Oklahoma Sooners: Jaxon Shipley
Last season the strongest position of the league was defensive back, headlined by Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Ahmad Dixon, Aaron Colvin and Ty Zimmerman, among others.
But those players are all gone. So what will be the strongest position in 2014?
With such players such as TCU’s Devonte Fields, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper and Texas’ Cedric Reed returning, we believe it will be defensive line.
Maybe you think it will be another position such as receiver, which includes All-American hopefuls Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, and a host of potential 1,000-yard threats such as Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley.
Perhaps it’s your opinion that the strength of the Big 12 will be at linebacker, where Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU bring their entire units back, and virtually everyone else has at least one proven performer returning.
Maybe the conference’s best unit is the offensive line, with experienced centers BJ Finney (Kansas State), Dominic Espinosa (Texas) and Tom Farniok (Iowa State); talented tackles Spencer Drango (Baylor), Le'Raven Clark (Texas Tech) and Daryl Williams (Oklahoma); and versatile stalwarts Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Quinton Spain (West Virginia) and Daniel Koenig (Oklahoma State).
Or with Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, do you believe quarterback is on its way back to becoming the dominant position in a league that not long ago was the nation’s preeminent conference for that position?
Tell us by voting in the weekly Big 12 poll.
Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:
1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.
2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.
3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.
4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.
6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.
7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.
BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM
- QB: Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- RB: Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- WR: Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- WR: Tony Pierson, Kansas
- WR: Daje Johnson, Texas
- WR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- LT: Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- LG: Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- C: Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- RG: Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- RT: Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- DE: Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- DT: Malcom Brown, Texas
- DT: Chucky Hunter, TCU
- DE: Cedric Reed, Texas
- WLB: Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- SLB: Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- NB: JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- CB: Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- FS: Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- SS: Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- CB: Kevin White, TCU
MAX OLSON'S TEAM
- QB: Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- RB: Shock Linwood, Baylor
- RB: Johnathan Gray, Texas
- WR: Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- WR: Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- IR: Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- LT: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- LG: Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- C: B.J. Finney, Kansas State
- RG: Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- RT: Troy Baker, Baylor
- DE: Devonte Fields, TCU
- DT: Andrew Billings, Baylor
- DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- DE: Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- OLB: Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- ILB: Bryce Hager, Baylor
- OLB: Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- CB: Quandre Diggs, Texas
- SS: Sam Carter, TCU
- FS: Terrell Burt, Baylor
- CB: Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM
- QB: Bryce Petty, Baylor
- RB: Malcolm Brown, Texas
- WR: Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- WR: Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- WR: Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- TE: E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- LT: Spencer Drango, Baylor
- LG: Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- C: Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- RG: Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- RT: Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- DE: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- Nose: James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- Tackle: Travis Britz, Kansas State
- OLB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- ILB: Ben Heeney, Kansas
- ILB: Paul Dawson, TCU
- OLB: Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- CB: Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- SS: Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- FS: Chris Hackett, TCU
- CB: Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.
As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.
- 1. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor
- 2. OT Spencer Drango, Baylor
- 3. OLB Eric Striker, Oklahoma
- 4. DE Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
- 5. OT Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
- 6. WR Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech
- 7. WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
- 8. TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
- 9. RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
- 10. DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
- 11. DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State
- 12. CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
- 13. SS Karl Joseph, West Virginia
- 14. FS Chris Hackett, TCU
- 15. LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
- 1. WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
- 2. DE Charles Tapper, Oklahoma
- 3. DE Cedric Reed, Texas
- 4. OT Le'Raven Clark, Texas Tech
- 5. DT Malcom Brown, Texas
- 6. DT Chucky Hunter, TCU
- 7. CB Daryl Worley, West Virginia
- 8. CB Kevin White, TCU
- 9. OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
- 10. SS Dante Barnett, Kansas State
- 11. C Tom Farniok, Iowa State
- 12. LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
- 13. CB JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
- 14. OT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
- 15. WR Daje Johnson, Texas
- 1. DE Devonte Fields, TCU
- 2. WR Antwan Goodley, Baylor
- 3. DE Shawn Oakman, Baylor
- 4. QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech
- 5. LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
- 6. CB Quandre Diggs, Texas
- 7. SS Sam Carter, TCU
- 8. LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
- 9. DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
- 10. OT Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
- 11. CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
- 12. RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
- 13. C BJ Finney, Kansas State
- 14. OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia
- 15. OLB Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
- Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
- Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
- Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
- Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
- Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
- Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
- Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
- Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
- Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
- Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
- Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
- Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
- Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
- Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
- Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
- Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
- Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
- Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
- Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
- Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
- Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
- Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
- Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
- Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
- Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
- Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
- Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
- Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon
1. Baylor (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Bears maintained their commanding advantage over any other receiving corps in the league. Antwan Goodley remains an All-American candidate, and Corey Coleman looks primed to become Baylor’s next great wideout following a spectacular spring. Levi Norwood, Jay Lee and Clay Fuller are proven performers. And more talent is about to arrive, including blue-chip freshman K.D. Cannon. The Baylor receivers are as formidable as any position grouping in the league.
2. Texas Tech (3): The Red Raiders lost their two best pass-catchers from last year in tight end Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, but this group is overflowing with dynamic young talent. After reeling in two touchdowns in the bowl and dominating Texas Tech’s spring game, Jakeem Grant looks like he’s on the verge of becoming a star in the league. Bradley Marquez should be even sharper after giving up baseball to focus on football this offseason. And the speedy Reginald Davis is a potential big-play threat on the perimeter. All three players can fly, and they have a quarterback in Davis Webb who can deliver the ball to them down field. The unit goes deep in the rotation, too, with D.J. Polite-Bray, Devin Lauderdale, Jordan Davis and Derreck Edwards all poised to be factors.
3. Oklahoma State (4): The Cowboys don’t have a Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant. But they have a deep rotation and a budding All-Big 12 candidate in Jhajuan Seales, who is ready to take over as the offense’s go-to receiver. Marcell Ateman, David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd were all significant parts of the corps last year, as well, and Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both made starts two years ago as true freshmen, bounced back from injury-plagued 2013 seasons to impress in the spring. Track star/running back Tyreek Hill also will line up in the slot at times and will be a home-run threat any time he touches the ball. Considering none of the projected eight in the two-deep will be a senior, this group should only continue to get better, too.
4. Texas (5): Don’t fault the Texas receivers for not making a bigger impact in the spring game. For three quarters, reserve quarterback Tyrone Swoopes struggled to get them the ball. While the Longhorns probably lack an All-Big 12-caliber performer, they boast an experienced, reliable trio in three-year starter Jaxon Shipley and juniors Kendall Sanders and Marcus Johnson. Daje Johnson, who caught a Hail Mary from Swoopes in the spring game, brings even more playmaking to the group as a full-time receiver. Texas obviously has QB issues. But if the Horns can find the right player there, that QB will have reliable weapons to operate within the passing game.
5. Kansas State (2): K-State still has one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, who is deserving of preseason All-American consideration. But the rest of the unit didn’t round out during the spring as well as the Wildcats would have hoped. Curry Sexton (eight catches for 88 yards) and Deante Burton (six catches for 48 yards) were both solid in the spring game. So was freshman Judah Jones, who hauled in a 51-yard scoring grab. But converted QB Daniel Sams still has a ways to go before making a huge impact, and highly touted juco transfer Andre Davis failed to make a big spring splash. Any receiving corps featuring Lockett is going to be a handful. But the supporting cast still needs work.
6. Iowa State (7): The Cyclones have the top returning pass-catching tight end in the league in E.J. Bibbs, who coach Paul Rhoads believes could vie for All-American honors. Quenton Bundrage has all-league potential, though he disappeared too many times last season, and did so again in the spring game. Jarvis West has proven he can make plays out of the slot, and the Cyclones have depth on the perimeter in P.J. Harris, Brett Medders and D'Vario Montgomery, who all developed rapidly during the spring. With highly touted signee Allen Lazard set to join the rotation, the Cyclones could boast their best receiving corps in several years.
7. Oklahoma (6): The Sooners feature a bona-fide No. 1 receiver in Sterling Shepard, who has 96 career catches his first two seasons. But the position is the Sooners' biggest question mark. With 12 catches last year, Durron Neal is the team's second-leading returning receiver. Austin Bennett, Jordan Smallwood and Derrick Woods all had moments in the spring game, but the competition for snaps will carry over into the fall. Talented four-star incoming freshman Michiah Quick could be a factor in the slot once he gets to Norman.
8. West Virginia (8): Starters Mario Alford, Kevin White and Daikiel Shorts are all back, but, collectively, must produce more consistently than they did last season. Alford seems to be the key. He had 215 receiving yards in West Virginia’s final game of 2013, and he has the talent and speed to give the Mountaineers a dangerous No. 1 wideout. Cody Clay is a valuable tight end, though does most of his damage with his blocking. Shelton Gibson, who was ineligible last year and this spring as a partial qualifier, is a former four-star recruit and could give West Virginia a boost.
9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs actually had two positive developments at this position during the spring. Jordan Moore made a seamless transition from running back to receiver and is in line to give TCU a physical and fast presence on the outside. Then, former Texas A&M QB Matt Joeckel transferred in, potentially clearing the way for Trevone Boykin to swing back to receiver. This group has depth, with Ty Slanina, Josh Doctson, David Porter and Cameron Echols-Luper returning. But the future of the most talented receiver on the roster -- Brandon Carter -- remains in doubt after he was recently arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession, after sitting out spring ball to focus on academics.
10: Kansas (10): The Jayhawks might be at the bottom here, but they seem primed to field their best one-two punch at receiver since Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe roamed Lawrence five years ago. Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell has taken on a much-needed vocal leadership role among this group and brings a track record of production, having finished second nationally in receiving in 2011. Flanking Harwell will be former running back Tony Pierson, who made the full-time move to receiver this offseason. While he’s raw as a receiver, Pierson is capable of the big play. Rodriguez Coleman also emerged this spring as potential viable third option. The dark days of the Jayhawk receivers posing no threat in the passing game appear to be over.
Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.
So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:
QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley
The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.
QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard
Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.
3. Texas Tech
QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant
Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.
QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley
The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.
5. Kansas State
QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett
The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.
6. Iowa State
QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage
Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.
7. Oklahoma State
QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales
Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.
8. West Virginia
QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White
The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.
QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson
Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.
QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell
Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.
1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.
2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.
4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.
5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.
6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,
7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.
8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.
9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.
10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.
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.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.
3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.
4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Sheperd and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hays, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.
5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.
7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the Big 12 in touchdowns. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.
8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 in receiving last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.
9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him in a big way in 2014.
10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.
Back again with more stats and tidbits courtesy of SID departments across the league and ESPN stats and information. Did you know …
- TCU coach Gary Patterson returns to his alma mater for the first time as a head coach when he visits Kansas State on Saturday. He played linebacker and safety for the Wildcats before graduating in 1983. He was born in Larned, Kan., and lived in Rozel, Kan.
- TCU's Trevone Boykin is the only player in the nation with a 100-yard rushing, 100-yard receiving and 200-yard passing game this season.
- TCU leads the Big 12 with 70.4 percent (2,379 of 3,380 yards) of its scrimmage yards from underclassmen.
- Deante' Gray, who started two games at receiver this season, started at cornerback for TCU against Iowa State last Saturday and had two tackles and a pass breakup. He also leads the squad in special teams tackles.
- Iowa State's DeVondrick Nealy's 98-yard kick return for a touchdown snapped TCU's 135-game streak without allowing a kick return for a score, which was the nation's longest.
- TCU is tied for the conference lead and sixth in the nation with 25 forced turnovers this season.
- TCU holds the nation's third longest streak of games without being shut out at 265, dating back to a 32-0 shutout loss to Texas in 1991.
- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder earned victory No. 175 overall and No. 100 in conference play with the Wildcats' 49-26 win over Texas Tech last Saturday. He's the 46th coach to reach the 175-win mark and just the 11th reach that standard at one school. He joins Tom Osborne of Nebraska and Barry Switzer of Oklahoma as the only Big 8/12 coaches with at least 100 wins at one school.
- K-State has turned it on in the fourth quarter of recent games, outscoring opponents 56-14 during its three-game win streak.
- The Wildcats are 49-17 in November under Snyder since 1991.
- KSU is looking to become the fourth Big 12 team to start 2-4 or worse yet still make a bowl game. 2001 K-State, 2002 Oklahoma State and 2004 Iowa State are the only teams to achieve that feat thus far.
- Since 1999, K-State ranks No. 1 nationally in non-offensive touchdowns with 91.
- John Hubert is averaging 109.5 rushing yards per game and one touchdown in KSU's last four games after averaging 53.6 rushing yards in the Wildcats' first five contests.
- KSU sophomore defensive lineman Travis Britz has blocked four kicks this season, which leads the nation.
- Texas is 6-0 in the Big 12 for the fifth time under Mack Brown (1999, 2005, 2006, 2009).
- The Longhorns has scored 30 points or more in their last six games, matching their longest streak since 2009.
- UT is No. 5 nationally in sacks in its last six games. The Longhorns have gotten to the quarterback 24 times during their last six contests.
- Longhorns' guard Mason Walters has started 47 straight games, the second-longest streak in the nation among offensive linemen (Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson owns the longest streak).
- Texas has scored 11 touchdowns on plays of 45 yards or more this season. Eight different Longhorns have achieved that feat.
- UT receiver Jaxon Shipley is clutch with 30 of his 46 receptions resulting in a first down this season, including three on fourth down. His fourth-down catch kept hope alive in the Longhorns' 47-40 overtime win over West Virginia last Saturday.
- UT defensive end Cedric Reed is the lone FBS defender with at least six sacks, four pass breakups and four forced fumbles. The junior has seven sacks, four pass breakups and four forced fumbles.
- Oklahoma State has won 10 of its last 11 games in the state of Texas.
- An OSU win over Texas would be the Cowboys third-straight victory in Austin and make the Cowboys the first team to do it since Colorado in 1990, 1994 and 1997.
- OSU has scored 20 or more points in 48 straight games dating back to the start of the 2010 season. It's the longest streak in the nation.
- OSU has forced a turnover in 17 straight games.
- Cowboys cornerback Justin Gilbert leads all active players with six kickoff returns for touchdown in his career after his kickoff return for a score to open the game against Kansas.
- OSU is one of seven teams ranking in the nation's top 20 in both scoring offense (40.7 points per game) and scoring defense (19.7 ppg). Alabama, Baylor, Florida State, Oregon, Ohio State and Louisville join the Pokes in that category.
- The Cowboys are averaging 6.11 three-and-outs forced per game this season.
- OSU ranks No. 9 nationally in yards per play allowed at 4.67 yards per play. Michigan State leads the nation at 3.47 followed by Baylor's 4.08.
- The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in third down conversion percentage at 29.6 percent which ranks sixth nationally.
- The Cowboys could feature the league's most balanced offense. OSU has 343 rushing attempts and 343 passing attempts heading into its battle with Texas.
- Texas Tech's series with Baylor is the longest in school history. The Red Raiders hold a 36-34-1 lead in the series.
- The Red Raiders have scored 20 points or more in 25 straight games, dating back to 2011.
- Linebacker Will Smith has either led or tied for the team lead in tackles in six of TTU's last eight games. He has 72 tackles in 10 games, including 50 solo stops.
- TTU had its nation-leading streak of 257 straight PATs snapped when KSU blocked Ryan Bustin's attempt last Saturday. It also snapped Bustin's personal streak of 101 consecutive PATs.
- TTU tight end Jace Amaro had nine receptions for 67 yards against Kansas State to make it nine straight games with at least eight receptions for the junior, tying Michael Crabtree for the school record. He also moved to 10th on Tech's single season receptions list with 88 catches this season.
- Baylor head coach Art Briles is a 1979 Texas Tech graduate and was an assistant coach on Mike Leach's staff from 2000-02.
- It's been a full year since Baylor lost a game and the Bears 12-game winning streak is a school record. Oklahoma was the last team to defeat Baylor on Nov. 10, 2012.
- The Bears' 8-0 start is the best in Baylor's history.
- Baylor is hoping to win three straight games against TTU for the first time since 1984-87.
- Baylor leads the nation in total offense (686 ypg), scoring (61 ppg), pass efficiency (201.5), yards per play (8.64) and passing yards per completion (19.29).
- The Bears defense has more interceptions (11) than passing touchdowns allowed (8).
- Baylor leads the nation in fewest three-and-outs per game (1.02) and is No. 2 in three-and-outs forced (7).
- Baylor is on track to set NCAA records in points per game (61) and yards per game (686). Army averaged 56 points per game in 1944 while Houston averaged 624.9 yards per game in 1989.
- BU's starting offense has 85 drives resulting in 52 touchdowns, getting into the end zone on 61.1 percent of its drives.
- Baylor has won a school-record eight straight conference games. The previous high was five in 2010.
- The Bears lead the Big 12 in tackles for loss with 8.9 per game. That ranks No. 2 in the FBS.
- Baylor has converted 52.7 percent of its third down attempts, which leads the Big 12 and ranks No. 8 in the nation.
- Baylor leads the Big 12 in sacks at 3 per game. That number ties the Bears for 14th nationally.
- BU quarterback Bryce Petty leads the nation in pass efficiency (210.6) and yards per completion (19.68).
- BU running back Lache Seastrunk has 10 games of 100 rushing yards or more in Baylor's last 12 games. He's averaging 8.7 yards per carry, which ranks No. 2 nationally.
- Seastrunk leads the league with 111 rushing yards per game and 11 touchdowns.
- Teammate Shock Linwood, a redshirt freshman running back, is second in the Big 12 with 89.3 rushing yards per game.
- BU receiver Antwan Goodley leads the Big 12 with 121.8 receiving yards per game, which is No. 4 nationally.
- Baylor is 12-1 in November and December since 2011, which is tops in the FBS. That record includes a 5-1 mark against Top 25 teams.
- Iowa State's loss to TCU was the fifth time this season the Cyclones lost a game by eight points or less, including losses to Big 12 foes Texas, Texas Tech and TCU by a combined 12 points.
- ISU and Rutgers are the only two teams with two different players who have returned a kickoff 95 yards or more for a touchdown.
- Nealy has scored in four straight games in three different ways for the Cyclones.
- ISU has used eight different starting offensive lines in nine games. With injuries ravaging its offensive front, 10 different Cyclones have starting along the offensive line.
- Receiver Quenton Bundrage is the only Cyclone to start every game on offense.
- ISU linebacker Jeremiah George has recorded double digit tackles in seven of nine games. He leads the Big 12 with 11.3 tackles per game, ranking fourth nationally.
- Even with ISU's struggles on the field, the Cyclones have had three sellouts this season (Oklahoma State, Iowa, Northern Iowa) and are averaging the highest attendance average (55,617) in program history.
- ISU has converted 23 of 24 red zone possessions into points (18 touchdowns, five field goals) to lead the Big 12 and rank No. 4 nationally at 95.8 percent.
- West Virginia is making its first trip to Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan.
- Two of the top-20, single-game rushing performances in KU history have occurred on Nov. 16. June Henley rushed for 209 yards against Texas in 1996 (15th best) and John Riggins rushed for 189 yards against K-State in 1968 (19th best).
- Mountaineers running back Dreamuis Smith played at Wichita (Kan.) Heights and was committed to the Jayhawks before spending two seasons at Butler County Community College.
- KU's Michael Reynolds has 5.5 sacks this season, the most by a KU defender since 2009. He has a sack in four of KU's last five games.
- KU punter Trevor Pardula has punted for 3,044 yards this season, nearly 1.73 miles. He leads the nation at 338.2 yards per game.
- West Virginia has scored 30 points or more in 24 games, 40 points of more in 12 games, 50 points or more in six games and 60 points or more in three games during Dana Holgorsen's tenure.
- WVU running back Charles Sims leads the Big 12 in all-purpose yardage, averaging 124.2 yards per game.
- WVU has forced a turnover in 16 straight games and 28 of its last 29 contests.
- WVU's is looking to extend its streak of making bowl appearances to 12 with wins over Kansas and Iowa State to close the season.
- WVU is 3-1 on the road in November under Holgorsen
- Oklahoma has won 14 straight games against Iowa State and is 8-0 under Bob Stoops.
- The Sooners are 13-1 on Senior Day under Stoops.
- Stoops has 156 career victories and will be looking to tie Barry Switzer at 157 with a win on Saturday.
- OU will honor 17 seniors on Senior Day. This class is 39-10 during their time in Norman.
- The Sooners are seeking a perfect home record for the 11th time in 15 seasons under Stoops and the first time since 2010.
- The Sooners-Cyclones contest will feature a battle of brothers. Tom Farniok is ISU's starting center while Derek Farniok is a backup tackle at OU.
Teams of the week: For the first time this season, we're recognizing two teams here, as both Baylor and Kansas State snagged the biggest wins of their seasons in impressive fashion.
The Wildcats jumped to a 35-10 lead at then-No. 25 Texas Tech, then coasted to a 49-26 rout. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters produced the two-highest Big 12 Adjusted QBRs of the week (98.4 and 94.9), while John Hubert, who had a 63-yard touchdown run on the opening drive, finished with a season-high 157 rushing yards.
Baylor was equally dominant in a 41-12 win Thursday night over Oklahoma. QB Bryce Petty kept his Heisman campaign alive with three touchdowns passes and two touchdown runs. Baylor's defense put the clamps on the Sooners, holding them to just 237 yards, the lowest output from an OU offense since 2007.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma traveled to Waco with a chance to gain an upper hand over the Big 12's favorite. Instead, the Sooners were exposed as a second-tier team in the conference. OU was especially dreadful offensively. Blake Bell completed just 15 of 35 passes with two interceptions for a raw QBR score of 5.9 (scale 0-to-100). The Sooners averaged only 2.6 yards per carry on the ground, as well, with just one run going for more than 10 yards. With games at Kansas State and Oklahoma State still looming, the Sooners could be on the verge of their worst season since 2009.
With Lache Seastrunk banged up and Glasco Martin injured, Linwood kept the Baylor ground game rolling without a hitch, piling up 182 yards while averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Despite being Baylor's third-team tailback, Linwood astonishingly is second in the Big 12 with an average of 89.3 rushing yards per game.
Back in the role he was always meant for, Boykin was excellent at Iowa State as a receiver and change-of-pace quarterback. He scored three touchdowns on five carries, including a one-yard keeper in the final minute to lift TCU to a 21-17 win. Boykin also had four receptions.
Finally, K-State's offensive line obliterated Texas Tech up front, setting the tone for the Wildcats in Lubbock. Behind Cornelius Lucas, Cody Whitehair, BJ Finney, Keenan Taylor and Tavon Rooks, the Wildcats rolled up 291 yards on the ground with an average of almost seven yards per carry.
Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman.
The Longhorns gave up 40 points in Morgantown, but Jeffcoat and Reed were swarming West Virginia's backfield all night. The two combined for three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, as the defense gave the Texas offense excellent field position for most of the game.
Barnett spearheaded another strong defensive effort from the Cowboys in a 42-6 win over Kansas. Barnett had five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
Dixon led Baylor's shutdown effort of the Sooners. He had a team-high 8½ tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, as Oklahoma failed to score a touchdown until late in the third quarter.
Zimmerman gutted out a shoulder injury to lead the Wildcats defensively. He had a couple of big hits, and a 43-yard interception return to provide the exclamation point in Lubbock.
Special-teams players of the week: Oklahoma State returner Justin Gilbert, Iowa State returner DeVondrick Nealy and Texas kicker Anthony Fera.
With former Oklahoma State great Barry Sanders in attendance, Gilbert pulled off his best Sanders impression, taking the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.
Nealy opened the third quarter against TCU with a 98-yard TD return that tied the game.
As he has been all year, Fera was clutch in Texas' overtime win at West Virginia. He converted all five of his extra points and all four of his field goals, including the 24-yarder in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. Fera has missed only one field goal attempt all season, and the four makes at West Virginia were a career-best.
Play of the week: With 59 seconds to play, Texas faced fourth-and-7 trailing West Virginia 40-37. Out of a timeout, QB Case McCoy stepped into the blitz and delivered a first-down strike to Jaxon Shipley a yard ahead of the marker. Fera ended the drive with a game-tying field goal, then the Longhorns prevailed in overtime to win their sixth straight game.
Stat of the week: After surrendering an average of 7.0 yards per carry in losses to BYU and Ole Miss, the Texas defense has held its past six opponents to a combined average of 3.2, with nobody topping more than 4.0 in a game.
Quote of the week: "We're not a tradition. But we're going to be here awhile, the way this thing is going." -- Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, after the Bears' 41-12 win over Oklahoma
Baylor’s Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, however, have a chance to top that list.
Depending on how they finish, Reese and Goodley could wind up becoming the best duo in Big 12 history. But they aren’t the only big-time duos in the Big 12 this year.
Kansas State’s Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett have been lighting it up since returning from injury. The last two weeks the two have totaled five touchdown catches.
Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard lead the Sooners with five touchdowns apiece. Texas Tech’s Eric Ward and Jakeem Grant are fifth and sixth in the league in receiving. Oklahoma State’s Josh Stewart and Tracy Moore are beginning to warm up with Clint Chelf at QB. And Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis have been stalwarts in this league for years.
But who are the best tandems ever to play Big 12? We lay it out below.
Tight ends were not included (sorry Jermaine Gresham and Chase Coffman). The tandems were evaluated on what they accomplished together, not on whether their careers simply overlapped (eliminating Jeremy Maclin and Danario Alexander, for example); and, this is a list for duos, not singles, trios or quartets (apologies to Rashaun Woods, and the 2008 Oklahoma and 2010 Baylor receiving corps).
To the list:
1. Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin, West Virginia (2012): In their only year in the league, this tandem was one-two in the Big 12 in receiving, combining for 224 receptions and 2,914 receiving yards. Bailey himself had 25 receiving touchdowns; nobody else in the league had more than 13. Austin, meanwhile, also rushed for 344 yards in one game at running back. As Bailey tweeted out earlier Monday morning on this topic, “case closed.”
2. Michael Crabtree and Danny Amendola, Texas Tech (2007): Crabtree got all the headlines in 2007 on his way to winning his first of two Biletnikoff awards. But out of the slot, Amendola quietly put up 109 receptions for 1,245 yards, as Tech went 9-4.
3. Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby, Texas (2008): Shipley and Cosby starred on one of the three best Big 12 teams that didn’t win a conference title. The two each had 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit TDs from QB Colt McCoy, as the Longhorns finished the year 12-1, their only loss coming on Crabtree’s game-winning touchdown in the final seconds in Lubbock. The two were also prolific on special teams, with Shipley’s kick return touchdown sparking Texas’ 45-35 comeback win over Oklahoma.
4. Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State (2011): As with Crabtree-Amendola, Blackmon got all the attention on his way to a second Biletnikoff award. But Cooper was a pivotal piece in OSU’s first Big 12 title team, as he racked up 71 receptions out of the slot. Blackmon, of course, had a monster year with 121 catches and 18 touchdowns.
5. Kendall Wright and Terrance Williams, Baylor (2011): Reese was actually the third wheel to this duo, which shined with RGIII at quarterback. Wright was an All-American with 108 catches, 1,663 yard and 14 touchdowns. Williams was big time, too, finishing fifth in the Big 12 in receiving before taking over the No. 1 role in 2012.
6. Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, Oklahoma (2010): Broyles led college football with 131 receptions on his way to becoming the all-time FBS leader in career catches. Stills broke OU’s freshman single-season receiving record, as the Sooners stormed back to capture the Big 12 crown after a pair of midseason losses.
7. Kerry Meier and Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas (2008): It might be difficult to remember now, but the Jayhawks used to play some ball. Meier tied Crabtree for second in the league with 97 receptions. Briscoe trailed only Dez Bryant with 1,402 receiving yards. This was an underrated duo.
8. Quincy Morgan and Aaron Lockett, Kansas State (1999): On one of the first passing teams in the Big 12, Morgan and Lockett shined. Morgan had 42 receptions for 1,007 yards and nine touchdowns and was a first-team all-conference selection. Lockett, Tyler Lockett's uncle, was a second-team all-league pick for the Wildcats, who went 11-1 and finished the year ranked sixth in the polls.
9. Mark Clayton and Travis Wilson, Oklahoma (2004): Clayton carried the moniker of best receiver in OU history until Broyles came around. Because of Adrian Peterson, Clayton’s numbers dipped in ’04, but he was still an All-American with 66 catches. Wilson led the Sooners with 11 TD grabs, as OU advanced to a second consecutive national championship game.
10. Jarrett Hicks and Joel Filani, Texas Tech (2005): Neither might be a household name around the Big 12 anymore, but these two were both first-team All-Big 12 selections in ’05 along with Iowa State WR Todd Blythe.
To the 'bag:
Matt in Kansas writes: The Kansas Jayhawks are going to prove you wrong. Can't wait for the Hawks to prove the non-believers wrong!!
Jake Trotter: It wasn’t me who called your squad a “pile of crap.”
Dan in Atlanta writes: It seems the comments from the West Virginia coaching staff about true freshman WR Daikiel Shorts mirror the camp praise heaped on Karl Joseph last year. Déjà vu all over again?
Jake Trotter: Shorts has turned heads this fall, no doubt. It would not surprise me at all if he eventually earned a starting job -- especially if he stays at inside receiver, where he was moved to last week. The Mountaineers have an opening there, and Shorts could fill it.
Pete in Paw Paw, Mich., writes: I see that Jake’s chats are very Texas and Oklahoma heavy. He mentioned it in one the week previous. I would suggest putting a notice that one is coming up with him on the Big 12 Blog to get more diverse questions. It can only help. Thanks.
Jake Trotter: Quick PSA announcement: starting next week, my Big 12 chat on SportsNation will be moved to Tuesdays at 11 a.m. CST. Colleague Brandon Chatmon will also be holding a chat on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. CST.
Randall in Arlington, Texas, writes: There is no doubt that the SEC has outperformed the Big 12 in football over the last decade and appears they will continue to do so in the near future. Looking at how the SEC has only expanded in recent years into states with rich football cultures, how reliant do you think the Big 12 is on Texas players for their talent and how will their inability to pull away talent away from southern states continue to factor into the disparity between the SEC and Big 12?
Jake Trotter: Texas high school talent is the lifeblood of the Big 12. When SEC powers pluck players away from the Lone Star State, those are players that otherwise would be going go the Big 12. Texas A&M’s SEC exodus has placed the Big 12 in precarious position with respect to recruiting. The Aggies have a strong pitch they can now make to prospects: stay close to home and play in the best conference in college football. It’s an appealing case. Texas A&M being in the SEC has also cracked the door wider for the likes of LSU and Alabama to make inroads in Texas. The Big 12 must continue opening up other pipelines, while reinforcing to Texas kids that staying in the Big 12 is the best thing for them.
Zion in Chester, Va., writes: Hey man! Love the mailbag! Do you think that Karl Joseph and Darwin Cook are the best safety combination in the big 12?
Jake Trotter: I might give TCU the slight edge here. Sam Carter and Elisha Olabode are All-Big 12-caliber players. But West Virginia’s twosome is right there. Iowa State, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have solid safety duos, as well.
Michael in Clyde, Kan., writes: Are there really no Big 12 teams that have top 10 potential this year? Or is the polls just overrating and putting the SEC teams in there too high? I know the SEC is actually good, but with Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in the same division they can't all be a top 10 teams.
Jake Trotter: Well, five SEC teams finished in the top 10 of the final AP poll last year, so actually they can. But the Big 12 has almost as many top 10 potentials, even if just one team finishes there.
Tom in OKC writes: Will 10-2 win the Big 12 title this year? If so, do you think there is a possibility of a 3-way tie?
Jake Trotter: I don’t really see a 12-0 team in the conference this season; so yeah, 10-2 could definitely win the league. And yeah, because of the parity, there’s opportunity for the first three-way tie since 2008. One obvious scenario in which this happens: OU beats Texas in Dallas; Texas beats OSU in Austin; OSU beats OU in Stillwater; and they all lose one other game along the way. All three would then be 7-2 in the league.
Andy in Austin writes: OK, my nickname for Jaxon Shipley tanked last mailbag. But I will make believers of you all! Let me explain: Shipley is smooth like caramel, his playmaking makes your eyes pop, and, let’s be honest, you've got to be a bit nutty to hang yourself out there for a catch over the middle. Also, I have another UT player nickname for you: Quandre “The Giant” Diggs.
Jake Trotter: Last week, I put Andy on a mailbag ban. The masses, however, clamored for me to give him another chance. So I did. And behold, look what happened. This is not my responsibility. It’s yours. Own it.
OU’s thirrd-and-8 conversion on its first possession
Stopping the run will be a high priority for the Sooners against a UT offense averaging 209 rushing yards per game. Through five games, Joe Bergeron , Malcolm Brown  and Johnathan Gray  have formed a balanced trip. Brown is nursing a ankle injury and could miss the Red River Rivalry after sitting out last week against West Virginia.
Fortunately for the Sooners, their secondary appears built to perform.
Cornerbacks Demontre Hurst and Aaron Colvin have been outstanding, safeties Javon Harris and Tony Jefferson are ranked 1-2 in tackles and nickelbacks Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson have held their own thrown into action in passing situations. Against Texas Tech, OU allowed 271 yards passing to a squad that entered the game ranked No. 7 nationally with 358.8 passing yards per contest.
“I thought the guys were excellent the last several games,” OU head coach Bob Stoops said. “They’ve really covered well (against) a team (Texas Tech) you don’t hold down much.”
For the Sooners, those six defenders could be a key to winning on Saturday. If the Sooners can consistently win their one-on-one battles against UT’s receivers, OU can feel confident loading the box and stopping the run, knowing they’ll be covered on the backend and won’t give up several game-changing catches.
“We all expect each other to be accountable,” Harris said. “We’re accountable to each other, we’ve play together all the time. We just want to get better every game, knowing those guys are out there it just helps you play at little more loose because you know the plays that sometimes happen, aren’t going to happen.”
They can’t happen on Saturday if the Sooners expect to prevail. The Longhorns have 20 pass plays of 20-plus yards this season with Jaxon Shipley, Mike Davis, Marquis Goodwin and Daje Johnson each multiple making catches of over 20 yards this season.
While the battle in the trenches is always critical, the battle on the outside could be just as important on Saturday. OU has passed the test through four games, we’ll see if they continue to earn a passing grade against the Longhorns.