Oklahoma Sooners: Joe Mixon

Keith Ford, DeMarcus RobinsonUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SMIBoth OU's Keith Ford and Kansas State's DeMarcus Robinson are unproven and at the forefront of two RB battles.

It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our opinions on a topic related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: Which is the Big 12’s most compelling running back competition?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- Oklahoma

It will be fun to watch the battle to get the bulk of the carries at Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ running backs room is full of talent, but it’s largely unproven. Sophomore Keith Ford has shown toughness and a physical running style, fellow sophomore Alex Ross has exceptional physical gifts and the Sooners added a pair of true freshmen, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who will be right in the thick of the battle for playing time.

If someone steps up during preseason camp and locks down the job, that would be ideal for the Sooners, but the best-case scenario is two or more running backs forcing the coaches to find a role for them this fall. And that’s not out of the question because Mixon is extremely versatile, Perine brings terrific size, Ross brings size and speed and Ford looks like the most complete back of the group.

Yet, even with all the talent, the Sooners will enter the season with Ford as the most productive returnee after recording 4.6 percent of OU’s total rushing yards (134 rushing yards) as a true freshman. There are unknowns abound at the position from Ford’s fumble troubles to Ross’ inconsistency to the freshmen’s transition into college football.

It could be a boom-or-bust situation. I can’t wait to see it play out in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

Brandon opted to go with a running back competition loaded with intriguing options. I’ll go the other way.

The biggest hole on K-State’s roster going into the preseason is at running back. John Hubert manned the position for the Wildcats for the last three years, rushing for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.

His departure has left K-State with virtually no experience returning at running back. DeMarcus Robinson, in fact, is the team’s most seasoned returning rusher with just 11 career carries for 45 yards.

During the spring, neither Robinson nor Jarvis Leverett showed they’re necessarily the answer at the position, making running back the position to watch in Manhattan this August. The rest of the offense appears to be in place. At quarterback, Jake Waters surged the end of last season and was sharp and confident again this spring. Tyler Lockett is one of the best receivers in the country and the offensive line should be stout with All-Big 12 performers BJ Finney and Cody Whitehair.

The Wildcats, however, likely won’t contend for a Big 12 title unless a playmaker emerges at running back.

Robinson and Leverett will get more chances to show what they can do. But so will incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged almost 9 yards per carry during his final two years in high school.

If the answer at running back emerges, this K-State offense will be complete. But until that happens, this competition will remain compelling.

2014 Big 12 recruiting draft: Round 1

May, 8, 2014
May 8
3:00
PM ET
The NFL draft gets underway in a matter of hours so we decided to have a little fun on the Big 12 blog today.

The premise: What could things be like if college football, and the Big 12 in particular, acquired players via a draft instead of recruiting?

Therefore, this afternoon we’ll be posting a three-round Big 12 draft. Any recruit who signed with a Big 12 school is eligible to be drafted and the draft order reflects the 2013 final standings. Jake Trotter will draft for Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Max Olson will draft for Baylor, TCU and Texas. Brandon Chatmon will draft for Kansas, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Without further ado, let’s kick the draft off with Round 1:

1. Kansas: QB Jerrod Heard
Signed with: Texas
Brandon Chatmon: The Jayhawks need a playmaker at the quarterback position, and Heard is the best quarterback who will enter the Big 12 this season, in my opinion. He’s a dual-threat quarterback and the perfect guy to rebuild the Jayhawks offense around.

2. Iowa State: S Steven Parker II
Signed with: Oklahoma
Jake Trotter: With Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield both gone off last season's team, the Cyclones need a new anchor at the back end of their defense they can rebuild around. Cornerback Nigel Tribune (who started in 2013 as a freshman) and Parker would give Iowa State one of the best young defensive back combinations in the league.

3. West Virginia: QB William Crest
Signed with: West Virginia
Chatmon: Ironically, I think Crest is the ideal fit for West Virginia and coach Dana Holgorsen. Crest could have the highest upside of any Big 12 quarterback signee, and his athleticism could take Holgorsen’s offense to another level. Oklahoma signee Justice Hansen was strongly considered, but Crest gets the nod due to his upside.

4. TCU: ATH Davion Hall
Signed with: Baylor
Max Olson: The Horned Frogs get the second-highest rated Big 12 signee and a player who has the potential to not only contribute immediately, but he also addresses a need no matter what position he plays. At TCU, Hall would get a chance to become the playmaker the Frogs' new offense needs if Brandon Carter can't play, and he'd even be able to help a secondary missing Jason Verrett from the safety spot. Considering Gary Patterson's reputation for maximizing the potential of versatile athletes, it's a good fit.

5. Texas Tech: RB Tyreek Hill
Signed with: Oklahoma State
Trotter: With Kenny Williams now plying his craft at linebacker, the Red Raiders need help at running back. With his hands and unmatched speed, Hill would be the perfect fit in the backfield alongside DeAndre Washington. Because of his ability to slide over to the slot, Tech could line up in five wide sets, too, without having to substitute with Hill on the field. Hill would also alleviate Tech's problems returning punts, and with Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis manning kicks, the Red Raiders would be a constant threat for a big play on special teams.

6. Kansas State: RB Joe Mixon
Signed with: Oklahoma
Chatmon: The Wildcats need a running back to ensure balance in an offense that features quarterback Jake Waters and receiver Tyler Lockett. Mixon would bring balance with his running ability and versatility with his receiving skills, thus allowing him to be a three-down threat for the Wildcats offense.

7. Texas: QB Mason Rudolph
Signed with: Oklahoma State
Olson: It's tempting to go with the Longhorns' top-rated signee, DE Derick Roberson, at this spot. But with Heard already off the board, the safe move here is probably Rudolph. The 6-foot-4 pocket passer might be a really good fit for what Shawn Watson wants in his future QBs, and Rudolph did receive an offer from Louisville during his recruiting process. Charlie Strong is a defensive-minded coach, no doubt, but hard to think he'd pass up a chance to address Texas' obvious issues at quarterback with this very talented one.

8. Oklahoma State: WR K.D. Cannon
Signed with: Baylor
Trotter: Cannon doesn't fill a position of need for the Cowboys, but as the top-rated Big 12 signee of this class, he's too talented of a player to pass up. The Oklahoma State offense has a strong track of producing first-round wideouts (Rashaun Woods, Dez Bryant, Justin Blackmon). Cannon would have the skill set to become the next star.

9. Oklahoma: CB Nigel Bethel II
Signed with: Texas Tech
Chatmon: Speed. Speed. And more speed. Bethel would bring much-needed speed to the Sooners secondary that needs someone to fill the void left by two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin. Bethel recently won a few Florida state titles in track and would step right into the competition for playing time in the secondary.

10. Baylor: ATH Michiah Quick
Signed with: Oklahoma
Olson: Tough call with this pick. You can talk yourself into a few other touted wideouts. You can go in several different directions if you want to address needs. But we'll settle for speed and upside, two traits the Bears obviously covet. ESPN scouts loved Quick for his versatility as a WR and CB. They called him "an explosive jet of a weapon." Sounds like the kind of kid Baylor would have some fun with, right?

Oklahoma spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
May 1
9:00
AM ET
A recap of what we learned about Oklahoma this spring as the program prepares to build upon its 11-2 season a year ago.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. OU’s defensive front should be dominant. The Sooners return all of their contributing defensive linemen and are likely to add a healthy Jordan Phillips. OU will go six or seven deep along its defensive line and at least half of those defenders could end up playing on Sundays.

2. The Sooners want to be as versatile as possible on defense. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops shuffled around his best players, putting defensive end Geneo Grissom in a stand-up linebacker role and linebacker Eric Striker in the nickelback role at various times. The goal is to get the team's top 11 players on the field in every situation.

3. The offense remains a work in progress. OU’s offense wasn’t particularly balanced in 2013, finishing 90th among FBS teams in passing yards (199.1 per game). It didn’t look like much had changed during the spring game. OU needs a strong, consistent passing game to emerge, like it did in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, if it hopes to win a Big 12 or even national title this fall.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Will Trevor Knight become a consistent passer? The sophomore quarterback passed for 348 yards in the Sugar Bowl but averaged 67.3 passing yards per game in the other seven games he attempted a pass. Knight looked like a star against Alabama and gets the chance to show he can be a consistent star this fall.

2. Who will make game-changing plays on offense? As a proven playmaker, junior receiver Sterling Shepard is a given. After him things get unclear. Talent is not an issue but proven production, or lack thereof, is a problem. The defense will be able to carry the Sooners through some games but if championship aspirations are real, OU needs game-changers to emerge at running back and receiver.

3. Can any true freshmen make an impact? A roster full of talented returnees could make it tough on true freshmen to make an impact but receiver Michiah Quick, running back Joe Mixon, running back Samaje Perine and safety Steven Parker II could prove good enough to play right away at positions of need.

One way-too-early prediction:

Oklahoma’s three-game stretch to begin October will define its season as it travels to TCU, battles Texas in Dallas, then hosts Kansas State. The stretch is sandwiched between a pair of bye weeks which should make things easier on Bob Stoops’ coaching staff, but none of those games will be easy. How the Sooners handle them will show if they have what it takes to jump into national title contention.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and reranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with running backs. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:


1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking: 4): West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has one of the best and most difficult jobs in the Big 12. Seider has an embarrassment of riches at his position in Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played last year as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring from Pitt set the Pennsylvania state high school rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher in 2012) and Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher from 2011, who, finally healthy again, enjoyed a resurgent spring. The Mountaineers also will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. The difficult part for Seider will be divvying up carries to so many capable backs. But if the Mountaineers can keep everyone happy and find the right combination, this could become a devastating and versatile running back stable.

2. Texas (1): Coach Charlie Strong delivered promising news on Monday in San Antonio, suggesting Johnathan Gray could be cleared from his Achilles injury by mid-June. Strong also said that Joe Bergeron will be rejoining the team shortly, too, after sitting out the spring to focus on academics. When healthy and eligible, the trio of Malcolm Brown, Gray and Bergeron is a formidable bunch and the backbone of the Texas offense.

3. Baylor (3): Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin exited spring as the co-starters, but Johnny Jefferson left the biggest impression in the spring game. The Bears have a track record of spreading carries around, which means Big 12 fans will become very acquainted with the talented redshirt freshman next season.

4. Oklahoma State (5): One of the biggest surprises of the spring was how much the Cowboys used Tyreek Hill at running back. Oklahoma State is planning to utilize the nation’s top juco playmaker the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two years ago. In other words, Hill could line up in the backfield one play then slot receiver the next. Either way, arguably the fastest player in college football gives the Cowboys a dynamic lightning component to complement the thunderous running of senior Desmond Roland, who led all Big 12 backs in touchdowns last season.

5. Oklahoma (3): There might not be a Big 12 backfield with more upside than Oklahoma’s. Of course, with that upside comes little experience. Sophomore Keith Ford has the potential to be a punishing inside runner, but he had fumbling issues last season as a freshman that re-emerged during the spring. If he can’t hang onto the ball, he won’t play, no matter how tough he runs between the tackles. After getting passed by Ford on the depth chart last year, Alex Ross bounced back with an impressive spring. Early enrollee Dimitri Flowers was a revelation this spring as a powerful run-blocking fullback in the mold of Trey Millard. If fellow incoming freshman Joe Mixon lives up to his recruiting hype, the Sooners could feature their most potent rushing attack in years.

6. Iowa State (8): The most underrated one-two punch at running back in the league resides in Ames. According to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy were sharp all spring and will spearhead an offense that could surprise in 2014. The key will be keeping the slight but explosive Wimberly relatively healthy, which he never really was before and after rushing for 137 and 117 yards back to back against Tulsa and Texas. Wimberly, however, was 100 percent all spring, and it showed, as he racked up 68 yards on just nine touches in the spring game.

7. TCU (7): TCU had to make do without its three top backs in the spring due to injuries. Aaron Green suffered a broken collarbone, Kyle Hicks had a shoulder bruise, and returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon dealt with a nagging hamstring injury. All three, however, should be fine for the fall, and could form a reliable rotation at running back. Four-star recruit Shaun Nixon could help out, too, once he arrives on campus.

8. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders dropped two spots, largely because returning starter Kenny Williams played outside linebacker all spring and could remain there for good. But even if Williams becomes a full-time linebacker, Tech still could be solid at running back with veteran DeAndre Washington, sophomore Quinton White and incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton, whom the Texas Tech coaching staff is very high on. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t have given Williams the go-ahead to move to defense if he didn’t feel optimistic about what remained in the backfield.

9. Kansas (9): Though they come in ninth here, running back could be a position of strength for the Jayhawks next season. Brandon Bourbon, the favorite to start, rushed for 96 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, but Taylor Cox (63 yards on 15 carries) and Darrian Miller (50 yards on seven carries) had nice outings, as well. The Jayhawks also will welcome De’Andre Mann, the nation’s fifth-best juco running back, in the summer, as well as four-star freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. Until they start winning more games, it’s difficult to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt in these position rankings. But with this collection of runners, they might not miss All-Big 12 performer James Sims as much as first thought.

10. Kansas State (10): The spring brought little clarity about who John Hubert’s primary replacement will be. Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones both ran hard in K-State’s spring game, though neither broke a run for longer than 11 yards. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Robinson, who has the most experience of the three, sat out the scrimmage with an injury. As a result, incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost 9 yards per carry his final two years in high school, will have an opportunity to be a factor once he joins the team this summer.
It was a quiet and productive spring at Oklahoma. The Sooners emerged relatively free of injuries and were able to tinker with their systems on both sides of the ball. This week we'll review OU's spring. On Monday, we began with five questions that were answered during the Sooners' 15 practices. On Tuesday, we reviewed five questions that remain unanswered. Today, we look at five players who surprised this spring.

Running back Alex Ross: The sophomore made it clear he plans to be a part of OU’s offense this fall. He had a solid spring and was consistently mentioned as a playmaker after Sooners’ scrimmages. It was an important spring for Ross, who was passed on the depth chart by Keith Ford last season and will watch highly touted signees Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon arrive this summer. Ross needed to seize the opportunity to remind people he was a highly touted signee as well and that’s exactly what he did.

“He’s playing explosively,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “He’s just having fun playing. He gets the ball in his hands and he’s down the field real quick. It’s good to watch.”

[+] EnlargeHatari Byrd
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsSophomore safety Hatari Byrd looks poised to make an impact in the secondary this season.
Safety Hatari Byrd: The sophomore moved seamlessly into the Sooners’ secondary and looks ready to be a key contributor, even if he doesn’t end up starting. He brings a hungry attitude and a will to succeed to OU’s secondary. Byrd saw limited time on defense as a true freshman but he sure looked at home alongside Quentin Hayes at the safety spot and joins Ahmad Thomas to give OU a pair of quality young safeties to compete for playing time this fall. Byrd’s smooth transition into the defensive system was a pleasant surprise for Sooners’ fans.

“He’s stepping up, coming down and making plays,” linebacker Eric Striker said.

Receiver K.J. Young: Fellow redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood has gotten a lot of the accolades but Young looks poised to be a contributor in OU’s offense in the fall. He’s a smooth operator in the slot and can make plays when he gets the ball in his hands. Young didn’t separate himself in the spring game but he has all the tools to emerge as a quality receiving option for Knight in 2014. He’s gets overlooked at times but has the type of playmaking skills that can separate him from the competition.

Linebacker Jordan Evans: The sophomore is poised to provide depth and add athleticism to the Sooners linebacker corps. The Norman (Okla.) native played several positions in high school and his versatility shines through at linebacker. He’s very comfortable in space yet is willing to play physical if needed. If Evans continues to perform like he did this spring, the Sooners could end up having to find a place for him in their defensive system.

“He has played great,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Jordan has really improved and is much more sound and disciplined in schemes and where he needs to be. He has got great range and great athleticism.”

Cornerback Dakota Austin: The sophomore didn’t enter the spring as the favorite to replace Aaron Colvin but the job could be his to lose after a strong spring showing. He’s undersized but competitive and solid in coverage, which helped him surpass Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson, a pair of returning cornerbacks who started games in 2013. Austin hasn’t locked down the starting spot but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him team with Zack Sanchez as OU’s starting cornerbacks for the season opener.
Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ 15 practices answered some questions but others still remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman, Okla. beginning with the offense.

Backup quarterback

Pre-spring: This was arguably the biggest offensive concern heading into the spring. Two freshmen, Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen, are behind projected starter Trevor Knight and preparing them for the backup role was one of the spring’s most important goals.

Post-spring: Those questions still remain. Thomas, who was splitting time with OU’s baseball team during the spring, is clearly ahead of Hansen, who threw two interceptions in the spring game after enrolling early to participate in spring drills. Even though Thomas performed better in the spring game he hasn’t appeared to run away with the job.

Summer outlook: The four months until August are the best news for the Sooners. That extra time to develop could be critical for Thomas and Hansen because one of them will need to be the No. 2 quarterback. Either way, OU must have its fingers crossed that Knight stays healthy.

Starting running back

Pre-spring: Keith Ford was considered the favorite to take over as OU’s starting running back after a solid freshman debut. His determination and physical running style earned him carries in a senior-laden backfield in 2013.

Post-spring: Even though he had a lackluster spring game (three carries, six yards), Alex Ross made a move during spring drills. Coach Bob Stoops consistently praised the sophomore, who continually made plays during spring scrimmages. Fellow sophomore Daniel Brooks also looked healthy for the first time in a Sooners’ uniform during the spring game, giving OU more options at the position. The spring left the position murkier than ever but it’s a good problem because the Sooners have several talented options to carry the ball, much like they did in 2013.

Summer outlook: February signees Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine are expected to arrive in the summer, kicking up the competition at the position to an even higher level. Stoops expects multiple running backs to get carries this fall, so expect this competition to rage on into the season.

No. 2 receiver

Pre-spring: Sterling Shepard is a proven playmaker and emerging leader. Junior Durron Neal was the clubhouse favorite to emerge alongside Shepard with sophomore Derrick Woods and others ready to battle to become key contributors.

Post-spring: This battle is far from over but redshirt freshman Jordan Smallwood could join Shepard as one of Knight’s favorite targets. The buzz surrounding Smallwood has been unrelenting since he stepped on campus last summer, only to be muffled after a foot injury forced him to redshirt. He returned for bowl practices and the buzz wasn’t far behind. With three receptions for 60 yards and one touchdown in the spring game, the redshirt freshman showed his size, athleticism, route running and ball skills could make him a consistent part of OU’s offense.

Summer outlook: Several receivers could become receiving targets this fall but outside of Smallwood, nobody looks like they’ve cemented a role in the offense. Thus, the competition continues and four freshmen, including potential game-breaker Michiah Quick, will arrive in the summer with an eye on surpassing their older teammates on the depth chart.

Oklahoma held its spring game on Saturday with excitement around the program continuing to build this offseason. Here are some postgame thoughts, offense only, on OU’s spring finale. Check back later today for a defense only post. To be clear, this is an informal collection of my observations after the spring game. For a more formal and general spring game review, check out this post from earlier today.

  • Undoubtedly some Sooners fans left the stadium disappointed with what they saw from Trevor Knight. He finished 5-of-14 for 53 yards with one interception. Yet it’s not time to panic, for several reasons. First, Sterling Shepard was on the sidelines. The junior will be Knight’s go-to receiver and could become one of the Big 12’s best playmakers. Two, Knight was going against a solid and athletic defense while using a relatively vanilla offense. Three, injuries along the offensive line didn’t make things any easier, with multiple projected starters out of the spring game. Finally, Knight's ability to make plays with his feet was taken away with his blue, no-hit jersey limiting his impact in the running game.
  • [+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
    Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight had a rough outing on Saturday.
    Nonetheless, Knight must play better. Period. Some people have been quick to insert his name among the nation’s best after his Allstate Sugar Bowl performance. He’s still young, relatively inexperienced and has been inconsistent at times early in his career. Let’s wait until he’s consistently efficient before we anoint him as one of the nation’s, or even the Big 12’s, top quarterbacks.
  • Anyone who was surprised by Baker Mayfield’s performance must have missed the rest of the Big 12 in 2013. The former Texas Tech quarterback was the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year for a reason.
  • Mayfield seemed genuinely excited to be a Sooner. He grew up an OU fan and said he would have decided to join the Sooners even if Blake Bell had not changed positions and Kendal Thompson did not transfer. While he is ineligible to play this fall, his presence could pay off big time. OU’s defense will be tested in ways you normally wouldn’t expect from a scout-team quarterback and the Sooners defense should make Mayfield a much better player with its overall talent and playmakers all over the field.
  • Tight end Taylor McNamara had two touchdown catches in the spring game. Could a pass-catching tight end return to OU’s weekly game plans this fall? Maybe. A wait-and-see approach would be wise, as adding a big receiving threat has been a goal for the past two seasons. McNamara and former quarterback Bell, who missed the spring game with an injury, appear to be the most likely candidates at tight end if it does happen.
  • Speaking of receiving threats, true freshman Dimitri Flowers should make an impact this fall. He spent a lot of time with the first-team offense before a hyper-extended knee ended his day. He can block, he can catch and he’s picked up the offense as if he’s entering his junior season. It appears OU has found a hidden gem in the three-star Class of 2014 signee. Don’t be surprised if he emerges as the big-bodied receiving threat OU’s offense has been lacking as his blocking and overall versatility could secure a key role in the offense, allowing the Sooners to adapt on the fly.
  • OU has talented receivers but will miss Jalen Saunders, a likely NFL draft pick. K.J. Young and Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods each showed flashes of ability but need to develop quickly if the Sooners hope to provide quality receiving options for Knight this fall.
  • Nobody seized the starting running back spot with a eye-opening day. Daniel Brooks led the way with eight carries for 67 yards and Keith Ford finished with nine carries for 29 yards. Alex Ross, who had been praised throughout the spring, added three carries for six yards. The door is wide open for Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, two ESPN 300 running back signees, to make an immediate impression on the coaching staff and earn carries this fall. The Sooners need someone to step up and make defenses account for them from the running back position this fall. It doesn’t matter who it is.
  • OU could end up looking back at this spring as a critical time for developing depth along the offensive line. Several linemen, including guards Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson, sat out the spring game, allowing backups such as tackles Josiah St. John and Sam Grant to get plenty of chances. The offensive line struggled at times.
  • The backup quarterback position remains up in the air, but Cody Thomas, a redshirt freshman, looked solid, going 5-of-9 for 52 yards and a touchdown. Justice Hansen, a true freshman, struggled with the speed of the game at times, finishing 4-of-8 for 58 yards and one touchdown but with some good moments.

Spring game review: Oklahoma

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
9:00
AM ET

The excitement surrounding Oklahoma’s football program is night and day compared to a year ago. The Sooners announced 43,500 fans in attendance for their spring game on Saturday, a school record. Last year’s announced crowd was 29,200. With the Trevor Knight era fully underway, here’s a recap of OU’s spring game.

[+] EnlargeMayfield
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsFormer Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield was impressive in the spring game.
Best offensive performance: Baker Mayfield stole the show, completing 9 of 9 pass attempts for 125 yards and two touchdowns. The former Texas Tech quarterback, who transferred to OU in January after earning Big 12 offensive freshman of the year honors last season, is ineligible for the 2014 season. Nonetheless, Mayfield outshined Knight, the Sooners’ projected starter this fall, with his flawless outing. Mayfield has Big 12 game experience, and it showed throughout the spring game. He’ll spend this fall giving OU’s defense fits while leading the scout team.

Best defensive performance: Linebacker Eric Striker looked like he was in midseason form with two sacks and one tackle for loss. Striker, who starred in OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, picked up right where he left off. He continually got into the offensive backfield and appeared unblockable at times coming off the edge. He could be poised for a dominant junior season.

Best debut: True freshman Dimitri Flowers looks ready to help the offense immediately. One of the scariest scenes of the spring game was Flowers lying on the ground, clutching his knee. Fortunately for the Sooners, it was just a hyper-extended knee for the fullback/tight end hybrid. Flowers has impressed with his football IQ and receiving skills during his short time on campus as an early enrollee. He tied for the team high with four receptions and finished with 40 receiving yards. He should be a key contributor this fall.

Notable play: Sophomore linebacker Jordan Evans had the hit of the day against K.J. Young on a receiver screen. Evans’ hit popped the ball up in the air, allowing defensive tackle Jordan Wade to secure Knight’s lone interception of the day. It was a key play because Evans played with the No. 1 defense after returning starter Frank Shannon, OU's leading tackler in 2013, missed the game for personal reasons. Shannon's status remains unclear, so the Sooners could turn to Evans to be the man alongside Dominique Alexander this fall if Shannon is unable to return. Evans looked ready for the task on Saturday.

Developing storyline: OU’s defense clearly won the day. The Sooners are young, talented and versatile on that side of the ball, led by Striker and returning All-Big 12 defensive end Charles Tapper. OU’s secondary, a potential concern with the loss of two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin, had a strong day in coverage, particularly the starting unit. Sophomore Dakota Austin was solid sliding into Colvin’s former spot opposite Zack Sanchez. If this unit continues to develop, it could be one of the best and more versatile defenses in the nation.

Biggest question answered: Few, if any, questions got answered. The defense was dominant, but that wasn't surprising, and nobody separated themselves in the running back derby or backup quarterback race. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will welcome true freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine into the running back competition this summer. At quarterback, Cody Thomas outperformed Justice Hansen, but didn’t put a stranglehold on the backup quarterback position heading into the summer. The best development of the game was a relatively injury-free outing.

Biggest question emerging: Which Knight will lead the Sooners in 2014? He didn't look like the Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP, going 5-of-14 for 53 yards and one interception. Evans' hit led to his lone pick, but he was inefficient and unproductive. The defense carries a large portion of the blame and the receiving corps, without top target Sterling Shepard and potential starter Durron Neal, also contributed to Knight's underwhelming spring finale. Knight knows he will have to perform much better for OU's national title dreams to approach reality.

Quotable: “I don’t know that you ever get anything answered in 15 practices. What I feel like is there has been improvement. Players that haven’t had a ton of experience have more now. We’ll build on it.” -- OU coach Bob Stoops
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are facing tougher challenges recruiting against in-state programs such as Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor, but there are plenty close to the situation who still have big expectations for the Sooners and Cowboys in the Lone Star State.

We've done something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To send a mailbag question via Twitter going forward, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You can also still send in questions and comments to the mailbag here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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.
The 2013 season featured the most improbable of Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year winners.

As a walk-on, Baker Mayfield won Texas Tech’s quarterback job during the preseason, then went 5-0 as a starter before injuring his knee.

A surprise candidate could always capture the award again next season. But the league also features several formidable front-runners -- starting with Baylor’s K.D. Cannon.

As the No. 4 wide receiver recruit in the country, Cannon had offers everywhere from Florida State to Notre Dame. But the Mount Pleasant, Texas, native elected to remain in-state, giving the Bears offense yet another dangerous weapon to operate with.

SportsNation

Which of these players will win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year?

  •  
    13%
  •  
    11%
  •  
    31%
  •  
    9%
  •  
    36%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,783)

Cannon will have to earn his way into the rotation, as Baylor has several experienced and talented receivers coming back in Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller, Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes, who was a blue-chip signee in the previous class. But Cannon is a polished prospect who will be tough to keep off the field.

Iowa State’s Allen Lazard is another polished prospect who is capable of carving out a significant role on his offense. Lazard was the gem of the Cyclones’ signing class, and was hotly pursued by Notre Dame and Iowa up to signing day. The Cyclones bring back Quenton Bundrage, who was third in the league last year in touchdown receptions and South Florida transfer D'Vario Montgomery is also now eligible. But coach Paul Rhoads has already indicated Lazard will play right away.

It’s unclear at this point whether Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph will play right away. The Cowboys bring back J.W. Walsh, who has started eight games over the last two years. Walsh, however, struggled with his completion percentage and decision-making last season, which could crack the door for Rudolph to make a run at the starting job. Rudolph is perhaps the most highly touted quarterback recruit Oklahoma State has ever signed. As a senior, the four-star product threw for 64 touchdowns while leading his South Carolina high school to a state title.

Kansas State signee Dalvin Warmack also won a state title. Two in a row, in fact. Over his final two seasons for Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, Warmack rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost nine yards per carry. With John Hubert gone and no back with more than five carries last season returning, the Wildcats have a gaping void in their backfield. Warmack will have his chance in the fall to fill it.

Carries aren’t so readily available in Norman, Okla., where former blue-chip running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross currently top the depth chart. But Joe Mixon, Oklahoma’s top incoming recruit, might be too explosive to redshirt or keep on the sidelines. The nation’s sixth-best running back recruit had offers from almost every major BCS program, but settled on Oklahoma because his idol, Adrian Peterson, also went there. Mixon racked up 1,704 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns his last year at Freedom (Calif.) High School, and by winning MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Game, he showed he’s ready to help the Sooners from Day 1.

Of course, there are others who could contend for Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. Baylor signed three other blue-chip receivers in this year’s class. Oklahoma State running back Devon Thomas has already impressed this spring after enrolling early. The Sooners are bringing in several talented pass-catchers, including ESPN 300 slot man Michiah Quick.

Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could potentially win TCU’s starting quarterback competition once they arrive on campus. Texas’ Jerrod Heard won’t be stepping into the most stable of quarterback situations in Austin, either. The same goes for West Virginia’s William Crest in Morgantown.

Of course, like Mayfield last year, the league’s Offensive Freshman of the Year could always emerge out of nowhere.

Now, we ask you to weigh in. Of the favorites -- Cannon, Lazard, Rudolph, Warmack and Mixon -- who is the best bet to win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year?
California has always fed the Pac-12 a majority of its recruits, as Southern California in particular is the recruiting hotbed for the conference. But as the Golden State is arguably the most talent-rich state in the country when it comes to high school football, programs outside the Pac-12 haven't been content to sit back and watch conference teams load up on California recruits.

Television, the internet and social media have all helped out-of-conference programs invade California looking for recruits, but nothing has aided those programs more than good old-fashioned effort, according to Fresno (Calif.) Central East assistant coach Tony Perry.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Finding a running back isn’t a concern that immediately comes to mind when projecting the 2014 Sooners' offense, mainly because of the many options on the fingertips of running backs coach Cale Gundy.

Yet someone needs to step up and become the face of the running game.

“They’re doing a really good job of competing,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “They come in every day working extremely hard. I’m really excited about them. I feel like everyone’s just got a little juice under them right now. It’s fun to work with guys like that.”

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford is one of many OU RBs competing for carries this spring.
Sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross spent the 2013 season in the shadows of OU’s three senior running backs, with Ford seeing limited action before fumble troubles returned him to the sideline. Ford took steps to correcting his fumble problems during Sugar Bowl preparations and is focused on ball security this spring.

“It’s just one of those learning curves for me,” Ford said. “It’s just one of those things adjusting to the college game style and the gameplay, and the speed and how everybody is bigger, faster and stronger than high school.”

Ford already got a small level of redemption with three carries for 15 yards in the Sugar Bowl after going five straight games without a carry after his fumble against Kansas.

“He didn’t fumble it in the bowl game, he’s taking care of it,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Keith is an excellent player.”

The Sooners are hopeful he’s not the only quality running back on the roster. OU has leaned on multiple backs for the past three seasons, so it would take someone running away with the job for OU to put the entire focus of its running game on one running back.

Thus, the competition for carries should be fierce and ongoing throughout the year.

“We’re all good backs,” Ford said. “We all work hard each day. We all have each other’s backs, we’re all competing and we’re all a family, and that’s the most important. We work hard every day and we just grind. That’s all we can do, take it day by day.”

This could be a do-or-die spring for Ross, who could watch multiple younger running backs rise by him on the depth chart if he doesn’t begin to fulfill his playmaking potential and remain healthy. His talent is not in question so he could be ready to finally have a breakout spring and set himself up to make an impact in his redshirt sophomore season.

“I believe he is,” Stoops said when asked if Ross could be ready to contribute. “He’s had a really good winter, he had good bowl practices. So, I believe he is ready for that to happen.”

David Smith and Daniel Brooks round out the spring competitors who are aiming to secure a role before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer.

“Those guys will have their opportunities, and a lot of them here through the spring,” said Stoops of the running back competition.
Oklahoma began its spring practices last weekend with back-to-back practices Saturday and Sunday. The Sooners get back to work today with an eye on capturing another Big 12 title under Bob Stoops. Here are some things to watch this spring:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: Sophomore running back Keith Ford could be ready to take the next step in the Sooners' offense. OU needs someone to fill the void left by departed running backs Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch, who combined for 4,824 career rushing yards in crimson and cream. Ford earned himself some carries as a freshman, but fumble troubles put him in the doghouse for a portion of his first season. This spring, Ford could lock down a major role in the offense with his power, decisiveness and quickness.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Thomas
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsAhmad Thomas' blend of size and athleticism makes him a candidate to step in at safety as a sophomore.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Safety Ahmad Thomas didn’t get major time on the Sooners' defense as a freshman. But the versatile defensive back appears poised to become a key piece of OU’s defensive plan as a sophomore. At 6-foot and 218 pounds, Thomas brings terrific size, athleticism and aggressiveness to the Sooners secondary. If he continues to improve and develop, he could be too good to leave on the sidelines, forcing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to find ways to get him involved.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Defensive tackle Charles Walker was an unknown with an underwhelming offer list when he signed with OU in February 2013. But Walker was one of the guys who repeatedly earned praise during discussions of scout-team stars last fall. At 6-2 and 289 pounds, Walker moves like a much smaller man and could force his way onto the field with his play this spring and provide young, quality depth along the defensive line.

Most significant position battle: The battle to replace two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin should be entertaining. There is no clear favorite among a group of talented cornerbacks that includes Stanvon Taylor, Cortez Johnson and Dakota Austin. This spring provides the opportunity for someone to step up in Colvin’s absence and become a trustworthy cover man on the perimeter of OU’s defense. If that doesn’t happen, the Sooners could be forced to account for a weak link in the secondary, particularly if none of the freshman arrivals in the summer (Tito Windham, Jordan Thomas, Marcus Green) proves they can slide into Colvin’s spot.

Key midterm enrollee: Linebacker Devante Bond already is making an impression during his short time at OU. An outside linebacker with pass rush skills, Bond isn’t going to replace Eric Striker in the Sooners lineup. Yet if he proves to be one of the best pass rushers on the squad this spring, Stoops could pair him with Striker to give Big 12 quarterbacks headaches this fall.

Question that could be answered: Will Trevor Knight build on his Sugar Bowl MVP performance? The sophomore ended his first season with a bang, leading OU to a upset win over Alabama. This spring will show if Knight is hungry for more and striving to play at a championship level every Saturday this fall, or if he could return to the inconsistency that hampered his play in 2013.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Who will get the majority of the carries in OU’s backfield this fall? Even if Ford has an exceptional spring, there’s no guarantee he can hold off the talents of incoming freshmen Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the summer. The lone certainty is that there will be a bunch of talented options for running backs coach Cale Gundy.
Oklahoma's hopeful journey toward national title contention status begins this coming weekend.

An exceptional Sugar Bowl performance, a young and talented defense and renewed confidence in quarterback Trevor Knight has the Sooners eyeing a national championship run in 2014. Yet, that won’t happen without growth at several key positions, starting Saturday when OU kicks off spring practice. This week we’ll make five spring predictions.

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiIf Keith Ford can lock down the running back spot, the Sooners could be national title contenders in 2014.
No. 5: Sophomore running back Keith Ford cements himself as a part of the offense.

Why it matters: Ford could be the key to OU’s offense in 2014. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, Ford packs a punch even when he doesn’t have the football in his hands. His physical style of play earned notice on special teams immediately last season, and he showed he combines that mindset with determination when he has the ball in his hands. He didn’t have a stellar freshman season (23 carries, 134 yards, one touchdown), but the limited glimpses of Ford running the ball gave Sooners fans hope for the future.

What it would mean: It wouldn’t matter how quickly the Sooners' true freshman running backs, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, transition into college football, and Alex Ross' development would not need to be hurried. Mixon appears ready to make an immediate impact, but it would be nice to allow him to develop at his own pace. Perine could bring a physical, slashing style to the offense but, much like Mixon, his development as a complete running back will determine his role. And Ross is continuing to progress but hasn’t proved he should be a major part of the offense heading into his sophomore year.

Thus, Ford’s continued development is key for an OU offense that will need to be balanced if the Sooners plan to compete for a Big 12 title and national championship this fall. The way he forced his way onto the field as a true freshman, earning carries despite the Sooners returning three senior running backs, is a sign Ford could be a special player in crimson and cream. If he starts to fulfill that potential this spring, OU’s offense could be deadly as long as Knight continues to develop as well.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Good Luck Playoff Selection Committee
Everything will be better with a playoff, right? With no clear-cut top teams and just four spots in the playoff, Gene Wojciechowski explains the playoff selection committee has their work cut out for them.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video