Big 12: Kansas State Wildcats

This week we'll continue highlighting the key position battles for every program in the Big 12. We continue the series with Kansas State’s running back derby.

Here's where the battle stands:

Contenders: senior DeMarcus Robinson, sophomore Jarvis Leverett, sophomore Charles Jones, freshman Dalvin Warmack.

What happened last season: KSU’s departed senior running backs, John Hubert and Robert Rose, combined for 1,152 of the Wildcats’ 2,314 rushing yards last season.

Hubert was outstanding as a centerpiece of the Wildcats' offense, rushing for 1,048 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. He was one reason the quarterback-receiver connection between Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett became so lethal, particularly on deep throws when the safeties found themselves unable to help cornerbacks because of Hubert’s running prowess.

His departure leaves a major void in KSU’s running game.

What they offer: It seems not much has changed since the end of spring with Jones and Robinson looking like the favorites to get the bulk of the early season carries.

Jones has never carried the ball in a collegiate game, so there are plenty of unknowns with the sophomore but he should get the chance to prove himself in the first few games of 2014.

Robinson is the veteran in the running back battle and the lone running back on the roster who has carried the ball for the Wildcats with five carries for 20 yards last season. He spent the past few seasons as an understudy to Hubert, understands the offense and provides a veteran presence in the running backs room.

Leverett had a solid spring game and should be in the mix for carries alongside Jones and Robinson.

Warmack is the newcomer of the group and has impressed enough to emerge as a candidate to play as a true freshman. Though he’s not on the road to securing a starting spot, his talent and football smarts have put him in the position to play if the Wildcats need another option at running back.

At this point K-State’s running back situation looks very much like a running back-by-committee.

Prediction: No single running back will follow in Hubert’s footsteps by eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards this fall. It wouldn’t be a major surprise to see all four Wildcats’ running backs get at least one carry in 2014 if nobody steps up and secures the job early in the season.
The Wall Street Journal took an interesting look at how college football’s coaches have fared against AP Top 25 teams during their careers. Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops has the best overall record at 50-23, a clear sign of the program’s consistency and success in big games under the veteran coach. He’s earned the nickname “Big Game Bob.”

Here’s a look at how each Big 12 coach has fared against the AP Top 25 at their current school. For a look at their career record, you can go to the original piece on The Wall Street Journal’s website.

Art Briles at Baylor: 7-19

Paul Rhoads at Iowa State: 4-19

Charlie Weis at Kansas: 0-8

Bill Snyder at Kansas State: 23-43

Bob Stoops at Oklahoma: 50-23

Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State: 15-20

Gary Patterson at TCU: 14-14

Charlie Strong at Texas: 0-0 (2-2 at Louisville)

Kliff Kingsbury at Texas Tech: 2-3

Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia: 5-6

A few quick thoughts:
  • These numbers just reinforce Stoops' ability to win games against top competition. People like to point at OU’s Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama as the return of “Big Game Bob” but that conveniently overlooks road wins at Florida State and Notre Dame in games that garnered plenty of national attention in the past three years.
  • It shouldn’t be a surprise to see Gary Patterson join Stoops as the lone current Big 12 coaches with a record of .500 or better against AP Top 25 teams. A couple of substandard seasons in the Big 12 shouldn’t completely erase years of dominating performances from the Horned Frogs under Patterson.
  • It’s quite revealing to see Kingsbury has faced more AP Top 25 teams than Strong. In one season at Tech, Kingsbury saw a Top 25 squad five different times yet Strong coached four games against AP Top 25 teams in four seasons at Louisville. It will be interesting to see how Strong handles the clear step up in competition, week in and week out.
  • Four wins against AP Top 25 teams shows the ability of Paul Rhoads to get the best out of his Iowa State teams. His 4-19 record isn’t great but it could be a lot worse.
  • Bill Snyder and Mike Gundy rank second and third in total wins against AP Top 25 teams which is to be expected as Snyder at KSU and Gundy at OSU have taken their programs to previously unseen levels during their time as head coach at their respective schools.
  • Holgorsen's 5-6 record is solid, particularly for a coach on the hot seat heading into the season. His five wins against AP Top 25 teams in three seasons at WVU could be one reason not to overlook the Mountaineers' chances to surprise in 2014.
With the opening weekend of college football just a little more than a week away, we make some calls on who some of the top passers, rushers and receivers might be:

After Bryce Petty, Davis Webb, Trevor Knight and Jake Waters, who will lead the Big 12 in passing?

Chatmon: This is a tough one, but I’m going to go with West Virginia’s Clint Trickett. The Mountaineers have the skill-position talent to support Trickett, and the senior has a year of experience in Dana Holgorsen’s offense under his belt. I fully expect to see an improved Mountaineers’ offense and Trickett should play a key role in that improvement.

Olson: Gee, we’ve really narrowed that down, haven’t we? The best way I can put my answer is this: Oklahoma State will finish with more passing yards as a team than Texas, so I guess I have to go with J.W. Walsh. While I can envision Daxx Garman earning a couple starts at some point, I still think Walsh will put up good numbers. David Ash might be a smarter choice here, but his injury history makes it a tough call.

Trotter: I can’t pick any of the quarterbacks from Oklahoma State or TCU, since it’s still unclear how much any of them will play. And I can’t go with Montell Cozart, given that his best asset right now is his wheels. That leaves Ash, Trickett and Sam B. Richardson. Ash has an injury history. Then again, so do Trickett and Richardson.And while West Virginia and Iowa State have other intriguing quarterback options, Texas really does not.This is Ash’s show. And he has shown at times in the past he has the ability to put up big passing numbers.

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray is a consensus pick to lead the Big 12 in rushing this season.
Who will lead the league in rushing?

Chatmon: Johnathan Gray is a easy choice for me. A healthy Gray is easily the best running back in the Big 12, and Texas’ offense will be built around its running game. Gray, who has a 4.8 yards-per-carry average in his career, will get plenty of opportunities, and he will take advantage of them.

Olson: Gray. It’s a really difficult prediction because I do think Shock Linwood will surpass 1,000 yards. I also think Baylor loves Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson enough that there’s going to be a equitable sharing of carries in Waco. Texas, meanwhile, won’t have Baylor’s passing game and should go all-in on a run-first mentality. Gray was on pace for more than 1,100 yards last year before his Achilles tear. He’s healthy again, and I think he can have a huge year.

Trotter: I have to agree with Brandon and Max. When healthy, Gray has proven to be the best all-around back in the league, and he is the best bet here. But keep an eye on Oklahoma State running back Tyreek Hill. If the Cowboys make him their offensive workhorse, he has the big-play ability to have a monster season. Sure, durability would be a question. But speed would not.

After Tyler Lockett and Antwan Goodley, who will lead the Big 12 in receiving?

Chatmon: Jakeem Grant immediately comes to mind here, but I’m going to go with Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard. The Sooners’ passing game should be improved with an improved Knight, and Shepard has the skills to make defenses play for leaving him in one-on-one situations. Grant will garner increased attention from secondaries while Shepard, helped by OU’s running game, should have more chances to make game-changing plays.

Olson: Did you know: In 2013, six of the Big 12’s top eight receivers in yardage played for either Baylor or Texas Tech. So I would be pretty stupid not to go with Grant here. Not only was he one of those six and very productive as a No. 3 option, but he’s also going to get a nice chunk of the 106 receptions (!) and 152 targets (!!!) that went to Jace Amaro last year. Tech’s No. 2 option, Eric Ward, had more catches (83) and targets (122) than Goodley. That’s insane. Grant is going to feast on their leftovers.

Trotter: Grant missed two games and was the third banana in Tech’s passing offense last year. And he still finished sixth in the league in receiving. With Ward and Amaro gone, Grant will take over as the Red Raiders’ primary receiving threat. And with quarterback Webb budding with confidence and the Red Raiders primed to air it out, Grant is easily the best bet here.

Big 12 morning links

August, 20, 2014
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Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A breakfast with morning links? One thousand percent better. In fact, 9 of 10 nutritionists recommend morning links as a healthy companion to your breakfast.
  • The future of Kansas' offense took a downward turn when the Jayhawks announced the loss of Brandon Bourbon and Taylor Cox to season-ending injuries on Tuesday, writes Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star. It's a painful loss for a KU offense that is going to need a strong running game to help take the burden off sophomore quarterback Montell Cozart. Neither Cox or Bourbon come to mind as the top playmakers in KU's offense before injuries took them out of the equation -- Tony Pierson and Nick Harwell top the list -- but it's hard to overlook the impact on KU's offense. The good news is Corey Avery stepped on campus ready to play as a freshman and De'Andre Mann is another option at running back for the Jayhawks.
  • Iowa State safety Kamara Cotton-Moya was shot, yet he insists losing last season to an Achilles injury was worse, writes Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. The redshirt freshman was says he learned to "try not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time" from the incident, which occurred before he headed to Ames, Iowa, last summer. Cotton-Moya's story is an interesting one but his impact on the field is just as intriguing. He would have likely joined Nigel Tribune as a true freshman to see time in ISU's secondary in 2013 if he hadn't hurt his Achilles, so it should be fun to monitor his impact on a defense that needs to replace its top two tacklers (Jacques Washington, Jeremiah George) from 2013.
  • Who is the active leader in career tackles on Kansas State's roster? Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star has the surprising answer: Randall Evans sits atop the list with 146 career tackles. Evans isn't a guy who comes to mind when you think of the most productive defenders on Bill Snyder's team but Robinett's story reminds us just how important the versatile Evans is to K-State's defense, particularly considering the fact he goes head to head with some of the Big 12's best receivers at his slot cornerback position.
  • The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel believes Oklahoma State is a Big 12 heavyweight. Why? The Cowboys' defensive line tells the tale as that group is the best unit on OSU's defense heading into 2014 which is sign things have changed in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It's hard to disagree as quality defensive linemen often help separate teams and are easily the hardest jewel to find on the recruiting trail. Is OSU's defensive line good enough to overcome concerns at linebacker and safety? That's the bigger, unanswered question.
  • Finally, in case you missed it, take a look at Grantland's Big 12 preview by Holly Anderson. It's a fun look at the conference including a outlandish prediction that someone in the conference will score 100 points in a game this season. Yes, you read that right, 100 points. Could it happen? I don't think so, but that's why they call it an outlandish prediction.

Big 12 mailbag

August, 19, 2014
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First of all, thanks for all of your questions. In today’s mailbag we talk Oklahoma’s suspension of Joe Mixon, K-State’s chances against Auburn and some Big 12 quarterbacks.

Let’s jump right in:

David B from Dallas writes: Did David Boren and Oklahoma step way over the line by suspending Joe Mixon from all team activities for the entire year? And do you think this affects recruiting for Oklahoma going forward?

Brandon Chatmon: I don’t think so. The Sooners made the right move with their decision on Mixon. OU clearly wanted to send a message here and they did. I don’t think it will have a major impact on the Sooners' recruiting. Will it be a conversation piece and a question that will be asked? Yes. But once OU explains its reasoning to recruits and parents, it should be fine. I have a hard time believing recruits will leave OU off their list based on Mixon’s suspension.


Cole from Oklahoma City writes: With the Mixon thing finally finished for now, how much more of an impact can Perine have now? I feel like he'll be a 3rd and 1 guy and goal line guy just because he can truck anything in front of him. How many carries and yards do you think he'll have?

Chatmon: Samaje Perine’s chances to make a bigger impact definitely increased with Mixon’s suspension. That’s not to say he wasn’t going to have an impact before but Mixon’s absence means one less competitor for carries and Perine is a guy who looks like he will get some opportunities this fall. I could definitely see him becoming a key asset in short-yardage situations. I think he will finish with between 50-100 carries and 350-450 yards this season.


Mark from Snyderville USA writes: What percentage would you put on K-State's chances to upset Auburn in Snyderville? I give em a 83% chance based on a few stats. 1) KR yards. Auburn gave up an average of 25 YPKR (The only teams in the B12 to allow that many YPKR was TCU and Texas). K-State averages 24 YPKR. 2.) Rushing yards per attempt. Auburn gave up nearly 4.6 yards per Rush attempt. K-state averaged 4.5 yards per rush attempt. What does it all mean, you ask? It means Auburn allows teams to do the things that make K-State successful. Good starting field position and extending drives, eating up the time of possession.

Chatmon: I think 83 percent is pretty high but I’d put it at around 50-60 percent based off the fact it is a night game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium and the Wildcats’ duo of Tyler Lockett and Jake Waters is tough for anyone to handle. I could see KSU’s kick-return prowess coming into play but their yards per rush attempt advantage assumes the Wildcats find a playmaker at running back during the first two games. I’m not so sure the running game will be clicking enough to put that in the “pro” column quite yet. Nonetheless, I’m going with K-State in a close home win.


Joshua Parsons from Lubbock writes: What are the expectations for Texas Tech's Davis Webb in his sophomore season?

Chatmon: They should be high. He’s the second-best returning quarterback in the league behind Baylor's Bryce Petty. Webb was good as a freshman so I’m expecting him to be very good to great as a sophomore with a year under his belt. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Webb alongside Petty at the top of most passing categories in 2014.


Steve from Fresno writes: Who do you think Oklahoma State's starting QB should be?

Chatmon: J.W. Walsh should start against Florida State but I think Daxx Garman will get a shot at some point this season.


Winn Walker from Fort Worth writes: Do you consider TCU as a dark horse team to contend for the Big 12 championship this year? Or are they one year away from really competing for a conference title?

Chatmon: I do, mainly because the Horned Frogs play good defense which always gives you a chance. However, if they don’t get good, efficient quarterback play, their dark-horse status goes out the window for me. I can’t wait to see how TCU’s offense looks in the first couple of games.


Scott from Royce City writes: What is your feeling on OU/Mayfield appealing Tech's block of the transfer? Would it set a troubling precedence if they allow him to transfer (in conference) and not have to sit?

Chatmon: As a walk-on at Texas Tech, Baker Mayfield’s situation is a little different for me. I can see Tech’s side of the argument and I can see Mayfield’s side of things. I’d probably lean toward allowing Mayfield to play, only because he was a walk on at Tech, but I have my doubts it will happen and I don’t view it as a major injustice if he has to sit out this season.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

August, 18, 2014
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We're less than two weeks away from the season and only 170 days away from national signing day. Here's your weekly update on where each Big 12 program stands on the recruiting front:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: ESPN 300 WR Chad President made it official: He's now a Baylor Bear. President, who's been committed since last summer, inked financial aid papers with the Bears this week. Coach Art Briles appears intent to let the 6-foot-3, 195-pound standout from nearby Temple, Texas, play quarterback when he enrolls early.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: ISU will soon get a visit from one of their top targets, junior college CB Antoine Albert of Diablo Valley College in California. The 6-foot-2 defender has seen his offer list grow considerably -- now including Tennessee and Arizona -- but Iowa State got in the mix early and has to like its chances.

KANSAS
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Jayhawks are having a hard time winning recruiting battles within their own state. That'll make the guys KU can get even more important. Keep an eye on safety Darreon Jackson from Derby, Kansas. He's a move-in who came from a big-time Texas program, Mesquite Horn, where he earned all-district honors at linebacker. Charlie Weis' staff should like its chances with him.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats continue to do an impressive job of locking down their backyard. Their latest pledge came from three-star OT Evan Applegate, who's listed at 6-foot-7 and 280 pounds. Applegate turned down offers from Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Nebraska to join a KSU class that's off to a nice start.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: The Sooners have missed on a bunch of big-time offensive line targets, but they got a good one last week in Cody Ford. OU coaches convinced the three-star offensive guard from Pineville, Louisiana, to back out of his six-month pledge to TCU and join fellow linemen Bobby Evans and Dominique Hearne in their class.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: OSU beefed up its offensive line class last week with the addition of three-star tackle Joshua Jones and junior college tackle Brandon Pertile. Jones, one of the top linemen in the Houston area, chose the Pokes over Texas Tech and TCU. Pertile spent one year at Georgia State before enrolling at Mesa Community College in Arizona.

TCU
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: TCU has joined what should end up being a long list of suitors for 2016 DE Erick Fowler. The ESPN Junior 300 defender from Manor, Texas, went up to Fort Worth last week to watch a fall practice and went home with an offer. He now has at least six, and that list will continue to grow.

TEXAS
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: The Longhorns are among the top contenders for Mesquite (Texas) Poteet teammates LB Malik Jefferson and ATH DeAndre McNeal, and both have decided to announce their decisions in late December. McNeal might project out best as a linebacker in college, but he now says he wants to play offense. They'll take their official visit to out-of-state schools, and one lucky program could snag both for Christmas.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The leaders of Tech's class, ESPN 300 recruits Jarrett Stidham and Breiden Fehoko, are both set to enroll early and have now signed financial aid papers with the school. The ability to unofficially sign in August is a beneficial deal for all involved, because Tech coaches are now permitted unlimited calls and visits (and even public tweets) with their top two committed guys.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: The Mountaineers already have two QBs committed for their 2015 class, but they could be chasing another in Lamar Jackson. The three-star dual-threat passer from Boynton Beach, Florida, reportedly intends to take an official visit to Morgantown this fall and will also check out Nebraska. With David Sills and Chris Chugunov already on board, it'll be interesting to see how seriously WVU pursues him.

Big 12 mailbag: Uniforms, DGB

August, 15, 2014
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In today’s mailbag, we discuss uniforms, Dorial Green-Beckham and Baylor's home schedule.

I took Twitter questions for this mailbag. But you can always submit a mailbag entry the traditional way by clicking here.

On to the 'bag:

@Jake_Trotter: If Heard is clearly the No. 3 quarterback, then they should try to redshirt him. But remember, he's playing behind a quarterback in David Ash with a severe injury history. And another in Tyrone Swoopes, who has yet to prove he can be a viable Big 12 quarterback. So while I think it would be beneficial to redshirt Heard for his future development, they need to keep him ready to play just in case.

@Jake_Trotter: I don't know who has the "worst" uniform, but there are some pieces in this league I don't like. I love Oklahoma State's alternates, but I'm not a fan of their shiny orange helmet with the interlocking "OSU" logo. Texas Tech's all black is one of the cleanest looks in the league, but their Lone Star Pride uniform is not my favorite. I'm not big on Oklahoma's alternates, but we'll see what they look like in person. The beak on Kansas' Crimson Chrome helmets is way too big, though I did enjoy the alternates the Jayhawks introduced last year.

@Jake_Trotter: I had Iowa State's receiving corps ranked sixth in the spring. With Kendall Sanders gone, Daje Johnson suspended and Jaxon Shipley nursing a hamstring injury, I could see myself slotting the Cyclones ahead of Texas. But if Dorial Green-Beckham were cleared, they would fall back behind Oklahoma. Either way, somewhere around sixth feels about right for Iowa State going into the season.

@Jake_Trotter: Not anytime soon, because there's no one feasible to add at the moment that makes sense for everyone financially, geographically, competitively.

@Jake_Trotter: There are really only three possibilities for a home loss. TCU on Oct. 11; Oklahoma State on Nov. 22; and Kansas State on Dec. 6. The Horned Frogs still have much to prove offensively before I'd pick them to win in Waco. Oklahoma State has traditionally played Baylor well, but the Cowboys are going to be very young this year. That leaves Kansas State as the most likely to pull the upset. That could be a dangerous game for the Bears. But if you're asking me today if Baylor loses at home this year, I say no.

@Jake_Trotter: Depends on who it is. And who that team beat during the nonconference relative to the other 11-1/12-1 teams that would theoretically be in the mix. This is where the Bears could fall into trouble. Baylor's best win would be SMU, which isn't going to stack up well. An 11-1 Big 12 champ would have a great chance. But it wouldn't be a lock, either.

@Jake_Trotter: Well, Shannon isn't technically off the team yet. He's still practicing while waiting to learn the outcome of his appeal. But anytime you lose your leading tackler, it hurts. Shannon has been a good player for the Sooners the past two years. That said, I think it's a defection the Oklahoma defense would be able to overcome. Jordan Evans was solid as a true freshman last year. He should be able to step in and fill Shannon's role. Evans would also be flanked by some very good players, which would help ease the transition.  

Ben R. in San Jose, California writes: How bad is ESPN going to look for ignoring KSU in the initial power rankings? They missed out of the Top 25 and Travis Haney's next four.

Trotter: I didn’t have a vote in the ESPN Top 25, but I would have advocated having the Wildcats ranked ahead of Texas and TCU. K-State is third in my Big 12 power rankings for a reason. So you and I are in agreement, even if others are not.

Kale in Dallas writes: Hey Jake, assuming DGB remains ineligible, there is a ton of talent but little experience at receiver for OU this year. I know Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal are locks to start, and Jordan Smallwood, K.J. Young and Michiah Quick are getting hype, but what about Austin Bennett? He looked really sharp in the spring game, and he could really make an impact.

Trotter: It’s going to come down to who makes plays in practice the next two weeks and the early portion of the schedule. Shepard is the only receiver right now guaranteed to be part of the rotation. Bennett is in that mix. But the competition for inclusion in that rotation will be fierce.

Baylor Bears quarterback Bryce Petty ranked No. 6 in the debut addition of ESPN.com’s Heisman Watch on Thursday. The Bears’ quarterback was the lone Big 12 representative on the list.

Here is a closer look at four dark horse Heisman candidates who could find themselves alongside Petty in the Heisman conversation at some point this fall.

Receiver Tyler Lockett, Kansas State Wildcats

Why he might: Lockett is the Big 12’s most important offensive player that doesn’t line up behind center. He does it all for the Wildcats and has matured into a quality receiver in the past year with seven games of 100 receiving yards or more in 2013. As the centerpiece of the offense, he will become the face of K-State’s offensive success.

Why he might not: If the Wildcats aren’t in the mix to win the Big 12, Lockett’s dark horse Heisman campaign likely hits the wall. It won’t matter what type of numbers he puts up if the Wildcats aren’t getting the national attention that comes with a Big 12 title race.

Quarterback Davis Webb, Texas Tech Red Raiders

Why he might: Only Petty had a higher adjusted QBR last season among the Big 12's returning quarterbacks. Webb’s 79.7 joined Petty’s 86.6 as the lone returning signal callers above 75 in 2013. He appears to be even better heading into the 2014 season after settling in as the clear No. 1 quarterback for Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders.

Why he might not: He’ll need Tech receivers to step up and replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who were a quarterback’s best friend a season ago. The Red Raiders will also need to exceed expectations as a team to help validate the eye-popping numbers that Webb could have this fall.

Receiver Antwan Goodley, Baylor

Why he might: Goodley makes highlight-reel plays with his running back-like strength and blazing speed. If the senior makes a major jump in production for the second straight season, the sky is the limit for Petty’s top target.

Why he might not: There’s only one football and a receivers’ room full of talented pass-catchers at Baylor. Goodley could easily have multiple games this fall where he has more than 100 receiving yards yet doesn’t lead the team in receiving. Petty will have Levi Norwood, KD Cannon and several other options along with Goodley.

Quarterback Trevor Knight, Oklahoma Sooners

Why he might: Did you see the Allstate Sugar Bowl? If Knight can repeat that performance, particularly in OU’s biggest games this fall, he would find himself cemented in the race for the Heisman.

Why he might not: He’s surrounded by youth and inexperience at the skill positions for the Sooners, meaning a bigger share of the Sooners’ offense will be on his shoulders than any point last season. OU needs young players to step up at running back and receiver to make Knight the all-purpose threat that he can be in 2014.
Trevor Knight, OklahomaStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThere's reason for optimism in the Big 12 following Oklahoma's win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

The last time a Big 12 team won a national championship, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty was still in junior high. And the last national title game that merely included a Big 12 program, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight had just passed his driver's test.

Yet with the BCS era dead and gone -- and conference realignment in the rearview mirror -- the Big 12 is out to re-establish its legitimacy in the debut season of the College Football Playoff.

And, most importantly, get back to contending for national championships again.

"We have excellent programs in the Big 12," said Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. "Is there any reason why this conference couldn't play somebody in the national championship?

"I don't see why not."

At the turn of the millennium, the Big 12 forged an identity on playing for BCS national championships an almost annually. Between 2000 and 2009, in fact, the Big 12 pushed a team into the national title game seven times.

But since Vince Young led Texas to that thrilling Rose Bowl win over USC nine years ago, the league has gone without a national title. And since Colt McCoy quarterbacked the Longhorns to the BCS national championship game five years ago, the Big 12 has not played in one.

[+] EnlargeStrong
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsCharlie strong is hoping to return Texas, the last Big 12 school to play for and win the national title, to its former national standing.
The title drought can be attributed, in part, to bad luck. But it can also be attributed to Oklahoma slipping a bit and Texas slipping a bunch over the past few years.

After hitting grand slams with Young and McCoy, Texas whiffed in its quarterback recruiting, and has failed to reach double-digit victories since 2009 as a result.

After winning six Big 12 titles early in the Bob Stoops era with dominating defense, the Sooners softened on that side of the ball and consequently have won only one outright conference title since 2008.

But there are signs the league could finally be breaking out of its recent malaise. None bigger than Oklahoma's Sugar Bowl smashing of Alabama behind a resurgent defense under coordinator Mike Stoops and the emergence of quarterback Trevor Knight, who torched the Crimson Tide in just his fifth career start.

Texas also took steps to revive its program by bringing in Charlie Strong, who already has installed a no-nonsense approach his first year in Austin.

But unlike the early 2000s, the conference flagships won't have to carry the Big 12 banner alone in the playoff era.

Oklahoma State has won 59 games over the past six years. Kansas State was ranked No. 1 in the polls at one point late in 2012. And Baylor ascended under coach Art Briles, who last season delivered the program its first Big 12 title.

"Name me two leagues that are better," said Briles. "You might could name one. But on a week in, week out basis, name me two. I ain't got them."

The Big 12's mettle, however, will be put to the test in the playoff era. With five major conferences and only four playoff spots, at least one league will be left out every year.

But the Big 12 believes its unique, nine-game, round-robin league schedule -- the same format that doomed the conference during the BCS -- will be a strength in the eyes of the playoff selection committee.

"I think we're in great position," said Bob Stoops. "When you play nine conference games, it's challenging. The more you play, the more you knock each other out. That's what happens generally. That's why it's difficult playing nine conference games. No matter what, it's easier to play eight conference games."

[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports"If those other (conferences) round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Art Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."
The Cowboys were ranked second in the BCS standings in 2011 before losing on the road in double overtime at Iowa State in its fifth conference road game.

Kansas State was also undefeated two years ago heading into its fifth Big 12 road game, but ran out of steam at Baylor. Those same Bears went on to win 13 straight, but fell at Oklahoma State last November.

"If those other [conferences] round-robined it, there'd be a bunch more bruises on some bodies," Briles said. "I can tell you that right now."

Even though Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor each won 11 regular-season games in those seasons, none wound up playing for the national championship. All three Big 12 champs, however, might have been strong contenders for a playoff spot.

"I think people across the country have a lot of respect for our league," said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. "I think they're aware that teams that come out of this league at the top ... not only can compete, but they can win."

The Big 12 sent such a message during the last bowl season.

Baylor lost to Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. But on top of the Sooners defeating Alabama, Kansas State destroyed Michigan while Texas Tech manhandled Arizona State.

Fresh off its banner bowl season, the Big 12 will have several more opportunities to send a message this nonconference season.

Oklahoma State will take on defending national champ Florida State in the opener. That same day, West Virginia will play Alabama.

Later in September, Kansas State will get reigning SEC champion Auburn in Manhattan. Texas will meet seventh-ranked UCLA. Oklahoma will face Tennessee. And Texas Tech will host Arkansas.

"Those games are big," said Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters. "To be able to play those teams and beat them would really solidify the Big 12.

"We're a great conference. We just need to get over the hump."

Big 12 morning links

August, 13, 2014
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Kick off your morning with some beef and a laugh. No, not that kind of beef.
  • It's odd to see Collin Klein and Kansas State assistant coach in the same sentence. We're just a couple years removed from watching Klein destroy Big 12 defenses while leading K-State to a Big 12 title. Yet Klein has joined the Wildcats' coaching staff and, while it's not his dream job, Klein is already starting to make an impact as a part of Bill Snyder's staff, writes Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star. Leave it to Bill Snyder to recognize Klein's potential as a coach and give him an opportunity to return to Manhattan, Kansas, this fall. Even though Klein doesn't like the thought of his playing days being over, something tells me he could experience a meteoric rise up the coaching ranks if he decides coaching is his future.
  • Running backs DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly are poised to share carries in Iowa State's backfield this season. ISU coach Paul Rhoads believes both guys are "good enough for us to win in the Big 12" reports Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register. Wimberly averaged 4.02 yards per carry in 2013, while Nealy averaged 3.85 yards per carry. Neither running back averaged more than five yards per touch from scrimmage last season, so Wimberly or Nealy would need to separate themselves from the competition if making big plays is going to be a consistent part of their resume this fall.
  • As good as true freshman Dravon Henry has looked during his first few weeks at West Virginia, sophomore Jeremy Tyler won't be giving up his spot in the Mountaineers' secondary without a fight, writes Mike Casazza of the Charleston Daily Mail. It looks like WVU will be using both players in the secondary, and they hope for minimal dropoff from last season. Henry has been one of the stars of WVU's preseason camp but don't overlook Tyler, who was overshadowed by fellow freshman Daryl Worley in 2013 and now seems to be overshadowed by Henry. Yet Tyler was really starting to come on late in his freshman campaign, recording 13 of his 17 tackles in the final two games of the season.
  • Offensive success at Oklahoma State could be defined by the Cowboys' offensive line. And center Paul Lewis finds himself in the spotlight after a couple of early departures from the program. New offensive line coach Bob Connelly wants Lewis to be "a direct reflection of me" reports Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman. A strong season from the offensive line will be critical for a Cowboys' squad overflowing with skill position talent on offense. If Lewis can become an anchor of the offensive front, the Cowboys have the skill talent to surprise.
  • Oklahoma has high expectations for linebacker Jordan Evans, particularly if Frank Shannon cannot play this season, writes The Oklahoman's Ryan Aber. Evans was late addition to the Sooners' Class of 2013 and played several different positions at Norman (Oklahoma) North High School, including kick returner. Shannon led OU in tackles last season, but Evans is an upgrade athletically. He was one of OU's standouts during the offseason, which should give Sooners fans peace of mind if Shannon is unable to play.
February is still months away, which means there is plenty of time for all of the Big 12 programs to fill holes in much-needed spots. With signing day on Feb. 4, conference programs are hoping the next few weeks will be beneficial from a recruiting standpoint.

Here are some must-get 2015 recruits who will help bolster each Big 12 school’s recruiting class.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

August, 11, 2014
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You aren't the only one interested in the start of preseason camp at various Big 12 schools. Several recruits have taken the opportunity to visit during preseason preparations to get a better feel for what to expect at each program as recruiting heats up.

BAYLOR
Total commits: 11
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: Manor (Texas) defensive end Erick Fowler, ranked No. 192 in the ESPNJr300, visited Baylor this week. His offers include Baylor, Nebraska, Oklahoma and UCLA. The four-star prospect has the ability to play defensive end or linebacker at the collegiate level.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 10
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Cyclones landed a commitment from receiver Denver Johnson (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma/Casady) last week. At 6-foot-3, 212 pounds, the three-star playmaker would bring terrific size to ISU’s receiving corps. After a slow start, the Cyclones have secured nine commitments since June.

KANSAS
Total commits: 13
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Former Maryland receiver Nigel King joined the Jayhawks and is eligible immediately. He has the ability to help KU’s passing attack after 33 receptions for 450 yards and four touchdowns for the Terps in 2013. A graduate transfer, King will be a junior this season.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: The Wildcats have entered the chase for Rancho Santa Margarita (California) Catholic High School prospect Austin Maihen with an reported offer to the 6-foot-5, 285 pound tackle. KSU joins Northern Arizona and San Diego State on his offer list.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 5
The latest: ESPN300 safety Jamile Johnson Jr. (Dallas/South Oak Cliff) decided to decommit from the Sooners and re-open his recruiting last week. The Sooners no longer appear to be in the race for his services with Johnson after finding themselves on the outside looking in when he released his top 5 schools later in the week.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 8
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Cowboys joined TCU and Baylor as stops for elite 2017 defensive end Anthony Hines (Plano, Texas/East) last week. Currently committed to Mississippi State, Hines already has around 50 offers and spent the week making stops at several schools in the region.

TCU
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 0
The latest: Gary Patterson’s desire to switch offenses to, in part, help recruiting is paying off for the Horned Frogs. TCU’s commitment list is tied with West Virginia as the biggest in the conference and features at least five receivers as it looks to add firepower to its new up-tempo passing attack.

TEXAS
Total commits: 14
ESPN 300 commits: 7
The latest: Texas joined Oklahoma as one of five teams that are scheduled to get an official visit from ESPN300 receiver Ryan Newsome. The Aledo (Texas) standout plans to visit UT on Oct. 4 and the Sooners on Nov. 8. Newsome is the No. 173 player in the ESPN300.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 9
ESPN 300 commits: 3
The latest: The Red Raiders continued to make a statement on the recruiting trail with the pledge of Arlington (Texas) Bowie tackle Madison Akamnonu. The No. 248 player in the ESPN300, Akamnonu picked Tech over Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and TCU.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 2
The latest: Dana Holgorsen’s program continues to have success in Florida, earning a commitment from Miami (Florida) Norland cornerback Antonio Howard. A three-star prospect, Howard picked WVU over offers from Clemson, Penn State and others. Seven of the Mountaineers’ 17 pledges are from Florida.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Preseason

August, 11, 2014
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In today’s mailbag, we discuss OU’s limbo players, Oklahoma State QB J.W. Walsh, Kansas State running back Dalvin Warmack, TCU coach Gary Patterson and whether the Red River Showdown would ever become a night game.

I took Twitter questions for this mailbag. But you can always submit a mailbag entry the traditional way by clicking here.

On to the 'bag:
Trotter: I have a bunch of favorites. Hideaway Pizza in Stillwater. Spanky's in Lubbock. Vitek's BBQ in Waco. They have a Primanti Bros. in Morgantown now. I always hit the Pappasito's near TCU's campus on the way out of Fort Worth. There are 20 places I like to eat at in Austin. I've never been to Hickory Park, but that's on my bucket list next time I'm in Ames.

Trotter: Can we wager on this?

Trotter: Not even a little. He's one of the main reasons TCU is even in the Big 12 with a new stadium. The last couple of years have been ugly, on and off the field. But two mediocre seasons while transitioning into a new conference do not wipe out Patterson's previously sterling track record.

Trotter: No chance. Officials at both schools would be nervous of what might transpire in the stands and out in the fair (where beer is served) between the burnt orange and crimson fan bases if that game were played at night.

Trotter: He has a chance. None of the veterans have seized that job yet. That keeps the door cracked for Warmack to be a factor, especially if he shines this preseason or early in the year if/when he gets a shot on the field.

Trotter: I'm going to guess zero. If Joe Mixon indeed hit a woman and broke bones in her face, he should have to sit out this season at the very, very least, regardless of the circumstances. But, the longer this Norman police investigation lingers, the more it makes you wonder...

Trotter: The Cowboys really, really want J.W. Walsh to be their guy. He's the leader of this team, and brings the toughness that you crave from your quarterback. But Daxx Garman's skill set is a better fit for the scheme Oklahoma State wants to run. Unlike Walsh, he has the arm strength to get the ball downfield to the receivers, which is the strongest position group on the entire team. Walsh is the quarterback. But if the offense bogs down again, as it did early last year, I think the staff will have no choice but to give Garman a chance.

Trotter: All four players would help the Sooners, but the answer is Dorial Green-Beckham. He's an NFL talent, and brings the one thing the Sooners really don't have right now, which is a big, physical receiver who can go up, make the catch and get the ball downfield. He would complement the rest of this offense really well. That said, the Sooners could use Baker Mayfield. Trevor Knight only started and finished three games last year. He has a tendency to get nicked up, and with Blake Bell now a full-time tight end, the current backups are inexperienced. Having the reigning Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year as a backup quarterback would be a nice insurance policy to have.

Trotter: Actually, there has been no signal whatsoever that the league has any interest in expanding. It will be interesting to see how the league fits into the playoff era. If the Big 12 struggles to get a team into the playoff, then I believe that would prompt the league to rethink the status quo. But one reason why the Big 12 has no interest in expanding is the lack of viable free agent options out there that would bring more to the revenue pie than they would take out. 
This week was a tough one for the football freshmen at Kansas State.

As part of the team's preseason camp initiation process, many of the freshmen were subjected to the razor.

The aftermath wasn't pretty.
 

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