Texas Longhorns: Justin Gilbert

Reviewing the Big 12 pro days

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
9:00
AM ET
Pro day season has come and gone. Draft-eligible players returned to school this month and hit the weight room and practice field to give NFL scouts a taste of their potential. Here’s a rundown of how the Big 12’s top draft prospects fared as well as a few who surprised.

TCU (March 6)
Big name: CB Jason Verrett. A total of 26 NFL teams had reps at the Horned Frogs’ pro day, and you know many of them came for Verrett. He didn’t look to improve his 40 time from the NFL combine (4.38), but he did show off a 39 ˝-inch vertical and benched 19 reps.
Sleeper: QB Casey Pachall. While he’ll have to answer lots of questions about his off-field issues, Pachall’s on-field work at pro day was encouraging. He checked in at 6-foot-3˝ and 216 pounds, ran his 40 in the mid-4.9s and completed 62 of 72 passes, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Kansas State (March 11)
Big name: S Ty Zimmerman. Though 20 Kansas State players worked out at pro day, Zimmerman was not one of them. He’s still recovering from labrum surgery and reportedly plans to hold a workout next month to show his progress.
Sleeper: OT Cornelius Lucas. Hard to project how things will play out for Lucas, a mammoth tackle at 6-8 and 316 pounds, after he discovered a stress fracture in his left foot at the NFL combine. He’s supposed to be out up to eight weeks but plans to work out along with Zimmerman on April 28.

Oklahoma (March 12)
Big name: CB Aaron Colvin. The Sooners had 28 NFL organization represented at their pro day, but a few key players were still on the mend. Colvin, who suffered a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl, did not work out but hopes to be running again by late April and vowed his recovery is ahead of schedule.
Sleeper: C Gabe Ikard. While Ikard elected to stand by his combine numbers, which were strong for his position group, he did use the pro day to show in position drills just how athletic an interior lineman he can be for an NFL club. Running back Damien Williams also made a solid impression, and receiver Jalen Saunders drew mixed reviews after poor shuttle times.

Oklahoma State (March 13)
Big name: CB Justin Gilbert. The Steelers have the No. 15 pick, so it made sense that Mike Tomlin and his GM were among the many coaches in Stillwater to scout Gilbert. He stood by his 4.37 in the 40 from the NFL combine but did agility drills and reportedly wowed in his position drills. He’s a first-rounder, no doubt.
Sleeper: WR Josh Stewart. Well, OK, he’s not much of a sleeper. But Stewart had work to do to raise his stock, and pro day should’ve helped. He improved his 40 slightly, from 4.69 at the combine to 4.59 at pro day, and showed what he can do as a receiver and returner. Safety Daytawion Lowe also made a good impression.

Texas Tech (March 14)
Big name: TE Jace Amaro. The All-America tight end tried to secure a spot in the first round with improvements in the 40 (4.68) and vertical, and at 6-5 and 266 pounds he evoked comparisons to Vernon Davis from one 49ers scout.
Sleeper: CB Bruce Jones. He’s undersized at 5-7 and 183 pounds, but Jones did grab some attention at pro day with a run of a 4.5-second 40 time and team-best vertical of 41 inches.

Kansas (March 14)
Big name: RB James Sims. A dozen scouts showed up for the Jayhawks’ pro day, and the highlight was probably Sims busting off a run of 4.56 seconds in the 40. The 6-foot, 205-pound back was not invited to the NFL combine and told the Lawrence Journal-World he felt good about the numbers he put up.

Baylor (March 19)
Big names: OT Cyril Richardson, RB Lache Seastrunk, S Ahmad Dixon. Richardson shed 20 pounds after his senior season, which had to encourage NFL scouts, and he did nothing at his pro day to diminish his chances of being a top-50 pick. Seastrunk was as explosive as expected, with a time of 4.37 in the 40 and a 4.36 second shuttle, and tried to show off his pass-catching ability. Dixon ran a 4.64 in the 40 at the NFL combine and improved that to 4.48 at pro day.
Sleeper: TE Jordan Najvar. At nearly 6-6 and 280 pounds, Najvar certainly has the size to make the NFL. His speed had been a question mark, but his reported best for pro day was 4.86 seconds in the 40.

West Virginia (March 21)
Big name: RB Charles Sims. A nice showing at the NFL combine (40 time: 4.48) meant Sims needed only to do positional drills, and he drew good reviews for his pass-catching ability despite small hands.
Sleeper: DE Will Clarke. Knowing it’s possible he’ll be asked to play outside linebacker in an NFL scheme, Clarke worked out at both end and linebacker on pro day and tried to show what he can bring to pass coverage as a nearly 6-6, 268-pound defender.

Iowa State (March 25)
Big name: LB Jeremiah George. After a subpar showing at the combine, George had a nice day in front of 30 NFL officials. He hit 4.69 in the 40-yard dash, posted a big improvement in his broad jump and was solid in positional work.
Sleeper: CB Jeremy Reeves. How’s this for a success story? Reeves played at ISU from 2010-12, missed last season with a pectoral injury and showed up to pro day to prove he’s still got it. He had a crazy good day: 4.29-second 40, 43-inch vertical, 11˝-foot broad jump. The New York Jets signed him on Friday.

Texas (March 26)
Big name: DE Jackson Jeffcoat. Like most other top prospects, Jeffcoat stuck with his NFL combine testing numbers. The 6-3, 253-pound end demonstrated his coverage ability in position drills amid talk that he might have to be a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level.
Sleeper: CB Carrington Byndom. Questions about the three-year starter’s speed were put to rest when he ran his 40 in 4.37 seconds. Byndom was happy with his positional drills and is starting to line up meetings.
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.
The NFL scouting combine ended on Tuesday with two former Big 12 stars stealing the headlines on the final day. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were among the top performers, as the NFL hopefuls participated in defensive back drills and performance testing in Indianapolis.

Here’s a look at the Big 12’s top performers during the 2014 combine:

Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State cornerback: Gilbert ran the fastest time among defensive backs, clocking a 4.37 in the 40 while finishing tied for third with 20 reps at 225 pounds in the bench press. Add his 35.5 inch vertical and 10.5 broad jump and Gilbert seems to have secured himself a spot in Round 1 as arguably the best cornerback in the draft. He was expected to excel at the combine, and he did.

Jace Amaro, Texas Tech tight end: The Big 12’s best tight end set the standard for tight ends at the combine, finishing among the top five in the 40-yard dash (4.74, 5th), bench press (28 reps, tied for 2nd), vertical jump (33 inches, tied for 5th), broad jump (9 feet, 10 inches), 20-yard shuttle (4.3, tied for 3rd) and 60-yard shuttle (12.26, 4th). Amaro moves like a much smaller man and proved it with strong combine numbers.

Jason Verrett, TCU cornerback: Verrett was nipping at the heels of Gilbert and Amaro as the Big 12’s best performer at the combine. He ran 4.38 in the 40 (tied for 2nd), recorded a 39-inch vertical (tied for 3rd) and 10.6-foot broad jump. Questions remain about his size, at 5-foot-9, 189 pounds, but his physical abilities could help lessen those worries.

Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas defensive end: The Big 12 co-defensive player of the year along with Verrett, Jeffcoat probably helped himself by finishing among the combine’s best defensive linemen in several drills. His 6.97 in the 3-cone drill was second among defensive linemen and his 4.63 in the 40 and 10-foot, 3-inch broad jump were fourth among defensive linemen. Concerns about his lack of ability haven’t been at the forefront of his draft résumé, but it was still a strong showing for the former Longhorn.

Notable: Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard had the best 20-yard shuttle among offensive linemen, recording a 4.37 and the best 3-cone drill, recording a 7.3. ... Former Oklahoma running back Damien Williams ran a 4.45 in the 40, fourth among running backs. ... Baylor tight end Jordan Najvar recorded the best 60-yard shuttle among tight ends at 12.02 and tied for second in the 3-cone drill at 7.14. ... Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George recorded 28 reps on the bench press, tying for third among linebackers.

Big 12's lunch links

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
12:00
PM ET
Don't just talk about it, LeBron. Be about it.
Twenty-five Big 12 players have been invited to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis Feb. 19-24. The NFL released the invite list Thursday afternoon. The Big 12 players are below:

Quarterbacks
  • None
Running backs
Fullbacks
Tight ends
Wide receivers
Offensive linemen
Defensive linemen
Linebackers
Defensive backs
Long snapper
Kicker
Punter
  • None
Notable omissions:
Thanks for your questions during my chat, you can find the transcript here.

Brady (Florida) I know that you and Trotter have said you don't see Big 12 expansion anytime soon. But if it were to happen, who would you say are the best two teams the Big 12 could actually get to join?

Brandon Chatmon I like UCF and maybe BYU, Cincinnati or the like. It will have to be a team that opens up new markets. Not just adding a school just to do it.

Keith (Austin) How much should I be worried that Joe Wickline will call the plays instead of S.Watson? Wickline hasn't called a play in almost 30 years.

Brandon Chatmon Not at all. Wickline is better prepared than some people think he is. That was a devastating blow for OSU, most people don't recognize that yet.

Jake (Dallas) So I was scanning the top 25 players in the Big 12 and it shows two wide receivers(Jalen Saunders, Tyler Lockett) ahead of the No. 1 receiver in the league (Antwan Goodley). Why?

Brandon Chatmon For me it's about special teams and impact on the offense as a whole. Both of those two guys get the nod over Goodley in those categories.

John (Norman) What do you think of the union talk?

Brandon Chatmon Good question John. I think it's all kinds of interesting. Everyone can see where this is heading, it's going to reach a point of climax at some point, it's just interesting to see what will be the tipping point. Will it be this? The other thing is, unless I'm mistaken, they aren't even looking to get paid, just get insurance and scholarship protection, yet you saw how some people reacted. Like I said, it's going to be interesting to watch it all unfold.

Jon (Santa Fe) Who do you think will the player that is drafted the highest out of the Big 12?

Brandon Chatmon Justin Gilbert.

Chad (I-State ) Which team could you see taking the biggest jump and biggest fall in the standing next year? Iowa State is my pick for jump and Baylor for fall.

Brandon Chatmon I'm going TCU to make a jump, Oklahoma State to take a step backward (mainly because of Wickline, loss of seniors on D). I could also see WVU making a jump. I don't see any type of Baylor slide coming.

ChrisJ (Houston) Hey Brandon (no nicknames this week), honestly I think we are starting to miss Mr. February a little bit, but I saw someone comment on Trotter's chat saying, it wasn't recruiting that was Mac's problem but coaching. So are the days of Texas fans googling over how many stars are in the recruiting classes over with? And will Charlie Strong start taking more of the underrated recruits that he believes will develop into the type of players needed to fit his system? (I mean of course we would take championship titles over recruiting titles, but man it sure was fun when Mack was here.)

Brandon Chatmon No nicknames? Boo! … I think so. And that's the way to go. I think UT's biggest weakness in the past few years has been evaluation and development. You have to build a team, not just recruit bunch of great players. It's about … how they fit in your system? What role they can excel in? Have they maximized their ability in high school? Those are the important questions. Not how many stars is he or who else wants him. And I get the impression Strong is more concerned about those questions than star ranking.

2013 Big 12 Super Seniors

January, 27, 2014
Jan 27
9:00
AM ET
Before we wrap up our review of the 2013 season, it’s time to pay homage to the Big 12’s top seniors.

After much deliberation, we’ve selected the best 12 seniors in the league, period. These players all raised their game this season with their on-field production, leadership and impact to their respective teams.

[+] EnlargeJustin Gilbert
J.P. Wilson/Icon SMIOklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert had 12 career interceptions.
This wasn’t easy, and a lot of talented and deserving seniors did not make the cut. This was a particularly challenging season, with more than 30 seniors earning All-Big 12 honors from the league’s coaches. We looked closely at how these players fared in conference play, their consistency and whether they were able to make it through the full season.

Here are our 2013 Big 12 Super Seniors, listed in alphabetical order:

Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma: His senior-year stats weren’t stunning -- Colvin recorded 55 tackles, an interception and three pass breakups -- but it’s not as if opposing quarterbacks were interested in throwing his way. The three-year starter was a longtime leader of this Sooners defense and now has a long road to recovery ahead after suffering a torn ACL at the Senior Bowl.

Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor: Love him or hate him, the All-American is one of the best playmakers in the Big 12. The hard-hitting safety racked up 81 tackles, six pass breakups and one interception and served as the enforcer over the middle of a much-improved Bears defense.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: After an unsatisfying junior season, Gilbert stepped up big again for the Cowboys with a Big 12-leading seven interceptions along with seven pass breakups and 42 tackles. He’ll go down as both a lockdown corner and elite kick returner in his time at OSU.

Gabe Ikard, C, Oklahoma: No player is more deserving of making this list than Ikard, an All-America lineman on the field and Capital One Academic All-American of the Year in the classroom. He won the Wuerffel Trophy for his combination of athletic, academic and community service success. He was one of the nation’s best at his position and brought off-the-charts leadership to the Sooners.

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas: Finally injury-free for a full season, Jeffcoat shined in his last year as a Longhorn and led the Big 12 in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (19) to earn consensus All-America honors. When Texas lost its defensive coordinator and two of its first three games, Jeffcoat stepped up and played a big role in turning Texas’ season around.

Eddie Lackey, LB, Baylor: The Bears found one heck of a steal in Lackey, a junior college transfer who finished with 108 tackles (13 for loss), 4.5 sacks and three INTs in his senior season. He earned All-Big 12 honors for his play and probably deserved more than that for what he brought to this unit.

Caleb Lavey, LB, Oklahoma State: Sure seems like this guy was a little too underrated during the 2013 season. Lavey led the Pokes in tackles with 93 and a team-high 13 tackles for loss, and he chipped in four interceptions, three pass breakups and 2.5 sacks. Oklahoma State’s defense emerged as the league’s best for much of the season and Lavey was a big reason why with his play over the middle.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsBaylor linebacker Eddie Lackey was a big part of the Bears' improved defense.
Cyril Richardson, OG, Baylor: The unanimous All-American entered the season with considerable hype and managed to surpass expectations. He paved the way for the No. 1 offense with 89 knockdown blocks and, at 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds, is the kind of menacing guard any coach would love to have leading a line.

Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia: In his only season with the Mountaineers, the Houston transfer was a do-everything workhorse who had no trouble adjusting his game to Big 12 competition. He led the league with 1,496 yards from scrimmage (1,095 rushing, 401 receiving) and scored 14 total touchdowns. The guy wanted to make a name for himself and did just that.

James Sims, RB, Kansas: Sims was quietly one of the best running backs in the Big 12 over the past four years, finishing his career with 3,592 rushing yards after surpassing 1,000 for the second straight year. Though he played for struggling offenses, he made a bigger impact on this program than most realize.

Jason Verrett, CB, TCU: In his only two seasons in the Big 12, Verrett earned All-America honors in back-to-back seasons and was one of the league’s most feared defenders in his final year. The former junior college transfer broke up 14 passes and picked off two, and he didn’t see many more thrown his way.

Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State: He dealt with some injury issues in his final season, but the few games he missed made clear just how important Zimmerman was to this K-State defense throughout his career. He finished with 74 tackles, three interceptions and four pass breakups as a senior and started nearly every game of the past four seasons.
Thanks for your questions during my chat, you can find the full transcript here.

ChrisJ a.k.a. The Prophet (Houston) What's up Brandon "Big Money" Chatmon? I don't know how to feel about the Strong hire. Part of me is excited, but the other part is a little scared for the guy. As Longhorn Nation we have unrealistic expectations, but I think he is the one to take us to the Promise Land sort of speak. I think part of Brown's problem was dealing with the pressure and not being able to get his players to play loose and confident, but I believe Strong will be able to get the longhorns to do that through preparation and accountability.

Brandon Chatmon I think Charlie Strong's destiny will be decided off the field, not on it. In other words, I think Strong will be able to handle the football part of things very well but we won't know how he handles being the head coach at the University of Texas until he does it. If he can handle everything that comes with that, he should be fine. I personally think he will eventually get comfortable with the demands at UT.

Taylor (Denton, TX) Can Charlie Strong dominate recruiting in Texas like Mack was able to do for all those years? Also, will Texas have a top five class in 2015?

Brandon Chatmon I doubt it. But that's because I think Strong will be more diligent in recruiting guys who fit his team/program and who have not maximized their potential. It's not all about stars/rankings.

Chase (Dallas) Charlie Strong recently laid down the law at UT with a set of rules players will be forced to follow. Some are just fine and others seem excessive. Do you think UT will lose some players/commits?

Brandon Chatmon If they do, why would you want them? That's what I mean about securing guys who fit his program... And I liked the rules by the way, when you raise expectations, people tend to find a way to meet them if they really care.

Michael (Brewer) What am I doing?

Brandon Chatmon I was just about to ask the same thing Michael. But, hey, do you, Mike, do you.

Jeff (Tampa, FL) Mel Kiper has Justin Gilbert going #10 in his first mock draft? Isn't that a little high? Would you be surprised if he's taken at that spot in April?

Brandon Chatmon I don't think so. If Dee Millner can go No. 9, Justin Gilbert can go top 10. Millner isn't anywhere near the athlete that Gilbert is. And Gilbert has more upside too.

Jon (Santa Fe) Who do you like in the Tech-Arkansas game? and what do you think of Tech's recent non-conference scheduling?

Brandon Chatmon I'd lean toward Tech since they'll be at home. And I like the way the Red Raiders are adding some interesting non-conference games to their schedule. It will help with exposure and I think it shows Kliff isn't scared to compete against anyone. (Which we already knew)

RJ (OK) Brandon....you pooh-poohed my question a few weeks ago when i asked how many years of non-SEC natl. champs we'd need before we saw more equity in how the playoff works (i.e., no automatic bump to the top of the 1-loss teams for whichever SEC team has one loss). Well, the streak is now one....care to answer how many more we need?

Brandon Chatmon I'm going with zero, since the committee will be picking the four teams. I don't think the committee is just going to pick SEC teams only, there are too many smart, well-rounded people who will be in the conference room for that to happen.

Big 12's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
11:35
AM ET
The college football season is over, and what a season it was. Picked fifth in the preseason, Baylor won its first Big 12 championship. Oklahoma, left for dead in early November, rose out of the ashes to win 11 games. Oklahoma State had some of the most puzzling losses and most dominant wins, as well. And Texas, well, the soap opera is finally over.

Here’s a look back at the 2013 season with our Best of the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBob Stoops
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsBob Stoops and Trevor Knight delivered the Big 12 a signature BCS win in 2013.
Best coach: Art Briles, Baylor. Bob Stoops deserves a bunch of credit for how his Sooners surged late in the season, but Briles' leading Baylor to its first Big 12 championship was no small feat. The Bears led the nation in scoring, and beat Oklahoma and Texas convincingly. The bowl game was disappointing. The season overall was not.

Best player, offense: Even though he cooled off later in the year, Baylor’s Bryce Petty still finished fifth nationally in QBR in his first season as a starting quarterback. He threw 32 touchdown passes and did a masterful job taking care of the ball, tossing only three interceptions.

Best player, defense: There wasn’t really anyone who clearly stood out here. TCU cornerback Jason Verrett, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State linebacker Caleb Lavey, Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller and Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey all had their moments. Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, however, was the only defensive player from the league to win a national award. He was given the Ted Hendricks Award, which goes to the defensive end of the year in college football. Jeffcoat tied for third nationally with 13 sacks.

Best moment: The league has been waiting for a signature victory to hang its hat on. Oklahoma finally gave the Big 12 that victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a stunning 45-31 win over Alabama. Behind freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, the Sooners controlled the game from the second quarter on. Defensively, linebacker Eric Striker and end Geneo Grissom were unblockable, combining for five sacks of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. Offensively, Knight carved up the Crimson Tide for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns. It wasn’t even that Alabama played poorly. It was that Oklahoma played terrifically.

Best rivalry game: Maybe new Texas coach Charlie Strong will bring some more juice to the Red River Rivalry. Lately, it’s been second fiddle to Bedlam. In quality. In drama. In impact. Once again, Bedlam carried major Big 12 title implications, and once again, the game delivered a thrilling ending. Backup quarterback Blake Bell found Jalen Saunders in the corner of the end zone with 19 seconds remaining for the Sooners’ first offensive touchdown of the game, lifting Oklahoma to a win and spoiling Oklahoma State’s shot at a Big 12 title.

Best play: Late in the third quarter of Kansas State’s game against Baylor, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble near the sideline. The acrobatic play gave K-State good field position in Baylor territory, and the Wildcats would go on to take a 25-21 lead. Baylor ultimately outlasted the Wildcats, but Mueller, who also had two sacks in the game, was a big reason why the Bears' high-powered offense was held in check most of the afternoon.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Jasen VinloveUSA TODAY SportsKansas State's Tyler Lockett had seven 100-yard receiving games this season, including two games with more than 200 yards receiving.
Best performance in a loss: The Wildcats eventually lost, but K-State receiver Tyler Lockett could not be covered by the Sooners in their game in late November. Lockett kept the Wildcats in the game, reeling in 12 catches for 278 yards and three touchdowns, prompting Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to go ballistic on the sideline multiple times. Lockett was also a monster against Texas and Michigan. All told, he totaled 35 catches, 631 yards and six touchdowns against those three programs alone.

Best individual defensive performance: Mueller against Baylor, Verrett shutting down Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley, and Gilbert picking off Texas twice all deserve honorable mention. But Striker gets the nod for wreaking havoc on the two-time defending national champ in New Orleans. Striker had three sacks and forced a fumble after barreling around the edge to slam into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped loose and Grissom returned the fumble for the game-winning touchdown.

Best true freshman: Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb had to split time with fellow true freshman Baker Mayfield for most of the season. When Mayfield left unexpectedly in December, the job was finally Webb’s to run with. And run he did. Actually, he threw. Against No. 14 Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl, Webb completed 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in one of this year’s best bowl performances from a quarterback. Webb had a solid freshman season, leading the Red Raiders to fourth-quarter wins over TCU and West Virginia. But if the bowl was any indication, the best is yet to come.

Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” -- Bob Stoops, after the Sooners defeated Alabama.
The Big 12 had six players named consensus All-Americans, tied for the most of any conference, including two unanimous All-Americans.

Baylor offensive lineman Cyril Richardson and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro were unanimous selections.

Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Texas kicker Anthony Fera and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat were consensus picks.

To be a unanimous All-American, a player has to be listed by all five of the All-American teams recognized by the NCAA: American Football Coaches Association, Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and Walter Camp Foundation.

To be a consensus All-American, a player has to be named first team on at least two of the five NCAA recognized All-American teams, and listed on those All-America teams more than other players at their position.
Charlie Strong’s arrival at the University of Texas is going to change the Big 12.

The on-field impact of the former Louisville coach’s arrival in Austin remains to be seen, but he will undoubtedly change the landscape of the conference. His words during his introductory news conference should put fear into the heart of two Big 12 teams in particular.

“Let's not get caught up in the five stars; let's not get caught up in the four stars,” Strong said Monday. “Let's get caught up in the football players.”

The Longhorns’ new head coach went on to speak of American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smith, who was a quarterback when Strong recruited him to Louisville, yet recorded 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as a defensive end in 2013. His words should be music to the ears of Longhorns fans, as recruiting has not been the problem in recent years at Texas. Poor evaluation and player development has been one of the biggest contributors to the program’s slide.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCharlie Strong says his staff won't get caught up in recruiting rankings, which is a philosophy employed by a few Big 12 rivals.
Largely by taking advantage of those struggles, Oklahoma State and Baylor sat alongside the Longhorns in the Big 12 title race heading into the final weekend of the regular season and seem poised to be the teams most impacted by Strong’s arrival. Oklahoma State and Baylor each went 3-2 against the Longhorns during the past five seasons after combining to go winless in 10 games against Texas in the previous five years. Their rise has had a direct correlation to the Longhorns’ decline.

The biggest impact on those two teams could come on the recruiting trail. If Strong’s priority is evaluation and development, as he contends, that's a shot across the bow to Oklahoma State and Baylor, two programs that have built their success upon their ability to better evaluate and develop their recruits. Those two schools featured 162 combined players from Texas and combined for 21 victories in 2013.

Running back Kendall Hunter, cornerback Justin Gilbert and tackle Russell Okung are just of few of the overlooked Texans that Oklahoma State pounced on. They had NFL-level talent and built the Cowboys into a Big 12 title contender. We all know about Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and his journey to Baylor, but receiver Kendall Wright -- an NFL first-round pick -- and guard Cyril Richardson -- a 2013 Lombardi Finalist -- have been key contributors to the Bears’ rise. They each were overlooked by the Longhorns.

While Strong’s arrival could make it harder for Oklahoma State and Baylor to repeat their Big 12 championship runs of recent years, both schools have created enough momentum that they could still consistently compete for Big 12 titles regardless of how well Strong does in Austin.

Of all the Big 12 teams, Strong’s hire should have the least impact on Oklahoma. The Sooners are a tradition-rich program with the ability to compete for championships regardless of their surroundings. OU’s 5-5 record against UT since 2005 is second only to Kansas State (5-1 in six meetings). And the Sooners should have no problem recruiting in Texas against Strong’s Longhorns program, particularly with the stability head coach Bob Stoops brings to the program.

The rest of the Big 12 schools are less likely to be dramatically altered.

TCU and Texas Tech have combined to beat Texas once in the past five seasons, with the Horned Frogs’ 20-13 victory in 2012 as the lone triumph. Although both schools are similar to Baylor and Oklahoma State in their ability to turn hidden gems into productive players, they haven’t turned that into consistent on-field success against the Longhorns in a way the other two schools have, although TCU has only played UT twice during that five-year span. The impact on their recruiting will be similar to Oklahoma State and Baylor, but on a lower level as neither school can tout a Big 12 title as proof of their success when trying to land those hidden gems.

Kansas State, Kansas, West Virginia and Iowa State should see their biggest impact on the field, as their brushes with the Longhorns on the recruiting trail are few and far between.
Get your popcorn ready. Or, if you're trying to get that New Year's resolution off to an early start, get your veggie plate ready. Either way, Big 12 bowl season brings some fun matchups to watch in the next week or so.

Here's a matchup to keep an eye on during every bowl matchup involving a Big 12 team.

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (Dec. 28, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Kansas State DE Ryan Mueller vs. Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
Mueller was one of the most productive defenders in the Big 12 this season while bringing energy and effort to the Wildcats' defense. He finished with 61 tackles, including 18.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. Lewan has been a dominating force at left tackle for Michigan for the past four seasons. He is slated to start his 48th game in this bowl and is projected to be an NFL first-round draft pick. If Mueller is able to win some individual battles with Lewan it will make life a lot harder on Michigan's true freshman quarterback, Shane Morris.

Valero Alamo Bowl (Dec. 30, 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Texas WR Mike Davis vs. Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
It should be fun to watch these two battle in San Antonio. Ekpre-Olomu is an elite talent, a cover cornerback who will play on Sundays someday. Davis shows flashes of big-play ability and has the talent to test Ekpre-Olomu throughout the game. This matchup gives Davis the opportunity to prove himself against top competition. If he wins some of those battles it would help the Longhorns' offense be balanced and take some pressure off UT quarterback Case McCoy.

National University Holiday Bowl (Dec. 30, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Texas Tech TE Jace Amaro vs. Arizona State secondary
Amaro creates problems for every defense he faces, and ASU will be no different. The Red Raiders' top receiving threat finished with 98 catches for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns. But the Sun Devils are well-equipped to throw several different defensive backs at Amaro, with Alden Darby, Robert Nelson and Osahon Irabor earning first- or second-team All-Pac 12 honors this season. It will be interesting to see if Amaro can continue to excel against a strong Sun Devils secondary.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Baylor S Ahmad Dixon vs. UCF QB Blake Bortles
Bortles could test Dixon and the Bears better than any quarterback they've faced this season. Dixon's forte' is his ability to help out in the run game, so the matchup against UCF provides an opportunity to prove his prowess in the passing game. Bortles, a junior, is the reigning American Athletic Conference offensive player of the year and a projected first-round NFL draft pick if he elects to leave school early.

Allstate Sugar Bowl (Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ESPN)

Oklahoma OL vs. Alabama LB C.J. Mosley
The Sooners' offensive line has been outstanding this season, paving the way for OU to average 235.83 rushing yards per game. Mosley has the talent to single-handedly become a nightmare for OU's offense. He could dominate the game with his ability to make plays all over the field and stop the Oklahoma running game. And if that happens, OU's chances of winning could fall off the cliff, because if the Sooners can't run the ball against the Crimson Tide, they won't win.

AT&T Cotton Bowl (Jan. 3, 7:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert vs. Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham
This is the highlight matchup of the Big 12's bowl season. Gilbert is a future NFL cornerback, and DGB is a future NFL receiver. And both had strong seasons. Green-Beckham brings a size/skill/speed ratio unlike anything Gilbert has seen in the Big 12, while Gilbert brings athleticism, speed and experience that will test the Tigers sophomore receiver. Neither player will back down, and both will win their share of one-on-one battles. It's a late holiday gift for everyone who watches.

Amaro, Richardson unanimous AA's

December, 18, 2013
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Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro and Baylor guard Cyril Richardson are unanimous All-Americans.

Amaro and Richardson were named first-team All-America by the American Football Coaches’ Association, Football Writers’ Association of America, Walter Camp Football Foundation, Sporting News and Associated Press -- the five All-American teams recognized by the NCAA.

Amaro is the fifth Red Raider to achieve unanimous All-America recognition. The four others were punter Mark Bounds (1991), linebacker Zach Thomas (1995), running back Byron Hanspard (1996) and wide receiver Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).

Richardson is the seventh Baylor player to be named a unanimous All-American, joining guard Bill Glass (1956), linebacker Mike Singletary (1980), safety Thomas Everett (1986), defensive tackle Santana Dotson (1991), punter Daniel Sepulveda (2006) and wide receiver Terrance Williams (2012).

Other unanimous All-Americans this year include Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Boston College running back Andre Williams, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews and Stanford guard David Yankey.

Below is a recap of all Big 12 players honored by the five major All-American teams:

American Football Coaches’ Association

First team
Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
Center: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
Safety: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor
Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

Football Writers’ Association of America

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Second team
Wide receiver: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas
Linebacker: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State
Cornerback: Jason Verrett, TCU

Walter Camp Football Foundation

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Center: Ikard, Oklahoma
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas
Cornerback: Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Cornerback: Verrett, TCU
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Sporting News

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Safety: Dixon, Baylor

Associated Press

First team
Tight end: Amaro, Texas Tech
Offensive guard: Richardson, Baylor
Defensive end: Jeffcoat, Texas

Second team
Center: Ikard, Oklahoma
Cornerback: Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Cornerback: Verrett, TCU
Safety: Dixon, Baylor
Kicker: Fera, Texas

Third team
Safety: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

Big 12 players on FWAA All-America team

December, 18, 2013
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The Football Writers Association of America released its All-America team Wednesday afternoon. Here are the Big 12 players who made the Football Writers team:

FIRST TEAM

Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

SECOND TEAM

Wide receiver: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

Linebacker: Ryan Mueller, Kansas State

Cornerback: Jason Verrett, TCU

Big 12 players on AP All-America teams

December, 17, 2013
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The AP has released its All-America team, and the Big 12 is fairly well represented. Here’s a link to the full list. And here are the Big 12 players that earned recognition:

FIRST TEAM

Tight end: Jace Amaro, Texas Tech

Offensive guard: Cyril Richardson, Baylor

Defensive end: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas

SECOND TEAM

Center: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma

Cornerback: Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State

Cornerback: Jason Verrett, TCU

Safety: Ahmad Dixon, Baylor

Kicker: Anthony Fera, Texas

THIRD TEAM

Safety: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

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