Texas Longhorns: Joe Wickline

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Charlie Strong has a Texas-sized problem on his hands.

When a new coach is hired, especially at a place like The University of Texas, it usually creates excitement with prospects and high school coaches on the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Longhorns, that buzz isn’t there. With the addition of ESPN 300 receiver DaMarkus Lodge on Thursday, Texas A&M further tightened its grip on the top talent in the Lone Star State.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Eric GayCharlie Strong still has nearly eight months to bolster his 2015 recruiting class.
Lodge’s pledge gives A&M three of the top eight players in Texas and positions the Aggies for a run that could include four of the top five and five of the top 10.

On the other hand, the Longhorns, whose 2015 class is ranked No. 11 in ESPN's rankings, are struggling within their home state. Texas has yet to gain a commit from a top-10 in-state player. To make matters worse, Strong’s staff is losing commits to conference rivals and SEC powers in Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, LSU and Oklahoma.

“In the state of Texas, A&M has taken over,” Cedar Hill (Texas) High School coach Joey McGuire said. “Through what coach [Kevin] Sumlin has done and then what Johnny Manziel did to help put that school in such a great position, it's helped them move to whole different level. They're the hot thing going right now. It's hard to beat, even for a program like Texas.”

As any Texas fan will tell you, there’s nothing worse than losing to the hated Aggies. The recruiting beatdown could continue as A&M is in good position with cornerback Kendall Sheffield, linebacker Malik Jefferson, defensive end James Lockhart and cornerback Kris Boyd -- all ESPN 300 prospects strongly considering playing in College Station.

A Big 12 assistant who recruits in the Lone Star State said he could see that Texas would have problems on the recruiting trail the minute Strong announced his staff. The assistant praised Strong for luring Joe Wickline away from Oklahoma State and believes his addition will help the Longhorns find some hidden gems along the offensive line. But after that, the assistant said it was hardly the all-star cast many thought Strong could assemble, given the school’s resources.

“I thought [Strong] needed to bring in guys that can stand toe-to-toe against A&M, LSU, Alabama, Oklahoma and all the other top teams that recruit in Texas,” the coach said. “He needed guys that had deep ties with the high school coaches in Texas. Instead, he got a lot of coaches that can win recruiting battles against Cincinnati, UCF and teams like that. This is the Big 12, not the AAC.”

In defense of the Longhorns, Strong did retain Bruce Chambers, who is entering his 17th season in Austin and has connections with high school football in the state. He also hired Les Koenning, a 1981 Texas graduate who is entering his 34th year of coaching after previous stops at Mississippi State, South Alabama, Texas A&M, Alabama, TCU, Houston, Duke, Rice and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Replacing Mack Brown wasn’t going to be easy. Replacing the relationships he so tirelessly built with Texas high school coaches will take some time.

All of this has made Strong’s job of recruiting local talent more difficult than most assumed it would be when he was first hired six months ago. But all is not lost. There has been no shortage of effort from the Longhorns’ staff, and Strong can sway some recruits with a simple formula this fall: winning.

“If Charlie Strong comes out and wins, there might be another flip,” McGuire said. “If they can come out and surprise some people this year and win games, then they’re going to be the hot team with recruits. Winning and losing is going to make a big part of those schools' recruiting classes.”

Top Big 12 recruiters 

June, 9, 2014
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There has been a lot of transition within the coaching ranks at Big 12 schools, which has caused the league’s reputation on the recruiting trail to slip a little bit. But if you dig deeper, you’ll find there are still plenty of quality established recruiters, and some rising newcomers at major programs like Oklahoma and Baylor.

Days after the NFL draft, some Texas Longhorns fans still scratch their heads in disbelief. How a celebrated college football program -- one with decorated, award-winning athletes -- have zero players drafted into the NFL?

For the first time since before World War II, a Longhorn wasn’t selected in the draft. It became national news, and it’s news that no program wants to have attached to it, let alone one of the nation’s most established programs. When Memphis safety Lonnie Ballentine was selected by the Houston Texans as the 256th pick -- the last pick of the seven-round draft -- it opened the floodgates for barbs thrown by Texas antagonists.

What the draft ineffectiveness failed to do, however, was steer recruits -- committed and uncommitted -- away from the program’s future. If anything, it’s drawn some closer to the vision of new coach Charlie Strong and his staff.

“Some people are taking it all over the top,” uncommitted ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “Those weren’t Charlie’s people; he didn’t develop any of those kids. Why would people want to change their minds off going to a great school like Texas because of something they couldn’t control?”

[+] EnlargeKendall Sheffield
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNKendall Sheffield, the top-ranked player in Texas, said the fact the Longhorns had no draft picks has no bearing on his recruitment.
The draft has forced recruits to answer questions some might feel are slightly unnecessary:

“Will the draft affect your thoughts on Texas?”

“Can you trust the Longhorns to groom you into a pro-ready athlete after college?”

“Do you want to be a part of the laughingstock of college football?”

ESPN 300 cornerback Kendall Sheffield has had to answer some of these questions this week. The top-ranked player in Texas, Sheffield said he still has the Longhorns high on a list of several schools, a list that includes Texas A&M, Alabama, Baylor, Florida State, LSU, Oklahoma, Oregon and USC.

Sheffield admitted to being shocked that the Longhorns didn’t have a draft pick, but to look at the program with a side eye -- particularly with a new coach in charge -- is something that never crossed his mind.

“I don’t know if it plays a role in recruiting. I mean, they’ve still got to rebuild,” Sheffield said. “I know they’re going to still get some big recruits in. For me, I’m going to find the school that’s the best fit for me and the place I feel has the best position coach. The draft won’t have nothing to do with it.”

Jefferson, believed to have Texas high on his list along with Texas A&M, Baylor, Alabama and others, reminded people that while the Longhorns went without a drafted player, Strong's former team at Louisville had three first-round picks in safety Calvin Pryor (No. 18 overall to the Jets), defensive end Marcus Smith (No. 26, Eagles) and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (No. 32, Vikings).

“He knows what he’s doing,” Jefferson said of Strong.

During the Mack Brown era, 58 Longhorns were drafted. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was a first-round pick by the Saints last year. Receiver/return specialist Marquise Goodwin (Bills) and defensive end Alex Okafor (Cardinals) were selected in the third and fourth rounds in 2013.

This year’s crop of undrafted talent included defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat and receiver Mike Davis. Jeffcoat was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and the Ted Hendricks Award recipient, recognizing the nation's top defensive end. Davis caught 200 passes in his college career and is one of only four players in school history with 200 or more receptions.

Jeffcoat and Davis, as well as other Longhorns, signed with NFL teams as undrafted free agents, which is another reason why recruits aren’t worried about the draft results. ESPN 300 offensive lineman Patrick Vahe -- who committed to Texas during the Brown era and chose to stay committed under Strong -- believes the draft is in full control of a player and not the coach.

Texas’ ability to produce NFL offensive linemen has been sliding in recent years. The Longhorns haven’t had an offensive lineman drafted since tackle Tony Hills in 2008. To assist in further developing linemen, Strong hired former Oklahoma State coach Joe Wickline, who coached NFL linemen Russell Okung, Corey Hilliard and Charlie Johnson at the college level. Okung is fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the Seahawks.

Vahe said he’ll worry about being a pro athlete when that time comes. Right now, he’s focused on being the best college athlete possible, and the 2014 draft isn’t weighing on his decision.

“I think I can learn a lot from [Wickline].” Vahe said. “We talked about his game plan, and I’m putting a lot of trust with him. The rest of it … I think people are just taking it over the top.”

Todd Dodge, head coach at Austin Westlake High School, former head coach at North Texas and a former quarterback for the Longhorns, said a draft should never have an effect on a recruit’s decision.

Dodge played at Texas from 1982-85. In that span, he saw several teammates drafted, including first-round cornerbacks Mossy Cade and Jerry Gray. The 1984 draft class featured 17 Longhorns.

Not having a draftee was an eye-opener, Dodge said, but it shouldn’t be a discussion piece in relation to Texas’ recruiting -- particularly with the changing of the guard at head coach.

“If Coach Strong and his staff are on the road making their rounds and people are using common sense, they’ll judge them by what they see,” Dodge said. “Texas has always been in the hunt for great players in the state of Texas. If there’s any doubt, you can always point to the players drafted from Louisville. Coach Strong has a track record that’s proven.”

As for the jokes from rival schools, Vahe understands that they come will with the territory, whether the program goes winless or earns a BCS championship. He also understands that the way to silence some of the jokes is by producing in practices and games and later during NFL combines and workouts. He believes a change for the better is near for the program.

“People love to talk, but it’s nothing big, really,” Vahe said. “I know [Strong] just got there, and they’re all going to start a new era. Hopefully I’ll be one of those who helps start the new era.”

Spring takeaways: Offensive mystery

April, 30, 2014
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Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices and what they mean for the summer and beyond.

AUSTIN, Texas -- With all the talk about culture change and the confusion over coordinators and the conundrum at quarterback, an important question didn’t really get answered this spring.

What is Texas’ new offense going to look like?

You have to wonder how the Longhorns' offensive leaders are handling a third consecutive year of transition. They've played in a pro-style offense for Bryan Harsin and an up-tempo spread under Major Applewhite that got scrapped for a run-heavy attack. Now they have to master a brand new playbook constructed by two coaches.

[+] EnlargeJaxon Shipley
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJaxon Shipley is among the Texas veterans adjusting to another new offense this spring.
Shoot, even the veterans like Malcolm Brown and Jaxon Shipley made their verbal commitments out of high school with the intention of playing for Greg Davis. They've been in for change on a near-annual basis ever since.

Perhaps that's why assistant head coach Shawn Watson focused on bringing Texas' offense back to basics this spring.

"Getting our base formations, personnel groups, the base run taught, the base protection, the base pass," Watson said. "We haven't gone much past that because we wanted to bring that to detail."

Bringing everything "to detail" is a concept Watson throws around a lot when talking about where the Longhorns are and where they need to be. It's not about starting from scratch. It's about learning to execute the new plays exactly as they're drawn up. Master the minutia first.

"Everyone has really stepped up to the challenge," Shipley said after the spring game. "We’ve put in new stuff throughout the whole spring and this was the first time to really go through all of the plays. This is not going to be all of it, we’ll have more stuff to put in and it’ll improve."

The new staff intended to stay especially vanilla in its Orange-White spring game. They showed nothing groundbreaking, and would've been hard-pressed to anyway with just one true scholarship quarterback available. But center Dominic Espinosa expects a number of new wrinkles by the end of August. No need to show off now.

"That was a little taste of what we’re trying to do," Espinosa said after the scrimmage.

Knowing what to reasonably expect from this unit in 2014 is tricky. At Louisville, Watson says it all came together in Year 2. Over his three-year stint, the Cardinals ranked No. 3 in FBS in completion percentage, No. 2 in fewest turnovers and top 10 in yards per attempt.

Teddy Bridgewater can take credit for much of that efficiency, but he thrived in part because his offense was built on a sturdy foundation.

Pair that with the philosophies of Joe Wickline, whose Oklahoma State offensive lines paved the way for one of the nation's best spread run games, and you can put together a picture of a powerful system.

Envision an offense that pounds inside-outside with the run to set up a four-wide passing game, one that can also go under center and grind with two tight ends. And, on top of that, a capability to go tempo and adjust on the fly when its quarterback heats up.

Or maybe Watson and Wickline have something entirely different in mind. They have a long summer to concoct something special for an offense that's unmistakably loaded at running back and receiver.

After two years of transitions, mixed messages and changing demands, there's merit in taking it slow and doing this right. That was Watson's mindset going into the spring game.

"It is more about the players right now and putting them out there and seeing what we have now," Watson said.

The next few months are a different story. Watson and Wickline know what they've got in these players. Now they must figure out what to do with them.
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

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

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong finally put an end to all the confusion on Tuesday. Or did he?

The great question is who exactly is responsible for calling the offensive plays at Texas, a topic that seemed fairly cut and dried when Strong first addressed it on Jan. 15, following the hiring of his staff.

"Joe Wickline will call plays on offense," Strong said then. "He’s the offensive coordinator; he will call plays.”

[+] EnlargeShawn Watson
John S. Peterson/Icon SMIShawn Watson, shown at Nebraska in 2010, is the assistant head coach of the Texas offense and will be in charge of play calling, though he won't necessarily be the playcaller.
Wickline is indeed the offensive coordinator after nine years of coaching the offensive line at Oklahoma State. Shawn Watson was hired as the assistant head coach of the offense and quarterbacks coach after serving as Strong's offensive coordinator and playcaller at Louisville, and Strong insisted in January that Watson will be heavily involved in influencing the Longhorns offense.

This seemed like a simple plan at the time, but then a different message started to spread.

Earlier this month, Strong told CBS' Jeremy Fowler that Watson is "gonna be in charge" of play calling and will run the game planning and organization of the offense.

This came just days after Wickline and Watson each met with Texas reporters for the first time and explained that their efforts to oversee the Longhorns offense would be a collaboration. (Wickline discussed his relationship with Watson in this Q&A.) And Strong's quotes to CBS led to a Texas spokesperson confirming to multiple outlets that, yes, Wickline was still expected to call plays on game day.

There are some off-the-field aspects of this story, too. Watson will be paid more than Wickline. And as the Austin American-Statesman reported in January, language in Wickline's contract at Oklahoma State demanded that Texas would have to pay OSU a sum of $600,000 if Wickline wasn't named "offensive coordinator (with play-calling duties)."

So, what's going on here? Strong was given a chance to clarify Tuesday after his first spring practice.

"The one final voice will be Shawn," Strong said. "Joe is the offensive coordinator. Shawn is the assistant head coach in charge of the offense. Two guys work together."

Strong went on to explain that such a split is, in his experience, not uncommon. He was co-defensive coordinator with Greg Mattison for three years at Florida, from 2005 to 2007, and they both made calls. Sometimes those calls were overruled by Urban Meyer. They all made it work. He believes his offensive coaches can handle this.

"When you talk about play-calling duties, they're mature enough. They've been around it enough. Neither one has an ego," Strong said. "Wickline is going to be involved in it. He's going to make some calls. Shawn is going to make some calls. When we go down the stretch and we have to have a call made, I think Shawn, because he's been doing it for a long time and I'm comfortable with him.

"I don't think it will ever be an issue because those two guys have been around too long for the egos. I'm not going to put up with it and they know that. We're not here for ourselves; we're here for these players. And if you have an ego, you're working at the wrong place. Check your ego at the door and let's get going around here. We're here to win and get these young men graduated."

So there's your answer. Watson has final say. Both coaches will contribute play calls. It might sound like a convoluted plan, but that's the plan.

It's not that Strong is attempting to play a shell game and fool everybody. More likely, he's just working with two coaches he knows and trusts and is trying to give both the responsibilities they want.

This may be causing consternation with the fan base, but that doesn't seem to be the case internally. Wickline and Watson publicly act comfortable and confident when talking about their respective roles and about this collaboration process.

Of course, this scheme also threatens to cause issues in the moments when Wickline and Watson have conflicting views on what needs to happen. Wickline acknowledged this month that you never really know how a staff will work together until you hit the season, run into problems and must fix them. That's when Texas truly needs to know who its offensive "voice" is, and that title belongs to Watson.

Right now, all Watson and Wickline care about is getting this Texas offense assembled and up to speed. They'll continue to collaborate and cooperate. That's Strong's story, and he's sticking to it.

Q&A: Texas OC Joe Wickline

March, 19, 2014
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After developing a reputation as one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches in nine years at Oklahoma State, Joe Wickline decided the timing was finally right to make the big move.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
Max OlsonJoe Wickline, who spent nine years at Oklahoma State, has known Texas coach Charlie Strong since they were graduate assistants at Florida in 1983.
He had the opportunity before, after the 2010 season, when Mack Brown approached him about the offensive line job. Wickline decided to stay put. But teaming up with Charlie Strong, a coach he has known for 30 years since their days as graduate assistants at Florida, was too tempting to turn down.

Earlier this month, the new Texas offensive coordinator discussed his decision to leave Oklahoma State and his growing relationship with UT assistant head coach Shawn Watson.

What did it feel like to make that switch from Oklahoma State to Texas?

Wickline: Well, it’s been an interesting ride. The big thing, more than anything, is you’re at one place for nine years. When you’re there, you’re kind of just riding and rolling, and it was a good ride. But then, boom, things transition and you move here and it’s new faces, new people, new players, a new system. The biggest thing is just learning new people and new faces.

Is it a weird feeling when you might build up animosity toward a program like this one, and then you make that move?

Wickline: It may be for a lot of people, maybe I should say it is. But I would probably like to say it’s part of the game. We’re all doing the same thing, whether it’s Baylor University or whether it’s Oklahoma State or Texas Tech. It’s another game.

Why was this the right time to come to Texas?

Wickline: Well, the first thing is that Coach Strong and me go way back, and I believe in Charlie Strong. We started this thing together in ’83 together at the University of Florida, we’ve been against each other on different sidelines, we’ve been back on the same staff together 10 or so years ago, back and separated again. Back together again. Just the relationship with Charlie and our relationship and how long we’ve been together and what we stand for is probably the first thing.

And the next thing is it’s the University of Texas. You can say whether you want, there’s not a better school in the United States for football and for academics, the environment and what it can do for the student-athlete and the places we can go at Texas.

Was it at all a difficult decision to take this job?

Wickline: No, it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I love Stillwater and I love the people of Oklahoma and I gained a lot from being there and I’m very fortunate to have to have gone there. I tell you what, they did a nice job. I wouldn’t be where I’m at today if it hadn’t been for the people there, [athletic director] Mike Holder and [head coach] Mike Gundy and the staff members there. But my son was graduating in June and he actually signed a scholarship with Texas-San Antonio. And my daughter loves horses and my wife loves horses, and there are places to ride around here. As long as they’re happy, we’ll be all right.

How would you describe the dynamic you have with Shawn Watson in running this offense?

Wickline: It’s been special. You don’t really know where it’s at until you go through a battle, until you’ve been through a year and you’ve had a bunch of bad things happen and some good things, and there’s ideas and views and opinions. But as far as the relationship, the good thing is we all come from excellent backgrounds. I can tell you right now that every guy in that room -- Bruce Chambers, Tommie Robinson, Shawn Watson, Les Koenning myself -- are unbelievably qualified not only at their positions but as offensive coaches.

It’s been a lot of fun, actually, because you’re hearing new ideas, seeing how people did things. When you get with one area for a long time and you hear the same thing, it’s refreshing to get back and hear other ideas and concepts as a group.

How is your relationship with Watson coming along so far?

Wickline: The best thing about Shawn is he’s an unbelievably intelligent guy, he knows what he wants to do, he’s organized. I mean, he’s got a good feel for where he’s at with the quarterback play, offensive football. It’s a good situation for us. And secondly, it’s good to work with a guy who doesn’t have a giant ego and doesn’t need to prove to anybody ‘I’m this’ or ‘I’m that.’ He understands where we’re all at and this is my job and this is your job. It’s been a blast and I love it.
This week, we’re taking a closer look at the members of the new Texas coaching staff under Charlie Strong. The first part of our two-a-days series focuses on the leaders of the Longhorns' offense and what they’ll bring to their respective position groups.

Joe Wickline
Offensive coordinator/offensive line

Mention to Wickline that he’s one of the nation’s best offensive line coaches, and you’ll get a shrug.

He’ll say his résumé of success was a byproduct of the Oklahoma State’s consistent offensive success. But the results -- seven All-Big 12 offensive linemen, three of them All-Americans -- are undisputable. Their success has to, in many ways, be a byproduct of his philosophy.

So let’s dig into that philosophy. What does he look for when recruiting linemen?

"As far as measurables, I like guys that are really athletic, smart and tough," Wickline said. "If they can get those three things, they’ve probably got a chance."

Once they get to campus, they quickly learn one of Wickline’s overarching beliefs about offensive linemen: You must be versatile, capable of playing nearly any role on a line. There are three reasons why he wholeheartedly believes in cross-training.

"No. 1, I want to make sure there’s always competition in the room and on the field," Wickline said. "If the second-team right tackle thinks at any given time the first-team right tackle can never lose his job, he just quits trying. If the first-team right tackle thinks he’ll never lose his job, he’ll just quit trying. It needs to be a day-to-day deal.

"Secondly, they need to be sure they can switch. The left guard needs to know the right guard can go take his place. So it’s all about competition, and it’s a daily deal. The other thing about switching guys, it forces them to learn the entire offense and entire scheme from a protection standpoint and running scheme. If you leave him locked it at one place the whole time, he can’t really feel how does this whole thing go together."

And part three? Injuries can force you to change the plan. Take Oklahoma State's Parker Graham for example.

Wickline planned to move his starting left tackle of 2012 to guard last offseason, with Devin Davis taking over left tackle. Then Davis was lost for the season in August. Graham went back to left tackle, started five games and then returned to right guard for the rest of the season. He finished with first-team All-Big 12 honors.

"Well, it worked out," Wickline said. "Because he moved around a bunch, it wasn’t a big deal to him."

That’s why, when Wickline surveys his roster of Texas linemen for 2014, absolutely nothing is set in stone. He wants to find five starters. And then he’ll keep tweaking the plan, moving new guys in and out, shifting some to other spots, until it works.

He’ll eventually find his starting five for the season opener, but Wickline won’t stop there. If you want to start, you better earn your job every single day.

"This will continue to game five, game eight," Wickline said. "It’s week-by-week. I understand chemistry and I understand continuity.

"But in my world, all that’s important is the quarterback doesn’t get hit, you can run the football and you win football games."

[+] EnlargeShawn Watson
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyTexas hopes to see a big improvement in its offense with the addition of Shawn Watson to the coaching staff.
Shawn Watson
Assistant head coach/quarterbacks

The battle has been going on for more than a decade: Who is Shawn Watson’s favorite pupil?

You can credit Joel Klatt for starting the debate back in 2003 with his record-setting sophomore season at Colorado. By the time his days at CU were over, Watson swore Klatt was the best quarterback he’d coached.

"He was the greatest competitor I’ve ever been around and a great student of the game," Watson said.

So then he went to Nebraska, and another scrappy, underrated quarterback earned his affection. Joe Ganz went on to break 21 school records under Watson’s watch.

"Joe, at the end, he says, 'Wats, did I overcome Klatt?' Watson recalled. "I said, eh, I tell you what, flip a coin. He really chased Joel."

This is the standard Watson will hold his Longhorns quarterbacks to because these are the guys he covets: Gamers. Leaders. Passers with intangibles.

He’s trained the prototypical pocket passers such as Klatt and the explosive dual-threats such as Taylor Martinez. No matter who’s running the show at Texas, Watson will help tailor the offense to his signal-caller’s sensibilities.

"I’m a grinder. My first hobby is football,” Watson said. "I’m not kidding you. I’ve done this 33 years, and this is not a corny statement, but I’ve been Peter Pan. I’ve gotten to do what I love. I love the game of football, and I love to teach.

"The grinder part comes because I don’t want anybody to catch me. I want to be the best at what I do. I enjoy studying the game."

And his former quarterbacks have studied the game enough to know who’s now No. 1 on Watson’s list. Teddy Bridgewater can claim the title belt when he becomes a first-round draft pick in May.

Bridgewater has heard all of Watson’s stories about Klatt and Ganz. The Louisville star did eventually ask who’s the best. Watson has a new answer: All of them.

Watson chuckles when he tells these stories. He knows Klatt and Ganz won’t accept that non-answer.

"They’d say, 'Wats, we know who the best one is,'" Watson joked. "'Just remember us.'"
AUSTIN, Texas -- Balance is a boring word when used by a football coach, a simplistic summation of saying an offense can be anything and everything.

It’s common-sense coach talk, and it’s a word Joe Wickline throws around liberally and insistently when discussing the scheme he’ll construct as Texas’ new offensive coordinator.

The thing about it is, balanced never looked boring at Oklahoma State. Being balanced led to 41 points per game and 485 yards per game over the past five years.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiFinding the correct balance in play-calling and tempo is the main priority for Joe Wickline and the rest of Texas' offensive staff this spring.
For that, Wickline won’t accept much credit or praise. He says his success in Stillwater was the byproduct of a great system. Wickline likes to talk up the offensive geniuses he learned from: Larry Fedora, Todd Monken, Dana Holgorsen. Each one brought their own twists and tricks.

And now, after nine years at OSU, it’s Wickline’s turn to offer up his take on winning offensive football, to install his philosophy at Texas and build something that can rival the Big 12’s most powerful offenses.

That philosophy? Balance, running the ball, and some more balance.

“If you really look at what Coach (Mike) Gundy tried to get done, and what we tried to do as a staff, we’re not going to be one-dimensional,” Wickline said. “We’re not going to throw, throw, throw or run, run, run. It’s about balance in down and distance. Balance in run-pass. When we run, inside-outside. It’s about balance on types of runs, speed, tempo.”

The mission is not to build a replica model of the Cowboys’ wildly and consistently successful offense. There will be obvious influences, but Wickline has more to offer than that.

He’ll be the play caller down on the sideline, but he says his offense will be run by a committee of coaches. Quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, running backs coach Tommie Robinson, receivers coach Les Koenning and longtime tight ends coach Bruce Chambers will all have a say.

Someone will specialize in the run game, someone will oversee the pass game, another will focus on situational playcalling. This isn’t a one-man show.

As Wickline puts it, he’s constructing a University of Texas offense.

“What does that mean? We’re going to do a little bit of everything,” he said. “We’re going to have some of Louisville, some Mississippi State, some Oklahoma State. The bottom line is, we’re going to do what our personnel allows us to do and get in multiple formations and be balanced and play fast.”

At Oklahoma State, the offensive scheme was revisited annually. It might’ve all looked the same on TV, year after year, but every spring Wickline and the offensive staff met to evaluate their personnel, their previous season’s play-calling and found ways to adjust. New wrinkles, new options, new ideas.

He’ll do the same as the Longhorns’ OC and offensive line coach. All those years in Stillwater have made him far more familiar with what he’s inheriting at Texas than he might’ve realized. He’s seen enough film, and recruited enough of these players, over the years to have a solid sense of what Texas can put on the field in 2014.

“I will say this: We have a very impressive looking group of guys, in terms of maturity and in terms of the physical combativeness of them,” Wickline said. “In terms of where they’ll fit and where they’ll end up, I think we’ll know more at the end of spring.”

Watson said the staff has spent the past three weeks working to piece together their offensive system. Thus far, the staff has stuck to running this show by committee, and this marriage of his ideas with Wickline’s is off to a good start.

“The other aspect, and what I think is a real important part of the multiplicity, is the speed part and the no-huddle part, which we have all been a part of,” Watson said. “At Louisville last year, we did that quite a bit to help us out with some injury situations. Joe has a great background with that and so does Les. Everybody has had experience with it, but everyone has had a unique and different experience.”

Wickline and Watson didn't spend much time Wednesday talking about their new players. There's plenty of time for that this spring, once they've put Texas' talent to the test. They've got an offense to construct first, but they're in agreement on the blueprint.

"Right now," Watson said, "we're working together and just putting it all together."
Texas entered the 2013 season with one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines. That's no longer the case going into spring ball, though the Longhorns did add one of the nation's most respected offensive line coaches this offseason.

How's he going to put this group together? A look at the battle to replace four former starters:

Departed: Left guard Trey Hopkins (42 career starts), right guard Mason Walters (51) and left tackle Donald Hawkins (23) are graduating, and former starting right tackle Josh Cochran elected to end his playing career due to a recurring shoulder injury. The junior had started 23 of his 30 career games. Backup center Garrett Porter also graduates. Walters’ 51-game start streak tied for longest in the nation among lineman at the end of 2013.

Spring contenders: OT Kennedy Estelle, OT Desmond Harrison, OT Kent Perkins, OT Garrett Greenlea, OT Camrhon Hughes, OG Sedrick Flowers, OG Curtis Riser, OG Rami Hammad, OG Darius James, OG Taylor Doyle, OG Alex Anderson, C Dominic Espinosa, C Jake Raulerson

Summer contenders: C Terrell Cuney, OT Elijah Rodriguez

The skinny: Yep, that’s a crowded field. Lot of big bodies, not a lot of experience among them.

Espinosa is the elder statesman of the group, having started all 39 games of his career. He and Harrison are the only seniors of this group, and Harrison hasn’t played meaningful minutes yet.

We don’t know what many of these linemen are capable of entering spring ball because so few have seen the field, but the bar has been set high for the members of Texas’ 2013 signing class. Former Texas coach Mack Brown considered that group -- Harrison, Perkins, Hammad, James and Raulerson -- the best offensive line class he had ever signed.

Will new offensive line coach and OC Joe Wickline agree? He recruited several of his new pupils during his days at Oklahoma State, but he has no reason to stick to the plan laid out by the previous staff. If the younger linemen beat out the veterans, they’ll play.

The best of the bunch, at least based on 2013 performances, could be Estelle and Perkins. Estelle, a junior, started eight games in place of Cochran and had some promising moments. Perkins was too good to redshirt as a true freshman. Harrison is the wild card of the group and has been an enigma during his time in burnt orange.

As for the guards, Flowers had the full respect of Walters and Hopkins and is finally getting his chance. The highly-touted James redshirted as a freshman, as did Hammad. They’ll battle Riser this spring. Anderson, an early enrollee from New Orleans, could challenge them as well.

That’s how it looks on paper, but keep this in mind: Wickline isn’t afraid to move linemen around and cross-train them at other positions. That preparation paid off for several of his Cowboy linemen over the years. The way this group looks today could be very different come August.

Prediction: Expect movement and possibly a few surprises. It’s all up to Wickline and who makes an impression on him in spring ball. The safest bets to start are probably Espinosa, Estelle and Flowers. Don’t be surprised if James or Hammad win out for the other guard spot, and for Perkins to take a lead over Harrison exiting spring ball. These second-year linemen are legit.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: OL

February, 21, 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 Friday with offensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the offensive lines at the moment:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJoe Wickline's move from the OSU staff to Texas is an important storyline in the Big 12.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats will be stout inside. Guard Cody Whitehair and center BJ Finney are All-Big 12 caliber. Veteran starters Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks are gone at tackle, but Bill Snyder signed two of the top 15 juco tackles in the country in A.J. Allen and Luke Hayes. If Allen and Hayes can solidify the bookends, K-State could be stout up front.

3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.

4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.

5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMITexas Tech's Le'Raven Clark is one of the best offensive tackles in the Big 12.
6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have an NFL talent in left tackle Le'Raven Clark, who earned All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore. Despite Clark, the Red Raiders line struggled last year, giving up 33 sacks (second-worst in the Big 12). But it should be improved in 2014. Juco tackles Dominique Robertson (ESPN JC 50) and Shaq Davis are on the way, and 2013 RT starter Rashad Fortenberry could be back, too, if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver. Losing guard Beau Carpenter to dismissal hurts, but Baylen Brown has starting experience. Brown, Alfredo Morales, James Polk and center Jared Kaster all return after combining for 31 starts along the interior last season.

7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.

8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.

9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.

10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).
The Big 12 is full of talented assistant coaches. In a conference loaded with quality assistants, we've tried to narrow it down to the top 10 based on the on-field production of their offense, defense or position group and their ability to evaluate, recruit and develop players at their position.

[+] EnlargeMike Stoops
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMike Stoops' defenses at Oklahoma have been among the best in the Big 12 the last two seasons.
Here's a closer look at the top 10 assistant coaches in the Big 12:

  1. Mike Stoops, Oklahoma defensive coordinator/safeties coach: The Sooners defense has been solid since Stoops returned after his stint as head coach at Arizona. Oklahoma has been among the Big 12’s top defenses during the past two seasons, particularly against the pass. Stoops secured the top spot on the list with his willingness to completely change the defense in 2013, going to a three-man front and making the defense faster and more versatile. And he’s one of the best evaluators and developers of defensive backs in the country.
  2. Phillip Montgomery, Baylor offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach: Montgomery coordinated the nation’s top offense in 2013. The Bears led all BCS teams, averaging 52.4 points and 618.8 yards per game, as the offense spearheaded Baylor's run to its first Big 12 title. Montgomery also has mentored some of the Big 12’s top quarterbacks in recent years, including Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence, capped by Big 12 offensive player of the year Bryce Petty in 2013.
  3. Glenn Spencer, Oklahoma State defensive coordinator/linebackers coach: Spencer took over Oklahoma State’s defense in 2013 and the Cowboys transformed into a more aggressive and adaptive unit. Oklahoma State's defense led the Big 12 in fewest points allowed (21.6) and lowest third-down conversion rate (31.4 percent) to finish among the top 20 teams in the BCS in each category. Spencer also is a superb recruiter and developer of linebackers for the Cowboys, who featured two of the Big 12’s best in Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis last season.
  4. Dick Bumpas, TCU defensive coordinator/defensive line coach: Bumpas has coached with TCU head coach Gary Patterson since 2004, and the Horned Frogs have fielded some of the best defenses in the nation during Patterson’s tenure. TCU’s defense finished among the Big 12’s best in several categories in 2013, including its 4.83 yards allowed per play, which was No. 13 among BCS teams. Bumpas’ defensive line group also has been among the Big 12’s best, as he consistently turns players other teams overlooked into solid performers.
  5. Dana Dimel, Kansas State offensive coordinator/running backs and tight ends coach: The Wildcats' creativity on offense often goes unnoticed, but K-State finished among the top 30 BCS teams in yards per play. Dimel, who coaches the running backs and tight ends, has been a key member of Bill Snyder’s staff and has coached 34 players who have played in the NFL. That includes Daniel Thomas, who arrived on campus as a junior college quarterback before developing into an All-Big 12 running back.
  6. Joe Wickline, Texas offensive coordinator/offensive line coach: Wickline has been one of the Big 12’s top position coaches for the past few years as Oklahoma State’s offensive line coach. He coached several players to all-conference honors, including NFL first-round pick Russell Okung. Wickline moves to Austin, Texas, in 2014 after being named Texas’ offensive coordinator by head coach Charlie Strong. He has a proven ability to evaluate talent and develop relative unknowns into productive offensive linemen.
  7. Wally Burnham, Iowa State defensive coordinator/linebackers coach: Burnham consistently has developed All-Big 12 linebackers during his time on the Cyclones' coaching staff. During his five seasons coaching linebackers, Jesse Smith, Jake Knott, A.J. Klein and Jeremiah George each earned All-Big 12 honors. The Cyclones defense took a step backward in 2013, but much of their success under Paul Rhoads is built upon an underrated defense led by quality linebackers.
  8. Sonny Cumbie, TCU co-offensive coordinator: The Red Raiders receivers have been among the Big 12’s best under Cumbie for the past few seasons. His work with the receivers was one reason Texas Tech led the Big 12 and finished second nationally with 392.85 yards per game in 2013 despite playing multiple quarterbacks. Cumbie will play a key role in kick-starting TCU’s offense in 2014.
  9. Kendal Briles, Baylor passing game coordinator/receivers coach: Briles secured his spot on this list thanks to his ability to evaluate, recruit and develop receivers. He’s one reason Baylor has become “Wide Receiver U” in the Big 12 while putting several players into the NFL, including Kendall Wright, Terrance Williams and Josh Gordon. Not only does he evaluate well -- such as with overlooked speedster Tevin Reese -- Briles has shown he can develop those signees into all-Big 12 performers.
  10. Jay Norvell, Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach: Much like Briles, Norvell consistently recruits and develops players for the Sooners. He coached NFL draftees Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills and Justin Brown during the past three seasons, when six receivers have caught at least 50 passes. His ability to continue to bring in elite prospects amps up the competition at the position.

What Wickline, Watson bring to Texas

January, 22, 2014
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Charlie Strong has more than six months to come up with his answer to the question, but Texas fans will demand to know by March.

What kind of offense will the Longhorns install this offseason? That’s all anyone has wanted to know since Strong was hired earlier this month.

The answer he’s offered up so far: A spread attack with a power run game.

“You look at Louisville, and we weren't a spread team. We lined up and had a good mixture. It is all about balance,” Strong said last week. “You look at Oklahoma, and it is a balance and what you want to see, a balance with your run and pass.

“You can talk about all those teams that throw the ball around, but at the end of the day, if you can't line up and run downhill and punch somebody in the mouth, then you are going to have issues.”

Strong is planning to marry the concepts and talents of offensive coordinator Joe Wickline, one of the nation’s premier offensive line coaches, with quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson, his OC at Louisville.

Let’s take a closer look at what Wickline and Watson achieved at their previous stops. If they can come anywhere close to recreating their recent success, Texas’ No. 66-ranked scoring offense in 2013 could be in for some promising changes.

Wickline at Oklahoma State

Wickline helped oversee one of the most successful offenses in in the country while coaching the Cowboys’ offensive line. The numbers certainly back that up.

Since arriving at OSU in 2005, Oklahoma State has had the No. 3 scoring offense in FBS with an average of 37.7 points per game. Over that same nine-year tenure, OSU ranked No. 5 nationally in total offense, fifth in yards per play and ninth in yards per rush.

Just as impressive: The Wickline-coached offensive lines gave up the third-fewest sacks in FBS over the past nine seasons.

Wickline comes from an offense that was best in the Big 12 in scoring, rushing, yards per play and explosive plays of 20-plus yards over the past nine years. His QBs were kept clean, averaging fewer than 15 sacks per season, and his rushers thrived, with four different backs combining for six straight All-Big 12 honors.

You can attribute that to Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy. You can credit the six different offensive coordinators OSU had during those nine years. It truly is remarkable production for that much staff turnover. But give Wickline his due credit, too.

His offensive lines protected and paved the way for six top-20 offenses. Quarterback Zac Robinson started 36 games in his career and was sacked a total of 32 times. Brandon Weeden (26 starts) went down 21 times in his career. Clint Chelf took 18 sacks.

Meanwhile, Colt McCoy was sacked 92 times in 53 starts. David Ash has 22 starts and has already been sacked 30 times.

We don’t know what Wickline brings to the table as a play-caller. But we do know he helped build the foundation for one of the nation’s best spread attacks and comes to Austin with a wealth of knowledge on how to install a similar scheme at Texas.

Watson at Louisville

[+] EnlargeShawn Watson
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyTexas hopes to see a big improvement in its offense with the addition of Shawn Watson to the coaching staff.
The three-year averages of Watson’s time as Louisville offensive coordinator are, well, average.

Since the start of 2011, Louisville’s offense ranked No. 53 in scoring and No. 58 in total offense nationally. But those stats don’t explain the growth the Cardinals enjoyed under Watson.

Just compare the offenses of 2011 and 2013. A 21.9-points-per-game offense evolved into 35.2 per game, which ranked in the top 25 nationally. Total offense went up 127 yards per game in two seasons, and Louisville went from 90th in FBS in yards per play to 12th.

The Cardinals enjoyed year-to-year improvements in nearly every major offensive statistic from 2011 to 2013, while remaining faithful to a 50-50 run-pass split.

And there is one statistic the Cardinals truly hung their hat on over these past three years: Their offense turned the ball over just 44 times, which tied with Alabama and Navy for second fewest in FBS. They had the fewest turnovers in the country in 2013 with 10, a number only three teams have bested in the past decade.

And yes, Teddy Bridgewater had an awful lot to do with this progress. You can also argue that Louisville’s conference competition weakened over this period due to realignment.

But the results are real, and it’s not hard to see why Strong brought Watson with him.

How Watson and Wickline will collaborate on this Longhorn offense remains to be seen. But if their last jobs are any indication, the future of Texas' offense appears to be in capable hands.

Big 12 lunchtime links

January, 20, 2014
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Is LeBron going to try to acquire all rights to this video and have it deleted, too?
It’s never too early to start talking about the Heisman. After all, the past two Heisman winners, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, were redshirt freshman who had zero college experience before their Heisman season. The Big 12 should have plenty of candidates, some known and some unknown, heading into the 2014.

Here’s a look at the Big 12’s top five Heisman candidates heading into 2014.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsBryce Petty, one of the nation's top QBs this season, returns to lead Baylor's high-flying offense and could be on Heisman short lists in 2014.
1. Quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor: The Bears quarterback should continue to spark nightmares for Big 12 defensive coordinators. He’s confident, accurate and efficient while triggering the Baylor offense. His 16.8 yards per completion was a full yard better than Winston and led all FBS quarterbacks.

Petty’s 85.5 adjusted QBR was fifth nationally this season, and he should be even better with a full season under his belt. Top target Antwan Goodley returns as well, so the Big 12’s top quarterback-receiver duo remains intact, and there’s no reason to think Big 12 teams will have any answers for the Bears’ pair in 2014. If Baylor has another impressive run to the top of the conference standings, Petty could find himself making a similar run toward the top of Heisman ballots.

2. Receiver Tyler Lockett, Kansas State: Simply put, Lockett is K-State’s passing offense. He accounted for 43.2 percent of the Wildcats’ receiving yards and 50 percent of their receiving touchdowns while finishing with 81 receptions for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2013.

Lockett could easily be considered the Big 12’s most valuable offensive player, as his quickness, route running and consistency make him tough to contain. His progression from accomplished return threat to polished receiver has been remarkable. If he continues that progression, and the Wildcats win a bunch of games, he could insert himself into the Heisman conversation.

3. Receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor: At Oklahoma State in 2011, Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon's combined brilliance tended to dull the shine on their individual accomplishments as the natural question emerged: Would they be as productive without each other? We could see a similar situation developing at Baylor with Petty and Goodley.

Goodley is the Big 12’s toughest cover, as his size, speed and strength combine to manhandle even the best defensive backs. Goodley had 71 receptions for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns, with 100-yard games in eight of 13 contests. If Baylor makes a run at its second straight Big 12 title, Goodley could be in the middle of it. And if he has a Heisman moment or two in the Bears’ biggest games, he could earn some Heisman love.

4. Running back Johnathan Gray, Texas: If the Longhorns’ best running back returns to good health, he could become the breakout star in the Big 12 during Charlie Strong’s first season. Strong keeps speaking of toughness as a priority for his program, which means running the football will be a focus, particularly with Joe Wickline calling plays. And Gray could be the beneficiary of that focus with his quick feet and playmaking skills.

If Gray has a setback during his recovery from his Achilles injury, Malcolm Brown could find himself in the Heisman mix as Gray’s replacement since he’s very talented in his own right and someone will have to tote the rock for Wickline’s offense.

5. Quarterback Davis Webb, Texas Texas: When you actually step back and take a closer look at Webb’s numbers, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the Red Raiders quarterback meeting room has resembled a Baltimore corner when someone yells, "Omar comin'" during an episode of HBO’s “The Wire.”

Webb ranked No. 12 nationally with a 82.6 adjusted QBR this season, ahead of Braxton Miller, Teddy Bridgewater and Tajh Boyd, among others. And he did it as a true freshman. Now, with the departures of Baker Mayfield and Michael Brewer, Webb is poised to be the main man throwing darts in Kliff Kingsbury’s offense, which should be among the Big 12’s top passing units again after ending the 2013 season second among FBS teams (392.89 passing yards per game). The clear dark horse on this list, it wouldn't be shocking to watch Webb rise to the top if the Red Raiders end up in the middle of the Big 12 title race.

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