Texas Longhorns: Marcus Johnson

Before Texas begins its first season under Charlie Strong, we're taking a deep dive into all the talent he inherits in 2014. Our Burnt Orange Breakdown series will take a closer look at each scholarship player returning this fall and what we can expect from them. We're going down the roster from No. 1 Shiro Davis all the way to No. 99 Desmond Jackson.

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AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Johnson could have a breakout season for Texas.
No. 7 Marcus Johnson
Junior wide receiver


Recruitment rewind: Johnson was originally committed to Texas Tech, then changed his mind and pledged to Texas A&M in November 2011. There was much debate among Texas coaches about whether to offer Johnson, a three-star recruit from League City (Texas) Clear Springs, and those who fought for him finally won out in December. Nearly a week after choosing the Aggies, Johnson backed out and committed to his dream school almost instantly after his offer arrived. The Longhorns staff initially feared it didn't have room for Johnson in the class, but that ultimately became a nonissue when receiver commit Thomas Johnson backed out in January and signed with A&M.

Career so far: Like Kendall Sanders, Johnson didn't redshirt as a freshman but was hardly used, recording zero catches in eight games. He earned an expanded role in 2013 and made a name for himself with his first career TD, a 59-yard bomb against Oklahoma, and a 120-yard performance at TCU. Johnson finished with 22 receptions for 350 yards and led the Longhorns with 15.9 yards per catch.

Best-case scenario for 2014: How's this for a potential ceiling: Texas' first 1,000-yard receiver since Jordan Shipley. Those are probably unfairly high expectations considering this could end up being a run-heavy offense with quarterback issues, and Louisville never had a 1,000-yard receiver in Teddy Bridgewater's three seasons. But Johnson will have a major role in Texas' passing attack and could put up some big numbers as a junior.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Having this kind of supposed 4.3 40-time speed is plenty useful, but not if you don't have a reliable QB who gets you the ball. If Texas' quarterback play is shaky, expect another modest year from Johnson with a few big plays but not enough targets. Johnson suffered a minor knee injury during fall camp last season but recovered in time for the opener. He's perfectly healthy now and in great shape to hold down a starting job.

Future expectations: Johnson has two years left and a lot of promise. Whether he can develop into a future NFL talent will really depend on what kind of opportunities he gets in this offense. He's got everything you want in a big-time slot receiver and is more polished than most probably realize. He's proven he can beat Big 12 defenses deep. Can he do it week after week? If so, he could be one of the conference's breakout wideouts in 2014.
AUSTIN, Texas -- A new coaching staff meant a clean slate and a new start for several Longhorns this spring. Here's a closer look at five Texas players who appeared to help their chances of making an impact in 2014 with their performances in spring ball.

1. WR Marcus Johnson

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AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Johnson is poised to become Texas' big-play threat this season.
You remember Johnson from his 59-yard touchdown against Oklahoma and the 120-yard day against TCU a week later, but they were just glimpses of the speedster's potential.

After being relatively underused last fall, Johnson seems poised for a breakout year. He caught the attention of his new head coach with plays like this.

"I'll say this, he can run," Charlie Strong said. "I know that he can separate from a defensive back. [He needs] confidence and just continue to work on his confidence. What I told Marcus, I said, 'You have big-time ability. You need to play like that each and every day.'"

Johnson finished fourth on the team in targets last year and caught 22 balls for 350 yards and two scores. It's hard to believe he's already a junior, but that's how it goes when your freshman season gets wasted the way Johnson's was in 2012. He appeared in eight games but didn't record a catch and was targeted only one time.

He has an opportunity, with deep threat Mike Davis gone, to become the kind of impact wideout who makes defenses look silly when they sneak up to stop the run. That's just what this Texas offense will need.

2. OG Taylor Doyle

The more casual Texas fan must've been a little confused when scoping out the new-look Longhorns offensive line at last month's spring game. They've rarely seen the guy who was holding down the first-team right guard spot.

That would be Doyle, a local kid from Lake Travis with just two games of playing experience at Texas. The reason the junior was in that starting spot had a lot to do with opportunity.

He has been sitting behind four-year starters Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins, who departed just in time for new offensive line coach Joe Wickline to show up. Doyle learned enough over three years on the scout team to show Wickline he can compete for the right guard job.

Doyle has to hold off talented redshirt freshman Rami Hammad, who came close to seeing the field in 2013, and it's entirely possible the injured but exciting Kent Perkins moves over and takes the right guard job after moving over from tackle this spring. But at least for this spring, Doyle got lots of first-string reps and opened the door for more.

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Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesIf he can play consistently, Mykkele Thompson could be poised for a big role in Texas' secondary.
3. S Mykkele Thompson

With 18 starts and 20 more appearances under his belt, is now the time when Thompson finally breaks out?

That's not to say there haven't been good days and big plays along the way, but Thompson is one of those guys who might have benefited in a big way from new coaches with new perspectives.

"We played him some at corner and some at safety," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. "He had an outstanding spring from the first practice to the last practice."

Thompson hasn't been very consistent in the last two years and struggled at times to be a reliable tackler and hitter, but Texas needs him to have a big year in the secondary with Adrian Phillips gone. It wouldn’t be surprising if he's a defensive standout in 2014.

4. LB Timothy Cole

New coaches just seem to like this guy. Installing Cole as a starter was one of Greg Robinson's first moves as defensive coordinator last year, though that plan was short-lived.

Now the new guys running the Longhorns have taken a liking to the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Cole.

"I call him Nat King Cole's nephew," Bedford said. "I mean, he is a big, physical guy."

After having hip surgery in January, Cole was healthy for spring ball and took advantage of the fact so many other Texas linebackers were not, starting with the first-team linebackers in the spring game. He doesn't bring the size of Steve Edmond or Dalton Santos, but he's athletic and figures to make more plays in space than he did in his less-than-stellar first start against Iowa State last year.

Cole was still learning back then, as a redshirt freshman, and has more to learn now with a new playbook. But if Texas' veteran linebackers deal with more injuries this fall (and that seems likely, doesn't it?), Cole could be in for significant snaps.

5. K Nick Rose

Can't forget the kickers. Texas had a near-automatic placekicker in Anthony Fera last year. In Rose, it has a junior whose role has been exclusively used on kickoffs over the past two years.

An open competition this spring to replace Fera resulted in Rose's emergence. If the season started today, he'd figure to be the guy on field goals, extra points and, yes, kickoffs. William Russ would be the punter. There's still time for that to change, with several candidates for each duty.

But we know Rose can boom it, as evidenced by his kickoffs and two solid attempts in the spring game -- a 40-yard make and the 55-yarder he missed. He just needs to be consistent, or else somebody else will have to take Fera's place.

Texas spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
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A recap of what we learned about the Texas Longhorns following their first spring with new head coach Charlie Strong.

Three things we learned in the spring:

1. Strong isn’t messing around. From his high-intensity practices, to his willingness to stop and restart practice if the vibe isn’t right, to demanding players walk the half-mile uphill to the fields, the first-year coach is out to bring back a toughness that went missing with the Longhorns in recent years.

2. Texas will have two play-callers and, potentially, a handful of playmakers on offense in 2014. Offensive Joe Wickline and assistant head coach Shawn Watson will call plays, and Watson gets the final say. They know what they have in RB Malcolm Brown and WRs Jaxon Shipley, Marcus Johnson and Kendall Sanders, who all earned good reviews this spring.

3. Defensive line will be the strength of Texas’ defense, led by a pair of All-Big 12 caliber veterans in DE Cedric Reed and DT Malcom Brown. Senior Desmond Jackson is holding down the other interior spot, and Shiro Davis is emerging as the replacement for Jackson Jeffcoat. Depth behind them still a question mark, but those four starters are the real deal.

Three questions for the fall:

1. Quarterback. Duh. The foot fracture David Ash suffered before the final week of spring ball only amplified the scrutiny of this spot. Tyrone Swoopes had a few flashes and also some struggles in the spring game. Don’t be surprised if former USC QB Max Wittek joins the program in May and makes this a real competition, along with freshman Jerrod Heard.

2. The linebackers remain a source of uncertainty exiting spring ball, with Jordan Hicks among the three veterans at that spot who missed spring practice. DC Vance Bedford should feel good about Steve Edmond (his play, not his words), Dalton Santos and Peter Jinkens back there, and Demarco Cobbs is back from injury, but who’s starting by the end of August?

3. Wickline comes to Austin with a reputation for being one of the nation’s top offensive line coaches. He’ll have a nice challenge finding his best five this fall. Center Dominic Espinosa might be the only lock among the Longhorns’ potential starters up front, and Wickline could choose from any number of lineup combinations for the opener.

One way-too-early prediction:

Presuming that Texas gets its quarterback affairs in order, this has the look of a nine-win team coming out of spring ball. How the Longhorns players buy in this summer and into fall camp will go a long way toward raising (or lowering) those expectations. Three of Texas’ first six games in 2014 come against likely preseason top-10 teams, so the Horns have to get a lot better between now and then.

Big 12 spring stars, Part 2

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

Running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Safety Kenny Iloka, TCU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Running back Dustin Garrison, West Virginia

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

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

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

Quotable: "I thought Garrison had a really good scrimmage. He showed up. He was a guy that stuck out." WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson told The Charleston Gazette after a two-touchdown performance by Garrison in a spring scrimmage.

Spring game preview: Texas

April, 18, 2014
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AUSTIN, Texas -- The first Texas football game of the Charlie Strong era will look a lot more like a practice.

The Longhorns hit the field this weekend for the first time since Strong arrived. Even though fans can expect a more scrimmage-like approach to the annual Orange-White spring game, there will be plenty worth keeping an eye on.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

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Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMISophomore QB Tyrone Swoopes will get a chance to work with the No. 1 offense in a game setting Saturday.
What to watch for:

  • Swoopes' confidence: The last time we saw Tyrone Swoopes in action, he looked like a flustered freshman (he was, in fact, a freshman) trying his hardest not to mess up amid a beatdown from Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. He wasn't afraid to take some shots, and he scrambled for a 28-yard gain, but all in all it was a tough ask for a first-year QB who still had a lot to learn. With David Ash sidelined, Swoopes gets a chance to run the No. 1 offense in the spring game and show how far he has come in 14 practices with Shawn Watson, Texas' new quarterbacks coach. Watson is enthusiastic about the sophomore's future and praises his work as a student of the game, but this is a chance to see how well he can execute with a crowd watching and a No. 1 defense coming after him. Strong says the key to Swoopes' play is confidence and playing within himself. Everyone in attendance on Saturday will want to see if he can do just that.
  • New-look defense: This is going to be a vanilla ballgame on both sides of the ball. Both coordinators acknowledged that after their final practice Thursday. Why give up the good stuff when any Big 12 opponent can DVR the game on Longhorn Network and pick it apart? Even fiery defensive coordinator Vance Bedford will show restraint. But how he lines this defense up, both in scheme and personnel, will be intriguing. Texas coaches say this will be a multiple defense capable of lining up in 4-3 or 3-4, and you could see a little bit of both on Saturday. No, the defenders can't touch Swoopes. But you better believe Bedford will demand they get after him and put up a fight.
  • Playmakers on the outside: The hype is building for this Longhorns receiving corps, and their coaches have had nothing but good things to say about a group that must make up for the loss of deep threat Mike Davis. Nobody will be surprised if Marcus Johnson is the breakout player of the spring game. He's a star in the making. Jaxon Shipley, Kendall Sanders, Daje Johnson and Jacorey Warrick are all said to have had a big spring as well, and don't be shocked if you see tight end Geoff Swaim do some things in the passing game after primarily serving as a blocker in 2013.
  • Rising returnees: A new coaching staff means a clean slate for these Longhorns, and that means a fresh start for players who either weren't playing or were underperforming. The differences will be far more noticeable by August after a long summer of lifting and drills, but there will be some new standouts on Saturday. Guys such as safety Mykkele Thompson, offensive guard Taylor Doyle and linebacker Tim Cole have made an impression on the new staff and could do so again this weekend. Or perhaps it'll be someone nobody else is talking about, like how Duke Thomas caught everyone's eyes last year.
  • New sheriff in town: It's going to be a little strange to see someone other than Mack Brown on that sideline, isn't it? You know plenty of Texas fans will have their eyes on Strong for a glimpse of how he operates in a game setting and what he bring to the Texas sideline. You know the 100-plus recruits in attendance will care about that, too. For all the talk about how Strong is a stern coach out to lay down the law and whip the Longhorns into shape, let's see him have a little fun on Saturday.
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.

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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 pre-spring breakdown: WRs

February, 20, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’ll be examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Thursday with receivers (and tight ends). Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see them at the moment:

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Lockett had seven games with more than 100 yards receiving and two games with more than 200.
1. Baylor: Antwan Goodley hauled in a Big 12-best 1,339 receiving yards and is back for his senior campaign. Levi Norwood filled in well as a second option after Tevin Reese’s injury, and, like Goodley, can also fly. The Bears are also about to enjoy the fruits of back-to-back monster recruiting classes in the position, including five ESPN 300 players in the last two years. The best of those, incoming freshman K.D. Cannon, has the talent to be Baylor’s next great receiver.

2. Kansas State: The Wildcats have the Big 12’s finest receiver in Tyler Lockett, which warrants them a high ranking even if the supporting cast isn’t tantalizing. Lockett was basically uncoverable downfield last season, and exploded once QB Jake Waters got more comfortable. Curry Sexton has turned into a reliable possession target. The Wildcats also welcome one of the best juco receivers in the country in Andre Davis. If Davis pans out, this has a chance to be among the best receiving corps Bill Snyder has ever had.

3. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lose an ultra-productive player in Eric Ward and a superstar in tight end Jace Amaro, but this position remains stocked with talent. Jitterbug slot man Jakeem Grant was sixth in the league last year in receiving, and showed in the Holiday Bowl how dangerous he can be when 100 percent focused. Bradley Marquez and Jordan Davis are reliable pass-catchers, but the player to watch here is Reginald Davis. A former high school quarterback, Davis has gradually picked up the nuances of playing receiver. But as he flashed in a kickoff return touchdown against Arizona State, Davis is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and could be a major factor.

4. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose their top three receivers, but outside Baylor, no team in the Big 12 has more WRs ready to contribute in 2014 than Oklahoma State. Jhajuan Seales and Marcell Ateman combined for 61 receptions as freshmen, and will give the Cowboys a physical presence on the perimeter. Brandon Shepard and David Glidden were also part of the regular rotation, and Austin Hayes, who started nine games in 2012, would have been had he not missed virtually the entire season with injury. The two to watch here, though, have yet to play a down, but will bring major speed. Former ESPN 300 recruit Ra’Shaad Samples redshirted last year, but reportedly ran a 4.3-second 40 last summer. That might seem slow compared to Tyreek Hill, the nation’s No. 4 juco recruit, who doubles as a track phenom.

5. Texas: Jaxon Shipley isn’t his brother Jordan, but he’s still a quality college receiver. Even with all of Texas’ QB issues, Shipley already has 159 career receptions. The Longhorns have speed and playmaking elsewhere in downfield burner Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and the versatile Daje Johnson. The Longhorns also signed one of three best incoming WRs in the Big 12 in Armanti Foreman. This group could really thrive with an uptick in QB play.

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AP Photo/Chris BernacchiJordan Thompson showed near the end of the season the type of weapon he can be in West Virginia's offense.
6. Oklahoma: The Sooners graduate Jalen Saunders, who was “Mr. Everything” for the OU offense. But Sterling Shepard seems primed to take over the No. 1 role after hauling in 51 passes and seven touchdowns. But who will surround him? Durron Neal is the only other player on the roster with much experience. The good news for the Sooners is they’ve recruited superbly at the position. Among many options, the player to keep an eye on is freshman Jordan Smallwood, who was turning heads last summer, until a foot fracture forced him to redshirt.

7. Iowa State: Quenton Bundrage is one of the more underrated receivers in the league despite ranking third in the league. With Amaro gone, E.J. Bibbs becomes the best receiving tight end in the league after hauling in 39 passes last year. Iowa State’s standing here, though, is contingent on incoming freshman Allen Lazard, one the most highly touted WRs Iowa State has ever signed. If Lazard can make an immediate impact, like the Iowa State coaching staff is banking on, this could become one of the better units in the league.

8. West Virginia: There’s no corps in the Big 12 that could move up more spots than West Virginia’s. The Mountaineers didn’t have a receiver rank in the top 15 in the Big 12 last year, but Kevin White, Mario Alford and Daikiel Shorts all ranked in the top 20. All three are back, too, as is the diminutive Jordan Thompson, who finally came alive the second half of the season. Former ESPN 300 recruit Shelton Gibson, who redshirted, will also join the rotation. The Mountaineers rank eighth for now, but they are closer to Kansas State than to Kansas.

9. TCU: This week, TCU kicked receiver LaDarius Brown off the team. Considering Brown tied for the team lead in receptions last year, it’s a tough loss. This unit is obviously better with Trevone Boykin, but he might have to play QB, at least until someone else emerges there. The Horned Frogs desperately need Brandon Carter to become a No. 1 receiver. After a promising sophomore year, Carter was basically a non-factor, before showing signs of bouncing back the last month of the season. TCU needs him back in a big way in 2014.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have a receiver with more than 11 catches last year. Some of that was the quarterbacks. Some of it was, well, the receivers. The group had little overall impact, which put tremendous pressure on James Sims and the running game. With Sims gone, the receivers have to elevate their game significantly for Kansas to have a chance of taking a step forward. The Jayhawks do have a solid tight end in Jimmay Mundine, who had five TD catches. And Tony Pierson could play more receiver this year. But somebody else needs to emerge.

Big 12 games of the year: No. 3

January, 23, 2014
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12, and here's No. 3. One of the most competitive games of the year went down to the wire in Morgantown, W.Va.

No. 3: Nov. 9, Texas 47, West Virginia 40 (OT)

This back-and-forth thriller featured big plays from both teams and seven combined touchdowns after halftime.

What happened: Texas made the plays when it needed them. West Virginia did not.

On fourth-and-7 at the West Virginia 47, Case McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for a 9-yard gain. Five plays later, Anthony Fera tied the game at 40 with 13 seconds left, sending this one to overtime.

In overtime, McCoy was clutch again with a third-down conversion to Marcus Johnson followed by a two-yard touchdown pass to Alex De La Torre on third-and-goal. It was the Texas defense’s turn on WVU’s overtime possession, as it tightened its resolve after a 20-yard run by Mario Alford to start the possession. WVU gained one yard in the next four plays, capped by Steve Edmond’s interception to end the game and send the Longhorns back to Austin with their Big 12 title hopes intact.

Player of the game: UT defensive end Cedric Reed. Several Longhorns defenders had exceptional games, but Reed was relentless. He finished with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Not a bad day’s work.

Stat of the game: 6. WVU allowed six sacks and had six fumbles (losing three). UT’s defense was opportunistic and aggressive throughout the game, as its defensive line was all over Mountaineers quarterback Paul Millard after knocking Clint Trickett out of the game.

Quotable: “When one of us gets a sack, that means the other guys are doing their job. We just knew we had to put pressure on these guys and disrupt them.” -- Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

The rest of the list:
After a whirlwind 48 hours full of meetings, appearances and handshakes, Charlie Strong still hasn’t had much time to find out what kind of talent he’s inheriting.

So let’s make life a little easier for Texas’ new head coach. Here’s an early breakdown of how Texas’ offensive depth chart might look in 2014, based on who’s slated to return and the incoming freshmen. On Wednesday, we’ll break down the Longhorns defense.

Keep in mind, a lot can and will change between now and the end of August. All of these players have to prove themselves to a new regime. You could see lots of movement, position changes and reshuffling between now and the season opener against North Texas.

Quarterback
David Ash, junior
Tyrone Swoopes, sophomore
Jerrod Heard, freshman

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDavid Ash will be back for one more season as quarterback.
Ash comes back after missing nearly the entire season with concussion issues. He gets a medical redshirt and a chance to start over. Swoopes’ redshirt was wasted and he’s still a few years away. Could Heard be Strong’s next Teddy Bridgewater? He won’t enroll early but could play early in his career under this new staff.

Running Back
Malcolm Brown, senior
Johnathan Gray, junior
Joe Bergeron, senior
Donald Catalon, freshman

As long as Gray heals up 100 percent from his torn Achilles, Texas will have one of the best rushing duos in the Big 12. Brown was a revelation to end the season and could be in for a big senior campaign. Bergeron will work his way back into the mix. Catalon and D'Onta Foreman will provide depth as freshmen, and one could contribute early.

Wide Receiver
Jaxon Shipley, senior
Daje Johnson, junior
Jacorey Warrick, sophomore

Shipley is the leader of the group and should be in for a big season, no matter the offense. Will Strong’s staff give Daje one more chance? No guarantees he’s still on the roster by the fall. Warrick earned praise in practice and limited playing time.

Wide Receiver
Kendall Sanders, junior
Montrel Meander, redshirt freshman
Jake Oliver, redshirt freshman

This is the year Sanders can take a big step forward. He’s a legit playmaker whose role will expand. Meander made a strong impression in his redshirt year and is a big, athletic target. He and Oliver will battle for snaps and should contribute in 2014.

Wide Receiver
[+] EnlargeJohnson
AP Photo/LM OteroMarcus Johnson caught 22 passes as a sophomore.
Marcus Johnson, junior
Armanti Foreman, freshman
Emanuel Porter, freshman

Johnson made some big plays and had a nice rapport with Case McCoy. He can stretch a defense and burn corners deep. Should see big opportunities this fall. Foreman and Porter are instant-impact guys among in large group of incoming freshman receivers, and keep an eye on Lorenzo Joe, too.

Tight End
Geoff Swaim, senior
Greg Daniels, senior
M.J. McFarland, junior

Swaim, a junior college transfer, was a revelation as a blocker in 2013. Daniels got the job done as a blocker, too, but neither had many opportunities as receivers. Let’s hope the next staff can salvage the career of McFarland, who got stuck on special teams this season but needs to become a trusted pass-catcher.

Left Tackle
Desmond Harrison, senior
Kennedy Estelle, junior

Mack Brown still believed Harrison will develop into an NFL first-rounder before he’s done, though his first season was a disappointment. If he’s not the solution at left tackle, you could see Estelle or several others move over. Estelle has mostly played right tackle and had some good moments in eight starts, but was suspended from the bowl for grades.

Left Guard
Sedrick Flowers, junior
Darius James, redshirt freshman

The departing senior linemen were big fans of Flowers, who they considered starter-quality throughout 2013 even if he was mostly a reserve. This is his spot to take. James needed a redshirt year to get back in shape, but he has the potential to be one of Texas’ best.

Center
Dominic Espinosa, senior
Jake Raulerson, redshirt freshman

The new veteran leader of the line, Espinosa has 39 career starts under his belt and improved as a junior. Hard to see him losing his spot. Raulerson continues to put on muscle and will have a long, successful career. Texas also adds incoming freshman Terrell Cuney here.

Right Guard
Curtis Riser, sophomore
Rami Hammad, redshirt freshman

Riser is entering his third year in the program and seems likely to be the favorite for this spot, but don’t count out Hammad. He redshirted as a freshman and missed part of the season with an arm injury, but he’s as impressive as any first-year lineman the Longhorns had.

Right Tackle
Kent Perkins, sophomore
Josh Cochran, senior

Perkins earned one start as a freshman and should be an All-Big 12-caliber tackle by the time he’s done in Austin. It’s hard to peg what’s next for Cochran, who lost enough weight from a shoulder injury to necessitate a move to tight end. The former starter could end up at either spot in his final season.

Kicker
Nick Jordan, sophomore

Good luck to whoever must replace Anthony Fera, the All-American and Groza Award finalist. Jordan strugged as a freshman in 2012 but got a year off and seems most likely to assume the kicking duties, though there will be competition.

Ten plays that defined Texas' season

December, 12, 2013
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Counting down 10 of the biggest plays of Texas’ season, the ones that ended up defining the 2013 Longhorns:

10. McCoy’s no-look TD pass at Baylor: The epitome of Case McCoy’s moxie magic. On 4th-and-goal down big in Waco, McCoy faked a handoff but the pass was well-covered so he scrambled to his left, but the run was blown up quickly. McCoy turned back and, amid good pressure, fired off a long pass to a wide-open Malcolm Brown for the score. It’s about as a tough a 2-yard touchdown as you’ll find, and McCoy probably had no business making the throw. But it worked.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesDaje Johnson's TDs against New Mexico State in the opener displayed Texas big-play potential on offense.
9. Daje Johnson goes deep: Try to remember what this meant at the time. Late in the second quarter of a low-scoring game, Texas ran a four-verticals play, and David Ash hit an open Johnson from the slot. He found space and dash untouched past three New Mexico State defenders for a 66-yard score. At the time, it was a sign of Texas’ potential to become a big-play offense in its new up-tempo spread attack.

8. Justin Gilbert pick-sixes McCoy: The phrase “slim margin for error” came up a lot in the final weeks of Texas’ season. This play was certainly indicative. Down 21-10 to Oklahoma State, Texas was driving to trim the deficit before halftime, but Gilbert baited McCoy into forcing a pass to Kendall Sanders along the sideline, then picked it off and ran it back 43 yards. There would be no coming back from 28-10 against Oklahoma State.

7. Jeffcoat finishes off the Sooners: We had to get one of Jackson Jeffcoat’s 12 sacks on the list. This one came on 4th-and-13 late in the fourth quarter against OU. Blake Bell, in the red zone and threatening to possibly cut Texas’ lead to 36-28, dropped back but had no chance. Cedric Reed’s rush forced Bell to his left, where Jeffcoat dropped him for a sack and a 12-yard loss to kill the Sooners’ last-ditch rally. One of many times Texas’ defensive end duo made a big play.

6. Taysom Hill’s first touchdown run: A sign of big, bad things to come for Texas’ defense. Hill faked a handoff on 3rd-and-2 in the first quarter and darted around his left tackle. Adrian Phillips took a bad angle and missed. Sheroid Evans and Josh Turner both dove for Hill’s legs and missed. He scooted 68 yards for the first of his three rushing touchdowns. It was the beginning of the end for defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

5. “Score pass” to beat West Virginia: Arguably Major Applewhite’s best play call of the season. The Longhorns’ first possession of overtime against West Virginia could’ve stalled after Brown was twice stopped on goal-line runs. But they caught WVU by surprise on 3rd-and-goal. McCoy faked a handoff and tossed a short pass to fullback Alex De La Torre for the 2-yard touchdown. The go-ahead score was DLT’s first career catch, and McCoy had missed on this exact same play vs. OU.

4. Ash goes down at BYU: We don’t know for certain when Ash suffered his concussion against BYU. But one play stands out: With less than nine minutes left in Provo, Ash scrambled out of the pocket and was hit hard from behind by end Bronson Kaufusi as another defender wrapped up his legs. Ash was helped up, went back down, knelt and put his head down as trainers rushed out. He missed the rest of the game and nearly the entire rest of the season.

3. McCoy’s Red River dime: In another example of McCoy’s infinite irrational confidence, he chucked a 30-yard pass down the sideline and perfectly hit Marcus Johnson in stride off a wheel route. Johnson burned his defender for a 59-yard score to put Texas ahead 17-3. It was a real game-changer both for momentum and for the confidence of the Longhorn offense.

2. The near-fumble at Iowa State: Paul Rhoads and his legion of Cyclone fans had a hard time getting over this one. It’s entirely possible Johnathan Gray lost a fumble at the goal line with less than four minutes left, but no camera angle could confirm this to game officials. and McCoy would later score. Imagine where this season would’ve headed had ISU won the review and the game, sending Texas to a 2-3 record.

1. Chris Whaley’s INT for a TD against Oklahoma: No play better sums up Texas’ six-game Big 12 win streak. Whaley, the 295-pound defensive tackle, slipped back into coverage in a heavy blitz front. Adrian Phillips got to Blake Bell, whose pass sailed wide and right into Whaley’s hands. He rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown that gave Texas a stunning 10-3 lead. Just a crazy, inexplicable play that led to an unexpected rout.

McCoy's road comeback résumé growing

November, 12, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Call it magic, or moxie, or luck, or whatever you want. Case McCoy likes a good comeback.

"I think sometimes he just likes to live close to the edge," Texas lineman Mason Walters said.

Following his trip to West Virginia last weekend, the senior quarterback's résumé now includes four comeback road victories. Texas has found some serious fortune when McCoy is facing a fourth-quarter deficit and a whole lot of pressure. He doesn't have an easy explanation for why this keeps working out for him and his Longhorns.

"I don't know what the formula is to any of that," McCoy said Monday.

He doesn't get away with it all the time (see: the 2011 Missouri loss). But these Longhorns have a strange knack for surviving close road games late when McCoy is behind center. Here's a review of the four comebacks he has pulled off in the last three years.

No. 25 Texas 27, Texas A&M 25
Nov. 24, 2011 | Kyle Field | College Station, Texas

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
Tim Larson/Icon SMIThere's something about a late-game deficit on the road that brings out the best in Case McCoy.
The deficit: Texas trailed 25-24 after Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill hit Jeff Fuller with a 16-yard touchdown pass with 1:48 left. The Aggies' two-point conversion failed.
The comeback: McCoy led the Longhorns on a seven-play, 48-yard drive, and Justin Tucker became a Texas legend with his 40-yard field goal with time expiring to beat A&M in the final game of their century-old rivalry.
McCoy magic: With 46 seconds left, McCoy dropped back to pass, then scrambled right and up the middle. He shed one tackle and bounced off another before gaining 25 yards, putting Texas in position for Tucker's game-winner.
Final line: 16 of 27, 110 passing yards; 7 rushes, 25 yards, 33.6 QBR
Quotable: "I told him: 'Here's where you become the guy, and here's where you take us down and win the game. Every quarterback has to have a signature moment and this is going to be yours.' " -- Texas coach Mack Brown

No. 23 Texas 21, Kansas 17
Oct. 27, 2012 | Memorial Stadium | Lawrence, Kan.

The deficit: Texas trailed 14-7 with 13:04 left when McCoy entered the game to replace an ineffective David Ash, who threw two interceptions. After going ahead 7-0 early, Texas' offense had produced five punts, two turnovers and one turnover on downs.
The comeback: McCoy led two touchdown drives in the game's final 10 minutes and connected with tight end D.J. Grant for a 1-yard touchdown with 12 seconds left to escape a near-disastrous game with a victory and improve to 6-2.
McCoy magic: After nearly throwing a game-sealing interception on his first attempt of the final drive, McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for an 18-yard gain on a fourth down, hit Mike Davis for a 39-yard gain one play later, then got the game-winner to Grant after Johnathan Gray was stopped twice at the goal line.
Final line: 5 of 7, 68 passing yards, 1 TD, 99.7 QBR
Quotable: "It wasn't anything I did. I think our coaches and our team just decided to dig down deep and decide to fight. We definitely came out slow and sluggish, and that's something we can't do the rest of this year. We got lucky, and we were able to come out of here with a win." -- McCoy

Texas 31, Iowa State 30
Oct. 3, 2013 | Jack Trice Stadium | Ames, Iowa

The deficit: Iowa State rallied with 10 points in the fourth quarter and extended its lead to 30-24 on a field goal with 3:40 left in the game.
The comeback: Texas marched 75 yards in 12 plays, with the help of 38 yards off Iowa State penalties, to score with 51 seconds remaining. Of course, all anyone will remember from this drive are Gray's two controversial near-fumbles at the goal line.
McCoy magic: After Gray's two short-yardage failures, McCoy pushed in for a 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal to put Texas ahead for good. More memorably, he found John Harris on a 44-yard Hail Mary to take a lead into halftime.
Final line: 26 of 45, 244 passing yards, 1 TD, 66.4 QBR
Quotable: "This will be a real positive for us moving forward. I'm really excited. I think I love comeback wins on the road more than anything in football." -- Brown

Texas 47, West Virginia 40, OT
Nov. 9, 2013 | Milan Puskar Stadium | Morgantown, W.Va.

The deficit: Texas trailed 26-16 midway through the third quarter, scored two touchdowns, gave up the lead, retook it and lost it again. The Longhorns were down 40-37 with 2:35 left in regulation.
The comeback: The Longhorns went 57 yards in 12 plays and forced overtime with a 24-yard field goal from Anthony Fera, then found the end zone in six plays in overtime and got a four-play goal-line stand from its defense for the win.
McCoy magic: The 10-yard touchdown to Jaxon Shipley to put Texas up 37-33. The 9-yard completion to Shipley on fourth-and-7 in the final drive of regulation. The 14-yard pass to Marcus Johnson on third-and-4 in overtime. The third-and-goal pass to Alex De La Torre that he missed against Oklahoma. He had a few big moments.
Final line: 27 of 49, 283 passing yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 71.9 QBR
Quotable: "Never been more proud of my team, my offense and my defense. We didn't do everything right by any means, but we came into a hostile environment and got a win." -- McCoy
 

Survive and advance. That’s all Texas could worry about doing on Saturday night.

A wild night in Morgantown, W.Va., ended with an even crazier finish, when Longhorns linebacker Steve Edmond snagged a diving interception on Paul Millard’s fourth-down pass to clinch a 47-40 overtime victory.

The last-second win keeps Texas’ Big 12 championship hopes alive another week. The Longhorns got to 6-0 in the league despite another perfect storm of injuries and mistakes. They couldn’t have pulled this off without the help of a large cast of big-moment contributors and surprise saviors.

[+] EnlargeSteve Edmond
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsSteve Edmond and Texas made big plays when the Longhorns needed them most against West Virginia.
“That’s the way this team has had it all year. Nothing has been easy,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “They’ve had to come back from the dead and they’ve had to fight and claw each week and they’ve had to win some tight games. They just continue to amaze me and overcome everything.”

This wasn’t like the Iowa State game, when Texas won an ugly 31-30 game and Brown was nothing but smiles, declaring a win a win and that he loves nothing more than a comeback on the road. That cheery optimism drew more than a few eye rolls.

No, this was a get the heck out of Dodge -- or, in this case, Appalachia -- and get home with a win, and no more casualties.

“We’ll take this win any time,” quarterback Case McCoy said.

For Texas, nearly everything that could’ve gone wrong early on did. The first four offensive possessions ended with a safety on a blocked punt, an interception, a fumble and a punt.

Its defense forced five turnovers and recorded six sacks. The Longhorns have never lost a game in the past decade when getting four takeaways. But they came awfully close on this night, with a rough first half of offense and injuries to running back Johnathan Gray, defensive tackle Chris Whaley and right tackle Kennedy Estelle.

Texas trailed 19-13 at halftime, then 26-16 midway through the third quarter. And yet, this team kept finding a way to scrap together just enough, delivering on every critical moment.

Jaxon Shipley caught his first touchdown of the season, on as beautiful and difficult a pass as McCoy has thrown, with a diving two-handed grab on a corner route.

Then came Shipley’s fourth-down conversion on Texas’ final drive in regulation. And Malcolm Brown’s 27-yard run. And Anthony Fera’s field goal to send Texas to the first overtime of Brown’s entire coaching tenure, and just the second in school history.

There was Marcus Johnson’s third-down catch in overtime. And Major Applewhite’s best play call of the year, a play-action pass on third down to Alex De La Torre, whose first career catch gave Texas its overtime lead.

And then there was Edmond, the once-maligned middle linebacker, batting a floated pass at the goal line on third down and slipping back to snag an interception on the game’s final play.

Big moments, each of them. Drop the ball once and it could be game over. The Longhorns delivered, over and over again.

“When I got that pick, I felt like I just won the lottery, like I was just the richest man on earth,” Edmond said. “I didn’t know what to do. When you don’t know what to do, you just do crazy stuff. I just took off running.”

And his teammates, tired and worn out but undeniably relieved, chased him as Edmond tried running the length of the field.

How long a run does this Texas team have left? Next up, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at home. Then Baylor on the road, possibly for the Big 12 title, Baylor’s BCS title hopes, Texas’ Fiesta Bowl dreams and all the other marbles.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These Longhorns aren’t. They’ve been humbled a few times during the six-game streak, enough to know that they’re living one week at a time.

We don’t know the prognosis on Gray. If he misses extended time -- he was in a boot and crutches by the end of the night -- Texas’ coaching staff will need to go back to the drawing board this week and find new ways for their offense to get the job done.

Another key leader went down early on, when Whaley was lost for the night with a left knee injury. The senior leader, a heart-and-soul cog of the defense, wiped away tears as he left the field on a cart.

His defense kept going, plugging in tackle Desmond "Tank" Jackson and getting an inspired performance and two sacks. They survived and advanced.

This is a resilient bunch. They shouldn’t even be in this position after starting 1-2. West Virginia found ways to exploit them on both sides of the ball. They can lose any or all of these final three games.

But just when you’re ready to count them out, the Longhorns somehow keep fighting.

“They’ve been called everything, they had their struggles when they got started, they never got their head down,” Brown said. “They kept their head up and played with pride. I’m just happy to coach them and continue to watch them play.

“It’ll be interesting to watch them the next three weeks. I’m not going to bet against them.”

Big 12 primer: Week 10

November, 2, 2013
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Texas will look to keep things rolling, Kansas State will hope to take another step toward becoming bowl eligible; West Virginia and TCU will try to keep their bowl hopes alive, and Oklahoma State and Texas Tech will stage the first Big 12 title elimination game of the season.

Those, among others, will be the storylines to watch in Week 10 of the Big 12:

Kansas at Texas, 2:30 p.m. CT (Longhorn Network): As a reliever, QB Case McCoy bailed the Longhorns out at Kansas last year. Now the starter, McCoy has been a big reason for Texas’ October turnaround. He delivered Adjusted QBRs of 90.8 and 95.4 in the Horns’ victories over Oklahoma and TCU. With Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown churning out yards between the tackles, Marcus Johnson and Mike Davis beating people deep, and McCoy putting the ball on the money, this is the best the Texas offense has looked since Colt McCoy was quarterbacking it.

Iowa State at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. CT (FS1): The Wildcats have five straight wins in the “Farmageddon” series, but none has come easy. All five wins have been within a single score. But these are teams headed in opposite directions. The banged-up Cyclones have been outscored by 95 points the last two weeks. With receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson back, K-State is finally healthy again and is coming off its best win of the year, a 35-12 rout of West Virginia.

West Virginia at TCU, 2:30 p.m. CT (ESPNU): Both teams desperately need a victory, both for morale and for bowl hopes. This game will feature two of the three worst offenses in the league. The one that can finish off drives with touchdowns instead of field goals will be the one that prevails here.

No. 18 Oklahoma State at No. 15 Texas Tech, 6 p.m. CT (FOX): This week, coach Mike Gundy acknowledged that the Cowboys will be in trouble against a rugged November schedule if they don’t complete more passes. Last year, according to ESPN Stats & Info, QB Clint Chelf completed 49 percent of his throws of 15 yards or longer. This season, that percentage has plummeted to 31 percent. Considering Tech is second among BCS conference teams in yards after the catch, the Cowboys will have to answer with plays down the field to keep up in Lubbock.

Stats that matter: Kansas-Texas

October, 30, 2013
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Each week, we team up with the ESPN Stats & Info crew to dig into the numbers that matter most and find three statistics that could make a big difference on Saturday. Here are the numbers to remember going into Texas’ home game this weekend against Kansas (2:30 p.m. CT, Longhorn Network).

1. One

[+] EnlargeGreg Robinson
AP Photo/Eric GayOne of the major improvements Greg Robinson has made to Texas' defense is cutting down on missed tackles.
Texas’ defense was one of the nation’s worst last year when it came to missing tackles. In Manny Diaz’s two games as defensive coordinator this season, the Longhorns missed a combined 24 tackles, which tied for third worst in FBS. A total of 17 occurred at BYU alone.

However, against TCU last weekend, the Longhorn defense had one missed tackle. One.

Texas’ missed tackle numbers have been steadily declining since it began Big 12 play, from 11 against Kansas State to nine vs. Iowa State to four against Oklahoma. And those improvements have come without the help of Texas’ best linebacker, Jordan Hicks.

Those stunning improvements are a testament to what Greg Robinson and Texas' defensive staff have achieved in the past month, and they are also indicative of the high level of confidence this unit is playing with right now.

2. 82.4

There’s a valid case to be made that Case McCoy is playing like the second-best quarterback in the Big 12 right now. During October, McCoy had an opponent-adjusted QBR of 82.4, which ranked No. 2 in the conference behind Baylor’s Bryce Petty and No. 11 nationally.

He finished third in the conference this month in yards per attempt (7.8) as well as completions of 20-plus yards (10). He also went 3-0, and each of those wins came away from Austin.

Keep this in mind: His three interceptions in the last two games came in the second half, after Texas had already secured victory. His gunslinger tendencies still pop up from time to time, but they haven’t gotten him in trouble yet. He’ll have to keep those mistakes to a minimum if Texas is serious about running the table.

3. 0-25

Everyone knows this stat by now, but there’s no ignoring it: Kansas has now lost 25 straight Big 12 games. That’s the second-longest losing streak in league history, behind Baylor’s 29-game slide from 1998 to 2001.

In the past five seasons, Kansas is 2-36 in Big 12 play. The average scoring margin of those 38 games has been 23.1 points, or an average score of 40-17. During that period, the Jayhawks have also employed three different head coaches. The two rare victories came in games when Kansas managed to score 40-plus points.

KU has never defeated Texas in their 10 meetings as Big 12 foes, but its four-point loss to Texas last year remains the closest Charlie Weis has come to winning a Big 12 game in his tenure.

Three more to remember

No. 120: Kansas’ FBS ranking in yards per play. The Jayhawks are averaging 4.24 yards per play on offense, fourth worst nationally.

31.7: Texas receiver Marcus Johnson is averaging 31.7 yards per catch on third downs in his last four games. He has seven receptions on 10 targets, scoring touchdowns on two and picking up first downs on four others.

10/4/2008: The last time Kansas won a Big 12 road game, a 35-33 victory at Iowa State. KU has lost 19 straight conference road games since then.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
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Here's what we learned about the Big 12 from Week 9:

1. Texas Tech is no fraud: The Red Raiders might not have come out of Norman with a victory. But unlike the ’02 and ’08 teams, they came to play the Sooners. Tech never lost its poise, even when down two touchdowns, and executed a series of trick plays to retake the lead in the third quarter. Ultimately, the Red Raiders committed too many killer penalties and turned the ball over too many times to beat Oklahoma on its home field. But the Red Raiders also proved their 7-0 start was not a mirage. Kliff Kingsbury’s aggressive game plan showed why he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks. And even in defeat, Tech showed it’s still a team that could win 10 games this season -- and it's a program with a bright future.

[+] EnlargeDesmond Roland
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma State has found its running back after Desmond Roland rushed for a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa State.
2. Desmond Roland is Oklahoma State’s best running back: The Cowboys still can’t throw the ball. But at least in Ames, they found their running back, as Roland at last got the Oklahoma State running game going. On 26 carries, he racked up a career-high 219 yards and four touchdowns to lift the Cowboys to a 58-27 win at Iowa State. His 58-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, in which he rumbled over Cyclone after Cyclone, gave the Cowboys a 38-20 lead and the Pokes some breathing room after a sloppy second quarter. The passing game remains a mess. In his first start since the opener, Clint Chelf threw for just 78 yards and completed just 10 of 26 passes. But at least in Roland, the Cowboys now have someone they can run their offense through going into next weekend’s showdown at Texas Tech.

3. The OU win wasn’t a one-game anomaly for Texas: The Longhorns moved to 4-0 in the Big 12 with a dominating 30-7 victory at TCU. They also showed that the win over Oklahoma two weeks ago wasn’t a fluke. Texas carried over its winning recipe from the Red River win into Fort Worth. They fed the ball to running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, who churned out another 145 yards on the ground against a tough TCU defense. Quarterback Case McCoy made some big throws downfield to Mike Davis and Marcus Johnson. And the defense forced turnovers. This is not the same club that got pummeled by BYU and Ole Miss earlier in the season. The Longhorns are quickly gaining confidence, and for good reason, are beginning to believe they could bring the Big 12 title to Austin.

4. K-State is better than its record: After suffering four tough losses, including three in the league, Kansas State finally got its first Big 12 win with an impressive 35-12 pasting of West Virginia. Jake Waters and Daniel Sams were fabulous throwing the ball, combining to complete 18 of 21 passes. And receivers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson were terrific in their returns from injuries, totaling four touchdown receptions. This was a game the Wildcats had to have to make a bowl game. And at 3-4, K-State still has work to do. But the Wildcats sure looked like a bowl team against West Virginia. Given the remaining schedule, K-State is a good bet to get to six wins.

5. Baylor will be humming entering the defining part of its schedule: The Bears have yet to face a ranked opponent. But after their 45-point win at Kansas, they will head into a Nov. 7 tilt with Oklahoma still on a roll. Once again, QB Bryce Petty was on target with 430 passing yards and three touchdowns, while Lache Seastrunk spearheaded another impressive ground game for Baylor. The Bears have been the most impressive team in the Big 12 by far. They remain the league favorite. Yet their mettle is about to be tested. The Bears face ranked opponents (Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State) in their next three games, a defining stretch that will determine whether they are truly a national title contender. But after another dominating performance, Baylor will go into that stretch healthy, with all pistons firing.

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