Big 12: Oklahoma Sooners

In today's Twitter mailbag, we discuss the Oklahoma stadium renovation, the gap between TCU, Baylor and the rest of the conference and what could happen around the league in the days leading up to signing day.

On to the 'bag:
Trotter: James, of course, is referring to the report Wednesday that Oklahoma had delayed its stadium renovation plans, which president David Boren later vehemently denied. I have spoken to a couple of people about this and here's what I can say: The school has in fact endured fundraising issues, due in small part to the mediocre football season and due in large part to falling oil prices. (Oklahoma's economy, and thus donor base, is significantly tied to energy.) I have also heard rumblings that the school might ultimately scale back some of the original proposal, which at $370 million was ambitious to begin with. But as far as I know, the school has no plans to delay construction. In fact, I don't believe Boren has the authority to call off or delay construction without approval of the regents first. The regents did not discuss the stadium proposal in their meeting Wednesday, but you can bet they will be discussing it informally in the coming weeks before formally hashing out the next step at its scheduled March meeting in Tulsa.

Trotter: My money is on William Crest. I know Skylar Howard had some moments filling in for Clint Trickett last season. But there was a reason why Crest as a true freshman beat out Howard as the No. 2 quarterback coming out of August before suffering a shoulder injury. Howard's mobility added another dimension to the West Virginia offense. But he really struggled with his accuracy at times. Based on what I've heard about Crest and his potential, I think he's West Virginia's long-term answer behind center.

Trotter: I think so. Of course, we thought there would be a huge gap between Baylor/Oklahoma and rest of the conference this season. Then the Sooners finished 8-5. A lot can happen. Baylor could encounter issues replacing Bryce Petty at quarterback. TCU could struggle with new faces defensively. There could also be a surprise team come out of nowhere, just like TCU this past season. But with what the two teams have coming back, there's a lot more to like about TCU and Baylor right now than anyone else in the conference.

Trotter: Jordan Stevenson seems most likely, followed by Chris Carson, then Chris Warren III. But my educated guess is that none of three you mentioned will end up in Stillwater. That doesn't mean Oklahoma State won't land a high-profile running back. I just get the sense the Pokes are targeting a late flip from somewhere else, maybe. As for Devin Davis, I don't know that he's ever going to get over that devastating knee injury. That would be too bad, too, because people were talking about him as a potential first-round talent as a left tackle.

Trotter: Texas is putting together the most impressive recruiting class, though the Longhorns are taking quite a gamble. If they don't flip Kyler Murray from Texas A&M, they could whiff on signing a quarterback, which was the probably the biggest need in this class. Just about every class is going to have some impact in 2015, although Texas has some major pieces graduating. Considering the caliber of players the Longhorns are bringing in - and could bring in - the answer could be them also.

Trotter: I have no idea who Mack's front-runner is anymore. He canceled an unofficial visit to TCU this weekend, which isn't a great sign for the Horned Frogs. Of course, it doesn't rule them out, either. But there seems to be some Texas momentum with Mack. Murray, again, is huge for the Longhorns. It's the difference between them possibly having their quarterback of the future and the status quo, which wasn't great for them last year.

Trotter: Tech is hoping to land ESPN 300 defensive tackle Darrion Daniels and/or ESPN 300 RB Chris Warren III. I don't feel great about their chances for either, though we'll see what happens. Daniels is expected to announce between Texas Tech, Iowa, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State on Friday night. Warren seems like he's leaning toward either Washington or Texas. The Red Raiders are also still in on ESPN 300 defensive tackle Joseph Wicker, who is down to Arizona State, UCLA and Texas Tech, as well as three-star New Orleans linebacker Arthur McGinnis. If they can land one of Daniels, Wicker or McGinnis - and they can prevent any more decommitments - it will be a solid finish to a very solid class.

Trotter: I like K-State running back commit Alex Barnes, who is just a three-star prospect. Bill Snyder doesn't like to play freshmen, either, but Barnes has the size to help a backfield in need of help right away. Another underrated guy I think could be a factor next season is Oklahoma three-star cornerback Antoine Stephens. The Sooners desperately need CB reinforcements. And even though Stephens went under the radar with his recruitment, he has the size and range that Mike Stoops covets in his cornerbacks.

Trotter: I've never seen "Friday Night Lights" and I love Baylor fans. I'm just not sure they love me back.
Lincoln Riley’s new offense won’t hum without an engine.

The Oklahoma offensive coordinator is tasked with sparking the Sooners attack by returning OU’s passing game to the standard that helped carry Bob Stoops' team to its last BCS title game appearance in 2008.

Yet, the rebirth of OU’s explosive passing offense won’t happen without better quarterback play.

When Riley goes into detail about what he’s looking for in a quarterback, he removes any doubt that a quarterback’s success in his offense is more likely to be a result of intangibles than physical traits.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Knight
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiTrevor Knight's inconsistency was a big reason why Oklahoma's offense sputtered in the passing game at times.
“I just want a great player there,” he said. “You can go on down the line and look at places that have used this version of the offense. We’ve had tall, we’ve had short, we’ve had fast, we’ve had slow.”

Intangibles like quick, sound decision-making and leadership will rise to the forefront at quarterback in Riley’s offense. If the quarterback can consistently make the right decision and execute with precision, the defense is left searching for answers.

“We have to have a guy who can make decisions,” Riley said. "We have to have a guy that’s very accurate with the football. We want a guy who is a winner. We want a guy who, when he’s out there in the huddle and out there playing, the other 10 guys out there with him play better. If they can do those few things, then we’ll build it around the other characteristics that he may have or may not have.”

Great decisions and efficient execution were foreign to OU’s passing offense for the bulk of 2014 as the passing game took a nosedive when leading receiver Sterling Shepard went down with injury. A Sooners squad that threw as many interceptions as touchdowns in 2014 (17) never looked like the explosive offenses that had become commonplace in Norman during the program's run of Big 12 titles.

Inconsistency has become a signature of Trevor Knight, who can look like one of the nation’s top signal-callers on one Saturday then make costly mistakes the next. The sophomore’s 2014 campaign was marred by three game-changing interceptions in OU’s first three losses to TCU, Kansas State and Baylor but also supplemented by a six-touchdown outburst against Iowa State and a efficient performance in a home win against Tennessee.

Cody Thomas, who replaced Knight as the starter during OU’s final three regular season games after Knight was injured, had plenty of struggles of his own during his first extended collegiate action. He passed for 342 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions in three starts.

It’s not hard to see why that duo has sparked a search for hope. And hope’s name is Baker Mayfield.

But don’t pencil the Texas Tech transfer in as the Sooners’ starter, despite his extensive experience in the offense and impressive work on the scout team while sitting out the season due to transfer rules.

“He’s a very good player," Riley said of Mayfield. “We’re gonna be very blessed in that quarterback room. I’ve heard people on the outside say that’s a question mark. To me, we have three guys in that room who have started major college football games. There’s plenty to work with in that group.”

And, as the quarterbacks coach, it all falls on Riley. He has confidence that trio of quarterbacks can get it done, so any struggles OU has at the quarterback position this fall will be accompanied with disappointment. Not just disappointment in their growth and development, but queries into the decision to be content with them instead of looking to add another option behind center.

We’ve seen Air Raid-style offenses transform other quarterbacks into stars, with TCU’s Trevone Boykin as the most recent example. Lack of talent hasn’t been the reason for Knight's inconsistency. Mayfield’s credentials are the best of the bunch, but his career touchdown to interception ratio (12:9) looks awfully similar to Knight’s (23:17). Add Thomas and redshirt freshman Justice Hansen, and OU has four quarterbacks with resumes that would lead you to believe someone can get the job done.

There is not a talent vacuum at the position, but there isn't a go-to guy either.

“We have what we need in that room to be successful,” Riley said. “We have to get it implemented and get those guys coached.”

Big 12 morning links

January, 30, 2015
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Prediction time ... New England Patriots or Seattle Seahawks? I'm going with Seattle, Skittles and Sherman.
  • Kansas is working to prevent any more decommitments in its class, writes Matt Tait of the Lawrence Journal-World. The Jayhawks have seen three recruits decide they won't sign with Kansas on signing day during the past few weeks, including receiver Kevin Thomas, who flipped to SMU, and defensive back Arico Evans, who flipped to TCU. It's not unusual to see a recruiting class take hits after a coaching change. New head coach David Beaty is doing a solid job with the Jayhawks class, which features 23 current commitments. It's important to note that all decommitments aren't necessarily a bad thing when a coaching change occurs. There's no guarantee the incoming coach wants the recruit as much as the previous regime did and there is also no guarantee the recruit would be a good fit in the new system.
  • How important is Kyler Murray's decision? Matt Hinton, our colleague at Grantland, addresses the question as the elite quarterback prospect is set to decide between Texas and Texas A&M. The No. 13 player in the ESPN 300, Murray has plenty of options with college football's elite in hot pursuit and professional baseball looming as a legitimate option as well. I can't recall so much significance riding on the decision of one recruit. The Longhorns and Aggies will each have top-notch classes no matter what but it sure seems like Murray has replaced the Thanksgiving in-state rivalry game; he's become the face of bragging rights for both sides with his final destination unclear.
  • Former Kansas State receiver Tyler Lockett goes into detail about how he attacks defenders with ClevelandBrowns.com. Lockett is undersized yet not a speedster, which means it's pretty much a guarantee some teams will overlook him, much like several college football programs did when Lockett was in high school. The rest is history for KSU's all-time leading receiver. He had a solid showing at the Senior Bowl so I wouldn't be surprised if Lockett becomes one of the most productive rookie receivers in the NFL in 2015.
  • Oklahoma's program is a growing presence on social media, writes Eric Bailey of the Tulsa World. Bob Stoops' Twitter feed lets everyone know when the Sooners land a commitment and the bulk of the staff has been increasing its social media presence in recent years. It's no surprise Oklahoma has seen clear improvements on the recruit trail as the Sooners began to catch up with the times and start to get more active and creative on social media. It's also not a surprise that a few of OU's top recruiters, particularly defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery, are the most active Sooners coaches on social media.
  • How did West Virginia get longtime Georgia commit Shaquery Wilson to flip to the Mountaineers? By planning to put the ball in his hands, writes Allen Taylor of WV MetroNews. The Bulldogs projected him to play cornerback while Dana Holgorsen wants to put Wilson at receiver. The four-star prospect could have the chance to make an immediate impact in Morgantown with Mario Alford and Kevin White moving on. Landing Wilson is a huge credit to the WVU coaching staff, who kept pursuing him and finally landed his commitment in the home stretch of the recruiting cycle.

Big 12's top recruiting visits 

January, 30, 2015
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It's not a huge visit weekend in the Big 12 with most programs having the bulk of their class locked in and most recruits already committed to the school of their choice.

Yet Kansas State, Oklahoma and Texas are among the Big 12 schools that will be hosting prospects that could end up filling a need or stand as one of the top signees in their Class of 2015.

What a 2014 season it was in the Big 12. The league featured major upsets, thrilling finishes and a pair of elite teams in TCU and Baylor who staged a shootout classic in Waco.

Below is a look back on the 13 most memorable Big 12 games of 2014:

No. 1: Oct. 11 – No. 5 Baylor 61, No. 9 TCU 58
Not only was this the game of the year in the Big 12, it might have been the game of the year in college football. TCU led by 21 in the fourth quarter after Marcus Mallet 's interception return for a touchdown. But the Horned Frogs couldn't hold on as Bryce Petty took over the rest of the way. The fourth quarter in Waco proved to be the difference in TCU not making the playoff.

No. 2: Nov. 1 – No. 7 TCU 31, No. 20 West Virginia 30
Carrying a nine-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Mountaineers were on the verge of throwing their hat into the Big 12 title race. Instead, West Virginia got conservative offensively, allowing the Horned Frogs to come back and nail a 37-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired. The Mountaineers never really recovered and wound up losing four of five games to end the season.

[+] EnlargeKD Cannon
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsKD Cannon and Baylor won in what turned out to be arguably the most pivotal game in the country this season, a shootout victory over TCU.
No. 3: Dec. 6 – Oklahoma State 38, Oklahoma 35
Once again, Bedlam delivered in the drama department. Behind two touchdowns late in the game, true freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph led the Cowboys to an improbable rally, capped by Tyreek Hill's 92-yard punt return touchdown to send the game to overtime, where the Pokes prevailed. The result had an impact on the trajectory for both programs, as Oklahoma State became bowl-eligible and the Sooners went on to get blasted in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

No. 4: Jan. 1 – No. 5 Michigan State 42, No. 8 Baylor 41
After TCU's 42-3 waxing of Ole Miss the previous day, the Big 12's top two teams were on the verge of sending a powerful message to the playoff committee. Instead, even though Petty set a Cotton Bowl Classic record with 550 passing yards, the Bears squandered a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter to sap their playoff snub argument.

No. 5: Dec. 31 – No. 6 TCU 42, No. 9 Ole Miss 3
Suggesting that they might have been one of the two best teams in the country despite getting snubbed from the playoff, TCU obliterated the Rebels in a game that was over before halftime.

No. 6: Oct. 4 – No. 25 TCU 37, No. 4 Oklahoma 33
After their Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama, Oklahoma was the preseason pick to win the Big 12. That began to unravel in Fort Worth as the Sooners went in the tank offensively late. Paul Dawson's interception of Trevor Knight and touchdown return was the only score of a fourth quarter that proved to be the springboard for TCU's 12-1 season.

No. 7: Oct. 18 – West Virginia 41, No. 4 Baylor 27
The Bears were riding high after their comeback victory over TCU. But the following week, Petty & Co. couldn't sustain that offensive momentum as West Virginia knocked off a top-five team on its third try. On the same weekend his father suffered a heart attack, Clint Trickett was magnificent, with 322 yards passing and three touchdowns as he outdueled Petty.

No. 8: Nov. 15 – No. 4 TCU 34, Kansas 30
The Horned Frogs were on the inside of the playoff as they made the trip to Kansas. That ride almost came to a complete end in Lawrence. The Jayhawks gave TCU quite a scare, holding a 27-17 second-half lead before running out of steam. Still, even though they escaped with the victory, the Horned Frogs dropped out of the top four of the playoff poll the following week.

No. 9: Oct. 18 – No. 14 Kansas State 31, No. 11 Oklahoma 30
Thanks to a late goal-line stand, K-State turned the Big 12 race on its head for good with a second consecutive victory in Norman. Quarterback Jake Waters spearheaded the upset, throwing for 225 yards and rushing for 51 more in a gutty performance in which he played through a shoulder injury. K-State stuck around in the Big 12 title race until the final week of the season, while the Sooners went on to lose three more times.

No. 10: Nov. 8 – No. 12 Baylor 48, No. 15 Oklahoma 14
Nothing signaled the changing of the guard in the Big 12 more than Baylor's absolute white-washing of Oklahoma in Norman. Petty was serious when he said the week before that he was "ready for OU" as he threw for 387 yards, including 224 to Corey Coleman. Baylor went on to join the Sooners (2006-08) as the Big 12's only other back-to-back conference champ.

No. 11: Oct. 25 – No. 10 TCU 82, Texas Tech 27
This wasn't a great game, but it was a memorable one. After all TCU set a Big 12 conference game record with 82 points. Amazingly, the game was relatively close in the second quarter. Then TCU outscored Tech 49-7 in the second half.

No. 12: Nov. 29 – No. 7 Baylor 48, Texas Tech 46
The Red Raiders ended their season going down swinging as true freshman Pat Mahomes threw for 598 yards and six touchdowns. The 25-point second-half rally came up short, though, after Mahomes was unable to get off a pass on the potential game-tying two-point conversion.

No. 13: Oct. 18 – Texas 48, Iowa State 45
Maybe the most underrated and most exciting finishes of the Big 12 season. Twenty-four points were scored in the final five minutes, including Nick Rose's game-winning field goal from 21 yards out with three seconds to go.

The next best 10 of 2014
West Virginia 37, Texas Tech 34
Auburn 20, Kansas State 14
Florida State 37, Oklahoma State 31
West Virginia 40, Maryland 37
Oklahoma 31, Texas 26
Alabama 33, West Virginia 23
Kansas State 32, Iowa State 28
UCLA 20, Texas 17
UCLA 40, Kansas State 35
Oklahoma 45, West Virginia 33

Big 12 morning links

January, 29, 2015
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Add LaDainian Tomlinson to the list of people who think the Big 12 needs a conference championship game...
  • It was a weird Wednesday in Oklahoma. Early in the afternoon, SoonerScoop.com reported that Oklahoma had put its $370 million stadium expansion plans on hold, citing a problem in fundraising due to falling oil prices as well as the Sooners' 8-5 record in 2014. But after the OU regents meeting in Lawton, president David Boren categorically denied those claims, even pulling out a printed copy of the report from his pocket calling it "false." Boren added that the stadium expansion project will be discussed at the next regents meeting in March. That will be one interesting meeting.
  • Speaking of the regents meeting, the Sooners announced terms agreed to with new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. The contract is a two-year deal that will play Riley $500,000 per year. That salary would have ranked 11th among Big 12 assistants last season. Not bad for someone only 31 years old.
  • Kansas State does not have a nonconference opponent from a power league on its 2015 football schedule, and is unlikely to add one in 2016, reports Kellis Robinett of the Wichita Eagle. The Wildcats have a slot open in 2016, but it's likely they will fill it with a non-Power 5 program to get a guaranteed home game. It's difficult to hammer K-State too hard for this. After all, the Wildcats are coming off home-and-homes with Auburn and Miami in recent years. They also have a home-and-home coming up with Vanderbilt beginning in 2017. Still, when Big 12 teams schedule easy, it has a negative impact on the rest of the conference's strength of schedule, which is more important than ever in the playoff format.
  • West Virginia added to its already strong recruiting class by getting four-star wide receiver Shaquery Wilson to flip from Georgia, where he had previously been committed since last summer (Wilson confirmed the flip on Twitter here). The Mountaineers helped seal the deal by recruiting Wilson as a receiver: Georgia wanted him as a defensive back. West Virginia currently has the No. 30-ranked recruiting class, though that could go up with Wilson now on board.
  • Sticking with recruiting, Kansas got some rough news Tuesday night when longtime tight end commit Josh Moore reopened his recruitment. Moore, who had previously pledged to Ohio State, was the top-rated recruit in Kansas' class, and had stuck by his commitment through the coaching transition from Clint Bowen to David Beaty. This is not the way Beaty wanted to close out his first recruiting class. Moore is the third recruit to decommit from the Jayhawks in the last week, joining three-star WR Kevin Thomas, who flipped to SMU, and three-star athlete Arico Evans, who is now headed to TCU.
Oklahoma’s football roster has too much talent to finish 8-5.

From the coaching staff to the players, the Sooners underachieved in 2014. And it’s hard to lay the sole blame on one position as OU quarterbacks and receivers struggled while several other positions were inconsistent. But the secondary proved to be a clear weak link on a defense that finished No. 8 nationally against the run.

Position to improve: Defensive backs

Why it was a problem: It would have been easy to single out the cornerbacks, but that would have let the safeties off the hook. And vice versa. Thus the entire defensive backfield shoulders the blame as OU simply couldn’t trust its defensive backs to win their one-on-one battles in 2014. Cornerback Zack Sanchez won his share of individual battles on his way to six interceptions and All-Big 12 honors while safeties Ahmad Thomas and Quentin Hayes were among OU’s top five tacklers. Yet, OU’s defensive backs as a whole struggled throughout the season as the Sooners allowed 276.23 passing yards per game, ninth in the Big 12 and No. 117 among FBS teams. The Sooners' blowout home loss to Baylor spotlighted the lack of answers in the secondary.

How it can be fixed: Cornerbacks coach Bobby Jack Wright has retired so OU is likely to add another coach to help Mike Stoops coach the secondary, meaning new ideas and a change in approach could be step one. ESPN300 cornerback and current OU commit P.J. Mbanasor should help while upping the competition at cornerback. Sophomore cornerback Jordan Thomas, who flashed his talent at times as a freshman, should be improved and sophomore safety Steven Parker could help answer some questions at safety. Add ESPNJC50 cornerback William Johnson and the Sooners should have the depth to match up with spread offenses much better in 2015. The key for the Sooners is having at least eight defensive backs ready to play at a starting level next fall instead of having five clear starters then watching the secondary fall apart when the injury bug hits and an untested player gets thrown into the fire.

Early 2015 outlook: Recruiting misses and slow development played a major role in OU’s terrible pass defense in 2014. Added depth, competition and a new coaching style should combine to make this an improved unit. After all, it’s hard to go anywhere but up for OU's secondary.
The first Wednesday of February brings hope to every college football fan as the stars of the future sign on the dotted line, changing the destiny of their programs.

It’s easy to look at a recruiting class on paper and slot newcomers into need positions. But it doesn’t always work out that way. Now is a good team to revisit the Class of 2014 and see what “can’t miss” prospects fulfilled those expectations and which ones are still striving to meet those lofty projections.

Here’s a look at some of the Big 12’s most talked about signees a year ago and their impact, or lack thereof, on the Big 12 as true freshmen.

Baylor receiver KD Cannon: Cannon lived up to the hype. The No. 30 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 was the Big 12’s top-ranked recruit and one of the nation’s top freshmen. He looked every bit the five-star recruit he was laveled as, finishing with 50 receptions for 1,030 yards and eight touchdowns. He will enter his sophomore season as one of the Big 12’s most feared playmakers thanks to his blazing speed and sticky hands.

Iowa State receiver Allen Lazard: Another ESPN 300 receiver who lived up to the hype, Lazard was asked to help fill the void when the Cyclones lost Quenton Bundrage in their season opener. The No. 148 player in the 2014 class responded with 45 receptions for 593 yards and three touchdowns.

Kansas center Jacob Bragg: It wasn’t over the top to think that Bragg could slide right into Kansas' offensive line as one of two ESPN 300 signees for the Jayhawks. Yet three-star signee Junior Visalia was KU’s impact true freshman offensive lineman, starting the Jayhawks' final three games after Ngalu Fusimalohi was injured. Bragg redshirted but did impress during his redshirt season and could be poised to force his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman.

Kansas State defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales: The lone Big 12 team without an ESPN 300 signee, the Wildcats did land four players on the ESPN JC 50, including Clinkscales. The junior college transfer was Bill Snyder’s only four-star signee but didn’t make much of an impact for the Wildcats. He finished with two tackles in eight games in 2014.

Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine: As crazy as it sounds, Perine wasn’t even the highest-ranked running back on the Sooners' signee list. Joe Mixon had that honor and looked ready to make an impact before an off-the-field incident took him out of the equation. Perine, who was creating a similar summer buzz, stepped right in to become the Big 12’s top freshman, set the FBS record for single-game rushing yards (427 against Kansas) and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors. The No. 220 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 finished with 1,713 rushing yards, 6.5 yards per carry and 21 touchdowns as a true freshman.

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph: His unique freshman season has been well-documented, as the Cowboys’ top-ranked signee went from redshirting to beating Oklahoma in Bedlam in a matter of weeks. Rudolph enters the spring as the Cowboys starting quarterback.

TCU running back Shaun Nixon: A preseason knee injury kept the No. 221 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 from having an impact as a true freshman.

Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard: It sure seemed like Heard was supposed to cure all ills at the quarterback position in Austin at this time a year ago. Now many people have already written him off after a redshirt season during his first fall on campus. The No. 149 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 still has the potential to be the answer behind center for UT, but the time is now for Heard to seize the opportunity to be a difference maker for the Longhorns.

Texas Tech cornerback Nigel Bethel II: The Red Raiders lone ESPN 300 signee, Bethel made an impact as a true freshman after missing the first three games due to suspension. The Florida native started seven games during his debut season, finishing with 41 tackles and six pass breakups in nine games. Bethel should be even better as a sophomore.

West Virginia safety Dravon Henry: The ESPN 300 safety was a starter from day one for the Mountaineers. Henry had 45 tackles and two interceptions in 13 games for WVU as a true freshman and should be a key contributor in the secondary in 2015 and beyond. The No. 140 player in the 2014 ESPN 300 has the versatility to expand his role in the defense as a sophomore.

Big 12 morning links

January, 28, 2015
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Prepared a successful salmon dish last night. Tweet me if you want the recipe.
  • The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal got a copy of the contract of David Gibbs, Texas Tech's new defensive coordinator. Not surprisingly, Tech had to pony up to snag Gibbs, who was coveted by other schools. Gibbs has a two-year contract that will pay him $550,000 a year. Mike Stoops (Oklahoma), Josh Heupel (Oklahoma), Tom Bradley (West Virginia), Vance Bedford (Texas), Shawn Watson (Texas), Joe Wickline (Texas) and Phil Bennett (Baylor) were the only Big 12 assistants that made more than $550,000 last year, according to USA TODAY. After years of instability at defensive coordinator and seasons of mediocre defense, as well, this was a hire the Red Raiders needed to make. Even with the cost.
  • Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman delves into the nation's hottest recruiting battle this year, which happens to be between Texas and Texas A&M. The Longhorns and Aggies are duking it out for the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB in Kyler Murray (more on Murray here from The Sporting News). Murray has been committed to A&M for awhile, but is considering a flip to the Longhorns. "It feels like Murray or Bust for UT," Feldman writes, "especially perception-wise as Strong tries to get some momentum in-state" I can't disagree. We don't know yet what kind of QB Murray will develop into. But we do know what kind of message it would send if Charlie Strong grabbed a prospect of Murray's talent from A&M.
  • Kansas State has enjoyed plenty of success with players from the Sooner State, notably from the Lockett family. Tuesday, the Wildcats picked up another Oklahoman in three-star defensive back Darreyl Patterson, who committed to K-State over the Sooners and Louisville. Patterson visited Manhattan this past weekend.
  • The Charleston Daily Mail's Mike Casazza crunched the numbers on West Virginia's current scholarship situation. According to Casazza, the Mountaineers have 90 scholarship promised out at the moment, including the incoming recruiting class (the NCAA limit is 85). Even though it sounds bad, this is actually not a bad place to be. Defection strikes every program during the offseason. There's always the chance some recruit flips his commitment elsewhere before signing day. Better to be where West Virginia is then well under the 85-man limit and scrambling to add players in the week leading up to signing day.
  • Oklahoma safety Hatari Byrd was cited on complaints of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of alcohol by a minor early Saturday morning, the Tulsa World's Guerin Emig reported. Byrd will be spending a lot of time with Sooner strength coach Jerry Schmidt in the coming weeks.

Big 12 Tuesday mailbag

January, 27, 2015
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Could Baylor end up with a quarterback problem? How high could Texas' recruiting class rise? Those answers and more in Tuesday's mailbag. As always, thanks for your questions (way to step up after letting Longhorn nation take over for a week). To submit questions for next week's mailbag, click here.

Chris J. in Houston, Texas, writes: If the playoffs expand to include automatic bids for conference champions, does this affect end of season out of conference rivalries? Do you think coaches might rest or limit players knowing they essentially have a play-in game the following week?

Brandon Chatmon: Man, you leapfrogged a couple of steps here Chris. But if it ever gets to that, I definitely could see coaches making decisions like that because as important as rivalries are in college football, I think winning a national title would rise above them. I really don't see this becoming a major problem anytime soon, though.

James in Wheeling, West Virginia, writes: Can you see the Big 12 being West Virginia's permanent home? If not, where do you think we fit in best?

BC: Ready to jump ship already James? It's only been three years.

Wallace in Cincinnati writes: I hate that football has ended, and I'm not an NFL fan so my season ended January 12th, but I digress. So what needs to occur for the Big 12 to expand from 10 teams to 12? They were already left at the alter by the College Playoff Committee for not having a "true champion." Is it going to take another year of missing out on the playoff? Or having a team like Texas or Oklahoma miss out before Bob Bowlsby realizes he needs to expand the conference to have a conference championship game?

BC: A conference full of athletic directors who want to expand would be a good start. It would probably take a consistent, multi-year trend of missing out on the playoffs before expansion becomes a real consideration. As much as some people want it to happen, expansion is not a priority right now.

Rob in Denver writes: Any idea why TCU isn't in the running to get Devonte Fields back? From his stats in JUCO I'm not sure the Frogs would want him back, but I was curious. At this point, chances of the Frogs landing Daylon Mack?

BC: Why would TCU want Fields back? He had plenty of chances in Gary Patterson's program and the Horned Frogs just won 12 games without him. As far as Mack, it feels like TCU has a decent shot, the Horned Frogs would be making a terrific statement if they landed the No. 6 player in the ESPN 300.

Josh writes: Who do you think will take over the quarterback duties in Norman? Who fits the Lincoln Riley offense better?

BC: Baker Mayfield would be my favorite but it could be anybody's job. I'm not ready to give up on Trevor Knight and we never know how Cody Thomas or Justice Hansen will fit in Riley's offense. It should be a fun spring to watch in Norman.

Stanley Wren in Houston writes: Could you see a scenario whereas a Big 12 team went undefeated in '15 and was not included in the top 4 of the College Football Playoff?

BC: No.

Justin in the UK writes: How do you think all the crazy recruiting possibilities at Texas are going to pan out?

BC: I have a feeling UT will end up with a top-5 class. Charlie Strong is after a bunch of elite recruits during the home stretch and the Longhorns already have a strong class. If they're able to flip Kyler Murray or Kai Locksley and land Daylon Mack or Chris Warren as they close with a bang, UT could become the talk of signing day.

Robert in Tulsa, Oklahoma, writes: Am I the only Baylor fan concerned the Bears have a logjam under center and could end up having all the young ones transfer away? I think people jump to Seth Russell being the answer too quickly and forget that Chris Johnson was the #5 Dual Threat QB when he came out of high school. With Chad President already gone, I'm concerned Jarrett Stidham and Johnson will get antsy and leave? Am I overreacting?

BC: I think so. First, Art Briles is in charge. Enough said. Second, it's never bad to have several quality options at quarterback, most of the Big 12 would love to be in the same position. Third, Baylor isn't going to have a problem attracting talented quarterbacks if someone does leave. Who wouldn't want to trigger that offense?

Big 12 morning links

January, 27, 2015
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As Ron Burgundy would say, that escalated quickly...
  • Remember Devonte Fields, who was the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year before getting booted from TCU in late July? Well, Fields, who spent last year at Trinity Valley (Texas) Community College, is taking a visit to Louisville this weekend. Our man Max Olson, by the way, broke the story. Hopefully Fields has his life in order, and is able to put his football career back on track. No doubt, Fields is an immense talent with loads of potential. Which, considering they did it without Fields, makes the Horned Frogs' remarkable 2014 turnaround all the more remarkable.
  • Speaking of the Horned Frogs, ex-TCU cornerback Kevin White was one of the "winners" from the Senior Bowl over the weekend, according to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread. "White showed the skills needed to play either cornerback or nickelback," Goodbread wrote, "and such versatility could help his draft status significantly." Goodbread wasn't so high on former Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, though the writer noted Petty had the quickest release of any Senior Bowl QB.
  • Texas' recruiting class got more good news when ESPN 300 wideout John Burt committed back to the Longhorns after reopening his recruitment earlier this month and giving Auburn a hard look. The Longhorns now have 10 ESPN 300 commitments Insider and counting. New wide receivers coach Jay Norvell, who had previously been an assistant at Oklahoma since 2008, has already begun to make an impact in Austin; he appeared to have a hand in Burt's reaffirmation.
  • New Kansas coach David Beaty continued his delve into the Lone Star State, landing a pair of Texas prospects in College Station receiver Jeremiah Booker and Dorance Armstrong, a three-star defensive end from Houston. The Jayhawks did lose DeSoto, Texas, receiver Kevin Thomas to SMU over the weekend. But Beaty now has 16 commitments on board from the state of Texas. That is a development that should excite the Kansas fan base.
  • Former Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has landed on his feet as the playcaller at Utah State, noted The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel. Heupel had some great seasons as a QB coach at OU, then some good ones as the offensive coordinator. After the Sooners struggled to an 8-5 finish with a pistol zone-read that Heupel never seemed comfortable calling, he ultimately became the fall guy. But Heupel should look no further than Manny Diaz for inspiration of how to bounce back. After flaming out at Texas, Diaz went to Louisiana Tech and coordinated a top-40 defense. Now, he's back in the Power 5 as the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State. Likewise, Heupel could make a quick bounce back.

Big 12 recruiting scorecard

January, 26, 2015
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It's the most wonderful time of the year! Signing day is less than 10 days away. The second-to-last official visit weekend is in the books. Here's where the Big 12 recruiting classes stand entering the final stretch:

BAYLOR
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 27th
The latest: The Bears added a fourth offensive lineman to their class on Sunday in the form of Ringling, Oklahoma, guard Riley Daniel. He chose Baylor after an official visit this weekend and a trip to Texas Tech last weekend. Baylor is also battling the Red Raiders for three-star Louisiana cornerback Henry Black, who visited Waco over the weekend.

IOWA STATE
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Iowa State is searching for a running back to replace Devine Ozigbo, who flipped to Nebraska earlier this month. Might the answer be Joshua Thomas? The three-star back from Buford, Georgia, appears to be down to Iowa State and Wisconsin. A decision is expected soon. Thomas visited the Badgers this weekend. Another recruit to keep an eye on: Julian Good-Jones, the Cyclones' tackle commit who visited Louisville this weekend.

KANSAS
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Kansas picked up five intriguing pledges from the state of Texas in the last week -- DE Dorance Armstrong, WR Jeremiah Booker, WR Steven Sims, LB Osaze Ogbebor and former Tulsa CB commit Shola Ayinde -- but also lost two significant commits over the weekend. On Sunday, three-star receiver Kevin Thomas flipped to SMU and three-star athlete Arico Evans made his flip to TCU.

KANSAS STATE
Total commits: 17
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: Not ranked
The latest: Kansas State will be a finalist for one Georgia prospect on signing day and will have to do some work to ensure another stays in the fold. Three-star defensive end G.G. Robinson, a Louisville commit, visited K-State over the weekend and hails from Lilburn, Georgia. Meanwhile, three-star OLB commit Mohamed Barry took an official visit to Nebraska and will make his final decision between KSU, Nebraska and Miami on Thursday.

OKLAHOMA
Total commits: 20
ESPN 300 commits: 8
ESPN JC50 commits: 3
Class rank: 17th
The latest: The Sooners are likely going to part ways with ESPN 300 defensive tackle Marquise Overton, whose ACT score has the OU staff concerned he won't qualify. A key target to take his place in the OU class is four-star Darrion Daniels. The Dallas defensive tackle visited Iowa this weekend and is expected to decide this week, though Texas Tech might be the favorite at the moment.

OKLAHOMA STATE
Total commits: 18
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 35th
The latest: The Cowboys moved quickly to land ESPN 300 athlete Louis Brown after he parted ways with Texas last weekend. Brown took an official visit to OSU and made his commitment on Saturday night. The Burton, Texas, native will likely play defensive end. OSU also held its first junior day for the 2016 class this weekend.

TCU
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 0
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 37th
The latest: The Horned Frogs loaded up on speed this weekend. First they secured a commitment from Kavontae Turpin, an electric receiver and returner from Monroe, Louisiana. Then came the commitment from Arico Evans, who'd pledged to Kansas earlier this month. He accounted for 34 total touchdowns as a quarterback at Dallas Hillcrest this season.

TEXAS
Total commits: 23
ESPN 300 commits: 9
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 9th
The latest: Texas had a big-time weekend with five-star DT Daylon Mack, ESPN 300 running back Soso Jamabo and ESPN 300 athlete Kai Locksley in town for official visits. Mack and Jamabo will announce their decisions on signing day. Locksley, an important QB target for Texas after losing Zach Gentry to Michigan, will go home and mull over whether he should flip from Florida State. The Horns also brought in Georgia DB commit Deandre Baker and Dominique Reed, the nation's No. 4 juco receiver. Texas also picked up a re-commitment on Monday from ESPN 300 wide receiver John Burt, who'd backed out earlier this month to reconsider Auburn.

TEXAS TECH
Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 0
Class rank: 33rd
The latest: The Red Raiders picked up a commitment last week from three-star offensive lineman Cody Wheeler of powerhouse Allen High School in Texas. He was one of the many official visitors in Lubbock over the weekend, a list headlined by ESPN 300 running back Chris Warren III. Three-star defensive end pledge Lonzell Gilmore visited Baylor over the weekend.

WEST VIRGINIA
Total commits: 24
ESPN 300 commits: 3
ESPN JC50 commits: 1
Class rank: 25th
The latest: In addition to landing a commitment from three-star lineman Rob Dowdy, West Virginia had a big-time weekend with three Florida studs visiting Morgantown: four-star Miami pledge RB Mark Walton, four-star Georgia commit WR Shaquery Wilson and ESPN 300 receiver Antonio Callaway. Another Florida native, four-star athlete Jordan Cronkrite, will decide between WVU and Florida on signing day.

Big 12 morning links

January, 26, 2015
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It was good to see some Big 12 standouts making plays in the Senior Bowl.
  • Landing local recruits has played a key role in Baylor's rise, writes John Werner of the Waco Tribune. From safety Ahmad Dixon to defensive tackle Andrew Billings, Art Briles' program is starting to keep the bulk of the best players in the Waco area at BU. Briles makes an important point in the story, noting that Baylor recruits those local stars because they can help compete for championships, not because they are local stars.
  • Texas lost a commitment from ESPN300 quarterback Zach Gentry so landing a quarterback commitment in the final days of recruiting is important for Charlie Strong's program, writes Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News. It was interesting to see the reaction to Gentry's flip to Michigan over the weekend. It was as if Gentry was a lock to step in and answer the questions at the quarterback position in Austin. But, realistically, the chances of Gentry, Kyler Murray or Kai Locksley stepping in as true freshman and leading UT into Big 12 title contention aren't particularly high. It's much more likely the immediate answer is already on campus or could arrive via transfer during this offseason. The odds aren't in the favor of any true freshman quarterback -- no matter how elite-- transforming UT's outlook in Year 1.
  • A solid look at Texas Tech commitment D'Vonta Hinton from Jason McDaniel of the Houston Chronicle includes how questions about his height have placed a chip on Hinton's shoulder. "If size matters why isn't the elephant king of the jungle?" Hinton ponders in the piece. I like this guy already.
  • Could Samaje Perine be even better in Year 2? The Oklahoma running back earned All-Big 12 honors while rushing for 1,713 yards during his first semester on campus. Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World looks at ways Perine could be even more productive as a sophomore, from increased touches to improved measurables after a offseason in OU's strength and conditioning program. I could see Perine being better but less productive as a sophomore with other talented running backs on the roster and the Sooners unlikely to lean on Perine and the running game for most of its offensive success. It will be interesting to see how he grows as a player and how the offense evolves around him under new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
  • Several Big 12 players made an impression with their play in the Senior Bowl but a TCU Horned Frog was one of Todd McShay's top 10 performers Insider at the event in Mobile, Alabama. One year after Jason Verrett went from standout on TCU's defense to NFL first-round pick, Kevin White has his stock on the rise after a strong showing. He may not go as high as Verrett but he's on the road to landing on an NFL roster if he continues to perform like he did during the past week.
In today's Big 12 mailbag, we discuss the Top 25 player ranking, the looming QB derbies in Waco and Manhattan, the Texas recruiting wars, Oklahoma State running backs and, curiously, Kurt Russell.

On to the 'bag:

Trotter: We're big fans of Washington here on the blog. We made him a second-team All-Big 12 selection. But the top 25 player ranking was a tough list to crack. A number of other terrific players like Oklahoma's Sterling Shepard and Baylor's Antwan Goodley didn't make the list, either. Washington has a chance, though, to open next year on the preseason top 25 list as one of the league's top returning running backs.

Trotter: Rennie Childs is the obvious bet at this point, since he's the only healthy scholarship running back currently on campus. But I think the Cowboys land a marquee back before signing day. Oklahoma State has a powerful pitch to make, and that's immediate playing time. Keep an eye on Chris Carson, who is an ESPN Junior College 50 prospect. Carson has been committed to Georgia since August, but he's reportedly taking a visit to Stillwater this weekend. Because they can offer playing time -- and Georgia can't having Nick Chubb -- I think the Cowboys have a decent chance to flip Carson.

Trotter: I believe that Briles believes or was told that. But after Heather Dinich spoke with College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock, it doesn't seem very likely that Briles got good info, considering the playoff votes are taken via secret ballot over computer.

Trotter: The Red River Showdown hasn't been the league's most important game in seven years. I don't see why next season would be any different.

Trotter: "Miracle." But "Death Proof," "Escape from L.A.," "Tombstone," "Poseidon" and even "Overboard" have high rewatchability.

Trotter: Yes, but only if he's not the best quarterback. If he is, Baylor should start him. That would give him four seasons.

Trotter: I think so. Incoming freshman Alex Delton is an intriguing prospect, but Bill Snyder isn't prone to playing true freshmen anywhere, much less at quarterback. Joe Hubener has three years in the system, which gives him a huge advantage over the others. He has good size, good speed and a good arm, from what I hear. If he takes care of the ball he will be tough to unseat.

Trotter: No latest. If you read my Q&A with commissioner Bob Bowlsby from earlier this week, you'll know that there are no immediate plans for either. The only change I see the Big 12 making is eliminating the "co-champions" rule. Otherwise, expect status quo.

Trotter: I already did a too-early Big 12 power poll for 2015, and I had Oklahoma State third. The Cowboys clearly have something that OU, Texas, Kansas State and West Virginia don't at the moment, and that's a quarterback (Mason Rudolph).

Trotter: Pretty good. Last I checked, Trevone Boykin is still on the roster.

Trotter: He will if he flips the gem of Texas A&M's recruiting class, Kyler Murray who is the nation's No. 13 overall player and top dual-threat quarterback, to Texas. That would send a strong message to College Station.

Art Briles' brash statements can ruffle some feathers, but tend to come with a dose of truth. The Baylor coach’s declaration that the Bears are one of the best programs in college football is backed by his program’s back-to-back Big 12 titles.

"We feel like we've established ourselves as somebody," Briles said shortly before the Cotton Bowl. "When you're looking at one of the better teams in the southwest part of the United States of America, Baylor is one of them."

[+] EnlargeCharlie Strong, Malcom Brown
AP Photo/Eric GayCoach Charlie Strong says finding players with strong character is the key to getting Texas back among the Big 12's elite teams.
That's right, parity has hit the Big 12. And it’s been around for a while.

Although it earned a Big 12 co-championship in 2012, Oklahoma hasn’t won an outright Big 12 title since 2010. Texas hasn’t won a conference title outright since 2009. Those two programs combined to win every Big 12 title from 2004 through 2010.

A conference that could point to Oklahoma and Texas as its standard bearers for the majority of the 2000s has seen five different teams win a share of the Big 12 title since 2010.

The immediate assumption is the problem can be found on the recruiting trail. As the Big 12’s most dominant performers slid down the standings, surely they slid down the recruiting rankings. After all, talent wins games.

The reality is different.

Oklahoma and Texas have finished 1-2 in the Big 12 in recruiting rankings every season since 2010. And each program finished among the top 20 nationally each season, including three top-five finishes by the Longhorns. According to ESPN recruiting analysts, here is a closer look at the top recruiting classes in the conference each year since 2010:

Class of 2014

  • Oklahoma No. 13 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Texas No. 16 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Baylor No. 22 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 28 in nation, 4th in Big 12
Class of 2013

  • Texas No. 16 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 17 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 27 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
  • Baylor No. 28 in nation, 4th in Big 12
Class of 2012

  • Texas No. 3 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 11 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Texas Tech No. 20 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
Class of 2011

  • Texas No. 5 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 11 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • Oklahoma State No. 23 in nation, 3rd in Big 12
Class of 2010

  • Texas No. 2 in nation, 1st in Big 12
  • Oklahoma No. 5 in nation, 2nd in Big 12
  • No other Big 12 team in top 25

Those recruiting rankings haven’t transferred to the field. Oklahoma has the best winning percentage during that span, with Oklahoma State and Baylor -- two programs lauded for their ability to develop and evaluate -- joining the Sooners in the top three. Texas is just eight games above .500 and in the bottom half of the conference.

Winning percentage since 2010

  1. Oklahoma 77.3 percent (51-15 overall)
  2. Oklahoma State 73.8 percent (48-17)
  3. Baylor 72.3 percent (47-18)
  4. Kansas State 69.2 percent (45-20)
  5. TCU 60.5 percent (23-15 in 38 games as Big 12 member)
  6. Texas 56.3 percent (36-28)
  7. Texas Tech 52.4 percent (33-30)
  8. West Virginia 47.4 percent (18-20 in 38 games)
  9. Iowa State 35.5 percent (22-40)
  10. Kansas 20 percent (12-40)
Development has been key as Oklahoma has been the Big 12’s best at developing its recruits into NFL draftees, followed by Baylor and Texas. The Sooners have the ability to attract elite talent and turn them into NFL players, and the Bears have excelled at evaluation and development, gradually rising up the recruiting rankings. Texas' individual talent has been evident on the field, but it hasn’t turned into great teams on the field.

NFL Draftees since 2010

  1. Oklahoma 28
  2. Baylor 17
  3. Texas 16
  4. TCU 13
  5. West Virginia 13
  6. Oklahoma State 10
  7. Kansas State 7
  8. Iowa State 5
  9. Kansas 4
  10. Texas Tech 4

What does it all mean?

Texas, under Mack Brown, was struggling to transform its talented signees into wins as a combination of poor evaluation and development hampered the Longhorns. First-year coach Charlie Strong has an eye on changing that trend.

"It's all about character, young men who want to change their lives," Strong said during his debut season. "The thing about it, I'm not looking for players who want to be mediocre. We don't need to be mediocre. That's not who we are. We need to recruit players who love football and want to do something special."

The Longhorns have made terrific inroads with their first full class under Strong, sitting atop the Big 12 and ranking No. 9 nationally in the Class of 2015.

The Sooners’ recruiting problems and lack of talent are grossly overstated. Bob Stoops' program is looking down at everyone in the Big 12 with the highest number of NFL draftees and best winning percentage since 2010, with only Texas consistently landing higher-ranked recruiting classes. Oklahoma isn’t as dominant as it was during the 2000s, but that has everything to do with the improved overall depth of the Big 12 more than the Sooners’ struggles. And Oklahoma looks poised to land another quality class, ranking second in the Big 12 and 17th nationally.

The foundation of Baylor’s rise is found in that program’s ability to turn overlooked recruits into stars. Turning two-star receiver Tevin Reese into an NFL draft pick is just one example of how Briles' program has risen to national prominence.

"You want to find the lifeline of our business, it's all about recruiting and getting the players that you need on campus and giving you a chance to sustain," Briles said. "We’ve proved we have substance as a football program. We have other things we need to prove at a very high level, and that to me is what it's all about. You know, that night will pass, there will be another night. We're not a one-night wonder."

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