Oklahoma Sooners: Ian Sadler

For the past two weeks, we’ve been ranking the best units in the Big 12 by position.

Now, in our weekly poll, we’re asking for your opinion: Who has the league’s best offensive unit regardless of position?

We’re going to exclude the quarterback position, since that’s more about one player than the collective strength of an entire unit.

Sorry, Bryce Petty.

SportsNation

Who has the Big 12's best overall offensive positional unit?

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    19%
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    24%
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    16%
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    19%
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    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,751)

Petty’s receivers at Baylor, though, have a strong claim as the best offensive unit in the league. The Bears return four players who finished with at least 30 receptions last season, including Antwan Goodley, who produced 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Baylor will also be adding arguably the deepest and most talented signing class at the position in the country, headlined by ESPN 300 receiver K.D. Cannon.

The Bears, however, aren’t the only ones loaded at receiver.

Texas Tech features the dynamic receiving trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. D.J. Polite-Bray emerged over the spring as a downfield burner on the outside. The Red Raiders have also added their top overall recruit from last year to the rotation in Devin Lauderdale, who was forced to attend junior college for a year after failing to initially qualify. Four-star slot receivers Byron Daniels and Ian Sadler will be joining the squad in the summer.

As deep as the Bears and Red Raiders are at receiver, there might not be a positional group in the Big 12 as deep as West Virginia’s running backs.

In their backfield, the Mountaineers have Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring in from Pitt, set Pennsylvania’s state high school career rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher from 2012) and Dustin Garrison, the team’s leading rusher from 2011 who had a tremendous spring following a string of injuries the previous three seasons. If that weren’t enough, four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams will be arriving in Morgantown this summer.

While not as deep, Texas’ three-headed monster in the backfield is more proven than West Virginia’s, though not without questions. Johnathan Gray is coming off an Achilles injury, and Joe Bergeron was barred from the team during the spring due to academics. But when together and healthy, the threesome of Malcolm Brown, Gray (both All-Big 12-caliber runners) and Bergeron is as fearsome as any in the country.

Last fall, the Texas backs ran behind the most experienced offensive line in the Big 12. This season, that distinction belongs to the Sooners, whose offensive line unit caps the poll.

All told, Oklahoma boasts 107 career starts along its offensive line, headlined by senior tackle Daryl Williams and guard Adam Shead, who have been starting since their redshirt freshman seasons. Guard/center Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson are also returning starters on an offense that placed second in the Big 12 in rushing last season.

So who does have the best offensive unit in the Big 12?

Baylor's or Texas Tech’s wide receivers? West Virginia's or Texas’ running backs? Or Oklahoma’s offensive line?
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Friday with special teams. These outlooks will probably look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Horned Frogs’ coverage units were pretty lousy last year. If they can shore those up, this could be an elite special-teams unit with kicker Jaden Oberkrom, punter Ethan Perry and returners B.J. Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper.

2. Kansas State (3): Freshman Judah Jones, who was one of the stars of the spring game with a 51-yard touchdown catch, fielded kickoffs, too. Cornerback Morgan Burns also added a 39-yard kickoff return. They could take some pressure off Tyler Lockett in the return game and also him to get a breather when needed.

3. Baylor (2): The return units are going to be spectacular, and Spencer Roth is one of the best punters in the nation. But field-goal kicking is an unknown. Freshman Chris Callahan has taken over for now as the team’s kicker, but missed one chip shot badly in the spring game. Callahan could be fine. But as Oklahoma State found out last year, rolling with a first-time kicker can be dicey.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hunnicutt
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsMichael Hunnicutt has the ability to become Oklahoma's first All-America kicker.
4. Oklahoma (5): Place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt (Moneycutt?) nailed field goals of 52 and 47 yards during a windy spring game. Amazingly, the Sooners have never had an All-America kicker. Hunnicutt has the potential to be the first.

5. West Virginia (7): Josh Lambert created plenty of buzz this spring, including his 53-yard field goal in the spring game. Mario Alford also took the opening kick in the spring game to the house. Punter Nick O’Toole is a proven commodity. If Lambert has a big sophomore year (he was really good as a freshman) and Alford’s TD is a sign of improvement in the return units, which ranked last in the Big 12 last year, this could become one of the league’s better special-teams units.

6. Texas Tech (4): The Red Raiders continued to have issues fielding punts during the spring, which is probably one reason why the return slots were left blank in the team’s post-spring depth chart. Incoming freshman Ian Sadler, who had six return touchdowns during his senior season of high school, could solidify that spot once he arrives on campus.

7. Iowa State (6): Sophomore kicker Cole Netten showed off his big leg in the spring game by making a 56-yard field goal. That came after coach Paul Rhoads gave him a shot at a 62-yard attempt. Netten, combined with the dynamic return trio of Jarvis West, DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly, should translate into a strong special-teams unit. If incoming freshman Colin Downing can adequately step in at punter, the unit will be even stronger.

8. Texas (8): Nick Rose showed a strong leg on a missed 55-yard field goal try in the spring game and converted a 40-yarder. William Russ averaged 43.3 yards per punt in the spring game. Those were positive signs, but replacing All-American kicker/punter Anthony Fera will be one of the underrated storylines in Charlie Strong’s first season.

9: Oklahoma State (10): With so much turnover on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys need their special teams to be much better than last season. They just might be, though. With his speed, Tyreek Hill will be a major factor in the return game. Also, place-kicker Ben Grogan, after a shaky freshman season, drew praise for his improvement this spring from coach Mike Gundy.

10. Kansas (9): Special teams did not excel in Kansas’ spring game. Matthew Wyman made a 23-yard field goal but missed an extra point. The punting in the game was mediocre as well. The Jayhawks reportedly have preferred walk-on John Duvic enrolling this summer. After setting the Illinois state high school record with five field goals in a game, he could be a welcomed addition.
In today's mailbag, we discuss Iowa State's offensive potential, Texas Tech's defensive potential and OU's potential to run the table. There's also major disagreement about which schools I'm actually a homer for.

To the 'bag:

Rusty in Denver writes: Thanks for totaling the position rankings at the end last week. I thought that was a good summary. I do think you missed out on two key aspects for the coming season: schedule and coaching. As a K-State fan, I would push us up for the coaching staff, but take us back down for our schedule. Thoughts?

Trotter: Glad you enjoyed the series, Rusty. But I wasn’t trying to predict records, which obviously coaching and schedule play a big part into. I only wanted to focus on the position groups, and where every team stood relative to the rest of the league. When we try to predict how each team will finish in the league down the line, coaching and schedule obviously will be factored in.


Bryan in Norman, Okla., writes: What do you think of OU’s chances of running the table this year?

Trotter: OU could be favored in every game on its schedule, which obviously would give them a decent chance of running the regular-season table. But the Sooners also have a recent history of dropping games as double-digit favorites, as well (TCU ’05, Colorado ’07, BYU ’09, Texas Tech ’11, Texas ’13). This has a chance to be OU’s best team since 2008. And they are a legitimate threat to make the College Football Playoff. But they won’t get there unless they can avoid the double-digit land mine.


Justin in West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Am I the only Cyclones fan here that is not sold on Grant Rohach and this "dangerous" wide receiving group with Quenton Bundrage, Allen Lazard and E.J. Bibbs that everyone is hyped about? Not to discredit those three, but isn't this just a replay of what we saw near the end of the 2012 season when Sam Richardson replaced good ol' Steele Jantz and torched Kansas and nearly beat West Virginia? I agree, those three are going to be great targets for Rohach, but they're going to be making him look much better than what I've seen so far. I still feel like to get to the next level (more than 6-7 wins), ISU still needs more than what Rohach can provide.

Trotter: I disagree with your put down of the Iowa State WR corps. Bundrage has proven he can make big plays, Lazard was one of the top-rated WR recruits in the country and Bibbs is the Big 12’s best returning receiving tight end. But the point about the QBs is very valid. Iowa State always seems to find its answer at QB at the end of a season, only to restart its search the next. I don’t know if Rohach is the answer. Maybe he is. Or maybe it’s a healthy Richardson. Or perhaps it’s Joel Lanning. Whoever it is, that quarterback will have some weapons to work with next season. The key will be finding -- and sticking with -- that right quarterback.


Crews in Tyler, Texas, writes: Is there any way possible that Texas Tech's defense is underrated going into next season? Even with a ton of new starters, how much does playing in the same system/coaching staff from the previous season help?

Trotter: Well, there’s no doubt that getting through that first year in coordinator Matt Wallerstedt’s 3-4 scheme is going to help. But I don’t know that I’d term the Tech defense underrated at this point. The Red Raiders gave up 41 points or more in their final four regular-season games, and while the Holiday Bowl showing was impressive, losing the likes of Kerry Hyder, Dartwan Bush, Will Smith, Terrance Bullitt, Tre' Porter and Bruce Jones is going to hurt. I do like the potential athleticism of this defense, though. And they do have the chance to surprise, particularly if some of the juco transfers up front pan out.


Joshua Parsons in Lubbock, Texas, writes: Which freshman will have the biggest impact for this upcoming season for the Red Raiders?

Trotter: It’s possible receivers Ian Sadler or Byron Daniels work their way into the rotation, but I think cornerback Nigel Bethel II will make the biggest impact. The Red Raiders just don’t have a corner on their roster with the speed or playmaking potential of Bethel. He might not start right way, but he will play. And ultimately he will end up starting, perhaps sooner rather than later.


Cliff W. in Madison, W. Va., writes: I heard rumors that Shelton Gibson was an academic non-qualifier this spring -- is there any truth to it? It may be old news but I'm an underground coal miner and I don't get much time to keep myself updated about the drama up in Morgantown.

Trotter: Basically, Gibson was a partial qualifier last season, which means he can’t join the team in an official capacity until this summer. Ultimately, since Gibson redshirted, it won’t matter much. Provided he keeps his grades up, he will still have four years of eligibility left once he joins the team.

Big 12 signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
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Consider the countdown a go.

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:

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

December, 2, 2013
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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.

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).

Big 12 2014 recruiting scenarios 

October, 8, 2013
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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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Big 12 class rankings analysis 

October, 2, 2013
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The momentum train continues to roll right along in Lubbock, Texas, where first-year Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury has the Red Raiders off to a 4-0 start.

Their winning ways have benefited their recruiting efforts, too, as they have the No. 31 class overall in the latest ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings and have picked up three commitments in the last two weeks.

If they are to jump any of their conference foes in the rankings, it will have to be another week since there wasn’t any movement with the Big 12 schools.

Texas continues to lead the way with the No. 7 class, followed by Baylor at No. 17, Oklahoma at No. 22, Oklahoma State at No. 29 and West Virginia at No. 40.

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As we inch closer to the start of the college football season, wins and losses are going to be important -- not only for bowl-game consideration but also to keep current commitments interested.

Several 2014 athletes have pledged to Big 12 programs, and it’s up to the conference's schools to keep those athletes committed. Here are must-keep recruits for each team, athletes who can impact their respective classes.


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The RN Top 10 will appear throughout the camp and combine season and rank prospects based strictly on their on-field performance at that particular event. It does not reflect their overall prospect rankings.

LEANDER, Texas -- The annual Texas state 7-on-7 championships featured nearly 50 Division-I commits and 10 members of the ESPN 300, so finding 10 standouts for the week was not a difficult task.

Lots of big-name recruits were left off this top 10, and some surprise names snuck into the list thanks to big-time performances during the three-day event.

10. Del’Michael High

Mesquite (Texas) Horn | WR | 6-foot-2, 180 pounds

Teammate Jarrison Stewart has received more interest from recruiters, but it was High who impressed us more at state. He’s a big-bodied target who caught nearly everything thrown his way and was the go-to guy on one of the better offenses in the tournament. High is not receiving much recruiting interest, but there’s no doubt he’s got talent.


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Lessons learned: Texas State 7-on-7 

July, 13, 2013
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LEANDER, Texas -- The 2013 Texas State 7-on-7 Tournament saw a number of college football targets put on a show. It also saw some of the lesser-known players make a case for more publicity.

Graham (Texas) High School won the Division II (small-school) competition, while Southlake (Texas) Carroll claimed the Division I (large-school) prize. Carroll won the first 7-on-7 state tile 15 years ago in College Station, Texas.

Here are five things we learned from the state tournament:

2015 has one over former Carroll QBs

[+] EnlargeRyan Agnew
Damon Sayles/ESPN.comClass of 2015 QB Ryan Agnew showed poise in leading Southlake Carroll's aggressive passing attack to the Division I title.
Southlake Carroll has a tradition of producing quality quarterbacks. Chase Daniel, Greg McElroy and Kyle Padron all have NFL experience, and Daniel, McElroy, Chase Wasson, Riley Dodge and incoming Texas A&M freshman Kenny Hill have won state championships. Ryan Agnew hopes to follow those footsteps.

The 2015 quarterback did something that the others hadn’t, and that’s lead Carroll to the state 7-on-7 title. Agnew connected with receivers such as Luke Timian and Keaton Duhon en route to an undefeated run in the tournament.

Agnew, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound quarterback, has early looks from Northwestern, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Ole Miss.


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