Oklahoma Sooners: Steven Parker

Spring football has come to a close at Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeDakota Austin
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Dakota Austin ended the spring as the starter at cornerback opposite Zack Sanchez.
The Sooners' 15 practices answered some questions, but others still remain. Now is the perfect time to update the some of the position battles that made this spring intriguing in Norman, Okla. On Tuesday we took a look at the offense. Today, all eyes turn to the defense.

Cornerback

Pre-spring: A trio of Sooners entered the spring set to battle to replace Aaron Colvin. Sophomores Stanvon Taylor and Dakota Austin joined junior Cortez Johnson in the competition. None of the three entered the spring as the clear favorite to secure the spot.

Post-spring: Austin had the best spring of the bunch, taking the field with the Sooners’ first-team defense in the spring game and holding his own. The sophomore is undersized (5-foot-11, 162 pounds) but good in coverage and has a chip on his shoulder. Injuries hampered Johnson’s spring, and Taylor didn’t make the move you would expect from a guy who stepped on campus with lofty expectations.

Summer outlook: Someone needs to seize the opportunity by taking their game to another level. Austin sent a message with a strong spring, but a few incoming recruits, including Tito Windham and Jordan Thomas, arrive in the summer with an eye on stepping up if nobody else makes it their spot to lose.

Free safety

Pre-spring: Sophomores Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd each saw action as freshmen in 2013. With Quentin Hayes comfortably manning the other safety spot, letting the Class of 2013 signees compete for a starting spot was the plan.

Post-spring: Both guys look like they could be solid, trustworthy options at the position. Thomas has emerged as a player who should see the field regardless thanks to his versatility and athleticism, while Byrd has progressed as a playmaker.

Summer outlook: Depth, not the starters, is the main concern at safety. Thomas or Byrd could do the job, and Steven Parker arrives in the summer with a unique skill set that could make him tough to keep on the sidelines. Though the name of the starter at free safety remains unclear, the position doesn’t look like a potential weak link in the defense this fall.

Linebacker depth

Pre-spring: OU returned its two leading tacklers at the linebacker spot with Dominique Alexander and Frank Shannon, along with pass-rushing dynamo Eric Striker. It was a unit full of playmakers but questionable depth.

Post-spring: The depth questions remain and could get worse if Shannon, whose status is unclear after missing the spring game for personal reasons, does not return. Fortunately for OU, Jordan Evans looks ready to step in and fill the void if needed. Additionally, Devante Bond should provide another option for Mike Stoops’ defense, and defensive end Geneo Grissom even spent time at linebacker this spring. Alexander is a terrific foundation and Evans is unusually athletic at linebacker, so developing more depth is the lingering question.

Summer outlook: Shannon’s status is the main storyline of the summer. If he returns it's a big boost for the Sooners. If not, OU will likely turns to Evans, which is another hit to its depth. Incoming recruits Curtis Bolton and Tay Evans might be called upon sooner than anticipated.
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Oklahoma held its spring game on Saturday with excitement around the program continuing to build this offseason. Here are some postgame thoughts, defense only, on OU’s spring finale. To be clear, this is an informal collection of my thoughts and observations after the spring game. For a more formal and general spring game review, check out this post from earlier today.

  • Linebacker Frank Shannon’s absence is disappointing, but Jordan Evans filled in at linebacker without looking like a weak link, much as he did against Texas Tech during his true freshman season a year ago. Evans is very athletic and comfortable in coverage. If Shannon, who is dealing with personal issues, is unable to return, OU can feel good about Evans’ spring-game production.
  • Ahmad Thomas looks like a potential difference-maker. He can play multiple positions in the secondary and he was consistently around the ball. A breakout sophomore campaign could be on the horizon.
  • The defensive line should be deep, athletic and productive. This unit could spark a special season if everyone continues to develop. From Charles Tapper to Jordan Wade to Charles Walker, it’s a very solid group of defensive linemen from top to bottom. Games are won in the trenches, so the Sooners should feel good about their chances this fall.
  • [+] EnlargeQuentin Hayes
    Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsQuentin Hayes is a returning starter at safety, but depth is a concern there.
    Cornerback Zack Sanchez is another Sooner who looks as if he’s taken a step forward. If he continues to progress, Sanchez could become a player who opponents think twice about testing. He was competitive and active on Saturday and played like OU's best cornerback.
  • Sophomore Dakota Austin looked solid opposite Sanchez, but the search for the other half of OU’s cornerback duo should carry deep into preseason camp. Stanvon Taylor and Cortez Johnson are also in the mix, but nobody has taken the job and run away with it. The Sooners need to shore up this spot, as this concern could be considered the top priority on the defensive side of the ball heading into the summer.
  • Linebacker Eric Striker is on the road to making several appearances on "SportsCenter" this fall. The pass-rushing dynamo was terrific as a sophomore and it looks like he could be even better as a junior. He's exceptionally quick off the edge and has a knack for getting to the quarterback.
  • The safety position looks like it is in good hands with Quentin Hayes and Hatari Byrd, but the depth behind them is a major summer storyline. Thomas and Julian Wilson, who sat out the spring, could help at the position and incoming freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in immediately. It’s not a problem if OU remains injury-free, but it’s football, so heading into the season without a Plan B is fool’s gold.
  • Kicker Michael Hunnicutt has earned his nickname “Munnicutt” and his leg strength has improved. He made two 40-plus-yard field goals, one with the wind at his back and one into the wind. He’s one of the nation’s most consistent kickers, so increased long-range production is a major bonus.
  • Final thought: The excitement surrounding the Sooners program heading into 2014 is well-earned. This team could find itself in the College Football Playoff if Trevor Knight is consistent and efficient under center and the defense takes another step forward this fall. But don't lock them into the national title conversation quite yet, as several young players need to continue to develop and take their games to another level and show they are ready to perform at a championship level, week in and week out.

OU spring position battles: No. 4

February, 25, 2014
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Spring football provides the opportunity for players to put themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to position battles. Several Oklahoma Sooners will have chances to make a statement and make themselves the favorite to start or become a significant contributor during spring drills with several starting spots open heading into 2014. This week we’ll review the top five position battles to keep an eye on this spring, continuing with safety.

No. 4: Safety

[+] EnlargeHatari Byrd
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsHatari Byrd made three tackles as a freshman, all in the same game.
Why it’s important: OU has a bunch of youth at the safety spot and will need one of those young players to step up to replace veteran safety Gabe Lynn. The safety position has grown into one of the most important positions on the Sooners defense as Sooners safeties are asked to hold their own in coverage and make an impact on the running game. They are the most versatile players on OU’s defense.

Competitors

Sophomore Hatari Byrd: He filled in early in the 2013 season when Lynn was injured against Tulsa, so he does have some experience at the position. His action was limited, but he was in the Sooners’ two-deep for the majority of the year.

Sophomore Ahmad Thomas: Thomas played extensively on special teams as a true freshman, finishing with nine tackles in 2013. He’s an aggressive, athletic defensive back.

Summer arrivals

Freshman Steven Parker: He could step on campus as the Sooners’ most versatile defensive back. He’ll be hard to keep off the field.

Freshman Vontre McQuinnie: He excels around the line of scrimmage, so he’s unlikely to end up in a deep safety spot until he improves his coverage skills.

Potential outcomes

Best-case scenario: Thomas and Byrd have an intense battle to start alongside Quentin Hayes. Both sophomores are talented and can help the Sooners defense in 2014. Having Thomas and Byrd each make a step up in competition is a perfect scenario for OU, as they would push each other to get better. Having Parker join in the summer to make it a three-man competition would make the Sooners’ safety group stronger and deeper than it was in 2013. The best-case scenario does not include Thomas or Byrd winning the job in the spring; OU should want this competition to last well into August.

Worst-case scenario: The coaches end the spring longing for Parker’s arrival. That means neither Thomas or Byrd appear ready to start. It’s an unlikely scenario, but a possibility if neither make a jump from their freshman to sophomore years.

The list

No: 5: Backup quarterback

Big 12's impact freshmen

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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

Signing day was kind to the Oklahoma Sooners.

A strong finish to its 2014 recruiting class has helped OU land at No. 5 in the ESPN.com Post-Signing Day Way-Too-Early Top 25. The Sooners are the Big 12’s top team, with Baylor and Texas joining them on the list. The Bears are ranked No. 10 and the Longhorns No. 22.

Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Michigan State are the top four teams, in that order.

OU skyrocketing to the top five shows just how quickly things can change. In mid-November the Sooners were reeling after a 41-12 thrashing at the hands of the eventual Big 12 champion Bears. Almost three months later, the Sooners find themselves projected to be among the nation’s top five teams after four straight wins to end the season, including a 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl triumph over Alabama led by sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight. The Sooners used that momentum to land several top recruits, including running back Joe Mixon, athlete Michiah Quick and safety Steven Parker II.

Baylor will have to overcome the loss of running back Lache Seastrunk and defensive leader Ahmad Dixon, but running back Shock Linwood and safety Orion Stewart both made game-changing plays as backups. Linwood finished with 881 rushing yards and Stewart had a critical interception return for touchdown against TCU. Art Briles' team appears ready to handle those departures -- and the loss of All-American guard Cyril Richardson -- while adding a recruiting class full of talented athletes, including elite receiver K.D. Cannon, to its roster to earn a preseason top-10 ranking.

Texas is the wildcard team with a new coach in Charlie Strong but uncertainty at the quarterback position due to David Ash’s health concerns. But a solid finish to its recruiting class, including the late addition of ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford, combined with an exceptional coaching staff landed Texas in the Top 25. The Longhorns have the talent to rise into the top 10 or, if their struggles at the quarterback position continue, could tumble out of the rankings completely.

Oklahoma State could have a strong case for inclusion in the Way-Too-Early Top 25, but Kansas State has the strongest case of the Big 12 squads that find themselves left outside. The Wildcats have quarterback Jake Waters returning to man the offense, and receiver Tyler Lockett could be the Big 12’s top returning offensive playmaker. Add in several impact junior college signees and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wildcats consistently ranked among the top 25 teams in college football this fall.
Did the Sugar Bowl never end?

It sure seems like it as Oklahoma rode the momentum from its 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to a stellar finish in its recruiting class. Nine Sooners signees committed during the month following the Sugar Bowl including ESPN 300 running back Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) and ESPN300 safety Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla/Jenks).

OU finished as strong as any program in the nation, landing Quick, Parker, offensive tackles Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger) and Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge), along with cementing the commitment of Courtney Garnett (New Orleans/St. Augustine) in the final two days.


Here are some news and notes from signing day including my take on what it could mean for the program:

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Darron CummingsBlake Bell will move to tight end, as Trevor Knight is entrenched as Oklahoma's starting quarterback.
In case you missed it, quarterback Blake Bell is moving to tight end and former Texas Tech signal caller Baker Mayfield has enrolled and is walking on to the Sooners’ squad. OU coach Bob Stoops confirmed both bits of news during his press conference on Wednesday.

Chatmon’s take: Both things were expected but it leaves a void behind Trevor Knight heading into 2014. Normally it wouldn’t seem like a big deal to have two freshmen, Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen, battling to back up Knight, but Knight got knocked out of two different games as a redshirt freshman and he only started five total games during the year. Thomas and Hansen are talented but inexperienced, meaning OU could be one play from seeing its national title hopes derailed by an injury to a quarterback who got knocked out of 40 percent of the games he started in 2013. Uh, oh.


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Bill Bedenbaugh needs a raise.

During his first full recruiting cycle as the offensive line coach at OU, Bedenbaugh landed an exceptional group of offensive lineman including a pair of four-star prospects in center Alex Dalton (Troy, Ohio/Troy) and guard Natrell Curtis (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe). And Bedenbaugh did work down the stretch landing Brown, who flipped from Tennessee in the surprise of signing day, and Frison, who was committed to Utah before inking with OU.

“The more I watch them, the more excited I get about these kids,” Bedenbaugh said.

While he signed a large group of talented guys, Bedenbaugh is most pleased by the toughness of this group.

“You can’t overlook toughness,” Bedenbaugh said. “There are a lot of big, athletic guys out there that may not have the toughness you’re looking for and a lot of those guys don’t pan out.”
Chatmon’s take: A terrific group at a need position. It’s hard to imagine a better class in Bedenbaugh’s first recruiting cycle, and it’s a group with several players who have the versatility to play multiple positions. OU doesn’t need immediate help along the offensive line, but don’t be surprised if one or two of these guys show up on the depth chart in 2014.

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Along with offensive line, the Sooners needed to address the secondary in this year’s class. Parker is the headliner of a group of versatile secondary players. With the range of a safety and the cover skills of a cornerback, Parker should be able to play immediately for Mike Stoops’ defense.

“He brings a different element to the safety position that a lot of players just can’t,” Mike Stoops said. “His mobility, skill level and cover ability, he fits perfect in our system.”

Stoops feels like OU secured two cover cornerbacks in Tito Windham (Gulfport, Miss./Harrison Central) and Jordan Thomas (Klein, Texas/Klein Collins) along with a versatile prospect in Cedar Hill (Texas) cornerback Marcus Green and a physical presence in DeSoto (Texas) safety Vontre McQuinnie.

Chatmon’s take: Parker is an ideal fit and should make an immediate impact. He’s too talented to remain on the sidelines. The overall versatility of these five defensive backs really stands out, with McQuinnie as the lone guy who likely wouldn’t be a good fit at cornerback in OU’s system. In the Big 12 that versatility is critical because the Sooners will have the ability to put its safeties on the Big 12’s top slot receivers and have the confidence they can hold their own in coverage without being exposed.
Thanks for your questions during my chat, you can find the transcript here.

CautiousCowboy (Arkansas): Two questions: What are the chances Kenny Young signs with the Cowboys? Do you think Mason Rudolph can win the starting QB job away from JW?

Max Olson: I'd predict Kenny Young ends up choosing LSU, that's just my honest opinion, and I think the writing has been on the wall there for a little while. As for Rudolph, I definitely think he can challenge. We didn't see it coming with Wes Lunt and he got on the field right away, and I think Rudolph will come in with similar expectations as a guy who can play from day one if he puts in the work.

Shane (Texas): Will there be any surprising commitments for the Longhorns?

Max Olson: Never say never, since it's not like anybody saw the Shiro Davis flip coming two years ago. But I think Texas has a relatively calm signing day with commitments from DTs Poona Ford and Chris Nelson.

Bo (Missouri): What are OU's chances of flipping in-state DE Deondre Clark to OU from LSU?

Max Olson: That might be the biggest question of signing day in the Big 12. Clark is a stud, and the Oklahoma coaching staff did a great job of getting back in the mix after falling behind early. I think he'll end up at OU, but that's still an unpredictable situation.

Matt (Boston): Where do you think John Bonney will end up?

Max Olson: I do think he'll end up signing with Texas on Wednesday, especially after he showed up in Austin for an unofficial visit this weekend. I think that trip sealed the deal. I like Baylor's chances better than Auburn's if Bonney does change his mind, but it seems like the Longhorns will hold on here.

Jake (Texas): Do you think the recent news about the Teuhema brothers decommitting from Texas and looking heavy at LSU has anything to do with Clark making his mind up on OU so LSU went after the brothers instead?

Max Olson: That's certainly a theory that a lot of folks are curious about. LSU was in the mix for the Teuhemas throughout this year and was the runner-up when they decided last May. Some will say Clark motivated the move, but they're different players --- Sione is a hybrid LB/DE -- and obviously anyone going after Sione is trying to get Maea too, as he's the best lineman in the state of Texas for the 2015 class.

Dustin (Tulsa): Which OU '14 recruit has the best career at OU besides Joe Mixon?

Max Olson: I can't help but think that in Dallis Todd, Mark Andrews and Jeffery Mead, at least one of those guys ends up being an All-Big 12 receiver before it's all said and done. Love their size. I know Andrews could end up at TE, obviously, but with the wealth of talent OU is set to have at QB those freshman receivers are in great shape.

Kris (Des Moines): What's up with Joe Mixon going UCLA last weekend?
Max Olson: I know Mixon has downplayed that since then. But who knows. He's a Cali kid going to Oklahoma. I'm sure he has family members who want him closer to home. Doesn't mean that'll change his mind.

Chad (I-State): Allen Lazard and Michael Warren seem to get the most buzz from ISU's class. Who are a couple other guys Iowa State fans should be excited about?

Max Olson: I like what Iowa State did with its junior college recruiting in this class. The Cyclones have always done a nice job in that category under Paul Rhoads. The defense is getting help from the juco ranks with three defensive ends, two safeties and an inside linebacker, and I'm sure several could see the field next year.

Semper Fi notebook: Day 3 

January, 3, 2014
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News and notes from Day 3 of the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl.

Delp to announce on Sunday


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The beginning of the month didn't start out so hot for Oklahoma, who was routed in a highly-anticipated game at Baylor on Nov. 7. But the Sooners have rebounded well on the recruiting trail with a handful of commitments since the calendar turned.

We'll take a look at who exactly those recruits are as well as talk about the big weekend ahead in Stillwater in this week's edition of Big 12 recruiting storylines.

OU on a roll


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Thursday night may not be the best nights for hosting players, but it definitely makes for great nights to see two top-ranked teams go at it in a nationally televised showdown. No. 6 Baylor hosts No. 10 Oklahoma in what may be the most anticipated Big 12 matchup of the year not called the Red River Rivalry.

From a recruiting standpoint, Thursday’s game may have more importance to Oklahoma than Baylor. The Bears are sitting comfortably with 23 commits, including ESPN 300 players in athlete Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), inside linebacker James David (Rockdale, Texas/Rockdale) and receivers K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant) and Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik). The Sooners are looking to bulk up its recruiting class. Oklahoma has 15 committed, the latest on Wednesday being three-star athlete Dimitri Flowers (San Antonio/Churchill).

Along with the aforementioned, here are seven 2014 and 2015 prospects, in alphabetical order, who will be paying attention to what happens on Thursday:

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Big 12 ESPN 300 analysis 

October, 29, 2013
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With the release of the latest ESPN 300, some players saw jumps while others took slight falls. And then there were some, such as one particular Houston wide receiver still looking to make a name for himself as a varsity football player, who saw their rankings skyrocket.

Here’s an update on some of the highs and lows of players either committed to, targeted by or living near Big 12 programs:

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Most important targets: Big 12 

October, 22, 2013
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Not surprisingly, Big 12 programs have filled their rosters with ESPN 300 recruits. But, as we’ve come to learn, success on the field doesn’t always come down to how many stars you acquire each recruiting cycle. It’s about filling needs with the types of players coveted by that particular program.

Here is a look at the most important target for each Big 12 school, which features some highly ranked recruits and other recruits with no ranking at all.


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Best Big 12 recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

The best college football coaches will tell you that when it comes to recruiting, their business is an art. It’s a craft you must perfect if you want to have the best players commit and ultimately sign. Recruiting isn’t for everybody, but those who are good at it -- particularly for building the 2014 class -- should be recognized, as the business is extremely competitive.

Here are 10 of the top recruiters from the Big 12.


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The Big 12 has a big weekend ahead in Dallas and Texas Tech is surging. Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s top recruiting storylines.

Big names set to attend Red River Rivalry
There is never a season, regardless of what type of shape either program is in, that the Cotton Bowl won’t be filled with some of the most desirable recruits in the country.

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Big 12 class rankings analysis 

October, 9, 2013
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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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