiver -- and potentially a pretty fun weapon.
Trotter: Overall, the answer to this might be Kansas or Iowa State. Underscoring several immediate needs, the two signed a combined 14 junior college transfers. The Cyclones are banking that ESPN JC50 defensive tackle Demond Tucker can instantly boost what was the nation's worst statistical defense last season. With the fewest returning starters in the league, the Jayhawks will also need multiple contributions out of its massive junior college class.
Top Position Battles Heading In To Spring
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
TBD Oklahoma State Central Michigan TBD Northern Iowa Iowa State TBD South Dakota State Kansas TBD South Dakota Kansas State TBD Texas Notre Dame TBD Akron Oklahoma TBD Sam Houston State Texas Tech TBD Georgia Southern West Virginia