Texas Longhorns: Josh Lambert

As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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Taking stock of Week 10 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: The Cowboys on Saturday showed why they were the preseason pick to win the Big 12. Oklahoma State jumped to a 21-0 lead over Texas Tech, and, for the most part, controlled the game the rest of the way. Despite throwing two interceptions, QB Clint Chelf played his best game since last season, accounting for four touchdowns. Desmond Roland and Rennie Childs also spearheaded another tremendous effort on the ground, as OSU converted all six of its red zone possessions into touchdowns. Defensively, the Cowboys were terrific, too, limiting Tech to just three touchdowns over 17 possessions. This is a team beginning to find its stride -- just in time to make a run at the Big 12 championship.

[+] EnlargeJace Amaro
Michael C. Johnson/USA TODAY SportsJace Amaro, who caught 15 passes for 174 yards in Texas Tech's loss to Oklahoma State, had a crucial fumble caused by Cowboys safety Daytawion Lowe.
Disappointment of the week: The Horned Frogs had an opportunity to take a step toward securing a bowl berth and partially salvaging the season. Instead, TCU blew a 17-3 lead, then self-destructed in overtime in a 30-27 loss to West Virginia. The Frogs turned the ball over three times in five plays, then committed a personal foul in overtime that resulted in having to attempt a 62-yard field goal. To even qualify for a bowl now, TCU will have to run the table, which is less likely than a 62-yard field goal.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Chelf, West Virginia running back Charles Sims and Kansas State running back John Hubert.

Chelf had two terrible interceptions, including a pick-six, in Lubbock. But he was terrific otherwise. Chelf threw for 211 yards and rushed for another 88 while accounting for four touchdowns.

Sims had his best performance yet as a Mountaineer, piling up 154 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries to power the West Virginia comeback in Fort Worth.

Hubert produced his best game of the season, too, rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.

Big (defensive) men on campus: OSU safety Daytawion Lowe, Texas defensive tackle Chris Whaley and K-State defensive end Ryan Mueller.

In the first quarter, Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro hauled in a 21-yard pass across the middle on third-and-long. But at the end of the play, Lowe upended him, popping the ball loose, which the Cowboys recovered. The next play, the Cowboys converted a flea-flicker. The play after that, they were in the end zone to storm to a 14-0 lead. Lowe also led the Cowboys with a game-high 11 tackles.

With Texas clinging to a 14-6 lead midway through the third quarter, Whaley delivered his second game-changing defensive touchdown of the season. Teammate Cedric Reed hit Kansas QB Jake Heaps from behind, the ball popping to the turf. Whaley scooped it up and thundered 40 yards for the touchdown. “All of the momentum changed in one play," said Kansas coach Charlie Weis, as the Longhorns charged to a 35-13 win.

[+] EnlargeCharles Sims
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsWest Virginia tailback Charles Sims had his best game of the season vs. TCU, rushing for 154 yards and adding two touchdowns.
Mueller had another huge performance with seven tackles and two sacks. His tackle also knocked Iowa State QB Sam B. Richardson out of the game just before halftime.

Special-teams players of the week: Oklahoma State specialist Derek Branson and West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert.

With the Cowboys leading 14-0 in the first quarter, Branson busted through the West Virginia punt protection, blocked the punt and recovered it, setting up the Cowboys with great field position at the Tech 15. Four plays later, Roland was in the end zone.

Lambert was money in the Mountaineers’ rally over TCU. He nailed all three of his field goal attempts, including the game-winning 34-yarder in overtime.

Honorable mention recognition goes to TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom, who converted a 45-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. Oberkrom also nearly saved TCU on his 62-yard try in overtime. The kick had the distance, but was wide to the left.

Play of the week: After Tech closed the deficit to 28-24 at halftime, OSU reestablished control in the third quarter. With the Red Raiders selling out on run blitzes off the edge, OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich dialed up the perfect counter, a QB draw. Chelf took off up the middle of the field and raced 67 yards for the touchdown, giving the Cowboys a 42-24 lead. The scamper was the longest TD run by an OSU QB since Brent Blackman’s 72-yarder in 1972.

Stat of the week: With the overtime loss to West Virginia, TCU has lost three games in a row for the first time since Gary Patterson took over as head coach in 2000.

Quote of the week: "I'm pretty sore. I'm pretty beat up. But ... it’s worth it.” -- Oklahoma State's Roland, after carrying the ball 57 times the past two weeks.

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