In today's Big 12 mailbag, we discuss spring quarterback battles, playoff possibilities, and receivers to watch in 2015.

I hope everyone enjoys their Valentine's Day weekend. Guys, if you're wondering what to do, remember, it's always better to overshoot.

Now, on to the 'bag:

Trotter: The job is Seth Russell's to lose, but that doesn't mean he has it locked up. Russell has been solid for the most part backing up Bryce Petty the past two seasons, but he was a little shaky filling in for Petty against Texas Tech late last season. Chris Johnson is obviously in the mix and shouldn't be overlooked, but Jarrett Stidham has an impressive skill set that could allow him to ultimately win this job. It might not happen by the end of the spring. It might not happen at the start of next season. But, eventually, it could happen.

Trotter: I don't know how many of them will actually be decided before the end of the spring, but there will be several other intriguing quarterback battles to follow, including West Virginia (Skyler Howard vs. William Crest), Oklahoma (Trevor Knight vs. Baker Mayfield vs. Cody Thomas), Texas (Tyrone Swoopes vs. Jerrod Heard), K-State (Joe Hubener vs. Alex Delton) and Texas Tech (Pat Mahomes vs. Davis Webb). Who has the best chance to come out of spring as the definitive starter? My money is on Mahomes.

Trotter: I think Paul Millard's time has come and gone. Never say never, I guess, but the West Virginia quarterback battle is going to be about Howard and Crest. Millard is a nice No. 3 to have. But I don't see him winning the job.

Trotter: Tech has quarterback talent, and some receivers that have big-play potential. I also like Tech's offensive line, especially Le'Raven Clark manning left tackle. But that's where the comparisons to TCU stop. The Horned Frogs quietly had another superb defense again last season, with All-Big 12 talents littered across the defensive line (Chucky Hunter), linebacker (Paul Dawson), and the secondary (Chris Hackett, Sam Carter, Kevin White). I don't see the players right now in Lubbock. Sure Pete Robertson is a nice piece, and I'm looking forward to seeing what Breiden Fehoko and Mike Mitchell bring. But to go 11-1, you need a defense that can bring it, too. Tech has a long way to go there.

Trotter: As this season showed, it's very difficult for a conference to get two teams in the playoff. Possible, yes. But very difficult. I think the most likely scenario is that the Big 12 champion gets into the playoff as the league's lone rep. Right now, I'd give the edge to TCU over Baylor, because of the quarterback advantage and because Baylor has to go to Fort Worth this time around. If you're looking for a darkhorse, keep an eye on Oklahoma State, which ESPN Insider Brad Edwards actually has in the playoff in his early projection. The Cowboys get TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all in Stillwater, all in the final month of the season. If they get hot, they could be a factor.

Trotter: Yeah, I actually really liked both. Brick Haley had a proven track record of developing big-time defensive linemen. He's familiar with the recruiting area, too. I also liked the addition of Jeff Traylor as tight ends and special teams coach. My one concern with Charlie Strong's original staff was the lack of previous connection to Texas high school football. Traylor, who won three state championships at Gilmer High, has the relationships around the state to help bridge that gap.

Trotter: Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard returns, and would have been a 1,500-yard receiver had he not suffered a groin injury on Nov. 1 that basically knocked him out for the season. Shepard along with Baylor's Corey Coleman and KD Cannon are the top returning wideouts in the league. But some other guys flying a bit under the radar to watch for include Oklahoma State's Brandon Sheperd, Iowa State's Quenton Bundrage, and Texas Tech's Devin Lauderdale. Sheperd exploded after Mason Rudolph took over at quarterback last November; he torched Oklahoma for 156 receiving yards and two TDs in the Cowboys' upset win in Norman. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in TD catches in 2013, then missed all of last year with a knee injury; if he's healthy, he could be a force again. Finally, Lauderdale came on really strong late last season after a slow start; he had at least 80 yards receiving in four of Tech's final five games. He, Bundrage and Sheperd could all have big 2015 seasons.

Trotter: I enjoy college baseball -- and baseball overall -- very much. It's even more enjoyable when the Big 12 has so many good teams, like it appears to again this season..

Spring football can't get here quick enough.

We have been without college football for a little more than a month, but next season's rosters are beginning to take shape with signing day in the rearview mirror and spring position battles on the horizon. Here is a look at five under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in the Big 12 this spring.

Tight end Kent Taylor, Kansas: The Florida transfer was a highly regarded prospect out of high school and saw action as a true freshman for the Gators in 2012. He left Florida after the 2013 season, transferring to Kansas, and could be the ideal replacement for Jimmay Mundine. With a big spring showing, Taylor could set himself up to be a terrific big receiving option in new coach David Beaty's up-tempo offense in the fall.

Quarterback Chris Johnson, Baylor: With Seth Russell the favorite to start and Jarrett Stidham">Jarrett Stidham the talk of Baylor's recruiting class, Johnson has slipped under the radar. Yet Johnson was a member of the ESPN 300 and has the skills to win Baylor’s quarterback derby. Johnson couples terrific size and athleticism with a couple of seasons in the Bears' offensive system, so he could use this spring to start making a mark in the program.

Cornerback Rasul Douglas, West Virginia: The Mountaineers feature some of the Big 12’s top defensive backs with Karl Joseph, Dravon Henry, and Daryl Worley, but Douglas could secure a spot in the secondary this spring. The No. 23 player in the ESPN JC50 brings length and athleticism to WVU’s secondary. With Big 12 receivers getting bigger and more physical each year, Douglas brings good size at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds.

Athlete Todd Mays, Oklahoma State: The last time Oklahoma State signed a multi-skilled athlete from the junior college ranks it turned out pretty well. Tyreek Hill was key playmaker in several games for the Cowboys in 2014, and Mays has the versatility to make a similar impact. The junior college signee can play quarterback, running back, and receiver, which will allow offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich to be creative with his play calls and personnel packages. Fellow junior college signee Chris Carson got most of the attention on signing day, but Mays could end up being an "X factor" in OSU's offense.

Cornerback Jermaine Roberts, Texas: It feels like Roberts needs to seize the opportunity to secure a role in Texas' secondary this spring. Head coach Charlie Strong's program landed several defensive backs on signing day, including ESPN 300 cornerbacks Holton Hill and Kris Boyd. Roberts redshirted last fall after being one of Texas' top Class of 2014 signees and has the physical ability to be an impact player as a redshirt freshman. This spring gives him the chance to get a leg up on the cornerback competition before Hill and Boyd arrive on campus.
Texas announced it has hired two assistants on Friday, which should round out Charlie Strong's coaching staff for 2015.

Brick Haley, a former defensive line coach at LSU and Mississippi State, was named the Longhorns' defensive line coach.

Haley joins the staff from LSU where he served six seasons (2009-14). During his time at LSU, the the Tigers produced several NFL defensive linemen, including first round picks Michael Brockers and Barkevious Mingo.

Texas also added Gilmer High School head coach Jeff Traylor to its staff as a tight ends and special teams coach.

Traylor had been at Gilmer the past 15 seasons (2000-14), and won state championships in 2004, 2009 and last season.

Texas head of underachievers list

February, 13, 2015
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Success on the field in college football generally goes hand-in-hand with success on the recruiting trail. For the fourth consecutive season, the Alabama Crimson Tide signed the No. 1 class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation rankings. In fact, coach Nick Saban has brought in a top-3 class for eight straight seasons, and those elite recruits have led the Tide to three national championships and a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff in that span.

The best players don't always guarantee success, of course, and many programs struggle on the field despite the fact their rosters are loaded with talent. We calculated program profiles for each team based on multiple years of recruiting rankings and compared those rankings with every FBS game result of the past five seasons. In total, the team that fielded a more talented roster beat the less talented opponent 65 percent of the time.

On Thursday, we chronicled the overachievers who routinely do more with less.

The five teams on today's list of underachievers have not been able to consistently translate prospective talent into wins on the field. Each school signed a number of new potential stars last week, but each still needs to prove that it can consistently win games against less-loaded rosters.

Texas Longhorns

Five-year record as more talented team: 36-28 (.563)

2015 RecruitingNation class rank: 9

From 2009 to 2012, the Longhorns signed four consecutive classes ranked in the top 5 in ESPN's RecruitingNation ratings. Those classes did not meet expectations, however, as they posted two losing seasons in the past five years and never lost fewer than four games in a season in that stretch. In the same span, the Longhorns plummeted from the No. 2 overall team in our program ratings to outside the top 40.

Following a year of compelling Big 12 nonconference matchups that featured the likes of Florida State, Alabama and Auburn, the league collectively has scheduled down in 2015. Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor (again) won't face a Power 5 conference opponent. Texas is the only one that will play two such teams.

Still, that doesn't mean every Big 12 nonconference game will be a bore. Texas goes to Notre Dame. Oklahoma travels to Tennessee. Texas Tech returns a trip to Arkansas.

But which team has the toughest nonconference slate? And which has the softest? The rankings are below, going from most difficult to least (*denotes FCS opponents):

1. TEXAS: at Notre Dame (8-5), Rice (8-5), Cal (5-7)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .552
  • Toughest opponent: Notre Dame
  • Weakest opponent: Rice
  • 2014 bowl teams: 2
  • Quick take: The Longhorns continue their recent trend of challenging nonconference schedules, opening with a trip to South Bend. The Fighting Irish were up-and-down last year, but they finished with a victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl. Even though it didn't make a bowl, Cal was one of the most improved teams in college football last season, going from 1-11 to 5-7 in Sonny Dykes' second year. Rice is a solid non-Power 5 opponent. It won't take long to find out what Charlie Strong has in Year 2 in Austin.
2. KANSAS: *South Dakota State (9-5), Memphis (10-3), at Rutgers (8-5)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .675
  • Toughest opponent: Memphis
  • Weakest opponent: South Dakota State
  • 2014 bowl teams: 2
  • Quick take: David Beaty will be baptized by fire. The Jayhawks have a tough nonconference slate, including South Dakota State, which made the second round of the FCS playoffs last year. Memphis is coming off a 10-win season; Rutgers on the road will be a big challenge, as well. This is a brutal early series of games for a program transitioning to a new coaching staff which will have the fewest returning starters in the Big 12.
3. OKLAHOMA: Akron (5-7), at Tennessee (7-6), Tulsa (2-10)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .378
  • Toughest opponent: Tennessee
  • Weakest opponent: Tulsa
  • 2014 bowl teams: 1
  • Quick take: The Sooners face potentially the toughest nonconference game of any Big 12 team with a road trip to Tennessee. The Vols have struggled in recent years, but could be on the verge of turning the corner after a series of elite recruiting classes. The Vols also return an SEC-high 18 starters, including Joshua Dobbs, who is one of the up-and-coming quarterbacks in college football. The Sooners will have to play well -- and much better than they did toward the end of last season -- to prevail in Knoxville.
4. TEXAS TECH: *Sam Houston State (11-5), UTEP (7-6), at Arkansas (7-6)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .595
  • Toughest opponent: Arkansas
  • Weakest opponent: Sam Houston State
  • 2014 bowl teams: 1
  • Quick take: The Razorbacks smacked the Red Raiders around in Lubbock last year. The return trip to Arkansas is a game the Red Raiders can win. But they have to hold up way better in the trenches. Tech struggled with UTEP last year, too, foreshadowing struggles the rest of the season. The early tilts against Sam Houston State -- a quality FCS program -- and UTEP figure to serve as a harbinger again.
5. WEST VIRGINIA: Georgia Southern (9-3), *Liberty (9-5), Maryland (7-6)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .641
  • Toughest opponent: Maryland
  • Weakest opponent: Liberty
  • 2014 bowl teams: 1
  • Quick take: After playing the toughest nonconference schedule in the Big 12 last year, the Mountaineers have a more manageable slate this time around. Still, it's not a cupcake one. Georgia Southern won the Sun Belt last year. Maryland, once again, will be one of the pivotal games on West Virginia's schedule. If the Mountaineers can beat their Atlantic rivals, they should head into Big 12 play with a boost of momentum.
6. IOWA STATE: *Northern Iowa (9-5), Iowa (7-6), at Toledo (9-4)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .625
  • Toughest opponent: Iowa
  • Weakest opponent: Northern Iowa
  • 2014 bowl teams: 2
  • Quick take: The Cyclones are actually capable of winning all three of these games -- and losing all three, as well. Iowa State has dropped its last two openers to FCS opponents, including two years ago to Northern Iowa. QB Logan Woodside is back to lead a Toledo offense that ranked 15th nationally last year. The Cyclones have had success against Iowa under Paul Rhoads, but the Hawkeyes will be out for revenge after losing on a last-second field goal. This stretch will determine whether the Cyclones will have a shot at getting back to bowl eligibility.
7. TCU: at Minnesota (8-5), *Stephen F. Austin (8-5), SMU (1-11)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .447
  • Toughest opponent: Minnesota
  • Weakest opponent: Stephen F. Austin
  • 2014 bowl teams: 1
  • Quick take: Minnesota surprisingly became a quality nonconference victory for TCU last year. A win at Minnesota, which has 13 returning starters, could be an even better win in 2015. At least the Horned Frogs better hope so. The rest of the nonconference schedule will do little to help TCU's strength of schedule résumé.
8. OKLAHOMA STATE: at Central Michigan (7-6), *Central Arkansas (6-6), UTSA (4-8)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .459
  • Toughest opponent: Central Michigan
  • Weakest opponent: Central Arkansas
  • 2014 bowl teams: 1
  • Quick take: After opening with defending champion Florida State last year, the Cowboys have dialed down their nonconference slate in 2015. The opener at Central Michigan could be a little tricky; the Chippewas qualified for the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl, and almost rallied to stun Western Michigan with a 34-point fourth quarter. But the rest of the schedule should be a mere warm-up for the Cowboys for Big 12 play.
9. KANSAS STATE: *South Dakota (2-10), UTSA (4-8), Louisiana Tech (9-5)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .395
  • Toughest opponent: Louisiana Tech
  • Weakest opponent: South Dakota
  • 2014 bowl teams: 1
  • Quick take: After facing Miami and Auburn in recent years, this schedule is more reminiscent of the early Bill Snyder nonconference slates. Louisiana Tech is decent. But this schedule should give the Wildcats time to adjust after losing so many key starters from last season's team.
10. BAYLOR: *Lamar (8-4), SMU (1-11), at Rice (8-5)
  • Opponents’ 2014 combined winning percentage: .405
  • Toughest opponent: Rice
  • Weakest opponent: Lamar
  • 2014 bowl teams: 1
  • Quick take: Once again, Baylor's nonconference schedule is miserable. Then again, Rice would've destroyed anyone Baylor faced last year, so at least it's an upgrade. If the Bears get into the playoff mix again, their nonconference schedule could come back to haunt them. Again.

Roundtable: Junior college impact

February, 12, 2015
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The past several days, we've focused on the incoming freshmen in the Big 12. In today's Big 12 roundtable, we're focusing on the junior college transfers:

Which junior-college transfer will make the biggest impact in 2015?

Chatmon: The door is wide open for receiver DeDe Westbrook to make a major impact for Oklahoma. The Sooners need playmaking receivers, and Westbrook fits the mold. He could be a terrific running mate with Sterling Shepard in Lincoln Riley’s version of the "Air Raid" offense, with the ability to line up in the slot or outside. Westbrook is the No. 14 player the ESPN JC50 as a four-star recruit from Blinn (Texas) Junior College.

Olson: Oklahoma State pulled off one of the better surprise coups of the final week of recruiting by flipping Chris Carson from Georgia. When you look at OSU's running back situation, it's clear he's going to get a lot of work in 2015. He's a complete back and a workhorse capable of answering a big question mark about the Cowboys' offense.

Trotter: I'm a huge fan of both Westbrook and Carson, and I think they are probably the two early favorites to contend for Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors. But on the other side of the ball, incoming Texas defensive end Quincy Vasser could also have a huge impact. The Longhorns are searching for a replacement for Cedric Reed, and Vasser, an ESPN JC50 signee, has the skill set to step in and be a starter from Day 1. It won't hurt him, either, that Texas will have a new defensive line coach, meaning Vasser should open spring ball on equal footing with the returners.

Which junior college transfer is flying too far under the radar?

Chatmon: It worked the first time, right? Receiver Ka'Raun White was somehow overlooked during the recruiting process despite his brother Kevin White becoming a Biletnikoff finalist for the Mountaineers last fall. From his hair free flowing out of the back of his helmet to his ability to run away from defenders, Ka'Raun will spark memories of his older brother. West Virginia needs immediate help at the receiver position, so Dana Holgorsen’s program will be hoping it goes two-for-two with receiver recruits from the White family.

Olson: I've been keeping an eye on Ke'aun Kinner since 2012, when he was perhaps the most productive back in the DFW Metroplex out of Little Elm, Texas. He rushed for more than 2,900 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior but never had the grades to go FBS. At Navarro College, he earned All-America honors in 2014 with more than 1,800 yards of offense and 22 TDs. He packs a lot of electricity into his 5-foot-9 frame, and I bet he'll be productive right away at Kansas.

Trotter: Carson could very well make a huge splash for Oklahoma State, but I'm also intrigued by the other running back they signed, Todd Mays. The East Mississippi Community College product can do it all, including play quarterback, running back, and receiver. He doesn't possess Tyreek Hill's world-class speed. But he can fill the role that Hill did this past season in the Oklahoma State offense as a running back/slot receiver combo player. He could also help the Cowboys on returns, and, who knows, maybe be a threat to pass off trick plays, too.

What team will see the biggest overall impact from its junior college class?

Chatmon: The Mountaineers didn’t need major junior college help, but they got it anyway with White, ESPN JC50 cornerback Rasul Douglas and two other junior college signees (Xavier Pegues, Larry Jefferson) who can help immediately. Douglas will add to secondary that already could be the Big 12’s best unit and Pegues, and Jefferson could kick start the pass rush in 2015.

Olson: I'm definitely a fan of the junior college haul that Oklahoma State put together. Carson is going to get most of the headlines, but defensive tackle Motekiai Maile has the potential to be a monster up the middle. Antwan Hadley is a big 6-foot-4 cornerback, and I'm excited to see what Mike Gundy's staff does with Mays. He's a true athlete -- quarterback/running back/receiver -- and potentially a pretty fun weapon.

Trotter: Overall, the answer to this might be Kansas or Iowa State. Underscoring several immediate needs, the two signed a combined 14 junior college transfers. The Cyclones are banking that ESPN JC50 defensive tackle Demond Tucker can instantly boost what was the nation's worst statistical defense last season. With the fewest returning starters in the league, the Jayhawks will also need multiple contributions out of its massive junior college class.
Texas signed the Big 12’s top class in 2014.

SportsNation

Which Big 12 recruiting class will have the biggest impact in 2015?

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Discuss (Total votes: 5,635)

It won’t matter once the pads go on. Some elite prospects fulfill their potential while others fall by the wayside as lower-rated prospects prove they shouldn't have been under-the-radar on signing day.

So, here’s your chance: Which Big 12 recruiting class will have the biggest impact in 2015?

The Longhorns could be considered the favorite to have the recruiting class that makes the biggest immediate impact in 2015. Charlie Strong’s first full recruiting cycle was fruitful with plenty of potential playmakers at need positions including linebacker Malik Jefferson, receiver Ryan Newsome and cornerback Holton Hill.

Oklahoma ended up with a solid group of signees, including eight members of the ESPN 300. Junior college receiver DeDe Westbrook appears tailor made for Lincoln Riley’s version of the Air Raid offense while top-rated signee P.J. Mbanasor should provide immediate depth at cornerback. Add a trio of quality safeties in Will Sunderland, Kahlil Haughton and Prentice McKinney and the Sooners could have four newcomers who earn playing time in the secondary in 2015.

Jarrett Stidham enrolled at Baylor with a goal of playing immediately, and the ESPN 300 quarterback has the talent to win the starting quarterback spot and take over as Bryce Petty’s replacement. But he’s just the headline signee of a group of solid athletes, including running back Ja’Mycal Hasty along with defensive backs Tony Nicholson and J.W. Ketchum. Keep an eye on linebacker Eric Ogor, who could be a hidden gem who fights his way onto the field this fall.

Oklahoma State needed immediate help at running back and got it with junior college signee Chris Carson, who could slide right into the Cowboys backfield alongside Mason Rudolph. Carson is one of seven junior college signees for the Pokes, setting OSU up with added depth along the offensive and defensive lines to amp up the competition and help let some of the skill talent in Stillwater, Oklahoma flourish.

UT, OU, BU and OSU may have had the conference’s top-ranked classes, but several other Big 12 classes could rise to the top in 2015.

Texas Tech finished strong, loading up on receivers while filling other needs on the roster including defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko. J.F. Thomas, Tony Brown, Keke Coutee, Donta Thompson, Quan Shorts and Jonathan Giles could end up rivaling any group of receiver signees in the Big 12.

West Virginia capitalized on selling the Big 12 on the East Coast with several signees who could see the field immediately. Defensive end Larry Jefferson could provide a pass rush, while receivers Jovon Durante, Gary Jennings and Ka’Raun White could help replace Kevin White and Mario Alford.

TCU added skill talent and multiple recruits with terrific long-term upside after its breakout 2014 season. Receivers Kavontae Turpin and Jaelan Austin join cornerback DeShawn Raymond and safety Montrel Wilson as the Horned Frogs highest-rated signees.

Quarterback Alex Delton and running back Alex Barnes arrived at Kansas State at the perfect time with the Wildcats searching for playmakers on offense. Time will tell if the duo is ready to contribute as true freshmen, but KSU has a proven track record of securing overshadowed talent that become the foundation of consistent success.

Kansas coach David Beaty hit the junior college ranks hard in his initial class with eight junior college signees, including cornerback Brandon Stewart who should be in the mix to replace All-Big 12 cornerback JaCorey Shepherd.

Iowa State finally got the opportunity to address its defensive line after injuries and departures hit the Cyclones defensive line hard prior to the 2014 season. Paul Rhoads program signed five defensive linemen, including ESPN JC50 defensive tackle Demond Tucker, who could end up emerging as anchor of the Cyclones defensive front.
With spring ball a month away, we've been ranking position groups in the Big 12. These evaluations are based on past performance, future potential and quality depth. We continue this series with offensive line:

1. Baylor: All five starters return for the Bears, notably All-American left tackle Spencer Drango, who spurned the NFL draft to return for his senior season. The majority of the entire two-deep, in fact, is back, as well, including right guard Desmine Hilliard, who missed much of last year with a wrist injury. Despite being a two-year starter, Hilliard will have to fight to reclaim his starting job, as Jarell Broxton slotted in nicely in place of him during the second half of the season. This unit has a superstar in Drango, plenty of experience and a ton of depth.

2. TCU: The TCU offensive line was among the most-improved units in the league last year, setting the tone up front for the nation's second-highest scoring offense. Left tackle Tayo Fabuluje is gone, but the rest of the unit returns intact, including center Joey Hunt and right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who were both second-team All-Big 12 performers in 2014.

3. Texas Tech: Texas Tech encountered all kinds of problems last year, but offensive line wasn't one of them. All-Big 12 left tackle Le'Raven Clark was terrific protecitng the blindside of quarterbacks Pat Mahomes and Davis Webb, as Tech allowed only one sack per 43 pass attempts, which was among the best rates in the country. Center Jared Kaster and guards Alfredo Morales and Baylen Brown will all be three-year starters.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were dreadful along the offensive line for much of last year. But the group rapidly rebounded late, due in part to the healthy comeback of Zachary Crabtree at right tackle. Crabtree will be able to stick on the right side, too, thanks to the mid-semester arrival of transfer Victor Salako, who started two years for UAB and is expected to man left tackle for the Pokes. Oklahoma State also should be deeper overall with junior college transfers Brandon Pertile and Matt Kellerman joining returning starters Michael Wilson, Jesse Robinson and center Paul Lewis. Mike Gundy still needs to hire a position coach for this group with Bob Connelly bolting for USC.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners were hit hard by graduation with longtime lynchpin tackles Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson both departing. Center Ty Darlington is back; so is veteran guard Nila Kasitati. Oklahoma also signed the nation's No. 1 juco guard, Jamal Danley, to play alongside them. Tackle is the big concern, but the Sooners are hopeful that either Orlando Brown Jr. or Kenyon Frison will be ready to step up after redshirting last year.

6. Kansas State: B.J. Finney was a four-year fixture at center for the K-State offensive line and will be dearly missed. But the Wildcats return the rest of the offensive line, including standout left tackle Cody Whitehair, who should take over for Finney as group leader. The Wildcats need guard Boston Stiverson to make a full return from the leg injury he suffered in the Valero Alamo Bowl. They also need more consistent pass protection from their right tackles.

7. Texas: The Longhorns got better up front as the season wore on, but this is still a unit with a bunch of questions. Left guard Sedrick Flowers was the only linemen to start every game, as Texas tinkered with six different combinations over the course of the season. Center Taylor Doyle and right guard Kent Perkins should retain their starting gigs, but junior college transfers Brandon Hodges and Tristan Nickelson, as well as early enrollee freshman Connor Williams, all have a chance to overtake Marcus Hutchins, Camrhon Hughes and Jake Raulerson at the tackle spots.

8. Iowa State: Left tackle Brock Dagel missing most of last season with a knee injury could be a silver lining for the Cyclones in 2015. Jake Campos got valuable experience along the line, including left tackle. As a result, the Cyclones should be in good shape on the bookends, provided Dagel is 100 percent. Guard Daniel Burton is one of the more underrated players in the league. Cole Anderson and Kory Kodanko, who both redshirted last year, have a good shot of joining the rotation.

9. West Virginia: The Mountaineers weren't great up front last year, and now they've graduated their two best blockers in guards Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski. Tyler Orlosky bring stability on the inside at center, but tackles Adam Pankey and Marquis Lucas need to take a step forward in their second seasons as full-time starters.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks don't have any difference-makers up front, at least not yet. But Jacob Bragg, one of the top center recruits in the country last year, has a chance to become one in time. Joe Gibson and Junior Visinia return along the interior. So does rising senior tackle Larry Mazyck, who may be asked to swing to the left side.

Coaches' poll: Favorite Big 12 recruits

February, 12, 2015
Feb 12
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College recruiters rarely care about star ratings. They're looking for all sorts of other things: scheme fit, projection, growth potential, maturity, even track times. So once signing day passed, we asked.

We polled more than a dozen anonymous Big 12 coaches and recruiting coordinators for their favorite prospects in the 2015 class -- both the kids they signed and the ones they wanted.

[+] EnlargePatrick Vahe, Josh Wariboko
Gerry Hamilton/ESPNOne Big 12 recruiter predicts offensive guard Patrick Vahe (at left), a Longhorns' 2015 signee, will be "a good one" at the collegiate level.
Most of the recruits they named were under-the-radar finds. By now, you already know all about the elite signees such as Malik Jefferson, Jarrett Stidham and Breiden Fehoko. We were looking for the recruits who might not be big names now but are poised to make a big impact in the conference for years to come.

Here are 25 players that Big 12 recruiters liked in the class of 2015:

Baylor OG Riley Daniel: "Riley is a huge human. Schools got on him late. If you make a mistake in recruiting, make it big."

Baylor WR Blake Lynch: "Like him a lot. We had a hard time projecting where we saw him last spring position-wise, but I liked him a lot. At first we were thinking safety and we fell in love with him, but we were too late."

Baylor LB Jordan Williams: "Tremendous upside. I think he's athletic enough to play inside or outside with great tenacity. When I went to see him I said, 'How did we not know about this guy earlier?' Everybody had him at 5-11 and 190. He's 6-1 and 217."

Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler: "He’s got huge hands, good 40, good vert in a big body. He played AAU basketball, now football will become his focus. His ceiling is really high. Four or five years from now people could be looking back like ... how did Iowa State get that guy?"

Iowa State DE Seth Nerness: "Seth Nerness is a great kid. He plays with a great attitude and work ethic."

Kansas DE Dorance Armstrong: "That kid has a body on him and he can run. No idea how other people didn't get him. He had like 20 offers and comes from a big program. Watch him and he's every bit of what you'd want to recruit. That was a steal."

Kansas TE Jace Sternberger: "Jace is a coach’s son. Small-school, multiple-sport athlete. He shows his athleticism on the basketball court. He could blow up once he’s committed to one sport."

Kansas State DT Trey Dishon: "Trey is a big athlete. Everyone slept on him."

Kansas State DB Johnny Durham: "Jonathan plays with a very high football IQ. He’s always in the right spot and deceptively fast. I would compare him to Ty Zimmerman."

Oklahoma RB Rodney Anderson: "Anderson is a freak. He’s the real deal. Size, speed, power. He’s a no-brainer."

Oklahoma WR John Humphrey Jr.: "A guy that I really liked in camps. He was a fast kid, came out of nowhere and can really run. I see him playing corner, to be honest, because of his feet and speed. With his change of direction and how fast he is, there's something about that kid."

Oklahoma CB P.J. Mbanasor: "Potentially really good player. I watched him and researched him and he was fluid and really played transition well. Big corners who can run are hard to come by."

Oklahoma State RB Chris Carson: "I think they may have gotten the best back in this signing class. He’s a Newcomer of the Year-type possibility."

Oklahoma State CB Antwan Hadley: "He has a safety body playing corner. Tall and long with a nose for the ball. He played against good people, too."

Oklahoma State S Kenneth McGruder: "McGruder is a stud. Big, physical, a leader. He’s a big-time safety. That’s the enforcer you want."

TCU S Arico Evans: "One kid that I think is really going to be good. He was an athletic quarterback who has that 'it' factor. He was his whole (high school) team, he knows how to play and has real upside. He's going to thrive in Gary Patterson's defense and can even grow into a linebacker."

TCU CB Julius Lewis: "Julius is a good athlete. Multiple-sport athlete, which limited his exposure in spring ball. He played both ways, which questioned what position he would play."

TCU C Jozie Milton: "Reminds you of Joey Hunt, a hardcore guy. He had all kinds of offers, but a lot of people in Texas probably didn’t see him coming. Physical, smart and you like that he can call signals."

Texas TE Devonaire Clarington: "He’s very talented. He’s just a nightmare for DBs with that size and speed. He’s probably going to end up being an NFL guy."

Texas OG Patrick Vahe: "He probably gets lost in the shuffle and gets forgotten because he committed so early. He’s going to be a good one. Tough player."

Texas Tech WR Tony Brown: "He's smooth, a good route runner. He's a good get for them. Kliff [Kingsbury] got some good receivers."

Texas Tech RB Corey Dauphine: "I like him a lot. He was a good player and a 200-meter guy. Big, physical and fast. I have a feeling he’ll cause people a lot of problems before he’s done."

Texas Tech LB D'Vonta Hinton: "Under the radar because of his height, but just a freaking football player with instincts."

West Virginia LB David Long: "He's not the biggest guy, but he plays bigger than his size. Reminds you a lot of Karl Joseph coming out of high school, a guy who can cover a big space. He's a good fit for the Big 12."

West Virginia DE Adam Shuler: "He didn’t get all of the attention and all of that but I think he has the chance to be a special player."
Some Big 12 squads had to lean on true freshmen to help them make it through the season while others had the luxury of redshirting the bulk of their Class of 2014.

Here's a team-by-team look at the true freshmen who played in 2014, their impact in their first season and one redshirt who may have been forgotten last fall but could become an impact player in 2015. Earlier Wednesday, part I featured Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Oklahoma. Part II features Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia.

Oklahoma State

Quarterback Mason Rudolph: Became the starter for the Cowboys' final three games. He finished with 853 passing yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions in three starts.
Receiver Chris Lacy: Played in seven games with four receptions for 47 yards.
Receiver James Washington: Showed flashes of big-time upside, finishing with 28 receptions for 456 yards and six touchdowns.
Linebacker Gyasi Akem: Mainly a special teams contributor, Akem had nine tackles in 10 games.
Linebacker Justin Phillips: Played minimally but was a star in OSU's Bedlam win over Oklahoma with 10 tackles.
Cornerback Ramon Richards: He was overshadowed but Richards was as good as any true freshman for the Cowboys. He had 42 tackles and three interceptions in 13 games.
Safety Dylan Harding: A special teamer, Harding had two tackles in 11 games.
Center Brad Lundblade: A walk-on, Lundblade forced his way onto the field for the Cowboys, splitting reps with Paul Lewis.

Redshirt to keep an eye on: Defensive end Jordan Brailford was the only ESPN 300 signee who did not play for the Cowboys in 2014. While he may not make a major impact with Jimmy Bean and Emmanuel Ogbah in 2015, he could be a name to watch in the future.

Texas

Safety Jason Hall: Started seven games as the Longhorns' top true freshman. He finished with 36 tackles.
Receiver Armanti Foreman: Made an impact as a receiver and kick returner. Foreman had 10 receptions for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
Tight end Andrew Beck: Shifted from linebacker to tight end during the preseason and played in 13 games with two starts but didn't record a catch.
Defensive tackle Poona Ford: Played in nine games as a true freshman, recording nine tackles as he came on during the final stretch of the season.
Running back D'Onta Foreman: Played in seven games but wasn't a major factor, finishing with 15 carries for 73 yards.
Receiver Lorenzo Joe: Played in all 13 games for the Longhorns as a special teamer and receiver. He had three receptions for 36 yards.
Receiver Dorian Leonard: Didn't make a significant impact with one reception for seven yards.
Receiver Roderick Bernard: Played in five games as a special teamer.

Redshirt to keep an eye on: Quarterback Jerrod Heard was one of the headliners of the Longhorns' recruiting class and many questioned why he wasn't given a chance in 2014. This spring is his chance to show he can be the answer at quarterback in 2015.

TCU

Receiver Desmon White: Had a solid freshman season, finishing with 14 receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown.
Receiver Emanuel Porter: Could become a valuable big target as a sophomore after 12 receptions for 154 yards and one touchdown.
Cornerback Nick Orr: A backup cornerback, Orr had three tackles as a true freshman.
Cornerback Torrance Mosley: Another backup in the secondary, Mosley had two tackles.
Safety Travin Howard: Played in all 13 games as a true freshman but didn't record a stat.
Defensive tackle Chris Bradley: A solid true freshman season from Bradley should help lessen the concerns over Chucky Hunter's departure. The young defensive tackle finished with 12 tackles, including two for loss, and 1.5 sacks in 2014.

Redshirt to keep an eye on: Running back Shaun Nixon was forced to redshirt after a preseason knee injury. But as the only 2014 ESPN 300 signee on the roster, Nixon could add to the Horned Frogs' talented group of running backs.

Texas Tech

[+] EnlargePatrick Mahomes
Icon Sportswire via AP ImagesTexas Tech's Patrick Mahomes showed an ability to make those around him better.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: Showed plenty of savvy and the ability to make others better as a true freshman starter at quarterback. He finished with 1,547 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in seven games (four starts).
Cornerback Nigel Bethel II: The Red Raiders' highest-rated signee started seven games and finished with 41 tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss and six passes defended.
Receiver Ian Sadler: Played his way into the lineup as a true freshman, finishing with 23 receptions for 336 yards and two touchdowns in nine games (three starts).
Running back Justin Stockton: He flashed his big-play ability during nonconference games and led the Red Raiders in rushing touchdowns (four) and yards per carry (8.2).
Receiver Cameron Batson: Played in all 12 games for the Red Raiders finishing with nine receptions for 41 receiver yards and 106-all-purpose yards.
Cornerback Tevin Madison: Joined with Bethel to give Tech a pair of quality true freshman cornerbacks. He started seven games, finishing with 56 tackles including three for loss, seven pass breakups and one interception.

Redshirt to keep an eye on: Linebacker Dakota Allen was a highly regarded signee in February 2014 but spent a year on the scout team. He could make a contribution at a need position for the Red Raiders in 2015.

West Virginia

Safety Dravon Henry: One of the top freshmen in the Big 12, Henry started 13 games and finished with 45 tackles and two interceptions.
Linebacker Xavier Preston: Had limited time as a true freshman, recording two tackles.

Redshirt to keep an eye on: Quarterback William Crest entered the 2014 season as Clint Trickett's backup before a shoulder injury forced a redshirt season. He is poised to battle to replace Trickett as the starter in 2015.
With spring ball a month away, we're ranking position groups in the Big 12. These evaluations are based on past performance, future potential and quality depth. Our outlooks will likely look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now. We continue this series with wide receivers (and tight ends):

1. Baylor: The Bears just keep reloading at wide receiver. All-Big 12 selection Corey Coleman and freshman All-American KD Cannon return from 1,000-yard seasons to give Baylor one of the most electrifying one-two punches in the country. Jay Lee and Davion Hall headline the rest of the group, which is loaded with up-and-coming prospects such as Ishmael Zamora, Chris Platt, Devontre Stricklin and Blake Lynch.

2. TCU: The Horned Frogs return their top three pass catchers in Josh Doctson, Kolby Listenbee and Deante' Gray, who all delivered big performances for the nation’s second-highest scoring offense in combining for 23 touchdown catches. Desmon White and Emanuel Porter also flashed potential as freshmen, and should offer even more help as sophomores.

3. Oklahoma State: Every single receiver that caught a pass for the Cowboys last season is back, including starters Brandon Sheperd, David Glidden and James Washington. Sheperd exploded once Mason Rudolph took over at quarterback; Glidden is one of the most experienced receivers in the league out of the slot; Washington was among the top true freshman receivers in the country. Jhajuan Seales, Marcell Ateman, Chris Lacy and Austin Hays, who all have starting experience, round out the deepest receiving corps in the league.

4. Oklahoma: The Sooners receiving unit fell apart last season after Sterling Shepard suffered a groin injury. The good news is that Shepard will be back -- and hopefully healthy -- for his senior year. He alone elevates this group into one of the better ones in the Big 12 when he’s on the field. Shepard should have more help next season, as Dede Westbrook was arguably the top junior-college receiver in the country and figures to be an instant starter in Norman.

5. Texas Tech: This group had a lackluster 2014 season, but the talent is still there. Jakeem Grant is an All-Big 12-caliber talent and should put up bigger numbers with more consistent quarterback play. After a slow start, Devin Lauderdale came on strong during the second half of the season on the outside. Ian Sadler, Reginald Davis and Dylan Cantrell all finished with at least 20 catches last season. The Red Raiders also signed a pair of four-star wideouts in Keke Coutee and J.F. Thomas, who was a late flip from TCU. There are concerns about Thomas qualifying, but if he makes it to campus, he could give the Red Raiders another playmaker on the perimeter.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones have major concerns at running back and on defense, but one place they are not weak is at wide receiver. Like Cannon and Washington, Allen Lazard was terrific as a true freshman and should become an even bigger focal point of the offense next season. The Cyclones also will welcome back 2013 leading receiver Quenton Bundrage, who missed all of 2014 with a knee injury. D'Vario Montgomery gives the Cyclones a very capable trio at the position.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers face the unenviable task of replacing All-American receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford. Jordan Thompson and Daikiel Shorts will have to play bigger roles. They were able to capitalize off all the attention defenses devoted to stopping White. Shelton Gibson has the talent to be a difference maker, but he finished with just four catches last season. Incoming freshmen Jovon Durante, who was the top signee in West Virginia’s class, and Gary Jennings could be immediate factors in the rotation, as could junior-college transfer Ka'Raun White, Kevin White's younger brother.

8. Texas: John Harris and Jaxon Shipley were responsible for more than 50 percent of Texas' receptions last season, and both are gone. The Longhorns will have to unearth a new No. 1 target for whoever emerges out of the QB derby. Armanti Foreman has a chance to be that receiver after playing some as a true freshman. Marcus Johnson is the lone veteran of the group, but is mostly just a burner. Texas desperately needs someone such as Daje Johnson or Gilbert Johnson, or one of its highly touted signees such as Ryan Newsome, John Burt, or DeAndre McNeal -- or even tight end Devonaire Clarington -- to emerge.

9. Kansas State: The Wildcats graduated the most prolific receiver in school history in Tyler Lockett, and the best wingman in the Big 12 in Curry Sexton. Those two combined for 185 catches and 2,574 receiving yards last season. That level of production won’t easily be replaced. Deante Burton probably takes over as the leading receiver, but he had only 17 catches last year. Kody Cook, Judah Jones and Andre Davis have some experience in minor roles. This could be a transition year.

10. Kansas: After years of mediocrity, the Jayhawks were better at receiver last season. But with their top five pass-catchers gone, they could be taking a step back again. Nigel King would have been the top returning receiver, but he curiously declared for the draft. Former Florida tight end Kent Taylor, who was an ESPN 300 recruit in 2012, transferred to Kansas last year and should help. The staff has high hopes for early enrollee Chase Harrell as well, but this group overall is completely unproven.

Big 12 morning links

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
9:00
AM ET
Jon Stewart waited until after signing day to announce he's leaving, too...
  • Bob Stoops has yet another hire to make on his coaching staff. Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, who was recently promoted to co-defensive coordinator, is bolting for the Green Bay Packers. According to ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky. Montgomery likely will join the staff in a newly created position with the title of defensive assistant. This a major blow to the Sooners. Montgomery had been a bulldog on the recruiting trail, signing a trio of ESPN 300 defensive linemen just last week. With Montgomery's departure and the other coaching changes the Sooners have made, only offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh will be coaching the same exact position he did last season. It will be interesting to see how the Sooners perform in 2015 with so much turnover to the staff.
  • The legal battle between Oklahoma State and Texas offensive line coach Joe Wickline is about to get interesting. Oklahoma State notified Texas officials that it wants to take sworn statements from Longhorns coach Charlie Strong and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson about who is calling the plays at Texas. Remember, Oklahoma State is suing Wickline for breach of contract, claiming he made a lateral move to Texas and didn't take a promotion with "play-calling duties" as required in the contract. This will put Strong in a precarious position. He's already on record saying that Watson would be the "one final voice" in play calling.
  • Baylor has gotten off to a strong start with its 2016 recruiting, but suffered a setback Tuesday as ESPN Junior 300 wideout Tren'Davian Dickson announced his decommitment via Twitter. Dickson is a talented prospect, but if the Bears could withstand a decommitment anywhere, it's at wide receiver where Baylor appears loaded for the next several years.
  • Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury was in Amarillo this week to meet with local boosters. He also chatted with Lee Passmore of the Amarillo Globe-News. Though Tech has announced it will tailor its spring practices around Pat Mahomes' baseball schedule, Kingsbury stopped short with Passmore in naming Mahomes the starting QB over Davis Webb. “If a leader emerges during the spring we’ll name one starter," he told the Globe-News. "But if it goes through the summer sessions we’ll go with who comes out on top then, and that’s fine. They both bring some big things to the table athletically, even if they’re different from each other.” Despite a rocky sophomore season, I'm not ready to give up on Webb. But I would also be stunned if Mahomes weren't named the starter coming out of the spring.
  • Lastly, FootballScoop.com released this interesting listing of all 128 FBS coaches based on their tenures. Stoops was second, followed by TCU's Gary Patterson at No. 5. Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy is now No. 13. Art Briles is the other Big 12 coach in the top 25 at No. 21.
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Quarterback Kyler Murray grabbed all of the headlines at Allen (Texas) High School over the past few seasons, but it’s actually junior offensive tackle Greg Little who is a higher-ranked prospect.


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[+] EnlargeRoquan Smith
ESPNRoquan Smith committed to UCLA on television before finding out defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was headed to the Atlanta Falcons.

Sometime in the coming days -- or weeks or maybe even months -- the top remaining unsigned college football prospect in the country will decide where he's going to play and attend school this coming fall.

Macon County (Georgia) High School linebacker Roquan Smith thought he was going to attend UCLA. At least that's what he announced on ESPNU on national signing day a week ago, choosing the Bruins over Georgia, Michigan and Texas A&M.

But shortly after picking UCLA, Smith learned that Bruins defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich was considering an offer to become an assistant with the Atlanta Falcons. Upon learning the news, Smith decided not to sign his national letter of intent with UCLA and reopened his recruiting. The Bruins announced on Sunday that Ulbrich, who was Smith's primary recruiter, was indeed leaving to join the Falcons.

"We didn't know anything about it," said Macon County High coach Larry Harold. "There are no hard feelings toward UCLA and Coach Ulbrich. The whole system is imperfect, and something needs to be in place to help the kids reconsider if something happens."


(Read full post)


Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
4:00
PM ET
West Virginia running backs and NFL combine snubs are main topics in Tuesday's Big 12 mailbag. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Milton in Denver, Colorado, writes: With the news of Dick Bumpas retiring, I'm hoping you can talk me off a bit of a ledge here. I love Gary Patterson and no one can deny that he is an incredible defensive mind, so I have no concern that TCU's defense is all of a sudden going to be poor. But Bumpas was a great coordinator and an unbelievable developer of player talent, especially on the defensive line, and it's hard for me to believe there won't be some kind of drop-off. How much of a drop-off do you expect there to be?

Brandon Chatmon: Bumpas is going to be hard to replace. He did an exceptional job at TCU, both with his evaluation and his development of defensive linemen like Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson into disruptive forces in 2014. But don't jump off the ledge quite yet -- Bumpas will be tough to replace but not impossible. Patterson will find the right guy and should have some solid candidates with TCU's track record of success, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.


Jake in Manhattan, Kansas, writes: Longtime reader, first-time writer: Is it just me, or are the Snydercats a dark-horse pick in the Big 12 race if (freshman running back) Alex Barnes can make an immediate impact?

BC: A dark-horse pick to win? Um, no. If Kansas State finds an answer at quarterback, running back and receiver, it can exceed expectations and finish in the top third of the conference. That's not too much to ask, is it? However, Snyder’s squad has done it before. But I think asking the Wildcats to fight their way into Big 12 title contention is asking a lot for a team that lost Jake Waters, Tyler Lockett, Ryan Mueller, BJ Finney and other key playmakers. You can’t replace that experience, and it will be tough to replace their playmaking as well, so I don’t see them joining Baylor and TCU in the title fight.


Mary in Enid, Oklahoma, writes: Trevone Boykin is obviously the No. 1 quarterback in the league going into next year. Who is 2?

BC: That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s a clear No. 2. There are good prospects to earn that spot, including a pair of sophomores in Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes, along with whoever wins the Baylor quarterback battle. But, quite frankly, there is a major drop-off after Boykin, and no other quarterback at this point has earned a spot alongside him or even right behind him in the pecking order. If I had to pick one, I’d lean toward Rudolph. I love the way he completely transformed OSU’s destiny when he took over this past season. It’s a sign he can make others around him better.


Christian in Missoula, Montana, writes: Who are your biggest snubs for the combine? As an Oklahoma State fan I'm looking at James Castleman and even Josh Furman.

BC: Castleman comes to mind along with Texas receiver John Harris and Kansas tight end Jimmay Mundine. There were several other snubs when it comes to Big 12 players, but I think those three guys could find their way into NFL camps and potentially onto NFL rosters thanks to their overall athleticism and potential to continue to grow as football players in the future.


Steven H. in Orlando, Florida, writes: Where does Rushel Shell rank among returning running backs in the Big 12?

BC: The West Virginia back definitely in the top five alongside Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine, Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington, TCU’s Aaron Green and Baylor’s Shock Linwood. Shell's physical running style is a good complement to what the Mountaineers like to do offensively. Yet I could easily see his 2015 numbers drop in comparison to his 788 rushing yards from 2014. WVU has a deep group of running backs, and there should be plenty of competition for carries, especially with Donte Thomas-Williams joining the competition alongside Shell and Wendell Smallwood. Shell is a great back, but he has a lot of great talent in the running backs room alongside him at WVU.

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