Oklahoma Sooners: B.J. Catalon

Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Friday with special teams. These outlooks will probably look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Horned Frogs’ coverage units were pretty lousy last year. If they can shore those up, this could be an elite special-teams unit with kicker Jaden Oberkrom, punter Ethan Perry and returners B.J. Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper.

2. Kansas State (3): Freshman Judah Jones, who was one of the stars of the spring game with a 51-yard touchdown catch, fielded kickoffs, too. Cornerback Morgan Burns also added a 39-yard kickoff return. They could take some pressure off Tyler Lockett in the return game and also him to get a breather when needed.

3. Baylor (2): The return units are going to be spectacular, and Spencer Roth is one of the best punters in the nation. But field-goal kicking is an unknown. Freshman Chris Callahan has taken over for now as the team’s kicker, but missed one chip shot badly in the spring game. Callahan could be fine. But as Oklahoma State found out last year, rolling with a first-time kicker can be dicey.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hunnicutt
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsMichael Hunnicutt has the ability to become Oklahoma's first All-America kicker.
4. Oklahoma (5): Place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt (Moneycutt?) nailed field goals of 52 and 47 yards during a windy spring game. Amazingly, the Sooners have never had an All-America kicker. Hunnicutt has the potential to be the first.

5. West Virginia (7): Josh Lambert created plenty of buzz this spring, including his 53-yard field goal in the spring game. Mario Alford also took the opening kick in the spring game to the house. Punter Nick O’Toole is a proven commodity. If Lambert has a big sophomore year (he was really good as a freshman) and Alford’s TD is a sign of improvement in the return units, which ranked last in the Big 12 last year, this could become one of the league’s better special-teams units.

6. Texas Tech (4): The Red Raiders continued to have issues fielding punts during the spring, which is probably one reason why the return slots were left blank in the team’s post-spring depth chart. Incoming freshman Ian Sadler, who had six return touchdowns during his senior season of high school, could solidify that spot once he arrives on campus.

7. Iowa State (6): Sophomore kicker Cole Netten showed off his big leg in the spring game by making a 56-yard field goal. That came after coach Paul Rhoads gave him a shot at a 62-yard attempt. Netten, combined with the dynamic return trio of Jarvis West, DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly, should translate into a strong special-teams unit. If incoming freshman Colin Downing can adequately step in at punter, the unit will be even stronger.

8. Texas (8): Nick Rose showed a strong leg on a missed 55-yard field goal try in the spring game and converted a 40-yarder. William Russ averaged 43.3 yards per punt in the spring game. Those were positive signs, but replacing All-American kicker/punter Anthony Fera will be one of the underrated storylines in Charlie Strong’s first season.

9: Oklahoma State (10): With so much turnover on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys need their special teams to be much better than last season. They just might be, though. With his speed, Tyreek Hill will be a major factor in the return game. Also, place-kicker Ben Grogan, after a shaky freshman season, drew praise for his improvement this spring from coach Mike Gundy.

10. Kansas (9): Special teams did not excel in Kansas’ spring game. Matthew Wyman made a 23-yard field goal but missed an extra point. The punting in the game was mediocre as well. The Jayhawks reportedly have preferred walk-on John Duvic enrolling this summer. After setting the Illinois state high school record with five field goals in a game, he could be a welcomed addition.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and reranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with running backs. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:


1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking: 4): West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has one of the best and most difficult jobs in the Big 12. Seider has an embarrassment of riches at his position in Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played last year as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring from Pitt set the Pennsylvania state high school rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher in 2012) and Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher from 2011, who, finally healthy again, enjoyed a resurgent spring. The Mountaineers also will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. The difficult part for Seider will be divvying up carries to so many capable backs. But if the Mountaineers can keep everyone happy and find the right combination, this could become a devastating and versatile running back stable.

2. Texas (1): Coach Charlie Strong delivered promising news on Monday in San Antonio, suggesting Johnathan Gray could be cleared from his Achilles injury by mid-June. Strong also said that Joe Bergeron will be rejoining the team shortly, too, after sitting out the spring to focus on academics. When healthy and eligible, the trio of Malcolm Brown, Gray and Bergeron is a formidable bunch and the backbone of the Texas offense.

3. Baylor (3): Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin exited spring as the co-starters, but Johnny Jefferson left the biggest impression in the spring game. The Bears have a track record of spreading carries around, which means Big 12 fans will become very acquainted with the talented redshirt freshman next season.

4. Oklahoma State (5): One of the biggest surprises of the spring was how much the Cowboys used Tyreek Hill at running back. Oklahoma State is planning to utilize the nation’s top juco playmaker the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two years ago. In other words, Hill could line up in the backfield one play then slot receiver the next. Either way, arguably the fastest player in college football gives the Cowboys a dynamic lightning component to complement the thunderous running of senior Desmond Roland, who led all Big 12 backs in touchdowns last season.

5. Oklahoma (3): There might not be a Big 12 backfield with more upside than Oklahoma’s. Of course, with that upside comes little experience. Sophomore Keith Ford has the potential to be a punishing inside runner, but he had fumbling issues last season as a freshman that re-emerged during the spring. If he can’t hang onto the ball, he won’t play, no matter how tough he runs between the tackles. After getting passed by Ford on the depth chart last year, Alex Ross bounced back with an impressive spring. Early enrollee Dimitri Flowers was a revelation this spring as a powerful run-blocking fullback in the mold of Trey Millard. If fellow incoming freshman Joe Mixon lives up to his recruiting hype, the Sooners could feature their most potent rushing attack in years.

6. Iowa State (8): The most underrated one-two punch at running back in the league resides in Ames. According to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy were sharp all spring and will spearhead an offense that could surprise in 2014. The key will be keeping the slight but explosive Wimberly relatively healthy, which he never really was before and after rushing for 137 and 117 yards back to back against Tulsa and Texas. Wimberly, however, was 100 percent all spring, and it showed, as he racked up 68 yards on just nine touches in the spring game.

7. TCU (7): TCU had to make do without its three top backs in the spring due to injuries. Aaron Green suffered a broken collarbone, Kyle Hicks had a shoulder bruise, and returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon dealt with a nagging hamstring injury. All three, however, should be fine for the fall, and could form a reliable rotation at running back. Four-star recruit Shaun Nixon could help out, too, once he arrives on campus.

8. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders dropped two spots, largely because returning starter Kenny Williams played outside linebacker all spring and could remain there for good. But even if Williams becomes a full-time linebacker, Tech still could be solid at running back with veteran DeAndre Washington, sophomore Quinton White and incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton, whom the Texas Tech coaching staff is very high on. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t have given Williams the go-ahead to move to defense if he didn’t feel optimistic about what remained in the backfield.

9. Kansas (9): Though they come in ninth here, running back could be a position of strength for the Jayhawks next season. Brandon Bourbon, the favorite to start, rushed for 96 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, but Taylor Cox (63 yards on 15 carries) and Darrian Miller (50 yards on seven carries) had nice outings, as well. The Jayhawks also will welcome De’Andre Mann, the nation’s fifth-best juco running back, in the summer, as well as four-star freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. Until they start winning more games, it’s difficult to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt in these position rankings. But with this collection of runners, they might not miss All-Big 12 performer James Sims as much as first thought.

10. Kansas State (10): The spring brought little clarity about who John Hubert’s primary replacement will be. Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones both ran hard in K-State’s spring game, though neither broke a run for longer than 11 yards. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Robinson, who has the most experience of the three, sat out the scrimmage with an injury. As a result, incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost 9 yards per carry his final two years in high school, will have an opportunity to be a factor once he joins the team this summer.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
3:45
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we're examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Wednesday with running backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

1. Texas: The three-headed monster of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron gives Texas the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. Whether this group goes from good to great hinges on a healthy return for Gray, who is coming back from an Achilles injury and will sit out spring drills. Either way, this will be the backbone of Charlie Strong’s first offense.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShock Linwood showed breakaway ability as a Baylor reserve in 2013.
2. Baylor: Shock Linwood takes over in the backfield after a dynamic freshman season in which he finished seventh in the league in rushing despite being a third-team running back. The competition for carries after Linwood will be interesting. Devin Chafin is the favorite to be Linwood’s wing man, but he could be pressed by Johnny Jefferson and/or incoming four-star freshman Terence Williams, who is already on campus.

3. Oklahoma: The potential of this running back crop has no bounds. But it will be young and inexperienced after seniors Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams (until he was kicked off the team) hoarded the carries last season. Keith Ford, who was the nation’s No. 3 running back recruit in the 2013 class, will take over the starting role. Joe Mixon, this year’s No. 6 RB recruit, won’t get to Norman until the summer, but he should supply the lightning to Ford’s thunder. Alex Ross, who was the nation’s No. 7 RB recruit in the 2012 class, rounds out a fearsome threesome with tremendous pedigree.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims, but still claim a glut of capable rushers. Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood thrived playing behind Sims last year. West Virginia also has Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, its leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. (Buie is back after leaving school for a semester.) On top of all that, Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell figures to be in the mix. Shell was the No. 26 overall recruit in the country coming out of high school after becoming the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history. If that weren’t enough, the gem of the incoming recruiting class, Donte Thomas-Williams, is also a running back. Suffice to say, the competition for carries will be fierce in the league’s deepest backfield.

5. Oklahoma State: Desmond Roland helped fuel Oklahoma State’s midseason turnaround after seizing a starting role. Roland was great in short yardage and led the Big 12 with 13 touchdowns, but he wasn’t a big-play runner, with an average of only 4.6 yards per carry (14th in the league). The Cowboys are banking that Rennie Childs can complement Roland as the breakaway back. Childs showed flashes as a true freshman. Roland and Childs can form a solid combo, but four-star freshman Devon Thomas, who is enrolled for the spring, should not be discounted, nor should Sione Palelei, who has the good hands that past Oklahoma State running backs also possessed.

6. Texas Tech: The returning duo of Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington won’t do much damage between the tackles. Both, however, are excellent pass-catchers, making them supreme fits for Kliff Kingsbury’s spread attack. Together they combined for 64 receptions, and that number should go up in 2014 as quarterback Davis Webb settles in as a sophomore.

7. TCU: The Horned Frogs were a disaster offensively last year, but the potential at running back is a reason why TCU could be equipped for a bounce-back season. Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks and incoming freshman Shaun Nixon were all ESPN 300 recruits. That doesn’t include B.J. Catalon, either, who led the Frogs with 569 yards and six touchdowns last season. With a new regime making the play calls, there’s reason to believe this could become one of the better units in the league.

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesIf Aaron Wimberly can stay healthy, Iowa State has a potentially dynamic returning running back.
8. Iowa State: When healthy, Aaron Wimberly can be a game-breaker. He torched Texas for 137 yards as the Cyclones nearly pulled off a Thursday night upset. Wimberly, however, was never really healthy the rest of the season, and never had the same impact. After Wimberly, though, the Cyclones don’t have much returning firepower. Firepower, however, could be on the way. Oklahoma native Michael Warren went overlooked in recruiting, but he can fly; he rushed for more than 2,500 yards as a high school senior.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks gradated their heart and soul in James Sims, who was an all-conference selection even though Kansas won only one Big 12 game. Tony Pierson returns as an electric playmaker, but he has never been a full-time running back, often flexing out as a receiver. It will be interesting to see who emerges in Sims’ shoes. Brandon Bourbon (191 yards) will have the first crack in the spring, but newcomers De'Andre Mann and Traevohn Wrench could vie for time once they arrive in the summer.

10. Kansas State: It’s difficult to believe K-State will be at the bottom here once the season starts, but running back is a major hole for the Wildcats going into the spring. That’s because longtime starter John Hubert is gone. Hubert, senior backup Robert Rose and QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams combined for 492 carries last season. Nobody else had more than five. Rising senior DeMarcus Robinson, who has only 11 career carries, will probably be atop the depth chart going into the spring. It’s also possible that Sams will get a look at running back with Waters having nailed down the full-time QB job. But the player to watch here is freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns his final two seasons in Blue Springs, Mo. Warmack isn’t big at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds. But his size fits the mold of past K-State running backs Hubert and Darren Sproles.

Big 12 predictions: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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Welp, it finally happened. I finally lost to a guest picker. And to a 14-year-old, no less. Thanks, Caymen. I thought you weren’t going to embarrass me?

Anyway, this reporter’s pride is on the line again. This week’s guest picker submission:

My name is Claire Stallings and I would love to one day be a guest picker for you. It’s about time a lady shows these men how to pick a perfect week! I love the Big 12 and of course Baylor. I worked for the team all through college and I am that girl who knows more about Baylor football than most of the men on campus. I think it would be interesting to throw a girl into the “man’s world.” Don’t worry, I can hold my own. #GirlPower

The last time a girl challenged me to something, I was destroyed by my wife in a 5K. So this is my shot at redemption. #BringTheNoiseClaire.

Tonight, Max and national writer Mark Schlabach will be in Waco for Oklahoma-Baylor. Saturday, Brandon will drive to Stillwater to check out Kansas-Oklahoma State. Due to my horrific picking, I've been benched for the weekend.

To the Week 11 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 2-2 (.500)

Guest picker (14-year-old Caymen) last week: 3-1 (.750)

Trotter overall: 43-14 (.754)

Guest picker overall: 29-11 (.725)

THURSDAY

Baylor 52, Oklahoma 34: The Sooners’ best chance in this game is to pound the ball, wear out the clock and keep Baylor’s high-powered offense on the sidelines. But without star fullback Trey Millard, I’m skeptical OU can pull off such a game plan. The Sooners have no viable tight end, and none of their other fullbacks are capable receiving threats off play-action. OU’s remaining firepower keeps the game interesting into the second half. But a Sooners defense playing two freshman linebackers finally capitulates to the overwhelming speed of the Baylor offense, as the Bears make a statement they belong in the national title picture.

Claire’s pick: The media (including you, Jake) keeps saying K-State laid out the blueprint on how to beat Baylor, but then again, Mack Brown made it clear that OU is far from invincible. Between Baylor’s dynamic receiving duo, Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese, along with Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty’s Heisman-worthy performances, this pick was easy. #GoingTarpless. Baylor 56-35

SATURDAY

West Virginia 26, Texas 23: I find it strange the voters still haven’t put Texas back in the Top 25 polls. I actually had the Longhorns ranked 14th in the ESPN power ranking, the highest of the 19 voters in the ESPN poll. But this is a tough spot for Texas. West Virginia has been a far better team in Morgantown than away from it. The Mountaineers also have a ton of momentum from last week’s comeback overtime win over TCU, with a bowl appearance in their sights. Texas QB Case McCoy comes back to earth a bit and the Longhorns get caught peeking ahead to next week’s clash with Oklahoma State, as Charles Sims runs wild again to hand Texas its first Big 12 loss.

Claire’s pick: The Horns will win if they keep the ball with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray. But they have to make sure Case doesn’t make too many mistakes on the road. If they are not careful, West Virginia will upset Texas, just like they did to OSU. #TexasStayawayfromBriles. Texas 31-28

Kansas State 37, Texas Tech 34: With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back in the fold, the Wildcats are finally firing on all cylinders offensively. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been terrific lately, and, much to Bill Snyder’s satisfaction, have been taking care of the ball, too. Tech has had a great run. But turnover-prone teams usually don’t fare well against Snyder-coached teams, and only six offenses in college football have turned the ball over more times than the Red Raiders. As a result, K-State continues its late-season push and hands Tech a third straight defeat.

Claire’s pick: I grew up in a Tech-loving family from Midland, Texas. I have lost sleep over this pick, and I may lose friends and a chunk of my inheritance after this is published. Unfortunately, the clock has struck midnight for Cinderella, and they are beginning to look reminiscent of last year’s West Virginia squad. #SorryDad. K-State 38-35

TCU 19, Iowa State 13: Will either side have enough players left to actually stage the game? Iowa State figures to be without running back Aaron Wimberly, who’s been its best offensive player, and could be without QB Sam B. Richardson, too. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and running back B.J. Catalon are questionable on a team that also will be missing running back Waymon James and receiver Brandon Carter. The difference in this game proves to be TCU QB Casey Pachall, who finally showed signs of returning to his old self last week.

Claire’s pick: This is the “Battle of Who Could Care Less” between two struggling teams. TCU’s players are dropping like flies. TCU barely wins, but for sure is not making a bowl. #NotYallsYear #ByeFelicia. TCU 14-10

Oklahoma State 55, Kansas 9: Kansas has been hanging tough in Big 12 play. That ends here. The Cowboys have finally found their identity offensively with Clint Chelf at QB and the tough-running Desmond Roland at tailback. Oklahoma State keeps rolling in its return to the thick of the Big 12 title race.

Claire’s pick: I have always liked Kansas -- they have great school colors for game-day outfits. But that is all they have. Chelf is a real threat and the Cowboys' backfield has exploded these past few games -- they might actually steal the Big 12 title right out of Baylor’s little paws. #ButPleaseDont. Oklahoma State 56-14

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
3:00
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Here are this week’s unsung heroes:

Linebacker Eddie Lackey, Baylor: Overshadowed by Bryce Hager’s 18-tackle performance, Lackey had a solid game in the Bears’ 35-25 win over Kansas State. He finished with 10 tackles, including eight solo stops, and a forced fumble. His active play is one of the reasons the Bears’ defense is playing better in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJarvis West
Jerod Foster/Icon SMIJarvis West's efforts on special teams provided a major boost for Iowa State.
Receiver Jarvis West, Iowa State: The Cyclones’ wideout helped keep his squad in the game with his special teams’ prowess. He had a 95-yard kickoff return for a score and added 46 punt return yards including a 38-yarder. West finished with 177 all-purpose yards, more than 100 yards more than the next best Cyclone.

Cornerback JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas: Shepherd did it all in the Jayhawks’ 27-17 loss to TCU. He had seven tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and a 32-yard interception return for a touchdown. It was a terrific performance in his return home for the former Mesquite (Texas) Horn standout.

Running back John Hubert, Kansas State: An overlooked aspect of Daniel Sams’ explosive day was Hubert’s increased production. The senior had 15 carries for 90 yards to provide a solid 1-2 running punch alongside Sams. Hubert clearly becomes a more productive player with a running threat at quarterback.

Linebacker Frank Shannon, Oklahoma: The sophomore had the quietest 16-tackle performance in recent memory. Shannon continued to be a consistent playmaker on OU’s defense, recording those 16 tackles and forcing a fumble in the Sooners’ 36-20 loss to Texas. He’s proving to be a player the Sooners can count on, week in and week out.

Linebacker Dalton Santos, Texas: The Longhorns were stout against the run in their 36-20 win over OU, and Santos played a key role. The sophomore made plays from sideline to sideline and was consistently around the football. He finished with six tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss. Santos has helped offset the loss of Jordan Hicks for the Longhorns’ defense.

Running back B.J. Catalon, TCU: Catalon continues to be a playmaker for the Horned Frogs, accounting for a team-high 122 yards. The sophomore averaged 9.38 yards per touch in TCU’s 27-17 win over Kansas. On an offense searching for playmakers, it seems like the Horned Frogs can’t get the ball in Catalon’s hands enough, particularly if he can take better care of the football.

Running back Sadale Foster, Texas Tech: One of three Red Raiders to rush for more than 80 yards, Foster averaged 9.7 yards per carry in Tech’s 42-35 win over Iowa State. He had nine carries for 87 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 14.8 yards per carry on first down (five carries, 74 yards), including a 38-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

Note: Oklahoma State and West Virginia did not play in Week 7.

Big 12 Week 5 primer

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
7:00
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Oklahoma will look to bring back the Big 12 big nonconference win, Oklahoma State will attempt to put it on its former offensive coordinator and TCU will try to get back on track offensively.

Those are the Big 12’s major storylines for Week 5:

SMU at TCU, noon ET (FS1): The Horned Frogs spent the off week trying to correct an offense that was a mess in a loss to Texas Tech in Lubbock. Look for TCU to try to come out running the offense through B.J. Catalon and Waymon James, who form one of the better one-two punches at running back in the Big 12. This is TCU's only real opportunity to get the offense back on track before the schedule gets tough again, beginning next weekend with a trip to Norman, Okla.

Oklahoma State at West Virginia, noon (ESPN): The Cowboys go into Morgantown, W.Va., with confidence, but they have to be at least a little concern with QB Clint Trickett getting his first chance to spark the offense. The Mountaineers have been solid defensively so far this year, and if Trickett can hit some plays downfield in the passing game, this game could get interesting. Then again, if the West Virginia offense keeps doing what it has been doing, this game could get ugly quickly.

Oklahoma at Notre Dame, 3:30 p.m. (NBC): The Sooners have the chance to vanquish their Notre Dame demons from the past while showing the country they might have been overlooked during the preseason national championship conversation. The key will be whether the Oklahoma offensive line can hold its own this time against Notre Dame defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III. If the Sooners can run the ball effectively and Blake Bell keeps putting passes on the money, Oklahoma could walk out of South Bend, Ind., with its first victory over the Irish in 57 years.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
10:15
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Oklahoma's visit to Notre Dame highlights a very light week in the Big 12. Half of the league’s teams are on byes but there are still some interesting things to learn from the four games involving Big 12 teams this weekend.


Here's what to watch in the Big 12 for Week 5.

  1. Can Oklahoma strike for the Big 12 Conference? The Sooners have the chance to earn the biggest nonconference win of any Big 12 team this season if they can knock off Notre Dame in South Bend on Saturday. OU has its eye on inserting itself into the BCS title conversation and that could begin with a win against the Fighting Irish.
  2. What does Dana Holgorsen have in store for his former colleagues at Oklahoma State? Holgorsen spent one season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before he was named coach in waiting at West Virginia. He played a major part in transforming OSU’s offense into what it is today so both teams will be very familiar with the other’s offensive attack. Add in the Mountaineers’ struggles on offense this season and you have to expect Holgorsen will have some new, creative wrinkles to confuse OSU’s defense and spark WVU’s offense.
  3. How will TCU respond to a 1-2 start? TCU coach Gary Patterson didn’t like how his team was handling its start to the season, saying his group was "feeling sorry for themselves." Yet the Horned Frogs have had two weeks to get things going back in a positive direction and, even though they’ve stumbled at the start, they still have one of the top defenses in the conference. And that’s a terrific foundation to build upon.
  4. [+] EnlargePaul Rhoads
    David Purdy/Getty ImagesPaul Rhoads and Iowa State are off to a slow start.
  5. Can Iowa State get its first win of the season? The Cyclones opened the season with losses to Northern Iowa and Iowa. Worst yet, Paul Rhoads’ crew has played just two games heading into tonight’s game at Tulsa, making it tough to find any kind of rhythm and confidence on either side of the football. ISU’s defense has been particularly bad allowing 27.5 points and 417.5 yards per game thus far. It’s a young roster, full of inexperience, so if the Cyclones don’t win tonight, things could snowball in a hurry for the Cyclones.
  6. Will OSU stumble in Morgantown? The Cowboys will be a big favorite when they step on the field in Morgantown, W. Va., after WVU’s embarrassing 37-0 loss to Maryland last weekend. It would be easy for the Pokes to overlook the Mountaineers and stumble on the road in a conference play, particularly since WVU does have some talented, albeit young, players on the roster. WVU will be looking to prove it is better than it showed against the Terps while OSU will simply be looking to get off to a good start in conference play. Motive advantage: WVU.
  7. Can TCU find some type of offensive identity? What is TCU’s identity on offense? Does anybody know? The Horned Frogs have looked uncertain during their first three games, particularly with Trevone Boykin under center. Don’t be surprised if TCU re-commits its offense to the running game with talented runners B.J. Catalon and Waymon James in the backfield while putting Boykin on the back burner.
  8. How will OU quarterback Blake Bell do in his first road start? The Sooners signal caller has the opportunity to send a message with a stellar performance in his first road start. The Fighting Irish will be looking to stop the run and play physical, forcing Bell to beat them with his arm. If he can do it on a national stage, the junior will remove all doubt who should be leading the Sooners’ offense for the next two seasons.
  9. Is OU’s defense the real deal? The Sooners' defense has been terrific in OU’s first three games. Yet it hasn't been tested like it will be against the Fighting Irish. OU’s defense is built for speed and handling the spread offenses in the Big 12 so if ND comes out and tries to ram the football down OU’s throat, the Sooners will have to have an answer or risk being compared to last season’s disappointing unit.
  10. Will Ford Childress reward Holgorsen for sticking with him? The WVU quarterback has kept his starting job after throwing more touchdown passes to Maryland defenders than his teammates last weekend. He threw more interceptions than he completed passes to WVU receivers in the loss. Yet Holgorsen didn’t hesitate when asked if he was sticking with the redshirt freshman. Childress will be looking to reward that loyalty against OSU.
  11. Will Iowa State find an answer to its offensive woes? This was supposed to be a breakout season for quarterback Sam Richardson. It’s not looking good for the sophomore thus far. His numbers aren’t horrible (502 passing yards, 62 completion percentage) but he’s been unable to spark the Cyclones offense and take the entire team to another level like ISU fans would have hoped. If Richardson hopes to turn things around, he can start against a Tulsa defense that gave up 51 points to Oklahoma on Sept. 14.

Big 12 predictions: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
9:00
AM ET
Our guest picker this week is Omar Ahmad, out of Huntington, W.Va. Here was Omar’s clever submission:

I should be your Big 12 guest picker for Week 5. Why? Because when it comes to challenging the experts at ESPN, nobody Bears down like I do. I'm like an unstoppable Cyclone of correct predictions. I'm not a Wildcat with my selections (you'll never catch me picking a Longhorn to do anything other than be a horn that's long). I strive for the highest summits of analysis the likes of which no Mountaineer has ever seen. While you may be a college football maverick, I'm the Red Raider with guns-up accuracy. No Jayhawk can hang with my stuff (or anyone's stuff, for that matter). So stop being a Cowboy with your reckless game-picker selections. You know you're gonna tab me Sooner or later. Horned Frogs.

Last week, I correctly picked Texas to bounce back and beat Kansas State, but Omar’s Mountaineers burned me with a no-show performance in Baltimore. I was also called out in front of my ACC colleagues via this tweet from a @beedubss: “I hope Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich get to give @ESPN_Big12 a really hard time about his #WVUvsMD prediction. #GirlsRuleBoysDrool #GoTerps”.

Come on, guys. We’re better than this.

If you want to be next week’s guest picker, contact me here, and tell me why. And, as always, creativity counts.

To the Week 5 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 4-1 (.800)

Guest picker last week: 4-1 (.800)

Trotter overall: 25-5 (.833)

Guest picker overall: 10-3 (.769)

Tulsa 30, Iowa State 27: Dating back to last year, Iowa State has now lost six of seven, which includes a two-touchdown loss to Tulsa in the Liberty Bowl. Tulsa, meanwhile, has played better since an embarrassing 27-point loss at Bowling Green in its opener. This game is in Tulsa, where the Hurricane has not lost since falling to eighth-ranked Houston in November 2011. The Cyclones just don’t have the offensive firepower right now around quarterback Sam Richardson, who also faces the possibility of playing the rest of the season on a bum ankle.

Omar’s pick: The Golden Hurricane is a young team, but can still run the ball. The Cyclones cannot, and the return of Tom Farniok won’t change the fact that Sam Richardson is currently the team’s biggest threat on the ground. Tulsa, 31-27

TCU 31, SMU 16: Coach Gary Patterson rode his team hard during the off week, even calling them out in the media for “feeling sorry for themselves.” Despite the disappointing 1-2 start, the Horned Frogs have too many veteran players to feel sorry for themselves for very long. This is still a good team, with good players on both sides of the ball. If TCU can uncover an offensive identity post QB Casey Pachall -- perhaps running the ball more with B.J. Catalon and Waymon James to take pressure off QB Trevone Boykin -- the Frogs will be fine. This SMU game is a golden opportunity for TCU to figure out some things before going to Norman next weekend.

Omar’s pick: Despite the 1-2 start, TCU’s defense is still arguably the best in the Big 12. Garrett Gilbert will get his yards, but Boykin and Catalon run wild on a Mustang front seven that’s one of the smallest and most inexperienced in the nation. TCU, 36-20

Oklahoma State 42, West Virginia 14: Both teams are running Dana Holgorsen’s offense. Only one is running it well. After the 37-0 loss to Maryland, Holgorsen rightfully called West Virginia’s offense as inept as it could be. Omar's Mountaineers don’t have any playmakers at receiver, the offensive line is not getting any push in the run game and QB Ford Childress is too young to overcome either deficiency. Poor Charles Sims, by the way, picked the wrong year to transfer. Imagine Sims on the same team with Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Now that would be an offense that could outscore Oklahoma State. This West Virginia offense cannot.

Omar’s pick: The Cowboys are getting it done by land and air so far, while the Mountaineers are trying to rebuild the offense through Ford Childress. The WVU defense keeps it closer than most expect. OSU, 34-21

Notre Dame 24, Oklahoma 21: The Sooners feel good about themselves after Blake Bell’s performance against Tulsa. But this isn’t Tulsa. And this game won’t be played in Norman. The Irish have looked lackluster so far this season, but they’ve played a difficult schedule featuring Michigan and Michigan State. The Sooners, meanwhile, have yet to play anybody. Notre Dame wins the battle in the trenches, forces Bell into a couple of critical mistakes in his first start on the road, makes the plays in the fourth quarter like it did last year in Norman and moves to 10-1 all-time in the series while preventing the Big 12 from picking up its first Top 25 non-conference victory.

Omar’s pick: Blake Bell has a cool nickname; Tommy Rees does not. OU, 28-23

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
9:00
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Let's take a look the top storylines in the Big 12 for Week 2:

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight showed off his mobility in Week 1, but Oklahoma will need his arm to find long-term success.
1. Will Trevor Knight make a major jump from Week 1 to Week 2? Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman quarterback had lackluster passing yards (86) in his first collegiate start, but the Sooners put up 34 points thanks in part to his legs (103 rushing yards) and red-zone efficiency (three touchdown passes). But if OU expects to make it through September without a loss, Knight will have to make defenses pay with his arm.

2. Dana Holgorsen’s plan. West Virginia’s simplified offense in the opener left the Sooners very little to go off of as they prepare for the Mountaineers. Expect Holgorsen to break out the creative offense that has earned him his reputation as a superb offensive mind this weekend. Yet, Holgorsen has no idea how quarterback Paul Millard will react in a hostile environment in front of 80,000 fans so it might not matter how creative the offense is if the team or quarterback can’t execute.

3. Will the Longhorns send a message? Texas travels to Provo, Utah to face a BYU squad coming off a 19-16 season-opening loss to Virginia. Much like Knight, there are mixed reviews after UT’s win to open the season. The Longhorns’ offense looked unstoppable at times and very average at other times, but all will be forgotten if UT looks dominant in its first road test of the season.

4. Kansas State needs to get back on track. KSU coach Bill Snyder isn’t happy with the leadership on his team, that much is clear after his postgame comments following the Wildcats’ shocking 24-21 loss to North Dakota State. "I would like to see a whole bunch of mad guys in all honesty,” Snyder said about the postgame locker room. “I did not see any. That is concerning, that is for sure.” The Wildcats will look to regain some confidence when Louisiana-Lafayette visits Manhattan on Saturday. Rediscovering their running game and playing more physical on defense should be high priorities if KSU plans to get back to its winning ways of 2012.

5. How will TCU’s quarterback situation continue to develop? Casey Pachall started against LSU but was replaced by Trevone Boykin, as the Horned Frogs tried to put a spark into the offense. It will be interesting to see how Gary Patterson’s squad plans to use the duo when Southeastern Louisiana comes to Amon G. Carter Stadium.

6. Saturday will provide the first look at the Kansas Jayhawks. The lone Big 12 team that didn’t participate in a bowl game, KU hopes to change that this season. The Jayhawks feature some explosive threats on offense with running backs James Sims and Tony Pierson returning to go alongside transfer quarterback Jake Heaps and receiver Justin McCay. Coach Charlie Weis has some talent at his disposal so it will be interesting to see how he plans to use that talent in 2013.

7. Will OSU, Baylor or Texas Tech suffer a letdown? Week 1 should serve as a wake-up call to all three teams, as the conference watched K-State and Iowa State lose to FCS opponents. The Bears (versus Buffalo), Cowboys (at Texas San-Antonio) and Red Raiders (versus Stephen F. Austin) could continue to impress by challenging themselves to play at a high level regardless of their opponent on Saturday. Or they could take a step backward by allowing lesser opponents to hang around until deep into the second half.

8. Were Week 1 performances a fluke? Texas Tech’s Baker Mayfield, OSU’s J.W. Walsh, Texas’ David Ash and Baylor’s Bryce Petty were among the Big 12’s stars in Week 1. Will they come back down to earth in Week 2? Consistency is what turns a good player into a great player. If those players match their performances in the season’s opening week, the Big 12 could be on its way to regaining its reputation as a conference filled with quality quarterbacks.

9. Dee-fense. OU, OSU and Baylor allowed three points or less, and Texas joined those three Big 12 squads in holding an opponent to single digits. With the majority of the conference facing teams that don’t feature Big 12-level offensive attacks, we should see similar results in Week 2. What if we don’t?

10. Will more new names emerge? Charles Sims burst onto the Big 12 landscape with a 120-yard rushing performance in his first game at WVU. TCU's B.J. Catalon showed he’s a name to know with his 233 all-purpose yards, and UT's Daje Johnson put fear into the hearts of defenses around the conference with his two-touchdown outing in Week 1. Expect other offensive skill players to make their mark on their teams this weekend.

Big 12 power rankings: Week 1

September, 3, 2013
9/03/13
9:00
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The season's first weekend is behind us and we know more about these teams than we did a week ago. There's been some moment in the power rankings, which will likely become a weekly occurrence with the Big 12 race so wide open this season.

1. Oklahoma State (1-0, last week 1): The Cowboys' defense was impressive in the season-opening 21-3 win against Mississippi State, recording three sacks and grabbing two interceptions. Defense has always been the question mark in Stillwater. If OSU’s defense continues to rise under new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, the Cowboys will be tough to beat.

2. Oklahoma (1-0, last week 3): As impressive as OSU’s defense was, the Sooners’ D might have been even more eye-opening. The Sooners looked fast, physical and aggressive as they shut out a quality Louisiana-Monroe team. Add a solid debut from redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, and OU continues to make a case to sit atop this list. West Virginia comes to town this week to start the Sooners’ Big 12 schedule.

3. Texas (1-0, last week 4): The Longhorns scored 42 points and gained 459 yards in the second half, averaging 10.67 yards per play, after a relatively slow start against New Mexico State. It was a pretty dominating performance in the game’s final 30 minutes. All the skill-position talent on the roster was on full display against the Aggies. This week’s trip to Provo, Utah will be a stern test for the Longhorns.

4. Baylor (1-0, last week 5): Easily the Big 12’s most impressive team in Week 1 -- against Wofford. Nonetheless, the Bears looked to be in midseason form offensively and had a strong defensive showing against their FCS opponent. Quarterback Bryce Petty looks as good as advertised, and Lache Seastrunk continued to make game-altering plays. They looked every bit like a Big 12 title contender.

5. TCU (0-1, last week 2): Is it fair to drop TCU three spots after a hard-fought loss to SEC power LSU? No, not really, but a loss is a loss. Nonetheless, there’s no major difference between OSU, OU, UT, BU and TCU. All five squads could win this league without it being considered a big surprise. The Horned Frogs lost, but there were some reasons to be encouraged, particularly the explosive performance from running back B.J. Catalon.

6. Texas Tech (1-0, last week 8): The Red Raiders ride the arm of Baker Mayfield to sixth on this list after the walk-on true freshman passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns (and added a rushing TD) to earn Big 12 offensive player of the week honors. It's clear Kliff Kingsbury has brought enthusiasm and excitement to his alma mater.

7. West Virginia (1-0, last week 7): The Mountaineers escaped with a 24-17 win against William & Mary but were far from impressive. But a win is a win, and WVU has the chance to impress when they visit Norman, Okla. this Saturday to face the Sooners. Win against OU and all is forgotten.

8. Kansas State (0-1, last week 6): Everyone knows what happened to the Wildcats on Friday. Nobody seems to know why. KSU’s loss to North Dakota State was the story of the weekend, and it’s become clear the Wildcats aren’t on the level of last year’s squad. Anyone believing KSU should be higher on this list need only to watch NDSU’s final drive to secure the upset.

9. Iowa State (0-1, last week 9): The other Big 12 team to start with a loss to an FCS team, the Cyclones will have to regroup quickly. ISU’s defense was nonexistent in allowing 457 yards in a 28-20 loss to Northern Iowa. A bye week comes at a good time for the Cyclones, who need to shore up a defense that was solid in 2012.

10. Kansas (0-0, last week 10): The Jayhawks will finally kick off their 2013 season against South Dakota on Saturday as the Jake Heaps era begins in Lawrence, Kan.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 1

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
11:00
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Taking stock of what happened in Week 1 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Oklahoma State. By knocking off SEC opponent Mississippi State, the Cowboys delivered the Big 12 its best win of the opening weekend. Oklahoma State did it with defense, too, suggesting this could be the best unit Mike Gundy has had in Stillwater.

Biggest disappointment: Kansas State. Losing to an FCS team hurts. But the way the Wildcats lost has to hurt worse. North Dakota State went on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that left just a few seconds on the clock to prevail 24-21. The Wildcats led 21-7 in the third quarter but were dominated the rest of the way. The way the Bison ran between the tackles has to be especially troubling going forward, considering stopping the run has been a calling card for Bill Snyder teams.

Robert Seals
AP Photo/LM OteroTexas Tech freshman Baker Mayfield (6) had quite a debut against SMU.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Texas Tech QB Baker Mayfield. A couple of weeks ago, the college football world had never heard of Mayfield. They have now. The walk-on true freshman completed 43 of 60 passes for 413 yards and accounted for five touchdowns. Kliff Kingsbury might have uncovered his quarterback of the future.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Oklahoma LBs Corey Nelson and Shaun Lewis. Both seniors had big openers in their teams’ big defensive performances. Lewis had three tackles for loss and a sack. Nelson had two tackles for loss and a sack and was constantly in Louisiana-Monroe’s backfield. Combined, the Sooners and Cowboys allowed just one field goal.

Special-teams player of the week: TCU’s B.J. Catalon. The Horned Frogs running back delivered a 100-yard kickoff return in the second quarter that put TCU back in the game after a lackluster first quarter against LSU. Catalon also reeled off a 26-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and finished with 52 yards rushing and 22 yards receiving.

Play of the week: Oklahoma State QB J.W. Walsh’s second-quarter dash. With the Cowboys trailing 3-0 late in the second quarter, Walsh took an option keeper down the left sideline 46 yards to the Mississippi State 14-yard line. Another keeper put the ball at the Bulldogs' 3, and he carried the ball into the end zone two plays later to give Oklahoma State its first lead. Walsh led Oklahoma State with 125 rushing yards.

Stat of the week: Trevor Knight became the first Oklahoma quarterback under Bob Stoops to have more rushing yards than passing yards in a game. Knight ran for 103 yards and passed for 86. The last Sooners QB to rush for more than he passed for in a game was Eric Moore in 1998.

Quote of the week: “Now will you believe me when I say we're not very good? That's what I've been trying to tell you.” -- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder

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