Texas Longhorns: Poona Ford

AUSTIN, Texas -- Charlie Strong's first freshman class at Texas is still missing three players.

While the rest of Texas' incoming freshmen enrolled at the start of June, running backs D'Onta Foreman and Kevin Shorter and defensive tackle Poona Ford have yet to join the program.

Ford, a defensive tackle from Hilton Head, South Carolina, is set to enroll for Texas' second summer session, according to Hilton Head coach B.J. Payne. Those classes begin July 14, and Payne said Ford is "all good" with his academics for qualifying.

There is greater concern about the status of the running back signees. Houston Eisenhower back Donald Catalon is already enrolled and on campus, but Foreman and Shorter both have work to do to get to Austin.

Shorter said he needs to take a TAKS standardized test and complete some online coursework before he can join the program. He was told he must to report to the team by Aug. 27.

"I have a few things to take care of then I'll be on my way," Shorter said.

The running back from Newton, Texas, suffered a bruised spinal cord in October that ended his senior season and put his playing career in jeopardy. Whenever he does join the program, Shorter will have to go through testing with UT doctors to determine if he'll be cleared to play again in 2014 and beyond.

There's more progress but less optimism in the case of Foreman, the Texas City, Texas, standout whose twin brother, Armanti Foreman, has already begun classes at UT.

Foreman is still waiting for a ruling from the NCAA clearinghouse, according to Texas City assistant coach Chase Fickessen. Foreman has submitted his paperwork and is hoping to hear back on qualifying before the July 14 session begins. If he does enroll in the summer, he'd likely need to take several summer classes at UT to maintain his eligibility.

If Foreman does not qualify, Texas would place him at a junior college this fall with the intention of eventually re-signing him.

Losing Foreman and Shorter would be a tough blow for Texas' depth at running back behind the veteran trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron. Their top backups would presumably be Jalen Overstreet, who converted from quarterback to running back a year ago, and Catalon. Texas has already landed three verbal commitments from running backs for its 2015 recruiting class.

2014 Big 12 recruiting draft: Round 2

May, 8, 2014
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Earlier this afternoon, we began the 2014 Big 12 recruiting draft with Round 1. We continue the draft with Round 2:

1. Kansas -- DE Derick Roberson
Signed with: Texas
Brandon Chatmon: With Jerrod Heard secured as the face of the offense, let’s get someone to be the face of the defense. The lanky, athletic defensive end could develop into a terror for opposing defenses, and his natural pass rush skills would help him make an immediate impact on the Jayhawks’ defensive front.

2. Iowa State -- DT Terrell Clinkscales
Signed with: Kansas State
Jake Trotter: I actually thought about taking Clinkscales with Iowa State's first pick, so I'm thrilled I was able to still grab him here with the Cyclones' second selection. After booting two DTs during the spring, Iowa State is in major need of immediate impact in the position. As one of the top juco DTs in the country, Clinkscales is just what the doctor would have ordered in Ames.

3. West Virginia -- CB Dravon Henry
Signed with: West Virginia
Chatmon: Obviously, I think coach Dana Holgorsen and Co. did a great job on the recruiting trail with my selection of back-to-back WVU signees in the first two rounds. With Daryl Worley on one side and Henry on the other, the Mountaineers could have the Big 12’s top cornerback duo in the near future. In a league that likes to spread you out and expose weak links in the secondary, great cornerback play can be the difference.

4. TCU -- OLB Edwin Freeman
Signed with: Texas
Max Olson: This selection makes a lot of sense when you remember that Freeman's former high school coach, Kenny Perry, is now the cornerbacks coach for the Horned Frogs. TCU made a run at Freeman, who ended up choosing Texas over Texas A&M, and he fits in well with this defense. He likes playing safety, but Freeman's future is probably at linebacker and he could've been a darn good for TCU.

5. Texas Tech -- DT Poona Ford
Signed with: Texas
Trotter: After ranking ninth in the Big 12 in rushing defense, and after graduating its top two D-linemen from last season in Kerry Hyder and Dartwan Bush, Texas Tech needs some beef. As the only ESPN 300 DT to sign in the Big 12, Ford would bring the beef. He would also eventually give Tech the inside presence it so desperately needs defensively.

6. Kansas State -- LB Kyron Watson
Signed with: Kansas
Chatmon: The Wildcats' defense was missing an impact linebacker in the mold of Arthur Brown a season ago. Watson can fill that void. He’s versatile enough to play inside or outside and has the speed and instincts to make plays from sideline to sideline. And he’d be a special teams demon for Bill Snyder’s squad. Watson is a no-brainer for the Wildcats’ pick.

7. Texas -- WR Armanti Foreman
Signed with: Texas
Olson: Heartbroken over losing out on Ford at this spot, and with few elite defenders left on the board, the Longhorns reluctantly go the receiver route and take the highest-rated one on the board. Foreman is the choice over Allen Lazard simply because he's capable of starring as either a wideout or as a cornerback, the spot where he earned all-state honors in 2013.

8. Oklahoma State -- QB Justice Hansen
Signed with: Oklahoma
Trotter: With Mason Rudolph, Jerrod Heard and William Crest gone, the Cowboys grab the final ESPN 300 QB on the board in Hansen, whose size and mobility makes for a good fit in Stillwater. I foresee many Hansen-to-K.D. Cannon TDs coming to Boone Pickens Stadium.

9. Oklahoma -- WR Lamar Parker
Signed with: West Virginia
Chatmon: The undersized Parker (5-8, 155 pounds) reminds me of Jalen Saunders. Much like the former OU receiver, Parker would bring speed, competitiveness and return ability to the Sooners. With OU's increased focus on the running game, Parker would provide a big-play threat to keep defenses honest.

10. Baylor -- RB Samaje Perine
Signed with: Oklahoma
Olson: Baylor thinks very highly of the running back it did sign, Terence Williams, and he'd be a fine pick here. But it's too tempting to go with Perine, a bruising power back who would bring a lot of muscle to the run game that loses Lache Seastrunk. Though he didn't hold an offer from BU in real life, Perine would be the thunder to the Bears' lighting pass game, a great short-yardage option early on. He's absolutely ripped now, but imagine what strength coach Kaz Kazadi could do with him.
AUSTIN, Texas -- Our five to watch series continues this week with a closer look at a group of incoming freshmen who could be in line to help the Longhorns right away in 2014. You won't see Texas' highest-rated pledge at the top of the list, because this is not exclusively about star ratings. It's about fit and function.

1. DT Poona Ford

There's a reason why this guy was priority No. 1 for Charlie Strong and his staff on national signing day. Ford, who was once Louisville's highest-rated pledge before the coaching changes, was a must-get for Texas to fix an area that might be relatively concerning.

Malcom Brown and Desmond Jackson are legit, but the depth behind them is unproven at best. Hassan Ridgeway could turn it on and be a key piece this fall, but Alex Norman and Paul Boyette Jr. have not panned out entering year three in the program, and Texas failed to sign any defensive linemen in 2013 after losing A'Shawn Robinson to Alabama late.

So yeah, Ford walks into an ideal situation in terms of opportunity. There's a lot to like about what the 6-foot, 285-pound defensive tackle put on his senior tape. If Ford gets the defense down and come along quickly, you're going to see him this fall.

2. OLB Edwin Freeman

The first big commitment of the Strong era, Freeman is a safety in a linebacker's body. At 6-1 and nearly 215 pounds, he's the right kind of package to play some kind of a rover role and produce in the back seven.

A product of Arlington (Texas) Bowie who chose the Horns over Texas A&M despite Mack Brown's departure, Freeman is an explosive and smart downhill tackler who seems ready-made to knock heads on special teams as a freshman and find his way onto the field in the right situations.

These hybrid tweener types such as Freeman and Naashon Hughes seem poised to find a niche in Strong's defense, at least based on how he ran things at Louisville. You want guys like Freeman in a Big 12 defense.

3. WR Armanti Foreman

The Texas City native brings speed and attitude to Texas, plus the ability to play either receiver or defensive back.

Whether it's Foreman, Lorenzo Joe, Dorian Leonard or another one of the many Texas receiver signees, it seems likely at least one of these freshmen will prove to the cream of the crop by the end of fall camp and see early playing time.

The new staff had to put in some time to convince Armanti and his brother, D'Onta Foreman, to stay on board, and they nearly took a visit to Missouri. But both are ready to show up in Austin with the hopes of playing right away, and D'Onta is the kind of weapon Texas can put in the slot and make some noise with in the future.

4. DE Derick Roberson

Why is Roberson, the Longhorns' highest-rated ESPN 300 signee, so low on this list? Only because of Texas' solid depth along the defensive line. When you have a potential All-American in Cedric Reed and two exciting third-year ends in Shiro Davis and Caleb Bluiett, you're in good shape.

Roberson can make that group much better if he shows up ready to play. He'll bulk up in his first year under strength coach Pat Moorer and could turn into even more of a freak by Year 2. For that reason, a redshirt wouldn't be inexcusable.

But as a speed rusher who racked up more than 20 sacks in his senior year at San Antonio Brennan, Roberson is, at the very least, a passing-down rusher who creates problems in the backfield. Don't be surprised if he finds his way onto the second unit and excels when he sees the field.

5. QB Jerrod Heard

Texas fans might not be happy about this ranking, since Heard is the next great beloved quarterback (aren't they all?). Truth is, after watching Heard become a two-time state champion at Denton Guyer, it's easy to buy in and see him as the guy of the future.

That doesn't guarantee playing time in 2014, however. He's as polished as any freshman quarterback in the country and mature beyond his years. He's got the makeup you'd ideally want if you had to throw him out on the field as a rookie. Considering Texas' instability at QB, would anyone really be that surprised if Heard is the starting quarterback by November?

How far he gets this fall depends on how prepared he is this summer and what he proves to Shawn Watson. But assuming Max Wittek does end up in Austin and David Ash recovers to 100 percent as expected, Heard seems more likely to sit than play early on. Considering the expectations he faces, that might be for the best.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Monday with defensive line. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWith a healthy and productive Devonte Fields this fall, TCU's defensive line could be an elite unit.
1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 2): Devonte Fields appears to be back, which is a scary proposition for the rest of the Big 12. The 2012 Big 12 AP Defensive Player of the Year basically had a fruitless sophomore campaign, which ended with season-ending foot surgery. But this spring, defensive coordinator Dick Bumpas noted that Fields was making the plays he did as a freshman All-American. Even without Fields, this would be a good D-line, headlined by veteran tackles Chucky Hunter and Davion Pierson. But with Fields playing up to his potential, this line could be elite.

2. Oklahoma (1): Not only did the Sooners return the entire line that destroyed Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they’ve added three redshirt freshmen who are clamoring for playing time. Charles Walker is the most athletic tackle on the roster, and he ran the fastest tackle 40 time (4.67 seconds) of the Bob Stoops era. Tackle Matt Romar quietly emerged this spring and could be on the verge of taking away snaps from some of the veterans inside. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo showed this spring he's yet another Sooner capable of getting to the quarterback off the edge. There's a debate on the best D-line in the league. There’s no debate on the deepest, with Oklahoma capable of going three-deep across the board.

3. Baylor (6): Coach Art Briles believes he has one of the best defensive lines in the country, and there's reason to believe he might be right. The Bears made the biggest jump on this list, thanks to the development of end Shawn Oakman and emergence of tackle Javonte Magee. Briles called the 6-foot-9 Oakman “unblockable” during the spring. Oakman already flashed plenty of potential last season as a sophomore, finishing sixth in the league with 12.5 tackles for loss. Magee, who might be the most highly-touted high school defender Briles has ever signed, sat out his freshman season while dealing with a personal issue. But he established himself this spring and could beat out returning starter Beau Blackshear. With former four-star signee Andrew Billings (who played as a true freshman) also poised for a big year at the other tackle spot, Briles could indeed be proven correct in the fall.

4. Texas (3): The Longhorns boast two of the league’s blue-chip defensive linemen in end Cedric Reed and tackle Malcom Brown. But whether this unit rises to the top of the league will hinge on the supporting cast. If athletic end Shiro Davis and run-stuffing tackle Desmond Jackson play up to their potential, and the Longhorns can get a boost from incoming freshmen Derick Roberson and Poona Ford, this could be a foundational positional unit in Charlie Strong’s first season.

5. Kansas State (4): Like Texas, the Wildcats have two blue-chip pieces returning up front in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz. They’re banking they’ll soon be adding a third in Terrell Clinkscales, who will be arriving to Manhattan shortly. Clinkscales, whom the Wildcats snatched away from Nebraska, was the nation’s No. 4-rated juco DT, and at 315 pounds, could be the run-stuffer K-State currently lacks.

6. Oklahoma State (5): With so much turnover elsewhere, the Cowboys will be counting on their line to be their anchor defensively. There’s reason to believe it could be that and more. Sam Wren received votes for Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season, while Emmanuel Ogbah garnered consideration for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Throw in promising redshirt freshmen Vili Leveni, Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor, who all showed signs this spring they might be ready to contribute, along with veterans James Castleman, Ofa Hautau and Jimmy Bean, and Oklahoma State could have the anchor up front it needs while the rest of the defense retools.

7. West Virginia (7): This will probably be the weakest area of West Virginia defense, but with their talent at linebacker, the Mountaineers don’t have to be great up front. Dontrill Hyman, Christian Brown and Kyle Rose are currently the starters coming out of the spring. But the player to watch up front is sophomore Darrien Howard, who rapidly progressed since having his redshirt pulled late in 2013. If Howard develops into an impact player, he could give the Mountaineers a huge jolt up front.

8. Texas Tech (9): The Red Raiders tried to get by this spring while awaiting the horde of defensive line help set to arrive this summer. All told, the Red Raiders signed four juco D-linemen, only one of which – Keland McElrath -- enrolled early (McElrath was hobbled by a stress fracture all spring to boot). To be better up front, Tech, which ranked ninth in run defense last fall, will need at least a couple of its juco transfers to hit.

9. Kansas (10): Keon Stowers quietly has become as one of the better tackles in the league. He was the defensive MVP of Kansas' spring game after collecting eight tackles from his defensive tackle spot, and he was voted captain for a second straight year. Stowers and linebacker Ben Heeney will lead a defense that returns nine starters and could surprise after gaining confidence from playing Oklahoma and Texas tough last season.

10: Iowa State (8): The Cyclones took it on the chin this spring, with projected D-line starters Rodney Coe and David Irving both getting kicked off the team. Iowa State got a boost shortly after spring ball ended when 2013 starting tackle Brandon Jensen changed his mind about leaving the team. The Cyclones should be solid at end with Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, but even with Jensen’s return, interior line depth is a major concern.
Editor's note: This week we're taking a closer look at five key takeaways from Texas' spring practices, which wrapped up earlier this month, as well as what they mean for the summer and beyond.

AUSTIN, Texas -- The new defensive line coach has a saying. Well, he has a lot of sayings. But he’s particularly proud of this one: In his eyes, there are two types of players.

The CEPs and the PSPs.

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed is the pass-rushing headliner of Texas' loaded defensive line.
Chris Rumph wants to surround himself with CEPs: Contract extension players. Rumph loves those kind of guys. They make him look good. You do not, however, want to be a PSP.

“Some other guys that you won’t see out there on Saturdays, they are PSPs: Pink slip players,” Rumph said this spring. “So I want me some CEPs.”

The former Alabama assistant has inherited four dudes who get the job done on the Longhorns defensive line, a group that can set up every other starting defender for success when playing at its disruptive best.

Cedric Reed, the 6-foot-6 senior defensive end who earned All-Big 12 honors last fall as the tag-team partner of Jackson Jeffcoat is a known commodity. Only Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, a potential top-10 NFL draft pick, matched Reed last year in the production of sacks (10), forced fumbles (five) and pass breakups (four).

Reed has CEP written all over him. So does Malcom Brown, the monstrous defensive tackle who enters his junior season with 13 career starts and All-America potential.

Coaches say Brown is as good as he wants to be. He’s become more vocal, unafraid now to point out his peers’ mistakes during film sessions and offer advice. When he talks, they listen.

“They know I’m going to do what I have to do,” Brown said. “I’ve got it down. I know what I’m doing and I’ll tell them when I’m doing something wrong before they even have to tell me.”

Desmond Jackson knows what he’s doing, too. The senior nose tackle who goes by "Tank" has 38 games under his belt and knows exactly what he can bring to this line. When he and Brown clog the middle and break through to the backfield, this defense gets dangerous.

Coming off the other edge is Shiro Davis, who’s beginning to play up to the hype he earned when he flipped from LSU to Texas in the final hour of his recruitment. Now a junior, Davis did more than enough this spring to lock down a starting job.

Altogether, it’s a line that has all the size, strength and speed a first-year coach like Rumph could demand. And nothing pleases Jackson, the veteran of the group, more than to see guys like Brown and Davis on the rise.

[+] EnlargeDerick Roberson
Miller Safrit/ESPNIncoming freshman Derick Roberson could be hard to keep off the field.
“They’re like my brothers to me. Anytime they make a good play, I’m the first one over there hyped up,” Jackson said. “We’re all brothers. That’s like family right there. I’d do anything for them. To see them make huge jumps makes me feel good.”

But the Longhorns will need more than that, and the depth behind them remains an area of uncertainty. Caleb Bluiett will play plenty, and so could fellow third-year end Bryce Cottrell. Hassan Ridgeway is practically a lock to be the third tackle, but still has a way to go. Alex Norman and more backups must emerge, and true freshmen Poona Ford and Derick Roberson could contribute immediately.

No matter who makes the two-deep, the addition of Rumph has brought this group even closer together. In recent years, Oscar Giles oversaw the ends and Bo Davis coached tackles. Nothing wrong with that, but Texas’ defensive linemen are already picking up on the benefits of having one man run the show.

“It’s real different,” Brown said. “I’ve done drills this year that I’ve never done before, that the defensive ends do. We’re all on the same page. We’re all being taught the same thing and doing the same drills. It’s nice, and it has its perks.”

In between telling his guys they’re playing like sasquatches and billy goats, and taunting the quarterback, and threating to send underperformers home with mayonnaise sandwiches, the high-energy Rumph has made clear his expectations.

Close enough doesn’t fly with Rumph or head coach Charlie Strong, not when they’ve been preaching all spring that they intend to win games up front.

“It always starts up front. That’s what they always emphasize,” Brown said. “If we come out the first play and hit somebody in the mouth, they already know we’re there for the whole game and we’re gonna fight for the whole game.”

That's what a CEP sounds like, and Texas could have a bunch of them.

Incoming impact countdown: Nos. 4-8

February, 20, 2014
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Now that they’ve signed their letters of intent, Texas’ incoming recruits can officially toss their stars in the trash. They don’t matter now.

While such ratings and rankings are helpful throughout the recruiting process, they mean nothing once a kid sets foot on campus and joins the program.

Gold stars won’t decide who gets to play as a freshman. Preparation, fit, need, raw talent, confidence, some good fortune -- a whole lot of real stuff matters now. Which members of Texas’ 2014 class have a chance to help out the Longhorns from day one?

This week we’re breaking down the Texas signees by their ability to make an early impact during their time on the 40 Acres, counting down from No. 23 to No. 1. If you missed it, here were the first three parts.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Joe
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTexas has a logjam at receiver, but don't be surprised if Lorenzo Joe contributes this fall.
8. WR Lorenzo Joe
Abilene Cooper | 6-2, 190


2013: 1,864 passing yards, 13 passing TDs, 1,657 rushing yards, 22 rushing TDs

Joe is one of the clear-cut leaders of this class and one of its most intriguing athletes. Abilene Cooper wisely played Joe at quarterback in an effort to put the ball in the hands of its best player as much as possible, and he thrived in that capacity. But Joe has been working to refine his receiving skills on the side throughout during the two years, and won’t be as raw as you’d think by the time fall camp arrives.

The logjam at receiver has been well-documented in this series, so it’s once again difficult to peg where Joe fits into this mix and who he’s capable of surpassing on the depth chart. Devoting a year to the wide receiver position will be good for him, and Joe is talented enough to help the Longhorns in 2014.

7. CB Jermaine Roberts
New Orleans St. Augustine | 5-9, 170

2013: 56 tackles, 6 interceptions, 1 kick return TD

Roberts considers himself a game-changer akin to Tyrann Mathieu, and the Louisiana native will show up in Austin with immeasurable confidence and swagger, both on and off the field. But where does he fit in from Day 1?

There could be an opening at corner depending on how defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn approach replacing Carrington Byndom, or maybe Roberts can step in and help on nickel and dime coverage immediately. He’s at least got a shot at finding a role on special teams, and he’ll want a shot at returning kicks. This kid wants to play, and he’ll have the opportunity to prove himself.

6. RB Donald Catalon
Houston Eisenhower | 6-0, 200

2013: 866 rushing yards, 410 receiving yards, 9 TDs, 38 tackles, 1 interception

As is the case with the other running back signees in this class, it’s possible Catalon could end up at another position besides running back during his career. He shows enough natural instincts and skills to play in the secondary. Is that where he’s most likely to maximize his potential? Too soon to tell.

What we do know is Texas needs help at running back this fall, and Catalon would appear to have the clearest path to entering that stable and contributing. He’s a slasher with a nice combination of speed and power, but he’s got work to do if he wants to get on the level of Texas’ three incumbent backs.

[+] EnlargeJerrod Heard
Max Olson/ESPNBarring injuries at the QB position, the best option for Jerrod Heard and Texas might be to redshirt in 2014.
5. QB Jerrod Heard
Denton Guyer | 6-2, 190

2013: 2,148 passing yards, 22 passing TDs, 6 INTs, 2,172 rushing yards, 28 rushing TDs

Why, you ask, is Heard not at the top of this list? Because where we stand today, it still seems like a redshirt is the more probable outcome for Heard in his freshman campaign. That seems even more likely if Texas does end up landing former USC quarterback Max Wittek via transfer.

Heard is special. We’ve written that he’s the quarterback of the future for the Longhorns. That’s still true if he doesn’t play in 2014, and that year would be a remarkably valuable experience. All bets are off if David Ash goes down, obviously, but right now the smartest course of action would be keeping Heard on the bench and letting him soak in the knowledge Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline offer.

4. DT Poona Ford
Hilton Head (S.C.) | 6-1, 288

2013: 135 tackles, 28 TFLs, seven sacks, 17 QB pressures, two forced fumbles

This is one bad dude. Power, quick feet and a knack for inflicting pain -- that, in a nutshell, is what Ford can bring to the table. And Texas coaches made it perfectly clear to him during his recruitment that he was a need, a must-get who can play from Day 1 if he brings his best.

The depth behind Malcom Brown, Desmond Jackson and Hassan Ridgeway is questionable at best. Playing time is there for the taking so long as Ford takes care of his business. And what else can he do? Well, he did play some fullback last fall. Enjoy.

Top position classes: DL 

February, 14, 2014
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With national signing day in the books, RecruitingNation is looking at the top position classes. For the full series, click here.

Nationally (and SEC)
Texas A&M went into the 2014 class knowing that size and athleticism was an absolute must on its defensive front. And Kevin Sumlin and staff delivered on those glaring needs. Leading the way is No. 1 defensive end and five-star player Myles Garrett (Arlington, Texas/James Martin), who has the size, speed and power combination to be a difference-maker early on next fall. The 6-foot-5, 247-pound Garrett is joined at defensive end by ESPN 300 No. 203 Qualen Cunningham (Chandler, Ariz./Hamilton), and high three-star Jarrett Johnson (Katy, Texas/Seven Lakes), who has a nonstop motor. While the Aggies have some talented young defensive tackles, continuing to add size and athleticism to the interior was a must. No. 150 DeShawn Washington (Nederland, Texas/Nederland) and four-star early enrollee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) add disruptive explosiveness and athleticism.

The Aggies had the nation’s best defensive line class; here’s which schools had the best in each of the remaining power conferences:

All-Big 12 team: recruiting edition

February, 12, 2014
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Ranking recruits is an unscientific process. If it were, it would be easy to predict future all-conference teams. As an exercise, I’ve cobbled together what an All-Big 12 team would look like based exclusively on ESPN’s freshman recruiting rankings -- though chances are, actual All-Big 12 teams down the road will have a very different look.

Offense

QB: Justice Hansen, Oklahoma (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe)
RB: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)
RB: Donte Thomas-Williams, West Virginia (Durham, N.C./Hillside)
WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant)
WR: Armanti Foreman, Texas (Texas City, Texas/Texas City)
WR: Allen Lazard, Iowa State (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale)
TE: Carson Meier, Oklahoma (Tulsa, Okla./Union)
OT: Alec Ruth, Kansas State (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Valor Christian)
OT: Kenyon Frison, Oklahoma (West Valley City, Utah/Granger)
OG: Natrell Curtis, Oklahoma (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe)
OG: Dontae Angus, West Virginia (Philadelphia/Martin Luther King)
C: Jacob Bragg, Kansas (Nacogdoches, Texas/ Nacogdoches)
AP: Davion Hall, Baylor (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau)

Defense

DE: Derick Roberson, Texas (San Antonio/William J. Brennan)
DE: Jordan Brailford, Oklahoma State (Tulsa, Okla./Booker T. Washington)
DT: Poona Ford, Texas (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head)
DT: Courtney Garnett, Oklahoma (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
LB: Edwin Freeman, Texas (Arlington, Texas/Bowie)
LB: Kyron Watson, Kansas (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis)
LB: Gyasi Akem, Oklahoma State (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow)
CB: Nigel Bethel II, Texas Tech (Miami/Booker T. Washington)
CB: Jermaine Roberts, Texas (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
S: Steven Parker II, Oklahoma (Jenks, Okla./Jenks)
S: T'Kevian Rockwell, Baylor (Wylie, Texas/Wylie)

A few observations on this team:
  • Oklahoma leads the way with seven players. Underscoring their strong close, the Sooners landed four of those players after their Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. In December, Oklahoma’s class ranked 24th. But it finished ranked at the top of the Big 12 and 13th nationally.
  • The Big 12 didn’t have a class ranked outside the top 60 nationally, and this list highlights that with nine teams represented.
  • TCU is the only school without a player here, though running back Shaun Nixon (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis) was slotted only five running back spots behind Thomas-Williams, whom the Mountaineers snagged on signing day. Nixon, who flipped from Texas A&M, was a huge get for the Horned Frogs.
  • Charlie Weis and his staff really delivered a solid recruiting class, despite a lack of success on the field. The Jayhawks had two players on this team, and that doesn’t even include four-star running backs Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton) and Corey Avery (Dallas/Carter).
  • Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, known for their high-powered offenses, didn’t have an offensive player make the team. They did, however, comprise three of the defensive spots with Brailford, Akem and Bethel II. Oklahoma State CB Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor) was rated just below Roberts, too.
Best players at each position who didn’t make the list:

QB: Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer), Texas
RB: Devon Thomas (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow), Oklahoma State
WR: Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington), West Virginia
TE: Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain), Oklahoma
OT: Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge), Oklahoma
OG: Joseph Paul (New Orlean/St. Augustine), Oklahoma
C: Terrell Cuney (Jasper, Texas/Jasper), Texas
DE: Trey Carter (Dallas/Pinkston), Oklahoma State
DT: D.J. Williams (Lufkin, Texas/Lufkin), Kansas
LB: Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield), West Virginia
CB: Chris Hardeman, Oklahoma State
S: John Bonney (Houston/Lamar), Texas
AP: Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East), Oklahoma

Texas position groups to improve: No. 4

February, 11, 2014
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Texas is getting off to a later-than-usual start to its spring practices this year, with Charlie Strong set to lead the Longhorns onto the practice field for the first time on March 18.

Until then, we’re counting down everything you need to know entering next season and the next era of Texas football. This week, we’re breaking down the five position groups with the most room to improve in 2014. We broke down the UT tight ends on Monday. Here’s No. 4 on the list:

[+] EnlargeMalcom Brown
John Albright/Icon SMIMalcom Brown is arguably the Big 12's best returning defensive tackle, but depth behind him is a concern for the Longhorns.
4. Defensive Tackles

The players: Malcom Brown, Desmond Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, Alex Norman, Paul Boyette Jr., Poona Ford, Chris Nelson

Last year: As expected, Brown emerged as one of the best young defensive tackles in the Big 12, recording 68 tackles and finishing third on the team in TFLs (12), pass breakups (five) and QB pressures (six). Jackson recorded 39 tackles, five TFLs and two sacks. Ridgeway recorded 13 tackles and five QB pressures in his redshirt freshman year. Norman and Boyette Jr. combined for three tackles in limited action.

What’s missing: Chris Whaley was the leader of this group and enjoying a breakthrough senior season before suffering a torn ACL. When he went down, the Longhorns’ lack of depth up the middle was exposed, to the point that former DC Greg Robinson relied on lines with three defensive ends playing at once at times.

Texas knows what it has in Brown and “Tank” Jackson, but there was no experienced talent waiting behind them. Add in the fact Texas signed zero defensive tackles in last year’s class and you have to be somewhat concerned about this group entering 2014.

Moving forward: Brown, a former top 15 recruit, played up to his immense potential and can become an All-Big 12 caliber talent in 2014. He’ll anchor this group, while Jackson brings senior leadership but has room to improve. They need help. Ridgeway needs to emerge as a trusted rotational guy.

Norman and Boyette Jr. are entering year three in the program and have been disappointing. It’s time to step up or step aside, because Texas coaches love what they’re getting in Ford, an ESPN 300 signee who could play right away. Where Nelson fits into this group could depend on whether some backups transfer, but he’s bringing lots of confidence to Austin. These freshmen know they can get on the field early if the backups don’t rise up.

Signing day was kind to the Oklahoma Sooners.

A strong finish to its 2014 recruiting class has helped OU land at No. 5 in the ESPN.com Post-Signing Day Way-Too-Early Top 25. The Sooners are the Big 12’s top team, with Baylor and Texas joining them on the list. The Bears are ranked No. 10 and the Longhorns No. 22.

Florida State, Alabama, Oregon and Michigan State are the top four teams, in that order.

OU skyrocketing to the top five shows just how quickly things can change. In mid-November the Sooners were reeling after a 41-12 thrashing at the hands of the eventual Big 12 champion Bears. Almost three months later, the Sooners find themselves projected to be among the nation’s top five teams after four straight wins to end the season, including a 45-31 Allstate Sugar Bowl triumph over Alabama led by sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight. The Sooners used that momentum to land several top recruits, including running back Joe Mixon, athlete Michiah Quick and safety Steven Parker II.

Baylor will have to overcome the loss of running back Lache Seastrunk and defensive leader Ahmad Dixon, but running back Shock Linwood and safety Orion Stewart both made game-changing plays as backups. Linwood finished with 881 rushing yards and Stewart had a critical interception return for touchdown against TCU. Art Briles' team appears ready to handle those departures -- and the loss of All-American guard Cyril Richardson -- while adding a recruiting class full of talented athletes, including elite receiver K.D. Cannon, to its roster to earn a preseason top-10 ranking.

Texas is the wildcard team with a new coach in Charlie Strong but uncertainty at the quarterback position due to David Ash’s health concerns. But a solid finish to its recruiting class, including the late addition of ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford, combined with an exceptional coaching staff landed Texas in the Top 25. The Longhorns have the talent to rise into the top 10 or, if their struggles at the quarterback position continue, could tumble out of the rankings completely.

Oklahoma State could have a strong case for inclusion in the Way-Too-Early Top 25, but Kansas State has the strongest case of the Big 12 squads that find themselves left outside. The Wildcats have quarterback Jake Waters returning to man the offense, and receiver Tyler Lockett could be the Big 12’s top returning offensive playmaker. Add in several impact junior college signees and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Wildcats consistently ranked among the top 25 teams in college football this fall.

Signing day: Big 12 wrapup

February, 5, 2014
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As hectic of a day as it was, national signing day was a success for all Big 12 programs. Coaches were up early manning their fax machines and showing excitement with every national letter of intent submitted via fax.

Nearly 250 football players signed letters of intent to play Big 12 football on Wednesday. Here are five of the biggest storylines -- and a bonus storyline that could have an ending Thursday -- from the conference.

Oklahoma takes over top spot in Big 12

In the past 48 hours, everything seemed to go Oklahoma’s way.

[+] EnlargeMichiah Quick
Courtesy of Nike ESPN 300 ATH Michiah Quick was a big part of Oklahoma's final rush, a rush that gave the Sooners the top class in the Big 12.
After getting a Tuesday commitment from ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla./Jenks), the Sooners got Wednesday pledges from ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) and high three-star offensive tackles Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger) and Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge).

All four players were a part of Oklahoma’s signing class of 26 on Wednesday -- helping the Sooners take over the top spot in the Big 12 class rankings. Oklahoma’s class is No. 13 nationally, three spots better than previous top dog Texas.

Oklahoma in previous years has been very good at finishing strong in recruiting. It managed to sign Frison, who committed to Utah last February before decommitting last month, as well as Brown, who had been committed to Tennessee since May before making an 11th-hour change.

Strong, Longhorns get their DTs

New Texas coach Charlie Strong wanted two players he recruited to play at Louisville, and by Wednesday afternoon, he had them.

ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head) and three-star defensive tackle Chris Nelson (Lakeland, Fla./Victory Christian Academy) signed with the Longhorns and were two of 23 to submit national letters of intent. They also helped erase the sting of the Longhorns losing three four-star defensive tackle commitments in LSU signee Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren), Oklahoma signee Courtney Garnett (New Orleans/St. Augustine) and Texas A&M signee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) last month.

Collectively, Ford and Nelson recorded 235 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 35 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. The duo also had 37.5 tackles for loss.

Receivers ‘No. 1’ to Baylor coach

Baylor coach Art Briles made a bold statement about his new wide receivers -- one that might be challenged by some but co-signed by others.

“The thing that we feel really good about,” Briles said, “is that we've signed the No. 1 receiving class in America -- I don't think that's up for debate.”

Briles has an argument with four ESPN 300 receivers in K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik) and Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis). The quartet helped to give Baylor a top-25 national recruiting class.

Rhoads fired up about lone in-state signee

To say Paul Rhoads is excited about his top-ranked signee, ESPN 300 wide receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale) is an understatement.

While Rhoads is pumped about the entire class, there’s something special about Lazard, as he is this year’s only in-state signee. Lazard, No. 148 in the ESPN 300, had opportunities to sign with other programs, but he chose to honor his original commitment and also follow the footsteps of his father Kevin Lazard, who played in the secondary for the Cyclones in the early 1990s.

“This is a young man who has gotten phenomenal national attention and was recruited by the traditional historical programs in college football and kept on turning them away to stay true to his word to be an Iowa State Cyclone,” Rhoads said in a statement of Lazard, the No. 2 prospect out of the state of Iowa behind Alabama offensive lineman signee Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls).

West Virginia adds depth in class

Adding depth was the objective for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, as he signed 22 players on Wednesday. Holgorsen was fortunate to add depth from coast to coast.

Of the 22 commits, only one -- three-star offensive tackle Amanii Brown (Morgantown, W.Va./Morgantown) -- is an in-state signee. The Mountaineers hit points all over the Lower 48, from California to Texas to Florida, to get players who can be contributors early and help the program return to star status.

West Virginia’s class is led by five ESPN 300 players. Running back Donte Thomas-Williams (Durham, N.C./Hillside), the class’ top-ranked player, was the last to commit early Wednesday afternoon. He joins defensive back Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), linebacker Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) and receivers Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington) and Jake McCrary (Miami/Coral Reef) in the class.

Bonus: Could the Sooners add one more?

LSU signed 22 players on Wednesday. The Tigers were hoping to sign 23.

Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) has been verbally committed to LSU since July, but the ESPN 300 defensive end also has high interest in Oklahoma. There were conflicting reports on Wednesday regarding whether Clark actually signed and submitted his letter of intent to LSU.

ESPN’s David Ching said an LSU spokesperson confirmed the letter of intent was at LSU and cleared compliance. Outside reports, however, say Clark did not submit the letter of intent, and a tweet from Clark's Twitter account said that “nothing is final.” His mother Dorshell also told The Oklahoman that her son “has not signed with LSU.”

Oklahoma City schools were closed on Wednesday because of bad weather, so Clark didn’t fax anything by way of Douglass High School. He is expected to announce his final decision on Thursday.

If it's true that Clark has not signed with LSU, look for Oklahoma to be a key player in his final decision. Ranked No. 273 in the ESPN 300, Clark has built a great relationship with the Sooners' coaching staff, particularly defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.

ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford (Hilton Head Island, S.C./Hilton Head) was a fan of Charlie Strong and his staff at Louisville -- so much so that he decided to follow them to the Big 12.

Ford signed with Texas and gave the Longhorns their eighth ESPN 300 player in the 2014 class. The 6-foot, 285-pound defensive tackle chose Texas over Missouri and Purdue.

Ranked No. 266, Ford visited Texas the weekend of Jan. 17. The Longhorns will get the No. 22 defensive tackle in the country and a player who can see valuable playing time early.


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Bold predictions: Big 12 

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
10:30
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One of the best things about national signing day is that, every year, it provides a last-minute surprise. Whether it involves a solid commit with an 11th-hour flip or an uncommitted player choosing a school to shock the masses, the day is good for full-fledged entertainment.

As we prepare for Wednesday, here are five bold predictions that we might see happen within the Big 12:


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Big 12 recruiting roundtable 

February, 4, 2014
Feb 4
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National signing day is now just 24 hours away. To get you ready, we checked in with our ESPN.com recruiting experts for their takes on the major storylines in the Big 12.

Senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles took time from their extremely busy schedules this week to address a few questions:

Oklahoma is closing strong here. With a few blue-chip players still in play, could the Sooners end up with the top class in the Big 12


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Big 12 class rankings analysis 

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
2:00
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With a week left until national signing day, Texas Tech climbed one spot, and Texas and West Virginia each fell a spot in the latest ESPN class rankings.

Clemson and Texas flipped spots, putting the Tigers at No. 13 and the Longhorns at No. 14. Oklahoma remained at No. 16, Baylor stayed at No. 18 and Oklahoma State remained at No. 26.

Texas Tech switched places with Northwestern, moving up a spot to No. 34. West Virginia, however, traded with North Carolina State and moved down to No. 38. Here is an in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:


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