Big 12: Baylor Bears

In today's Big 12 Twitter mailbag, we talk plenty about 2015, including changes to the conference format and quarterback battles.

On to the 'bag:

@Jake_Trotter: My top five, as of December 19, would be 1) TCU, 2) Baylor, 3) Oklahoma, 4) Texas, 5) Oklahoma State. But a lot can and will change between now and the preseason that could shake up this top five.

Trotter: Closer? Maybe. Close? No. The only change I see happening is the league clarifying its goofy One True Champion rule, and actually declaring a single champion for playoff purposes. There is a chance the conference could apply for a waiver to hold a championship game with 10 teams. But in talking to people around the league, I don't envision the Big 12 adding such a game, at least for next season.

Trotter: No time soon. The Big 12 still has no plans to expand. If it did, BYU would obviously be in the picture. But again, the Big 12 is not adding teams right now.

Trotter: The decision remains up in the air, but if I had to bet, I would put my money on Dorial Green-Beckham going to the NFL. The decision to transfer to Oklahoma was always about playing this season, not sitting out and playing in 2015. That could still happen. But as a likely Day 1 or Day 2 pick, I see him declaring for the draft.

Trotter: I could see Rushel Shell breaking the 1,000-yard barrier. With a new quarterback, the Mountaineers could pound the ball a little more next season. As for who the quarterback will be, Skyler Howard has generated momentum with the way he performed the last two games, but I still favor William Crest. There was a reason Crest was the No. 2 quarterback as a true freshman coming out of fall camp. Assuming he is healthy and can go through spring ball, Crest would still be my pick to win the job for 2015.

Trotter: The Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic and the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Baylor beating Michigan State and TCU handling Ole Miss would do the most for the Big 12's national perception. It certainly wouldn't hurt if the other Big 12 teams win, too. But a sweep in the two New Year's Six bowls is what will count most toward 2015 perception of the conference.

Trotter: Chad President has indicated that he's sticking with Baylor. President also has the ability to play other positions, too, if he gets beat out by Jarrett Stidham. So I would guess he stays pledged to Baylor. By the way, not many better surnames out there than "President."

Trotter: I think it's Seth Russell, at least to start out. Russell has the experience edge both on the field and with reps operating the Baylor offense. Russell struggled a bit in the Texas Tech game, which gives me pause. But he has also had a bunch of good moments as Bryce Petty's backup the past two years.

Trotter: No. Kansas State has first dibs on any Lockett from now until the end of time.

Trotter: This is probably the most random question in this mailbag's history. But I believe the answer is Paul Rhoads. Someone also provided photographic evidence:

Trotter: Thanks for all the questions, guys. Sorry I couldn't include all of them. I hope everyone has a great weekend..

With the 2014 regular season over, we’ve come up with our final Big 12 true freshman power rankings.

This list includes three ESPN freshman All-Americans, and a collection of other players who appear to be budding stars in the league.

So, without further ado, the final top 10 true freshmen of 2104:

1. Samaje Perine, running back, Oklahoma: Perine finishes atop the Big 12 true freshman power rankings as the clear No. 1. The 243-pound, All-Big 12 performer led the conference with 1,579 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He also set an FBS single-game record with 427 rushing yards against Kansas. Perine will be the focal point of the Oklahoma offense in 2015, and should open the season on everyone’s list of possible Heisman contenders.

2. KD Cannon, wide receiver, Baylor: Though his production dipped over the final month of the season, Cannon still finished with 50 receptions, 833 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also had a monster game with six catches and 124 yards receiving in Baylor’s big win over TCU. The Bears will lose Antwan Goodley to graduation, but with Cannon and Corey Coleman leading the way, Baylor will still have a dynamic collection of receivers in 2015.

3. Dravon Henry, safety, West Virginia: Henry won a starting job in the West Virginia secondary in the preseason, and was an integral defender for the Mountaineers all season. His ability to cover the pass allowed hard-hitting strong safety Karl Joseph to help more against the run. And with the Henry-Joseph safety combo leading the way, the Mountaineers finished with the second-best pass defense in the Big 12. Assuming Joseph returns for his senior year, the Mountaineers could boast one of the top safety duos in the country next season.

4 (tie). Patrick Mahomes, quarterback, Texas Tech and Mason Rudolph, quarterback, Oklahoma State: After standing on the sidelines most of the season, Mahomes and Rudolph stole the show in the Big 12 late in the year. Mahomes threw for 598 yards in Tech’s season finale while almost leading the Red Raiders to an upset over Baylor. In his final three games, Mahomes tossed a head-turning 14 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Rudolph was equally as impressive for Cowboys. After playing well in his first career start at Baylor, Rudolph rallied Oklahoma State to an overtime win over Bedlam rival Oklahoma in Norman while also catapulting the Cowboys to bowl eligibility. Thanks to Mahomes and Rudolph, Tech and Oklahoma State appear to be in great shape at quarterback for 2015 and beyond.

6. Allen Lazard, wide receiver, Iowa State: It wasn’t a good year for the Cyclones, but at least they have a burgeoning All-Big 12-caliber wideout in Lazard, who delivered a series of acrobatic receptions in his first year. Though he never had a 100-yard receiving game, he was a consistent option for quarterback Sam B. Richardson with 45 catches and 593 receiving yards.

7. Jason Hall, safety, Texas: Wondering who will eventually take over for Karl Joseph as the hardest hitter in the Big 12? It might be Hall, who dropped the hammer multiple times in his first season in Austin. He also finished with 47 tackles, and should serve as a cornerstone in Charlie Strong’s defense for years to come.

8. Corey Avery, running back, Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have many positive developments this season, but one of the bright spots was Avery, who finished 12th in the league with 631 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Avery and De’Andre Mann should give new coach David Beaty a solid one-two punch at running back to operate with in 2015.

9. Elijah Lee, linebacker, Kansas State: Bill Snyder rarely plays true freshmen, but Lee earned Snyder’s trust as a pass-rushing specialist early on in the season. He placed second only to Ryan Mueller on the team with 4.5 sacks.

10. James Washington, wide receiver, Oklahoma State : Washington ended the season as a starter, and led the Cowboys with five touchdown catches. He also finished with 26 receptions and 423 yards receiving, and figures to be a piece of the foundation in the Oklahoma State receiving corps moving forward.

Big 12 bowl predictions

December, 19, 2014
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AutoZone Liberty Bowl

Why West Virginia will win: Quarterback Clint Trickett has been cleared for the bowl. Trickett struggled a bit late in the season but was a still a major factor in the Mountaineers' midseason run. He and Kevin White should have their way against an Aggies defense that got lit multiple times this season. West Virginia 38, Texas A&M 29 -- Trotter

Why Texas A&M will win: The Aggies will get their house in order after shaking up their coaching staff and give West Virginia all it can handle. Clint Trickett's status can swing this game, of course, but doesn't a showdown between Kevin Sumlin and Dana Holgorsen have to be decided by who scores last? Texas A&M 35, West Virginia 28 Olson

Russell Athletic Bowl

Why Oklahoma will win: While Clemson will be without dynamic freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson for the game, OU welcomes Trevor Knight back under center. Combined with Samaje Perine in the backfield, that should be enough for OU to eke out a win. Oklahoma 28, Clemson 21 -- Chatmon

Why Clemson will win: The Oklahoma passing game was a mess the last month of the season. Trevor Knight returning will help, but even when Knight was healthy, the passing attack was uneven. Former Sooners coordinator Brent Venables directs Clemson's pass defense, which is No. 3 nationally. That means the pressure will be on Samaje Perine (coming off an ankle injury) to shoulder the offensive load. Clemson is not great offensively, but I'm not confident the Sooners will be able to score enough in this one. Clemson 21, Oklahoma 17 -- Trotter

AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl

Why Texas will win: The Longhorns' defensive line is full of talent and will be ready and well-equipped to handle the physical nature of the Razorbacks' offense. Texas 27, Arkansas 17 -- Chatmon

Why Arkansas will win: Strength on strength will be on display in this matchup, with the big boys on the Arkansas offensive line squaring off against Malcom Brown and Texas' menacing front. But I have a little more confidence in the Hogs to score points than the Longhorns, who were wildly inconsistent at times with young Tyrone Swoopes at QB. Arkansas 20, Texas 14 -- Trotter

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl

Why TCU will win: You don't get the sense there will be a letdown factor with this team after it missed the College Football Playoff. Gary Patterson has worked too hard on building TCU's mentality to allow a slipup now. The Horned Frogs swing this with a fourth-quarter turnover from Bo Wallace. TCU 35, Ole Miss 31 -- Olson

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic

Why Baylor will win: The Bears are bummed they didn't make the playoff, but they also realize this is an opportunity to atone for last season's Fiesta Bowl fiasco. Michigan State has a great defense with a good quarterback. But the Spartans couldn't hang against all of Oregon's offensive firepower early in the season and will succumb to Bryce Petty & Co., too. Baylor 42, Michigan State 34 -- Trotter

Valero Alamo Bowl

Why Kansas State will win: This is a sneaky great matchup, though I still can't figure out why Stanford made it look so easy against the Bruins in the regular-season finale. The last hurrah for Jake Waters, and Tyler Lockett will be as deadly efficient and effective as usual. Kansas State 31, UCLA 27 -- Olson

Why UCLA will win: Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley entered the season as a Heisman candidate but stumbled in UCLA’s final game. He should rebound and cause all kinds of problems for K-State’s defense with his feet and his arm. UCLA 31, Kansas State 27 -- Chatmon

TicketCity Cactus Bowl

Why Oklahoma State will win: There was no reason to believe the Cowboys could win Bedlam, yet they did and became bowl eligible. Mason Rudolph looks like the real deal, and this young Cowboys team has plenty of momentum. Oklahoma State 31, Washington 30Chatmon

Why Washington will win: The Huskies lost to every ranked team they faced in Pac-12 play. Until Bedlam, the same was true of OSU in the Big 12. I'm a Mason Rudolph believer, but I like the UW defense a bit more. Washington 28, Oklahoma State 17 -- Olson

Season records: Trotter 67-8, Chatmon 66-9, Olson 64-11.

Big 12 unsung heroes

December, 18, 2014
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From record-setting freshman to Heisman contenders, the Big 12 had plenty of star power in 2014.

Yet each team had players who made a significant impact on their teams that went largely unnoticed as teammates grabbed the headlines. With the help of SIDs around the conference, here's a closer look at the Big 12's unsung heroes during the 2014 season:

Baylor LB/S Collin Brence: A former walk-on, Brence started every game for Baylor, finishing with 49 tackles and adding seven hurries, 3.5 tackles for loss and one interception. On a defense with stars like Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart, Brence was quietly a key contributor as the Bears won a second-straight Big 12 title.

Iowa State WR D’Vario Montgomery: The sophomore transfer from South Florida emerged as the Cyclones’ best receiving threat during the home stretch of the season. Montgomery had 41 receptions for 564 yards and two touchdowns in ISU’s final seven games. His 605 receiving yards led the team and his 13.75 yards per catch average was tops among Cyclones with at least 10 receptions.

Kansas C Joe Gibson: The redshirt freshman took over starting center duties midway through the season and brought solidarity to the Jayhawks' interior line. Making QB Michael Cummings the starter and Eric Kiesau the playcaller were among the noted changes that paid off during Clint Bowen’s time as interim coach but Gibson’s role was just as important.

Kansas State DT Travis Britz: A valuable part of K-State’s defense, Britz was a key member of one of the Big 12’s top defenses before missing the final two games with an injury. The junior provided an anchor for Bill Snyder’s squad with 27 tackles including five tackles for loss and three sacks.

Oklahoma FB Aaron Ripkowski: Samaje Perine doesn’t become the Big 12’s best freshman without the help of the former walk-on fullback. Ripkowski was a driving force behind the Sooners’ running success as teams set out to stop the run yet still failed against the crimson and cream. Ripkowski’s aggressive nature, durability and stellar blocking helped OU rank No. 1 in the Big 12 in nearly every rushing category.

Oklahoma State DT Ofa Hautau: Emmanuel Ogbah grabbed Big 12 defensive lineman of the year honors but Hautau played a key role in OSU’s defensive line. His 28 tackles including 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks don’t speak to the value he brought to the table in the interior of the Pokes' defense.

Texas TE Geoff Swaim: The senior brought a consistent physical presence to the Longhorns' running game while the offensive line went through injuries, changes and uncertainty for much of the year. He also played a critical role on the Longhorns’ special-teams units.

TCU DT Davion Pierson: While Chucky Hunter got the headlines, Pierson was just as good along the Horned Frogs' defensive interior. The junior was disruptive with 6.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for TCU while giving the Horned Frogs arguably the Big 12’s top defensive tackle duo.

Texas Tech HB DeAndre Washington: It’s unusual to consider Washington unsung but he was that good for the Red Raiders in 2014. There was a direct correlation between Washington’s production and Tech’s win total. He rushed for 100 yards in three of Tech’s four wins and he joined Perine and BU’s Shock Linwood as the only Big 12 running backs to surpass 1,000 rushing yards this season.

West Virginia LB Wes Tonkery: The senior brought stability to the Mountaineers defense, finishing with 62 tackles as WVU’s improved defense helped Dana Holgorsen’s squad return to a bowl game after a one-year hiatus. Tonkery also added eight tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
Art Briles, Gary PattersonUSA TODAY SportsBaylor's Art Briles, left, and TCU's Gary Patterson can give the Big 12 a lift this bowl season.
When the inaugural College Football Playoff begins on New Year’s Day, the Big 12 will be the only Power 5 conference watching from home.

Though the Big 12 fell short in this season’s battle for the playoff, there will be another one to wage in 2015. The conference can take steps to ensure it doesn’t get left out again next season, notably by crafting a way to finally crown only One True Champion. But the Big 12 can also send a 2015 message to the playoff selection committee through a triumphant 2014 bowl season.

Though out of the playoff, the Big 12 is hardly devoid of high-profile matchups against name teams this bowl season. And a successful bowl record would cement national perception of the strength and depth of the Big 12 while setting the conference up for a run at the playoff next season.

"It won’t help us this year," said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. "But it would help for next year."

That starts with conference co-champs Baylor and TCU, which play in the prestigious New Year’s Six bowls against opponents that were ranked in the top 10 for most of the season.

The Bears will face Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic. The defensive-minded Spartans went 10-2, with their only two losses coming against playoff teams Oregon and Ohio State. Michigan State won the Big Ten last season, and boasts the nation’s seventh-ranked defense.

"There's a statement to be made just for us nationwide," said Baylor safety Orion Stewart. "To show (the nation) that we really have one of the best programs in the country."

The same way the Bears’ loss to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl last season hurt Baylor’s standing, a win against Michigan State would solidify the Bears as a title contender again in 2015, even without quarterback Bryce Petty. Especially if the Bears can light up the scoreboard against Michigan State, which surrendered more than 31 points just twice all season (to the Ducks and Buckeyes).

"We're playing one of the greatest teams in America, Michigan State," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "There have been four football programs that have played in back-to-back BCS (level) games; you're talking to one of them (Baylor) and Michigan State is one of them, (along with) Florida State and Alabama. That's pretty good company in my book."

TCU will also be in good company in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. The playoff committee had Ole Miss in the top four in its first two playoff rankings before the Rebels stumbled against LSU and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Still, Ole Miss bounced back to hammer fourth-ranked Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl to claim a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Like Michigan State, Ole Miss features one of the best defenses in the country, with a unit that leads the nation in scoring defense with an average allowance of just 13.8 points per game. The Rebels flashed how dynamic they can be when they downed Alabama early in the season.

"(Our team) wanted to play somebody that was a caliber of a top-five team," said TCU coach Patterson, "and we feel like Ole Miss is that team."

In 2015, TCU will bring back quarterback Trevone Boykin and nine other offensive starters, meaning the Horned Frogs could be primed for another run at the playoff next season. A victory against a quality SEC West opponent would position TCU well for the start of 2015. And a Big 12 sweep in the Cotton and Peach bowls against top-10 competition would reaffirm that the best of the Big 12 can play with anyone in the country.

"Ole Miss is a team that was as high as third in the nation, that played at a very high level, that could have been in the playoffs, lost a couple heartbreakers," Patterson said. "We feel like this is a playoff game."

The two New Year's Six bowls, however, aren’t the only opportunities for the Big 12 to deliver statements.

In the Valero Alamo Bowl, Kansas State meets UCLA, a team that was in playoff contention until late in the season. Oklahoma takes on ACC power Clemson and college football's No. 1-ranked total defense in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

In the Autozone Liberty Bowl and Advocare V100 Texas Bowl, West Virginia and Texas have a chance to land wins against SEC West opponents Texas A&M and Arkansas, respectively.

Even Oklahoma State takes on a talented Washington team in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl.

Sure, there are no easy bowl games for the Big 12. But every win will count toward forging the league’s reputation for 2015.

"I was shocked (the Big 12 was left out of the playoff) based on the strength of this league from top to bottom," Gundy said. "We can’t have this many good football teams in this league and not get one in the top four. We can’t allow that to happen again."

The Big 12 can take steps off the field to ensure it doesn’t happen.

But in the meantime, the Big 12 can take some big steps on the field this bowl season, too.

Poll: Big 12's next step?

December, 18, 2014
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TCU and Baylor gave the Big 12 two deserving playoff teams, but the conference was on the outside looking in when the College Football Playoff committee handed out berths.

Now, we’re putting you in charge of the Big 12’s destiny.

SportsNation

What change should the Big 12 make after being left out of the CFB Playoff?

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    42%
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    19%
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    31%
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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,608)

 With 10 teams and no championship game, the league finds itself at a disadvantage on Championship Saturday. The names of several schools have been thrown into the conversation as people debate which teams could help the Big 12’s cause in the future. Should the Big 12 consider expansion?

The Big 12 was left with the impression that a conference title game would have helped the case of Baylor or TCU, but expansion isn’t the only option. If the NCAA allows the Big 12 to play a conference championship game with just 10 teams, it could be a clear step toward solving the problem without adding additional schools with more mouths to feed at the money table.

Expansion and adding a championship game are significant changes. Yet, maybe significant change is not needed. The answer could be as simple as crowning a single champion. That’s right ... bye, bye co-champions. If there is one clear winner of the Big 12 Conference, it removes any doubt about a true champion in the eyes of the committee. And, by the way, actually fits the conference’s moniker of “One True Champion”.

Or is it all an overreaction? The Big 12 was one or two upsets away from having two teams in the top four, which would have been a best-case scenario for the conference. The option to stand pat and do nothing could be considered. Just because things didn’t work out in the Big 12’s favor during Year 1 of the College Football Playoff doesn’t necessarily mean the conference must react immediately and make changes.

Considering the current state of the conference, what would you do? What changes would you make? Vote in our poll and comment below.

Big 12 teams sign junior college help

December, 18, 2014
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Wednesday, several teams in the Big 12 added immediate help in the form of junior college signings. Kansas and new coach David Beaty led the way with eight such signings.

All told, six players from the ESPN JC 50 signed with Big 12 schools, including a conference-high three to Oklahoma.

Not everyone in the league, however, signed juco help this week. Texas Tech, TCU and Kansas State did not sign any juco players Wednesday.

Below is a roundup of this week's Big 12 juco signees (remember, this list does not include juco players who will sign in February):

Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Texas
West Virginia
Once again, the Big 12 has made news.

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck is leaving his post with the Mountaineers to join the NCAA as president Mark Emmert’s second in command.

The move leaves West Virginia in search of an athletic director. And, more importantly to the rest of the Big 12, the league in need of a new representative to the College Football Playoff selection committee.

The Big 12 has until the spring to figure it out. Most likely, it will be a sitting athletic director, and fortunately for the league, it has several competent ones to choose from.

But when it comes to finding the right man or woman for the playoff committee, one Big 12 name seems to stand out from the rest.

And that’s Kirby Hocutt.

The Texas Tech athletic director would be relatively young among playoff committee members at just over 40 years old. But as chairman of the NCAA Division I Football Recruiting Subcommittee, Hocutt is one of the most respected athletic directors in the country. And, despite being young, he would still bring a wealth of experience that would represent multiple corners of the Big 12.

In the early 1990s, Hocutt was a captain and linebacker for coach Bill Snyder during the advent of the “Manhattan Miracle” at Kansas State. Hocutt actually led the Wildcats in tackles during the 1993 season, which ended with K-State’s first bowl victory in school history. Hocutt’s background as a player would give him a distinctive perspective that would enhance the committee. And with K-State being his alma mater, he would bring a representation beyond his current school that would theoretically make the rest of the league comfortable.

Of course, K-State isn’t Hocutt’s only other Big 12 connection.

Before winding up at Texas Tech, he served on Joe Castiglione’s staff as an associate athletic director at Oklahoma from 1999-05. Hocutt was part of a massive capital fundraising effort there; he also received his master’s degree from Oklahoma. Hocutt remains so well thought of by some of the power brokers in Norman that he would be a candidate to take over as athletic director if Castiglione ever left the Sooners.

Yet, while Hocutt graduated from school in the Sunflower State and spent years working in the Sooner State, he’s a Texan first.

For that reason alone, putting Hocutt on the committee would seemingly also satisfy the demands of Baylor coach Art Briles, who has been clamoring for more committee representation from the state of Texas.

"Hopefully they'll get somebody that talks with a twang," Briles told ESPN.com's Heather Dinich on Wednesday. "Let's get somebody that understands what fixin' means. Let's get somebody from down in this part of the nation. Oliver was our representative, but last time I checked, West Virginia is a long way from Texas and Oklahoma. That's nothing to do with him, that's just the reality of the situation. I would certainly hope that we would influence the committee with somebody from this part of the nation.”

Hocutt’s twang is mild. But he was born in the northern Texas town of Sherman. He graduated from Sherman High. He’s also now athletic director of a university where Texas twang is common.

Besides wanting a Texan, Briles also told Dinich that he wanted somebody 35 years old or younger on the committee. Hocutt isn’t quite that young. But he’s closer to 35 than he is to the median age of the current committee.

“To me, college football is not just for people who are my age or older,” Briles said. “It's for everybody. It should be equally represented, but that's just me talking."

The Big 12 could go another direction, and it still would be a good decision.

Castiglione carries as much prestige nationally as any athletic director in the country. To serve on the playoff committee, he would likely have to give up his post on the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee. But football is where the money is, and the Big 12 could persuade Castiglione into swapping committees.

The Big 12 boasts several other young, energetic and accomplished athletic directors like Kansas State’s John Currie, TCU’s Chris Del Conte and Baylor’s Ian McCaw. Kansas athletic director Sheahon Zenger is a former player, who actually served as an assistant coach on Snyder’s staff at Kansas State before transitioning into an administrator.

Any of those would represent the conference well.

But nobody in the league would represent the Big 12 from more angles than Hocutt.

A North Texan who played under Snyder at K-State who worked under Castiglione at Oklahoma who now is back running an athletic department in West Texas.

It doesn’t get more Big 12 than that, which is why Hocutt should be the Big 12's next representative on the playoff selection committee.
The Football Writers Association of America released its 71st All-America team Wednesday evening, and multiple Big 12 players were recognized:

First team

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas

PR: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

KR: Mario Alford, West VIrginia

Second team

QB: Trevone Boykin, TCU

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

WR: Kevin White, West Virginia

LB: Jordan Hicks, Texas
video

A flurry of commitments and decommitments has led to considerable movement in the latest class rankings update. Several top-10 programs added ESPN 300 prospects, including Tennessee, which picked up top-10 ILB Darrin Kirkland Jr. The Vols already have a class that features a talented group of defensive linemen, and have now added a big, powerful inside linebacker that can develop into a tough downhill run-stopper. Butch Jones now has Tennessee in contention for a second-straight top-five finish.

Outside the top 10, USC landed a verbal from in-state tight end Tyler Petite, a tall, lengthy prospect with the size, speed and leaping ability to potentially create mismatches as a receiving target at the position. After landing the former Duke commit, USC's class features eight ESPN 300 prospects.

Ole Miss also saw a move up in the rankings with a pair of additions. The Rebels landed ESPN Junior College 50 QB Chad Kelly, a player who is physically gifted enough to be a strong candidate to replace QB Bo Wallace, a one-time junior college transfer himself. Ole Miss, who not sits at No. 17, also landed ESPN 300 OT Michael Howard. He is a lean OL prospect that needs to fill out, but is an athletic and tenacious player and with development could end up being a real strong pick-up out of Florida for the Rebels.

Inside the rankings

Coach Art Briles has had two very distinct luxuries when it comes to recruiting in today's complicated landscape -- recruiting in the shadows and recruiting without pressure. Both are actually in many ways, one in the same. As Briles has built this program, he's been able to do it his way without public pressure or booster interference because early on, nobody thought it could be done and nobody cared.

This staff was able to go after who they wanted, on their own timetable and without much scrutiny. In today's recruiting world, that's a huge luxury. Players like Levi Norwood, Antwan Goodley or Tevin Reese, who was a late qualifier, were all bypassed by other Power 5 programs, but nobody even noticed Baylor signed them or griped, "who are these guys" on signing day.

As a result, prospects like these were brought along at a normal pace and developed properly by the coaching staff. Redshirting the bulk of the classes for the first few years has also been huge for the Bears. The challenge going forward will be dealing with increased program exposure and expectation level which almost always brings with it increased recruiting scrutiny from boosters and fans alike. But the Bears don??t need to change a thing.



To see the full class rankings, click here.

Big 12 top running games: Part I

December, 17, 2014
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It's the perfect time to look back on the regular season before the bowl season is upon us.

The Big 12 used to be a quarterback's league. Now most teams lean on their running games to carry them to success. With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, let's take a closer look at the Big 12's best running games in several unique categories.

Rushing yards before contact

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Brett Deering/Getty ImagesOklahoma running back Samaje Perine excelled at gaining yards after contact this season.
1. Oklahoma, 1,993: It’s easy to see why the Sooners had three different offensive linemen on the Big 12 coaches first or second team (Daryl Williams, Adam Shead, Tyrus Thompson). OU rushed for nearly 2,000 yards before contact thanks to a veteran offensive line along with fullback Aaron Ripkowski, another All-Big 12 honoree.

2. TCU, 1,808: The offensive line was easily the most overlooked contributors to the Horned Frogs' 11-1 season. Trevone Boykin, Aaron Green and B.J. Catalon proved to be among the Big 12’s top playmakers but they wouldn’t have had that space to show their talents without the offensive line. For example, 720 of Green’s 854 rushing yards came before contact.

3. Baylor, 1,751: Much like TCU, the threat of a deep passing game helped create holes for Bears running backs along with their offensive line. Tackle Spencer Drango was exceptional and BU was able to overcome injuries to its offensive front to secure a place among the Big 12’s best in yards before contact.

Rushing yards after contact

1. Oklahoma, 1,236: Thank you, Samaje Perine. OU’s freshman running back played a significant role in the Sooners landing atop the list in this category with a Big 12-best 636 rushing yards after contact.

2. Baylor, 1,071: Shock Linwood isn’t thought of as a physical runner in the mold of Perine, yet Linwood was the only other Big 12 running back with more than 400 rushing yards after contact. Linwood’s 446 RYAC are a clear sign the sophomore has the ability to shrug off defenders and brings a tough running style at 5-foot-8, 200 pounds.

3. West Virginia, 961: Dana Holgorsen’s teams aren’t renowned for their run-game excellence, but his best offenses have usually had the ability to punish defenses on the ground if needed. Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood had solid years in the backfield with Smallwood finishing fifth in the Big 12 with 296 rushing yards after contact.

Between the tackles

1. Oklahoma, 276 carries for 1,908 yards, 20 touchdowns: OU didn’t think twice about running the ball right at you behind its veteran offensive line. Perine led the Big 12 with 1,148 rushing yards between the tackles as the only Big 12 running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.

2. Baylor, 355 carries for 1,773 yards, 23 touchdowns: The Bears' philosophy of making defenders account for the entire field includes the area between the tackles. While their speed and receivers force defenses to account for the perimeter, they won’t hesitate to run the ball right at the defense.

3. West Virginia, 342 carries for 1,637 yards, 12 touchdowns: We knew the Mountaineers had a strong interior offensive line and a bevy of running backs before the season began. Shell proved to be a physical runner with 505 of his 766 rushing yards between the tackles.

Outside the tackles

1. Oklahoma, 242 carries for 1,362 yards, 19 touchdowns: The Sooners had success outside of tackles as well, with Perine ranking as the Big 12’s best in this category. The true freshman had 431 rushing yards outside of the tackles, joining four Big 12 players with at least 300 rushing yards outside of the tackles this season.

2. Baylor, 213 carries for 1,154 yards, 18 touchdowns: Linwood was second in the Big 12 in this category as well but much closer to Perine in the other categories with 401 rushing yards outside of the tackles in 2014.

3. TCU, 192 carries for 1,048 yards, 16 touchdowns: The Horned Frogs tested defenses with their speed and open-field playmaking ability in a bunch of different ways from Boykin’s ability to scramble to Green’s exceptional quickness.

Zone-read plays

1. Oklahoma, 160 carries for 963 yards, nine touchdowns: Quarterbacks Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas used the zone-read to keep defenses honest with Perine in the backfield.

2. Baylor, 141 carries for 700 yards, nine touchdowns: Bryce Petty and Seth Russell combined for 102 carries this season as the Bears used the zone-read as another way to challenge defensive coordinators.

3. Kansas, 134 carries for 630 yards, six touchdowns: The Jayhawks had a pair of quarterbacks in Michael Cummings and Montell Cozart with the ability to keep defenses honest but neither guy changed games with their legs.
WACO, Texas -- Bryce Petty feels selfish for even thinking it, and worse for saying it. Winning, after all, should be enough. He won another Big 12 championship.

But Petty wanted so much more. He craved perfection.

“Obviously I’d want it different,” Petty told ESPN.com this month. “Shoot, I’d love to be No. 1 on the Heisman list. I’d love to be the No. 1 pick coming out. I’d love to have 40 touchdowns, no picks.”

What the Baylor quarterback endured in 2014, instead, was a senior season he can only describe as being “such a roller coaster.” As Petty reflects on the ride, he can’t help but think he wasted too much time overthinking it all.

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBryce Petty says his perfectionist mentality began to change after he threw a pick-six to fall behind TCU by 21 points.
Petty, now prepping for his college finale and Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic meeting with No. 8 Michigan State on Jan. 1, vows he’s done indulging disappointment. Ever since the season opener, though, he’d known there would be no easy route to another title.

A back injury suffered against SMU sidelined Petty for a game and a half. He can admit now the effects of the injury -- two cracked transverse processes -- lingered until the middle of October.

Along the way, he kept taking hits. The preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year was hunted all season long.

“People don’t hit me like they did last year,” he said. “As soon as I get hit, they’re driving me to the ground and talking the whole time.”

He played through pain throughout, but nothing hurt like the heartbreak on the eve of Baylor’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State.

Ethan Hallmark, a boy he’d befriended from his hometown of Midlothian, Texas, passed away on Sept. 26 after a courageous battle with stage 4 neuroblastoma. Petty stood by his side during Ethan’s bout with the rare form of childhood cancer. He visited the boy on Christmas, once drove him to a treatment session in Dallas, and even attended his last birthday party.

“I knew it was coming,” Petty said, “but I didn’t know it was coming that fast.”

While he grieved, he struggled. Petty didn’t like how he played against ISU. He hated his performance against Texas, easily the worst statistical showing of 24 career starts. And he almost blew it against TCU, throwing a pick-six to put BU behind by 21 in the fourth quarter.

And then something finally snapped.

“That’s kind of when things changed mentally for me,” Petty said. “I didn’t care about being perfect anymore. I’ve already thrown a pick and a pick-six. Perfect is out the window. I’ve got to go win this game.”

He guided the best comeback in Baylor history against the best opponent he faced all season. The Heisman buzz was suddenly back.

“Then the West Virginia game came and, again, I was just thinking so much. I was trying not to get hurt. I was pressing,” Petty said. “The little thing that has really immobilized me athletically is when I think too much. All that stuff kind of came in and it’s just been ... not tough, not difficult. Just not what I expected.”

Perfect was now officially out the window. But the 41-27 loss in Morgantown was another setback that failed to stop Petty. Baylor regrouped, stomped Kansas and Oklahoma and got back on track.

Three steps forward, a small step back. After a 49-28 win over Oklahoma State, Petty recognized just how discouraged he’d become. His time, with just three games left, was running out. Baylor was 9-1. Why wasn’t he happy with that?

Yes, he was frustrated that his individual goals weren’t being met. But he also felt guilty for caring too much about those ambitions. Prayer and heart-to-heart talks with buddies, parents and coaches helped Petty recognize the folly in his perfectionism.

He says that P-word gets him more than anything. Art Briles brings up a different one.

“I’m very proud of what he’s done. And the thing I’m most proud of is his determination inside of him,” Briles said. “He’s got a lot to prove. He’s got a lot of doubters.”

Surely he shed a few in his regular-season finale. A week after sustaining the first concussion of his college career against Texas Tech, Petty was masterful against a top-10 Kansas State team to clinch a Big 12 trophy: 412 yards on 85 percent passing.

“He was just being Bryce out there,” receiver Levi Norwood said. “That’s exactly what we expect from him.”

The Bears’ latest blow -- exclusion from the inaugural College Football Playoff -- will sting for a while. Their quarterback can take it. In a season stuffed full of unexpected twists and tests, what’s one more?

Petty is done dwelling on wanting more. He'll take the most he can get and be grateful he got this far.

“The whole roller-coaster deal, I think it’s good that it’s all happened the way it has,” he said. “I’m telling you, this game makes you stronger.”
The Associated Press released its All-America team Tuesday, and several Big 12 players were recognized:

First team

OT: Spencer Drango, Baylor

DT: Malcom Brown, Texas

LB: Paul Dawson, TCU

Second team

QB: Trevone Boykin, TCU

WR: Kevin White, West Virginia

AP: Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

Third team

RB: Samaje Perine, Oklahoma

K: Josh Lambert, West Virginia

DE: Shawn Oakman, Baylor

LB: Eric Striker, Oklahoma
Bob Bowlsby's gamble, Bob Stoops' future and the conference's future highlight Tuesday's mailbag. As always, thanks for your questions. To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Jerry in Waco writes: I think a championship game at the end of a round-robin schedule is idiotic, redundant and unfair. Do you think the NCAA might allow the addition of a single school (eg, BYU) to the BIG 12 (BIG 11) while allowing retention of the round-robin format plus 3 nonconference games resulting in a 13-game schedule that the CFP committee seems to value?

BC: That seems unlikely Jerry. First I doubt the Big 12 will overreact and expand. Second, I don’t see what a 13-game regular season schedule gets the Big 12. Third, I’m not sure I’d be making major changes to satisfy the committee. I just keep coming back to the fact Baylor beat a top-10 team by double digits on the final day of the season and it didn’t seem to matter. So why would a conference title game change that scenario? I really don't see the need for any major overreaction, to be honest. But, an overall reassessment of the tiebreaker and different marketing plan is a must.

Rick in Grapevine, Texas, writes: What bothers me about the whole "Fire Bowlsby" campaign is this: If both Florida State and Ohio State had lost their championship games then both Baylor and TCU get into the College Football Playoff. BUT, if the Big 12 had named a conference champ instead of co-champs then TCU could well have been left out at 11-1 in favor of a non-champion from the SEC or elsewhere. The choice to present co-champions was a gamble, one that might still in the long-run work out more often than not (only time will tell). You don't fire people for taking calculated risks - unless of course you're the type of person who only puts their life's savings in the mattress because stocks, bonds and CDs are too risky!

BC: A great point by Rick and one that has been overlooked by many people. Since it didn’t work out, people were quick to turn on Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. But, as Rick says, the conference was fairly close to sneaking two teams into the top four. Yet since it didn’t work out, Bowlsby took the hit for it. I can see his thinking and can’t fault him for it in hindsight even though I might not have handled it that way myself. It is something people need to take into account though, Bowlsby had a plan and took a risk. It simply didn't work out.

Marshall in Santa Clara, California, writes: Am I the only one who thinks Marshall University would be a good fit for conference expansion along with BYU? WVU would get a natural rival in the conference and the football team would be decent. Revenue might be an issue, however.

BC: You might not be the only one but you won’t have many friends on that boat with you trying to paddle it upstream. I don’t see what Marshall would bring to the table that would put the Thundering Herd atop the priority list if/when the Big 12 decides to expand as regional ties with WVU simply are not enough.

Brandon in Pickens, West Virginia, writes: With the familiarity between the West Virginia and Texas A&M staffs, what are the chances that this is a lower-scoring game than expected?

BC: First off, great name. I’d say there is a decent chance because I’m expecting a lot of points and when I've expected plenty of points this season I’ve been wrong on several occasions. The question is, what is a lower-scoring game? I could see both teams scoring in the 30s and considering that a low-scoring contest. But I still lean toward a good chance of at least one team getting into the 50s during the AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis.

Pat Jones in Johnson City, Tennessee, writes: Do you think there is any way Bob Stoops is going to make changes in his coaching staff after Oklahoma’s poor performance this year (on both sides of the ball) and if not, do you feel it is time for a change at Oklahoma? I feel Bob Stoops has lost his desire and now is just drawing a paycheck.

Brandon Chatmon: I don’t see any major changes coming on the Sooners staff nor do I think Bob Stoops is going anywhere unless he wants to. I understand the angst and disappointment among Sooner Nation, but I don’t think Stoops is the problem. There are some things the Sooners can do to change things but major change is not needed, silly mistakes led to OU’s losses, even their blowout loss to Baylor. OU is close to returning to national prominence if it plays its cards right, but they need to take the steps to ensure another underachieving season is not in the cards.

Jason A. in Le Mars, Iowa, writes: In response to Chris J. from Houston's question in last Thursday's mailbag. Since Texas "tragically" lost in the national championship game after the 2009 season here are their records: 5-7, 8-5, 9-4, 8-5, 6-6. And then here are Nebraska's: 10-4, 9-4, 10-4, 9-4, 9-3. Becoming a team "like Nebraska" just might be an improvement over the last few seasons.

BC: No question here, just sheer facts from Jason A. And I like it. Nebraska is 57-23 since 2009, while Texas is 49-28. The dislike between the Huskers and the Longhorns will never get old, or less entertaining …

Roundtable: Big 12 team with most to gain in bowl

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
2:00
PM ET
In this week's Big 12 roundtable, we examine the most intriguing bowls, which team has the most to gain in the bowl season and the players we'll be focused on the most during the bowls:

[+] EnlargeKevin White
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesMountaineers receiver Kevin White finished his senior regular season with 1,318 yards and nine TDs.
Other than the Goodyear Cotton and Chick-Fil-A Peach bowls, which Big 12 bowl are you most intrigued by?

Chatmon: It has to be the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, when West Virginia and Texas A&M battle on Dec. 29. Lots of points, lots of fun, lots of Red Bull. Mentor Dana Holgorsen against understudy Jake Spavital in a battle of offensive gurus. And considering this is a meaningless bowl game, I'm not interested in seeing much defense. I'm also looking forward to seeing what Kevin White has in store for his final game in a West Virginia uniform, after his breakout senior season.

Olson: There will be points in the Liberty Bowl, and I'm excited to see what a healthier West Virginia team is capable of against Texas A&M. But for me, the choice is the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Big 12 vs. Pac-12 matchup is typically a nice one in terms of style, and K-State taking on a UCLA team that Texas almost defeated in September, in the final starts for both Brett Hundley and Jake Waters, will be a lot of fun to watch.

Trotter: I'm intrigued by the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the matchup of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables going up against his former boss at Oklahoma in Bob Stoops. Remember, Stoops brought in his brother to coach the defense in 2011, which ultimately prompted Venables to leave Oklahoma for Clemson. If Venables' Tigers shut down the Sooners, and Clemson runs the score up on Mike Stoops, it will serve as an indictment of where Oklahoma is as a program three years after that move was made.

With no one playing for a national championship, which Big 12 team has the most to gain in bowl season?

Chatmon: It has to be Baylor against Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl. As good as the Bears have been during the past two seasons, some people still point to their Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida as a reason to doubt what Art Briles has built in Waco. Add the intrigue of proving the committee wrong and BU has plenty of motivation. It's also a chance for an impressive win against a quality Big Ten team in the race for conference bragging rights.

Olson: I agree with Brandon here. Some Baylor coaches I talked to before the season say their Fiesta Bowl loss to UCF was arguably the most frustrating of their time in Waco. A 12th win and ending a dream season with a BCS bowl win would've meant an awful lot to this program. They get a meaningful chance for a redo against a much better opponent in Michigan State.

Trotter: Baylor and TCU have the most to gain, because they have the chance to show they deserved to be in the playoff. But I'll throw another team into the discussion here in Texas. After finishing the season with a 48-10 home loss to TCU on Thanksgiving night, the Longhorns really need to bounce back against Arkansas in the Advocare V100 Texas Bowl to set the tone for 2015. Next season is going to be a critical one for Charlie Strong and the Texas program. A win over a former rival like Arkansas would give the Longhorns the momentum they'll need heading into next season.

Who is the one Big 12 player you'll be focused during the bowls?

Chatmon: I can't wait to see what Trevone Boykin has in store for an Ole Miss defense full of playmakers in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Boykin creates all kinds of problems for every defense with his ability to slither through open lanes like a running back yet frustrate defensive backs with his deep throws. The Rebels have held opposing quarterbacks to a 17.3 Adjusted QBR, ranking No. 2 among FBS teams behind Louisville, making this the best matchup of individual brilliance against team strength during the bowl season.

Olson: Giving Mason Rudolph a month of extra practice and all that post-Bedlam momentum is going to make for a fascinating performance in the TicketCity Cactus Bowl. Oklahoma State's rookie quarterback takes on Washington and a pass defense that ranked last in the Pac-12. I'll be a little surprised if he doesn't pick apart the Huskies on Jan. 2 and continue to build up hype for 2015. The confidence boost this team got from beating Oklahoma can't get squandered.

Trotter: Boykin and Rudolph are definitely players to watch. But I think I'll be most focused on Bryce Petty in his Baylor swan song facing one of the best defenses in the country in Michigan State. Quarterbacks the caliber of Petty -- on and off the field -- don't come along very often. I'll be curious to see how he goes out in a tough matchup in his final college game for the Bears.

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