Texas Longhorns: Charlie Strong

DALLAS -- Winning football games holds top billing in most cases, but when discussing the most important objective to college football coaches, a great recruiting class is always high on the totem pole.

The Big 12 media days on Monday and Tuesday gave coaches a chance to share their opinions on their teams, their competitors and the future of college football. It also allowed each coach to talk about the positives and negatives of recruiting.

Texas held its first-ever "Under The Lights" night camp inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Friday. While the event did not immediately result in new scholarship offers or commitments, we still learned plenty from Charlie Strong's final summer camp of 2014, which featured well more than 100 participants including at least 30 ESPN 300 prospects. Here's what stood out:

1. Out-of-state commits shine

Zach Gentry had seen his future teammates on recruiting websites and kept up with them via one long group text message. But Friday's camp provided the ESPN 300 quarterback commit the first real chance for him meet the rest of the class -- and for them to meet him.

The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native flew out for the night camp and lived up to the legends of his startling size -- he's now 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, and swears he's done growing -- while performing well under Shawn Watson's tutelage.

Gentry gravitated toward two other Texas commits with whom he shares plenty in common as outsiders: 2015 RB Kirk Johnson and 2016 WR Collin Johnson. The committed brothers from San Jose, California, made their third trip to Austin and earned rave reviews. Collin, a ESPN Junior 300 prospect, was especially impressive with 6-foot-4 size and major leaping ability.



The Johnson brothers are proud to say they did their part to ensure Gentry joined the class in May, and the trio stays in touch frequently. Surely they'll soon reach out to their newest out-of-state future teammate, Garrett Thomas of Many, Louisiana. The four-star tackle did make it to Austin as well Friday after delivering his commitment last week.

Another out-of-state recruit everyone was watching Friday: four-star QB Kai Locksley. He made his first visit to Austin this weekend and brought along father Mike Locksley, Maryland's offensive coordinator. Locksley showed off a quick release and impressive athleticism. Heck, he might be just as good a receiver at the next level, too.

Strong and Watson dedicated a lot of time to Locksley and his father after the camp wrapped up. It's going to be Texas, Florida State or Maryland in the end, and Locksley said he wants to make his decision soon.

2. Young linemen didn't disappoint

By the end of the night, most of the recruits who were getting significant buzz for their performances were underclassmen defensive linemen.

Fort Worth (Texas) All Saints defensive tackle Mike Williams, an ESPN Junior 300 prospect, was one of the breakout stars of the night and got plenty of attention from the coaching staff afterward. As usual, massive DT Kendell Jones of Killeen (Texas) Shoemaker was a star. The 6-5, 310-pound big man ranked No. 36 in the ESPN Junior 300 has visited Texas at least three times this year, including two camp trips.

Another player we'll all be talking about a year or two from now was Houston Episcopal's Marvin Wilson. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound defensive tackle, a 2017 prospect, said after the camp the Longhorns are his early No. 1 school ahead of TCU, Ohio State and Texas A&M. Texas also got one of the state's best at camp in Houston Westfield DT Edward Oliver. He'll be as coveted as any in-state defensive lineman in the 2016 class.

3. Brown an exciting project

New defensive line coach Chris Rumph had to be just as excited about what he saw from the defensive ends, particularly ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown and Texas three-star commit Charles Omenihu.

Brown, a former Baylor commit capable of playing defensive line, linebacker or tight end, shined in 1-on-1 work as a speed-rushing end. In fact, on back-to-back reps, he easily got past one of the camp's best linemen, coveted 2016 tackle J.P. Urquidez. For a kid from a small Class 2A school (Burton) who isn't used to big-time competition, Brown was unfazed.

Omenihu has been bulking up and received plenty of pointers during the camp from preseason All-Big 12 end Cedric Reed. It was clear throughout the night that Omenihu and Brown have a good bond. Brown will be a project early on in college, especially in the weight room at 6-5 and 210 pounds, but there's big potential. It's probably a safe bet he ends up choosing the Longhorns.

4. Commitments coming soon?

In addition to Brown, we'll give you three more recruits who might be on commitment watch in the not-too-distant future.

Three-star center Tyler Moore (Houston/North Shore) already has his offer and was back at camp. He and his father had an extended conversation with Joe Wickline afterward, but no pledge. Four-star defensive tackle Du'Vonta Lampkin (Houston/Cy Falls) visited Texas before the night camp and left with some news: He's announcing his decision on Sept. 15 and it's down to Texas, Oklahoma and LSU. The former OU pledge has repeatedly said the Longhorns are in the lead.

And keep an eye on WR Ryan Newsome. The ESPN 300 speedster from Aledo, Texas, came down to Austin for a full academic tour on Friday and spent time catching up with close buddy Jerrod Heard. He's not looking to decide until December after five official visits (Texas, Oklahoma, UCLA, Oregon, Tennessee) but admitted he'll be back for several Texas games in the fall, including his official for Baylor-Texas on Oct. 4.

5. The guys on the sideline

The campers who showed up but did not compete on Friday night were truly just as critical.

ESPN 300 cornerbacks Holton Hill and Kris Boyd spent much of the night together watching on the field along with four-star ATH J.W. Ketchum. They spent a lot of time with Texas freshman safety John Bonney, who played with Hill last year at Houston Lamar.

Boyd and his brother, 2016 LB Demarco Boyd, visited Baylor on Friday morning and then made the trip down to Austin. Demarco is seen as potentially the key to Kris' decision, and Texas has wisely been recruiting the younger Boyd for a while now.

Texas also hosted the No. 2 recruit in the state for 2016, safety Deontay Anderson, along with a large group of his teammates at Manvel (Texas) High School. Two more big names on the sidelines: Four-star DT Darrion Daniels and ESPN 300 WR John Humphrey Jr., the former Baylor pledge who hopes to earn a UT offer soon.

Schedule analysis: Texas

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July is around the corner, leaving us a month away from the beginning of fall camps, and two months from the start of the season. With the 2014 season arriving in the not-too-distant future, it’s time for us to break down every Big 12 team’s complete schedule.

We continue this series on Wednesday with the Texas Longhorns:

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 record)

Aug. 30: North Texas (9-4)
Sept. 6: BYU (8-5)
Sept. 13: UCLA (10-3) (AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas)

Big 12 home games

Oct. 4: Baylor
Oct. 18: Iowa State
Nov. 8: West Virginia
Nov. 27: TCU

Big 12 road games

Sept. 27: Kansas
Oct. 11: Oklahoma (Cotton Bowl in Dallas)
Oct. 25: Kansas State
Nov. 1: Texas Tech
Nov. 15: Oklahoma State

Gut-check time: The annual midseason bowl game. When Texas and Oklahoma face off on Oct. 11, you can throw out their respective season records and trajectories. They don't really matter. All that matters is Texas is in possession of The Golden Hat and the Sooners want it back. This year's Red River Showdown will likely feature a top-5 Oklahoma team with playoff aspirations and a thirst for revenge. It's absolutely gut-check time for David Ash, who has one TD and five turnovers in his two career games against OU.

Trap game: By definition, a trap game is a potential upset you don't see coming. They don't get much more "trappy" than last year's Texas-BYU game in Provo, when the Cougars put up 40 points and 550 rushing yards and the Longhorns lost the game, Ash, Daje Johnson and, a day later, their defensive coordinator. So yeah, Texas players aren't going to be sleeping on Taysom Hill and BYU this time around. This is a real trap, too, because a loss by any margin could snowball into a 2-4 start to the season.

Snoozer: In 2012, Texas had a close call at Kansas and a snoozer at home against Iowa State. Last season, it was a close call at Iowa State and a snoozer at home against Kansas. So unless West Virginia's season has completely fallen apart by the time they visit Austin in November, the safe bet here is that the Iowa State game is a win for Texas and a forgettable one. Considering it's the first post-Red River game, that's probably a good thing for the Longhorns.

Telltale stretch: Sept. 13-Oct. 11. In the span of a month, Texas will likely have three games against top-10 opponents, with two of those games coming in sold-out neutral sites with crazy atmospheres. If Texas gets past BYU and enters its UCLA-Baylor-Oklahoma stretch unscathed, it sets up a gigantic stage for new coach Charlie Strong to send a message. Winning two of three would get a lot of folks excited about the program's future. Winning all three would put Texas right in the middle of the playoff hunt. An O-fer would make a clear statement that Texas has some rebuilding to do.

Final analysis: Notice how we didn't even mention the second half of the schedule? That's because, after Oklahoma, it's all downhill (or uphill?) from there. Once Texas begins its Big 12 slate, it does not have a bye week until Nov. 22. That's eight consecutive weeks of conference games. It's going to be one long, brutal run for these Longhorns, one that will test the resolve of its players and its new coaching staff. There are no cupcakes along the way like Strong's Louisville teams faced in the Big East and American Athletic Conference. Still, these Longhorns overcame a brutal start in 2013 to win their first six Big 12 games, and this team has just as much veteran talent and leadership. How they respond to those three huge games, no matter the result, will dictate how this seemingly unfriendly schedule plays out.

Best case, worst case: Texas

June, 25, 2014
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Last week, we started our series on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big 12 team.

The premise of these fun posts is to examine what the season might look like if everything falls into place for each school -- the best-case scenario for 2014. Conversely, we’ll also show what might happen if everything goes wrong -- the worst-case scenario.

We continue the series today with Texas.

BEST CASE

Mack Brown’s debut season at Texas featured a Heisman Trophy winner (Ricky Williams), a 9-3 record and a win in the Cotton Bowl. Tough act to follow, but why not try?

To kick off this run, David Ash takes the boot off his left foot in early July and the word “injury” is never whispered for the rest of his career. The Longhorns don’t need much from him to beat down North Texas in the opener, not with Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray each rushing for 100 yards.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
AP Photo/Rick BowmerDavid Ash missed most of the 2013 season with a concussion and fractured his foot in spring practice.
The team doesn't need much motivation against BYU, either. Texas exorcises last year’s demons by holding BYU to an unprecedented minus-550 rushing yards.

Even with Ash’s physical invincibility, Texas is challenged by a top-10 UCLA team. Trailing 28-20 early in the fourth quarter, Charlie Strong elects to insert freshman Jerrod Heard. He goes off on the Bruins, throwing for a touchdown and rushing for two more to pull off the upset. Texas goes to 3-0 and No. 10 in the polls.

Strong sticks with Heard the rest of the season and he throws for 3,707 yards and 27 touchdowns, plus 1,411 rushing yards and 22 more TDs. It’s not enough to win the Heisman, but Heard does finish second and inspires a recruiting run in December and January the likes of which this state has never seen.

So Texas beats UCLA and then has a close call at Kansas – Ash’s fourth-quarter cameo saves the day – before the big home game against No. 4 Baylor. Final score: Texas 6, Baylor 3.

Next up: No. 2 Oklahoma vs. No. 5 Texas. Blake Bell – yes, the Sooners go back to Blake Bell – throws for 130 yards and two interceptions and Texas wins 49-17. That makes six games in a row that Gray and Brown have each gone for 100-plus.

Texas takes care of Iowa State and Kansas State, but a nail-biter in Lubbock ends in heartbreak when Davis Webb connects with Jakeem Grant for the game-winner with 1 second left, evoking comparisons to the ending in 2008. Texas is despondent, but still No. 9 in the College Football Playoff rankings.

They beat West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU but finish in the dreaded No. 5 spot. In an incredibly close vote, the committee’s sixth tiebreaker is Strong’s April 21 statement that Texas will not play for a national championship. Alabama secures the No. 4 spot and is one of three SEC teams in the inaugural playoff.

Texas settles for a spot in the Sugar Bowl and beats LSU 33-23. Gray and Brown each finish with 1,500 rushing yards and join Cedric Reed and Quandre Diggs in earning All-America honors. A record-breaking 15 Longhorns are selected in the NFL draft.

WORST CASE

Texas has no troubles against North Texas – in fact, a healthy Ash looks encouragingly good – and folks are feeling good about the beginning of the Strong era.

But then Texas loses to BYU thanks to more heroics from Taysom Hill and his knee brace-aided touchdown runs, and this reeling team isn’t ready for the big stage in Jerry World against UCLA. Brett Hundley raises his Heisman stock with a big game and the Longhorns’ inability-to-tackle woes are again a trend.

Texas coaches have two weeks to prepare Heard for the Big 12 opener against Kansas, but they stick with Ash the rest of the season and let the rookie redshirt. Ash’s final numbers are solid, all in all – he returns to putting up top-25 passing numbers in several metrics, as he did in 2012 – but by the end of the season the Longhorns have no more confidence in their quarterback situation than they did on June 25.

Texas gets to 2-2 with a win over Kansas, then gives up 45 points to Baylor in a game that gets out of hand in the second half. Art Briles wears his Big 12 title belt on the sideline the entire fourth quarter.

Despite a valiant effort in a closer-than-expected battle, Texas still comes up just short against Oklahoma and drops to 2-4.

Texas does get to six wins by beating Iowa State, Kansas State, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, but hardly anyone notices. The nation is too captivated by a playoff race that ends with Oklahoma, Baylor, Alabama and Florida State making the College Football Playoff. The Sooners win it all.

But Texas’ humiliation doesn’t end there. The AdvoCare Texas Bowl jumps at the chance to pit the 6-6 Longhorns against a 6-6 Texas A&M team in Houston. The Aggies get the last laugh on a field goal as time expires.
Charlie Strong is closing in on the start of his first season in Austin, and that means his first full recruiting class as the head coach of the Longhorns. While Texas is positioned well in the RecruitingNation class rankings early on, as expected, Texas is fighting an uphill in-state battle against Texas A&M for the first time since the mid-to-late 1990’s.

Here's a look at five questions that must be answered for the Longhorns entering July.


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AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas is extending its summer camp season one final night in an effort to bring a jolt to its first-year staff's recruiting efforts.

The Longhorns are planning a "Friday Night Lights" style camp for July 18. It's a new move for Charlie Strong, an event Mack Brown never hosted during his 16-year tenure but one that has become popular nationally in recent years.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong
AP Photo/Michael ThomasNew Longhorns coach Charlie Strong is stepping up his recruiting efforts with his new camp.
The night camp inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium provides Strong and his coaches with another chance to host their top targets before fall camp begins -- and a much-needed opportunity to chip away at Texas A&M's remarkable summer recruiting momentum.

Word is already starting to spread. Mesquite (Texas) Poteet ESPN 300 linebacker Malik Jefferson, arguably the No. 1 target on Texas' board, said he received his invite this week and is excited about the new event. ESPN 300 wide receiver Ryan Newsome of Aledo, Texas, is planning to be on campus that day as well along with a handful of Texas commits and targets from the classes of 2015, 2016 and beyond. Even Texas-committed brothers Kirk and Collin Johnson say they are making the trip from San Jose, California.

These "under the lights" camps have been big hits at Florida, Ohio State and Georgia, and they're spreading across the country. The inspiration for Texas' event likely came from Urban Meyer, who first introduced the "Friday Night Lights" camp when he took over at UF in 2005. Strong was on Meyer's staff there for five years. This year, Cincinnati, Iowa State, Wake Forest, Purdue, Toledo and Akron are all running similar night camps inside their home stadiums.

But of course, in this state, the first comparable event that comes to mind is "Friday Night Lights" at Texas A&M. A tradition Kevin Sumlin started in 2012, the Aggies invite their fans and top recruits for an annual Friday night scrimmage at Kyle Field in the spring.

Considering because of university policy Texas is not able to operate satellite camps outside its campus, unlike the rest of its Big 12 peers, starting up a new high-profile event is a logical solution. Last year, in response to that disadvantage, the staff hosted a "Texas Stampede" one-day recruiting event at the end of July.

But as Jeremy Crabtree wrote last week, Strong and his staff haven't received much of a new-guys-in-town boost in recruiting buzz and face an uphill climb to keep up with the rolling Aggies, who already have commitments from 11 recruits who held Texas offers and brought in five new commitments just last week, including top in-state receiver DaMarkus Lodge and elite 2016 tackle Greg Little.

The night camp also provides Texas an opportunity to get ahead on top recruits in 2016 and even 2017. The rest of Texas' in-state rivals are already making gains on that front, and every chance to get a kid back on campus helps.
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Charlie Strong has a Texas-sized problem on his hands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

June, 16, 2014
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Here's the latest in recruiting around the Big 12, with several programs seeing their commit list grow during the past week:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: Baylor offered Class of 2016 standout Shane Simmons, a defensive end from Hyattsville (Maryland) DeMatha. The Bears joined West Virginia, Arizona State, Florida State, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and others on his offer list. Baylor also joined the race for elite 2017 prospect Anthony Hines III of Plano (Texas). Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and Kansas are among the 20-plus teams who have offered Hines, who has committed to Mississippi State.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 3
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones have been on a roll on the recruiting trail, landing Waukee (Iowa) defensive end Anthony Nelson early last week, just days after Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Prairie offensive lineman Bryce Meeker joined Iowa State's pledge list. At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, Nelson is a lean defensive line prospect with plenty of room to grow.

KANSAS
Total commits: 6
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Kansas' commit list exploded over the weekend with five junior college standouts picking the Jayhawks, according to KUsports.com. Charlie Weis’ program secured verbals from offensive lineman Jarek Smalley of Garden City (Kansas) Community College, defensive tackle Jacky Dezir of College of DuPage (Illinois), offensive lineman DeLonte Murray of Lackawanna (Pennsylvania) Community College, offensive lineman Will Smith of Butler County (Kansas) Community College and receiver Raeshawn Lee of College of San Mateo (California). It’s pretty clear new offensive coordinator John Reagan wants to upgrade the talent along the offensive line.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 3
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: K-State landed a commitment from Seward, Nebraska, defensive end Adam Holtorf, who announced his pledge on social media late Sunday night. The Wildcats also began their pursuit of Class of 2015 Sachese, Texas, running back Devine Ozigbo with an offer last week. Kansas, Iowa State, Wisconsin and Boise State are among the teams that have offered the three-star prospect.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: Oklahoma added another commit to its list, with Lancaster (Texas) guard Dominique Hearne choosing the Sooners. Hearne turned down offers from Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech and Arizona State to pledge to Bob Stoops’ program.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Cowboys landed commitments on back-to-back days last week with the additions of Tyler (California) Junior College defensive tackle Motekiai Maile and Houston (Texas) Alief Taylor safety Kenneth McGruder.

TCU
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Gary Patterson’s squad continues to add athletes to its class with Mansfield (Texas) athlete Julius Lewis joining the Horned Frogs’ commit list this week. Lewis has the ability to play several different positions at TCU, but has been recruited as a cornerback to add speed and athleticism to Patterson’s secondary.

TEXAS
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 6
The latest: The Longhorns didn’t hesitate to throw their name into the mix for ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown of Burton, Texas, making an offer to a player who decommitted from Baylor last week. Charlie Strong’s program also offered Class of 2016 running back Devwah Whaley of Beaumont (Texas) Central.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 7
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Kliff Kingsbury’s program secured a early commitment from up-and-coming safety Collin Wilder of Katy, Texas, as Texas Tech got a jump start on its Class of 2016. The Red Raiders offered Marvel, Texas, athlete D'Eriq King joining Clemson, Louisville, Michigan State and UCLA. Kingsbury’s program also offered Hines and Class of 2016 quarterback Shane Buechele of Arlington (Texas) Lamar Consolidated in the past week.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: The Mountaineers began their pursuit of in-state signal caller Tyrhee Pratt of Charleston Capital. The Class of 2016 prospect could be a key recruit for West Virginia's 2016 class, as they’d hate to miss out on a in-state prospect who could end up with a lengthy offer list.
Texas and Oklahoma face tough road tests as we enter the final few weeks of the season.

For the past few weeks, we've taken a closer look at the 2014 Big 12 schedule during our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we'll wrap up the series with the final stretch of the regular season.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 12.

Nov. 15

Texas at Oklahoma State
TCU at Kansas
Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Jake Trotter’s pick: Oklahoma at Texas Tech

Depending on how the Red Raiders fare in road tests at Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU, this mid-November tilt could hold Big 12 title implications on either side. At the very least, it could be a huge roadblock standing in the path of Oklahoma’s Big 12 title and playoff hopes.

Traditionally, Lubbock has been a disaster zone for the Sooners, who at one point fell to Tech three straight times at Jones AT&T Stadium.

In 2005, a controversial call at the goal line lifted the Red Raiders to a game-winning touchdown. In 2007, quarterback Sam Bradford was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the first quarter of another Oklahoma loss. And in 2009, Tech simply obliterated the Sooners, who wore Nike combat uniforms that afternoon.

Oklahoma played one of its best games of the 2012 season in a victory in Lubbock. But over the years Tech has given the Sooners as many problems as any team in the conference.

This will be a prime spot for Kliff Kingsbury to earn a program-defining conference win and a chance for me to wolf down another Blue Sky cheeseburger.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Texas at Oklahoma State

I have a feeling this will end up being a critical game for both teams.

It will be the third road game in four weeks for Texas and the lone home game for OSU during a season-ending four-game stretch, which includes trips to Baylor and Oklahoma.

The Cowboys are 3-2 against the Longhorns over the past five seasons but, surprisingly, have not beaten UT at Boone Pickens Stadium since 1997. The last time UT played in Stillwater, Okla., David Ash had the moment of his career, leading the Longhorns to a controversial late win in a game that also could be considered the best of J.W. Walsh's career. If both quarterbacks are still taking the snaps for their respective teams, odds are it’s been a pretty good season in both Stillwater and Austin, Texas.

Simply put, I want to go to this contest because games like these show us what the coaches and players in both programs are truly about. Both teams will be physically and mentally exhausted. There will be no surprises, as both teams will be well-scouted by each other, and both teams will need a win.

And I like the odds for another great game between the two teams, so I’m making a trip to BPS hoping that it won’t be as chilly as my last couple of visits against Baylor and Oklahoma last season.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State

Week 6: Trotter -- Baylor at Texas; Chatmon -- Baylor at Texas

Week 7: Trotter -- Texas vs. Oklahoma; Chatmon -- TCU at Baylor

Week 8: Trotter -- Kansas State at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Oklahoma State at TCU

Week 9: Trotter -- Texas Tech at TCU; Chatmon -- Texas at Kansas State

Week 10: Trotter -- Texas at Texas Tech; Chatmon -- TCU at West Virginia

Week 11: Trotter -- Baylor at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Baylor at Oklahoma
The home stretch of the season is nearly upon us.

Last week, we kicked off our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week, we journey deeper into the 2014 schedule.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 9.

Oct. 25

West Virginia at Oklahoma State
Texas Tech at TCU
Texas at Kansas State

Jake Trotter’s pick: Texas Tech at TCU

Arguably the strangest Big 12 game last season, Texas Tech knocked off the Horned Frogs with a late Davis Webb touchdown pass amid a series of bizarre fourth-quarter calls.

The 2014 version of this old Southwest Conference rivalry will feature one of the budding passing attacks in the country against a tenacious and deep secondary. The Red Raiders will want to turn this into a shootout. Even with their new offense, the Horned Frogs will try to make the game a grinder like last season's.

Another compelling storyline to watch in this one: former Texas Tech QB and assistant Sonny Cumbie (now TCU’s co-offensive coordinator) going up against his alma mater, and the staff he coached with last season.

You can best believe both sides will pull out all the stops to win what will be a pivotal game for either team.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Texas at Kansas State

The other two games on the Big 12 schedule are interesting, but watching Bill Snyder’s Wildcats try to return to their winning ways against the Longhorns tops the list of conference games in Week 9.

The Wildcats' recent success is well-documented, winning five of the last six meetings between the two teams including three straight wins in Manhattan, Kan. But the Longhorns' lone win was a 31-21 triumph last September which sparked their run to the pseudo-Big 12 title game at Baylor on the final day of the 2013 regular season.

K-State’s battle with UT comes in the midst of a tough five-game stretch, sandwiched between games with Texas Tech and Oklahoma before UT’s visit followed by Oklahoma State and TCU after Charlie Strong’s squad comes to Bill Snyder Family Stadium.

Strong’s Longhorns will be looking to show they can to be a good road team in just their second road contest of the season to this point. The game at K-State kicks off a stretch of three of four games on the road and will go a long way to determining where UT ends up in the standings.

It will also be intriguing to see how Snyder’s underrated offense goes about attacking Strong’s defense in a game that could drastically shift the fortunes of either team.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State

Week 6: Trotter -- Baylor at Texas; Chatmon -- Baylor at Texas

Week 7: Trotter -- Texas vs. Oklahoma; Chatmon -- TCU at Baylor

Week 8: Trotter -- Kansas State at Oklahoma; Chatmon -- Oklahoma State at TCU
Big 12 play is well underway with a schedule full of conference games.

Last week, we kicked off our Big 12's Ultimate Road Trip series. This week we continue with the bulk of the 2014 schedule.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on several factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let's continue with Week 6.

Oct. 4

Baylor at Texas
Kansas at West Virginia
Iowa State at Oklahoma State
Texas Tech at Kansas State
Oklahoma at TCU

Jake Trotter’s pick: Baylor at Texas

This renewed rivalry got another boost in the spring when Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, unprompted, called Baylor “trash.” Bears offensive tackle Troy Baker responded by posting a picture of the Big 12 championship trophy on Twitter and writing, “I love this trash too.”

After conference realignment destroyed several of the Big 12’s rivalries (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Kansas State-Nebraska, Texas Tech-Texas A&M) the league needs some of its games to generate more heat. The Baylor-Texas game should bring plenty of that this season.

By knocking off the Bears, the Longhorns could recover some of their lost standing in the Big 12 the last five years. By taking down Texas for the fourth time in five years, Baylor could keep its thumb on its neighbors to the south, while remaining on the collision course showdown against Oklahoma on Nov. 8 to determine the Big 12 crown.

There will be plenty of heat in Austin for this game. And for me, plenty of barbeque, too.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Baylor at Texas

This clash between Baylor and Texas is too good to pass up.

Charlie Strong gets the chance to send a clear message against a Bears squad that is used to sending the Longhorns home with an L.

Edmond’s words made it clear that Baylor, despite its recent winning ways against the Longhorns, still has a ways to go before it has the respect it must think it’s already earned. Expect the Bears to arrive in Austin, Texas with a huge chip on their shoulder and feeling disrespected.

Meanwhile, Strong can start showing the Big 12 his plan to return UT to national title contention is progressing quicker than most expect with a win over the defending champions.

Intense rivalry. NFL talent. Great coaching.

There are plenty of good reasons to spend Week 6 at Darrell K. Royal Stadium, so I can’t wait to head to Austin.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs. Alabama (in Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State

Week 3: Trotter -- Texas vs UCLA (in Arlington); Chatmon -- Tennessee at Oklahoma

Week 4: Trotter -- Auburn at Kansas State; Chatmon -- Auburn at Kansas State

Week 5: Trotter -- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State; Chatmon -- Baylor at Iowa State
The college football offseason is way too long. But we’re here to help with your suffering. With spring ball done and the season still months away, we’re giving you a taste of the 2014 season, with the long-awaited Big 12 Ultimate Road Trip series.

To those unfamiliar with this series, we both pick a game featuring a Big 12 team in every week of the season that we’d cover if the travel budget were unlimited and there were no editors telling us where to go.

We’ll be basing our choices on a number of factors, including the quality of the matchup and the stakes that could be involved. The only restriction is that each of us can pick only one game per week.

Let’s continue with Week 3.

Sept. 12-13

Baylor at Buffalo
West Virginia at Maryland
Kansas at Duke
Texas vs. UCLA (in Arlington, Texas)
UTSA at Oklahoma State
Minnesota at TCU
Iowa State at Iowa
Arkansas at Texas Tech
Tennessee at Oklahoma

Jake Trotter’s pick: Texas vs. UCLA (Arlington, Texas)

In Week 3, I’m headed to Arlington, Texas, to get a glimpse of what the Longhorns will be made of under coach Charlie Strong.

UCLA will likely be in the top 10 in the polls for this game, giving the Stronghorns a tremendous opportunity to earn back national respect.

Of course, such a difficult early-season schedule could also set the stage for another calamitous start for Texas.

With BYU the week before, and Big 12 co-favorites Baylor and Oklahoma looming the first two weeks of October, it’s not unthinkable the Longhorns could get off to a 2-4 start.

But a win over the Bruins could send a loud message that Texas is on the way back.

Brandon Chatmon’s pick: Tennessee at Oklahoma

I strongly considered a trip to Lubbock, Texas, to see the other SEC vs. Big 12 battle in Week 3, Arkansas at Texas Tech.

But the opportunity to see the Vols try to derail OU’s College Football Playoff hopes was too good to ignore.

This will be Trevor Knight's first opportunity on a big stage to prove his Sugar Bowl performance was no fluke but, instead, a sign of things to come. The sophomore played like a Heisman Trophy candidate in the Sugar Bowl win over Alabama but played like a redshirt freshman for much of the rest of his debut season in 2013. This game will show if he’s taking steps toward consistency.

Tennessee will have enough athletes to give the Sooners trouble if OU doesn’t bring its “A” game. And the Vols will be carrying SEC pride on their shoulders because, as a team that finished in the bottom half of the conference last fall, they are exactly the type of SEC squad OU coach Bob Stoops has questioned when wondering about the overall depth of the SEC.

The Vols can send a message or Stoops can say “I told you so.”

And I’ll be on hand to see it all.

Previous weeks:

Week 1: Trotter -- SMU at Baylor; Chatmon -- West Virginia vs Alabama (Atlanta)

Week 2: Trotter -- Kansas State at Iowa State; Chatmon -- Kansas State at Iowa State
It’s never too early to start talking about bowl destinations.

There is no clear favorite in the Big 12 heading into the 2014 season and several teams could finish among the top three in the conference or fall into the bottom half of the league.

ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy and Mark Schlabach took a shot at projecting the 2014 bowl games during their "way-too-early" projections earlier this week. As a reminder, with the College Football Playoff set to debut this fall, here's a closer look at the bowl selection process in 2014.

Here’s a look at the Big 12 in those way-too-early bowl projections.

Brett McMurphy

Russell Athletic: Kansas State vs. Clemson
Buffalo Wild Wings: Oregon State vs. TCU
Liberty: Oklahoma State vs. Tennessee
Texas: Texas Tech vs. Texas A&M
Alamo: Texas vs. UCLA
Cotton: Baylor vs. Georgia
Sugar: Alabama vs. Oklahoma

Mark Schlabach

Russell Athletic: Notre Dame vs. Texas
Buffalo Wild Wings: Oregon State vs. TCU
Liberty: Texas Tech vs. Ole Miss
Texas: Oklahoma State vs. Texas A&M
Alamo: Kansas State vs. UCLA
Peach: Georgia vs. Baylor
Cotton: Oklahoma vs. Cincinnati

A few thoughts:
  • McMurphy has Oklahoma earning a College Football Playoff berth with their rematch against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. That wouldn’t be a major surprise for a Sooners squad that returns a strong and talented defense to pair with sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight.
  • Baylor and Oklahoma, the two favorites to win the conference, are projected in appearances in the Cotton, Peach and Sugar bowls. McMurphy and Schlabach expect strong years, again, from the Big 12’s representatives in the final BCS bowl games in 2013.
  • McMurphy and Schlabach each have seven Big 12 teams going bowling but the landing spots differ quite a bit, a sign of the wide-open nature of the conference this fall after the two favorites, Baylor and Oklahoma.
  • TCU’s appearance in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is the lone agreement from the duo. With its strong defense, the Horned Frogs simply need more efficiency on offense to return to a bowl game this fall. TCU’s defense is too strong to expect a second-straight bowl less campaign.
  • Kansas State, along with Texas, provided the biggest disagreement among the two, with Schlabach expecting the Wildcats to be among the conference’s top three teams while McMurphy has Bill Snyder’s squad finishing in the bottom half of the conference. With plenty of question marks on the roster, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Wildcats fall into the bottom half of the Big 12, but quarterback Jake Waters gives KSU something the majority of the league is still searching for as a proven veteran quarterback.
  • UT is essentially interchangeable with the Wildcats with Charlie Strong’s first season in Austin projected to end in a bowl game by the duo. McMurphy projects UT among the top half of the Big 12 and Schlabach expects Strong’s influence to take a little longer to pay off during a bottom-half finish for the Longhorns.
  • Mike Gundy’s program is, understandably, expected to take a step backward after playing for a Big 12 title on the final day of the 2013 season. Projections into the Texas and Liberty bowls would represent a solid mid-conference finish for young team trying to replace several seniors.
  • Texas Tech isn't projected to make a major jump up the standings in Kliff Kingsbury's second season in Lubbock. Question marks along all three levels of the Red Raiders' defense is the likely culprit.
  • Neither McMurphy nor Schlabach projects West Virginia, Iowa State or Kansas to make a bowl appearance. Of those squads, the talent-laden Mountaineers could have the best chance of proving the duo wrong.

Big 12 lunchtime links

May, 23, 2014
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If you're going to start talking about calling travels and calling charges, maybe you shouldn't watch mixtape tour basketball. Wouldn't you agree?
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There are those who believe the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M is dead because the two programs are no longer in the same conference.

[+] EnlargeKendall Sheffield
Sam Khan Jr./ESPNTexas and Texas A&M are both after Kendall Sheffield, the No. 2 CB in the nation.
Those people are misguided. And emphatically incorrect.

Two words in February by new Texas head coach Charlie Strong helped light a new spark in the rivalry between two of the most respected programs in the Lone Star State. When asked about A&M’s recruiting methods -- which includes coach Kevin Sumlin making player visits in a helicopter dubbed the “Swagcopter” -- Strong said the Longhorns didn’t need to be a “gadget program,” as the university and its prestige still was enough to attract recruits.

The rest of the spring and the upcoming summer will be perfect opportunities to gauge where both programs stand among some of the elite athletes who are still uncommitted. Which school will dominate in recruiting the 2015 class?


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