Oklahoma Sooners: Mason Rudolph
Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:
Spring start: Feb. 28
Spring game: April 5
What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.
Spring start: March 10
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.
Spring start: April 2
Spring game: April 26
What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.
Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.
Spring start: March 10
Final spring practice: April 5
What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.
Spring start: March 1
Final spring practice: April 5
What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.
Spring start: March 2
Spring game: April 12
What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.
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.
“Davion Hall is as multiple an athlete as we've signed in forever,” Briles said. “He can play any position but we're going to bring him in as a receiver and turn him loose and see what he can do.”
Oklahoma fullback Dimitri Flowers: It would be shocking to see Flowers put up eyebrow-raising numbers this fall. Yet it wouldn’t be a surprise if his impact surpasses any true freshman on the Sooners’ roster. OU hopes Flowers is the next Trey Millard, the do-everything fullback who became a defensive coordinators’ nightmare for the majority of his four seasons in Norman, Okla. This spring is Flowers’ first opportunity to show he’s ready to help the Sooners immediately instead of needing some seasoning during his first year on campus.
“He really did everything for his team,” OU special teams/tight end coach Jay Boulware said. “We felt like at the end of the day, he could be a guy that could probably provide the versatility that’s similar to what Trey brought to this offense and some of the attributes that he brought offensively. He’s thick enough and big enough to develop into a guy that can do some blocking from the fullback position as well."
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph: The South Carolina native put up big numbers during his final season at Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern High School with 4,377 passing yards and 64 touchdowns. He appears to have all the tools to become the next top-notch passer in Stillwater, Okla.
Junior J.W. Walsh has a bunch of experience and has won a lot of games in a Cowboys’ uniform, so he won’t be easy to unseat as the favorite to start for OSU this fall. Yet Randolph enrolled early to do just that.
“He brings all the characteristics you want to see in a quarterback, all the intangibles,” OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “And he has the statistics to back that up. On top of all the physical skills Mason has, he’s a tremendous leader as well.”
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.
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.
- Sunday, Texas finally announced its new coach, Louisville's Charlie Strong. The Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton explores why the Longhorns chose Strong, who parted Louisville on good terms, according to the Louisville Courier. The Austin American-Statesman's Cedric Golden breaks down the Strong hire.
- The Houston Chronicle lists 10 facts to know about Strong; the Dallas Morning News does the same and compiles national reaction on the hire.
- Blue-chip QB commitment Jerrod Heard says he's still solid to Texas with Strong's hire. "Strong Horns" shirts are already on sale.
- Despite the bowl loss, Baylor is poised for continued success, writes the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner.
- Leadership was evident among the Oklahoma players in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, according to the Tulsa World's John E. Hoover. Blue-chip running back Joe Mixon could make a splash with the Sooners next season, according to The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey.
- Oklahoma State early-enrolling freshman QB Mason Rudolph has eyes on the starting job, he tells the Tulsa World's Kelly Hines. The Cowboys are still in the mix for a couple of highly touted recruits from Louisiana, reports The Oklahoman's Gina Mizell, who also offers five burning questions for the Cowboys for the 2014 season.
- According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa State might have another vacancy on the coaching staff.
- Kansas' recruiting class is heavy on defensive backs, reports the Lawrence Journal-World's Matt Tait.
Two headlining events over the weekend were the Texas high school state championships in Arlington, Texas, and the annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in Spartanburg, S.C. Here are some weekend highlights from both events in addition to news about an ESPN 300 running back and a three-star athlete considered to be a two-sport standout.
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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:
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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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John Goorsky (Ames, Iowa): What are your thoughts about the recent addition of D'Vario Montgomery to the Cyclones?
William Wilkerson: I think it’s a very important pickup for Paul Rhoads and the future of the program. Montgomery should transfer seamlessly given his history with Cyclones starting quarterback Sam Richardson. The two were high school teammates in Winter Park, Fla., where Montgomery was a two-time all-state selection with 21 touchdown receptions as a junior and senior.
Not only will it benefit them immediately but it also helps give someone like ESPN 300 receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale) more incentive not to look elsewhere. Just because Lazard is committed to ISU right now doesn’t mean schools are going to stop pursuing him. If anything they’ll come after him harder. Having Montgomery on board, as someone who could take some attention of Lazard in future packages, could entice Lazard to stay put.
Robert Thomas: What will Oklahoma State have to do to move into a top 25 class?
WW: Keep doing what they are doing and live up to the expectations that have been placed on them for the upcoming season. It’s really that simple. If the Cowboys win like they should, the recruits will come. They especially need to win the marquee matchups at home, when their sidelines should be packed with official visitors. Getting guys like ESPN 300 receivers Malachi Dupre and Cameron Sims on campus to see the renovations around the football facilities would be huge.
Mike Gundy has recruited well in-state so far, with the commitments of Devon Thomas and Gyasi Akem, the two Broken Arrow teammates. The Cowboys are still in the mix for four-star safety Steven Parker, as well. Getting a commitment from any three of these recruits would greatly increase their chances of finishing with a top 25 class.
@pt2479: How good can @RichardLagow be in this system?
WW: If the transfer quarterback from UConn is given the opportunity, I think he could be productive. He’s larger than most of the quarterbacks that have come through Mike Gundy’s system, but that’s not to say he wouldn’t be capable of moving the chains like others before him.
The Cowboys recruited him out of Plano (Texas) High School in 2013, so there must have been some inclination that he could work out in the system, even though a scholarship offer was never extended. He was actually going to be working in more of an up-tempo offense at UConn this season as the Huskies transition from a pro-style offense. But he’s going to have to beat out some stiff competition after he redshirts this season. Class of 2014 commitment Mason Rudolph (Rock Hill, S.C./Northwestern) is the No. 7 pocket passer in the nation.
@1jaydub: When does Texas start focusing on DBs for 2014 to get back to DBU Football?
WW: Defensive back has been a focus of Texas’ coaching staff from the jump. They just haven’t gotten the commitments ... yet. They’ve got two commitments in four-star CB Jermaine Roberts (New Orleans/Saint Augustine) and three-star safety Jason Hall (Grand Prairie, Texas/South Grand Prairie), a former Nebraska commit. But some big dominos are about to fall that will tell the tale.
John Bonney (Houston/Lamar) surprised Texas’ staff last weekend with a visit. He wants to commit somewhere before the season. ESPN 300 safety Edwin Freeman (Arlington, Texas/Bowie), who has long had Texas No. 1, will decide sometime during the season after he takes some official visits. ESPN 300 safety Jamal Adams (Lewisville, Texas/Hebron) will officially visit Texas this fall. And the Longhorns still feel like they are in the mix for ESPN 300 CB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen). If the Longhorns get any of these four they’ll feel much better about where things stand.
A slow week of recruiting took a turn for the better for Oklahoma State on Wednesday. The Cowboys landed a 2014 commitment and also found out a 2013 three-star player was transferring from the East coast.
Oklahoma State highlights this week’s Big 12 storylines, but there’s also news about West Virginia and top 2014 and 2015 players who could be big-time Big 12 assets.
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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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Top Returning Players: Big 12
BIG 12 SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35