Oklahoma Sooners: Brennan Clay

Seventeen Big 12 players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft. Many other Big 12 alums will have a chance at the next level as undrafted free agents.

Below is a list of undrafted players who reportedly have agreed to free agent deals. This is not a final list, as teams are still working to sign undrafted free agents. But these are the players we know of so far.

Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
TCU
Texas
Texas Tech
West Virginia
Oklahoma won that Red River battle.

The NFL draft came and went last weekend without a player from University of Texas being taken for the first time since 1937. Meanwhile, OU had four Sooners selected on Saturday, including two fourth-round picks in Jalen Saunders and Aaron Colvin.

Here’s a breakdown of the Sooners selected and how they could fit with their new teams.

WR Jalen Saunders, 4th round, N.Y. Jets

The fit: The Jets should be a good fit for Saunders as they badly need guys who can change a game in one play. Expect him to help the Jets immediately on special teams.

Best-case scenario: Saunders takes over as the punt returner and finds a role in the offense as a slot receiver to complement Eric Decker and Stephen Hill.

Worst-case scenario: Questions about his size come to fruition as he’s manhandled by bigger cornerbacks, or worse yet, the injury bug hits.

CB Aaron Colvin, 4th round, Jacksonville Jaguars

The fit: It’s probably not the best fit for Colvin to go to a franchise that has struggled for years. The Jaguars’ probable on-field struggles could put a damper on a rookie season that will be spent on the sideline. That said, Jacksonville is trying to rebuild with young players and Colvin fits the bill.

Best-case scenario: At the organization’s request, Colvin takes his time rehabbing his ACL injury, which he suffered at the Senior Bowl in January, and returns to 100 percent before he gets on the field for the first time. Ideally, he could return late in his rookie season and get his feet wet down the home stretch.

Worst-case scenario: Colvin has some type of setback that puts his 2015 season in question, particularly if it is sparked by any type of impatience from the organization.

LB Corey Nelson, 7th round, Denver Broncos

The fit: The Broncos could end up with a steal in Nelson, who looked poised for a superb senior season before a pectoral injury. For Nelson, it’s a good situation because he has to potential to fill multiple linebacker spots and help on special teams for a team that needs to fill roster spots as cheaply as possible after a high-spending offseason.

Best-case scenario: Nelson becomes a staple on special teams while becoming someone the coaching staff thinks can help on defense in the future.

Worst-case scenario: Nelson doesn’t make the roster.

FB Trey Millard, 7th round, San Francisco 49ers

The fit: Much like Colvin, Millard is coming off an ACL injury. But the 49ers are the perfect fit for Millard, who is physical and versatile and should become a useful piece in San Francisco’s offense.

Best-case scenario: Millard takes his time returning to 100 percent. Once he returns the field, he essentially becomes Colin Kaepernick’s bodyguard in the backfield while becoming a key special team player.

Worst-case scenario: Millard never returns to the player he was before an ACL injury ended his senior season.

Undrafted Sooners signees

S Gabe Lynn, Detroit Lions: Lynn should get an opportunity on a Lions team in need of defensive backs.

C Gabe Ikard, Tennessee Titans: Ikard’s versatility could help him make the Titans roster, as he can play three spots in the interior.

WR Jaz Reynolds, Tennessee Titans: If Reynolds can maximize his physical ability, he could earn a spot on the roster or practice squad.

G Bronson Irwin, Green Bay Packers: Irwin, much like Ikard, could find himself on the Packers roster if he shows the versatility he did in crimson and cream.

RB Roy Finc, New England Patriots: If Finch can show his big-play ability as a returner, his chances of sticking in New England increase.

RB Brennan Clay, Denver Broncos: The Broncos are a solid fit for Clay, who was easily OU’s most complete running back last season and could earn himself a spot on the roster by being dependable at running back and making an impact on special teams.

RB Damien Williams, Miami Dolphins: The Dolphins have several young running backs who could make things tough on Williams, but he has NFL ability.

WR Lacoltan Bester, Houston Texans: Bester will have to impress on special teams first if he hopes to make the roster.
Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

The Sooners 15 practices answered some questions, but others remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman. We took a look at offense and defense earlier this week. We end the series on Friday with special teams.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard
Crystal LoGiudice/USA TODAY SportsSterling Shepard should be able to step up and fill the void left in OU's return game by the departure of Jalen Saunders.
Kicker

Pre-spring: Already considered among the nation’s best, Michael Hunnicutt is locked in as the Sooners’ starting kicker.

Post-spring: Not only should the Sooners feel great about Hunnicutt, he showed increased kicking prowess in the spring game. Long-range field goals have not been a strength for the 2013 Lou Groza Award semifinalist during his first three years, but he nailed two 40-plus yard field goals in the spring game, including a 53-yarder, although it was wind-aided.

Summer outlook: OU heads into the summer knowing it has one of the nation’s best kickers.

Punter

Pre-spring: Jed Barnett returns after his first season as OU’s punter, averaging 41.7 yards per punt.

Post-spring: Much like kicker, there's not much to see here. Barnett was solid during his first season and returns to give OU solid punting in his final year on campus. OU should exit the spring feeling good about both kicking positions.

Summer outlook: Barnett is a very solid punter and heads into the summer as the clear No. 1 guy. There’s no reason to think that will change.

Returners

Pre-spring: The Sooners lose all of their returners. Receiver Jalen Saunders was dynamic on punt returns and running backs Roy Finch and Brennan Clay were very productive kick returners. With that, there are plenty of questions about who will return kicks.

Post-spring:Receiver Sterling Shepard is in line to return punts. He was a superb punt returner in high school and has proven playmaking ability. Cornerback Zack Sanchez could also be an option as a punt returner this fall. Kick returns could be a good fit for running back Alex Ross or running back Daniel Brooks among several other young and talented options.

Summer outlook: OU will start finalizing its return game in August. Plenty of talented freshmen could get the opportunity, with Shepard looking like the lone frontrunner for any of the return positions.

“When we get our whole football team on here in the summer, that’s when I’ll identify and make final decisions on that,” special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said of potential punt and kick returners. “We have a lot of freshmen coming in and we have a lot of guys who are busting their butts right now. We won’t make any final decisions until towards the end of fall camp.”

Punt/kick coverage

Pre-spring: OU’s coverage teams could improve after allowing 15.6 yards per punt return and 23.28 yards per kick return in 2013. But OU’s coverage overall was pretty solid and its coverage units allowed then-freshmen like Ahmad Thomas, Dakota Austin and Keith Ford to get their feet wet and contribute during their first seasons.

Post-spring: Much like the returners, Boulware will be looking to finalize these units after the freshmen arrive. One key to keep an eye on will be OU’s attempt to replace Trey Millard, who was a special teams monster during his four seasons. Freshman Dimitri Flowers appears ready to help replace Millard on offense but Boulware said he’s not certain if the early enrollee can match Millard’s contributions on special teams as well.

Summer outlook: Special teams coverage units can be a way for true freshmen to get their foot in the door. Boulware likes the overall speed and athleticism on the roster this spring, so adding additional, hungry freshmen into the mix should help OU be able to field some of the quickest and more athletic coverage units in the Big 12 in 2014. The battle for special teams spots should be interesting to watch and could provide a glimpse at the young guys who could be the future on offense and defense.
Oklahoma will hold its spring game on Saturday, and there are several storylines to keep an eye on for the Allstate Sugar Bowl champions. Here's a closer look at what to watch in OU's spring game.

When: Saturday at 2 p.m.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTrevor Knight won't play a lot in OU's spring game, but he has a chance to showcase his development.
Where: Oklahoma Memorial Stadium

What to watch for:

  • Has Trevor Knight continued to develop? Don’t expect the Sooners quarterback to get a lot of work during the spring game as his health is a top priority. Yet, Knight is still a young and relatively inexperienced quarterback who needs quality reps. The spring game will show if he carries himself like a veteran and if his teammates are responding to him as the man in command of OU’s offense. A strong one or two series would show Knight is continuing to develop as a player despite not being pushed by daily competition for the starting job.
  • What about behind him? Quarterbacks Cody Thomas, a redshirt freshman, and Justice Hansen, a true freshman, are raw and untested. The spring game gives the duo the chance to show they can handle the No. 2 quarterback job if called upon in the fall. Thomas has been splitting his time with the Sooners’ baseball team with no ill effects on his football duties, while Hansen enrolled early and is adjusting to life as a college football player.
  • Who will get the bulk of the carries? OU will welcome ESPN 300 signees Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine to its running backs group this summer. So this spring is the opportunity for sophomore running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross to cement their spots at the front of the line alongside Knight. Ford was a pleasant surprise as a true freshman. He earned carries before fumble troubles placed him on the sideline. Ross has been one of the stars of the spring with coaches and teammates alike lauding his explosiveness in scrimmages. Saturday is their chance to show they’re ready to fill the void left by the departures of Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch.
  • DB Ahmad Thomas: It would be a surprise if Thomas doesn’t see the field a lot this fall. The sophomore is proving to be versatile and talented while lining up at multiple positions in OU’s defense. After enrolling early in January 2012, Thomas played in 12 games as a true freshman and finished with nine tackles in limited action. Now, he appears poised to be a key piece of the Sooners defense as a sophomore. The Sooners are tinkering to find the best spot for Thomas, but a strong spring game could reaffirm his place as one of the breakout stars this spring.
  • New names: Several young players are creating a buzz, including receiver Jordan Smallwood, cornerback Dakota Austin and defensive tackle Charles Walker. Smallwood’s name has repeatedly come up this spring, as he’s made a solid impression after missing the 2013 season with a broken foot. Austin has been competing with Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson to replace All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, and, while undersized, his coverage ability and competitive nature have shone through. Walker has earned a reputation as a future star with his exceptional size and speed combination, so Saturday will be the first glimpse at the redshirt freshman. The spring game will give that trio and many other young Sooners the opportunity to show they can be contributors on offense or defense in 2014.
Oklahoma began its spring practices last weekend with back-to-back practices Saturday and Sunday. The Sooners get back to work today with an eye on capturing another Big 12 title under Bob Stoops. Here are some things to watch this spring:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Sophomore running back Keith Ford could be ready to take the next step in the Sooners' offense. OU needs someone to fill the void left by departed running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch, who combined for 4,824 career rushing yards in crimson and cream. Ford earned himself some carries as a freshman, but fumble troubles put him in the doghouse for a portion of his first season. This spring, Ford could lock down a major role in the offense with his power, decisiveness and quickness.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Thomas
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAhmad Thomas' blend of size and athleticism makes him a candidate to step in at safety as a sophomore.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Safety Ahmad Thomas didn’t get major time on the Sooners' defense as a freshman. But the versatile defensive back appears poised to become a key piece of OU’s defensive plan as a sophomore. At 6-foot and 218 pounds, Thomas brings terrific size, athleticism and aggressiveness to the Sooners secondary. If he continues to improve and develop, he could be too good to leave on the sidelines, forcing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to find ways to get him involved.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Defensive tackle Charles Walker was an unknown with an underwhelming offer list when he signed with OU in February 2013. But Walker was one of the guys who repeatedly earned praise during discussions of scout-team stars last fall. At 6-2 and 289 pounds, Walker moves like a much smaller man and could force his way onto the field with his play this spring and provide young, quality depth along the defensive line.

Most significant position battle: The battle to replace two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin should be entertaining. There is no clear favorite among a group of talented cornerbacks that includes Stanvon Taylor, Cortez Johnson and Dakota Austin. This spring provides the opportunity for someone to step up in Colvin’s absence and become a trustworthy cover man on the perimeter of OU’s defense. If that doesn’t happen, the Sooners could be forced to account for a weak link in the secondary, particularly if none of the freshman arrivals in the summer (Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green) proves they can slide into Colvin’s spot.

Key midterm enrollee: Linebacker Devante Bond already is making an impression during his short time at OU. An outside linebacker with pass rush skills, Bond isn’t going to replace Eric Striker in the Sooners lineup. Yet if he proves to be one of the best pass rushers on the squad this spring, Stoops could pair him with Striker to give Big 12 quarterbacks headaches this fall.

Question that could be answered: Will Trevor Knight build on his Sugar Bowl MVP performance? The sophomore ended his first season with a bang, leading OU to a upset win over Alabama. This spring will show if Knight is hungry for more and striving to play at a championship level every Saturday this fall, or if he could return to the inconsistency that hampered his play in 2013.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will get the majority of the carries in OU’s backfield this fall? Even if Ford has an exceptional spring, there’s no guarantee he can hold off the talents of incoming freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the summer. The lone certainty is that there will be a bunch of talented options for running backs coach Cale Gundy.

Grading Oklahoma's class: 2010

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Oklahoma is poised to add several recruits into the fold on Wednesday, with its eye on creating the foundation of a future championship squad. Yet, recruiting is an inexact science, as some projected stars rise to meet those high expectations while others struggle to make a difference in the Big 12. Thus, it’s the perfect time to look back at OU’s past five recruiting classes. On Tuesday, we continue the series with a review of the Class of 2010, including recruits who exceeded expectations, those who were solid signees and complete busts.

This class featured seven players in the ESPN 150 and a ton of star power led by the “Cali Trio” of Kenny Stills, Brennan Clay and Tony Jefferson. The class was ranked No. 5 nationally by ESPN.com.

Transcendent figures

[+] EnlargeTrey Millard
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTrey Millard earned first-team All-Big 12 honors during his final three seasons in Norman.
Fullback Trey Millard: The No. 59-ranked athlete in this class, Millard was exceptional during his four seasons in Norman. He was a mainstay on special teams, a devastating blocker from his fullback spot and a nightmare with the ball in his hands. He exceeded expectations and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors during his final three seasons.

Cornerback Aaron Colvin: An afterthought on signing day, but he was arguably the best player in this class. He started his first-ever Red River Rivalry as a freshman and started three straight seasons at two different positions, earning All-Big 12 honors twice. The nation’s No. 40 safety prospect coming out of Owasso, Okla., Colvin finished with 234 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five interceptions in 50 career games (36 starts).

Tackle Daryl Williams: The No. 53 tackle in the nation, Williams has performed like a highly-regarded offensive line prospect. He started his first college game as a redshirt freshman before injury derailed his first season. Nonetheless, Williams became a anchor on OU’s offensive line during his sophomore and junior seasons and enters his final season as one of the Big 12’s best offensive linemen.

Safety Tony Jefferson: The No. 21-ranked player in the ESPN 150, Jefferson stepped on campus with high expectations. He didn’t disappoint, earning Big 12 freshman-of-the-year honors in 2010 and All-Big 12 honors in 2012 before leaving early for the NFL. Jefferson finished with 258 tackles, eight interceptions and seven sacks in 40 career games (34 starts). He’s currently a safety for the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted last spring.

Receiver Kenny Stills: The No. 36-ranked receiver prospect, Stills started every game he played in crimson and cream. His speed and football IQ separated him from the competition, as he finished with 204 receptions for 2,594 yards and 24 touchdowns in 38 career games (38 starts) before leaving early for the NFL. He’s currently one of Drew Brees’ main targets with the New Orleans Saints.

Bull's-eye

Running back Brennan Clay: Ranked No. 129 in the ESPN 150, Clay overcame injuries to become a key performer. He never emerged as a star, but he was the type of consistent, productive player who helps teams win games. He had 1,913 yards and 13 touchdowns in 46 career games (18 starts).

Linebacker Corey Nelson: The No. 62 player in the ESPN 150, Nelson had a solid career. A three-year starter, he had 153 tackles, including 17.5 tackles for loss in 45 career games (27 starts).

Completely missed the mark

Receiver Justin McCay: McCay never made an impact with the Sooners, transferring after his redshirt freshman season. The No. 142 player in the ESPN 150, McCay transferred to Kansas and currently plays for the Jayhawks.

Receiver Sheldon McClain: Much like McCay, McClain had a higher ranking than Stills as the No. 22-ranked receiver nationally but never made an impact before transferring.

Overall grade

A-minus. Even though this recruiting class featured multiple disappointments, it was littered with stars and contributors. Tyrus Thompson, Julian Wilson, Roy Finch, Blake Bell and Chuka Ndulue are just a few of the other Sooners in the Class of 2010 who became starters or major contributors alongside Colvin, Millard and the rest of the playmakers signed in February 2010.
As we close in on national signing day, it’s an appropriate time to look back at how the top Big 12 recruits from four years ago performed.

2010 was a banner year for the Big 12 in recruiting, as the league collectively landed 23 from the ESPN 150.

A few, such as Jackson Jeffcoat, Ahmad Dixon and Shaun Lewis, became stars. Others washed out before their careers ever got off the ground.

[+] EnlargeSterling Shepard and Jackson Jeffcoat
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFormer five-star prospect Jackson Jeffcoat finished his career as the best defensive end in the Big 12.
Below is a closer look at what happened to ESPN 150 players who signed with Big 12 schools:

No. 2: Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas – Though he never reached a high level of team success, Jeffcoat had a great individual end to his career, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year honors and leading the league with 13 sacks.

No. 4: Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas – Hicks has been good when he has played. Because of multiple injuries, that hasn’t been often. Hicks missed most of last season with a torn Achilles, just a year after also being knocked out with a hip flexor injury. After getting a medical redshirt from his 2012 season, Hicks has one more year of eligibility remaining.

No. 13: Mike Davis, WR, Texas – Davis finished in the Big 12’s top 10 in receiving the last two seasons, compiling 200 career catches and 18 touchdown receptions.

No. 14: Taylor Bible, DT, Texas – Bible never played a down at Texas, leaving after his redshirt freshman season because of issues with grades. Bible ended up at Carson-Newman.

No. 15: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor – Dixon had a tremendous tenure with his hometown school, earning All-Big 12 and All-American honors as a senior as Baylor captured its first Big 12 title in 2013.

No. 18: Demarco Cobbs, ATH, Texas – The Tulsa, Okla., native has appeared in 29 games on special teams and as a defensive reserve. He missed all of the 2013 season with a knee injury.

No. 20: Darius White, WR, Texas – After making just six catches his first two seasons, White transferred to Missouri. He caught just seven passes this season for the Tigers, but has another year of eligibility left.

No. 21: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma – In his first season, Jefferson was the Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the year, and he was a three-year starter before leaving early to go pro.

No. 46: Ashton Dorsey, DT, Texas – After serving as a reserve throughout his career, Dorsey was projected to start this season, but he transferred out days before Texas’ season opener.

No. 48: Austin Haywood, TE, Oklahoma – After getting playing time as a third tight end early in his career, Haywood unexpectedly quit in the middle of the season, tried to earn his way back on the team, failed and ended up transferring to Central Arkansas. After getting suspended there, Haywood gave up football.

No. 62: Corey Nelson, LB, Oklahoma – Nelson shined early this season after finally getting a chance to be a full-time starter. That, however, was short-lived, as Nelson tore his pectoral muscle in an early October win over TCU and sat out the rest of his final season.

No. 65: Blake Bell, QB, Oklahoma – The “Belldozer” starred his first two seasons as a situational, short-yardage QB. But in the preseason, Bell was beaten out by Trevor Knight for the starting job. Bell, however, still had his moments this season because of injuries to Knight. He led OU to a win at Notre Dame, then quarterbacked OU’s game-winning touchdown drive at Oklahoma State.

No. 72: Reggie Wilson, DE, Texas – He appeared in 51 games as a defensive reserve. Wilson had 19 tackles and a sack as a senior.

No. 73: Chris Jones, WR, Texas – Jones transferred out after one year, and never played.

No. 75: Shaun Lewis, LB, Oklahoma State – Lewis made an immediate impact, earning Big 12 co-Defensive Freshman of the Year honors along with Tony Jefferson. Lewis was a four-year starter and a big piece in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround this season.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsFormer ESPN 150 recruit Brennan Clay was a solid, not spectacular, tailback for the Sooners.
No. 77: Quentin Hayes, S, Oklahoma – After serving a year-long suspension, Hayes returned to win a starting job this past season. He has another year left.

No. 86: Tevin Jackson, LB, Texas – Jackson has been a backup linebacker for the Longhorns and will be part of the team’s great depth there in 2014.

No. 103: Adrian White, CB, Texas – Played in 17 games, then joined the mass transfer exodus from this Texas class.

No. 109: Ivan McCartney, WR, West Virginia – McCartney never became a No. 1 receiver, though he did contribute on West Virginia’s explosive offenses in 2011-12. He only had 12 catches this past season as a senior, however.

No. 114: Aaron Benson, LB, Texas – The cousin of former Texas running back great Cedric Benson has only been a contributor on special teams.

No. 122: Carrington Byndom, S, Texas – One of the few players from this Texas class to pan out. Byndom made 39 career starts and was a second-team All-Big 12 selection this past season.

No. 129: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma – Clay proved to be a reliable and steady force in the OU backfield. He finished his career with 1,913 rushing yards, including 957 in 2013.

No. 134: Adrian Philips, ATH, Texas – Phillips settled in the Texas secondary, collecting 28 career starts there. He was second on the team this past season with 82 tackles.

No. 141: Trey Hopkins, OG, Texas – Hopkins became a stalwart up front, making 42 career starts along the offensive line. He was a two-time, second-team All-Big 12 selection.

No. 142: Justin McCay, ATH, Oklahoma – McCay transferred to Kansas after two years in Norman. He had nine receptions and a touchdown, which also was the first scoring catch by a Kansas wide receiver in almost two full seasons.
Images and highlights of Big 12 football are often filled with high-flying catches, deep throws and pass-happy spread offenses. Yet, Big 12 title hopes were rooted in the ability to run the ball in 2013.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWith Lache Seastrunk off to the NFL, Shock Linwood will find a more prominent role in Baylor's rushing attack.
Baylor and Oklahoma were the lone 11-win teams and BCS bowl participants and that duo finished atop the Big 12 in several rushing categories. With the help of ESPN Stats and Information, let’s take a closer look at some revealing Big 12 rushing statistics, how they impacted 2013 and what it could mean for 2014.

OU and Baylor each rushed for over 1,900 yards before contact in 2012

The Bears and Sooners were consistently winning the battle in the trenches with a pair of quality offensive lines. OU rushed for 1,949 yards before contact (3.81 ypc), and BU rushed for 1,909 yards before contact (3.33 ypc) in 2013.

Impact on 2013: For Baylor, it meant the Bears could put multiple running backs in the backfield without missing a beat. Lache Seastrunk, Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood had plenty of success thanks to BU’s offensive line. For Oklahoma, it meant the Sooners were able to overcome inconsistency at the quarterback position. Seastrunk (720 yards before contact) and OU’s Brennan Clay (682) finished 1-2 in yards before contact in the conference.

What it means for 2014: Both offensive lines lose their anchors (BU’s Cyril Richardson, OU’s Gabe Ikard). The two teams will have to find quality replacements for those players but BU returns quarterback Bryce Petty to keep defenses honest, and OU returns some quality, experienced linemen who can step in to do the job.

Baylor led the Big 12 with 1,995 yards inside the tackles, averaging 5.4 yards per carry on designed run plays

In other words, the Bears spread you out, make you cover every inch of the field and then run the football right at you. It makes BU’s offense extremely difficult to stop as defenses have to account for everything and everyone without making mistakes.

Impact on 2013: Linwood’s 7.4 yards per carry inside the tackles led the Big 12, and he was joined in the top five by Seastrunk (6.1). They helped the Bears lead the league in rushing with 259.69 rushing yards per game.

What it means for 2014: Baylor’s offense won’t change. Art Briles and Co. will still force defenses to cover the entire field while aiming to run the ball down the defense’s throat. Even with Seastrunk and Richardson off to the NFL, it’s unlikely the Bears' rushing attack will become much easier to stop.

Oklahoma led the Big 12 with 1,625 rushing yards outside the tackles

The Sooners averaged six yards per carry on runs outside the tackles. With OU adding more quarterback zone-read plays to its offense, the Sooners used their quickness and speed at running back to test defenses.

What it meant in 2013: The Sooners aimed to use Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch to challenge defenses with their athleticism, while also utilizing the quickness of quarterback Trevor Knight to get on the edge during the eight games (five starts) the redshirt freshman was under center. The approach helped OU win 11 games and finish with 223.92 rushing yards per game, second in the Big 12, despite an inconsistent passing game that averaged 199.08 yards per outing.

What it means for 2014: Don’t be surprised if this number increases in 2014. If Knight locks down the job and plays consistently, he provides a running threat on the perimeter from the quarterback position. And OU has some quality young options at running back, led by sophomore Keith Ford, to replace Clay, Finch and Williams.

Other notable numbers

Texas Tech led the Big 12 in rushing yards against a five-man box with 102 carries for 508 yards, five yards per carry. Baylor’s 6.5 yard average paced the conference… Baylor led the Big 12 in rushing yards against a six-man box with 323 carries for 2,095 yards, 6.5 yards per carry … Kansas State led the Big 12 in rushing yards against a seven-man box with 196 carries for 1,103 yards and 5.6 yards per carry. OU led the conference with 6.1 yards per carry against a seven-man box.
Each season there are clutch moments that define a season. Dreams come true and nightmares are realized in the span of minutes as key players make critical plays in clutch moments. We decided to take a closer look, thanks to ESPN Stats and Information, to try to determine who are some of those players in the Big 12? Some of these names will surprise while others will seem at home on this list.

Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s top clutch players in 2013. For this stat-based list, any Big 12 players statistic recorded in the second half during a one-possession game is defined as a clutch statistic. Because sometimes it’s not about the gaudy numbers you’ve put up, it’s about when you put up those numbers.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIIt's easy to forget just how clutch Blake Bell was for the Sooners this season, but OU wouldn't have gone 11-2 without him.
Quarterback Blake Bell, Oklahoma: The junior had his struggles this season but the Sooners wouldn’t have finished 11-2 or even earned a Sugar Bowl berth without him. No Big 12 quarterback performed better in those moments as Bell led the Big 12 with a 86.6 raw QBR in those clutch scenarios. Strong outings against Notre Dame (6 of 7 for 101 yards, TD), Texas Tech (5 of 6 for 72 yards) and Oklahoma State (10 of 16 for 140 yards, TD) earned Bell’s spot on this list. Overall, he was 26 of 38 for 356 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions in the second half during a one possession game this season. Trevor Knight enters the offseason as the hero in Norman, Okla., but Bell’s contributions to OU’s stellar season were second to none.

Quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor: The Bears didn’t have the same opportunities to be clutch as Sooners’ players did in 2013. Yet, Petty still was clutch and led the Big 12 in touchdowns with six scores in clutch scenarios. He finished 21 of 35 for 344 yards with four touchdown passes and two touchdown runs while finishing with a 76.3 raw QBR, second only to Bell in the Big 12. And he only turned the ball over once, which separated him from Kansas State’s Daniel Sams who also accounted for six touchdowns but turned the ball over an eye-popping seven times in clutch scenarios. Even though he spent the majority of his second halves thinking about his postgame plans, Petty’s 5 of 8 for 63 yards and two touchdowns to help BU secure the Big 12 title against Texas and pretty much cemented his spot on this list as a clutch performer.

Running back Brennan Clay, Oklahoma: The second Sooner on the list speaks to how many close games OU had to win this season. Clay led the Big 12 with 47 carries for 310 yards, 6.6 yards per carry, and two touchdowns in those clutch scenarios. His 76-yard touchdown with the Sooners holding a 13-10 lead over TCU in the fourth quarter helped secure his spot on this list. He also added six carries for 105 yards against West Virginia, helping OU win that close game while Knight struggled against the Mountaineers. He doesn’t come to mind when thinking of the Big 12’s top running backs but Clay could easily be considered the most overlooked contributor to OU’s success in 2013.

Tight end Jace Amaro, Texas Tech: Come on, now, you can’t be surprised to see the Big 12’s top tight end on this list. Amaro had 13 receptions for 232 yards and one touchdown in those clutch situations. His performance against West Virginia (4 receptions, 72 yards, TD) helped cement his spot on this list. In addition eight of those 13 receptions resulted in Red Raider first downs and his 17.85 yards per play from scrimmage led the Big 12. The NFL early entry will be missed in Lubbock, Texas in 2014.

Running back Charles Sims, West Virginia: His 291 yards from scrimmage in those clutch scenarios was third in the Big 12 behind Clay and OU’s Damien Williams. Sims averaged 5.02 yards per play with 240 rushing yards, one touchdown and 51 receiving yards with two scores. His key plays in key moments helped the Mountaineers earn their best wins of the season against OSU (10 touches for 60 yards) and TCU (14 touches for 72 yards, TD). He was easily the Mountaineers’ top offensive threat in 2013, things could have ended up a lot worse without the Houston transfer in WVU's backfield.

Other clutch players who barely missed earning a spot on the list: WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma (19 receptions, 244 yards, 3 TDs in 8 games); WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State (12 receptions, 159 yards, 2 TDs in four games); RB Desmond Roland, Oklahoma State (171 rushing yards, 4 total TDs); QB/WR Trevone Boykin, TCU (5 total TDs, 516 yards of total offense); QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech (67.5 raw QBR, 522 passing yards, 5 TD, INT).
Oklahoma’s season had it all.

Great performances from multiple quarterbacks, special teams brilliance from an undersized but dynamic receiver and a pass rushing clinic on college football’s biggest stage. Here’s a look at the top five individual performances during the Sooners’ 11-2 campaign in 2013.

1. Trevor Knight, Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP. It’s amazing how exceptional quarterback play can transform a team. Watching Knight expose Alabama’s defense sent shockwaves of confidence throughout the OU sideline and transformed the Sooners into the story of the bowl season. His 94.7 adjusted QBR was the ninth best in bowl games as he finished 32 of 44 for 348 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. It was the Trevor Knight that Bob Stoops expected to see in 2013 when the Sooners head coach named the redshirt freshman quarterback his starter before the year began.

2. Jalen Saunders breaks Oklahoma State hearts in Bedlam. The frigid cold temps didn’t seem to bother the California native. Instead he exposed OSU defenders with cold-hearted efficiency. His 64-yard punt return sparked some confidence for the Sooners in the first quarter and prevented OSU from playing with a lead, then his game-deciding touchdown reception in the final seconds put OU into the Sugar Bowl. He finished with a season-high 157 all-purpose yards and averaged 17.4 yards per touch against the Cowboys.

3. Eric Striker terrorizes A.J. McCarron in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The sophomore was a relentless pass rushing threat for most of the season but his three sacks against Alabama stand head and shoulders above any defensive performance in 2013. Going against an All-SEC tackle in Cyrus Kouandjio, Striker beat the future NFL draft pick on multiple occasions helping to contribute to OU’s seven Sugar Bowl sacks. Striker’s pass rushing prowess was immediately noticed when he stepped on campus in the summer of 2012 but he really came into his own in New Orleans.

4. Brennan Clay’s 200 yards against Kansas State. The senior running back made life a lot easier for Knight in his first road start in Manhattan, Kan. Clay had 31 carries for 200 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats as he continually found plenty of room to roam and took advantage. OU’s offensive line deserved a large share of the credit for Clay’s performance against KSU but he was a consistent, durable running option throughout the season and averaged 5.47 yards per carry, third in the Big 12.

5. Blake Bell’s record-setting performance against Tulsa. In his first start, Bell broke school records while leading OU to a 51-20 win over Tulsa. The junior was 27 of 37 for 413 yards, 11.2 yards per attempt and four touchdowns, setting a school record for most passing yards by a Sooner in his first start. His 96.4 adjusted QBR was the seventh-best nationally in Week 3 and one of the highest QBR’s in the Big 12 this season. Bell looked like a future star against the Golden Hurricane while starting to shed the “Belldozer” moniker that defined his first two seasons in crimson and cream. It was Bell’s best overall performance of the season.

Season report card: Oklahoma

January, 7, 2014
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Well, well, well. Look who ends the season as the Big 12’s top-ranked team. It appeared the Sooners were facing a rebuilding season heading into 2013, yet Oklahoma finished the year No. 6 in both the AP and coaches polls after an 11-2 season that was capped off by a 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Offense: B

The Sooners' bowl performance catapulted this grade up to a B. They were a very average offense for the majority of the season, lacking balance and consistency in the passing attack. Their running game was terrific, averaging 223.92 yards, second in the Big 12 and No. 18 nationally among FBS teams. Senior running back Brennan Clay had the best season of his career with 175 carries for 957 yards and six touchdowns. He was OU’s most consistent skill player.

But Oklahoma's passing game was inconsistent and didn’t create fear for any defense it faced with a passing attack that surpassed 200 yards just three times during the regular season. The Sooners' Sugar Bowl offense was the one the offensive coaching staff had envisioned when they named Trevor Knight the starter before the season began, so the Sooners enter this offseason with hope. OU’s quarterback situation is clearer now than it was at any point during the regular season.

The Sooners' offensive line deserves an A. The group didn’t dominate every single game but rarely had bad outings and was the main reason for the offensive success OU did achieve in the regular season. Center Gabe Ikard was the best player on the team and his leadership was one reason this squad overachieved.

[+] EnlargeHead coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAn 11-2 record and Allstate Sugar Bowl win means a lot of high marks for the Sooners.
Defense: A-

OU’s defense was the foundation of its BCS berth. The defense entered the season with a huddle full of questions, yet was the driving force behind another 10-win regular season in Norman, Okla.

The defensive line was very good, overachieving with a lot of inexperienced players. Sophomore Charles Tapper became an impact player, and the development of several other defensive linemen, including Jordan Wade and Geneo Grissom, cannot be understated. New defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery did a terrific job.

The linebackers redeemed themselves as the most productive position group after a shaky 2013. Despite losing senior leader Corey Nelson, OU’s linebackers were solid throughout the year and Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Dominique Alexander looks like a future star.

Cornerback Aaron Colvin joined Ikard as one of the leaders and best players on the squad. He was the anchor of a defense that finished atop the Big 12 in yards allowed per game (350.2 ypg). OU’s secondary was relatively inexperienced but more than held its own even with some rough patches against Alabama and Kansas State.

Special teams: A

Special teams play won the Sooners some games in 2013. Those units had a major impact in wins over Iowa State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Jalen Saunders was one of the nation’s top punt returners and kicker Michael Hunnicutt was money for the majority of the season.

Overall: A+

This OU squad had no business going 11-2 as injury after injury crippled the team, but it still found a way to keep winning games. The Sooners' pride, competitiveness and undeterred expectations for success rose them to another level and was never more apparent than in the Sugar Bowl win over the Crimson Tide. OU entered the season with muted expectations and ended it alongside the best teams in college football.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Three thoughts

January, 3, 2014
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Oklahoma pulled off one of the great upsets of this bowl season Thursday with a 45-31 victory over heavily favored and No. 3 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Three things we learned about the No. 11 Sooners following their biggest win in a long time.

1. Knight’s big moment: Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight got the start, his fifth this season, and absolutely shined. Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns to guide an Oklahoma offense that put up 45 points on one of the nation’s toughest defenses. The knock on Knight in his inconsistent debut season was his accuracy, but you wouldn’t have known that on Thursday. He hit on a career-best 32 of his 44 attempts and was as sharp as he was aggressive. Too often we can make too much of a bowl-game performance and what it means, but this was a legitimate breakthrough. The Sooners, it seems, have finally found their triggerman.

2. Big 12 tempo pays off: In the battle of Big 12 vs. SEC, who would’ve figured Alabama would have a hard time keeping up with a Sooner offense that went surprisingly high tempo? We saw the effects Auburn’s quick attack had on confusing Tide defenders, and Bob Stoops and Josh Heupel deserve plenty of praise for turning up their speed in bowl practices and unleashing a much faster offense, one that gave the Tide fits and got plenty of big plays. Remember, one year ago Oklahoma was the one that couldn’t keep up with Johnny Manziel and the frenetic Texas A&M offense. This time, the Sooners dropped 31 in the first half and Bama couldn’t stop them.

3. What can Oklahoma do in 2014? On paper, the Big 12 looks about as wide open in 2014 as it was going into this season, when four teams all could’ve made legitimate claims they were the league’s best. The Sooners made their case in New Orleans. While they’ll lose several key cogs to graduation -- including Gabe Ikard, Aaron Colvin, Jalen Saunders, Brennan Clay, Trey Millard and Corey Nelson -- this defense could be loaded next fall and Knight will break in some exciting new weapons at the skill spots. Calling them the league’s runaway favorite for 2014 might be premature, but Oklahoma will definitely be in the title hunt again.
Bob Stoops likes to say he has no interest in playing the underdog card when it comes to his No. 11 Oklahoma Sooners.

They went into Bedlam last month against an Oklahoma State team that was the heavy favorite and pulled off a stunner. Now they hope to do it again against No. 3 Alabama tonight in the AllState Sugar Bowl in New Orleans (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). Here are three keys for the Sooners against the Crimson Tide:

Establish the run game: No matter what Stoops’ quarterback plan is, Oklahoma must get its rushing attack rolling early to stress the Tide defense. The Sooners put up 261.3 rushing yards per game in their 10 victories and a veteran duo in Brennan Clay and Roy Finch that is capable of breaking big runs. In losses to Texas and Baylor, OU averaged 108.5 yards on the ground. What can Clay and Finch do against the No. 9 run defense in the country?

Game-changing turnovers: Alabama has turned the ball over just 12 times this season, which ranks fifth-best in FBS. Oklahoma’s defense has been pretty average in that department, forcing just 20. Chris Davis’ game-winning touchdown return for Auburn was the first non-offensive score Bama allowed all year. If Oklahoma’s best defenders, like Aaron Colvin and Eric Striker, can snag a few turnovers, they can swing the game.

Battle of the playmakers: Everyone knows AJ McCarron can hit bombs to Amari Cooper and that running back T.J. Yeldon is a handful in the open field. They’ll be a handful. But who’s going to answer the challenge for the Sooners? Jalen Saunders did a little bit of everything as a receiver and returner in the win over OSU. Saunders, Sterling Shepard and the rest of the OU receivers need to thrive against an Alabama secondary whose corners have been inconsistent.
NEW ORLEANS -- "The King" tweeted it best.

"What's great about playing Bama," legendary former Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer wrote on Twitter this week, "is they are the team to find how good you are or how far you have to go."

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezHow good are Bob Stoops' Sooners? We'll find out in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama.
Thursday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl (ESPN, 8:30 ET), the Sooners will play in the ultimate barometer game against third-ranked Alabama.

It's a game that will reveal where the Sooners are, relative to the Crimson Tide. And just how far they have to go.

"How could it not be that?" Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops asked. "They're as good a football team as we've played in 15 years.

"So it’s definitely that."

Under coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide have become the standard-bearers in college football. Since 2009, Alabama has won three national championships, and only the wildest ending in college football history prevented the Tide from playing for another.

"They're obviously the program the last five years that has set the bar in college football," Sooners co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "Is it any more of a benchmark than any other game? Probably so."

Under Stoops, Oklahoma once set the bar in college football. At the turn of the millennium, the Sooners played for three national titles in five years, and captured the championship in Y2K with a defensive flattening of Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

Like the Tide of now, the Sooners of then rolled in top-five recruiting classes every February. And every April, Oklahoma produced a lion's share of first-round draft picks.

But that was then.

And in the present, the Sooners have fallen on hard times -- at least according to the towering expectations that apply to the likes of an Alabama or an Oklahoma.

"We win 10 games every year," said center Gabe Ikard, "and people feel that we’ve fallen off."

True, the Sooners haven't fallen off into a canyon like their Red River brethren (even though Texas did dismantle Oklahoma this year in Dallas). But in Norman, 10-win seasons minus the championships ring hollow.

It has been six seasons since the Sooners seriously contended for a national title past October. And after seizing six Big 12 championships over a span of nine seasons, Oklahoma has only one outright conference title since 2008.

This November, once they fell 41-12 to Baylor -- yes, the same Baylor that Central Florida roasted Wednesday night in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl -- the Sooners weren’t even a factor in the Big 12 race, much less the national one.

At the moment, Alabama owns RecruitingNation's No. 1 class, while Oklahoma's just barely cracks the top 25. Last year alone, the Crimson Tide furnished the NFL with three first-round draft picks. The Sooners, meanwhile, have had just one first-rounder (OT Lane Johnson) since 2010.

But just because the results have tapered off in Norman doesn’t mean the expectations have.

And against Alabama, the Sooners will find out where they stand.

"This is definitely going to show what kind of team we have right now," said Oklahoma receiver Jalen Saunders. "What type of players we have at OU. Where we stand nationally."

Lately, the Sooners haven’t stood quite as tall.

As a testament to Stoops' unrivaled, long-term consistency, Oklahoma still managed to grind out 10 victories in 2012 despite having no running game and a shaky defense. But whenever the Sooners faced a quality opponent last season, they were vanquished. Kansas State out-executed them in the Big 12 opener, Notre Dame smashed them in the fourth quarter, and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, well, he just made them look ridiculous in an AT&T Cotton Bowl rout.

As a result, Oklahoma opened 2013 outside the top 10 in the preseason polls for the first time since Stoops' second year.

Even though the Sooners stunned Oklahoma State in the 2013 Big 12 regular-season finale to sneak their way into the BCS, Las Vegas oddsmakers have pegged them as 16½-point underdogs against the mighty Tide. That, by the way, is the third-largest point spread in BCS history, behind only this year's Baylor-UCF Fiesta Bowl and the 17-point line Oklahoma was handed over Connecticut in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl.

In other words -- at least according to Vegas -- the gap between Alabama and Oklahoma right now is roughly equal to the gap between Oklahoma and Connecticut then.

"They're a great, great team," Stoops said of the Tide. "Great talent across the board."

When facing great talent, however, comes great opportunity. To ascend back atop college football's summit, the Sooners have to start somewhere. They'll find no more opportune setting than the Sugar.

"They’ve been so dominant," said Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay, "that if we come out with a victory, it would definitely say we're a national championship-contending-type team."

The Sooners can't secure a national championship overnight. And they certainly can't on Thursday night. But they can send a message. And in doing so, also can launch their climb back to the top.

"Winning this game would be big," Ikard said. "Big for recruiting, big for the program, big for the fan base.

"It would show that we're still one of the premier, top-five programs in the country."

The Sooners haven’t been a top-five program lately. But in New Orleans they get to find out how good they really are.

And just how far they have to go.

Oklahoma focused on stopping Mosley

December, 31, 2013
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NEW ORLEANS -- When asked about his very first impression of Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard was as concise as he could be, sporting an ear-to-ear grin.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Mosley
AP Photo/Dave MartinButkus Award winner C.J. Mosley leads Alabama in tackles, tackles for loss and quarterback hurries this season.
"That dude's good; very, very good," Ikard, an All-American, said.

"He's obviously the most talented linebacker in the country."

Mosley, an All-American himself and the recipient of the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker, is quiet and gentle away from the field but a thunderous wrecking ball on it. He can cover the field from side to side, drop back to defend the pass, rush the passer and stuff the run.

He's the heart of Alabama's staunch defense and enemy No. 1 for Oklahoma's offense.

Ikard and his teammates agreed they'll game plan to try and thwart Mosley's effectiveness in Thursday's Allstate Sugar Bowl. You'd think that added attention would put some pressure on Mosley, but this is nothing new for the nation's best.

"I can't really control that," Mosley said. "I just gotta do what I have to do and make plays when my name is called."

He's made plenty of plays this year for the Crimson Tide. A year removed from leading the Tide with 107 tackles while sharing time, Mosley leads Alabama this season in tackles (102), tackles for loss (nine) and quarterback hurries (eight) as a full-time starter at weakside linebacker. He's also defended five passes and forced a fumble.

"C.J. Mosley is probably the best player we've played against this year, probably one of the best I've played against in my four and a half years here," Ikard said.

"You always have to be aware of where 32 is at."

And that isn't easy to do. He's so active that one blink and you'll lose him. But spend too much time locking in on him and you'll lose focus, making it easier to blow an assignment. It puts many offensive players, especially offensive linemen, in precarious situations.

Like a playmaking receiver who can line up inside, outside or in the backfield, you have to account for Mosley in some form or fashion whenever he's on the field or he'll make you pay.

"Your eyes are just attracted to him just by the way he runs around and makes big plays," Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight said.

"We're going to account for him like anybody else, but he's definitely a force to be reckoned with. He's all over the field and he's a great leader out there."

Despite lining up in the middle of Alabama's defense, the Tide's defensive quarterback finds ways to get to the ball, no matter where it is. He's so dangerous because he's so multitalented. He pores over extra film for hours each week, while still trying to motivate and push his teammates with his relentless practice habits.

The quiet tone and smoother demeanor he shows the media is only a small part of who Mosley is. He's an animal on the field, and the Sooners understand the challenge of making him obsolete is quite an undertaking.

"He's a great player. He won the Butkus Award for a reason," Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay said. "He's fundamentally sound, he gets to the ball, his technique is great."

But for all the good Mosley does, he admits he isn't perfect. He's actually pretty goofy in the way he looks when he plays. Though he carries an impressive, stone-like 6-foot-2, 238-pound frame, his legs can get the best of him at times with his "unorthodox" running style that gives him some awkward-looking strides when he runs. His legs sometimes get caught under him, making sprinting tough.

It doesn't impede his pursuit too much, but it does receive a few giggles in the film room from his teammates.

"I've been doing that since high school," Mosley said with a laugh.

The Sooners might have 10 other players to account for when Alabama's defense takes the field, but everyone knows the Tide's defense goes the way of its commander. Mosley is the linchpin, and disengaging his playmaking ability will go a long way for the Sooners inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

"That kid is the defense, if you ask me," Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said.

"It's been a blessing having him on this team, and I'm definitely going to miss him next year."

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