Big 12: Texas Longhorns

Even though almost 10 months remain until the next national singing day, teams across the Big 12 have jumped off to fast starts in putting together their 2015 classes.

To catch you up on all the recruiting storylines that have developed so far, we checked in with ESPN.com senior national recruiting writer Jeremy Crabtree and Big 12 recruiting reporter Damon Sayles for their takes:

Which team has impressed you the most with its 2015 recruiting?

Crabtree: With all of the questions West Virginia faced in the offseason and the product the Mountaineers put on the field in 2013, you would think they would be struggling out of the gate with the 2015 class. But it has been the exact opposite. WVU has 10 commitments, including from one of the best receivers in the country, Jovon Durante. West Virginia is selling kids on an opportunity to play early and make a big difference in getting the program back on track. Plus, it has gone back to its roots and mined the very familiar recruiting territory of Florida for some of its best pledges.

Sayles: As much as I like what Texas Tech and TCU have done so far, I have to tip my hat to what West Virginia has accomplished. The Mountaineers have a pair of ESPN Junior 300 players in safety Kendrell McFadden and Durante. The Mountaineers are recruiting the state of Florida well; five of the 10 pledges are from the Sunshine State. West Virginia is off to a fast start, and with the program fresh off a successful spring game, more big-time commits could be coming soon.

Who has disappointed?


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Big 12's lunch links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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Tap, tap. I can't wait for this 30 for 30.
David Ash's broken foot is yet another blow to the Texas quarterback and his chances of locking down the starting quarterback job in 2014.

Ash missed the majority of the 2013 with concussion-like symptoms but was looking to get off to a fresh, and healthy, start under new coach Charlie Strong. Instead, this injury puts Ash back on the sideline for the remainder of the spring.

It’s the worst-case scenario for Ash in a lot of ways, as it opens the door for other quarterbacks to put a stranglehold on the position or, at the very least, give themselves an edge in the race to start for UT this fall. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes is one of three healthy quarterbacks expected to be available for the Longhorns’ spring game on April 19 and will get the chance to impress the new coaching staff while the other main competitors in the quarterback derby watch from the sidelines. Even though Ash will miss just the final week of spring football, his injury still removes competition in the final days of spring.

More competition is on the way with class of 2014 signee Jerrod Heard joining the mix in the summer and USC transfer Max Wittek possibly joining the fray if he decides to transfer to Texas.

For Texas, Ash’s injury makes the spring game a bit more difficult with just three healthy quarterbacks set to participate. But, more importantly, Ash’s injury has reaffirmed the Longhorns’ need for multiple options at the quarterback position. Ash has started 21 games during his UT career, giving him the experience edge over all of his competitors and the coaching staff a bit some peace of mind with a veteran option at the position. But he’s been unable to shake the injury bug during the past year, essentially putting all of the quarterbacks on even ground heading into the competition. This injury won’t help his case as he tries to win the job and prove himself as the best option during Strong’s initial season in Austin, Texas.

Don’t be surprised if UT’s pursuit of Wittek becomes an even higher priority, Swoopes’ development starts to accelerate and Heard’s summer is spent preparing the true freshman to play immediately.

Because if UT has learned anything from the past 12 months at the quarterback position, it's that one injury can turn Plan B into Plan A in a heartbeat.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Happy Friday, everybody. Here are the links...
We've been doing something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To submit a mailbag entry via Twitter, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You also still can send in questions the traditional way here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: So far, Oklahoma State running back/receiver Tyreek Hill, TCU safety Kenny Iloka and Kansas receiver Nick Harwell. With his speed, Hill could lead the league in all-purpose yards. Iloka is going to be a key piece in the best secondary in the Big 12. And Harwell should finally give the Jayhawks that go-to receiver they haven’t had since Dezmon Briscoe.

Trotter: The Cyclones get K-State in Ames the second week of the season, which could be a dangerous game for the Wildcats, who might get caught looking ahead to that Thursday night clash with Auburn. Another team that must pay heed is Oklahoma. The Sooners go to Iowa State the week before hosting Baylor in a game that could determine the Big 12 crown. OU can't afford to be looking ahead, either.

Trotter: I'm going to set it at 1 1/2, and I think I would actually bet the over. The Jayhawks are going to be better this season, and quite possibly good enough to steal two conference wins.

Trotter: Right now, the Red Raiders have one on campus, and that's well below the national average. I don't see an issue. The way Davis Webb has improved in the last five months, he's going to be the guy the next three seasons barring something unforeseen. That would still give Jarrett Stidham three seasons of eligibility to be the starter, if he redshirted next year. Patrick Mahomes will get this chances, too. Seems like what TTU is going to do is be really good at quarterback the next six years.

Trotter: I have no inside info here, but if the game is at 11 a.m. again, hit me up in the fall and I'll share with you my shortcut to the Texas State Fair.

Trotter: It was a move that had to be made. Sams is too talented to be standing on the sidelines. He's not going to instantly become an All-Big 12 receiver. But if they can devise ways to get Sams the ball in space, the move could work out well. I see Sams getting a lot of his touches through flares, screens, reverses and maybe a handoff or Wildcat formation here or there. If they can get Sams the ball 10 times a game, that will only help the K-State offense. Think Trevone Boykin in TCU's offense late last year. That's how I see Sams best fitting in.

Trotter: Playing? Yes. Starting? No. I think Williams ultimately favors one side of the ball. The most likely scenario is he still keeps a major role at running back, then gives coordinator Matt Wallerstedt 15-20 plays at outside linebacker, which is more than I would have predicted at the beginning of the spring. Williams can really help the defense, but not at the expense of playing 130 snaps.

Trotter: Bob Stoops, Art Briles, Mike Gundy, Bill Snyder and Gary Patterson have ironclad job security. Paul Rhoads and Kliff Kingsbury have nothing to worry about, either, and Charlie Strong is too new to have to worry (though in Austin, that could change fast). That leaves Charlie Weis and Dana Holgorsen, whose seats are warmest among Big 12 coaches. I think Weis just has to show improvement this season. He can't go 0-12. Holgorsen is the most interesting to watch. Considering the brutal schedule, it's very possible West Virginia is better than last year and still goes 5-7, which might not be enough for Holgorsen to keep his job. But if the Mountaineers go, say, 7-5 against that slate, then I would think Holgorsen would be deserving of another year. West Virginia has been recruiting at an impressive clip, and the schedule will line up more favorably in 2015.


jrodxc07 in Dallas writes: Jake, love the blog, nice work sir. I think you could make a case for incoming Baylor receiver K.D. Cannon as Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Can you explain why you left him off your list?

Trotter: Appreciate it, sir. Cannon was actually on the poll for Offensive Freshman of the Year two weeks ago. The newcomer poll was for transfers, which is why you didn't see him there.


I only care about the Big 12 writes: Please go ahead and give us your way-too early power rankings? That is, if you haven't already...

Trotter: I actually released a power poll in January that went this way: OU, Baylor, K-State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Tech, TCU, Iowa State, West Virginia, Kansas. I'll be updating it, though, after spring ball concludes.

Athlon ranks the Big 12 coaches

April, 10, 2014
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Athlon Sports has always been big on lists. And this week, Athlon’s Steven Lassan ranked all 128 FBS coaches. He also pulled out the top 10 Big 12 coaches.

As a disclaimer, this is NOT our list. This is Athlon’s. So forward all hate tweets and emails to them. Not me. I already get enough.

[+] Enlarge Art Briles
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT/Getty ImagesArt Briles' status has grown in the eyes of Athlon.
Without further ado:

1. Bob Stoops, Oklahoma

2. Art Briles, Baylor

3. Bill Snyder, Kansas State

4. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State

5. Gary Patterson, TCU

6. Charlie Strong, Texas

7. Paul Rhoads, Iowa State

8. Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech

9. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia

10. Charlie Weis, Kansas

Some observations:

  • Athlon prefers coaches who win conference championships. Briles, Snyder, Gundy and Stoops, the top four on this list, have won the past four Big 12 titles.
  • I went back and checked and noticed some interesting changes. Snyder was No. 1 in 2013, but dropped two spots this year (why, I’m not sure; K-State did win six of seven to close out the season). Mack Brown was No. 6 -- the same slot that Strong opened up here. Kingsbury moved up only one spot after going 8-5 in his first season.
  • In the eyes of Athlon, Patterson’s stock is falling. He was the No. 2 coach going into his first year in the Big 12 and was ranked third going into last season. On the flip side, Briles has made the biggest rise in the last two years, going from sixth to second after winning the Big 12 last season.
  • Athlon actually had Snyder fifth in 2012, which is hard to believe. We’re talking about one of the best coaches of all-time, right?
  • As you can see, I have a bigger beef with the 2012 and 2013 rankings than the 2014 one.
  • Kingsbury has the potential to ascend the most of anyone on this list. I don’t know that the No. 8 spot is completely unfair, considering he’s only been a head coach one season. But if he can turn Texas Tech into a Big 12 contender on a quasi-regular basis, he could jump several spots.
  • This is obviously not an easy list to compile. How do you weigh what Briles has done the last five years against what Snyder has the last 25? It’s all a matter of subjectivity.
AUSTIN, Texas -- A historic day on the University of Texas campus got even better Thursday, thanks to Les Miles.

The LSU head coach was photographed attending a UT history class along with his wife, Kathy.



Months ago, amid the coaching search to replace Mack Brown, a photo of Miles being spotted on Texas' campus might have burned down the Internet. But no need to panic, LSU fans, he's only in town for his family.

What's going on here? LSU wrapped up its spring practices last week, giving Miles and his wife time to get away this week and visit their daughter, Kathryn "Smacker" Miles, a freshman on the Longhorns women's swim team.

Miles also attended Texas' annual academic awards banquet on Wednesday night and told the Austin American-Statesman he was impressed by the event.

"It’s an affirmation of things being done right," Miles told the newspaper. “I think the message certainly is that to compete not only in the pool but in the classroom, and I think she’s enjoying that very much."

Miles is in Austin on the same day that President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush are scheduled to speak at the LBJ Presidential Library's Civil Rights Summit, honoring the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

video
Charlie Strong asked for a couple of months to let the dust settle and establish himself. That’s all the time he needed to get his point across as the new coach at Texas.

Since taking over in early January, Strong has visited multiple high school campuses throughout the state, hosted junior day events and used countless cellphone minutes to connect with players, coaches and parents. Gone, for now, is the perception that the job of replacing Mack Brown -- an iconic figure in college football -- would be too difficult for Strong.

The reality -- Strong’s directness, his X’s and O’s knowledge and win-now attitude -- is setting in with the Class of 2015 recruits. Strong is now the face of what many believe is the new Texas. The transformation took roughly 90 days.


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Big 12's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
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This is pretty great. Bravo, Charlie Weis.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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A bad day for Ball State.
We've done something different with Friday's Big 12 mailbag. From now on, we'll be including Twitter questions with the regular mailbag submissions. To send a mailbag question via Twitter going forward, simply include the hashtag #big12mailbag. You can also still send in questions and comments to the mailbag here, too.

To the 'bag...
Trotter: Right away? Very little chance. The TCU coaching staff seems to be relatively content with the way Trevone Boykin has performed in the new offense this spring. Down the line, Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could get a shot, especially if Boykin struggles or the offense bogs down like it did last year. But I feel fairly confident Boykin will open as TCU's starter.
Trotter: I don't think there's any doubt that running back Alex Ross has created the most buzz this spring among the young offensive players not named Trevor Knight. The assumption around Norman was Keith Ford would swiftly win the starting job after contributing to the running back rotation ahead of Ross last season despite being a year younger. But Ross has turned heads in the Sooners' closed scrimmages, and is carving out a role in the OU backfield, whether he starts or not.
Trotter: I got out of the business of predicting verbal commitments a long time ago. But I will say this: having Jarrett Stidham, the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB, already on board is going to make a huge difference for the Red Raiders in a bunch of these battles. He will prove to be an invaluable recruiter, and should sway several high-profile prospects out there to give Texas Tech a second and third look it might not get otherwise.
Trotter: Odds are the Cowboys lose to the defending national champs no matter who they start at quarterback. I doubt J.W. Walsh would lose the job (assuming he starts) based on that one game alone. Daxx Garman has been impressive this spring, and I love the potential of Mason Rudolph. But it could take a while for either to unseat Walsh, whose experience trumps all right now.
Trotter: The three guys I'd be watching for would be safety Steven Parker II, slot receiver Michiah Quick and running back Joe Mixon. The Sooners are in good shape at safety, but blue-chip true freshmen like Parker II have a history of playing immediately in the secondary in the Bob Stoops era. Sterling Shepard is going to need help at receiver, and Quick has the explosiveness to break into the rotation right away. Mixon was one of the best running back recruits in the country, and is probably too talented to redshirt.

YK Lee in Fort Wort, Texas, writes: On College Football Live, comments were made that the Big 12 champ (if OU or Baylor) would be in trouble for the playoffs due to non-conference schedules. But no mention was made of Alabama's non-conference schedule, which includes an FCS team. Why does ESPN seem to have a bone to pick against the Big 12?

Trotter: Are we seriously going to do this every week? To recap from last Friday, here's who else Alabama has scheduled out-of-conference the last five years: West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Penn State and Clemson. Alabama also plays in the toughest conference in college football. There's just no comparison between Alabama's schedule and Baylor's. And while I didn't see it, I'm sure the gist of the College Football Live segment was to point out that a one-loss Baylor has virtually no shot of advancing to the College Football Playoff against, say, a second SEC team with the same record, due to the Bears' lackluster non-conference scheduling, which includes just one opponent (Duke) from the Pac-12, SEC, Big Ten or ACC up to 2019.

ImFasterThanYa writes: Will a Big 12 ref throw a flag when I run through the end zone after scoring a touchdown because it takes several steps for me to turn off the engines?

Trotter: Tyreek Hill could score as many touchdowns as Forest Gump did that one year for Alabama. As you imply, the Oklahoma State transfer can flat out fly.

Katie in Sugar Land, Texas, writes: I love the new Big 12, but I feel we need more rivalries. Texas-Oklahoma is a staple of the conference. But what else is there? After all, great rivalries are the major mark of a great conference.

Trotter: Bedlam has become a great rivalry. But you're right, conference realignment has pretty much destroyed all the other notable ones in the league (Texas-Texas A&M, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Kansas-Missouri, Texas Tech-Texas A&M, Kansas State-Nebraska). This has really hurt the league, but what can be done? College football rivalries aren't forged overnight.

Big 12 lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
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He was onsides, right?
Last year, just a pair of true freshmen received votes for Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year honors: Iowa State cornerback Nigel Tribune and the winner of the award, Oklahoma linebacker Dominique Alexander.

This year, the immediate impact from the incoming freshman class could be much greater. Collectively, the league signed 11 defensive players ranked in the ESPN 300. And several could vie for time from the moment they step on campus.

But who among them will make the biggest impact? There are some notable contenders.

Nigel Bethel II was the gem of the Texas Tech recruiting class, and he fits the profile of an instant-impact recruit. A four-star signee out of Miami whom Tech flipped from the University of Miami late in the recruiting window, Bethel II brings a level of speed the Red Raiders just don’t possess elsewhere on defense. Given that two-year starter Bruce Jones is gone, the opportunity for playing time at corner is there for Bethel, too.

Playing-time opportunities are also there for Oklahoma State linebacker Gyasi Akem. The Cowboys graduated three key linebackers, including starters Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. With the lone returning starter, Ryan Simmons, moving to the middle this spring, the Cowboys have a hole on the weak side. Akem, who was Oklahoma State’s top defensive signee, has the closing speed and physicality to help fill it.

SportsNation

Which of these defenders will have the biggest impact as true freshmen?

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    9%
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    18%
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    26%
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    26%
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    21%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,720)

Steven Parker II, Oklahoma's top defensive recruit, also might carve out a role rather quickly. The safety out of Jenks, Okla., could help the Sooners replace another safety from Jenks (Gabe Lynn). Oklahoma has some other intriguing young defenders vying for time at the back end of their defense, notably Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd. But Parker has the potential to make an immediate impression.

West Virginia, meanwhile, returns both its starting cornerbacks in Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a true freshman. But it won’t be easy keeping Dravon Henry off the field. Henry, the top-ranked player from the state of Pennsylvania this year, had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State before picking the Mountaineers. He is a ball hawk who will bring a playmaking reputation to the West Virginia secondary when he gets his chance. That might come sooner, rather than later.

Henry, Parker, Akem and Bethel are all elite prospects. But the top-rated defensive signee in the Big 12 this year is Texas defensive end Derick Roberson, who was the No. 78 overall recruit in the ESPN 300. Even though he’s still slight, Roberson can get after the quarterback. The Longhorns are in terrific shape at one end with returning All-Big 12 performer Cedric Reed. Roberson has the skill set to break into the rotation on the other side in the fall.

Among a few others, any of the five above could make a huge splash next season. So we put it to you in a poll: Of Akem, Bethel II, Henry, Parker II and Roberson, which true freshman defender will have biggest impact in 2014?
AUSTIN, Texas -- In his meeting with reporters Tuesday, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson addressed a wide range of topics on Longhorn and college athletics. His comments on Texas A&M got understandable attention (you can find those here), but Patterson was far more passionate when it came to the topic of the Northwestern labor lawsuit.

As a college administrator who’s also been a pro sports executive and general manager, Patterson has experience on both sides of the fence here on professionals vs. amateurs.

While Patterson does support the push to raise student-athlete compensation to full cost of attendance, that’s about as far as he’ll go. Patterson is not on board with the Northwestern football players’ attempt to unionize.

Here’s what Patterson had to say when asked if student-athletes should be considered employees:

“When you get into an NLRB process, the presumption is that the plaintiffs are employees and you have to overcome the assumption they are employees. I think it probably was some smart lawyering on the part of the plaintiff’s side, in the path they took and the way they classified it.
“The reality is, though, professional athletics is something completely different. And if you want to go play minor league baseball out of high school, on your way up to the majors, you can make that decision. You can go ride the bus from Biloxi to Beloit, and stay in the hotels that they stay in, and you cannot get an education and you can live on $12,000 a year, if you decide that’s a better existence and a better path to a long-term outcome for your career in baseball and after baseball.
“Even if the one percent of the student-athletes that go to the pros go there, their average career is four years. So they have a half a century, on average, after they’re done. And what are you going to do with that second half-century of their life? If you want to decide that’s a better life, then come to the University of Texas -- even if Augie [Garrido] might get on your tail a little occasionally. God bless you, go do it, knock yourself out.
“If you’re a football player coming out of high school that decides you want to go to the pros, go take your issue with Roger Goodell and the owners and the union. That’s your place to go if you want to go play professional football, if you want to be an employee.
“If you want to go play professional basketball, go to the D-League, knock yourself out. And then go in the draft to the NBA. That’s your place if you want to be an employee, if you want to be a professional.
“This is not your place. And this is a free country, you can make that choice all day long. Knock yourself out. This is student-athlete athletics.”


That stance seems to falls closely in line with what Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and other executives have offered on the topic of paying players.

For the record, Texas coach Charlie Strong said when he was hired in January that paying players is something to “look at” due to the large revenues of football, but also argued the value of a scholarship gets underappreciated.

“If we develop them the right way,” Strong said then, “their payday will be in the end, because they're going to have a chance to compete on the next level."

It’s Take Two Tuesday again, when we give our takes on a burning question in the Big 12.

Today's Take Two topic: Which Texas player making a healthy return is more critical to the Longhorns’ fate in 2014 -- quarterback David Ash or running back Johnathan Gray?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon

[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesJohnathan Gray's return to health would be big news for the Longhorns.
Ideally both players would return to good health and have the opportunity to become critical pieces of the Texas offense this fall.

But Gray’s return to good health could be the most important development of the offseason for the Longhorns, even if he doesn’t return to full health until the bulk of Big 12 Conference play.

Why?

Gray is, quite simply, a special talent. And the Longhorns offense wants to become one of the most physical units in the conference, which means they will want to lean on the running game in Charlie Strong’s first year in Austin, Texas.

We’ve seen how terrific quarterback play can transform a team’s destiny but Gray has similar ability as a running back. The Longhorns have several other talented running backs, including Malcolm Brown, but Gray bring traits to the table, along with his quick feet and vision, that are simply difficult to match. And defend.

The Longhorns have never lost a game when Gray had at least 20 carries including wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State in 2013. His 1,481 rushing yards during the past two seasons is the highest total among returning Big 12 running backs. He’s touched the ball on 17.6 percent of UT’s offensive plays since his freshman season, a team high.

Those numbers reveal Gray is a unique talent who could be the centerpiece of any offense and be consistently productive when healthy. Gray is a proven playmaker, so health could be the only thing standing between him and a breakout season for Strong’s Longhorns.

Take 2: Jake Trotter

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesDavid Ash has all the tools to be a winning QB.
When healthy, Gray is one of the best backs in the Big 12. When healthy and on his game, Gray is one of the best in the country.

But the Longhorns have a better than adequate replacement for Gray in Brown. After Gray suffered the Achilles injury last season, Brown stepped in and rushed for more than 100 yards in Texas’ final three games. Brown might not have Gray’s full upside. But he’s more than capable of producing like an all-conference running back.

Quarterback for the Longhorns is a different story. The Longhorns currently have no proven replacement for Ash on the roster.

Sure, Max Wittek could – and probably will – wind up transferring to Texas. And yes, Wittek was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school three years ago. But Wittek has yet to achieve something that Ash has already 14 times in his career – and that’s win a game as a starting quarterback.

True, Ash has endured his share of forgettable moments. He’s yet to play well against Oklahoma. He’s been prone to the occasional, inexplicably awful performance (see TCU 2012, among others).

But other times, Ash has looked like the best player on the field. He was clutch leading the Longhorns to come-from-behind wins against Oklahoma State and Oregon State two seasons ago. He played at a high level in the first half against Kansas State last season before being pulled due to the recurring concussion issues.

With size, athleticism, experience and arm strength, Ash has the tools to be a winning quarterback at Texas. And right now, he’s the closest thing the Longhorns have got to that.

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