Oklahoma Sooners: Donte Thomas-Williams

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 2014
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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.

All-Big 12 team: recruiting edition

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
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Ranking recruits is an unscientific process. If it were, it would be easy to predict future all-conference teams. As an exercise, I’ve cobbled together what an All-Big 12 team would look like based exclusively on ESPN’s freshman recruiting rankings -- though chances are, actual All-Big 12 teams down the road will have a very different look.

Offense

QB: Justice Hansen, Oklahoma (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe)
RB: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)
RB: Donte Thomas-Williams, West Virginia (Durham, N.C./Hillside)
WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant)
WR: Armanti Foreman, Texas (Texas City, Texas/Texas City)
WR: Allen Lazard, Iowa State (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale)
TE: Carson Meier, Oklahoma (Tulsa, Okla./Union)
OT: Alec Ruth, Kansas State (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Valor Christian)
OT: Kenyon Frison, Oklahoma (West Valley City, Utah/Granger)
OG: Natrell Curtis, Oklahoma (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe)
OG: Dontae Angus, West Virginia (Philadelphia/Martin Luther King)
C: Jacob Bragg, Kansas (Nacogdoches, Texas/ Nacogdoches)
AP: Davion Hall, Baylor (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau)

Defense

DE: Derick Roberson, Texas (San Antonio/William J. Brennan)
DE: Jordan Brailford, Oklahoma State (Tulsa, Okla./Booker T. Washington)
DT: Poona Ford, Texas (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head)
DT: Courtney Garnett, Oklahoma (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
LB: Edwin Freeman, Texas (Arlington, Texas/Bowie)
LB: Kyron Watson, Kansas (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis)
LB: Gyasi Akem, Oklahoma State (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow)
CB: Nigel Bethel II, Texas Tech (Miami/Booker T. Washington)
CB: Jermaine Roberts, Texas (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
S: Steven Parker II, Oklahoma (Jenks, Okla./Jenks)
S: John Bonney, Texas (Houston/Lamar)

A few observations on this team:
  • Oklahoma leads the way with seven players. Underscoring their strong close, the Sooners landed four of those players after their Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. In December, Oklahoma’s class ranked 24th. But it finished ranked at the top of the Big 12 and 13th nationally.
  • The Big 12 didn’t have a class ranked outside the top 60 nationally, and this list highlights that with nine teams represented.
  • TCU is the only school without a player here, though running back Shaun Nixon (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis) was slotted only five running back spots behind Thomas-Williams, whom the Mountaineers snagged on signing day. Nixon, who flipped from Texas A&M, was a huge get for the Horned Frogs.
  • Charlie Weis and his staff really delivered a solid recruiting class, despite a lack of success on the field. The Jayhawks had two players on this team, and that doesn’t even include four-star running backs Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton) and Corey Avery (Dallas/Carter).
  • Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, known for their high-powered offenses, didn’t have an offensive player make the team. They did, however, comprise three of the defensive spots with Brailford, Akem and Bethel II.
Best players at each position who didn’t make the list:

QB: Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer), Texas
RB: Devon Thomas (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow), Oklahoma State
WR: Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington), West Virginia
TE: Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain), Oklahoma
OT: Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge), Oklahoma
OG: Joseph Paul (New Orlean/St. Augustine), Oklahoma
C: Terrell Cuney (Jasper, Texas/Jasper), Texas
DE: Trey Carter (Dallas/Pinkston), Oklahoma State
DT: D.J. Williams (Lufkin, Texas/Lufkin), Kansas
LB: Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield), West Virginia
CB: Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor), Oklahoma State
S: Payton Hendrix (Dallas/Bishop Dunne), Texas Tech
AP: Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East), Oklahoma

Signing day: Big 12 wrapup

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
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As hectic of a day as it was, national signing day was a success for all Big 12 programs. Coaches were up early manning their fax machines and showing excitement with every national letter of intent submitted via fax.

Nearly 250 football players signed letters of intent to play Big 12 football on Wednesday. Here are five of the biggest storylines -- and a bonus storyline that could have an ending Thursday -- from the conference.

Oklahoma takes over top spot in Big 12

In the past 48 hours, everything seemed to go Oklahoma’s way.

[+] EnlargeMichiah Quick
Courtesy of Nike ESPN 300 ATH Michiah Quick was a big part of Oklahoma's final rush, a rush that gave the Sooners the top class in the Big 12.
After getting a Tuesday commitment from ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla./Jenks), the Sooners got Wednesday pledges from ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) and high three-star offensive tackles Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger) and Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge).

All four players were a part of Oklahoma’s signing class of 26 on Wednesday -- helping the Sooners take over the top spot in the Big 12 class rankings. Oklahoma’s class is No. 13 nationally, three spots better than previous top dog Texas.

Oklahoma in previous years has been very good at finishing strong in recruiting. It managed to sign Frison, who committed to Utah last February before decommitting last month, as well as Brown, who had been committed to Tennessee since May before making an 11th-hour change.

Strong, Longhorns get their DTs

New Texas coach Charlie Strong wanted two players he recruited to play at Louisville, and by Wednesday afternoon, he had them.

ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head) and three-star defensive tackle Chris Nelson (Lakeland, Fla./Victory Christian Academy) signed with the Longhorns and were two of 23 to submit national letters of intent. They also helped erase the sting of the Longhorns losing three four-star defensive tackle commitments in LSU signee Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren), Oklahoma signee Courtney Garnett (New Orleans/St. Augustine) and Texas A&M signee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) last month.

Collectively, Ford and Nelson recorded 235 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 35 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. The duo also had 37.5 tackles for loss.

Receivers ‘No. 1’ to Baylor coach

Baylor coach Art Briles made a bold statement about his new wide receivers -- one that might be challenged by some but co-signed by others.

“The thing that we feel really good about,” Briles said, “is that we've signed the No. 1 receiving class in America -- I don't think that's up for debate.”

Briles has an argument with four ESPN 300 receivers in K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik) and Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis). The quartet helped to give Baylor a top-25 national recruiting class.

Rhoads fired up about lone in-state signee

To say Paul Rhoads is excited about his top-ranked signee, ESPN 300 wide receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale) is an understatement.

While Rhoads is pumped about the entire class, there’s something special about Lazard, as he is this year’s only in-state signee. Lazard, No. 148 in the ESPN 300, had opportunities to sign with other programs, but he chose to honor his original commitment and also follow the footsteps of his father Kevin Lazard, who played in the secondary for the Cyclones in the early 1990s.

“This is a young man who has gotten phenomenal national attention and was recruited by the traditional historical programs in college football and kept on turning them away to stay true to his word to be an Iowa State Cyclone,” Rhoads said in a statement of Lazard, the No. 2 prospect out of the state of Iowa behind Alabama offensive lineman signee Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls).

West Virginia adds depth in class

Adding depth was the objective for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, as he signed 22 players on Wednesday. Holgorsen was fortunate to add depth from coast to coast.

Of the 22 commits, only one -- three-star offensive tackle Amanii Brown (Morgantown, W.Va./Morgantown) -- is an in-state signee. The Mountaineers hit points all over the Lower 48, from California to Texas to Florida, to get players who can be contributors early and help the program return to star status.

West Virginia’s class is led by five ESPN 300 players. Running back Donte Thomas-Williams (Durham, N.C./Hillside), the class’ top-ranked player, was the last to commit early Wednesday afternoon. He joins defensive back Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), linebacker Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) and receivers Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington) and Jake McCrary (Miami/Coral Reef) in the class.

Bonus: Could the Sooners add one more?

LSU signed 22 players on Wednesday. The Tigers were hoping to sign 23.

Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) has been verbally committed to LSU since July, but the ESPN 300 defensive end also has high interest in Oklahoma. There were conflicting reports on Wednesday regarding whether Clark actually signed and submitted his letter of intent to LSU.

ESPN’s David Ching said an LSU spokesperson confirmed the letter of intent was at LSU and cleared compliance. Outside reports, however, say Clark did not submit the letter of intent, and a tweet from Clark's Twitter account said that “nothing is final.” His mother Dorshell also told The Oklahoman that her son “has not signed with LSU.”

Oklahoma City schools were closed on Wednesday because of bad weather, so Clark didn’t fax anything by way of Douglass High School. He is expected to announce his final decision on Thursday.

If it's true that Clark has not signed with LSU, look for Oklahoma to be a key player in his final decision. Ranked No. 273 in the ESPN 300, Clark has built a great relationship with the Sooners' coaching staff, particularly defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.

Bold predictions: Big 12 

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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One of the best things about national signing day is that, every year, it provides a last-minute surprise. Whether it involves a solid commit with an 11th-hour flip or an uncommitted player choosing a school to shock the masses, the day is good for full-fledged entertainment.

As we prepare for Wednesday, here are five bold predictions that we might see happen within the Big 12:


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Big 12 class rankings analysis 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
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With a week left until national signing day, Texas Tech climbed one spot, and Texas and West Virginia each fell a spot in the latest ESPN class rankings.

Clemson and Texas flipped spots, putting the Tigers at No. 13 and the Longhorns at No. 14. Oklahoma remained at No. 16, Baylor stayed at No. 18 and Oklahoma State remained at No. 26.

Texas Tech switched places with Northwestern, moving up a spot to No. 34. West Virginia, however, traded with North Carolina State and moved down to No. 38. Here is an in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:


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Most important targets: Big 12 

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
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In eight days, many of the nation’s top athletes will seal their college futures with a signature. Between now and Feb. 5, college programs will look to do one of two things, either use a final official visit to sway an uncommitted target or do all it can to flip an already-committed player.

In the last week of recruiting, here is a look at some of the most important remaining targets who could find a home in the Big 12.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
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As expected, this was one of the busiest weeks in the Big 12 from a recruiting standpoint. Teams were looking to fill in last-minute vacancies, and players were looking to finalize their college plans. TCU proved to be the big winner in the conference, landing six 2014 commits and two more commits from the 2015 class. Kansas wasn’t far behind, as the Jayhawks got verbal commitments from five three-star players for the 2014 class.

Here are some of this past week’s highlights:


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National signing day is in 15 days, and while many athletes have finalized their college plans, several questions remain. Will the committed players stay committed? Will the Big 12 programs steal away some of the top players? Will the world be surprised by last-minute changes?

There will be several storylines to watch from now until signing day, but here are five to definitely keep your eyes on:


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Key recruiting visits -- Big 12 

January, 17, 2014
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The dead period is over, and official visits are set. The next three weekends will be huge for players as they look to finalize their college plans.

Here are 10 names to watch as they take their official visits to Big 12 schools. The names are in alphabetical order.


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Most important targets: Big 12 

January, 8, 2014
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With less than 30 days till national signing day, Big 12 programs are finalizing their recruiting classes. Some are looking to build to their classes at the 11th hour while others are trying to hold on to the commits they have.

Feb. 5 will be a huge day for all the programs in the conference, but with the help of verbal pledges from some of the following targets, a good class could turn into a great class. Here is a look at the most important remaining 2014 target for each Big 12 school.

Baylor
ATH Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau)
6-foot-2, 194 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: No. 45
It’s been a good year for Baylor, so all that’s needed right now is for the Bears to keep their future stars in green and gold. Hall has been a Baylor commit since last February but has been a major target of the SEC, particularly Alabama and Texas A&M. Hall has said that his love for Baylor and Texas A&M is split down the middle, which means the Bears must work on keeping an important player who can play on both sides of the ball. Expected to play wide receiver in college, Hall lined up as a defensive back at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

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Most important targets: Big 12 

December, 10, 2013
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Most of the Big 12 programs have all but filled their 2014 recruiting classes, sans one or two spots, and national signing day in February is expected to be a great day. There’s still plenty of room to add players for TCU, Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma, but all 10 teams in the conference can improve their stock with one or two ESPN 300 commits from now until Feb. 5.

Each school can truly benefit from specific targets. Here is a look at some of the most important targets who could end up signing Big 12 national letters of intent.

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The beginning of the month didn't start out so hot for Oklahoma, who was routed in a highly-anticipated game at Baylor on Nov. 7. But the Sooners have rebounded well on the recruiting trail with a handful of commitments since the calendar turned.

We'll take a look at who exactly those recruits are as well as talk about the big weekend ahead in Stillwater in this week's edition of Big 12 recruiting storylines.

OU on a roll


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Even for schools like Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, who all have recruiting classes ranked in the top 40, there is still a lot of work to be done for the Class of 2014. Here is a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for every school in the Big 12.

Baylor
Best-case scenario: The Bears continue to put up gaudy numbers on offense, which allows them to round out one of their best-ever classes with a few more gems. One recruit they would love to add is Randall Cunningham II (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman). On defense, one of Baylor’s top targets is ESPN 300 cornerback Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne). Texas struggling this season sure does help BU's recruiting.


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In this week’s Big 12 recruiting storylines we take a look at a big weekend ahead for Oklahoma and West Virginia, the successful weekend that was for the Longhorns, TCU targeting another state and much more.


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