Texas Longhorns: Andrew Buie

Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
For the past two weeks, we’ve been ranking the best units in the Big 12 by position.

Now, in our weekly poll, we’re asking for your opinion: Who has the league’s best offensive unit regardless of position?

We’re going to exclude the quarterback position, since that’s more about one player than the collective strength of an entire unit.

Sorry, Bryce Petty.

SportsNation

Who has the Big 12's best overall offensive positional unit?

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    16%
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Discuss (Total votes: 5,751)

Petty’s receivers at Baylor, though, have a strong claim as the best offensive unit in the league. The Bears return four players who finished with at least 30 receptions last season, including Antwan Goodley, who produced 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Baylor will also be adding arguably the deepest and most talented signing class at the position in the country, headlined by ESPN 300 receiver K.D. Cannon.

The Bears, however, aren’t the only ones loaded at receiver.

Texas Tech features the dynamic receiving trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. D.J. Polite-Bray emerged over the spring as a downfield burner on the outside. The Red Raiders have also added their top overall recruit from last year to the rotation in Devin Lauderdale, who was forced to attend junior college for a year after failing to initially qualify. Four-star slot receivers Byron Daniels and Ian Sadler will be joining the squad in the summer.

As deep as the Bears and Red Raiders are at receiver, there might not be a positional group in the Big 12 as deep as West Virginia’s running backs.

In their backfield, the Mountaineers have Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring in from Pitt, set Pennsylvania’s state high school career rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher from 2012) and Dustin Garrison, the team’s leading rusher from 2011 who had a tremendous spring following a string of injuries the previous three seasons. If that weren’t enough, four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams will be arriving in Morgantown this summer.

While not as deep, Texas’ three-headed monster in the backfield is more proven than West Virginia’s, though not without questions. Johnathan Gray is coming off an Achilles injury, and Joe Bergeron was barred from the team during the spring due to academics. But when together and healthy, the threesome of Malcolm Brown, Gray (both All-Big 12-caliber runners) and Bergeron is as fearsome as any in the country.

Last fall, the Texas backs ran behind the most experienced offensive line in the Big 12. This season, that distinction belongs to the Sooners, whose offensive line unit caps the poll.

All told, Oklahoma boasts 107 career starts along its offensive line, headlined by senior tackle Daryl Williams and guard Adam Shead, who have been starting since their redshirt freshman seasons. Guard/center Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson are also returning starters on an offense that placed second in the Big 12 in rushing last season.

So who does have the best offensive unit in the Big 12?

Baylor's or Texas Tech’s wide receivers? West Virginia's or Texas’ running backs? Or Oklahoma’s offensive line?
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and reranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with running backs. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:


1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking: 4): West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has one of the best and most difficult jobs in the Big 12. Seider has an embarrassment of riches at his position in Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played last year as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring from Pitt set the Pennsylvania state high school rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher in 2012) and Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher from 2011, who, finally healthy again, enjoyed a resurgent spring. The Mountaineers also will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. The difficult part for Seider will be divvying up carries to so many capable backs. But if the Mountaineers can keep everyone happy and find the right combination, this could become a devastating and versatile running back stable.

2. Texas (1): Coach Charlie Strong delivered promising news on Monday in San Antonio, suggesting Johnathan Gray could be cleared from his Achilles injury by mid-June. Strong also said that Joe Bergeron will be rejoining the team shortly, too, after sitting out the spring to focus on academics. When healthy and eligible, the trio of Malcolm Brown, Gray and Bergeron is a formidable bunch and the backbone of the Texas offense.

3. Baylor (3): Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin exited spring as the co-starters, but Johnny Jefferson left the biggest impression in the spring game. The Bears have a track record of spreading carries around, which means Big 12 fans will become very acquainted with the talented redshirt freshman next season.

4. Oklahoma State (5): One of the biggest surprises of the spring was how much the Cowboys used Tyreek Hill at running back. Oklahoma State is planning to utilize the nation’s top juco playmaker the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two years ago. In other words, Hill could line up in the backfield one play then slot receiver the next. Either way, arguably the fastest player in college football gives the Cowboys a dynamic lightning component to complement the thunderous running of senior Desmond Roland, who led all Big 12 backs in touchdowns last season.

5. Oklahoma (3): There might not be a Big 12 backfield with more upside than Oklahoma’s. Of course, with that upside comes little experience. Sophomore Keith Ford has the potential to be a punishing inside runner, but he had fumbling issues last season as a freshman that re-emerged during the spring. If he can’t hang onto the ball, he won’t play, no matter how tough he runs between the tackles. After getting passed by Ford on the depth chart last year, Alex Ross bounced back with an impressive spring. Early enrollee Dimitri Flowers was a revelation this spring as a powerful run-blocking fullback in the mold of Trey Millard. If fellow incoming freshman Joe Mixon lives up to his recruiting hype, the Sooners could feature their most potent rushing attack in years.

6. Iowa State (8): The most underrated one-two punch at running back in the league resides in Ames. According to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy were sharp all spring and will spearhead an offense that could surprise in 2014. The key will be keeping the slight but explosive Wimberly relatively healthy, which he never really was before and after rushing for 137 and 117 yards back to back against Tulsa and Texas. Wimberly, however, was 100 percent all spring, and it showed, as he racked up 68 yards on just nine touches in the spring game.

7. TCU (7): TCU had to make do without its three top backs in the spring due to injuries. Aaron Green suffered a broken collarbone, Kyle Hicks had a shoulder bruise, and returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon dealt with a nagging hamstring injury. All three, however, should be fine for the fall, and could form a reliable rotation at running back. Four-star recruit Shaun Nixon could help out, too, once he arrives on campus.

8. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders dropped two spots, largely because returning starter Kenny Williams played outside linebacker all spring and could remain there for good. But even if Williams becomes a full-time linebacker, Tech still could be solid at running back with veteran DeAndre Washington, sophomore Quinton White and incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton, whom the Texas Tech coaching staff is very high on. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t have given Williams the go-ahead to move to defense if he didn’t feel optimistic about what remained in the backfield.

9. Kansas (9): Though they come in ninth here, running back could be a position of strength for the Jayhawks next season. Brandon Bourbon, the favorite to start, rushed for 96 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, but Taylor Cox (63 yards on 15 carries) and Darrian Miller (50 yards on seven carries) had nice outings, as well. The Jayhawks also will welcome De’Andre Mann, the nation’s fifth-best juco running back, in the summer, as well as four-star freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. Until they start winning more games, it’s difficult to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt in these position rankings. But with this collection of runners, they might not miss All-Big 12 performer James Sims as much as first thought.

10. Kansas State (10): The spring brought little clarity about who John Hubert’s primary replacement will be. Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones both ran hard in K-State’s spring game, though neither broke a run for longer than 11 yards. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Robinson, who has the most experience of the three, sat out the scrimmage with an injury. As a result, incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost 9 yards per carry his final two years in high school, will have an opportunity to be a factor once he joins the team this summer.

Big 12 spring stars, Part 2

April, 25, 2014
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Spring football is coming to a close in the Big 12, with several players making a move in their respective programs and securing or improving their roles on the team. We reviewed the Big 12’s stars of the spring by taking a closer look at their pre-spring roles, spring performance and potential roles this fall. The two-day review began with Part 1 on Thursday.

Running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State

Pre-spring role: While it was unclear what role Hill would play in the Cowboys’ offensive attack, one thing was certain: He had elite track speed.

What he did this spring: Hill showed he can do a variety of different things in Oklahoma State's system, from taking straight handoffs as a running back to making plays on the perimeter as a receiver. He showed he doesn’t just have speed, he has big-play ability and the potential to change games in one play this fall.

What his role could be this fall: Ideally, Hill will take on a Tavon Austin or Percy Harvin-type role for the Cowboys, with Oklahoma State using him in a variety of ways to take advantage of the weakness of the defense they’re facing that weekend. Hill should be one of the main threats in the Oklahoma State offense in 2014.

Quotable: “He has, obviously, that God-given speed that we all see, but he also has a hunger deep inside. You don’t know about that until you get to know somebody and get around them and get 15 practices in. It’s good to see his hunger and drive inside.” - Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich

[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Johnson showed big-play ability this spring for Texas.
Receiver Marcus Johnson, Texas

Pre-spring role: Johnson was expected to be one of several receivers competing to replace Mike Davis as a main target in Texas' offense after recording 22 receptions for 350 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore.

What he did this spring: Johnson had a terrific spring, showing he has the ability to make plays during scrimmages and competitive spring drills. The junior has the speed to test defenses and showed it during his first opportunity to impress Charlie Strong and the new coaching staff.

What his role could be this fall: Johnson could end up being the man to replace Davis alongside Jaxon Shipley. The Longhorns need a No. 2 receiver to emerge, and Johnson could be the guy if he becomes more consistent on a weekly basis.

Quotable: “Marcus is a big-play player. I mean, he has got great speed, he is assignment-sound, he has played a lot of football, so he has got a real good feel for the game. He is a great fit in what we do and he has had a great spring for us. He has played really well.” - Texas offensive coordinator Shawn Watson

Safety Kenny Iloka, TCU

Pre-spring role: A newcomer who arrived from the junior college ranks during January, Iloka was signed to provide depth and versatility in TCU’s secondary.

What he did this spring: Iloka staked his claim to a role in TCU’s defense despite several experienced safeties returning, including Sam Carter. Iloka, the younger brother of Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka, stepped on campus as a ready-made impact player with his willingness to set a physical tone in the secondary.

What his role could be this fall: TCU returned three safeties who started games in 2013, but Iloka looks like he will make an immediate impact, even if he doesn’t force his way into the starting lineup.

Quotable: “Kenny had a heck of a spring; he really adds to the depth. He’s going to be an exceptional safety for us.” - TCU defensive coordinator Dick Bumpus

[+] EnlargeJakeem Grant
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJakeem Grant scored seven TDs last season and is poised to improve on that in 2014.
Receiver Jakeem Grant, Texas Tech

Pre-spring role: Grant was a playmaker for Texas Tech during his sophomore season, but the Red Raiders are searching for a even bigger impact from the junior in 2014.

What he did this spring: Grant looks ready to handle being the focus of an opposing defense. His speed and quickness are a handful, but he’s starting to develop into a legitimate receiving threat as opposed to a change-of-pace kind of offensive weapon.

What his role could be this fall: Grant, if he continues developing, could become one of the Big 12’s top receivers and the centerpiece of the Red Raiders' offense, replacing Jace Amaro as a matchup nightmare for Big 12 defenses.

Quotable: “He made some big plays last year, but really had a big spring for us. He’s developed on and off the field and, academically, he’s much improved. On the field, his consistency as a receiver and his work ethic is night and day from last year.” - Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury.

Running back Dustin Garrison, West Virginia

Pre-spring role: Garrison was a relative afterthought at the position with Andrew Buie’s return and the addition of Rushel Shell.

What he did this spring: Garrison reminded people that he led the Mountaineers in rushing in 2011 with a strong spring showing. Injuries hampered his production during the past two seasons, but his direct running style and competitive nature was on full display through during the 15 spring practices.

What his role could be this fall: He might have earned himself some carries this fall even though West Virginia goes four or five deep at running back. His emergence could allow West Virginia to get creative with its use of sophomore Wendall Smallwood.

Quotable: "I thought Garrison had a really good scrimmage. He showed up. He was a guy that stuck out." WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson told The Charleston Gazette after a two-touchdown performance by Garrison in a spring scrimmage.
With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia will face this spring:

Can freshman impact OSU's QB race?

Junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has made eight starts for the Cowboys over the last two seasons. But even with Clint Chelf now gone, Walsh still will have to fight for a job with freshman Mason Rudolph already on campus. Rudolph, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball, threw for more than 4,300 yards and 64 touchdowns his final year of high school and is one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits ever to sign with the Cowboys. In high school, Rudolph played in an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s, which is what first interested him in the Cowboys. That should ease his transition to the college level. Of course for now, the job is Walsh’s to lose. But Rudolph has the talent and the skill set to begin applying pressure on Walsh as soon as this spring.

How will TCU adapt to the offensive overhaul?

TCU conducted its first spring practice over the weekend, and the exit polls suggested the Horned Frogs went through offensive drills fast. Like really fast. Tired of ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 in offense, Gary Patterson shook up his coaching staff and brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offensive system that resembled those of Texas Tech (Cumbie) and Oklahoma State (Meacham). As Patterson admitted after the first practice, there will be a learning curve for his players to picking up this new offensive style. But the quicker quarterback Trevone Boykin can adapt, the better off TCU will be going into 2014.

How will Texas look different under Strong?

The last time Texas had a coach other than Mack Brown running a spring practice, Bill Clinton was still president. The Charlie Strong era will begin in earnest with the start of spring practice in Austin. How will the players adjust to the new schemes of assistants Shawn Watson, Joe Wickline and Vance Bedford? How will the veterans react to their new position coaches? Who will thrive with the new staff? Who will falter? Those pivotal questions will begin to be answered this spring.

Can Texas Tech get by with only one scholarship QB?

With starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry getting an extra year of eligibility over the weekend, the Red Raiders seem to be in good shape across the board offensively. Of course, that could change real quick should QB Davis Webb incur any kind of injury this spring. With Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and Michael Brewer headed to Virginia Tech, the Red Raiders will be down to just one scholarship quarterback until Patrick Mahomes arrives in the summer. Though coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Tech has a couple of capable walk-ons, an injury to Webb would hamper the spring development of an offense that will have big goals in the fall. Coming off a breakout performance in the bowl game, Webb also needs to continue developing this spring. But he also needs to remain healthy for the betterment of himself and the team.

Who will get carries for West Virginia?

Even with Charles Sims gone, the Mountaineers still enjoy a stable of capable of running backs. But where will Sims’ carries go? After rushing for 494 yards last season, Dreamius Smith is starting out the spring atop the depth chart. But he’ll have to fend off several comers to remain there. Wendell Smallwood came on strong late during his freshman season and finished the year averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Rushel Shell also joins the fray this spring after transferring over from Pittsburgh. Shell, who set a Pennsylvania high school rushing record, was formerly the No. 26 overall recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. There are still others. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are still around after leading the Mountaineers’ in rushing in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Oh yeah, West Virginia will also add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Good luck to the running back who dares to take a play off in this crammed competition.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we're examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Wednesday with running backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

1. Texas: The three-headed monster of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron gives Texas the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. Whether this group goes from good to great hinges on a healthy return for Gray, who is coming back from an Achilles injury and will sit out spring drills. Either way, this will be the backbone of Charlie Strong’s first offense.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShock Linwood showed breakaway ability as a Baylor reserve in 2013.
2. Baylor: Shock Linwood takes over in the backfield after a dynamic freshman season in which he finished seventh in the league in rushing despite being a third-team running back. The competition for carries after Linwood will be interesting. Devin Chafin is the favorite to be Linwood’s wing man, but he could be pressed by Johnny Jefferson and/or incoming four-star freshman Terence Williams, who is already on campus.

3. Oklahoma: The potential of this running back crop has no bounds. But it will be young and inexperienced after seniors Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams (until he was kicked off the team) hoarded the carries last season. Keith Ford, who was the nation’s No. 3 running back recruit in the 2013 class, will take over the starting role. Joe Mixon, this year’s No. 6 RB recruit, won’t get to Norman until the summer, but he should supply the lightning to Ford’s thunder. Alex Ross, who was the nation’s No. 7 RB recruit in the 2012 class, rounds out a fearsome threesome with tremendous pedigree.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims, but still claim a glut of capable rushers. Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood thrived playing behind Sims last year. West Virginia also has Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, its leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. (Buie is back after leaving school for a semester.) On top of all that, Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell figures to be in the mix. Shell was the No. 26 overall recruit in the country coming out of high school after becoming the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history. If that weren’t enough, the gem of the incoming recruiting class, Donte Thomas-Williams, is also a running back. Suffice to say, the competition for carries will be fierce in the league’s deepest backfield.

5. Oklahoma State: Desmond Roland helped fuel Oklahoma State’s midseason turnaround after seizing a starting role. Roland was great in short yardage and led the Big 12 with 13 touchdowns, but he wasn’t a big-play runner, with an average of only 4.6 yards per carry (14th in the league). The Cowboys are banking that Rennie Childs can complement Roland as the breakaway back. Childs showed flashes as a true freshman. Roland and Childs can form a solid combo, but four-star freshman Devon Thomas, who is enrolled for the spring, should not be discounted, nor should Sione Palelei, who has the good hands that past Oklahoma State running backs also possessed.

6. Texas Tech: The returning trio of Kenny Williams, DeAndre Washington and Sadale Foster won’t do much damage between the tackles. All three, however, are excellent pass-catchers, making them supreme fits for Kliff Kingsbury’s spread attack. Together they combined for 82 receptions, and that number should go up in 2014 as quarterback Davis Webb settles in as a sophomore.

7. TCU: The Horned Frogs were a disaster offensively last year, but the potential at running back is a reason why TCU could be equipped for a bounce-back season. Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks and incoming freshman Shaun Nixon were all ESPN 300 recruits. That doesn’t include B.J. Catalon, either, who led the Frogs with 569 yards and six touchdowns last season. With a new regime making the play calls, there’s reason to believe this could become one of the better units in the league.

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesIf Aaron Wimberly can stay healthy, Iowa State has a potentially dynamic returning running back.
8. Iowa State: When healthy, Aaron Wimberly can be a game-breaker. He torched Texas for 137 yards as the Cyclones nearly pulled off a Thursday night upset. Wimberly, however, was never really healthy the rest of the season, and never had the same impact. After Wimberly, though, the Cyclones don’t have much returning firepower. Firepower, however, could be on the way. Oklahoma native Michael Warren went overlooked in recruiting, but he can fly; he rushed for more than 2,500 yards as a high school senior.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks gradated their heart and soul in James Sims, who was an all-conference selection even though Kansas won only one Big 12 game. Tony Pierson returns as an electric playmaker, but he has never been a full-time running back, often flexing out as a receiver. It will be interesting to see who emerges in Sims’ shoes. Brandon Bourbon (191 yards) will have the first crack in the spring, but newcomers De'Andre Mann and Traevohn Wrench could vie for time once they arrive in the summer.

10. Kansas State: It’s difficult to believe K-State will be at the bottom here once the season starts, but running back is a major hole for the Wildcats going into the spring. That’s because longtime starter John Hubert is gone. Hubert, senior backup Robert Rose and QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams combined for 492 carries last season. Nobody else had more than five. Rising senior DeMarcus Robinson, who has only 11 career carries, will probably be atop the depth chart going into the spring. It’s also possible that Sams will get a look at running back with Waters having nailed down the full-time QB job. But the player to watch here is freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns his final two seasons in Blue Springs, Mo. Warmack isn’t big at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds. But his size fits the mold of past K-State running backs Hubert and Darren Sproles.

Big 12's lunchtime links

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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He's not heading to the Big 12, but any football fan would love this run... stop it, Jabrill, just stop it.

Notes: Texas searching for answers

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas has so many issues in so many facets of the game it is hard to know where to begin.

Or if you happen to be a Texas fan, if it will ever end.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireQuarterback David Ash and the Longhorns could not get in an offensive rhythm against Oklahoma.
But of all the stats, and there are reams, the most startling might just be this provided by the crack researchers at ESPN Stats & Info: If Texas makes it to a bowl game -- while the last two games have not been good, that is a pretty safe assumption -- the Longhorns are on pace to allow 5,846 yards this season. That would break the program record for most yards allowed in a season by more than 1,000. Texas gave up 4,825 yards in 2007.

The assumption would be that since Texas has played the meat of the schedule in terms of offensive juggernauts, there might be a chance that Texas does not break the aforementioned dubious record.

But there are still a few teams who can move the ball up ahead. Baylor, which had a down day against TCU and only scored 21, scored 63 against West Virginia. Remember that’s a defense that Texas’ offense only scored 38 against. (Seven came via fumble recovery.)

Texas has to go on the road to Lubbock and Texas Tech just put 49 on the Mountaineers.

(Read full post)

Stats that matter: Texas vs. Oklahoma 

October, 10, 2012
10/10/12
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Numbers, it's said, rarely lie. With that thought in mind, HornsNation -- with a healthy assist from the ESPN Stats and Info crew -- will dig into the numbers each week and pull three stats that could play a significant role in the outcome of Texas' game. This week the focus is on the Red River Rivalry as Texas is headed to Dallas to take on Oklahoma.

1. 190
[+] EnlargeDamien Williams
William Purnell/Icon SMIJuco transfer Damien Williams is the Sooners' top tailback.
With all the talk about how well or poorly Landry Jones is or isn’t playing at quarterback for Oklahoma, one stat lost in the shuffle is that the Sooners are in the top four in rushing in the Big 12. Led by Damien Williams’ 85.3 yards per game, OU has piled up 190 rushing yards per game. Now while that is not quite the 300 per game Oklahoma State has averaged it still should be a concern for Texas given what the Longhorns have given up on defense as of late. After holding its first opponent to 69 rushing yards, Texas has allowed 211 rushing yards per game. In the last two games, Texas has allowed 199 yards rushing to OSU’s Joseph Randle and then 207 to West Virginia’s Andrew Buie. Even against Ole Miss Texas’s defense allowed a single back to victimize it. Jeff Scott had 95 yards on eight carries or 11.7 yards per carry.

Texas doomed by inability to get stops

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Though things might not seem this way right now, not after Texas dropped a 48-45 shootout at home to West Virginia in head-shaking fashion, so much actually went right for the Longhorns on this night.

Consider, for a second, everything that played out in Texas’ favor.

Geno Smith threw for 268 yards. He hasn’t thrown a pick in five games yet he fumbled twice against Texas. He got sacked four times, as many as he had been all season.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe Longhorns allowed 192 rushing yards to West Virginia.
Between fumbles, field goal attempts and punts, West Virginia didn’t reach the end zone on six of its drives. WVU went 3 of 12 on third downs.

Texas wins the turnover battle. Texas scores a defensive touchdown. Texas blocks a field goal and a punt.

Another near-flawless game from David Ash. Another career-best performance from Johnathan Gray.

The list goes on, so long that even Mack Brown admitted it when asked about Texas’ good fortune after the game.

“If you had told me we would have done all those things,” Brown said, “I would’ve felt really good.”

This was as good a blueprint as you’ll find on how to beat West Virginia when the Mountaineers are playing their best. But stats weren’t winning this game, and Texas’ coaching staff had been saying that all week.

Despite all that had gone better than planned, this game came down to exactly what those coaches said it would come down to.

Texas couldn’t make a stop.

The Longhorns were supposed to have the Big 12’s best defense. On paper, it might’ve been the most talented starting 11 outside of SEC country. Who knows, it might still be down the road.

Right now, though, Texas can catch all the breaks in the world -- and it nearly did on Saturday night. Still have to make a stop.

“We knew that we were going to have to focus on getting stops,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “Throughout the game, that’s what our goal was. Just get one stop at a time.”

(Read full post)

Balanced attack pushes WVU over Texas

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Geno Smith is used to having the game in his hands. It's been the story of West Virginia's season. Near the end of a chilly night in central Texas, that changed.

Smith's offensive line had a simple message for their Heisman candidate: "We got this. It's over. We're going to win this game," they said.

"Andrew Buie said, 'Put it on my back,' Smith said. "He put it on his back and led us to a victory."

Not just any victory. He led them to a 48-45 victory in West Virginia's first road trip in the Big 12, where they found a record crowd of 101,851 waiting at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium -- a crowd Texas coach Mack Brown called the loudest in 15 years.

Said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who was an assistant in the Big 12 for nine years: "I've never seen this place like that."

It even got after Smith at one point, serenading him with a "Geno Sucks" chant as he gestured to the crowd, egging them on.

"Where does that come from?" Smith said. "Obviously, I don't suck. I'll let them believe that."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe second of Andrew Buie's rushing TDs gave West Virginia a 48-38 lead.
Buie led them to a victory that helped West Virginia clear the highest hurdle of its Big 12 (or national?) title "marathon," as Smith called it.

The Big 12 title runs through Morgantown, with Kansas State and Oklahoma waiting later in the season.

Saturday in Austin, though, it was Buie's time.

"He carried us," said Smith, the man used to carrying the Mountaineers. "We knew we were going to need to run the ball, because those guys like to get after the quarterback."

Texas did exactly that, sacking Smith four times and twice forcing fumbles inside the West Virginia 20-yard line. Before tonight, Smith had been sacked three times in four games.

Buie's 207 yards? Holgorsen said he wasn't surprised by those. But the 31 carries? That was a head-turner.

"We did commit to the run," he said. "That was something we talked about early in the week, and there weren't any tricks, either. We lined up and we just ran it right at 'em. We felt like that was gonna be the difference. If we could do that, it was going to alleviate some of the pressure on Geno."

On West Virginia's final drive, needing points to ice the game, the Mountaineers handed the ball to Buie on seven of eight plays. He turned them into 63 yards, capping his big night with a five-yard touchdown run, his second score of the night. While his teammates ran wild and kicked off the party on the West Virginia sideline, he trotted back through a parade of backslaps before being bearhugged by his position coach, Robert Gillespie.

"If we would have just drop back pass after drop back pass, they would have had 12 sacks. Maybe 20," Holgorsen said. "We just felt like it would be in the best interest of our football team to commit to the run."

Texas stuck in its nickel package for most of the night with just two linebackers on the field, even when West Virginia used its jumbo packages with bigger bodies. Buie saw it as a sign of "disrespect," and proved he'd make the most of his opportunities.

"With coach Holgorsen, you never know what the game plan is going to be fully," Buie said. "You just always want to be prepared to run from whatever he's put inside the menu for that week. When he calls your number, obviously he has confidence in you to make plays."

Holgorsen (and Smith, who often checked to various running plays at the line of scrimmage) had confidence in Buie 31 times on Saturday night. Buie was likely West Virginia's No. 3 back entering the season behind Shawne Alston and a recuperating Dustin Garrison. He looked like a man well deserving of the No. 1 spot against one of the Big 12's top defense. Before last week's 25 carries, Buie had never had more 15 carries in a game, and hadn't topped even 100 yards in a game. He had 52 carries in his entire freshman season in 2011.

Since 2009, Texas was 18-0 when winning the turnover battle. The Horns won it 2-1 on Saturday, but Buie's effort helped the Mountaineers overcome both of Smith's fumbles and move into the driver's seat for the Big 12 title.

"We're not going to force the ball. We're not going to force the issue. We'll take what you give us. I'm a smart quarterback, I understand defenses. I understand how to exploit them." Smith said. "The offensive line did a great job of getting all those guys, finishing blocks, getting to the second level. Buie was reading it and cutting back. Yards after contact was big. He ran hard tonight."

Think West Virginia's offense is just Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey? West Virginia proved otherwise.

Instant analysis: WVU 48, Texas 45

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
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AUSTIN, Texas – If there was any doubt as to whether West Virginia is the best team in the Big 12, the Mountaineers gave their answer on Saturday night.

In front of a Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium-record crowd of 101,851, West Virginia didn’t flinch even despite two Geno Smith turnovers. Its much-maligned defense made stops on two crucial fourth-quarter Texas drives, and its offense -- thanks to a remarkably potent rushing attack - was as good as advertised in the 48-45 victory.

Here’s how it all played out:

It was over when: Anthony Fera missed a 41-yard field goal with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter. A Smith fumble put Texas at WVU’s 12-yard line, but the Longhorns took a 16-yard loss on a bad snap on third down. Fera, a Penn State transfer making his Texas debut after a groin injury had sidelined him all season, pulled the kick wide right.

Game ball: Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Their Heisman-favorite quarterback gets most of the press, but Bailey and Austin were what broke this Texas defense. Bailey caught three touchdown passes, and Austin added another score, 102 receiving yards and 111 yards on kick returns.

Game ball, part II: Andrew Buie. The West Virginia running back burned Texas time and time again on Saturday night, hitting the soft middle spot of the Longhorns defense for a season-high 207 yards and two scores on 31 carries. He entered the night averaging 56 rushing yards per game.

Stat of the game: 5-for-5. West Virginia was perfect on the night on fourth-down conversions despite going 3-for-12 on third downs. The biggest pickup came in the first quarter, when Smith hit Austin on fourth-and-4 and he broke upfield for a 40-yard touchdown.

What it means: West Virginia is firmly in the driver’s seat for the Big 12. Its much-hyped Air Raid attack had no problem scoring on an athletic Texas defense that was supposed to be among the conference’s best. Texas, meanwhile, must go back to the drawing board and figure out how to fix its still-porous D. The loser of Texas-Oklahoma next Saturday may need lots of help to get back into the conference title discussion.
AUSTIN, Texas -- For as much publicity as West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith is receiving, he’s not racking up these video game-type numbers without someone catching his passes.

The collection of wide receivers he has are about as good a group as one will find anywhere in the country, and it begins with the trio of Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin and J.D. Woods.

[+] EnlargeJ.D. Woods
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesJ.D. Woods is one of several West Virginia pass-catchers who have put up big numbers this season.
“They are unbelievable,” said Texas coach Mack Brown. “Two of them are 5-foot-10 and can fly. Woods is 6-foot-1. They’ve caught 19 of the 20 touchdowns.”

Eight of those touchdowns -- yes, eight -- came in last week’s 70-63 victory over Baylor.

Bailey had the game of a lifetime by catching 13 passes for 303 yards and a school record five touchdowns (47, 20, 2, 87 and 39). He played most of the game from the slot as opposed to the outside receiver position he has normally played.

His outrageous performance, which included setting the Big 12 record for most receiving yards in a game only to have Baylor’s Terrance Williams break it in the same game with 314, has pushed his season totals to 41 receptions for 635 yards and an FBS-leading 10 touchdowns. His 158.8 receiving yards per game is second best in the country.

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