Oklahoma Sooners: Curry Sexton

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: WRs

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
4:30
PM ET
As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Thursday with receivers (and tight ends). Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see them at the moment:

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett had seven games with more than 100 yards receiving and two games with more than 200.
1. Baylor: Antwan Goodley hauled in 1,339 receiving yards last year and is back for his senior campaign. Levi Norwood filled in well as a second option after Tevin Reese’s injury, and, like Goodley, can also fly. The Bears are also about to enjoy the fruits of back-to-back monster recruiting classes in the position, including five ESPN 300 players in the last two years. The best of those, incoming freshman K.D. Cannon, has the talent to be Baylor’s next great receiver.

2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hays, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.

5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.

[+] EnlargeJordan Thompson
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiJordan Thompson showed near the end of the season the type of weapon he can be in West Virginia's offense.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners graduate Jalen Saunders, who was “Mr. Everything” for the OU offense. But Sterling Shepard seems primed to take over the No. 1 role after hauling in 51 passes and seven touchdowns. Who will surround him? Durron Neal is the only other player on the roster with much experience. But the good news for the Sooners is they’ve recruited superbly at the position. Among many options, the player to keep an eye on is freshman Jordan Smallwood, who was turning heads last summer, until a foot fracture forced him to redshirt.

7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the Big 12 in touchdowns. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.

8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.

9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him in a big way in 2014.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.
Four underdogs.

Three by double digits.

And only two favorites.

With this bowl season comes a prime opportunity for the Big 12 to earn national respect. Yet also, an opportunity for calamity.

This year, even though Baylor remained undefeated until the final month and Oklahoma State had just one loss until the final game, the Big 12 was never a factor in the national championship race.

[+] EnlargeStoops
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and the Sooners are heavy underdogs against SEC power Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
One reason why is no Big 12 team opened in the preseason top 10. And that was due in part to a lackluster bowl showing from the conference in 2012.

Big 12 co-champ Kansas State couldn’t hang with Oregon in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Johnny Manziel wiped out the Big 12’s other co-champ, Oklahoma in, the AT&T Cotton Bowl.

All told, the Big 12 went 4-5, with its only impressive victory coming courtesy of Baylor in the Holiday Bowl.

In the spring, despite the poor showings at the top, Sooners coach Bob Stoops championed the depth of the conference. But unable to fill out its quota this year with bowl-eligible teams, the Big 12’s depth argument has dissipated.

And another poor bowl showing from the conference will do nothing but widen the Big 12’s national perception gap with power conferences like the SEC.

Of course, with several premier matchups, the chance is also there to narrow the gap -- starting with a pair of matchups against top teams from the SEC.

Oklahoma gets defending national championship Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and Oklahoma State faces SEC East Division champ Missouri in the Cotton.

Sweeping those would be a huge step forward for the Big 12, as college football transitions into next year’s College Football Playoff, where perception will play a major part.

But if the Bedlam schools get waxed the way K-State and Oklahoma did last year it would do major damage to the Big 12’s case for de facto annual inclusion into the four-team tournament.

“There’s always a lot of talk because there has to be because newspapers have to be filled and air time has to be filled,” said Stoops, when asked about carrying the Big 12 banner in New Orleans. “You have to talk about something, but we don’t concern ourselves with it.”

Yet whether Stoops cares to admit it, his Sooners will in fact be carrying the Big 12 banner as two-touchdown underdogs against college football’s preeminent program of the last five years.

“Being a competitor and going up against a team like this is going to be a challenge, but it’s going to be a lot of fun, as well,” Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin said. “We’re pretty anxious and we’re just excited to get out there and play.”

The Cowboys will be carrying the banner against the SEC, too. Even though they’ll be playing a team that was in the Big 12 just two years ago.

“We've always had a lot of respect for Missouri,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ““It's interesting that they made the change of going into the SEC and having tremendous success right away.”

[+] EnlargeMike Gundy
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesMike Gundy and the Cowboys have drawn former Big 12 rival Missouri in the Cotton Bowl.
“It certainly makes us feel good about ourselves being in the Big 12.”

Missouri might be a former Big 12 team proving its chops in the SEC. But style points the Tigers rack up count for their current conference, not their previous one.

And as only one-point underdogs, Oklahoma State might have the best opportunity of any Big 12 school to land the conference a landmark bowl win.

“With as many games as they've won and their current ranking,” Gundy said, “they're talked about as a really good football team.”

The Big 12 has opportunity elsewhere to garner respect by toppling a pair of “name” teams.

Like fellow Big 12 flagship Oklahoma, Texas is a two-touchdown underdog to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl, even though the Longhorns will be playing just 80 miles from their Austin campus.

Texas rallied to defeat Oregon State in the Alamo last year. But the challenge here will be far greater in coach Mack Brown’s final hurrah. The Ducks ranked second in the polls for much of the season, and despite some midseason struggles still boast one of the top offenses in college football.

The Longhorns averaged 31 points per game. Oregon scored that few only twice all season.

“They are someone you definitely have to keep up with or you'll get left behind quickly,” said Texas guard Trey Hopkins. “It will be a big challenge for us against a talented opponent.”

K-State is back in the desert for the postseason, this time the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Even though it’s not a BCS bowl, the Wildcats can also give the Big 12 a big win over a big name.

“As a kid growing up, Michigan is one of those poster programs that you see all over TV, you watch them growing up,” said K-State receiver Curry Sexton. “You kind of almost idolize them – one of those programs that every kid in the country likes to watch play.”

Arizona State might not be idolized the way Michigan is. But this season, the Sun Devils are more talented, and were a fringe top 10 team late in the season. That’s a difficult National University Holiday Bowl challenge for a Texas Tech team that closed out the season on a five-game losing streak and lost starting quarterback Baker Mayfield to transfer two weeks ago.

Which is why for the Big 12 it’s incumbent Baylor prevails as the conference’s only comfortable favorite in the Fiesta over Central Florida.

Tough matchups abound elsewhere. Which is an opportunity for the league to prove its playoff mettle. But also one to lose precious ground in college football’s perception wars.

“It always helps,” Stoops said of beating the likes of an Alabama. “It’s definitely something that could boost you.”

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