Texas Longhorns: Jake Waters

The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.
It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the league.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.
Since the turn of the millennium, the Big 12 has forged a national identity of elite quarterbacking. In fact, dating back to 2000, the Big 12 had a quarterback become a Heisman finalist in every season but three.

Last season, however, that identity all but vanished.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsOklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight torched Alabama for 348 passing yards and four touchdowns in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Bryce Petty briefly emerged into a Heisman contender at Baylor. But otherwise it was a dismal season for quarterbacking according to the Big 12’s high standards. Oklahoma State’s Clint Chelf was named the league’s second-team quarterback despite starting only half of 2013. Nine of the league’s 10 teams juggled starting quarterbacks well into October.

But thanks to breakout performances during the bowl season, coupled with the imminent arrival of numerous blue-chip freshmen, the conference appears on the way back to restoring its quarterbacking reputation heading into spring practice.

Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas Tech have their starters cemented. Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU and West Virginia will welcome true freshmen with the pedigrees and opportunities to compete for jobs right away. And Kansas (Montell Cozart) and Iowa State (Grant Rohach) enjoyed promising moments from a pair of freshmen.

After totaling 46 touchdowns to just three interceptions in his first season as the starter, Petty headlines the position in the league again.

But if the bowl season was any indication, he won’t be the lone headliner.

Oklahoma freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl to the level backup Blake Bell asked to change his position to tight end.

In the National University Holiday Bowl, Texas Tech freshman Davis Webb lit up Arizona State, too, driving Michael Brewer to ask for a transfer.

And Kansas State’s Jake Waters capped a red-hot second half of his season by throwing for three touchdowns in a rout of Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Knight, Webb and Waters delivered three of college football’s 10 best bowl performances according to the Adjusted QBR metric. All three rapidly improved in their first seasons. And that rapid improvement figures only to continue in their second.

“Traditionally, Year 2 in the offense is when you see the most growth in a quarterback,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

Of the three, Knight was the only full-time starter to begin the season. Spearheaded by a dazzling preseason, he beat out Bell, who was the favorite to replace four-year starter Landry Jones. But Knight completed just 21 of his first 48 pass attempts, and after a knee injury, lost the job to Bell not even two games in.

Knight, however, emerged late in the season, and displaying improvement with his accuracy, led the Sooners to a late November win at Kansas State. Then in the Sugar Bowl, he finally showed why he won the job originally in August. Against one of the nation’s most dominant defenses, Knight completed 32 of 44 passes as the Sooners toppled the Crimson Tide in one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history.

“If you’re going to win a championship, your quarterback is going to have to make plays,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We all saw Trevor [struggle] as a young freshman, first start, first game. To see him grow throughout the entire year and play extremely well down the stretch and played really well in the Sugar Bowl, obviously -- he’s obviously got a great future.”

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesTexas Tech signal-caller Davis Webb had a breakout performance against Arizona State, completing 28 of 41 passes for 403 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
The same goes for Webb.

Despite being the only healthy scholarship quarterback on the roster in August, Webb was beaten out by walk-on true freshman Baker Mayfield. But like Knight, Webb settled in behind the scenes. After Mayfield injured his knee, Webb led Tech to a come-from-behind win at West Virginia. Then, after Mayfield transferred, Webb was almost flawless against the Sun Devils. He passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns as Texas Tech controlled the game the entire night.

“The success he had in that bowl game against one of the top defenses showed what he can be,” Kingsbury said.

Waters’ bowl success showed the same.

Out of junior college, Waters beat out Daniel Sams for the starting job to begin the season. But with Waters taking the majority of the snaps, K-State fell in its season opener to FCS opponent North Dakota State. The next two months weren’t much better for Waters or the Wildcats, as the defending Big 12 champs stumbled to a 2-4 start.

But after losing snaps to Sams, Waters reestablished control of the position and quarterbacked K-State to wins in six of its final seven games, including a 31-14 rout of Michigan in the bowl. Waters had his best outing yet, too, completing 78 percent of his passes for three touchdowns.

While Waters, Webb and Knight will be looking to build off their bowl performances this spring, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph will be looking to win a job. Perhaps the most highly acclaimed quarterback the Cowboys have ever signed, Rudolph had a monster senior season in Rock Hill, S.C., throwing for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. Enrolled for spring ball, the ESPN 300 recruit will challenge J.W. Walsh.

“Mason really brings all of the characteristics you want to see in a quarterback,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “All of the intangibles.”

Plenty more quarterback talent is on its way, too.

Texas’ Jerrod Heard, West Virginia’s William Crest and TCU’s Foster Sawyer were also four-star recruits in the 2014 class, and they will be joining their schools in the summer with chances to play right away.

Such opportunities exist because the Big 12 quarterback play was down last season. But heading to spring, the league’s most identifiable position is on its way back up.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: QBs

February, 18, 2014
Feb 18
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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, beginning Tuesday with quarterback. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

[+] EnlargePetty
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBryce Petty's return leaves Baylor sitting pretty at the most important position on the field.
1. Baylor: The Bears have the reigning first-team All-Big 12 quarterback in Bryce Petty, who should be even better in his second season as a starter. In 2013, Petty led the Big 12 in QBR, and was on the short list of Heisman candidates until mid-November. His play dipped a bit late in the season, but Petty still finished with 44 total touchdowns to just three interceptions. He will start out on the Heisman short list again in 2014. The Bears also have a viable backup in Seth Russell.

2. Kansas State: Junior college transfer Jake Waters was one of the most improved players in the league over the course of the season. Waters split time with Daniel Sams through the first half of the year, but eventually took command of the starting position and spearheaded the Wildcats to wins in six of their last seven games to ride a wave of momentum into the offseason. Like Petty, Waters should only get better in his second season as a starter. Sams figures to be moved around this spring, but he has proven he can step in at QB, too.

3. Oklahoma: The Sooners were one of the most inconsistently quarterbacked teams in the league, notably during double-digit losses to Texas and Baylor. But with one game, OU’s situation looks completely different. In just his fifth career start, freshman Trevor Knight torched Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, leading the Sooners to one of the biggest upsets in BCS bowl history. Insiders in Norman always thought Knight had the talent. The switch just finally flipped in New Orleans. Even with Blake Bell moving to tight end, the Sooners have depth with former four-star QBs Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen.

4. Texas Tech: Davis Webb also delivered one of the best bowl performances of any quarterback. After Baker Mayfield transferred, the plan was for Webb to split snaps with Michael Brewer against Arizona State. But Webb played so well, that plan was scrapped. Webb had the fourth-best QBR of any bowl to lead Tech to the upset. Webb actually played pretty well before the bowl, too, and has a promising future in Lubbock. The Red Raiders, however, are thin here. With Mayfield and Brewer transferring, Patrick Mahomes is Tech’s only other scholarship QB, and he doesn’t arrive until the summer.

5. Oklahoma State: To enjoy success here, the Cowboys will need J.W. Walsh to return to his efficient 2012 form. Or, they will need Mason Rudolph to emerge as a true freshman the way Wes Lunt did two springs ago. Walsh took a step back as a sophomore. He completed 67 percent of his passes in 2012, but just 59 percent last season, and eventually lost his job back to Clint Chelf. Rudolph, the gem of the 2014 recruiting class, had no such issues completing passes in high school, connecting on 72 percent for 64 touchdowns while leading his team to a state championship. If Walsh’s arm strength continues to be a problem, Rudolph could quickly go from QB of the future to QB of the now.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesA healthy David Ash would be a welcome sight for Charlie Strong.
6. Texas: The Longhorns might have the most fluid quarterback predicament in the Big 12. Quarterback play haunted Mack Brown the last four years, but will it haunt Charlie Strong in his first season? That could hinge heavily on the health of David Ash, who missed almost all of last season because of concussion issues. The school says Ash will be ready to go for the spring. But if he suffers another head injury, the Longhorns could be in a fix. Tyrone Swoopes has wheels and a big arm, but still needs a lot of polish, and four-star signee Jerrod Heard won’t be in Austin until the summer.

7. West Virginia: The Mountaineers have no fewer than four quarterbacks with a reasonable chance of becoming the starter. Paul Millard and Clint Trickett shared duties last season, though neither seized the position. Millard is playing baseball, and Trickett is still banged up. That could open the door for junior-college transfer Skyler Howard to make a move on the job. Keep an eye on true freshman William Crest, though. Crest, the No. 11 dual-threat QB in the country, won’t arrive until after the spring. But the Mountaineers have had success with mobile freshman quarterbacks before.

8. TCU: The Horned Frogs first must decide what they’re going to do with Trevone Boykin. But they can’t afford to leave him at receiver until another viable option surfaces at QB. Tyler Matthews didn’t look ready in limited action, but the Horned Frogs have a pair of intriguing possibilities in Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein. Neither, however, will arrive until the summer, meaning TCU’s QB situation will remain unresolved past the spring.

9. Iowa State: The Cyclones have the requisite skill talent to bounce back from a disappointing season. But that won’t happen until they stop playing musical quarterbacks. The answer could be Grant Rohach, who played well late in his redshirt freshman season. Sam B. Richardson will also be in the mix. Richardson was never healthy last year, and had the same kind of promising finish in 2012 that Rohach delivered last season. The darkhorse will be Joel Lanning, who redshirted last year. Lanning, who signed with Iowa State over Nebraska, has the arm to make this a three-way battle.

10. Kansas: The Jayhawks add another player to the Jake Heaps/Montell Cozart timeshare in UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Neither Heaps nor Cozart did enough to warrant full-time snaps, so Millweard, a former four-star recruit, will have his chance this spring.

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.
In today's mailbag, Cyclone nation is pumped, Blake Bell wonders what he should do and we discuss who the best offenses will be in 2014.

To the 'bag:

[+] EnlargeJakeem Grant
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsAfter finishing 2013 with 65 catches for 796 yards and 7 TDs, it looks like Texas Tech's Jakeem Grant is already a top five WR.
Kaled Zakzok in Lubbock, Texas, writes: Will Jakeem Grant be a top five Big 12 wide receiver next year?

Jake Trotter: Statically, he was a top five receiver this season. There are some big-time receivers returning in the league, notably Tyler Lockett and Antwan Goodley. But Grant is loaded with big-play talent and could become the top slot receiver in the league along with Sterling Shepard.

James in Overland, Kan., writes: With Charlie Strong's staff now in place what are the chances Texas wins 10-12 games in 2014?

Trotter: It all comes down to quarterback for Strong. The other pieces are pretty much in place for Texas to reach double-digit wins. If Strong gets better quarterback play than Mack Brown did the last four seasons, it’s conceivable. But if the quarterback play remains inconsistent and turnover prone, then it will be a long shot, given the strength of the Big 12 and the Longhorns’ tough nonconference schedule, which includes UCLA and BYU.

Hugh in Hot Springs Village, Ark., writes: Are there any tight ends available that could even be three-fourths of what Jace Amaro was, and could Texas Tech land that player?

Trotter: Sure. I also hear the Red Raiders are in on a slot receiver from Oklahoma City named Les Lelker and a stud wideout out of Dallas, as well, named Michael Treecrab.

Jesse in Lubbock, Texas, writes: I have to admit, I wasn't in favor of Davis Webb starting until his impressive showing in the Holiday Bowl. With the poise he showed against Arizona State, I'd be ok calling him the Webbslinger as Tech moves forward with him as the starter. Thoughts on the nickname?

Trotter: It must really be the offseason, since we’re back to spitballing nicknames for every player in the league. Paging Andy in Austin …

Blake Bell in Norman, Okla., writes: Help! What should I do? I've been told that you are all-knowing. Should I stay at OU or transfer? If I do stay, should I try and become a tight end?

Trotter: Since you asked, I think I would stay. Trevor Knight is the clear-cut No. 1 QB, but given his style of play, he’s prone to injury. Bell has thrived in the clutch as a quarterback off the bench, and could still serve a valuable role as the No. 2 QB. There’s also the possibility of playing time at tight end, given that OU is void of reliable options at that spot. If Bell stayed, I would expect him to dabble there in the spring while also getting reps at quarterback. On the flip side, there’s no guarantee Bell would get playing time if he did transfer. Look no further than former OU QB Drew Allen, who transferred to Syracuse for his final year, and sat the bench this season. Bell could give it a shot elsewhere. But because of his Bedlam performance and game-changing plays previously in the “Belldozer” package, Bell is beloved by Sooner fans. There are worse things to be in college.

Alex in Ames, Iowa, writes: Iowa State hasn't finished better than ninth in yards per play in the Big 12 since 2005. Despite awful offenses, Iowa State has found a way to win under Paul Rhoads. This year, Iowa State has more options than I can remember on offense and an offensive coordinator in Mark Man-genius, who is a proven wizard. How high is the ceiling for a Rhoads team with an offense?

Trotter: Iowa State is shaping up to be one of my sleeper teams in the Big 12 next season. You’re correct, the Cyclones have options offensively. Running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs can all make plays. Quarterbacks Grant Rohach and Sam Richardson have experience and will make each other better competing for the job. I agree, the Cyclones always play solid defense, even though they have to replace a couple of long-time stalwarts. Is this a team that will contend for the Big 12 title? No. But I could see Iowa State getting back to a bowl next year while also being a tough out in Ames all year.

Chris in Lubbock, Texas, writes: Baylor's offense (scoring) will probably be No. 1 in the Big 12 again next season. Who do you see as the second-best scoring offense next season and why?

Trotter: Because of their style of play I’m not sure it will be the second-highest scoring, but I would give the edge to Kansas State as the Big 12’s second-best offense going into 2014. The Wildcats have a superstar in Lockett, and a capable, consistent quarterback in Jake Waters. Oklahoma and Texas Tech could factor into the conversation because of their young quarterbacks, who both turned the corner in their respective bowl games. Oklahoma State will be a team to watch, too. The Cowboys lose a lot, but they always seem to reload offensively, and have featured one of the Big 12's top three offenses every year but once since 2006.

Best and worst of the Big 12 bowls

January, 10, 2014
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Below, we break down the best and the worst of the Big 12’s bowl season:

Best win: The Oklahoma Sooners have been searching for a victory that would signal their return to the nation’s elite. They finally got such a victory in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, as Oklahoma smoked the two-time defending national champs from Alabama, 45-31. With tons of young talent returning, notably quarterback Trevor Knight and linebacker Eric Striker, the Alabama victory could propel Oklahoma toward a national title run in 2014.

Worst loss: Baylor had a chance to put the finishing touches on a fabulous season. Instead, the Bears lost to UCF, one of the biggest underdogs in BCS history, 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl as the conference champion Bears ended their season on a sour note. It was still a great season for Baylor, yet one that didn’t end so great.

Best offensive performance: Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Kansas State’s Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett were all terrific, but nobody had the bowl game Knight did. Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman quarterback completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He did have one interception, but even that pass bounced off his receiver’s hands. Those would be great numbers against anybody, and Knight didn’t produce them against just anybody. He produced them against Alabama.

[+] EnlargeEric Striker
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOklahoma's Eric Striker dominated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Best defensive performance: Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker was an absolute menace in the Sugar Bowl. On top of a team-high seven tackles, he sacked Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron three times and forced a fumble in the game’s final minute that sealed the victory. Striker was virtually unblockable all night.

Best special teams performance: Texas Tech dominated most of the National University Holiday Bowl. But the game became tense early in the third quarter when Arizona State scored on a 44-yard run to cut Tech’s lead to 27-20. Those tense moments lasted for just moments. That’s because Reginald Davis returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders back up by two scores. Arizona State never threatened again as the Red Raiders cruised to a 37-23 upset victory.

Best play: With just a minute to play, Alabama got the ball back at its 18-yard line with a chance for game-tying touchdown drive. Instead, on the first snap, Striker came barreling around the edge and crashed into McCarron’s blind side. The ball popped to the ground, and defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped it up and rumbled eight yards for a game-clinching touchdown. It was Oklahoma’s seventh sack of McCarron.

Worst play: The Big 12 had a similar play go the other way. Down 34-31, Oklahoma State drove into Missouri territory with a chance of – at worst – lining up for a game-tying field goal. Instead, the Cowboys called a pass on third-and-7, and before quarterback Clint Chelf could unload the ball, he was sacked from behind by SEC defensive player of the year Michael Sam, who knocked the ball loose. Missouri’s Shane Ray gobbled up the fumble and raced 73 yards for the touchdown, as the Tigers won the game 41-31.

Best catch: On second-and-goal from the Michigan 8, Kansas State wideout Tyler Lockett was lined up across from Michigan cornerback Raymon Taylor. Lockett drove right into Taylor, then looked back to quarterback Jake Waters. The ball came sailing low, but Lockett went down to get his hands under the ball before it touched the ground, giving him his third touchdown catch of the game and putting K-State ahead 21-6.

Worst play-calling: The Cowboys were just 9 of 22 on third down against Missouri, and curious play-calling from offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich seemed to be a big reason why. Twice on third-and-3, Yurcich called running plays up the middle, which Missouri’s powerful defensive line stuffed to snuff promising Oklahoma State drives. Yurcich called another running play up the middle on third-and-1 at the end of the quarter, which the Tigers obliterated again. With the Cowboys defense dominating Missouri through the third quarter, Oklahoma State missed an opportunity to take command of the game. Third-down play-calling was a big reason why.

Best bounce-back performance: The Texas Tech defense had capitulated during a five-game losing streak, giving up 38, 52, 49, 63 and 41 points. But finally healthy again, Tech bucked up in the National University Holiday Bowl, holding Arizona State to 18 points below its season average.

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesArt Briles and the Baylor defense had a nightmarish evening in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Worst disappearing act: Baylor had claimed its defense was actually the best in the Big 12. But in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Bears were lit up by UCF for 52 points and 556 yards. UCF had six touchdown drives of 75 yards or longer, the most long drives Baylor gave up in a game all season.

Best quote: “So much for the big bad wolf, huh?” – coach Bob Stoops, after Oklahoma defeated the two-time defending national champion Crimson Tide.

Worst official’s call: With the AT&T Cotton Bowl knotted at 24-24 in the fourth quarter, Oklahoma State cornerback Tyler Patmon appeared to have delivered the play of the game. He stepped in front of Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham to intercept James Franklin’s pass and returned it 37 yards into the end zone. Officials, however, flagged Patmon with pass interference – a ticky-tack call at best on Patmon, who on replays appeared to be going for the ball. With new life, Missouri capitalized to drive for a field goal, and the Tigers eventually won the game.

Best fan showing: The Longhorns didn’t have the kind of season they had hoped for. But in Mack Brown’s final game, burnt orange filled the Alamodome, turning the Valero Alamo Bowl into a sellout. The bowl game didn’t go the way the Longhorns had hoped, either -- a 30-7 loss to Oregon. But Texas fans sent out their coach in a classy way.
Here are the Big 12's unsung heroes during the bowl season:

Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings: The Bears true freshman defensive tackle was active in the biggest game of his young career. He finished with 10 tackles including 0.5 tackle for loss in Baylor’s 52-42 loss to UCF in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Billings' three solo tackles led all Bears defensive linemen. If he continues to develop and has a jump in production as a sophomore, he could start becoming a force in the middle of Baylor’s defense in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsKansas State QB Jake Waters threw for 271 yards and three TDs in the bowl win over Michigan.
Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters: The Wildcats signal caller was overshadowed by a stellar performance from Tyler Lockett (10 receptions, 116 yards, three touchdowns). But Waters was pretty good in his own right, particularly on third down. He finished with a 100 raw QBR (scale of 0-100 with 50 being average) on third-down plays during the Wildcats’ 31-14 win over Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Waters was 4 of 7 for 44 yards and one touchdown and added three carries for 25 yards. He was the main reason KSU converted 7 of 11 third down attempts. Waters' strong play at the end of the year is one reason the Wildcats should be right in the mix to be crowned the Big 12 preseason favorite.

Oklahoma receiver Lacoltan Bester: The senior had the quietest 100-yard receiving game of the bowl season. He finished with six receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown in OU’s 45-31 win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. While fellow receivers Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders were combining for two touchdowns, Bester made the Crimson Tide pay whenever they focused too much on the Sooners’ top two receivers.

Oklahoma State safety Daytawion Lowe: The Cowboys fifth-year senior was all over the field in his final game. He finished with seven tackles and three pass breakups in OSU’s 41-31 loss to Missouri in the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Lowe showed his versatility against the Tigers' running and passing game despite the loss.

Texas defensive end Cedric Reed: The junior joined running back Malcolm Brown and defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat as one of the few bright spots in the Longhorns’ 30-7 loss to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Reed finished with four tackles, one sack and one forced fumble. If he decides to return for his senior season, he provides an exceptional foundation for Charlie Strong’s first defense.

Texas Tech receiver Jakeem Grant: Quarterback Davis Webb was the star of the National University Holiday Bowl leading the Red Raiders to a 37-23 win over Arizona State. But Grant, the sophomore dynamo, was a big play waiting to happen. He finished with 125 all-purpose yards, including six receptions for 89 yards and two touchdowns. Grant has unique speed and quickness and should be one of the Big 12’s top playmakers in 2014.
Immediately after the national championship game, colleague Mark Schlabach released his Way-Too-Early Top 25. In concert, below is our Way-Too-Early Big 12 power poll. This could change between now and the end of the spring. In fact, it probably will. But this is a first look at how the Big 12 teams stack up against one another for 2014:

1. Oklahoma Sooners

In the Allstate Sugar Bowl, freshman Trevor Knight finally played like the quarterback that had been drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel behind Oklahoma’s closed practices. The Sooners lose some cornerstone players to graduation, notably running back Brennan Clay, center Gabe Ikard, receiver Jalen Saunders and cornerback Aaron Colvin. But with Knight and budding running back Keith Ford returning to man the backfield, and nine starters coming back defensively, including menacing outside linebacker Eric Striker, Oklahoma could be a favorite in every game next season -- and a force once again on the national stage.

2. Baylor Bears

Even with running back Lache Seastrunk going pro, the Bears return plenty of firepower offensively. Bryce Petty will be the reigning All-Big 12 quarterback, and Antwan Goodley will be coming off a monster junior season. Rising sophomore Shock Linwood showed he could shoulder the rushing load, too, when Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were banged up late in the season. The Bears, however, could take a step back defensively. Baylor, which got torched for 52 points in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, loses six starters there, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon and All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Former blue-chip defensive tackle recruit Andrew Billings will need to step up and become more of a force. Even if the defense stumbles, Baylor should be capable of scoring enough points to win every game on its schedule, thanks to coach Art Briles being back on its sidelines.

3. Kansas State Wildcats

Along with Missouri, the Wildcats were the first two teams left out of Schlabach’s Top 25. But they make a compelling case for inclusion. Quarterback Jake Waters improved dramatically during the second half of the season, eventually squeezing Daniel Sams out of the QB rotation. Wideout Tyler Lockett could be a preseason All-American, after torching Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan for a combined 631 receiving yards and six touchdowns. The defense should be better, too, with sack artist Ryan Mueller back at end, and rising junior safety Dante Barnett set to take over for the outgoing Ty Zimmerman as leader of the secondary. The Wildcats will be tested early with national runner-up Auburn visiting Manhattan on Sept. 20. If K-State can win that game, the rest of the Big 12 will be on notice.

4. Texas Longhorns

During his introductory news conference on Monday, new Texas coach Charlie Strong said Mack Brown left him with a team that could win right away. Strong might be right. The Longhorns return eight starters off a defense that found its stride under interim coordinator Greg Robinson. Texas also brings back six starters offensively and its entire running back corps, including Malcolm Brown, who rushed for more than 100 yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A big part of Mack Brown’s downfall, however, was quarterback play, and that once again will be a huge question mark in Strong’s first season. David Ash sat out most of this season with concussion issues, making his football future tenuous. Tyrone Swoopes is athletic with a big arm but needs polish. The other option will be incoming freshman Jerrod Heard, who just led his high school team to a Texas state championship. If one of those three emerges, Strong could have Texas on the way back ahead of schedule.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

The Cowboys were 19 seconds away from playing in a BCS bowl game. But two losses to end the year soured what could have been a stellar season. Now, Oklahoma State must replace the bulk of its team, including quarterback Clint Chelf and seven starters defensively. Star slot receiver Josh Stewart is also reportedly mulling over leaving early, too. Either way, 2014 will be a retooling season for coach Mike Gundy, whose first order of business will be settling on a quarterback. J.W. Walsh, who started the first half of the season before losing the job back to Chelf, would have to be considered the favorite. But Gundy has shown before he’s not afraid of turning the keys of the offense to a true freshman, and the Cowboys have an intriguing freshman QB enrolling for the spring in Mason Rudolph, who threw 64 touchdown passes this fall as a high school senior in South Carolina. That could result in some growing pains for Oklahoma State, which opens the season against defending national champion Florida State. But if Rudolph proves to be the long-term answer at QB, it shouldn’t be more than a year before the Cowboys are contending in the Big 12 again.

6. Texas Tech Red Raiders

Texas Tech completely changed the tenor of its offseason with a dominating 37-23 win over Pac-12 South Division champ Arizona State in the National University Holiday Bowl. Finally healthy again, the Red Raiders showed they were better than a five-game losing streak to end the regular season indicated. Now, Tech returns eight starters offensively, including quarterback Davis Webb, who torched the Sun Devils and had several other encouraging moments as a true freshman. Tech has to replace most of its defense. But if Webb settles in at quarterback, the Red Raiders should be improved in coach Kliff Kingsbury’s second season in Lubbock.

7. TCU Horned Frogs

TCU was the 2013 preseason pick of many people to win the Big 12. Instead, injuries ravaged the roster, and the Horned Frogs failed to go to a bowl game for just second time with Gary Patterson as coach. Patterson shook up his offensive staff after the season, bringing in Houston’s Doug Meacham and Texas Tech’s Sonny Cumbie as co-coordinators to revamp TCU’s offensive attack. TCU should be stout again defensively, especially if 2012 Big 12 defensive freshman of the year Devonte Fields returns to form from a broken foot. But the key to a better season will be whether Meacham and Cumbie can squeeze more offense out of the Horned Frogs and find the answer at quarterback. The answer, however, might not be on campus yet. Trevone Boykin has 15 career QB starts, but is probably a better fit as a receiver. Meanwhile, TCU’s top incoming recruits, Foster Sawyer and Grayson Muehlstein, are both quarterbacks, and could factor into the wide-open competition.

8. Iowa State Cyclones

Even though Iowa State just finished in the bottom three of the Big 12 in points per game (24.8), yards per game (363), yards per play (4.82), rushing yards (143.8) and passing yards (219.2), the Cyclones return some offensive firepower. Tailback Aaron Wimberly was effective when healthy, and Quenton Bundrage flashed signs of a legit No. 1 receiver. The key will be QB, and whether Grant Rohach builds on his late-season surge. But with a proven offensive coordinator in Mark Mangino now on board, the Cyclones have the pieces to form one of the better offenses in the league next season.

9. West Virginia Mountaineers

The Mountaineers careened off the road late this season with back-to-back losses to Kansas and Iowa State. Now, the pressure is on coach Dana Holgorsen, who will have to win games to keep his job even though the 2014 schedule is brutal. Like so many other teams in the Big 12, West Virginia must find a solution at quarterback. Holgorsen has options. Clint Trickett, Paul Millard and Ford Childress are all back after getting at least two starts apiece last year. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard will be enrolling early and joining the fray. Four-star recruit William Crest will be in the mix, too. Even if Holgorsen finds his answer at quarterback, a winning season won’t come easy. The Mountaineers have one of the toughest schedules in the country, beginning with the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama in Atlanta.

10. Kansas Jayhawks

Kansas showed only modest improvement in Charlie Weis’ second season as head coach. This will be a key season for Weis as he attempts to rebuild the program. He desperately needs Montell Cozart to develop into the answer at quarterback. Cozart still has a ways to go with his passing, but he showed he could hurt defenses with his legs. Defensively, the Jayhawks bring back some solid players, notably linebackers Ben Goodman and Ben Heeney and safety Isaiah Johnson. But Kansas will take the next step only if Cozart -- or somebody else -- emerges at quarterback.

Big 12 stats that defined the season

December, 18, 2013
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Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State leaned on defensive improvement in several statistics to finish in the top half of the Big 12 while several stats reveal why Kansas, Iowa State, TCU and West Virginia didn't reach bowl eligibility.

Here is one stat from each Big 12 team that helped define the season:

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield, Ahmad Dixon
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesBaylor's offense got most of the pub, but the Bears' defense -- led by senior safety Ahmad Dixon -- was one of the stingiest when it comes to yards allowed per play.
Baylor’s yards per play allowed: The Bears offense has been explosive and high scoring for the past several seasons, so seeing it again in 2013 was nothing new. But, this season, their defense more than held up their end of the bargain allowing 4.53 opponent yards per play, leading the Big 12 and ranking sixth among FBS teams. A defense laced with veterans, including safety Ahmad Dixon, helped BU’s unit rank among the nation’s best, and the athletes that have become commonplace on the Bears offense are starting to surface on the defensive side of the football with talented young guys such as defensive end Shawn Oakman and safety Terrell Burt.

Iowa State’s sacks allowed: The Cyclones allowed 37 sacks in 12 games, an average of 3.08 per game. ISU finished last in the nation and tied for No. 113 among FBS teams in the category. The trouble protecting the passer speaks volumes about the injury struggles Paul Rhoads’ team had along the offensive line. Ten different ISU offensive linemen started games this season, with nine different starting lineups starting the first 11 games. All of ISU’s offensive problems began up front.

Kansas’ yards per play: It’s amazing to think how bad Charlie Weis’ offense was this season. The Jayhawks ranked among the worst in the nation in several categories, but their 4.28 yards per play was No. 120 among FBS teams. KU entered the season with much higher expectations for this offensive unit, particularly with BYU transfer Jake Heaps as the triggerman. Yet the Jayhawks never really found any consistency, as Weis and company tried several different things to jump start the unit. KU scored more than 20 points twice this season, letting down a defense that was much improved over last year’s group.

Kansas State’s yards per play: When you think of the top offenses in the Big 12, it takes a while to get to Kansas State. Yet the Wildcats featured a surprisingly explosive offense despite losing uber-productive quarterback Collin Klein off last year’s squad. This year’s K-State offense averaged 6.3 yards per play, second to only Baylor in the Big 12 and No. 28 among FBS teams. Bill Snyder’s ability to find harmony while using Jake Waters and Daniel Sams in a two-quarterback system led to 33.4 points per game by an offense that didn’t enter the season expected to be among the Big 12’s best.

Oklahoma’s yards allowed per game: The Sooners allowed just 336.3 yards per game to lead the Big 12 and finish No. 13 in the FBS. OU entered the season with a lot of questions and concerns about a defense that was embarrassed by Johnny Manziel in last year's Cotton Bowl and was losing a bunch of starters, yet the Sooners defense improved thanks to several young players, including defensive end Charles Tapper and Big 12 defensive newcomer of the year Dominique Alexander. OU's defense was the foundation of the Sooners' 10-2 season and Sugar Bowl berth.

Oklahoma State’s opponent third down conversion rate: The Cowboys defense was among the Big 12’s best in its first season under Glenn Spencer. Their third down production was superb, allowing opponents to convert just 31.3 percent of their third down attempts to lead the Big 12 and finish seventh among FBS teams. OSU’s veteran defense and willingness to be more aggressive on third downs under Spencer played a key role in its success in those situations and eventual 10-2 finish.

Texas sack percentage: The Longhorns' ability to get after the quarterback played a key role in their success. UT featured two of the Big 12’s top pass rushing threats in Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. That duo helped UT sack opposing quarterbacks on 8.6 percent of passing plays, ranking No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 9 among FBS teams while finishing with 37 total sacks, including 35 during Big 12 play, helping UT to a 7-2 conference record.

TCU third down conversion rate: The Horned Frogs converted just 32 percent of their third down attempts this season, ranking eighth in the Big 12 and No. 113 among FBS teams. It’s easy to see why the Horned Frogs have brought in former Houston offensive coordinator Doug Meacham to take over their offense. TCU’s defense was good enough to be in the Big 12 title race, its offense was not.

Texas Tech passing yards per game: It was a terrific debut season for head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s offense despite some musical chairs at the quarterback position. The Red Raiders averaged 392 passing yards per game to lead the Big 12 and rank second among FBS teams despite having true freshmen Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb running the offense. Without one of the nation’s elite passing offenses, it’s unlikely the Red Raiders earn a bowl bid with a 7-5 record.

West Virginia’s opponent third down conversion rate: The Mountaineers allowed opponents to convert 42.7 percent of their third down attempts, ranking last in the Big 12 and No. 91 among FBS teams. WVU’s inability to get off the field in those important moments was one reason the Mountaineers’ defense allowed 455 yards per game, leading to the team's 4-8 finish.

3-point stance: Filling the schedule

December, 4, 2013
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1. Just as the 12-game schedule separates pretenders from contenders, so does the nine-game conference schedule. A reader pointed out to me that the top five in the BCS all play only eight conference games. The Pac-12 and the Big 12, which play nine league games, fill five of the next seven spots. The Big Ten is moving to nine games in a few years. The ACC dropped its plans for a ninth game when it made the deal with Notre Dame to play five league teams a year. The SEC has no such excuse.

2. When the Big 12 season began, the league drew attention because of its inexperience at quarterback. David Ash of Texas, with 18 starts, led the league. As the Big 12 heads into its final Saturday, only Bryce Petty of Baylor and Jake Waters of Kansas State have started every game. The 10 teams have started 19 different quarterbacks, six of them freshmen. That explains why only three Big 12 guys rank in the top 20 of the QBR: Petty (third), Clint Chelf of Oklahoma State (fifth) and Davis Webb of Texas Tech (18th).

3. Did Chris Petersen wait too long to leave Boise State? He has averaged almost 12 wins a year with the Broncos, taken them to two BCS bowls, and made them a national player. Boise State has gone from 12-1 to 11-2 to 8-4 in its three years in the Mountain West. He also has put his name into a few coaching hats, only to either back off or be passed over, as was the case at USC (assuming that’s why he “withdrew his name” from the search). Petersen seems as if he would fit at Washington. If that gets serious, I hope he takes it.

Big 12 unsung heroes: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Here are the Big 12’s unsung heroes for Week 12:

Baylor running back Devin Chafin: Where do the Bears keep finding these running backs? Chafin finished with 11 carries for 100 yards, 9.1 yards per carry, and two touchdowns, all career-highs. He allowed the Bears to sub out Shock Linwood without a drop-off in production in BU’s 63-34 win over Texas Tech.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesKansas State QB Jake Waters didn't have huge numbers, but he made key plays to help beat West Virginia.
Kansas linebacker Ben Goodman: Goodman was outstanding as Kansas snapped its 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 win over West Virginia. He had six solo tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack and one interception, which was key as the Mountaineers were driving early in the third quarter. He showed the athleticism and hops normally seen on the Allen Fieldhouse floor on his momentum-changing interception.

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters: He didn’t finish with great numbers but led the Wildcats on a game-winning drive in the final two minutes, finding Curry Sexton and Tyler Lockett on key connections to set up Jack Cantele’s game-winning 41-yard field goal. Waters finished 10 of 24 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and one interception but stepped up to make key plays in key moments.

Iowa State defensive end Cory Morrissey: Defensive teammates Jacques Washington and Jeremiah George sat atop the tackles list in the Cyclones’ 48-10 loss to Oklahoma, but Morrissey was solid with five tackles and one tackle for loss. It was his fifth time recording at least five tackles this season.

Oklahoma receiver Jalen Saunders: The Sooners' running game was the star, but Saunders sparked OU’s 48-10 win with a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown right before halftime. The slippery senior didn’t have a major impact in the passing game (three receptions for 15 yards), but his actual impact on the outcome was as big as quarterback Trevor Knight and running back Damien Williams, who each rushed for more than 100 yards in the win.

Oklahoma State receiver Charlie Moore: The senior was very productive in the Cowboys’ 38-13 win over Texas. He caught six of seven targets for 83 yards and one touchdown. With OSU’s top receiver, Josh Stewart, out due to injury, Moore provided a quality receiving option for Clint Chelf in the victory with his season high in receptions and receiving yards.

Texas safety Mykkele Thompson: The junior led UT with six solo tackles (seven total) and one interception in the Longhorns’ 38-10 loss to OSU. His effort was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing home loss to the Cowboys as Thompson recorded a season-high in solo tackles.

TCU safety Derrick Kindred: The sophomore continues to play at a high level while emerging as another option in the Horned Frogs' secondary. He led the squad with eight solo tackles in TCU’s 33-31 loss to Kansas State. He has 17 tackles in the past two games.

Texas Tech cornerback Justis Nelson: Talk about thrown into the fire. Nelson earned his first collegiate start against the explosive Baylor offense and held up well despite his team’s 63-34 loss. The true freshman showed signs he might emerge as an critical part of the Red Raiders' defense of the future with five solo tackles and three pass breakups.

West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski: The Mountaineers linebacker contributed to a turnover for the third straight game. After grabbing interceptions in his squad’s previous two outings, Kwiatkoski had eight tackles, including six solo stops, 1.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery in the 31-19 loss to KU.

Big 12 primer: Week 12

November, 16, 2013
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Oklahoma State and Texas will duke it out with Big 12 title implications on the line; Oklahoma, Texas Tech and West Virginia will try to bounce back from disappointing losses; Kansas and Iowa State will attempt to get off the Big 12 snide; TCU will hope to remain bowl eligible, and Baylor and Kansas State will look to keep rolling.

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

Iowa State at No. 18 Oklahoma, 11 a.m. CT (FS1): Coach Bob Stoops said he would be sticking with Blake Bell as his starting QB, but also indicated backup Trevor Knight could get more playing time. The Sooners are beat up after last week’s loss at Baylor, with receiver Sterling Shepard, linebacker Jordan Evans and defensive backs Julian Wilson and Aaron Colvin all dealing with an assortment of injuries. Iowa State is still looking for its first Big 12 victory and guaranteed to have its worst record since Paul Rhoads became coach in 2009.

West Virginia at Kansas, 11 a.m. CT (FSN): Despite a deflating overtime loss to Texas last weekend, the Mountaineers are still on track for a bowl berth. But they have to win here. Behind freshman QB Montell Cozart, who is expected to get more playing time if not the start over Jake Heaps, Kansas will attempt to snap its 27-game losing streak in Big 12 games. If the Mountaineers don’t take better care of the ball -- they turned it over five times against Texas -- the Jayhawks just might have a shot.

No. 12 Oklahoma State at No. 24 Texas, 2:30 p.m. CT (FOX): Both teams enter this showdown on a roll. Texas has won six straight while Oklahoma State has reeled off five in a row. The Longhorns, however, will be without running back Johnathan Gray and defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who both suffered season-ending injuries last weekend. This game carries major Big 12 title repercussions, though Texas could still win the league with a loss. This is the fifth time Oklahoma State and Texas have met as BCS-ranked teams. The Longhorns won the previous four meetings.

TCU at Kansas State, 2:30 p.m. CT (FSN): K-State is one of the hottest teams in the Big 12, coming off three straight wins and a 49-26 victory at Texas Tech. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters have been incredibly efficient during the win streak, completing 73 percent of their passes without an interception. Senior running back John Hubert has had the hot hand, too, rushing for more than 100 yards the last two games. TCU has to win this game to keep its slim bowl hopes alive. The good news is that Brandon Carter is beginning to perform like the No. 1 wideout the Horned Frogs thought he would be at the beginning of the season. Carter had six receptions for 93 yards in last week’s win at Iowa State.

Texas Tech at No. 5 Baylor, 6 p.m. (FOX): Baylor is in the thick of the national championship conversation, but remains on the outside looking in on the title game and could use some more style points. The Bears, however, will be without star wideout Tevin Reese, who suffered a dislocated wrist last week. Running backs Lache Seastrunk (groin) and Glasco Martin (knee) are banged up, too, and questionable for this game. Texas Tech is 1-10 in the month of November, and desperately needs a victory to stave off another late-season collapse. That won’t be easily achieved here. The Bears are four-touchdown favorites.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
11:00
AM ET
Taking stock of Week 11 in the Big 12:

Teams of the week: For the first time this season, we're recognizing two teams here, as both Baylor and Kansas State snagged the biggest wins of their seasons in impressive fashion.

The Wildcats jumped to a 35-10 lead at then-No. 25 Texas Tech, then coasted to a 49-26 rout. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters produced the two-highest Big 12 Adjusted QBRs of the week (98.4 and 94.9), while John Hubert, who had a 63-yard touchdown run on the opening drive, finished with a season-high 157 rushing yards.

Baylor was equally dominant in a 41-12 win Thursday night over Oklahoma. QB Bryce Petty kept his Heisman campaign alive with three touchdowns passes and two touchdown runs. Baylor's defense put the clamps on the Sooners, holding them to just 237 yards, the lowest output from an OU offense since 2007.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma traveled to Waco with a chance to gain an upper hand over the Big 12's favorite. Instead, the Sooners were exposed as a second-tier team in the conference. OU was especially dreadful offensively. Blake Bell completed just 15 of 35 passes with two interceptions for a raw QBR score of 5.9 (scale 0-to-100). The Sooners averaged only 2.6 yards per carry on the ground, as well, with just one run going for more than 10 yards. With games at Kansas State and Oklahoma State still looming, the Sooners could be on the verge of their worst season since 2009.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThird-team running back Shock Linwood had his third 100-yard game for Baylor on Thursday.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Baylor running back Shock Linwood, TCU receiver/quarterback Trevone Boykin and the Kansas State offensive line.

With Lache Seastrunk banged up and Glasco Martin injured, Linwood kept the Baylor ground game rolling without a hitch, piling up 182 yards while averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Despite being Baylor's third-team tailback, Linwood astonishingly is second in the Big 12 with an average of 89.3 rushing yards per game.

Back in the role he was always meant for, Boykin was excellent at Iowa State as a receiver and change-of-pace quarterback. He scored three touchdowns on five carries, including a one-yard keeper in the final minute to lift TCU to a 21-17 win. Boykin also had four receptions.

Finally, K-State's offensive line obliterated Texas Tech up front, setting the tone for the Wildcats in Lubbock. Behind Cornelius Lucas, Cody Whitehair, BJ Finney, Keenan Taylor and Tavon Rooks, the Wildcats rolled up 291 yards on the ground with an average of almost seven yards per carry.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett and Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon.

The Longhorns gave up 40 points in Morgantown, but Jeffcoat and Reed were swarming West Virginia's backfield all night. The two combined for three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, as the defense gave the Texas offense excellent field position for most of the game.

Barnett spearheaded another strong defensive effort from the Cowboys in a 42-6 win over Kansas. Barnett had five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

Dixon led Baylor's shutdown effort of the Sooners. He had a team-high 8½ tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, as Oklahoma failed to score a touchdown until late in the third quarter.

Special-teams players of the week: Oklahoma State returner Justin Gilbert, Iowa State returner DeVondrick Nealy and Texas kicker Anthony Fera.

With former Oklahoma State great Barry Sanders in attendance, Gilbert pulled off his best Sanders impression, taking the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Nealy opened the third quarter against TCU with a 98-yard TD return that tied the game.

As he has been all year, Fera was clutch in Texas' overtime win at West Virginia. He converted all five of his extra points and all four of his field goals, including the 24-yarder in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. Fera has missed only one field goal attempt all season, and the four makes at West Virginia were a career-best.

Play of the week: With 59 seconds to play, Texas faced fourth-and-7 trailing West Virginia 40-37. Out of a timeout, QB Case McCoy stepped into the blitz and delivered a first-down strike to Jaxon Shipley a yard ahead of the marker. Fera ended the drive with a game-tying field goal, then the Longhorns prevailed in overtime to win their sixth straight game.

Stat of the week: After surrendering an average of 7.0 yards per carry in losses to BYU and Ole Miss, the Texas defense has held its past six opponents to a combined average of 3.2, with nobody topping more than 4.0 in a game.

Quote of the week: "We're not a tradition. But we're going to be here awhile, the way this thing is going." -- Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, after the Bears' 41-12 win over Oklahoma

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