Oklahoma Sooners: Darrian Miller

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.
Here are some key stats that defined Oklahoma’s 34-19 win over Kansas on Saturday.

Kansas’ 5.94 yards per carry by running backs: The Jayhawks averaged 5.94 yards per carry combined from James Sims and Darrian Miller. Sims had 23 carries for 129 yards and two touchdowns while Miller added nine carries for 67 yards (7.44 yards per carry). The Jayhawks offensive line was horrible in their first five games but showed signs of life on Saturday while the Sooners run defense continues to struggle without injured defensive tackle Jordan Phillips.

Kansas’ minus-2 passing yards after the first quarter. That’s right, the Jayhawks passed for negative two yards in the final 45 minutes of the game. And you thought OU’s passing game was bad. KU quarterback Jake Heaps was 1 of 7 for minus-2 yards and two sacks after the first quarter. The Sooners has had their struggles stopping the run but they clearly can stop the pass, leading the nation in passing yards allowed (149.71) and ranking second in passing yards per attempt (5.27).

Sterling Shepard’s first down or touchdown per catch percentage. The Sooners receiver was outstanding with 57.1 percent of his receptions going for a first down or touchdown. Shepard finished with seven receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. The more involved he gets, the more big plays the Sooners’ passing attack seems to make this season.

Kansas’ 0.64 yards per play on third down: One week after allowing Texas to convert 13 of 20 third down attempts, OU held KU to 11 yards on seven third-down plays, an average of 0.64 yards per play. The Jayhawks converted just 2 of 11 third-down attempts in the loss.

OU’s average starting position in the second quarter: The Sooners’ average starting point was their own 47-yard line in the second quarter. OU grabbed control of the game in those 15 minutes thanks in part to its terrific field position, helping the Sooners to outscore the Jayhawks 18-6 in the quarter.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes for Week 6.

Receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor: Teammates like Lache Seastrunk and Bryce Petty get a lot of the attention but Goodley has been ridiculously consistent, much like the Bears’ offense as a whole. The sophomore had seven receptions for 170 yards and one touchdown in BU’s 73-42 win over West Virginia. Goodley has at least 90 receiving yards and one touchdown in every game and has caught 21 of 26 passes thrown his way this season.

Linebacker Luke Knott, Iowa State: The younger brother of former ISU standout Jake Knott, Luke has been a bright spot in the Cyclones season. The redshirt freshman finished with 11 tackles, one forced fumble, one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup. As devastating as the 31-30 loss to Texas had to be for ISU, the Cyclones have to be encouraged to know Knott can anchor their defense for the rest of the season and beyond.

Running back Darrian Miller, Kansas: The sophomore led the Jayhawks with 67 rushing yards on 12 carries in the Jayhawk’s 54-16 loss to Texas Tech. Miller added 77 kick return yards to finish with 144 all-purpose yards. He could be an important piece for the Jayhawks offense moving forward with Tony Pierson’s status unclear after his head injury on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Sams
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesQuarterback Daniel Sams is the focal point for the Kansas State offense.
Quarterback Daniel Sams, Kansas State: It’s unusual to call a quarterback who turned the ball over four times a unsung hero, but the Wildcats wouldn't have been in the game without Sams. He was outstanding with the football in his arms and made enough plays in the passing game to keep Oklahoma State honest. Sams rushed for 118 yards and passed for 181 yards in the 33-29 loss to OSU. If he can clean up the mistakes, his special skills could spark a winning streak for the Wildcats during Big 12 play.

Defensive tackle Jordan Wade, Oklahoma: Asked to step in with starter Jordan Phillips out, Wade was superb against TCU. The redshirt freshman had two tackles including one tackle for loss and one sack in OU’s 20-17 win. If Wade continues to develop, he increases competition in the Sooners' defensive interior and could provide a quality rotational player alongside Phillips in the future.

Linebacker Caleb Lavey, Oklahoma State: Teammate Shaun Lewis got all the accolades with his Big 12 defensive player of the week honors, but Lavey was just as critical in OSU’s 33-29 win over Kansas State. Lavey forced turnovers on back-to-back plays in the third quarter with a forced fumble and interception. The senior finished with seven tackles including two tackles for loss to go along with the forced fumble and interception. He’s a solid anchor and leader in the middle for the Cowboys.

Defensive tackle Malcom Brown, Texas: The sophomore was a beast in the middle with 10 tackles including two tackles for loss and one sack in the Longhorns’ 31-30 victory over ISU. Brown’s development into playmaker in the UT defensive interior could make things harder on Big 12 offenses as they create a plan of attack against the Longhorns.

Receiver Ty Slanina, TCU: The freshman provided a spark for the Horned Frogs’ offense in their 20-17 loss to OU. He had six receptions for 38 yards against the Sooners but his competitiveness and ability to get open and make plays when he gets the opportunity stands out on the TCU offense. If he continues to make plays, he should become a bigger part of the offense in the future.

Receiver Eric Ward, Texas Tech: After catching seven passes since opening the year with a 13-catch performance against SMU on Aug. 30, Ward got back on track against Kansas. Ward had seven receptions for 122 yards and one touchdown in the Red Raiders’ 54-16 win over the Jayhawks. When Ward is making plays on the outside with Jace Amaro punishing defenses in the middle, TTU’s offense becomes much more lethal.

Receiver Kevin White, West Virginia: White's breakout performance was overshadowed by the dominance of Baylor's defense. He had seven receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns in the Mountaineers' 73-42 loss to Baylor. On a WVU offense looking for playmakers, it has to encourage Dana Holgorsen to watch White start to emerge and make plays. Now they just need the junior college transfer to be more consistent.

Big 12's unsung heroes: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
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Here's a look at some of the Big 12's unsung heroes in Week 2.

Entire offensive line, Baylor: Anytime you gain 781 yards -- including 329 rushing yards with just 13 yards lost rushing -- the big guys up front deserve a lot of credit. Led by All-America candidate Cyril Richardson, the Baylor offensive line is better than people think and has been for several seasons. As explosive as BU’s offense is, it would struggle to get off the ground without a quality group of linemen.

Running back Darrian Miller, Kansas: Looks like the Jayhawks found another one. KU already features terrific running backs in James Sims and Tony Pierson, but Miller showed he’s a name to watch with 14 carries for 72 yards in the Jayhawks’ 31-14 win over South Dakota. If Miller continues to emerge, it will allow Charlie Weis to get even more creative when divising ways to get the ball to his various playmakers in Lawrence.

Receiver Tramaine Thompson, Kansas State: His two-reception, 46-yard performance on offense wasn’t earth-shattering. Yet Thompson single-handedly sparked the Wildcats in KSU’s 48-27 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. He opened the third quarter with a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown., then returned ULL’s next punt 79 yards to the ULL 3-yard line. Thompson finished with 234 all-purpose yards.

Safety Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma: Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has praised the athleticism and range of Hayes in the OU secondary. The junior finished with eight tackles and a forced fumble in OU’s 16-7 victory over West Virginia. His versatility and coverage skills could help make the Sooners’ secondary even better than last year’s unit.

Safety Zack Craig, Oklahoma State: The senior safety quietly played a key role in the Cowboys' 56-35 win over Texas San-Antonio. Craig, a backup safety, finished with seven tackles and two pass breakups, including a pass breakup that led to a Shaun Lewis interception. At one point, the Pokes were without both starting safeties because of injury and Craig stepped in to fill the void. He brings a veteran presence to OSU’s secondary and special teams.

Receiver Mike Davis, Texas: Overshadowed by the Longhorns' defensive collapse in Provo, Davis is off to a superb start in his senior season. He had eight receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns in UT’s 40-21 loss to BYU. If Davis continues to consistently produce, it should open up opportunities for UT’s running backs.

Defensive tackle Terrell Lathan, TCU: Lathan stepped in and stepped up after Chucky Hunter was injured during TCU’s 38-17 win over Southeastern Louisiana. The sophomore had four tackles, including two tackles for loss and one sack. If the backup defensive lineman continues to progress, he could provide quality depth along the defensive front for TCU.

Receiver Bradley Marquez, Texas Tech: The junior had just two receptions for 94 yards and one touchdown in the Red Raiders’ 61-13 victory over Stephen F. Austin. But Marquez could be a key piece in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense with defenses focusing on Eric Ward, Jace Amaro and Jakeem Grant. Marquez has the speed and athleticism to make defenses pay if they leave him one-on-one.

Receiver Kevin White, West Virginia: He didn’t play a perfect game in his first outing in a WVU uniform, but the junior college transfer showed signs he could emerge as a playmaker who will test Big 12 defenses this season. He finished with seven receptions for 80 yards and one fumble in WVU’s 16-7 loss to Oklahoma. White is big, athletic and physical, so it won’t be easy for Big 12 defenses to match up with him, giving Dana Holgorsen another one-on-one mismatch to exploit in 2013.

Note: Iowa State did not play in Week 2.

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