Oklahoma Sooners: Oklahoma Sooners

We've been doing something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.
As the debate about whether the NCAA should pay college athletes continues, Minnesota Vikings and former Oklahoma star running back Adrian Peterson weighed in strongly on the issue Wednesday.

"Johnny Manziel made Texas A&M so much money," he said. "When I was at Oklahoma, they made so much money."


When Peterson was at Oklahoma, he said, his first daughter was born, adding responsibilities to his plate outside of "playing football and going to class."

"Nobody wants to live in the dorms for four years," Peterson said. "You see the guys who are older, and they have responsibilities. I feel like, as much money as universities make, some of that should come down to the players, as well."

Peterson also spoke out against NBA commissioner Adam Silver's comments that basketball players should stay in school for two years.

"They're trying to make basketball players go two years in college. Wow. I wonder why?" Peterson said. "Think about it -- just imagine if LeBron James had been in college for two years. How much money would that college have made off LeBron James? They would have made so much money off LeBron James. It's about the freedom to do as you want and make your own decisions."

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
PM ET
One Shining Moment...
  • Injuries have been hampering Iowa State this spring, reports the Associated Press' Luke Meredith. The Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson calls it ridiculous for anyone to think Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads is on the hot seat.
  • Oklahoma State fans who snubbed the "Orange Blitz" practice missed a good show, in the opinion of The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson. The paper's Berry Tramel says there's no doubt that J.W. Walsh is the Cowboys' starting QB.
  • The Tulsa World's Jimmie Tramel writes that Oklahoma State cornerbacks Kevin peterson and Ashton Lampkin have pushed each other to be better via their friendly rivalry.
  • Kansas' seniors are hoping to go out on a high note, writes the Topeka Capital-Journal's Jeff Deters.
  • TCU picked up a commitment from a versatile playmaker.
  • Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops weighed in on the potential unionization of college athletes, in this interview with the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig. An ex-Texas Tech player sides with the players on this issue, in this interview with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams.
  • RG III now has his own logo.
  • This is an impressive Baylor wedding cake.
  • A judge denied a motion for a new trial for former Baylor defensive end Tevin Elliott, who was convicted of a 2012 sexual assault, reports the Waco Tribune-Herald's Tommy Witherspoon.
  • West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen thinks having a spring game is still a big deal, he tells the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Chris Adamski.
We've done something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To send a mailbag question via Twitter going forward, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You can also still send in questions and comments to the mailbag here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: Right away? Very little chance. The TCU coaching staff seems to be relatively content with the way Trevone Boykin has performed in the new offense this spring. Down the line, Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could get a shot, especially if Boykin struggles or the offense bogs down like it did last year. But I feel fairly confident Boykin will open as TCU's starter.
Trotter: I don't think there's any doubt that running back Alex Ross has created the most buzz this spring among the young offensive players not named Trevor Knight. The assumption around Norman was Keith Ford would swiftly win the starting job after contributing to the running back rotation ahead of Ross last season despite being a year younger. But Ross has turned heads in the Sooners' closed scrimmages, and is carving out a role in the OU backfield, whether he starts or not.
Trotter: I got out of the business of predicting verbal commitments a long time ago. But I will say this: having Jarrett Stidham, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB, already on board is going to make a huge difference for the Red Raiders in a bunch of these battles. He will prove to be an invaluable recruiter, and should sway several high-profile prospects out there to give Texas Tech a second and third look it might not get otherwise.
Trotter: Odds are the Cowboys lose to the defending national champs no matter who they start at quarterback. I doubt J.W. Walsh would lose the job (assuming he starts) based on that one game alone. Daxx Garman has been impressive this spring, and I love the potential of Mason Rudolph. But it could take a while for either to unseat Walsh, whose experience trumps all right now.
Trotter: The three guys I'd be watching for would be safety Steven Parker II, slot receiver Michiah Quick and running back Joe Mixon. The Sooners are in good shape at safety, but blue-chip true freshmen like Parker II have a history of playing immediately in the secondary in the Bob Stoops era. Sterling Shepard is going to need help at receiver, and Quick has the explosiveness to break into the rotation right away. Mixon was one of the best running back recruits in the country, and is probably too talented to redshirt.

YK Lee in Fort Wort, Texas, writes: On College Football Live, comments were made that the Big 12 champ (if OU or Baylor) would be in trouble for the playoffs due to non-conference schedules. But no mention was made of Alabama's non-conference schedule, which includes an FCS team. Why does ESPN seem to have a bone to pick against the Big 12?

Trotter: Are we seriously going to do this every week? To recap from last Friday, here's who else Alabama has scheduled out-of-conference the last five years: West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State and Clemson. Alabama also plays in the toughest conference in college football. There's just no comparison between Alabama's schedule and Baylor's. And while I didn't see it, I'm sure the gist of the College Football Live segment was to point out that a one-loss Baylor has virtually no shot of advancing to the College Football Playoff against, say, a second SEC team with the same record, due to the Bears' lackluster non-conference scheduling, which includes just one opponent (Duke) from the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten or ACC up to 2019.

ImFasterThanYa writes: Will a Big 12 ref throw a flag when I run through the end zone after scoring a touchdown because it takes several steps for me to turn off the engines?

Trotter: Tyreek Hill could score as many touchdowns as Forest Gump did that one year for Alabama. As you imply, the Oklahoma State transfer can flat out fly.

Katie in Sugar Land, Texas, writes: I love the new Big 12, but I feel we need more rivalries. Texas-Oklahoma is a staple of the conference. But what else is there? After all, great rivalries are the major mark of a great conference.

Trotter: Bedlam has become a great rivalry. But you're right, conference realignment has pretty much destroyed all the other notable ones in the league (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Texas Tech-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska). This has really hurt the league, but what can be done? College football rivalries aren't forged overnight.
The 2013 season featured the most improbable of Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year winners.

As a walk-on, Baker Mayfield won Texas Tech’s quarterback job during the preseason, then went 5-0 as a starter before injuring his knee.

A surprise candidate could always capture the award again next season. But the league also features several formidable front-runners -- starting with Baylor’s K.D. Cannon.

As the No. 4 wide receiver recruit in the country, Cannon had offers everywhere from Florida State to Notre Dame. But the Mount Pleasant, Texas, native elected to remain in-state, giving the Bears offense yet another dangerous weapon to operate with.

SportsNation

Which of these players will win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year?

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Cannon will have to earn his way into the rotation, as Baylor has several experienced and talented receivers coming back in Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller, Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes, who was a blue-chip signee in the previous class. But Cannon is a polished prospect who will be tough to keep off the field.

Iowa State’s Allen Lazard is another polished prospect who is capable of carving out a significant role on his offense. Lazard was the gem of the Cyclones’ signing class, and was hotly pursued by Notre Dame and Iowa up to signing day. The Cyclones bring back Quenton Bundrage, who was third in the league last year in touchdown receptions and South Florida transfer D'Vario Montgomery is also now eligible. But coach Paul Rhoads has already indicated Lazard will play right away.

It’s unclear at this point whether Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph will play right away. The Cowboys bring back J.W. Walsh, who has started eight games over the last two years. Walsh, however, struggled with his completion percentage and decision-making last season, which could crack the door for Rudolph to make a run at the starting job. Rudolph is perhaps the most highly touted quarterback recruit Oklahoma State has ever signed. As a senior, the four-star product threw for 64 touchdowns while leading his South Carolina high school to a state title.

Kansas State signee Dalvin Warmack also won a state title. Two in a row, in fact. Over his final two seasons for Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, Warmack rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost nine yards per carry. With John Hubert gone and no back with more than five carries last season returning, the Wildcats have a gaping void in their backfield. Warmack will have his chance in the fall to fill it.

Carries aren’t so readily available in Norman, Okla., where former blue-chip running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross currently top the depth chart. But Joe Mixon, Oklahoma’s top incoming recruit, might be too explosive to redshirt or keep on the sidelines. The nation’s sixth-best running back recruit had offers from almost every major BCS program, but settled on Oklahoma because his idol, Adrian Peterson, also went there. Mixon racked up 1,704 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns his last year at Freedom (Calif.) High School, and by winning MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Game, he showed he’s ready to help the Sooners from Day 1.

Of course, there are others who could contend for Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. Baylor signed three other blue-chip receivers in this year’s class. Oklahoma State running back Devon Thomas has already impressed this spring after enrolling early. The Sooners are bringing in several talented pass-catchers, including ESPN 300 slot man Michiah Quick.

Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could potentially win TCU’s starting quarterback competition once they arrive on campus. Texas’ Jerrod Heard won’t be stepping into the most stable of quarterback situations in Austin, either. The same goes for West Virginia’s William Crest in Morgantown.

Of course, like Mayfield last year, the league’s Offensive Freshman of the Year could always emerge out of nowhere.

Now, we ask you to weigh in. Of the favorites -- Cannon, Lazard, Rudolph, Warmack and Mixon -- who is the best bet to win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year?
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
In today's mailbag, we discuss Baylor's nonconference scheduling, Texas Tech's recruiting momentum and Kansas State's chances against Auburn.

To the 'bag:

J.J. in Tumalo, Ore., writes: Incarnate Word? Does Baylor have a scintilla of competitive desire? Not only does this reflect poorly on Baylor it reflects poorly on the entire Big 12. This is an embarrassment to entire conference.

Trotter: Funny, I actually drove by Incarnate Word on Thursday on my way from the airport to the hotel here in San Antonio, where I’m covering one of the NCAA pods. The thought that went through my mind was, “Watch out, Baylor -- the Cardinals will be coming!” Baylor scheduling Incarnate Word alone is not the issue. Baylor scheduling Incarnate Word in the context of also scheduling SMU, Northwestern State, Buffalo, Lamar, Rice, UTSA, Duke and, gasp, Liberty is the issue. Such weak nonconference slates essentially mean Baylor has no margin for error in terms of making a College Football Playoff. It’s also not very exciting for the fans, either. The big-time programs in college football play big-time nonconference games. Texas is playing UCLA this season. Oklahoma has a home-and-home coming up with Ohio State. The rest of the league, notably Oklahoma State (Florida State), West Virginia (Alabama) and even Kansas State (Auburn), have also upped the ante in scheduling. The Bears might be performing like a big-time program on the field lately. But they are not scheduling like one.


Joshua Parson in Lubbock, Texas, writes: What should we expect out of Texas Tech in Year 2 under Kliff Kingsbury?

Trotter: I expect them to be better. They obviously can’t replace Jace Amaro. There’s just no player like him on their roster, or anyone’s roster for that matter. But having an experienced quarterback in Davis Webb should make a huge difference. The defense ought to be more comfortable in its second season in Matt Wallerstedt's 3-4 scheme. The key game is that Thursday night tilt at Oklahoma State in late September. If the Red Raiders can escape Stillwater, against a young Cowboy team, with a victory, then eight or nine wins is definitely within reach.


Josh in Wichita, Kan., writes: With the Big Dance going, who is the one basketball player from each tourney team that could impact his school’s football team?

Trotter: I like this. My seven would be: Marcus Smart, Ryan Spangler, Thomas Gipson, Melvin Ejim, Wayne Selden, Jr., Cory Jefferson and Cameron Ridley. The latter six seem to be tight end/defensive end types; I could see Smart being a ball-hawking safety the way he can anticipate. The dark horse here would be Markel Brown, who, with some more build, could be a ridiculous jump-ball wide receiver with that vertical.


Robert in West Columbia, Texas, writes: What is the deal with Alex Ross, why a no show on the field at Oklahoma as of yet?

Trotter: The Sooners had four senior running backs last season, and a tremendous freshman prospect in Keith Ford. There just weren’t enough carries to go around for Ross. But this spring, I’m hearing great things about Ross. Apparently he tore it up in a mini-scrimmage the Sooners had last week. It sounds like Ross will be a big part of the backfield next season, and with him, Ford and incoming blue-chip back Joe Mixon, the Sooners could have one scary three-headed monster at running back for years to come.


Dave in Boston writes: I know it's too soon for projected Big 12 power rankings, so with that in mind, which teams are going to be better (in terms of talent or scheme) this year than last year? Who will be worse?

Trotter: I think this could be a rebuilding year for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys lost a ton of key players off last season’s team. Oklahoma and Kansas State should be Big 12 title contenders, a year after being out of the mix. It’s also hard to see TCU and Iowa State not winning more games than they did in 2013. Texas could go either way.


J.D. Moore in Austin, Texas, writes: Kliff is rolling. Will Tech do better in recruiting since they landed the five-star dual-threat QB? Thanks for all the good work that ya'll do. Guns Up!

Trotter: Recruiting is largely about momentum. After sputtering up to the final month in recruiting, Oklahoma closed like crazy on the trail following the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama to finish with the best class in the league. Likewise, the Red Raiders could generate some major momentum from landing Jarrett Stidham, who had offers from every power in the country. Pitching the opportunity to play with Stidham won’t do anything but help Tech on the recruiting trail.


Matt in Wamego, Kan., writes: Jake, my friend, help me out. How important is it that Kansas has its starting QB coming out of spring ball?

Trotter: Matt, I don’t think it’s a must. In fact, it’s probably not very realistic, considering the scheme and offensive coordinator (John Reagan) are new. Unless T.J. Millweard comes in and blows Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart away this spring, this is a competition that will probably take time to get resolved -- perhaps even into the season.


Steve in Phoenix writes: K-State always shows improvement when Bill Snyder gets a QB back for 2 years in a row. The defense has a lot less holes to fill that at this time last year and could be better. Auburn has lost some major talent on the offensive side of the ball. Given these facts, what are the chances that K-State pulls the upset this year in Manhappiness?

Trotter: I’m not ready to pick this game, but I think K-State has a great chance. If the Wildcats can find the answer at running back, this has a chance to be a very dynamic offense considering the way Jake Waters improved at QB last season. I also love the junior college talent coming in on the defensive side at the right spots. Auburn is going to be formidable again. But K-State has a chance to be really good, too. Feel free to give way to optimism.
The 2013 season featured one of the most competitive races for Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, with at least a half-dozen defenders in the mix.

Ultimately, Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett shared the award. Both are now gone, leaving the race wide open again in 2014. But the league will still have several formidable candidates for the award.

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTCU's Devonte Fields had a sophomore season to forget, but has the talent to be one of the Big 12's best defensive players.
Going into last season, returning TCU defensive end Devonte Fields was actually the favorite to grab the honor. After all, as a true freshman in 2012, he captured the Associated Press’ Defensive Player of the Year award in the league (Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown won the coaches' honor). But after wreaking havoc as a rookie, Fields was not a factor in his second year. He was slapped with an offseason suspension that sidelined him in the opener against LSU. When he returned, he looked out of shape and was hardly the same player. And then Fields suffered a foot injury that ultimately forced a season-ending procedure in October. Despite a disappointing sophomore campaign, he still has the talent to be one of the most destructive defensive forces in college football.

Fields isn’t the only league defender coming back who is capable of getting to the quarterback.

Kansas State end Ryan Mueller, Texas end Cedric Reed and Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker ranked second, third and fourth in the Big 12 behind Jeffcoat in sacks last season.

In his first season as a starter, Mueller emerged from nowhere to become one of the best all-around defenders in the conference. He led the Wildcats in sacks, tackles for loss, quarterback hurries and forced fumbles. In a league stacked at defensive end, Mueller became a first-team All-Big 12 selection.

Reed was just as prolific as Mueller, but was overshadowed playing alongside Jeffcoat. Reed led the Big 12 in forced fumbles, and was virtually unblockable around the edge by the end of the season. Reed considered an early jump to the NFL, but elected to return to anchor coach Charlie Strong’s first defense at Texas.

But as good as Mueller and Reed were, no Big 12 defender had a stronger finish to the season than Striker. In his first year as a starter, the sophomore flashed signs of his potential in September, hammering Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees on the game’s third play to force a pick-six. By the bowl season, not even two-time defending national champion Alabama could contain him. Striker racked up three sacks in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and jarred the ball loose from Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron in the final minute that led to an Oklahoma touchdown to seal the stunning win.

SportsNation

Of these candidates, who is the best bet to win Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2014?

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Several other players in the conference are capable of breaking into the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year discussion. The Baylor defensive line duo of tackle Andrew Billings and end Shawn Oakman is stacked with potential. Oklahoma’s Geneo Grissom finally unlocked his with three sacks and a touchdown fumble recovery return in the Sugar Bowl, and could be primed for a big senior season. Fellow Sooners defensive end Charles Tapper was the only underclassman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. Texas’ Jordan Hicks could be as good as any linebacker in the league if he could ever stay healthy. And on top of Fields, the TCU defense features safety Sam Carter and tackle Chucky Hunter, who have been stalwarts in the Big 12 the last two years.

But only five players can be included in this poll. And Baylor inside linebacker Bryce Hager, who has as much experience as any player in the league, netted the final slot. Hager will be a three-year starter, and he led the Big 12 in tackles his sophomore season, in which he earned second-team all-conference honors. Hager repeated the honor last year despite missing the final month of the season with a hernia injury that required offseason surgery. When healthy, Hager is as sure a tackler as any returning defender in the league.

Now, it's your chance to weigh in: Of Hager, Fields, Mueller, Reed and Striker, who is the best bet to capture Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors next season?
Every year, true freshmen enroll in college early to participate in spring ball, often with hopes of augmenting their chances for playing time in the fall. More times than not, it doesn’t work out that way.

Last year, 21 high school seniors enrolled early in the Big 12. Below is a breakdown of the outcomes from their first college seasons:

Baylor
QB Chris Johnson: A highly-touted, four-star signee, Johnson got a valuable extra spring working under coach Art Briles. But Bryce Petty was healthy and tremendous all season and Seth Russell proved to be a more than a viable backup, prompting Johnson to redshirt. After Petty and then Russell, Johnson appears to be the next in a budding line of superb Baylor QBs.

Iowa State
OT Shawn Curtis: Curtis was the top recruit in the Cyclones' 2013 class. Though Jacob Gannon and Brock Dagel seem entrenched at the tackle positions, Curtis will have ample opportunity to work into the two-deep this fall.

LB Alton Meeks: The versatile Meeks settled in as a linebacker in Ames. He too redshirted, and he too could step into the two-deep next season.

Kansas
DB Colin Spencer: Spencer, who redshirted last season, was recruited as a defensive back but has since been moved to halfback/flanker with the Jayhawks looking for pass-catching help.

Kansas State
K Matthew McCrane: Watched as Jack Cantele won the starting place-kicking job as a sophomore. Will have to wait awhile before getting another shot.

Oklahoma
WR Dannon Cavil: Cavil turned heads with his combination of size and speed in the spring, and he seemed primed to break into the receiving rotation. But that never happened, and he wound up redshirting. With 2013 starters Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester gone, Cavil will have another chance at playing time this spring.

S Ahmad Thomas: Thomas created a buzz in the spring, but couldn’t topple veterans Quentin Hayes, Gabe Lynn and Julian Wilson. He is vying for a starting job this spring and figures to be a key part of the secondary in 2014.

DE D.J. Ward: The No. 1-rated player from the state of Oklahoma, Ward endured qualifying issues that kept him from participating for much of spring ball. Then during the preseason, he had to have his spleen removed, which forced a redshirt. Ward has talent, but he needs to catch a break.


Oklahoma State
DE Naim Mustafaa: The Cowboys swiped this four-star recruit just in time to get him enrolled for spring ball. But Mustafaa left the team over the summer. He landed at Miami, but he bolted from there too during the season.

Texas
LB Deoundrei Davis: Davis spent the year redshirting and recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in high school. The Longhorns remain stacked at linebacker, so Davis will have another season to improve his strength and agility.

C Jake Raulerson: Raulerson also redshirted, giving him the opportunity to bulk up as he moved to the interior of the line. He should back up senior Dominic Espinosa this season and is on track to be the center of the future.

QB Tyrone Swoopes: Former coach Mack Brown controversially pulled Swoopes’ redshirt midway through the season, but Swoopes never unseated Case McCoy and attempted only 13 passes the entire season. Swoopes has all the tools, but will need to show more polish this spring to make a serious run at Texas’ influx starting quarterback job.

TCU
QB Zach Allen: The Horned Frogs had massive issues at the quarterback spot after Casey Pachall suffered a broken forearm, but Allen never was called on for help and redshirted instead. He’s battling Trevone Boykin and Tyler Matthews for the job this spring, and the pressure will be on to make an impression to the new offensive regime, with Grayson Muehlstein and Foster Sawyer set to join the QB competition over the summer.

TE Bryson Burtnett: After redshirting last season, Burtnett could help the Horned Frogs as a blocking tight end this fall.

OT Eason Fromayan: Also redshirted last season. Tackle is a position of concern for TCU, but there are other options that appear to be ahead of him in the pecking order early in spring ball.

Texas Tech
QB Davis Webb: Kliff Kingsbury’s first QB signee, Webb had quite the rollercoaster first season. With the favorite to start, Michael Brewer, ailing with a back injury, Webb had a golden opportunity to seize the starting job. Instead, walk-on freshman Baker Mayfield beat him out. Webb made the most of his opportunities when they came, though. After Mayfield suffered a knee injury, Webb led Tech to a come-from-behind win at West Virginia. After Mayfield transferred, Webb delivered one of the best bowl performances of any QB, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in a convincing win over heavily-favored Arizona State. As the only scholarship QB currently on campus, Webb is finally the clear-cut starter going into 2014. And if he builds on his bowl showing, he could have a monster sophomore campaign.

West Virginia
LB Hodari Christian: Christian redshirted last season. Considering the Mountaineers are loaded with experience at linebacker, it could be some time before Christian steps onto the field defensively.

S Malik Greaves: Greaves too redshirted in 2013 and is currently listed this spring as the third-team “spur” linebacker behind K.J. Dillon and Marvin Gross.

QB Chavas Rawlins: Rawlins went through spring ball with the Mountaineers, but he left the program after spring ball because the coach that had recruited him, Jake Spavital, left West Virginia to become the quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. Rawlins ended up enrolling at Duquesne.

WR Daikiel Shorts: Shorts was arguably the most impressive true freshman during the preseason for West Virginia and ended up starting nine games. He also tied for the team lead with 45 receptions and figures to be a playmaking cornerstone in Morgantown.

RB Wendell Smallwood: Smallwood started out helping on special teams, but he eventually carved out a role on the offense as a third-team running back behind Charles Sims and Dreamius Smith. He finished the season with 221 rushing yards on 39 carries. Even though carries will be competitive to get again, Smallwood’s versatility should cement him a role in the offense.
Once again, it’s Take Two Tuesday, when we give our takes on a burning question related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: Which Big 12 redshirt freshman defender will have the biggest breakout season in 2014?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon

Something tells me that Big 12 reporters and editors alike will have to become diligent in our spelling of the name Ranthony Texada.

The TCU cornerback has a name that will draw early attention but I have a feeling his game will start to garner more and more attention during his first season on the field for the Horned Frogs.

At 5-foot-10 but only 160 pounds, Texada isn’t going to be an overwhelming physical force on the perimeter for TCU. But size limitations didn’t stop two-time All-Big 12 cornerback Jason Verrett.

Texada has exceptional speed which could help him to overcome any size or strength concerns, especially if he’s competitive and aggressive. He has the physical tools to step in for Verrett alongside Kevin White as the Horned Frogs starting cornerback duo. Once he gets comfortable and starts to mature, he could become a breakout defender.

Make no mistake, Texada will have early bumps in the road as teams try to attack him as the potential weak link in an superb TCU secondary. He hasn’t even secured the starting job yet but his physical tools will be tough to overlook. If he has the mental toughness and competitive nature to shake off getting picked on constantly, he could be a key contributor on TCU’s defense and help lessen the blow of losing one of the top cornerbacks in the nation.

Take 2: Jake Trotter

Texada might be the Big 12 redshirt freshman defender most likely to secure a starting job coming out of the spring.

But ask any Oklahoma player who the most impressive redshirt freshman in closed practices was last fall, and you’ll pretty much get the same answer -- defensive tackle Charles Walker.

In December, cornerback Zack Sanchez called Walker a “monster.”

Center Gabe Ikard used the word “animal,” and said Walker might be “the most explosive guy” on the entire team.

Nothing over winter workouts curbed the hype, either, as Walker was clocked running the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds, shattering the Oklahoma DT record in the Bob Stoops era set by All-American Tommie Harris (4.80) in 2003.

“Charles has really been impressive,” Stoops said. “He had a great fall. He’s up to about 300 pounds now, light on his feet. So Charles really has a bright future. He’s going to be a big factor in that defensive line.”

It will be interesting to see where Walker fits into the D-line rotation, considering the Sooners bring everyone back from last season. Returners Chuka Ndulue and Jordan Wade both made starts inside, and Jordan Phillips was having an All-Big 12 caliber season through the first four games before suffering a season-ending back injury.

Yet even with those players back, it might be difficult -- if not impossible -- to keep Walker off the field. And if his rapid development continues, Walker could turn into one of the more menacing defensive tackles in the entire league.
NORMAN, Okla. -- It was a single play in a single game that signaled the imminent return of the Oklahoma defense to levels of its former glorious past.

With one minute to go in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Sooner linebacker Eric Striker came barreling around the line. After beating left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, who might be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Striker leveled Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and stripped the ball loose. Flying in from the other side, Sooner end Geneo Grissom scooped up the fumble and rumbled in for the game-clinching touchdown.

After several seasons of relative mediocrity, the Oklahoma defense finally rediscovered its swagger in that 45-31 Sugar Bowl win over the two-time defending national champs.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Sean Gardner/Getty ImagesEric Striker celebrated after sacking AJ McCarron in the Sugar Bowl.
And buoyed by nine returning starters, several rising stars and one giant feather in a houndstooth cap, the Sooners have carried that swagger into the spring.

“The Sugar Bowl gave us a good boost,” said defensive end Charles Tapper, who was the only defensive underclassman to earn first-team All-Big 12 honors last year. “Knowing we kinda dominated Alabama’s offensive line, that the whole defense just dominated Alabama a little bit -- just a great way to come into the 2014 season.”

It wasn’t long ago the swagger of the Selmon Brothers and “Superman” Roy Williams and “The Boz” seemed lost forever.

The Sooners ended the 2012 season capitulating to Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, who humiliated them in the Cotton Bowl while becoming just the second player ever to rush and pass for more than 200 yards in a bowl game (Vince Young in the 2006 Rose Bowl was the other). The final month that season, Oklahoma couldn’t pressure the passer. Couldn’t stop the run. And couldn’t win without getting a half-a-hundred from its offense.

But thanks a scheme change from four to three down linemen last offseason that commanded a more blitz-oriented style, as well as a successful bid to bring Michigan defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to Norman, the Sooners rapidly improved defensively last season despite playing several new starters.

Spurred by the emergence of underclassmen like Striker, Tapper and the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, linebacker Dominique Alexander, that improvement finally culminated in New Orleans.

The Sooners didn’t play perfectly against Alabama. But they sacked the Heisman runner-up seven times, and forced three turnovers that all led to Oklahoma touchdowns, capped with Grissom’s fumble return.

“As a team, things started to come together,” said coordinator Mike Stoops, who resuscitated the Sooner defense at the turn of the millennium 14 years ago and has done it again in the present in his second stint in Norman. “I think our team came together in that last game. That let us play with more confidence and swagger in the second half. Even when things got tough, I felt like our players were in control.”

With the return of almost all those players, the Sooners figure to storm into 2014 with one of the best defenses in the country.

Who knows, maybe the best.

Virtually the entire defensive line comes back, including Grissom and Tapper, who team up to give the Sooners a destructive duo off the edge.

Inside, Oklahoma will also welcome back Jordan Phillips, who was playing at an All-Big 12 level before suffering a season-ending back injury, and redshirt freshman Charles Walker, who has been turning heads for months during closed practices. During the winter, Walker ran the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds, shattering the Bob Stoops-era defensive tackle record at Oklahoma set by All-American Tommie Harris (4.80) in 2003.

“We’re starting to gain quality players in our backup positions that can play a lot of different places trying to earn their way onto the field,” Mike Stoops said.

That hasn’t just manifested along the defensive line, either.

Oklahoma’s entire linebacking corps returns, including Striker, who has become the Big 12 version of Lawrence Taylor. The secondary is brimming with young talent, too, led by cornerback Zack Sanchez, who intercepted McCarron in the Sugar Bowl to set up a late Oklahoma touchdown at the end of the first half and give the Sooners a 31-17 lead.

“We’re so far ahead from where we were last year,” Striker said. “We got chemistry with each other. We know how to play off each other.”

That’s a scary thought for the rest of the Big 12, and maybe all of college football.

Especially if Oklahoma can keep getting to the quarterback the way it did late last season. In their final four games, the Sooners sacked opposing quarterbacks 16 times. According to ESPN Stats & Info, South Alabama’s was the only FBS defense with more during the same stretch.

“We like to get to that quarterback,” Tapper said. “On third down, we let the dogs loose. Like the cops let the dogs loose to get them bad guys, we let the dogs loose on third down.”

Though it wasn’t a third down, that’s exactly what Oklahoma did to McCarron at the end of the Sugar Bowl.

The play won the game for the Sooners. While sending a message that defensive swagger is finally back at Oklahoma.

“I feel like this is going to be a big year for us,” Tapper said. “Dominating every team in the Big 12 and just all over the country.”
In today’s mailbag, we discuss Texas Tech’s big recruiting prize, veteran quarterbacks at West Virginia and Texas and a cool idea for a Big 12-related “30 for 30.”

To the ‘bag:

Matt in Dallas writes: With news that Tech RB Kenny Williams is looking to move to OLB, will we be seeing Justin Stockton get carries as a true freshman in 2014?

Trotter: I have a hard time believing this move will stick. I suppose it’s possible Williams could help the Red Raiders in spots at outside linebacker next season. But I don’t believe it will come at the expense of his standing at running back. After Williams and DeAndre Washington, the Red Raiders aren’t exactly experienced at running back, either. Spring is the time for college football teams to experiment. For now, I don’t see this as anything more.


John in Boone, N.C., writes: Do you really think Paul Millard has any chance at winning back the QB job? Dana Holgorsen couldn't possibly make us sit through that again, could he?

Trotter: The way I see it, the only player who can beat out Clint Trickett to start the season opener is juco transfer Skyler Howard. It’s pretty clear the offense responds better to Trickett than to Millard. But it’s not clear yet how the offense might respond to Howard. With a banner spring followed up with a banner preseason, Howard could warrant a hard look.


Andy in Austin, Texas, writes: What are the chances David Ash hangs up his pads? With his NFL playing chances slim-to-none, wouldn't it be better for his health long term to retire and let Shawn Watson have more time to work with Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard?

Trotter: We’re not to this point with Ash. Sure, the concussion issues might resurface. That’s certainly a possibility. But those issues might be behind him, too. This is something that will be resolved here over the next few months. Either way, Texas is a better team with a healthy Ash. Jerrod Heard and Swoopes have potential, but Ash is the only QB on the roster who has proven he can quarterback Texas to wins in hostile environments.


Matty in Lubbock, Texas, writes: As a Red Raider fan looking forward to the future of the program, should I be more excited for Patrick Mahomes or Jarrett Stidham?

Trotter: There’s plenty to be excited about in Mahomes, who is a raw prospect for a quarterback that figures only to blossom in Kliff Kingsbury’s system. But Stidham is the No. 1 dual-threat QB recruit in the country for 2015 for a reason. Tech landed Stidham over Alabama, Auburn, Baylor, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Texas, among a host of many other suitors. In other words, snagging Stidham is the most significant recruiting victory for Texas Tech in a long, long time. Armed with Davis Webb, Mahomes and now Stidham, the Red Raiders are going to be very good at quarterback for the next several seasons.


Jake Jones in Oklahoma City writes: Hey Jake, instead of the 10-second rule I think the coaches should propose a rule on size/speed limits. Since force equals mass times acceleration, a better rule for player safety would be no players over a certain weight that can run a certain speed would be eligible to play. Thereby, slower players with less mass would result in less force and thus make the game safer. Tell Nick Saban at least that idea has physics behind it.

Trotter: Poor Nick Saban. This is the second time this week he has gotten burned by someone from the metro Oklahoma City area.


Neo in Olathe, Kan., writes: With the improved OL and a strong running game, do you think the Jayhawks have the receivers to win a conference game or two? The defense is the mighty mouse of the Big 12, but can the offense put up numbers to actually win?

Trotter: I agree. I actually think the defense is good enough for Kansas to win two or three games in the league. The Jayhawks are actually pretty solid and experienced at linebacker and in the secondary. But the Achilles' heel has been receiver, which has been an utter disaster since Dezmon Briscoe and Kerry Meier left. There is reason for hope, however, things could be better in 2014. Nick Harwell was an all-conference player at Miami (Ohio) before transferring in. If he can become a viable No. 1 option at Kansas, too, that will go a long way in the Jayhawks scoring more points, and thus, being more competitive.


Bill in Manhattan, Kan., writes: How long until there is a 30 for 30 film about my "Miracle in Manhattan", the greatest turnaround in college football history?

Trotter: I don’t think this is a bad idea at all. I would definitely watch.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
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My pick to win the Big 12 basketball tournament is looking pretty strong:
  • Ex-Iowa State DT Rodney Coe tells the Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch why he was booted off the team earlier this week.
  • West Virginia linebacker K.J. Dillon has come back bigger and stronger, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Stephen J. Nesbitt.
  • Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury answered questions on a Reddit AMA (ask me anything). Red Raiders center Tony Morales is ready to go again after dealing with injuries throughout his career, writes the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams.
  • QB Trevor Knight has welcomed his new leadership role, according to the Tulsa World's Eric Bailey. Oklahoma's Blake Bell is not missing his blue, non-contact jersey.
  • Safety Daytawion Lowe opened some eyes at Oklahoma State's pro day, reports The Oklahoman's Cody Stavenhagen. Receiver Josh Stewart improved his numbers from the combine. The Cowboys picked up an OL commitment.
  • Former Kansas State star back Darren Sproles was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a fifth-round pick.
  • Athlon gives its top Big 12 defensive backs of the BCS era.
  • A former Fiesta Bowl chief executive was sentenced to eight months in federal prison after acknowledging that he participated in an illegal campaign contribution scheme.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 13, 2014
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Get ready for the best quarterfinal round in the history of the Big 12 men's basketball tournament today.
  • The Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch answers five burning questions about Iowa State this spring.
  • Texas Tech running Kenny Williams is playing both ways this spring, reports the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's Don Williams. Redshirt freshman Josh Outlaw has been moved from guard to tackle this spring.
  • Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill chose the Cowboys because he could play football and run track, according to this profile by The Oklahoman's Cody Stavehagen.
  • Ex-Oklahoma running back Roy Finch showed scouts he can be an NFL player by running a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash at his pro day, the Oklahoman's Jason Kersey reports. Damien Williams has no hard feelings with the Sooners after being kicked off the team late last season. Williams was allowed to run in OU's pro day. Former OU cornerback Aaron Colvin, who tore his ACL at the Senior Bowl, is hoping to be sprinting again by April 23.
  • Former Oklahoma State linebacker Shaun Lewis is ready to make an impression at his pro day, The Oklahoman's John Helsley writes.
  • The Dallas Morning News' Rick Gosselin says former TCU QB Casey Pachall has as much mental toughness as any QB in the draft.

Big 12 lunchtime links

March, 11, 2014
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This can't be good for Texas' NCAA Tournament hopes.
  • Safety Lyndell Johnson, one of only five projected returning starters on the Oklahoma State defense, has left the team, coach Mike Gundy announced. The Cowboys also lost two centers, including starter Jake Jenkins, who decided to move on from football.
  • Coach Paul Rhoads is leaving all the offensive decision making to new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, according to the Des Moines Register's Randy Peterson. The Cyclones are banged up for spring ball, reports the paper's Tommy Birch.
  • Jonathan Kimble is enjoying his final days as 'The Mountaineer' mascot in this profile by The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey. Does he get to keep the musket?
  • Former Texas DB coach Duane Akina landed at Stanford.
  • After watching Kliff Kingsbury participate in a panel discussion in Austin, Texas, the USA TODAY's Laken Litman thinks the Texas Tech head man is the coolest coach in college football. The Red Raiders landed a juco offensive lineman.
  • The Tulsa World's John Hoover writes that an overnight transformation from QB to tight end is unlikely for Oklahoma's Blake Bell.
  • Baylor has sold out of season tickets for the opening season at McLane Stadium.
  • Former TCU QB Andy Dalton was back in Fort Worth, Texas, for charity.

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