Oklahoma Sooners: Foster Sawyer
1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): After lighting up Big 12 defenses last fall, Bryce Petty thinks there’s still room for improvement going into his second and final season as Baylor’s starting QB. He spent spring break with QB guru George Whitfield working on pocket presence and completing passes in the face of the blitz. Petty connected on 62 percent of his throws last season while finishing fourth nationally in passing yards. If that completion percentage goes up by even just a little bit, look out.
2. Kansas State (2): Outside Petty, Jake Waters owns the most proven track record in the league. That speaks to the inexperience of the position in the conference, but it also speaks to the way Waters closed out last season. While quarterbacking the Wildcats to wins in six of their seven final games, he actually posted a better Adjusted Total QBR than Petty during that stretch. Even with Tyler Lockett sitting out, Waters still delivered a crisp spring game performance and seems poised for a big final season in the “Little Apple.”
3. Oklahoma (3): Trevor Knight might have been underwhelming in the Sooners’ spring game. But don’t let that be a deception. After recovering from some minor early season injuries in 2013, Knight took a major step forward late in the season, capped with a spectacular MVP performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. He’ll have to stay healthy (which was a problem his first season), and he’ll have to become more consistent with his passing accuracy. But the talent and upside is there for Knight to have a monster sophomore campaign. The Sooners still need to iron out who exactly Knight’s backup will be, especially given his penchant for getting nicked up. Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen failed to move the needle much in the spring. Blake Bell is at tight end. And Baker Mayfield, while terrific the entire spring after transferring in from Texas Tech, remains ineligible for 2014.
4. Texas Tech (4): While Knight had a lackluster spring game outing, Davis Webb had a spectacular one. Texas Tech’s lack of QB depth is scary (incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes will be the backup by default), but there’s no getting around how impressive Webb has been dating back to Texas Tech’s dominating win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Including that game and three open scrimmages in the spring, Webb threw 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. This spring, Webb showed more zip on his passes after adding close to 20 pounds of muscle. He hopes to get even stronger this summer, and has plans to train with Whitfield in May. If Webb goes down with injury, the Red Raiders will probably be toast. But if he stays upright, Tech could emerge as a dark-horse contender for the Big 12 title.
5. Oklahoma State (5): After a series of steady performances over the spring, veteran J.W. Walsh will go into the summer as the overwhelming favorite to open as the starter against Florida State. Even though he struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013, the Oklahoma State coaching staff loves Walsh’s leadership, toughness and commitment. If Walsh can revert to completing passes at the rate he did as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago (67 percent), he could enjoy plenty of success. If he doesn’t, the Cowboys have a couple of other interesting options, who both had their moments in the spring. Walk-on Daxx Garman has the strongest arm on the roster. True freshman Mason Rudolph can make all the throws, too, though clearly still has a steep learning curve.
6. TCU (8): The Horned Frogs made the biggest jump on this list with the addition of transfer Matt Joeckel, who after backing up Johnny Manziel the past two seasons should be the odds-on favorite to take over as the starter. Coming from Texas A&M, Joeckel actually has the most experience among TCU’s other QBs operating the offense Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed during the spring. Joeckel’s arrival gives TCU the luxury to bring talented incoming freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein along more slowly. It also allows the Horned Frogs to use Trevone Boykin the way they did last season, as a receiver and situational quarterback. With only one career start, Joeckel, of course, has much to prove. But the same goes for the majority of the league’s QBs.
7. Texas (6): The Longhorns ended spring ball with Tyrone Swoopes as their starting QB. That didn’t go well in the spring game, as Swoopes struggled mightily through most of the scrimmage. Texas could move back up the Big 12 QB rankings if USC transfer Max Wittek announces his intentions to enroll. But until he does, he can’t be counted on. Throw in David Ash’s foot injury and concussion past and true freshman Jerrod Heard’s inexperience, and Charlie Strong’s first summer in Austin figures to include plenty of QB uncertainty.
8. West Virginia (7): With Clint Trickett sitting out the spring after shoulder surgery, juco transfer Skyler Howard had ample opportunity to make a mark. Instead, the Mountaineers exited spring the way they started it -- with Trickett still atop the depth chart. A dearth of options is not coach Dana Holgorsen’s problem. Veteran Paul Millard outplayed Howard in the spring game. Logan Moore emerged after moving from receiver to QB before the spring. And four-star signee William Crest will join the fray this summer. But Holgorsen must get better QB play than he did last fall for the Mountaineers to recover from a disastrous losing season.
9. Iowa State (9): According to coach Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones’ QB competition will linger into mid-August. But Grant Rohach will go into the summer with the clear edge after outperforming Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning in the spring game. Rohach showed promise late last season, leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, overtime victory at West Virginia in the season finale. But after furiously rotating through QBs in recent years, the Cyclones understandably want to give this derby due process to play out.
10. Kansas (10): Six of the league’s teams went into the spring with a quarterback battle. Of those, only the Jayhawks came out with an unequivocal starter. After sophomore Montell Cozart outshined Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the spring game, coach Charlie Weis wasted little time in declaring Cozart the starter. Cozart still has a long ways to go, especially with his passing. But at least Kansas now has a young dual-threat QB with upside to build around.
To the 'bag...
@Jake_Trotter both TCU QB commits have attended most of the spring practices. Chances Sawyer or Muelstein takes the reins right away? #mbagTrotter: Right away? Very little chance. The TCU coaching staff seems to be relatively content with the way Trevone Boykin has performed in the new offense this spring. Down the line, Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could get a shot, especially if Boykin struggles or the offense bogs down like it did last year. But I feel fairly confident Boykin will open as TCU's starter.
— mk (@mulloy_k) April 3, 2014
@Jake_Trotter going into the spring game at OU, who is the biggest sleeper we should pay attention to on offense?Trotter: I don't think there's any doubt that running back Alex Ross has created the most buzz this spring among the young offensive players not named Trevor Knight. The assumption around Norman was Keith Ford would swiftly win the starting job after contributing to the running back rotation ahead of Ross last season despite being a year younger. But Ross has turned heads in the Sooners' closed scrimmages, and is carving out a role in the OU backfield, whether he starts or not.
— Sean Holmes (@seanathon09) April 3, 2014
@Jake_Trotter @ESPN_Big12 A lot of big recruits have Tech pretty high on their list. What's the likelihood that Tech can grab some of them?Trotter: I got out of the business of predicting verbal commitments a long time ago. But I will say this: having Jarrett Stidham, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB, already on board is going to make a huge difference for the Red Raiders in a bunch of these battles. He will prove to be an invaluable recruiter, and should sway several high-profile prospects out there to give Texas Tech a second and third look it might not get otherwise.
— Stephen Borcik (@SBorcik) April 3, 2014
@ESPN_Big12 if Walsh starts against FSU and OSU loses do you see daxx or Rouldoph take the starting position first?Trotter: Odds are the Cowboys lose to the defending national champs no matter who they start at quarterback. I doubt J.W. Walsh would lose the job (assuming he starts) based on that one game alone. Daxx Garman has been impressive this spring, and I love the potential of Mason Rudolph. But it could take a while for either to unseat Walsh, whose experience trumps all right now.
— Gerald Tracy III (@GeraldTracyIII) April 3, 2014
@Jake_Trotter @ESPN_Big12 Other than Flowers, which OU freshman do you see having the most immediate impact next year?Trotter: The three guys I'd be watching for would be safety Steven Parker II, slot receiver Michiah Quick and running back Joe Mixon. The Sooners are in good shape at safety, but blue-chip true freshmen like Parker II have a history of playing immediately in the secondary in the Bob Stoops era. Sterling Shepard is going to need help at receiver, and Quick has the explosiveness to break into the rotation right away. Mixon was one of the best running back recruits in the country, and is probably too talented to redshirt.
— Carter J (@carterj1982) April 3, 2014
YK Lee in Fort Wort, Texas, writes: On College Football Live, comments were made that the Big 12 champ (if OU or Baylor) would be in trouble for the playoffs due to non-conference schedules. But no mention was made of Alabama's non-conference schedule, which includes an FCS team. Why does ESPN seem to have a bone to pick against the Big 12?
Trotter: Are we seriously going to do this every week? To recap from last Friday, here's who else Alabama has scheduled out-of-conference the last five years: West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State and Clemson. Alabama also plays in the toughest conference in college football. There's just no comparison between Alabama's schedule and Baylor's. And while I didn't see it, I'm sure the gist of the College Football Live segment was to point out that a one-loss Baylor has virtually no shot of advancing to the College Football Playoff against, say, a second SEC team with the same record, due to the Bears' lackluster non-conference scheduling, which includes just one opponent (Duke) from the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten or ACC up to 2019.
ImFasterThanYa writes: Will a Big 12 ref throw a flag when I run through the end zone after scoring a touchdown because it takes several steps for me to turn off the engines?
Trotter: Tyreek Hill could score as many touchdowns as Forest Gump did that one year for Alabama. As you imply, the Oklahoma State transfer can flat out fly.
Katie in Sugar Land, Texas, writes: I love the new Big 12, but I feel we need more rivalries. Texas-Oklahoma is a staple of the conference. But what else is there? After all, great rivalries are the major mark of a great conference.
Trotter: Bedlam has become a great rivalry. But you're right, conference realignment has pretty much destroyed all the other notable ones in the league (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Texas Tech-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska). This has really hurt the league, but what can be done? College football rivalries aren't forged overnight.
Last season, however, that identity all but vanished.
But thanks to breakout performances during the bowl season, coupled with the imminent arrival of numerous blue-chip freshmen, the conference appears on the way back to restoring its quarterbacking reputation heading into spring practice.
Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have their starters cemented. Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and West Virginia will welcome true freshmen with the pedigrees and opportunities to compete for jobs right away. And Kansas (Montell Cozart) and Iowa State (Grant Rohach) enjoyed promising moments from a pair of freshmen.
After totaling 46 touchdowns to just three interceptions in his first season as the starter, Petty headlines the position in the league again.
But if the bowl season was any indication, he won’t be the lone headliner.
Oklahoma freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to the level backup Blake Bell asked to change his position to tight end.
In the National University Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech freshman Davis Webb lit up Arizona State, too, driving Michael Brewer to ask for a transfer.
And Kansas State’s Jake Waters capped a red-hot second half of his season by throwing for three touchdowns in a rout of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Knight, Webb and Waters delivered three of college football’s 10 best bowl performances according to the Adjusted QBR metric. All three rapidly improved in their first seasons. And that rapid improvement figures only to continue in their second.
“Traditionally, Year 2 in the offense is when you see the most growth in a quarterback,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
Of the three, Knight was the only full-time starter to begin the season. Spearheaded by a dazzling preseason, he beat out Bell, who was the favorite to replace four-year starter Landry Jones. But Knight completed just 21 of his first 48 pass attempts, and after a knee injury, lost the job to Bell not even two games in.
Knight, however, emerged late in the season, and displaying improvement with his accuracy, led the Sooners to a late November win at Kansas State. Then in the Sugar Bowl, he finally showed why he won the job originally in August. Against one of the nation’s most dominant defenses, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes as the Sooners toppled the Crimson Tide in one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history.
“If you’re going to win a championship, your quarterback is going to have to make plays,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We all saw Trevor [struggle] as a young freshman, first start, first game. To see him grow throughout the entire year and play extremely well down the stretch and played really well in the Sugar Bowl, obviously -- he’s obviously got a great future.”
Despite being the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster in August, Webb was beaten out by walk-on true freshman Baker Mayfield. But like Knight, Webb settled in behind the scenes. After Mayfield injured his knee, Webb led Tech to a come-from-behind win at West Virginia. Then, after Mayfield transferred, Webb was almost flawless against the Sun Devils. He passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns as Texas Tech controlled the game the entire night.
“The success he had in that bowl game against one of the top defenses showed what he can be,” Kingsbury said.
Waters’ bowl success showed the same.
Out of junior college, Waters beat out Daniel Sams for the starting job to begin the season. But with Waters taking the majority of the snaps, K-State fell in its season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. The next two months weren’t much better for Waters or the Wildcats, as the defending Big 12 champs stumbled to a 2-4 start.
But after losing snaps to Sams, Waters reestablished control of the position and quarterbacked K-State to wins in six of its final seven games, including a 31-14 rout of Michigan in the bowl. Waters had his best outing yet, too, completing 78 percent of his passes for three touchdowns.
While Waters, Webb and Knight will be looking to build off their bowl performances this spring, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph will be looking to win a job. Perhaps the most highly acclaimed quarterback the Cowboys have ever signed, Rudolph had a monster senior season in Rock Hill, S.C., throwing for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. Enrolled for spring ball, the ESPN 300 recruit will challenge J.W. Walsh.
“Mason really brings all of the characteristics you want to see in a quarterback,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “All of the intangibles.”
Plenty more quarterback talent is on its way, too.
Texas’ Jerrod Heard, West Virginia’s William Crest and TCU’s Foster Sawyer were also four-star recruits in the 2014 class, and they will be joining their schools in the summer with chances to play right away.
Such opportunities exist because the Big 12 quarterback play was down last season. But heading to spring, the league’s most identifiable position is on its way back up.
2. Kansas State: Junior college transfer Jake Waters was one of the most improved players in the league over the course of the season. Waters split time with Daniel Sams through the first half of the year, but eventually took command of the starting position and spearheaded the Wildcats to wins in six of their last seven games to ride a wave of momentum into the offseason. Like Petty, Waters should only get better in his second season as a starter. Sams figures to be moved around this spring, but he has proven he can step in at QB, too.
3. Oklahoma: The Sooners were one of the most inconsistently quarterbacked teams in the league, notably during double-digit losses to Texas and Baylor. But with one game, OU’s situation looks completely different. In just his fifth career start, freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, leading the Sooners to one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history. Insiders in Norman always thought Knight had the talent. The switch just finally flipped in New Orleans. Even with Blake Bell moving to tight end, the Sooners have depth with former four-star QBs Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen.
4. Texas Tech: Davis Webb also delivered one of the best bowl performances of any quarterback. After Baker Mayfield transferred, the plan was for Webb to split snaps with Michael Brewer against Arizona State. But Webb played so well, that plan was scrapped. Webb had the fourth-best QBR of any bowl to lead Tech to the upset. Webb actually played pretty well before the bowl, too, and has a promising future in Lubbock. The Red Raiders, however, are thin here. With Mayfield and Brewer transferring, Patrick Mahomes is Tech’s only other scholarship QB, and he doesn’t arrive until the summer.
5. Oklahoma State: To enjoy success here, the Cowboys will need J.W. Walsh to return to his efficient 2012 form. Or, they will need Mason Rudolph to emerge as a true freshman the way Wes Lunt did two springs ago. Walsh took a step back as a sophomore. He completed 67 percent of his passes in 2012, but just 59 percent last season, and eventually lost his job back to Clint Chelf. Rudolph, the gem of the 2014 recruiting class, had no such issues completing passes in high school, connecting on 72 percent for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. If Walsh’s arm strength continues to be a problem, Rudolph could quickly go from QB of the future to QB of the now.
7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers have no fewer than four quarterbacks with a reasonable chance of becoming the starter. Paul Millard and Clint Trickett shared duties last season, though neither seized the position. Millard is playing baseball, and Trickett is still banged up. That could open the door for junior-college transfer Skyler Howard to make a move on the job. Keep an eye on true freshman William Crest, though. Crest, the No. 11 dual-threat QB in the country, won’t arrive until after the spring. But the Mountaineers have had success with mobile freshman quarterbacks before.
8. TCU: The Horned Frogs first must decide what they’re going to do with Trevone Boykin. But they can’t afford to leave him at receiver until another viable option surfaces at QB. Tyler Matthews didn’t look ready in limited action, but the Horned Frogs have a pair of intriguing possibilities in Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein. Neither, however, will arrive until the summer, meaning TCU’s QB situation will remain unresolved past the spring.
9. Iowa State: The Cyclones have the requisite skill talent to bounce back from a disappointing season. But that won’t happen until they stop playing musical quarterbacks. The answer could be Grant Rohach, who played well late in his redshirt freshman season. Sam B. Richardson will also be in the mix. Richardson was never healthy last year, and had the same kind of promising finish in 2012 that Rohach delivered last season. The darkhorse will be Joel Lanning, who redshirted last year. Lanning, who signed with Iowa State over Nebraska, has the arm to make this a three-way battle.
10. Kansas: The Jayhawks add another player to the Jake Heaps/Montell Cozart timeshare in UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Neither Heaps nor Cozart did enough to warrant full-time snaps, so Millweard, a former four-star recruit, will have his chance this spring.
Which incoming freshman QB will play most in 2014?
Max Olson: Don’t sleep on the two quarterbacks that TCU signed on Wednesday. Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein walk into a situation that could be pretty wide-open entering the spring. The Frogs not only need a replacement for Casey Pachall, but one who will be comfortable and competent in the Oklahoma State/Texas Tech style offense they’ll install for 2014. We know Trevone Boykin is capable of playing a number of roles in this offense, but can one (or both) of these rookies come in and do what Webb and Baker Mayfield did for Texas Tech?
Jake Trotter: I’m already hearing good things about four-star QB Mason Rudolph, who is already enrolled at Oklahoma State and will participate in spring ball. Rudolph’s skill set is a better fit for the Oklahoma State’s offense than J.W. Walsh, who struggled getting the ball downfield last season, which in turn allowed opposing defenses to stack the line of scrimmage. Rudolph might not be the starter in the opener, but coach Mike Gundy has shown he’s not afraid of playing a true freshman quarterback.
Which non-QB freshman will make the biggest splash?
Chatmon: Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard is an elite talent who will have every opportunity to emerge as a major part of a Cyclones offense searching for playmakers at the skill positions. At 6-foot-5, 208 pounds, Lazard brings terrific size and athleticism. The No. 148 player in the ESPN 300 will become a valuable asset for Paul Rhoads’ squad in 2014.
Olson: I hate to feed the hype machine, but I have to go with Joe Mixon. Oklahoma managed the lure the No. 1 running back in California by convincing him he can play from Day 1, which is obviously a reasonable promise with OU’s top three backs from 2013 all gone now.
Trotter: I think this ultimately could come down to a pair of blue-chip wide receivers in Baylor’s K.D. Cannon and Lazard. Both players should be in their receiving rotations from Day 1; either could wind up starting before long, too.
Which juco player will make the most significant immediate impact?
Chatmon: TCU defensive back Kenny Iloka fits the mold of a Gary Patterson safety. He’s athletic, aggressive and physical so he should be among friends on TCU’s defense. The Horned Frogs return several talented secondary players, including Sam Carter, Derrick Kindred and Chris Hackett, but Iloka should force Patterson to find a spot for him.
Olson: You didn’t hear about him much on Wednesday because he’s already on campus, but
Trotter: This spring, Paul Millard will be playing baseball and Clint Trickett will still be injured, at least at the outset. With Ford Childress also gone, plenty of snaps will be available to juco QB Skyler Howard, who enrolled for the spring at West Virginia. Howard was the No. 3-ranked dual-threat juco QB. With West Virginia's QB situation completely in flux, Howard will have an opportunity this spring of laying claim to the job.
Who is the recruit nobody is talking about that will be talked about a lot in the fall?
Chatmon: Although the opportunity will be there with three senior cornerbacks moving on from Baylor, I’m not ready to say cornerback Verkedric Vaughns will immediately be an impact player in the Bears secondary in 2014. Nonetheless he is a name to know that went largely unnoticed on signing day and a guy to keep an eye on this fall, particularly if he makes a smooth transition to the demands of college football. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Vaughns ends up outperforming several highly rated cornerback prospects who signed with other Big 12 schools on signing day.
Olson: Lots of very talented receivers signed with Big 12 schools on Wednesday, and I’m tempted to say Baylor’s Ishmael Zamora is the choice here. Instead, let’s go with a guy who the Texas Tech coaching staff absolutely loves: Ian Sadler. The do-everything athlete led Argyle (Texas) High to a state championship as a receiver/quarterback, rushing for three touchdowns and returning a punt for a fourth score in the title game. He has the kind of playmaking ability and polish needed to see the field early, and I don’t doubt he’ll elicit comparisons to Wes Welker from the fan base.
Trotter: Keep an eye on Kansas State wide receiver Andre Davis. QB Jake Waters loves throwing the ball downfield, and Davis, one of the top receivers coming out of the juco ranks, has the ability to get downfield. When other teams focus their attention on Tyler Lockett on the other side, Davis should have plenty of opportunities to make plays in one-on-one coverage.
It’s always an exciting day for college football fans. And there’s plenty to be excited about in the Big 12.
Below is a breakdown of the most exciting element from each of the 10 Big 12 recruiting classes:
What to get excited about: The wide receivers
The players: K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik), Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis)
The skinny: The Bears have one of the best WR classes in the country, with four players ranked in the ESPN 300. With Antwan Goodley also back in Waco, QB Bryce Petty should have a big, signing day smile on his face.
What to get excited about: A blue-chip wideout
The player: Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale)
The skinny: Elite skill talent has come at premium in Ames the last few years. But that’s exactly what Iowa State is getting in Lazard, an ESPN 300 prospect who had offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska and Stanford. If Lazard comes ready to play, new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino will have a dynamic complement to pair with No. 1 wideout Quenton Bundrage.
What to get excited about: The replacements for RB James Sims
The players: Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton), Corey Avery (Dallas/Carter)
The skinny: The Jayhawks graduated their only All-Big 12 performer this past season in Sims. But they prevailed in a pair of hard-fought recruiting battles to land four-star running backs Wrench and Avery. Wrench was the first commit in the class, and gave coach Charlie Weis a player to build the rest of the class around. Then this week, Weis beat out Nebraska, Ohio State and LSU, among others, to reel in Avery. The one-two combination of Wrench and Avery is reason to be optimistic about the future of the KU offense, even without Sims.
What to get excited about: Junior-college impact
The players: Terrell Clinkscales (Dodge City, Kansas), Andre Davis (Santa Rosa, Calif./Santa Rosa), D’Vonta Derricott (Garden City, Kan./Garden City), Danzel McDaniel (Dodge City, Kan.)
The skinny: The Wildcats have a returning core capable of contending for the Big 12 title. In this recruiting class, they’ll be adding four players in the ESPN Junior College 50 to aid that cause. K-State swiped Clinkscales from Nebraska, and he could team with Travis Britz to form a stout one-two punch at DT. Davis could be the perfect complement opposite wideout Tyler Lockett. Derricott (OLB) and McDaniel (CB) should help the defense.
What to get excited about: Backfield firepower
The player: Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)
The skinny: The Sooners closed as strong as any program in the country, and that included plucking the No. 53 overall recruit away from the West Coast powers. Mixon, together with last year’s No. 3 RB Keith Ford and budding dual-threat QB Trevor Knight, could be a devastating rushing force in the Big 12 for years to come.
What to get excited about: The linebackers
The players: Gyasi Akem (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow), Josh Mabin (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak), Kirk Tucker (Tucker, Ga./Tucker), Devante Averette (Melvindale, Mich./Ellsworth Community College), Justin Phillips (Pearland, Texas/Pearland)
The skinny: The Cowboys graduated a pair of all-conference linebackers in Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, who played big parts in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround. But impressive help is on the way. Akem is a ESPN 300 prospect, and Tucker, the other outside linebacker in the class, ended up at Oklahoma State after failing to gain admission to Stanford. Averette should provide instant impact on the inside, and Mabin is a four-star recruit.
What to get excited about: The offensive skill talent
The players: Foster Sawyer (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal), Grayson Muehlstein (Decatur, Texas/Decatur), Shaun Nixon (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis), Corey McBride (Geismar, La.,/Dutchtown), Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln)
The skinny: The top five players in TCU’s class are offensive skill players, providing help where the Horned Frogs really need it. Sawyer and Muehlstein could battle for the starting QB job right away. The opportunity for playing time is there for receivers McBridge and Porter, too. TCU also pulled off a coup Tuesday by flipping Nixon, a four-star RB, from Texas A&M.
What to get excited about: Possible QB of the future
The player: Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer)
The skinny: Charlie Strong’s quickest path to putting Texas back on top is finding a solution at QB that eluded Mack Brown the last four years. Heard, an ESPN 300 quarterback who won two state titles in high school, could very well emerge as the answer.
What to get excited about: A shutdown corner
The player: Nigel Bethel II (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington)
The skinny: The Red Raiders lose three starters from their secondary, but they have a player who can come in and help right away in Bethel. The ESPN 300 prospect is one of the better pure coverage corners in the country. To win in the Big 12, you have to defend the pass. And Bethel can defend the pass.
What to get excited about: The quarterbacks
The players: Skyler Howard (White Settlement, Texas/Riverside Community College), William Crest (Baltimore/Dunbar)
The skinny: Coach Dana Holgorsen struggled to replace Geno Smith last year, using three quarterbacks to limited success. But Holgorsen is bringing in a pair of talented players at the position who could be immediate factors. Howard was the No. 3 dual-threat juco QB in the country and is already enrolled for spring ball. Crest is the No. 11 high school dual-threat QB nationally.
1. Oklahoma (11-2, 7-2 Big 12, last week 2): Where did this team come from? The Sooners seemed dead in the water after a 29-point loss at Baylor in early November. Instead, Oklahoma finished out the season by reeling off four straight wins, including the last three as the underdog. The Sooners saved their best performance for last, wiping out two-time defending national champ Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide didn't even play poorly. Oklahoma was just that good.
2. Baylor (11-2, 8-1 Big 12, LW 1): The Bears just weren’t quite the same team at the end of the season. With an outright Big 12 title, it was still a terrific season, even if the bowl game was not so terrific.
3. Oklahoma State (10-3, 7-2 Big 12, LW 3): The Cowboys finished with two brutal losses. The season was still a good one, but it could have been a great one. With several key players graduating, 2014 figures to be a rebuilding season.
4. Kansas State (8-5, 5-4 Big 12, LW 5): The Wildcats broke Bill Snyder’s bowl game losing streak by hammering Michigan while also continuing the momentum build for 2014. With star wideout Tyler Lockett back, K-State should be a legitimate title contender next season.
5. Texas (8-5, 7-2 Big 12, LW 4): New coach Charlie Strong is putting together an impressive coaching staff, notably plucking away Oklahoma State’s Joe Wickline, who is one of the best offensive line coaches in the country. If the Longhorns can find a quarterback, Strong might have Texas back ahead of schedule.
6. Texas Tech (8-5, 4-5 Big 12, LW 6): What five-game losing streak? The tenor in Lubbock has completely changed following the Red Raiders' pummeling of No. 14 Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl.
7. TCU (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 7): Coach Gary Patterson has overhauled his offensive staff with expectations of bringing a more high-powered offense to Fort Worth. The Frogs will need to find a quarterback who can run the attack, but they do have a pair of blue-chip freshmen arriving in Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer.
8. Iowa State (3-9, 2-7 Big 12, LW 8): Iowa State missed out on a bowl game, but optimism has returned to Ames with the hiring of offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, who will have some talented pieces with which to work.
9. Kansas (3-9, 1-8 Big 12, LW 9): Joy has returned to Lawrence, Kan. It’s basketball season!
10. West Virginia (4-8, 2-7 Big 12, LW 10): The Mountaineers have hope that newcomers William Crest or Skyler Howard can be the answer at quarterback. We know it won’t be Ford Childress, who reportedly left school.
1. Oklahoma Sooners
In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.
2. Baylor Bears
Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.
3. Kansas State Wildcats
Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.
4. Texas Longhorns
During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.
6. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.
7. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.
8. Iowa State Cyclones
Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.
9. West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.
10. Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.
With 50 days from national signing day, a lot of questions about star players have been answered. Some questions, however, are still left to be answered.
Here are 10 signing day storylines that could affect recruiting classes throughout the Big 12:
As we inch closer to signing day, more and more schools are filling up their 2014 recruiting classes, and more and more elite athletes are preparing to make big announcements. While college football week saw one of its greatest weeks in a long time, many commits and targets were trying to balance their time watching college games with playing in their own high school playoff contests.
Here are some of this past week’s highlights:
Biggest commitment: Oklahoma State picked up its 23rd commitment when three-star defensive end Trey Carter (Dallas/Pinkston) gave his verbal pledge. Carter became the third defensive end and fifth defensive lineman to commit to the Cowboys. At 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, Carter said he chose Oklahoma State for the athletic and academic opportunities. “Coach [Mike] Gundy said it didn’t matter if I get hurt; he still was going to promise me an education. No matter what, I’d still get my education,” said Carter, who wants to major in law enforcement and become a district attorney. “I didn’t hear that from the other schools.”
Biggest offer: Junior college quarterback Skyler Howard (White Settlement, Texas/Riverside Community College) has been impressive in Southern California Football Association play, throwing for more than 3,100 yards, 33 touchdowns and six interceptions. Howard had offers from New Mexico State and Northern Colorado, but the 6-0, 205-pound quarterback recently earned his first BCS offer from West Virginia. Recruited to West Virginia by offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson, Howard has Big 12 interest and could be a great addition to the Mountaineers. Wherever he plays, he will have three years of eligibility, as he was an academic qualifier out of high school.
Best performance by a commit/target: In arguably the biggest game of the year for his high school team, Texas Tech commit Ian Sadler (Argyle, Texas/Argyle) put on a show Friday night. Sadler accounted for 220 rushing and receiving yards and five touchdowns in a 45-38 win against Gilmer, Texas, a team Argyle has played four consecutive years and earned victories in three out of four games. Sadler, recruited to play inside receiver for the Red Raiders, rushed for 182 yards and four touchdowns and also caught two passes for 38 yards and a fifth score.
Afterward, Sadler took to Twitter to show some love to his teammates.
Most important visit: Texas isn’t a fan of its commits taking official visits to other schools. Four-star defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren) is still solid to the Longhorns, but he made the trip to Tempe, Ariz., to check out the Arizona State campus. Ranked as the nation’s No. 27 defensive tackle, Lealaimatafao has visited Arizona State and UCLA, and he’s expected to take his official visit to Texas the weekend of Dec. 13. The 6-1, 301-pound defender committed to Texas on March 30.
Like I said before... THE HYPE IS REAL! #ilovethisteam— Ian Sadler (@isssadler) November 30, 2013
Biggest answer: While TCU didn’t get the win against Baylor on Saturday, the Horned Frogs silenced the critics who thought Gary Patterson’s group hung up their cleats early. Baylor needed all 60 minutes to beat TCU, 41-38, and it was enough to impress the Horned Frogs’ commits -- particularly, TCU’s top-ranked recruit, four-star quarterback Foster Sawyer (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal).
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Texas, at No. 8, still holds the top spot from the conference. Baylor is No. 16, followed by Oklahoma (No. 22), Oklahoma State (No. 27) and Texas Tech (No. 35). Per our Big 12 rankings, West Virginia holds down the sixth spot in the conference, followed by Kansas, TCU, Iowa State and Kansas State.
Here is a more in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:
Trending up: This is right around the time when Oklahoma sees a spike in its recruiting, and the timing has been right on schedule. The Sooners have landed five commitments in the month of November, the latest being junior college outside linebacker Devante Bond (Roseville, Calif./Sierra College). In previous years, Oklahoma has started slow and finished strong in recruiting, and there are still a few top-ranked players available. Among the ESPN 300 athletes are cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell), running back Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom) and Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla./Jenks).
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While Kansas broke its recruiting slump, Oklahoma managed to pick up two players on Sunday. One of them filled a huge need.
There were several other updates involving Big 12 targets from this weekend, including one four-star athlete announcing when he will make his final decision. That player said he most likely will end up in the Big 12.
Here are some of last week’s highlights:
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Each Wednesday, ESPN RecruitingNation updates its national class rankings. For an in-depth look at the Big 12 conference, check out our conference rankings:
1. Texas, 24 commits: The Longhorns check in at No. 7 in the RecruitingNation class rankings with the headliners being No. 79 overall Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/Williams J. Brennan High), No. 119 Armanti Foreman (Texas City, Texas/Texas City High) and No. 138 Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/John H. Guyer High). Texas, which currently has seven ESPN300 commits, has its sights set on No. 31 overall Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell High), No. 13 Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen High) and No. 25 Jamal Adams (Lewiville, Texas/Hebron High).
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The Big 12 recruiting world saw a commitment switch, a pledge put up huge numbers and a rising 2015 player pick up four total offers -- including two from conference teams. As we inch closer to the middle of the season for Big 12 programs, more and more intriguing news, facts and figures are expected to come about.
Here’s a recap of how the Big 12 fared from a recruiting standpoint:
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- Why judgment day looms for the Sooners' top target.
- A Florida receiver is excited about visiting the Sooners this weekend.
- An OU signee talks about his first trip to Norman.
- One of the Sooners' top offensive line targets is making a return trip this spring.
- Is OU back in the picture for in-state DE Clark?
- An Ohio target has built a solid relationship with the OU staff.
- Could another running back be in play for the Sooners?
- A 2015 tight end committed to another school wants to visit OU again.
- A 2015 lineman talks about recently adding a Sooners offer.
Read the Sooner Intel after the jump.
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