Oklahoma Sooners: Jaden Oberkrom

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.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
11:00
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Taking stock of Week 5 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Oklahoma. With their victory over Oklahoma State, the Mountaineers deserved strong consideration here. But by winning in South Bend, the Sooners delivered the Big 12 its best win of the year while vanquishing past demons. OU, which fell to 1-9 all-time against Notre Dame last season, controlled this game wire-to-wire in a 35-21 win. QB Blake Bell operated the Sooners' offense like a veteran in just his second career start. And the OU defense took it to QB Tommy Rees to force three first-half interceptions that allowed the Sooners to pad their lead. OU might have been one of the most overlooked teams during the preseason. After Saturday, the Sooners won’t be overlooked anymore.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys fell in Morgantown 31-21, despite being 18-point favorites. OSU sputtered all day offensively across the board. J.W. Walsh had a QBR of just 38.1 (scale of 0 to 100) and the Cowboys averaged just 2.8 yards per carry. The defense didn’t fare much better, allowing a West Virginia offense that had been completely inept to rack up 21 first downs. Dating to last year, the Cowboys have now lost three consecutive Big 12 games.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Sterling Shepard and Aaron Wimberly. Both the Oklahoma receiver and Iowa State running back sparked their offenses to big wins on the road. Shepard had five catches for 83 yards, and delivered the nail in the coffin to Notre Dame with a 54-yard touchdown reception to put OU back up by two scores in the fourth quarter.

In a 38-21 win at Tulsa, Wimberly produced Iowa State’s first 100-yard rushing game in more than a year with 137 yards on 19 carries. He added a 31-yard reception as the Cyclones came alive in their first win of the season.

Big (defensive) men on campus: The Oklahoma linebackers, and Sam Carter. Corey Nelson, Frank Shannon and Eric Striker came up with huge plays in the first quarter to set the tone for the OU defense the rest of the way against the Irish. On Notre Dame’s first series, Striker blindsided Rees from behind, popping the ball loose into the arms of Nelson, who returned it 24 yards for a TD. On Notre Dame's next play from scrimmage, Shannon caught a tipped pass and returned the interception 17 yards to the Notre Dame 32. The Sooners scored again four plays later on an 11-yard run by Damien Williams. OU rode the defensive flurry all the way to the win.

Carter, TCU’s junior safety, had a huge day against SMU. Carter had two interceptions, forced a fumble and recorded a sack in the Horned Frogs’ 48-17 victory over the Mustangs. For his efforts, Carter was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week. With cornerback Jason Verrett ailing with a shoulder injury, Carter might have to take an even bigger leadership role in the TCU secondary moving forward.

Special-teams player of the week: Jaden Oberkrom. In a complete downpour, TCU’s place-kicker nailed two field goals to help the Horned Frogs pull away from SMU in the second half. As the rain began to fall in droves early in the third quarter, TCU had the ball on the SMU 5-yard line trailing 10-7. Because of the rain, a botched shotgun snap resulted in a loss of 20. But Oberkrom made sure the Frogs came away with points with the 35-yard field goal conversion. Had Oberkrom missed, who knows how the game would have gone for TCU? Instead, buoyed in part by getting points off the drive, the Frogs dominated the rest of the way.

[+] EnlargeIshmael Banks
AP Photo/Tyler EvertWVU's Ishmael Banks' interception return for a TD was one of many big plays that cost OSU in a game that changed everything for the Cowboys.
Play of the week: After Josh Stewart took a screen pass 73 yards for the touchdown and Justin Gilbert intercepted Clint Trickett three plays later at midfield, the Cowboys seemed to be on the verge of blowing the game away in the first quarter. Instead, West Virginia cornerback Ishmael Banks read Walsh’s eyes off a rollout, stepped in front of the pass for the pick, then returned it 58 yards for a touchdown. The Cowboys never found their footing again offensively, as West Virginia held them to just two scores the rest of the game.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith rushed for just 1 yard on 15 carries at West Virginia. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Smith’s rushing total was the second worst by an FBS running back with that many carries in any game in the past 10 years.

Quote of the week: "No doubt in my mind that we're a national championship-type of team." – OU running back Brennan Clay, after the Notre Dame win

Instant analysis: Oklahoma 24, TCU 17

December, 1, 2012
12/01/12
2:35
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- This wasn't the Big 12 shootout fans of the Big 12 (or even Oklahoma these past few weeks) have become accustomed to this season. It was a physical, fast game, but the Frogs couldn't swing the upset. Oklahoma likely clinches a BCS bid and has earned at least a share of the Big 12 title.

TCU made it interesting late when Oklahoma's Michael Hunnicutt missed a 42-yard field goal that would have iced the game, but the Sooners held on and earned a difficult win.

Let's get to some instant analysis:

It was over when: A host of Sooners defensive backs headlined by Julian Wilson and Tony Jefferson broke up a pass intended for Josh Boyce in the end zone on fourth-and-13 in the final minute that would have tied the score. The TCU crowd wanted a flag, and a Trevone Boykin touchdown run was called back for holding earlier in the drive, but it was to no avail.

Game ball goes to: Oklahoma running back Damien Williams. TCU is the Big 12's best rush defense and No. 1 in the league in total defense, but Williams broke his fourth touchdown run of at least 65 yards this season and finished with a 100-yard rushing game. This wasn't an offensive game, but Williams was the most consistent option for the Sooners.

Stat of the game: TCU converted just three of its 14 third downs against the Sooners. Can't do that and expect to win many games. That's nothing new for the Frogs, though. With Boykin at the helm in the past four games, the Frogs have converted just 25 percent of their third downs.

Second guessing: Officials on a field goal that would have brought TCU to within 24-17 early in the fourth quarter. Officials called Jaden Oberkrom's 32-yard attempt wide left, but replays showed that the kick appeared to slip inside the upright just before it crossed the crossbar. Kicks above the uprights, however, are not reviewable, and the call stood, allowing the Sooners to maintain a two-possession lead in a defensive battle.

What it means: Oklahoma will capture its eighth Big 12 title, but this might be the first one the Sooners have shared. They're likely to earn a Sugar Bowl berth whether Kansas State wins or loses tonight but will get an automatic bid to the BCS if the Wildcats lose. Oklahoma also would be the outright Big 12 champion if that happens. Meanwhile, TCU's regular season ends at 7-5, which might be disappointing when you consider the Frogs began the season in the top 20, but it's truly impressive when you consider that, because of injuries or discipline issues, TCU is missing 20-plus players it expected to have this season.

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