Oklahoma Sooners: Robbie Rhodes

Now is the time when the foundation of future success is built.

The offseason is when players start to emerge as potential stars of the future or contributors who will change the fortunes of their teams. Here are some names to keep an eye on during the offseason in the Big 12:

Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: At this time last season, people were talking about the Bears landing Rhodes, the No. 35 player in the 2013 ESPN 300. He finished with 10 receptions for 157 yards as a freshman. The sophomore has terrific speed, athleticism and big-play ability and could emerge as the replacement for Tevin Reese in Baylor’s explosive attack.

[+] EnlargeTyrone Swoopes
AP Photo/Eric GayIt's important for Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to have a productive spring in 2014.
Linebacker Luke Knott, Iowa State: It’s an important offseason for Knott, who is recovering from hip surgery. Knott, the younger brother of former Cyclone star Jake Knott, started five games as a redshirt freshman and recorded 45 tackles before the season-ending hip injury. If he returns to full health for his sophomore season he should be a major part of ISU’s defense in 2014.

Quarterback Montell Cozart, Kansas: After an up-and-down freshman season, Cozart will have to compete hard to remain atop KU’s depth chart this offseason. UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard will enter the competition alongside Cozart and Jake Heaps, so it will be critical for Cozart to make a jump to another level during the offseason.

Quarterback Daniel Sams, Kansas State: This offseason provides an opportunity for coach Bill Snyder to decide the best way to use the dynamic Sams. Sams could be a playmaker at several different positions in the Wildcats’ attack so seeing where the junior ends up is intriguing.

Tight end Blake Bell, Oklahoma: It’s been an amazing first four years in Norman, Okla., for Bell, who went from making a name for himself as the Belldozer to leading the Sooners on a game-deciding drive against Oklahoma State, which changed the destination of the Big 12 title rings. Now he will make the transition to tight end for his final season.

Receiver Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State: The quarterback battle will garner its share of attention but Seales' continued development is just as important. Top receiver Josh Stewart is NFL-bound so whoever wins the quarterback derby will need a top target. Seales could be the perfect candidate with his size, athleticism and ball skills, but he needs to continue to develop if he hopes to become a consistent threat in 2014.

Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, Texas: Swoopes saw spot duty as a freshman, never really making an impact during Mack Brown’s final season as coach. The offseason will be a critical time for the sophomore to start making an impression on new coach Charlie Strong and cement himself into the plans at quarterback.

Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The junior combines terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and exceptional athleticism. Brown tied for the team lead with 36 receptions as a sophomore but it’s time for Brown to take his game to another level and emerge as a consistent playmaker for the Horned Frogs' offense. His goal next season should be to make his 2013 game against Texas (7 receptions, 87 yards, TD) just another Saturday.

Receiver Jordan Davis, Texas Tech: With Eric Ward and Jace Amaro heading to the next level, the Red Raiders are searching for playmakers at the receiver spot. Davis can help fill the void. He stepped up at various times in 2013, finishing with 28 receptions for 243 yards and one touchdown, so he could be ready for a bigger role.

Running back Dreamius Smith, West Virginia: The Mountaineers’ second-leading rusher behind Charles Sims, Smith faces stiff competition to win the starting running back spot in 2014. Wendell Smallwood, Andrew Buie and Rushel Shell could emerge as the main in the WVU backfield so it’s important for Smith to have a strong offseason with quality competition nipping at his heels.

Freshmen impact in the Big 12

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Having a highly ranked recruiting class and a bunch of four-star signees sounds good in the spring and summer, but it's a different story when the season begins. The freshmen who are game-ready are the ones who get the playing time, no matter their star rating. Here's a look at the five Big 12 schools getting the most from their true freshmen:

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman Texas Tech signal-caller Baker Mayfield, a walk-on, has been the surprise of the Big 12 thus far.
1. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders practically earn this top spot by default by relying on two true freshmen at quarterback. Baker Mayfield made a big first impression, but it seems the battle is opening back up after two solid games from freshman Davis Webb, and the imminent return of Michael Brewer. Still, going 4-0 with two rookies behind center makes coach Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch a worthy No. 1 on this list.

Tech has played eight other true freshmen in 2013, and a few are making solid contributions. Receiver Dylan Cantrell has six catches for 56 yards, linebacker Malik Jenkins has recorded five tackles and a pass breakup and receiver Carlos Thompson already has a 73-yard kick return and 35-yard punt return.

2. Oklahoma: Is it possible Oklahoma’s best running back is its fourth-string freshman? Keith Ford, the gem of the Sooners’ class, has rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and wowed in OU’s last game against Tulsa.

Fellow freshman Stanvon Taylor earned his first career start against Tulsa, and he’s one of several newcomers contributing in the secondary along with Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, L.J. Moore and Dakota Austin. Linebacker Dominique Alexander has also chipped in six tackles through three games.

3. West Virginia: Of all the new skill players who joined West Virginia’s offense this year, who would’ve expected Daikiel Shorts would be the Mountaineers’ leading receiver and Wendell Smallwood would be their No. 2 back? Shorts has 12 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and Smallwood has 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries thus far.

A total of seven true freshmen have played for WVU this season, and four of them are defensive backs. Corner Daryl Worley is off to a nice start with six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

4. Oklahoma State: Many expected Ra’Shaad Samples to be OSU’s breakout true freshman receiver, but so far that distinction belongs to Marcell Ateman. He has hauled in eight passes for 92 yards, good for fourth-best on the team.

Freshman kicker Ben Grogan has hit all 19 of his extra-point attempts and is 1-for-2 on field goals, and defensive backs Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson have combined for eight tackles this season.

5. Baylor: Baylor might have two of the conference’s most talented true freshmen in receiver Robbie Rhodes and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, but they haven’t had to do much so far. Rhodes has 65 receiving yards and Billings has recorded three tackles, including one tackle for loss. Kiante’ Griffin is also contributing at linebacker with three tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

TCU can also make a case for the No. 5 spot. The Frogs don’t have a Devonte Fields-caliber breakout star yet, but receiver Ty Slanina has two reception and is currently listed as a starter, and former ESPN 300 prospect Tevin Lawson is breaking into the rotation at defensive tackle with two stops already.

Big 12 predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
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An intriguing opening week in the Big 12, including a pair of neutral-site showdowns with the SEC.

My picks for Week 1 -- and I wouldn’t go to Vegas with them:

FRIDAY

Texas Tech 35, SMU 27: All eyes will be on Texas Tech’s quarterback, whether that’s Davis Webb or fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield. Whoever it is, Eric Ward and Jace Amaro will provide enough support to give Kliff Kingsbury the win in his Tech debut.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters' debut at Kansas State comes against a North Dakota State team capable of pulling a surprise.
Kansas State 31, North Dakota State 22: The last time the Bison visited the Sunflower State, they came away with a victory. Even though this game won’t be in Lawrence, the two-time defending FCS champs won’t go out easy. K-State and its veteran offensive line, however, eventually wear down the Bison in the second half as the Wildcats pull away in QB Jake Waters' first start.

SATURDAY

West Virginia 48, William & Mary 14: Running back Charles Sims begins his West Virginia career with a monster debut, prompting the MountaineerS faithful to forget about Tavon Austin. Well, for a night anyway.

No. 13 Oklahoma State 38, Mississippi State 24: Mike Gundy makes good on his word of playing both Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh. And both quarterbacks shine in a two-quarterback system as the Cowboys defeat an SEC opponent in their opener for the second time in five years.

No. 16 Oklahoma 31, Louisiana-Monroe 14: The Sooners have been dreadful in openers under Bob Stoops, and playing a freshman quarterback doesn’t help things early, either. But Trevor Knight finally finds his groove in the second half and shows everyone why he ultimately beat out Blake Bell for the job.

Baylor 49, Wofford 21: Lache Seastrunk launches his Heisman campaign with a big season debut, but freshman receiver Robbie Rhodes steals the spotlight with a pair of touchdown receptions, showing why he’s been generating so much buzz this preseason.

No. 15 Texas 56, New Mexico State 6: The Longhorns waste no time attacking with their new up-tempo offense and bury the Aggies in the first quarter. The three-headed monster of Jonathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron looks crisp, too, racking up 250 yards rushing against a hapless New Mexico State defense.

Iowa State 24, Northern Iowa 21: Sam Richardson carries Iowa State to victory over the always-pesky Panthers with some clutch fourth-quarter passing. In the second half, junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly delivers a run and later a catch both for more than 40 yards, showing signs he might be the game-breaker the Cyclones have been coveting offensively.

No. 12 LSU 26, No. 20 TCU 21: TCU has the front-line talent that LSU does on both sides of the ball. But the Tigers have two advantages: superior depth and the experience of playing in these kinds of games. That proves to be the difference, as LSU strips the Big 12 of a potential weekend sweep.
The lights are about to get bright. Game 1 is fast approaching, and the touted true freshmen of the Big 12 are about to get a dose of reality.

Their recruiting hype doesn’t matter anymore. Some will play right away, and many others won’t. We’ll soon know which ones are difference-makers, and which ones are better off spending a year on the sidelines.

Several rookies are already establishing themselves as the cream of the crop through nearly three weeks of fall practices, but there are a lot of good ones ready to crack this list after they make their debuts. Here’s a look at five true freshman who are earning buzz coming out of fall camp, plus several more who could garner attention soon.

WR Robbie Rhodes, Baylor

The hype just keeps building. Rhodes enjoyed another breakout performance in Baylor’s second scrimmage, going for 112 yards on four catches. He was the No. 4 ranked receiver in the country coming out of Fort Worth (Texas) Southwest and brings elite speed and size to the position. He chose Baylor because he knew he could play any receiver spot for the Bears and get on the field right away. He was right. “He’s just a talented guy. He’s good, and that’s why he’s here,” Baylor coach Art Briles said after his second scrimmage. “We’re a good place for receivers to go, without any question.”

S Hatari Byrd, Oklahoma

The strong majority of Oklahoma’s 2013 signees have a chance to play in their first year, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has acknowledged Byrd is the one “we’ll probably lean on the heaviest.” He’s worked out at multiple positions in the secondary during camp and has a legitimate chance to establish himself in the lineup early in his Sooner career. A 6-foot-1, 198-pound ESPN 300 signee from Fresno, Calif., Byrd was told throughout his recruitment he’d start right away in Norman.

QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech

The prosper Prosper (Texas) arrived early in the spring and is now in position to start the season opener vs. SMU with Michael Brewer sidelined. A 6-foot-4, 195-pound gunslinger, he threw for 224 yards in the Tech spring game and seriously pushed Brewer, the projected starter. Now he’s competing with walk-on Baker Mayfield, and having that extra semester under his belt could make the difference.

WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State

There’s no Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant on this Oklahoma State team, just a handful of potentially really good ones. Ateman has flown under the radar a bit compared to the more touted Ra'Shaad Samples, but he’s got a big frame at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds and has impressed the OSU staff in fall camp. Don’t be surprised if he contributes early.

DT Andrew Billings, Baylor

Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has already come right out and said it: Billings is competing for a starting job right now. He’s 6-foot and 305 pounds, and you won’t find a more powerful freshman in the country. The Waco native broke Texas state powerlifting records last year and can squad 805 pounds and bench press 500. Billings matches that strength with surprising quickness and could become a menace up the middle right away for the Bears. “We knew he was strong and we knew he was passionate,” Briles told the Waco Tribune last week. “I just didn’t know he was that agile and dedicated. He’s a guy that wants to be great.”

Keep an eye on: CB Ranthony Texada, TCU; S Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma; QB Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech; WR Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia; WR D.J. Polite-Bray, Texas Tech; WR Tre' Parmalee, Kansas; DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma; RB Keith Ford, Oklahoma; DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State; LB Alton Meeks, Iowa State; WR Jacorey Warrick, Texas; LB Al-Rasheed Benton, West Virginia; OL Patrick Morris, TCU; RB Rennie Childs, Oklahoma State; QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas

Big 12's biggest shoes to fill

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
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Jeremy Smith isn’t the lone non-quarterback in the conference with big shoes to fill. As the Oklahoma State running back aims to replace Joseph Randle, here are some other Big 12 players looking to make a mark on the conference like their predecessors.

Receiver Robbie Rhodes, Baylor: As the Bears aim to replace Terrance Williams, coach Art Briles has been raving about Rhodes during preseason camp. The No. 35 player in the ESPN300 for the Class of 2013, Rhodes appears poised to become a featured receiver in BU’s offense after recording five receptions for 160 yards and one touchdown combined in the Bears’ first two scrimmages.

[+] EnlargeQuandre Diggs
John Albright/Icon SMIExpectations are high for Texas nickelback Quandre Diggs, who will take over the role previously filled by NFL rookie Kenny Vaccaro.
“As he gets more involved, the threat becomes more dangerous for our offense, no question,“ Briles said.

Linebacker Jared Brackens, Iowa State: A former defensive back, Brackens has moved down to play outside linebacker and will be counted on to help fill the void left by A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. A tad undersized, he’ll bring speed into the lineup, which will help handle the wide open spread offenses in the Big 12, but will have to adjust quickly to secure his spot in the defense.

Safety Isaiah Johnson, Kansas: Johnson chose KU out of Iowa Western junior college because the Jayhawks needed immediate help at safety. Now he’s set himself up to be a starter at free safety for KU, and the Jayhawks will need him to match the playmaking production of Bradley McDougald.

Linebacker Blake Slaughter, Kansas State: In a rare and unselfish move, Slaughter redshirted last season instead of finishing his Wildcat career as a backup to Arthur Brown. Now he enters his senior season set to replace him. He started four games as a sophomore in 2010, recording 47 tackles. It's unlikely Slaughter will be the defensive terror in the mold of Brown, but his maturity and experience will be key assets for KSU's defense.

Tackle Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma: Thompson is the odds-on favorite to replace Johnson as the Sooners’ left tackle. Junior college transfer Josiah St. John was signed in February to ramp the competition at the position but didn’t arrive until right before preseason camp began, and Thompson appears to have a solid hold on the starting spot. Thompson is supremely talented so don't be surprised if there is not a major drop off at left tackle for the Sooners despite losing Lane Johnson, the No. 4 pick of the 2013 NFL draft.

Nickelback Quandre Diggs, Texas: Diggs has been anointed as the Longhorns’ new nickelback to replace Kenny Vaccaro, the New Orleans Saints' first-round pick. Fellow NFLers Earl Thomas and Aaron Williams have also manned the position, which has become a highlight spot in UT’s defense. Diggs has been a key part of UT's defense since his freshman year and the nickelback spot could be a terrific fit for the junior.

Receiver LaDarius Brown, TCU: The Horned Frogs have a bevy of talented receivers to replace Josh Boyce, but Brown could have the highest upside of any of them. He started seven games as a redshirt freshman and brings terrific size (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and athleticism to the table. No Boyce could mean more opportunities for Brown to emerge in the Horned Frogs' offense.

Safety Tre' Porter, Texas Tech: Porter has played various different positions during his Red Raider career and could be the answer at free safety to replace ultra-productive former safety Cody Davis. He enters the season with 130 career tackles and has been a consistent performer since he stepped on campus in 2010. Porter's background at several different positions in the secondary make him the ideal guy to be the face of the Red Raiders' defensive backfield.

Receivers Kevin White and KJ Myers, West Virginia: The Mountaineers won’t be able to replace Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin with just two receivers. But White and Myers are candidates to get plenty of opportunities in Dana Holgorsen’s offense. White, a junior college transfer, brings terrific size at 6-foot-3, 211 pounds and Myers, a redshirt sophomore, has stepped up during camp.

“He’s one of the guys that I’ve got a big plus by,” Holgorsen said of Myers' preseason performance.

Lunch Links: The QB races continue

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
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Three of the best offensive weapons the state of Texas has to offer, regardless of class, committed to three different Big 12 programs this past week. Those recruits, as well as a look at a startling number of big-time uncommitted prospects left in the state, highlight this week’s top Big 12 storylines:

Baylor has 'it'

“It” at Baylor can stand for a few things. It could be the new football stadium being constructed on the banks of the Brazos River or the offense that has annually become one of the nation’s most prolific.

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