Oklahoma Sooners: Paul Rhoads

DALLAS -- Winning football games holds top billing in most cases, but when discussing the most important objective to college football coaches, a great recruiting class is always high on the totem pole.

The Big 12 media days on Monday and Tuesday gave coaches a chance to share their opinions on their teams, their competitors and the future of college football. It also allowed each coach to talk about the positives and negatives of recruiting.

Finally, football is back. Well, fútbol, actually.

The World Cup will consume sports fan across the globe for the next month, taking us right up to the outskirts of the college football season.

Many in Big 12 country know little about the World Cup, or what team to pull for outside the United States. So to give you soccer novices a rooting choice, we’ve come up with the fútbol counterparts for every team in the Big 12 (thanks to soccer aficionados Royce and Russ for their help in putting this list together):

BAYLOR

Belgium: Baylor has been the up-and-coming squad in the Big 12, winning its first conference title last year. The Belgians are the up-and-comers of this World Cup, and a popular sleeper pick to win it all. Both have lethal offensive attacks, but still must prove their staying power this year.

IOWA STATE

South Korea: On its home soil in 2002, South Korea pulled off three of the bigger upsets in World Cup history, knocking off Portugal, Italy and Spain to reach the quarterfinals. The Cyclones under coach Paul Rhoads have also been a giant killer at home, most recently upsetting second-ranked Oklahoma State to bounce the Cowboys from the 2011 national title race. With 21-year-old forward Son Heung-min leading the charge, South Korea boasts a potentially formidable offensive attack. And with nine offensive starters back this year, Iowa State has the chance to feature its best offense in a long time.

KANSAS

Australia: Both had their finest moments around the same time -- the Aussies advancing out of its World Cup group in 2006; the Jayhawks winning the Orange Bowl in 2007 -- but the hearts of both fan bases lie in another sport (basketball for Kansas, rugby for Australia).

KANSAS STATE

Greece: Greece is not flashy. But emulating the Bill Snyder playbook to success, the Greeks grind out victories (and ties) with stout defense, fundamental play and by avoiding mistakes. Like K-State, the Greeks have been defined by their coach (Otto Graham/Fernando Santos) more than any star player. And Greece’s improbable 2004 Euro Cup title run might be the soccer equivalent of K-State’s Manhattan Miracle.

OKLAHOMA

Germany: The Germans have been the epitome of consistent success, advancing to the semifinals in eight of the last 11 World Cups. The Sooners have matched that level of consistency during the Bob Stoops era, with eight conference titles and a dozen double-digit win seasons over the last 14 years.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Portugal: In recent years, both have piled up the wins and have featured plenty of star power. But they have failed to breakthrough when the spotlight has been the brightest. Portugal’s “golden generation” flopped in the 2002 World Cup, losing to the U.S. in the opener before failing to advance out of the group stage. Oklahoma State could have clinched the 2010 and 2013 Big 12 titles, but slipped at home against rival Oklahoma. The Cowboys and the Portuguese have also had to exist in the shadow of two preeminent powers in their sports (Sooners/Spain). Still they have become two clubs nobody wants to play, and have reached enviable levels of year-to-year success.

TCU

Uruguay: Uruguay is a small country surrounded by some of the giants in World Cup soccer. The same goes for TCU, which doesn’t have the enrollments or resources of the likes of Oklahoma or Texas. But just like Uruguay, TCU has carved out success with a hardnosed style of play. Furthermore, Uruguay won the first World Cup ever played in 1930, while both of TCU’s national championships came in the same decade (1935, 1938).

TEXAS

England: All the tradition, history and resources. And yet in recent years, these two have been massive underachievers. In South Africa in 2010, the English surrendered the top seed in its group to the Yanks, then got obliterated 4-1 by Germany in the first game of the knockout round. The Longhorns, meanwhile, have failed to win more than eight regular-season games the last four seasons. Because of these struggles, both squads are flying somewhat under the radar, and the talent is still there for either to ignite a run. But first, someone -- anyone -- has to light the fuse.

TEXAS TECH

Mexico: After an emotional roller-coaster ride through the qualifying stages, Mexico is feeling optimistic following a manageable World Cup draw and cleaner play of late. Texas Tech rode the roller coaster of a five-game losing streak last season, but is feeling confident these days coming off its dominating bowl performance against Arizona State.

WEST VIRGINIA

Ivory Coast: Les Éléphants bring the fireworks with Didier Drogba and Yaya Touré the same way the Mountaineers have through the Pat White and Geno Smith eras. But while West Virginia dominated the Big East the way Ivory Coast has Africa, neither has been able to take that next step against the big boys. In its first two appearances in the World Cup in 2006 and 2010, Ivory Coast failed to advance out of its group. Likewise, the Mountaineers have struggled their first two years in the Big 12. Both have the individual talents of a championship-caliber club, but neither will contend until the depth improves.

Big 12 lunch links

June, 11, 2014
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I've really enjoyed these glimpses into USA Soccer's prep for the World Cup.

Big 12 lunchtime links

May, 19, 2014
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"I'll send a nasty email about it." Good idea, those always work.

TCU’s future starting quarterback might have spent his spring in College Station, Texas.

It’s possible Texas' next starter hasn’t even moved to Austin yet.

And half the teams in the Big 12 still haven't officially named a starter for the 2014 season.

[+] EnlargeJ.W. Walsh
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtJ.W. Walsh showed comfort and patience this spring, emerging as the clear favorite to become Oklahoma State's starting quarterback.
But while quarterback continues to be the Big 12’s biggest moving part, the spring brought at least some clarity to the position across the league.

After losing the job last season, J.W. Walsh retook a commanding lead in Oklahoma State’s third quarterback derby in as many years.

Grant Rohach built off his strong finish last season to head into the summer as the clear frontrunner at Iowa State.

And even though Clint Trickett sat out the spring recovering from a shoulder injury, none of West Virginia’s other spring contenders could unseat him from the top of the depth chart.

Elsewhere, Kansas surprisingly named sophomore Montell Cozart as its starter days after he outshined incumbent Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the Jayhawks’ spring game.

And Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight and Texas Tech’s Davis Webb rode the momentum of their breakout bowl performances to spring improvement.

Even the two schools with the biggest quarterback questions received some possible panaceas this spring.

Matt Joeckel, Johnny Manziel’s backup at Texas A&M the last two seasons, revealed two weeks ago that he would be transferring to TCU, where he’ll be eligible immediately. The Horned Frogs, who are installing an up-tempo offense similar to one Joeckel played in with the Aggies, ended spring with Trevone Boykin as their No. 1 quarterback, even though Boykin finished last year as a receiver.

To the south, another high-profile transfer could soon be following Joeckel to the Big 12. Since announcing he was transferring from USC, Max Wittek has visited Texas three times, including the Longhorns’ spring game. Wittek would be eligible right away as well, and with David Ash out for now with a fractured foot, Wittek could viably challenge to become Texas’ opening game starter.

Such positive developments at the most critical of positions are welcome developments for a league that struggled and juggled at quarterback through much of the 2013 season. In fact, Baylor’s Bryce Petty was the only Big 12 quarterback to start every game for his team last season.

Petty, who was on the short list of Heisman contenders until November, will again be the class of the league at quarterback.

But he should have plenty more company this season, beginning with Kansas State's Jake Waters, who improved as much as any quarterback in the country did over the course of last season. In leading the Wildcats to victories in six of their final seven games, Waters actually produced a higher Adjusted QBR rating than Petty during the same stretch.

Kansas State coach Bill Snyder came away impressed with the confidence Waters carried throughout the spring, which included a crisp effort in the spring game minus his favorite receiver, Tyler Lockett, who sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury.

“He just understands things a lot better,” Snyder said. “He has gained more confidence, probably just because of going through the process of going through some growing pains.”

Both Walsh and Rohach also went through growing pains last season.

But after a jittery sophomore campaign in which he eventually lost the starting job back to Clint Chelf in October, Walsh re-established himself this spring and performed with the poise he did two years ago as a freshman to emerge as the favorite to become the Cowboys' starter again.

“J.W. has become more of a leader,” offensive tackle Daniel Koenig said after Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. “He’s staying in the pocket more, which is good. Maybe a year or two years ago, he’d get nervous back there and start scrambling. But now he’s sitting in there and throwing.”

Rohach, who finished off the 2013 season by leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, triple-overtime victory at West Virginia, also showed more confidence this spring, leading Iowa State on three of its six scoring drives in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads said he’d wait until mid-August before declaring a starter, but Rohach seems to have the clear edge over Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning heading into the summer.

"To begin [the spring], coming off that huge game against West Virginia, putting pressure on myself, my first few practices weren't very good," Rohach said. "But as spring ball went on I shrugged off those mistakes, and I think I got a lot better."

Webb and Knight also used their final performances of last season to springboard into their second springs on campus.

Webb has been especially impressive since earning MVP honors in the Red Raiders' National University Holiday Bowl victory over Arizona State. In Texas Tech’s three spring open scrimmages, he tossed 13 touchdowns with no interceptions.

“He is night and day from what he was at this time last year,” Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “I am really impressed with him.”

With a limited playbook and a no-contact jersey, Knight had a lackluster showing in Oklahoma’s spring game, and was actually outplayed by Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield. But behind closed practices, the Sooners liked the development they saw from their sophomore quarterback, who last torched two-time defending national champ Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

“He’s continued to make strides,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “It’s not even like he played perfect in the Sugar Bowl -- there are things he missed in that game. He’s by no means a finished product.”

The quarterback position in the Big 12 is by no means a finished product, either, coming out of the spring. But the position looks better -- and clearer -- now than it did just two months ago.
With spring ball done, we’ll be reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, beginning Monday with quarterbacks. Some of these outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): After lighting up Big 12 defenses last fall, Bryce Petty thinks there’s still room for improvement going into his second and final season as Baylor’s starting QB. He spent spring break with QB guru George Whitfield working on pocket presence and completing passes in the face of the blitz. Petty connected on 62 percent of his throws last season while finishing fourth nationally in passing yards. If that completion percentage goes up by even just a little bit, look out.

2. Kansas State (2): Outside Petty, Jake Waters owns the most proven track record in the league. That speaks to the inexperience of the position in the conference, but it also speaks to the way Waters closed out last season. While quarterbacking the Wildcats to wins in six of their seven final games, he actually posted a better Adjusted Total QBR than Petty during that stretch. Even with Tyler Lockett sitting out, Waters still delivered a crisp spring game performance and seems poised for a big final season in the “Little Apple.”

3. Oklahoma (3): Trevor Knight might have been underwhelming in the Sooners’ spring game. But don’t let that be a deception. After recovering from some minor early season injuries in 2013, Knight took a major step forward late in the season, capped with a spectacular MVP performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. He’ll have to stay healthy (which was a problem his first season), and he’ll have to become more consistent with his passing accuracy. But the talent and upside is there for Knight to have a monster sophomore campaign. The Sooners still need to iron out who exactly Knight’s backup will be, especially given his penchant for getting nicked up. Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen failed to move the needle much in the spring. Blake Bell is at tight end. And Baker Mayfield, while terrific the entire spring after transferring in from Texas Tech, remains ineligible for 2014.

4. Texas Tech (4): While Knight had a lackluster spring game outing, Davis Webb had a spectacular one. Texas Tech’s lack of QB depth is scary (incoming freshman Patrick Mahomes will be the backup by default), but there’s no getting around how impressive Webb has been dating back to Texas Tech’s dominating win over Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Including that game and three open scrimmages in the spring, Webb threw 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. This spring, Webb showed more zip on his passes after adding close to 20 pounds of muscle. He hopes to get even stronger this summer, and has plans to train with Whitfield in May. If Webb goes down with injury, the Red Raiders will probably be toast. But if he stays upright, Tech could emerge as a dark-horse contender for the Big 12 title.

5. Oklahoma State (5): After a series of steady performances over the spring, veteran J.W. Walsh will go into the summer as the overwhelming favorite to open as the starter against Florida State. Even though he struggled with his accuracy and decision-making in 2013, the Oklahoma State coaching staff loves Walsh’s leadership, toughness and commitment. If Walsh can revert to completing passes at the rate he did as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago (67 percent), he could enjoy plenty of success. If he doesn’t, the Cowboys have a couple of other interesting options, who both had their moments in the spring. Walk-on Daxx Garman has the strongest arm on the roster. True freshman Mason Rudolph can make all the throws, too, though clearly still has a steep learning curve.

6. TCU (8): The Horned Frogs made the biggest jump on this list with the addition of transfer Matt Joeckel, who after backing up Johnny Manziel the past two seasons should be the odds-on favorite to take over as the starter. Coming from Texas A&M, Joeckel actually has the most experience among TCU’s other QBs operating the offense Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed during the spring. Joeckel’s arrival gives TCU the luxury to bring talented incoming freshmen Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein along more slowly. It also allows the Horned Frogs to use Trevone Boykin the way they did last season, as a receiver and situational quarterback. With only one career start, Joeckel, of course, has much to prove. But the same goes for the majority of the league’s QBs.

7. Texas (6): The Longhorns ended spring ball with Tyrone Swoopes as their starting QB. That didn’t go well in the spring game, as Swoopes struggled mightily through most of the scrimmage. Texas could move back up the Big 12 QB rankings if USC transfer Max Wittek announces his intentions to enroll. But until he does, he can’t be counted on. Throw in David Ash’s foot injury and concussion past and true freshman Jerrod Heard’s inexperience, and Charlie Strong’s first summer in Austin figures to include plenty of QB uncertainty.

8. West Virginia (7): With Clint Trickett sitting out the spring after shoulder surgery, juco transfer Skyler Howard had ample opportunity to make a mark. Instead, the Mountaineers exited spring the way they started it -- with Trickett still atop the depth chart. A dearth of options is not coach Dana Holgorsen’s problem. Veteran Paul Millard outplayed Howard in the spring game. Logan Moore emerged after moving from receiver to QB before the spring. And four-star signee William Crest will join the fray this summer. But Holgorsen must get better QB play than he did last fall for the Mountaineers to recover from a disastrous losing season.

9. Iowa State (9): According to coach Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones’ QB competition will linger into mid-August. But Grant Rohach will go into the summer with the clear edge after outperforming Sam B. Richardson and Joel Lanning in the spring game. Rohach showed promise late last season, leading Iowa State to a come-from-behind, overtime victory at West Virginia in the season finale. But after furiously rotating through QBs in recent years, the Cyclones understandably want to give this derby due process to play out.

10. Kansas (10): Six of the league’s teams went into the spring with a quarterback battle. Of those, only the Jayhawks came out with an unequivocal starter. After sophomore Montell Cozart outshined Jake Heaps and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard in the spring game, coach Charlie Weis wasted little time in declaring Cozart the starter. Cozart still has a long ways to go, especially with his passing. But at least Kansas now has a young dual-threat QB with upside to build around.
We've been doing something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: So far, Oklahoma State running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, TCU safety Kenny Iloka and Kansas receiver Nick Harwell. With his speed, Hill could lead the league in all-purpose yards. Iloka is going to be a key piece in the best secondary in the Big 12. And Harwell should finally give the Jayhawks that go-to receiver they haven’t had since Dezmon Briscoe.

Trotter: The Cyclones get K-State in Ames the second week of the season, which could be a dangerous game for the Wildcats, who might get caught looking ahead to that Thursday night clash with Auburn. Another team that must pay heed is Oklahoma. The Sooners go to Iowa State the week before hosting Baylor in a game that could determine the Big 12 crown. OU can't afford to be looking ahead, either.

Trotter: I'm going to set it at 1 1/2, and I think I would actually bet the over. The Jayhawks are going to be better this season, and quite possibly good enough to steal two conference wins.

Trotter: Right now, the Red Raiders have one on campus, and that's well below the national average. I don't see an issue. The way Davis Webb has improved in the last five months, he's going to be the guy the next three seasons barring something unforeseen. That would still give Jarrett Stidham three seasons of eligibility to be the starter, if he redshirted next year. Patrick Mahomes will get this chances, too. Seems like what TTU is going to do is be really good at quarterback the next six years.

Trotter: I have no inside info here, but if the game is at 11 a.m. again, hit me up in the fall and I'll share with you my shortcut to the Texas State Fair.

Trotter: It was a move that had to be made. Sams is too talented to be standing on the sidelines. He's not going to instantly become an All-Big 12 receiver. But if they can devise ways to get Sams the ball in space, the move could work out well. I see Sams getting a lot of his touches through flares, screens, reverses and maybe a handoff or Wildcat formation here or there. If they can get Sams the ball 10 times a game, that will only help the K-State offense. Think Trevone Boykin in TCU's offense late last year. That's how I see Sams best fitting in.

Trotter: Playing? Yes. Starting? No. I think Williams ultimately favors one side of the ball. The most likely scenario is he still keeps a major role at running back, then gives coordinator Matt Wallerstedt 15-20 plays at outside linebacker, which is more than I would have predicted at the beginning of the spring. Williams can really help the defense, but not at the expense of playing 130 snaps.

Trotter: Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bill Snyder and Gary Patterson have ironclad job security. Paul Rhoads and Kliff Kingsbury have nothing to worry about, either, and Charlie Strong is too new to have to worry (though in Austin, that could change fast). That leaves Charlie Weis and Dana Holgorsen, whose seats are warmest among Big 12 coaches. I think Weis just has to show improvement this season. He can't go 0-12. Holgorsen is the most interesting to watch. Considering the brutal schedule, it's very possible West Virginia is better than last year and still goes 5-7, which might not be enough for Holgorsen to keep his job. But if the Mountaineers go, say, 7-5 against that slate, then I would think Holgorsen would be deserving of another year. West Virginia has been recruiting at an impressive clip, and the schedule will line up more favorably in 2015.


jrodxc07 in Dallas writes: Jake, love the blog, nice work sir. I think you could make a case for incoming Baylor receiver K.D. Cannon as Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Can you explain why you left him off your list?

Trotter: Appreciate it, sir. Cannon was actually on the poll for Offensive Freshman of the Year two weeks ago. The newcomer poll was for transfers, which is why you didn't see him there.


I only care about the Big 12 writes: Please go ahead and give us your way-too early power rankings? That is, if you haven't already...

Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.

Athlon ranks the Big 12 coaches

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Athlon Sports has always been big on lists. And this week, Athlon’s Steven Lassan ranked all 128 FBS coaches. He also pulled out the top 10 Big 12 coaches.

As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.

[+] Enlarge Art Briles
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesArt Briles' status has grown in the eyes of Athlon.
Without further ado:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

2. Art Briles, Baylor

3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

5. Gary Patterson, TCU

6. Charlie Strong, Texas

7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

10. Charlie Weis, Kansas

Some observations:

  • Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
  • I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
  • In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
  • Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
  • As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
  • Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
  • This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 27, 2014
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I'm betting this guy would be a pretty good running back.

Big 12's lunch links

March, 25, 2014
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I don't remember Fred Gulley doing anything like this at Oklahoma State.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 3, 2014
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Look who's back!
Spring ball kicked off in the Big 12 over the weekend, as Baylor, TCU and West Virginia all had their first practices. This week, most of the other Big 12 schools will join them.

With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Oklahoma will face this spring:

How will Baylor replenish its secondary?

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Bryce Petty #14 of the Baylor Bears
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images Bryce Petty is back so Baylor's offense should be in good shape. Its defense, however, has some question marks heading into the spring.
The Bears won their first Big 12 championship last season, thanks in part to a secondary that ranked second in the league in pass defense. Safety Terrell Burt, however, is the only returning starter from that defensive backfield, meaning rebuilding the secondary will be priority No. 1 for the Bears this spring. But as if that job wasn’t going to be challenging enough, both Burt and juco cornerback Chris Sanders, who is supposed to vie for a starting role, will miss the spring following shoulder surgeries. With QB Bryce Petty back, the Bears figure to be formidable again offensively in 2014. But to defend its Big 12 title, Baylor will need several inexperienced players to begin emerging in the secondary this spring.

Can Mangino turn Iowa State’s offense around?

As a big part of their disappointing 3-9 record last season, the Cyclones ranked ahead of only Kansas in Big 12 scoring offense. As a result, Paul Rhoads fired offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and brought in Mark Mangino to revive the Iowa State attack. Mangino was offensive coordinator during Oklahoma’s national championship season, and he took Kansas to the Orange Bowl. His track record as an offensive mind is not in dispute. But can he turn around an offense that hasn’t ranked higher than ninth in the Big 12 in scoring since 2005? Mangino will have some pieces to work with. Wideout Quenton Bundrage, running back Aaron Wimberly and quarterback Grant Rohach all had moments in 2013. Whether Mangino can put them in position to produce a lot more of those moments will go a long way in determining if Iowa State can bounce back.

Can Harwell fill Kansas’ go-to WR need?

Kansas’ lack of production at receiver the past few seasons has been astounding. Justin McCay caught a touchdown pass in the 2013 opener to become the first Kansas receiver to catch a touchdown in almost two full seasons. But Kansas receivers would catch only two more touchdowns the rest of the season (for context, Baylor receivers totaled 35 such grabs). Senior transfer Nick Harwell, however, could be the answer to that woeful drought. Two years ago at Miami (Ohio), Harwell led the Mid-American Conference with 7.6 receptions and 96.7 receiving yards per game while earning All-MAC honors. Going into his final college season, Harwell already has 229 receptions for 3,166 yards in his career. Oh yeah, he has 23 touchdowns over those three years, too. The Jayhawks have desperately been in search of a go-to receiver. They’ll find out this spring whether they can stop that search.

What will K-State do with Sams?

Daniel Sams proved to be one of the league’s best playmakers last season, leading all Big 12 quarterbacks with 807 rushing yards and 15 total touchdowns. Sams’ role, however, diminished late in the season, as Jake Waters emerged as the majority-of-the-time quarterback. Sams is too dynamic with the ball in his hands to watch games from the sidelines. But Waters isn’t going anywhere at quarterback, either. Before the bowl, Sams hinted that he’d like to try another position to get onto the field more. K-State whiffed on signing a quarterback last month, so Sams will still have to keep ties with his old position for depth purposes. But the spring will also give the Wildcats the opportunity to experiment using Sams elsewhere -- like receiver -- if they so choose.

How will Oklahoma build on the Sugar Bowl?

By beating Alabama, the Sooners notched arguably the program’s most significant win since defeating Florida State all the way back in the 2000 national championship game. After struggling at times during the 2013 season, the Sooners suddenly have the look of a preseason top-five team going into 2014. Yet, in many ways, this is still a very young team. QB Trevor Knight has only five career starts, two of which he left early due to injury. Projected starting running back Keith Ford has loads of potential, but only 23 carries in his college career. And of the returning receivers, only Sterling Shepard delivered more than 13 catches last season. In the Sugar Bowl, OU flashed its capability. And the Sooners have tons of momentum, underscored by their furious recruiting finish. But to be a legitimate national title contender this fall, the Sooners can’t rest on their laurels of besting the Tide. And OU’s young players have to continue building off that experience.

Big 12's impact freshmen

February, 13, 2014
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The Big 12 added several talented recruits on signing day with at least one member of the ESPN 300 inking with every Big 12 school except Kansas State. Several of those talented freshmen will get the opportunity to make an immediate impact this fall. Here are the top five impact freshman in the Big 12 in 2014:

[+] EnlargeK.D. Cannon
Max Olson/ESPNK.D. Cannon has the skills to force his way into Baylor's receiver rotation as a freshman.
1. Allen Lazard, Iowa State receiver: The Cyclones are looking for playmakers on offense, and the No. 148 player in the ESPN 300 appears ready to fill that need. Lazard brings terrific size (6-foot-5, 208 pounds), strength and good hands to ISU’s offense. Quenton Bundrage needs help in the passing game and Lazard has the skills to join E.J. Bibbs in providing help in 2014.

“Allen is a guy who could come and make an impact,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said. “We’re going to give him every opportunity to come in and play his way onto the field as a true freshman. This is a guy who is going to continue to challenge himself, day in and day out, for the rest of his career.”

2. Nigel Bethel, Texas Tech cornerback: The Red Raiders are losing several senior defensive backs including cornerbacks Bruce Jones, Derrick Mays and Olaoluwa Falemi. Yet Bethel could combine with 2013 signee Justis Nelson to give the Red Raiders one of the best cornerback duos in the Big 12 over the next few seasons. As one of the best cover cornerbacks in the Class of 2014, Bethel should see the field early. Bethel, the No. 226 player in the ESPN 300, has the speed, ball skills and natural instincts to make a smooth transition to college football.

3. K.D. Cannon, Baylor receiver: The Bears don’t have a major need at receiver but Cannon is an exceptional talent. Cannon, ranked No. 30 overall in the ESPN 300, needs to put on additional weight but he should be able to overcome his slight build thanks to his excellent feet and quickness.

“K.D.'s the smoothest and purest receiver at the high school level I've ever seen,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “When the ball's in his hands, he is as instinctive as anybody I've ever been around.”

4. Steven Parker II, Oklahoma safety: The Sooners were the first team to offer the Jenks (Okla.) standout and remained in hot pursuit until he signed. Their pursuit could pay off as early as this fall. The No. 139 player in the ESPN300, Parker will bring athleticism and versatility to the Sooners secondary.

“He’s a guy we desperately needed at safety,” OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Because he’s a guy that brings a different element to the safety position that a lot of players just can’t just by his mobility, his skill level, his cover ability. We ask our safeties to do a lot of that and he fits perfectly in to our system.”

5. Dalvin Warmack, Kansas State running back: Warmack should get plenty of opportunities to make an impact for the Wildcats. KSU is looking to replace John Hubert, who carried the load in the backfield for the past three seasons, rushing for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.

With Jake Waters under center and Tyler Lockett making plays on the outside, KSU will need someone to help ensure offensive balance. Warmack can help keep defenses honest with his vision, versatility and open-field running. He might not be ready to step in and replace Hubert on an every-down basis but Warmack has the talent to make an immediate impact.

First five out: Jacob Bragg, Kansas center; Dravon Henry, West Virginia defensive back; Joe Mixon, Oklahoma running back; Kyron Watson, Kansas linebacker; Derick Roberson, Texas defensive end
In today's mailbag, Cyclone nation is pumped, Blake Bell wonders what he should do and we discuss who the best offenses will be in 2014.

To the 'bag:

[+] EnlargeJakeem Grant
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAfter finishing 2013 with 65 catches for 796 yards and 7 TDs, it looks like Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant is already a top five WR.
Kaled Zakzok in Lubbock, Texas, writes: Will Jakeem Grant be a top five Big 12 wide receiver next year?

Jake Trotter: Statistically, he was actually a top five receiver this season. There are some big-time receivers returning in the league, notably Tyler Lockett and Antwan Goodley. But Grant is loaded with big-play talent and could become the top slot receiver in the league along with Sterling Shepard in 2014.

James in Overland, Kan., writes: With Charlie Strong's staff now in place what are the chances Texas wins 10-12 games in 2014?

Trotter: It all comes down to quarterback for Strong. The other pieces are pretty much in place for Texas to reach double-digit wins. If Strong gets better quarterback play than Mack Brown did the last four seasons, it’s conceivable. But if the quarterback play remains inconsistent and turnover prone, then it will be a long shot, given the strength of the Big 12 and the Longhorns’ tough nonconference schedule, which includes UCLA and BYU.

Hugh in Hot Springs Village, Ark., writes: Are there any tight ends available that could even be three-fourths of what Jace Amaro was, and could Texas Tech land that player?

Trotter: Sure. I also hear the Red Raiders are in on a slot receiver from Oklahoma City named Les Lelker and a stud wideout out of Dallas named Michael Treecrab.

Jesse in Lubbock, Texas, writes: I have to admit, I wasn't in favor of Davis Webb starting until his impressive showing in the Holiday Bowl. With the poise he showed against Arizona State, I'd be ok calling him the Webbslinger as Tech moves forward with him as the starter. Thoughts on the nickname?

Trotter: It must really be the offseason, since we’re back to spitballing nicknames for every player in the league. Paging Andy in Austin …

Blake Bell in Norman, Okla., writes: Help! What should I do? I've been told that you are all-knowing. Should I stay at OU or transfer? If I do stay, should I try and become a tight end?

Trotter: Since you asked, I think I would stay. Trevor Knight is the clear-cut No. 1 QB, but given his style of play, he’s prone to injury. Bell has thrived in the clutch as a quarterback off the bench, and could still serve a valuable role as the No. 2 QB. There’s also the possibility of playing time at tight end, given that OU is void of reliable options at that spot. If Bell stayed, I would expect him to dabble there in the spring while also getting reps at quarterback. On the flip side, there’s no guarantee Bell would get playing time if he did transfer. Look no further than former OU QB Drew Allen, who transferred to Syracuse for his final year, and sat the bench this season. Bell could give it a shot elsewhere. But because of his Bedlam performance and game-changing plays previously in the “Belldozer” package, Bell is beloved by Sooner fans. There are worse things to be in college.

Alex in Ames, Iowa, writes: Iowa State hasn't finished better than ninth in yards per play in the Big 12 since 2005. Despite awful offenses, Iowa State has found a way to win under Paul Rhoads. This year, Iowa State has more options than I can remember on offense and an offensive coordinator in Mark Man-genius, who is a proven wizard. How high is the ceiling for a Rhoads team with an offense?

Trotter: Iowa State is shaping up to be one of my sleeper teams in the Big 12 next season. You’re correct, the Cyclones have options offensively. Running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs can all make plays. Quarterbacks Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson have experience and will make each other better competing for the job. I agree, the Cyclones always play solid defense, even though they have to replace a couple of long-time stalwarts. Is this a team that will contend for the Big 12 title? No. But I could see Iowa State getting back to a bowl next year while also being a tough out in Ames all year.

Chris in Lubbock, Texas, writes: Baylor's offense (scoring) will probably be No. 1 in the Big 12 again next season. Who do you see as the second-best scoring offense next season and why?

Trotter: Because of their style of play I’m not sure it will be the second-highest scoring, but I would give the edge to Kansas State as the Big 12’s second-best offense going into 2014. The Wildcats have a superstar in Lockett, and a capable, consistent quarterback in Jake Waters. Oklahoma and Texas Tech could factor into the conversation because of their young quarterbacks, who both turned the corner in their respective bowl games. Oklahoma State will be a team to watch, too. The Cowboys lose a lot, but they always seem to reload offensively, and have featured one of the Big 12's top three offenses every year but once since 2006.

Big 12's lunch links

December, 31, 2013
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The final day of 2013 is upon us. Here's the latest from the Big 12.

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