Oklahoma Sooners: Andrew Billings

The 2013 season featured one of the most competitive races for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, with at least a half-dozen defenders in the mix.

Ultimately, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett shared the award. Both are now gone, leaving the race wide open again in 2014. But the league will still have several formidable candidates for the award.

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTCU's Devonte Fields had a sophomore season to forget, but has the talent to be one of the Big 12's best defensive players.
Going into last season, returning TCU defensive end Devonte Fields was actually the favorite to grab the honor. After all, as a true freshman in 2012, he captured the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year award in the league (Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown won the coaches' honor). But after wreaking havoc as a rookie, Fields was not a factor in his second year. He was slapped with an offseason suspension that sidelined him in the opener against LSU. When he returned, he looked out of shape and was hardly the same player. And then Fields suffered a foot injury that ultimately forced a season-ending procedure in October. Despite a disappointing sophomore campaign, he still has the talent to be one of the most destructive defensive forces in college football.

Fields isn’t the only league defender coming back who is capable of getting to the quarterback.

Kansas State end Ryan Mueller, Texas end Cedric Reed and Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker ranked second, third and fourth in the Big 12 behind Jeffcoat in sacks last season.

In his first season as a starter, Mueller emerged from nowhere to become one of the best all-around defenders in the conference. He led the Wildcats in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hurries and forced fumbles. In a league stacked at defensive end, Mueller became a first-team All-Big 12 selection.

Reed was just as prolific as Mueller, but was overshadowed playing alongside Jeffcoat. Reed led the Big 12 in forced fumbles, and was virtually unblockable around the edge by the end of the season. Reed considered an early jump to the NFL, but elected to return to anchor coach Charlie Strong’s first defense at Texas.

But as good as Mueller and Reed were, no Big 12 defender had a stronger finish to the season than Striker. In his first year as a starter, the sophomore flashed signs of his potential in September, hammering Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees on the game’s third play to force a pick-six. By the bowl season, not even two-time defending national champion Alabama could contain him. Striker racked up three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and jarred the ball loose from Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron in the final minute that led to an Oklahoma touchdown to seal the stunning win.

SportsNation

Of these candidates, who is the best bet to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,473)

Several other players in the conference are capable of breaking into the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year discussion. The Baylor defensive line duo of tackle Andrew Billings and end Shawn Oakman is stacked with potential. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom finally unlocked his with three sacks and a touchdown fumble recovery return in the Sugar Bowl, and could be primed for a big senior season. Fellow Sooners defensive end Charles Tapper was the only underclassman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. Texas’ Jordan Hicks could be as good as any linebacker in the league if he could ever stay healthy. And on top of Fields, the TCU defense features safety Sam Carter and tackle Chucky Hunter, who have been stalwarts in the Big 12 the last two years.

But only five players can be included in this poll. And Baylor inside linebacker Bryce Hager, who has as much experience as any player in the league, netted the final slot. Hager will be a three-year starter, and he led the Big 12 in tackles his sophomore season, in which he earned second-team all-conference honors. Hager repeated the honor last year despite missing the final month of the season with a hernia injury that required offseason surgery. When healthy, Hager is as sure a tackler as any returning defender in the league.

Now, it's your chance to weigh in: Of Hager, Fields, Mueller, Reed and Striker, who is the best bet to capture Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors next season?

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DL

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Monday with defensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive lines at the moment:

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma end Charles Tapper will lead the Big 12's best defensive line in 2014.
1. Oklahoma: D-line began as a weakness but quickly turned into a strength under first-year position coach Jerry Montgomery. End Charles Tapper was an All-Big 12 selection as a sophomore, and tackle Jordan Phillips was on his way to earning similar honors before a back injury ended his season prematurely. Both players are back. So is Geneo Grissom, who had three sacks in the bowl win over Alabama. Nose guard Jordan Wade earned a starting role late in 2013, and Chuka Ndulue will be a starter for a third season. Basically, the entire rotation returns. If Phillips rebounds from the injury, this could prove to be Oklahoma’s finest D-line since 2009, when NFL All-Pro Gerald McCoy roamed the middle.

2. TCU: DE Devonte Fields, the Associated Press’ Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2012, had an empty season in 2013 thanks to a suspension, then a season-ending foot injury. If Fields can return to the player he was, TCU will be formidable up front. Chucky Hunter was a second-team All-Big 12 pick inside last season, and he’ll be flanked by an array of experienced tackles in Davion Pierson and Tevin Lawson, who were all part of the rotation last season. Ends Terrell Lathan, James McFarland and Mike Tuaua, who combined for 11 sacks in 2013, all return as well. Even with DT Jon Lewis giving up football, TCU's D-line figures to be as deep as any in the league.

3. Texas: Cedric Reed, one of the best sack men in the Big 12 last season, returns after giving the NFL a cursory thought. The Longhorns have to replace Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year Jackson Jeffcoat on the other side, but ESPN 300 recruit Derick Roberson, the No. 8 DE in the Class of 2014, could help right away. The Longhorns should also be stout inside, with run-stuffing tackles Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson back to clog the middle.

4. Kansas State: Ryan Mueller, who was eighth nationally with 11.5 sacks last season, comes back after a breakout All-Big 12 season. Travis Britz is an all-conference-caliber tackle and gives K-State one of the better one-two punches on the D-line in the league. Joining them will be Terrell Clinkscales, who was the No. 4 junior college DT in the 2014 class. The Wildcats pried Clinkscales away from Nebraska, and at 315 pounds he could be the perfect complement to Britz, who relies more on quickness.

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
John Rivera/Icon SMIBaylor defensive end Shawn Oakman will play a bigger role next season.
5. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose two-time All-Big 12 tackle Calvin Barnett. James Castleman, however, will be a three-year starter, and end Jimmy Bean had a career night in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss. The key to the Cowboys fielding one of the better lines in the league again will be whether Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor and/or Vili Leveni can emerge inside after redshirting in 2013. All three are promising prospects, especially Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in the 2013 class.

6. Baylor: The Bears feature two of the more intriguing defensive linemen in the league. DE Shawn Oakman, a former Penn State transfer with tremendous length at 6-foot-9, finished sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss last season, but he tailed off in Big 12 play. Baylor will ask him to play a much bigger role along the line, and he has the potential to give the Bears a unique playmaker there. On the inside, Baylor will lean more on Andrew Billings, who was part of the DT rotation as a freshman. If both Billings and Oakman play up to their vast potential, Baylor could be a handful up front.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose two of three starters along the D-line, including second-team All-Big 12 end Will Clarke. West Virginia is hoping for big things from DE Kyle Rose, who played a lot as a sophomore. Dontrill Hyman will likely fill a starting role on the other side, though he could get pushed for time by Eric Kinsey and Noble Nwachukwu, who both will be in their third year in the program. The Mountaineers will lean on Christian Brown and Darrien Howard at nose guard. Howard was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and played as a freshman. There’s some talent and potential here.

8. Iowa State: Like Texas Tech, Iowa State loaded up on immediate defensive line help, signing three juco defensive ends in Dalyou Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Gabe Luna, who is enrolled already for spring ball. Those three together with All-Big 12 honorable-mention selection Cory Morrissey and sophomore Mitchell Meyers should give Iowa State a solid rotation at end. Rodney Coe, who started the last four games, will anchor the Cyclones inside.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose their two best defensive linemen in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, and Tech got pushed around up front anyway last season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury recognized this deficiency and signed four juco defensive linemen, all of whom have a chance to play immediately. Of the returning linemen, Branden Jackson was by far the most productive, totaling nine tackles for loss and four sacks as a starter.

10. Kansas: Despite also losing two starters, the Jayhawks have experience up front. Defensive captain Keon Stowers is back after manning the middle in 2013. Ben Goodman returns as well in Kansas’ “buck” role, and he is coming off a very solid sophomore season. Goodman’s backup, Michael Reynolds, and rotation players Tedarian Johnson and Ty McKinney give the Jayhawks depth.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.
Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes during the bowl season:

Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings: The Bears true freshman defensive tackle was active in the biggest game of his young career. He finished with 10 tackles including 0.5 tackle for loss in Baylor’s 52-42 loss to UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Billings' three solo tackles led all Bears defensive linemen. If he continues to develop and has a jump in production as a sophomore, he could start becoming a force in the middle of Baylor’s defense in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsKansas State QB Jake Waters threw for 271 yards and three TDs in the bowl win over Michigan.
Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters: The Wildcats signal caller was overshadowed by a stellar performance from Tyler Lockett (10 receptions, 116 yards, three touchdowns). But Waters was pretty good in his own right, particularly on third down. He finished with a 100 raw QBR (scale of 0-100 with 50 being average) on third-down plays during the Wildcats’ 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Waters was 4 of 7 for 44 yards and one touchdown and added three carries for 25 yards. He was the main reason KSU converted 7 of 11 third down attempts. Waters' strong play at the end of the year is one reason the Wildcats should be right in the mix to be crowned the Big 12 preseason favorite.

Oklahoma receiver Lacoltan Bester: The senior had the quietest 100-yard receiving game of the bowl season. He finished with six receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown in OU’s 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. While fellow receivers Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders were combining for two touchdowns, Bester made the Crimson Tide pay whenever they focused too much on the Sooners’ top two receivers.

Oklahoma State safety Daytawion Lowe: The Cowboys fifth-year senior was all over the field in his final game. He finished with seven tackles and three pass breakups in OSU’s 41-31 loss to Missouri in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Lowe showed his versatility against the Tigers' running and passing game despite the loss.

Texas defensive end Cedric Reed: The junior joined running back Malcolm Brown and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat as one of the few bright spots in the Longhorns’ 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Reed finished with four tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. If he decides to return for his senior season, he provides an exceptional foundation for Charlie Strong’s first defense.

Texas Tech receiver Jakeem Grant: Quarterback Davis Webb was the star of the National University Holiday Bowl leading the Red Raiders to a 37-23 win over Arizona State. But Grant, the sophomore dynamo, was a big play waiting to happen. He finished with 125 all-purpose yards, including six receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Grant has unique speed and quickness and should be one of the Big 12’s top playmakers in 2014.
Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-Too-Early Big 12 power poll. This could change between now and the end of the spring. In fact, it probably will. But this is a first look at how the Big 12 teams stack up against one another for 2014:

1. Oklahoma Sooners

In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.

2. Baylor Bears

Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.

3. Kansas State Wildcats

Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.

4. Texas Longhorns

During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.

7. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.

Freshmen impact in the Big 12

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Having a highly ranked recruiting class and a bunch of four-star signees sounds good in the spring and summer, but it's a different story when the season begins. The freshmen who are game-ready are the ones who get the playing time, no matter their star rating. Here's a look at the five Big 12 schools getting the most from their true freshmen:

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman Texas Tech signal-caller Baker Mayfield, a walk-on, has been the surprise of the Big 12 thus far.
1. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders practically earn this top spot by default by relying on two true freshmen at quarterback. Baker Mayfield made a big first impression, but it seems the battle is opening back up after two solid games from freshman Davis Webb, and the imminent return of Michael Brewer. Still, going 4-0 with two rookies behind center makes coach Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch a worthy No. 1 on this list.

Tech has played eight other true freshmen in 2013, and a few are making solid contributions. Receiver Dylan Cantrell has six catches for 56 yards, linebacker Malik Jenkins has recorded five tackles and a pass breakup and receiver Carlos Thompson already has a 73-yard kick return and 35-yard punt return.

2. Oklahoma: Is it possible Oklahoma’s best running back is its fourth-string freshman? Keith Ford, the gem of the Sooners’ class, has rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and wowed in OU’s last game against Tulsa.

Fellow freshman Stanvon Taylor earned his first career start against Tulsa, and he’s one of several newcomers contributing in the secondary along with Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, L.J. Moore and Dakota Austin. Linebacker Dominique Alexander has also chipped in six tackles through three games.

3. West Virginia: Of all the new skill players who joined West Virginia’s offense this year, who would’ve expected Daikiel Shorts would be the Mountaineers’ leading receiver and Wendell Smallwood would be their No. 2 back? Shorts has 12 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and Smallwood has 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries thus far.

A total of seven true freshmen have played for WVU this season, and four of them are defensive backs. Corner Daryl Worley is off to a nice start with six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

4. Oklahoma State: Many expected Ra’Shaad Samples to be OSU’s breakout true freshman receiver, but so far that distinction belongs to Marcell Ateman. He has hauled in eight passes for 92 yards, good for fourth-best on the team.

Freshman kicker Ben Grogan has hit all 19 of his extra-point attempts and is 1-for-2 on field goals, and defensive backs Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson have combined for eight tackles this season.

5. Baylor: Baylor might have two of the conference’s most talented true freshmen in receiver Robbie Rhodes and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, but they haven’t had to do much so far. Rhodes has 65 receiving yards and Billings has recorded three tackles, including one tackle for loss. Kiante’ Griffin is also contributing at linebacker with three tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

TCU can also make a case for the No. 5 spot. The Frogs don’t have a Devonte Fields-caliber breakout star yet, but receiver Ty Slanina has two reception and is currently listed as a starter, and former ESPN 300 prospect Tevin Lawson is breaking into the rotation at defensive tackle with two stops already.
The lights are about to get bright. Game 1 is fast approaching, and the touted true freshmen of the Big 12 are about to get a dose of reality.

Their recruiting hype doesn’t matter anymore. Some will play right away, and many others won’t. We’ll soon know which ones are difference-makers, and which ones are better off spending a year on the sidelines.

Several rookies are already establishing themselves as the cream of the crop through nearly three weeks of fall practices, but there are a lot of good ones ready to crack this list after they make their debuts. Here’s a look at five true freshman who are earning buzz coming out of fall camp, plus several more who could garner attention soon.

WR Robbie Rhodes, Baylor

The hype just keeps building. Rhodes enjoyed another breakout performance in Baylor’s second scrimmage, going for 112 yards on four catches. He was the No. 4 ranked receiver in the country coming out of Fort Worth (Texas) Southwest and brings elite speed and size to the position. He chose Baylor because he knew he could play any receiver spot for the Bears and get on the field right away. He was right. “He’s just a talented guy. He’s good, and that’s why he’s here,” Baylor coach Art Briles said after his second scrimmage. “We’re a good place for receivers to go, without any question.”

S Hatari Byrd, Oklahoma

The strong majority of Oklahoma’s 2013 signees have a chance to play in their first year, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has acknowledged Byrd is the one “we’ll probably lean on the heaviest.” He’s worked out at multiple positions in the secondary during camp and has a legitimate chance to establish himself in the lineup early in his Sooner career. A 6-foot-1, 198-pound ESPN 300 signee from Fresno, Calif., Byrd was told throughout his recruitment he’d start right away in Norman.

QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech

The prosper Prosper (Texas) arrived early in the spring and is now in position to start the season opener vs. SMU with Michael Brewer sidelined. A 6-foot-4, 195-pound gunslinger, he threw for 224 yards in the Tech spring game and seriously pushed Brewer, the projected starter. Now he’s competing with walk-on Baker Mayfield, and having that extra semester under his belt could make the difference.

WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State

There’s no Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant on this Oklahoma State team, just a handful of potentially really good ones. Ateman has flown under the radar a bit compared to the more touted Ra'Shaad Samples, but he’s got a big frame at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds and has impressed the OSU staff in fall camp. Don’t be surprised if he contributes early.

DT Andrew Billings, Baylor

Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has already come right out and said it: Billings is competing for a starting job right now. He’s 6-foot and 305 pounds, and you won’t find a more powerful freshman in the country. The Waco native broke Texas state powerlifting records last year and can squad 805 pounds and bench press 500. Billings matches that strength with surprising quickness and could become a menace up the middle right away for the Bears. “We knew he was strong and we knew he was passionate,” Briles told the Waco Tribune last week. “I just didn’t know he was that agile and dedicated. He’s a guy that wants to be great.”

Keep an eye on: CB Ranthony Texada, TCU; S Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma; QB Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech; WR Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia; WR D.J. Polite-Bray, Texas Tech; WR Tre' Parmalee, Kansas; DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma; RB Keith Ford, Oklahoma; DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State; LB Alton Meeks, Iowa State; WR Jacorey Warrick, Texas; LB Al-Rasheed Benton, West Virginia; OL Patrick Morris, TCU; RB Rennie Childs, Oklahoma State; QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas

Five 2014 battles between OU, Texas 

October, 12, 2012
10/12/12
8:00
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Every year Oklahoma and Texas take center stage in October for the Red River Rivalry game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

And just as important as the game on the field, is the game on the recruiting trail between the Sooners and Longhorns.

But lately it has been the Longhorns winning the battles. Even though OU is gunning for its third consecutive victory on the field, the 2013 recruiting battles have been one-sided.

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Every Thursday, SoonerNation releases the Sooner Intel, a sneak peek inside Oklahoma Sooners football recruiting with news and notes on the latest happenings around the program. Talk about it on our forum. A few things discussed in this week's update:

• OU is hosting recruits that have visited the Sooners many times, and some that have never seen the campus.
• A 2013 running back is "definitely interested" in Oklahoma.
• OU just offered a four-star DT. Are the Sooners a factor?
• A Florida State commitment still plans to visit OU.
• A look at linebackers coach Tim Kish's philosophy on recruiting.

Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.

Manning reflects on first OU experience

There is no question this is a big recruiting weekend for OU with Kansas State coming to town. For some prospects, it will be their first taste of the campus.

That is not the case for ESPN 150 defensive tackle Justin Manning (Dallas/Kimball). It won’t be his second or third visit to OU but he might be more familiar with the campus than any other class of 2013 recruit.


Damon Sayles/ESPN.com
The next month could have a big impact on Justin Manning's recruitment.


Manning, the younger brother of former OU defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger, has been going to OU for visits since he was in sixth grade.

He still recalls his first memory of OU.

“It was in sixth grade. OU was looking at my brother, and we were at this hotel. They gave me all the chocolate cake and ice cream I wanted. It was great,” Manning said.

Manning never thought about following in his brother’s footsteps at the time because he didn’t even like football. He admitted he was initially playing football because that’s what people told him to do.

That’s not the case anymore as Manning said he loves the game and appreciates the opportunity it is giving him.

This will be the first of four consecutive weekends of official visits for Manning. He will be at Texas A&M next weekend, TCU after that and then at LSU.

Manning is one of several notable visitors to campus this weekend. For a full list that is continually being updated, read the SoonerNation forum.

Foreman ready for first taste of OU

Three-star safety Tyler Foreman (Encino, Calif./Crespi Carmelite), however, is one of those recruits who will be getting his first look at OU.

The Sooners were one of the first schools to offer him. Many more would come later, but he never forgot about the interest defensive backs coach Mike Stoops showed initially.

Foreman said he has been talking to Stoops every week, and he is really excited about finally getting to see the campus.

“I know OU has a really good program and tradition, but I need to see how I feel when I’m there,” Foreman said. “I want to see the campus and see how everything fits.”

Foreman has already scheduled an official visit to Utah in October and said more schools are in the running for visits although he has not finalized when or which schools those will be.

He did say California and UCLA are also among his top schools. With most of his favorites being pretty close to home, is distance a factor for Foreman?

“No, not at all,” Foreman said. “I’m used to being independent. I’ll be fine on my own. Distance isn’t a concern. It’s going to be about team chemistry and how I interact with the coaches and players.”

Foreman said another major part of the visit will be about academics. He is looking to major in business and is hopeful that he likes the OU business program.

The Katy invasion

One thing that cannot be overlooked when looking at this recruiting weekend has been timing. It’s a perfect storm of everything coming together. Most notably when it comes to bye weeks as several top recruits in Texas will be able to make the trip.

It’s almost as if the whole city of Katy, Texas, will be taking it easy. And that’s a good thing for the Sooners as defensive end commit Matt Dimon (Katy) and offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch (Katy Seven Lakes) will both be taking official visits.

Dimon is not coming alone as running back Adam Taylor is also making the trip. Taylor wanted to commit to LSU in the spring but was told he had an uncommittable offer. He was adamant during the summer he was still going to be with the Tigers.

But now it looks as though Taylor has accepted that he needs to move on. And the Sooners might just be the home he is looking for.


Max Olson/ESPN.com
Running back Adam Taylor has been progressing after tearing an ACL last fall.


“He is definitely interested in OU now that the other running back is out [Greg Bryant],” Dimon said. “He definitely wants to take this visit.”

Taylor’s junior season was cut short because of a torn ACL. Dimon hasn’t minced words about his friend, saying Taylor hasn’t been the same player of old. Last weekend was a step in the right direction. Taylor rushed for 184 yards and five touchdowns in a blowout 63-10 victory against The Woodlands.

The margin of victory is the largest in school history for The Woodlands, who is the last team to beat Katy in a regular season game.

“He had been real tentative, but I was real proud of him,” Dimon said. “He was hitting people again and looked great. He’s not the old Adam Taylor, but he’s getting there.”

Taylor might not be the only Katy teammate coming along. Dimon is hopeful 2014 linebacker Jake Blomstrom can make the trip, too.

As for Dimon, there are no concerns regarding his commitment. He said he talks to OU defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright about once a day in one way or another. And when Katy took on Houston Alief Taylor, Wright, Tim Kish and Cale Gundy were all in attendance.

“There were so many schools at that game. It was a good game. Alief Taylor is a good team. I think they saw a good show,” said Dimon about Katy’s 23-9 victory.

Dimon is also pretty familiar with Benenoch. The two have been tweeting back and forth in the last week about seeing each other at OU.

Things weren’t always so friendly between the two.

“We had a strong hatred for each other my sophomore year, no doubt about that,” Dimon said. “He just thought he was all-world. I wasn’t impressed.

“Last year I killed him one-on-one. We’re not best of friends by any means, but we’re not the bitter enemies we used to be.”

Better late than never with Billings

We’ve talked a lot about the patient approach OU has shown with its 2013 offers but this is a case where maybe it might hurt the Sooners regarding four-star lineman Andrew Billings (Waco, Texas/Waco).

Billings had initially talked about making his college announcement this week. That doesn’t appear to be the case, but the clock is ticking before Billings does make his call. OU is the latest school to jump into the sweepstakes for his signature.

Billings has had a top five of Texas, Baylor, SMU, Mississippi State and TCU for a while. Of those five schools, Texas is the only program that has wanted him to play on the offensive line.

He has made it clear he prefers defense although he told HornsNation last week he is starting to come around to the idea of the offensive line.

But when he starts talking about playing on the defensive line, he does get a little excited.

“Defensive linemen get a lot of recognition, and I can really see the progress that I’ve been making,” he said.

The interest between Billings and OU is rather new, Billings said. It has only been in the last few weeks the Sooners have shown any interest.

With the rash of issues with interior lineman, it was possible OU was looking at Billings to fill that slot. But nope, Billings confirmed OU wants him at defensive tackle, and it is Jackie Shipp that is talking to him.

“He came down here recently, and I was a little shocked. But it’s pretty cool, too,” Billings said.

Billings didn’t grow up a big college football fan so the Sooners can still get in the hunt. But he also admits he has never really considered OU as a potential future home. Either way, Billings is hoping to have his decision done soon.

“This has been stressful,” Billings said. “I’m grateful for all the opportunities, but it’s not easy.”

Baker still set to see OU

It’s a different feeling for four-star athlete Adrian Baker (Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade-Madonna) in his senior season.


Corey Long/ESPN.com
Defensive back Adrian Baker will be in Norman in October.


He was under the radar last season, allowing him to make big play after big play. This season? Everybody is scared of him and not looking in his direction.

“It’s still fun, but it gets a little frustrating and boring,” Baker said. “It’s allowing other members of the secondary do big things, and we’re 3-0 so that’s all that matters.”

Baker, recruited as a cornerback by OU, has been committed to Florida State since the summer. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t still talking to other schools. It seems evident the Baker race is down to FSU, OU and Clemson.

He was supposed to take his official visit to Florida State this weekend for the mega-showdown with Clemson but tweeted Tuesday night he is unable to attend.

He is very familiar with the Stoops family. He has weekly talks with Mark at Florida State and Mike at OU.

“I definitely feel like I know the family," Baker said. "It’s a pretty unique situation, but it has been a lot of fun. Both coaches are alike and different at the same time."

Though firmly committed with FSU, Baker said he still intends to take his official visit to OU on Oct. 26, the weekend of the Notre Dame game.

“The resume speaks for itself,” Baker said. “The tradition is incredible. The distance is a concern, and that’s why I want to see everything for myself.”

Baker does have an OU alumnus in his ear in former star OU offensive lineman Davin Joseph. Baker said Joseph spoke to him last week for Baker’s 18th birthday. He jokes about Baker playing for the Sooners, but what he really stresses to Baker is to keep his focus and not get distracted.

High schools are preparing for Baker differently this season and so is Baker when it comes toward watching college games.

“I’m looking at tendencies and what the defenses are doing and things like that,” Baker said. “I’m not watching as a fan anymore. I’m taking notes when watching FSU, OU and Clemson.”

Baker said he would like to set up an official visit to Clemson, but he is not sure when he can make the trip.

Morris eyes OU visit

A couple of weeks ago three-star offensive tackle Christian Morris (Memphis, Tenn./East) said if OU made an offer, it definitely wasn’t too late for the Sooners to enter the chase.

Two days later OU officially did make that offer and Morris, a UCLA commit, has been a man of his word saying OU is definitely in consideration.

“Coach [James] Patton had called me a day earlier, but I missed the call,” Morris said. “I called him back and he asked if I was still interested. I told him I was. He gave me a breakdown and said I’m a high priority for them at this point going forward.”

Morris was rumored to have been at Arkansas last weekend, but he said that wasn’t the case. Instead, he stayed home and said he will most likely stay home the rest of this season. He would prefer to take his official visits after his senior season.

The three schools he is looking toward the most are UCLA, OU and Nebraska. He has an official visit with Nebraska coming up next week.

OU tackles coach Bruce Kittle was in attendance for his game last week. Morris said it was good to see Kittle out there, and he was excited about showing what he could do.

“We have different running backs this year so we’re having to work harder to the pave the lanes for the new backs,” Morris said. “I think I’m becoming a much better run blocker, too.”

Since the OU offer, UCLA has picked up another offensive tackle commit in Kenny Lacy (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe). With Lacy, the Bruins have three tackle commits. Coincidentally, Lacy, Morris and Sean Dowling (Fallbrook, Calif./Union) are all on OU’s short list for tackles, too.

Morris said he it doesn’t affect him one way or the other with the addition of Lacy.

“It doesn’t faze me,” Morris said. “I’m a competitive guy. The better linemen we have as a group, the better we’ll be as a team. But I know what I can do and the confidence I have in my abilities.”

Hardison with no favorites yet

With Matt Dimon and D.J. Ward, OU is pretty set at defensive end for the 2013 class. It does seem like the Sooners want one more to strengthen the bunch, though.

That answer could be in the junior college ranks with Marcus Hardison (Dodge City, Kan./Dodge City CC). But right now even Hardison doesn’t know what he wants.

“No, I don’t have any favorites right now,” he said. “I’m having fun right now. I don’t know where I want to go yet at all.”


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