Texas Longhorns: Dustin Garrison

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?

  •  
    19%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    16%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    22%

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
Apr 25
9:00
AM ET
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
Feb 19
3:45
PM ET
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.

Balanced attack pushes WVU over Texas

October, 7, 2012
10/07/12
1:52
AM ET
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.

WVU finds recruiting niche in Texas 

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
10:00
AM ET
When Dustin Garrison guided the little guy from his home state around campus in December, he could sense some apprehension. It’s only natural.

The West Virginia running back knew asking Jordan Thompson to consider moving more than 1,300 miles from Katy, Texas, to Morgantown, W.Va., wasn’t an easy sell. Garrison had his doubts, too.

Once he got past the initial homesickness, he knew he’d made the right choice. He knew Thompson would, too, if he chose the Mountaineers.

[+] EnlargeDustin Garrison
AP Photo/Tyler EvertRunning back Dustin Garrison is one of 11 Texas natives on West Virginia's roster.
“I told him, you’ll get through it, and once you get used to it, you’ll love it,” Garrison said. “The fan support is very similar to what it’s like back in Texas.”

Now Garrison and Thompson, two key Texas-bred cogs in West Virginia’s prolific offense, are coming home. They might not receive much fan support from the 100,000-plus in attendance when the Mountaineers take on Texas on Saturday night, but Garrison did manage to round up around 20 tickets for friends and family.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day ever since we found out we were going to the Big 12,” he said.

This game means more to Garrison than most, and he doesn’t hesitate to admit that. The sophomore from Pearland, Texas, hasn’t forgotten his recruiting process. He slipped through the cracks.

The in-state schools weren’t interested. At 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds, he was just too small. By the time he blew up in his senior year, with 2,842 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns, the Longhorns already had pledges from Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Everybody else passed on the two-star prospect with 62 career touchdowns.

But not Dana Holgorsen. He already has made inroads in Texas since taking over as West Virginia’s head coach. He and five of his assistants have coached in the state and haven’t been afraid to pluck those who go under-recruited.

“They have raised some eyebrows around here,” Katy coach Gary Joseph said. “Dana’s smart enough to get kids who are good football players, and he understands that to play at the level they have to around here they’ve got to get pretty good football players.”

Before Holgorsen took over the program, Joseph can’t remember ever seeing a West Virginia coach stop by his high school. Now that the Mountaineers have joined the Big 12, he already has had a few assistants stop by to evaluate players and watch tape.

Most of Joseph’s top recruits already have made pledges. West Virginia doesn’t stop by to see the kids going to Oklahoma, LSU or Baylor. They’re looking for the sleepers.

Last fall, the West Virginia staff found another one. Holgorsen personally visited Katy to get a good look at Jordan Thompson.

He caught 65 passes for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior. But he’s 5-7 and 164 pounds. He held no scholarship offers.

“He don’t fit the mold,” Joseph said. “He’s not a 6-foot-4, 210-pound receiver. He’s always been a really good competitor. I’m thankful they recruited him because he’s a good football player, not because he’s a prototype.”

When West Virginia offered, Thompson committed despite having never seen the campus. He took a leap of faith because Holgorsen had taken a chance on him.

Two weeks later, he made his first visit. Garrison was his player host, just as he is for most visitors from Texas. He convinced Thompson this place would feel like home eventually.

“I don’t think he was near as apprehensive about it as his momma was,” Joseph said. “But once momma figured out it was going to be a good thing for him, she was all for it too.”

Thompson enrolled early and was the star of West Virginia’s spring practices. Now he’s a starting inside receiver. Garrison, WVU’s leading rusher last year as a freshman, has recovered from a knee injury and is back to splitting carries.

“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” Garrison said, “and right now we’re both making plays here at West Virginia where we’re supposed to be.”

The 2011 season was unkind to Big 12 running backs from Ames to Austin, but nobody suffered a worse injury than Texas Tech's Eric Stephens.

"He tore pretty much everything," coach Tommy Tuberville said of his back, who also dislocated his knee. Doctors gave the swelling in Stephens' knee more than a month to calm down before operating.

[+] EnlargeEric Stephens
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanTexas Tech RB Eric Stephens tore both the ACL and MCL in his left knee late last season.
Saturday, he'll finally make his return to the field. Tuberville says he'll likely start, with a target of 10-15 touches.

"We discussed that. It could be less or could be more. It just depends on the situation, how he’s doing, how he reacts," he said.

Stephens performed well in fall camp after suffering the injury early last season, derailing a likely 1,000-yard season that would have been Tech's first since 1998. The only noticeable difference now is Stephens is a little overweight and looks about 90-95 percent of his usual self.

"That’s not the knee problem, he just hasn’t played football in a long time," Tuberville said. "I don’t think physically there’s a problem at all. I’m sure he’s more than 100 percent ready to go with the knee. ... I’ve never had a serious injury like that, but I can just imagine being a major college running back and getting hit all around high and low for the first time in 10-11 months, it’d be awful tough mentally."

The offseason was rough on Iowa State's Shontrelle Johnson mentally, too. Doctors doubted whether he'd return to the game after suffering a neck injury last year against Texas. He missed the spring, but doctors cleared him just before fall camp and his long-awaited return is set for Saturday afternoon against Tulsa.

"Shontrelle’s done an excellent job and had zero ill effects coming back from neck surgery this offseason," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "He’ll be on the field early. If camp is any indication, we think he’s ready to go."

Oklahoma senior running back Dominique Whaley suffered an ugly broken ankle when a player landed on the back of his legs in a win over Kansas State. He'll be on the field early for the Sooners after earning the starting job once again.

"In my mind he looks to be back to what Dom always was, that's explosive, strong, fast," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. Whether he's 100 percent or not, maybe only he and the good Lord really know. But he sure looks it to me. I'm hopeful that will be the case."

Oklahoma rival running backs Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown of Texas were banged up with various minor injuries last season, but a renewed focus on health, diet and fitness has hopes high that the duo will be able to stay on the field in 2012.

The running back whose status is most in doubt? West Virginia's Dustin Garrison. The sophomore led the Mountaineers in rushing as a freshman, but suffered an injury later than any other Big 12 back. He tore his ACL in preparation for the Mountaineers' 70-33 win over Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Soreness led coaches to give him a few days off last week, but if he doesn't respond well to practice this week, he could redshirt in 2012, ceding the starting spot to bigger back Shawne Alston, a senior.

"The plan all along has been get him to game week and then get him out there and see what happens," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said.
We're moving on with our rankings of the top 10 players at each position in the Big 12. Today, we tackle the running backs, a position with a lot of potential but not very much returning talent. My only rule for this list: No freshmen or newcomers. You don't know until you know.

Let's get started.

1. Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State: Randle is the Big 12's only returning 1,000-yard running back, and even the league's best back has something to prove in 2012. Quarterback Brandon Weeden and receiver Justin Blackmon took a ton of pressure off him and opened up a lot of space. Can he help carry the offense early this season with a true freshman at quarterback and unproven receivers in the passing game?

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
Ray Carlin/Icon SMIMalcolm Brown has the talent to emerge as the top rusher in a crowded Texas backfield.
2. Malcolm Brown, Texas: Brown's nose for tiny creases in the line is unparalleled in this league, even though he doesn't have breakaway speed. He's tough to bring down and loves to fall forward. In short, he's a perfect fit for Texas' offense, and the likeliest member of Texas' talented backfield trio to top 1,000 yards in 2012.

3. John Hubert, Kansas State: Life is good for Hubert when defenses focus heavily on quarterback Collin Klein, but you can't argue with his production. He averaged nearly five yards a carry and racked up 970 rushing yards last season.

4. Waymon James, TCU: James averaged a silly 7.23 yards per carry last season, leading TCU's trio of backs in rushing, though all three had between 120 and 123 carries (seriously). Ed Wesley is gone, and James' yards per carry average will drop as he faces tougher defenses this season, but he's still a big talent.

5. Jeremy Smith, Oklahoma State: Smith is the forgotten man in Oklahoma State's backfield until he keeps his legs churning and converts third downs, and chips a blitzing nickel back in the backfield to give Wes Lunt a couple more seconds to get rid of the ball. He's faster than he gets credit for, and averaged better than seven yards a carry in the Big 12 last season, the league's second-highest average.

6. Eric Stephens, Texas Tech: Stephens' season was cut way short last year by an awful knee injury. There's no telling how he'll look when the season starts back up, but not many guys were better than him over the first half of last season.

7. Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma: Whaley's season was cut short, too. He suffered a broken ankle, but the former walk-on is back and will try and make a run at a 1,000-yard season for the Sooners' pass-heavy offense. If he plays like he did last season before the injury, expect it to happen, and expect him to hog the carries in a crowded backfield.

8. Matthew Tucker, TCU: Tucker joins James in TCU's backfield. He scored 12 touchdowns last season, which ranks second among returning Big 12 running backs. Without Wesley, Tucker is due for more touches. The trio combined for more than 2,300 yards on the ground last season. Watching Tucker and James race for 1,000-yard seasons will be fun.

9. Roy Finch, Oklahoma: Finch loves to put defenders in the spin cycle, but could hardly get on the field last season until Whaley was injured. Once he did, though, he made a big impact. He topped 83 yards four times in five weeks late last season, but he has to be more consistent. He also had four yards on six carries against Iowa. We'll see if he showcases his explosiveness as a junior in 2012.

10. James White, Iowa State: Iowa State badly needed White to step up when Shontrelle Johnson went down with a neck injury, and White did. He topped 135 yards twice after Johnson's injury and scored eight times, including two in a triple-overtime win against Iowa early in the season.

Honorable mention: Dustin Garrison, West Virginia; Joe Bergeron, Texas; James Sims, Kansas; Shontrelle Johnson, Iowa State; Tony Pierson, Kansas
Dustin Garrison was overlooked.

OK, so it wasn’t hard to do. He is 5-foot-9.

But the fact that he played and produced for the top team in Texas -- Pearland -- and still remained below the radar was a recruiting head-scratcher. The fact that he ran for 292 yards in his first college game was indication that West Virginia, which offered after the bowl season, has an early lead on how to successfully recruit Texas.

“When I first got the job 18 months ago, we had already started recruiting a little bit, recruiting Texas a little bit,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Got a great boss in Oliver Luck. Understands college football, understands geography. He had already expressed some interest in wanting to recruit some in Texas, because everybody else recruits in Texas.”

But Holgorsen didn’t need the West Virginia athletic director's advice to know the importance of the Lone Star State. He spent nine years as an assistant coach at Houston and Texas Tech, plus another year at Oklahoma State recruiting Texas kids.

So he knows there is talent. And he knows he has to get some of it to be successful.

“We will recruit Houston, we will Dallas,’’ said Holgorsen, who already has one Texas commit, guard Tyler Tezeno (Spring, Texas/Klein). “I think we've got to be careful a little bit about how much manpower we put here. Because it's so competitive. Like I said, everybody's recruiting this.”

That includes the Big 12’s other newcomer, TCU. Sure, the Horned Frogs maintained their run with home-state talent. And while their location hasn’t changed, their status certainly has.

(Read full post)

We've already discussed the conference's 3,000-yard passers in 2012, followed by the 1,000-yard receivers.

But what about the guys toting the ball?

Last season, 47 running backs topped 1,000 yards, including five from the Big 12.

Here's who will hit quadruple-digit rushing yards in 2012 across the Big 12.

1. Joseph Randle, RB, Oklahoma State: Randle is one of two returning 1,000-yard rushers in the Big 12, and the league's leading returner. He'll do it again as a junior in 2012. He's the best and most experienced weapon in OSU's offensive arsenal, and he'll get plenty of touches with true freshman quarterback Wes Lunt learning the ropes in 2012.

2. Collin Klein, QB, Kansas State: Nobody could stop him in 2011, so why would anyone be able to do it in 2012? Manhattan, Kansas' resident Panzer tank could have stood up and alerted the entire defense to the play for some of his snaps in 2011, and it still wouldn't have mattered. He led the Big 12 in carries last season and he may do it again this year. He'll top 1,000 yards easily. He may throw it better and a little more, but coach Bill Snyder won't get away from the bread and butter of his offense.

3. Malcolm Brown, RB, Texas: Brown will break through a crowded backfield this season and surge ahead of Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray to earn his first 1,000-yard season as a sophomore. He'll barely do it, but he'll do it. The carries will be spread out between that trio, but Brown should be the most consistent of the group. The only variable is his health. Brown and Bergeron both had trouble staying healthy in 2011.

4. Waymon James, RB, TCU: Ed Wesley's offseason exit frees up 120 or so carries in the offense, and James will be the man to take a few more and top 1,000 yards. James had 875 yards last year, and TCU will have to throw it more than it did in 2011, but James will hit quadruple digits late in the season.

Just missed: Dustin Garrison, RB, West Virginia; Matthew Tucker, TCU; Tony Pierson, Kansas; Joe Bergeron, Texas; John Hubert, Kansas State; Jeremy Smith; Oklahoma State; James White, Iowa State

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ESPN Films Presents: Nixon's National Champs - Nixon vs. Paterno
In 1969, Joe Paterno thought a National Championship was on the horizon, but President Richard Nixon was standing in his way. Nixon's National Champs premieres Sunday December 28th at 10:30pm ET on ESPN.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

BIG 12 SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12