Big 12: B.J. Finney

During the next two weeks, we’ll be breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus yet. Rather, they will include only the players on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now.

On Friday, we continue with the Kansas State Wildcats.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesKansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett could make a strong case for being the Big 12's most dangerous offensive player.
1. WR Tyler Lockett: What more can be said about Lockett? The argument could be made that he is the Big 12’s best offensive player. He was simply unstoppable in 2013. Lockett’s per-game averages of 6.75 receptions and 105.17 receiving yards led all Big 12 receivers. If he’s healthy and on the field, he’s going to make plays -- it’s just that simple.

2. DE Ryan Mueller: Relentless and intense, Mueller is back to create havoc in opposing backfields after recording at least one sack in eight of 13 games a year ago. He doesn’t overwhelm blockers with his size and strength, but his quickness and desire make him difficult to block.

3. OG Cody Whitehair: An excellent anchor in the middle, Whitehair had a superb sophomore season, earning second-team All-Big 12 honors. He returns to give KSU’s offense a solid building block at guard.

4. C BJ Finney: Finney joins Whitehair to give the Wildcats one of the Big 12’s better interior lineman duos. A first-team All-Big 12 performer, Finney has been a staple in one of the conference’s most productive running games for the past three seasons.

5. S Dante Barnett: A key playmaker for KSU’s defense as a sophomore, Barnett will take on an even bigger role in 2014 with Ty Zimmerman no longer alongside him in the secondary. Barnett had 75 tackles and four interceptions in 2013.

6. QB Jake Waters: The senior is coming off a strong end to his first season with the Wildcats. His 66 adjusted QBR (on a scale of 0-100, with 50 being average) ranked seventh in the Big 12, but his 81 adjusted QBR in November and December was better than every Big 12 quarterback except Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf and Texas Tech's Davis Webb.

7. DT Travis Britz: Britz was active in the defensive interior for the Wildcats in 2013, finishing with 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as a sophomore. He provides a solid piece for KSU to build around this fall.

8. QB Daniel Sams: KSU is exploring ways to use the dynamic Sams, but there’s no question he’s too talented to leave on the sidelines. He could line up at multiple positions this fall after being responsible for 15 touchdowns in 2013, tied for sixth in the Big 12. His 5.31 yards per touch from scrimmage was easily the conference’s best among quarterbacks.

9. LB Jonathan Truman: The former walk-on earned a starting spot as a junior and became one of the defense’s most productive players. His 89 tackles ranked second on the team, and two of his three double-digit tackle games (Texas Tech, Oklahoma) came in the final four games of the regular season.

10. FB Glenn Gronkowski: Whoever wins the race to start at running back for the Wildcats will have the peace of mind of knowing Gronkowski will be helping to pave the way. He proved to be a quality blocker and legit receiving threat during his freshman season. And, yes, he’s one of those Gronkowkis.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: OL

February, 21, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Friday with offensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the offensive lines at the moment:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJoe Wickline's move from the OSU staff to Texas is an important storyline in the Big 12.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats will be stout inside. Guard Cody Whitehair and center BJ Finney are All-Big 12 caliber. Veteran starters Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks are gone at tackle, but Bill Snyder signed two of the top 15 juco tackles in the country in A.J. Allen and Luke Hayes. If Allen and Hayes can solidify the bookends, K-State could be stout up front.

3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.

4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.

5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMITexas Tech's Le'Raven Clark is one of the best offensive tackles in the Big 12.
6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have an NFL talent in left tackle Le'Raven Clark, who earned All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore. Despite Clark, the Red Raiders line struggled last year, giving up 33 sacks (second-worst in the Big 12). But it should be improved in 2014. Juco tackles Dominique Robertson (ESPN JC 50) and Shaq Davis are on the way, and 2013 RT starter Rashad Fortenberry could be back, too, if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver. Losing guard Beau Carpenter to dismissal hurts, but Baylen Brown has starting experience. Brown, Alfredo Morales, James Polk and center Jared Kaster all return after combining for 31 starts along the interior last season.

7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.

8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.

9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.

10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).

Snyder has Kansas State rolling again

November, 13, 2013
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It’s not exactly another Manhattan miracle.

But here comes Kansas State coach Bill Snyder with yet another reclamation project.

The Wildcats opened the season with a loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State before going 0-3 to begin the Big 12.

[+] EnlargeBill Snyder
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsAfter a 2-4 start, Bill Snyder's Wildcats have won three straight games.
Since then, Kansas State has emerged into one of the hotter teams in college football, winning three straight by an average margin of almost four touchdowns.

“The environment we try to create is that incremental improvement throughout the course of the year, regardless of what the outcome of the ballgames happen to be,” Snyder said. “It’s a very positive thing to see young guys overcome disappointment of ballgames they had opportunities to be successful at and weren’t. It’s the old never-give-up type of attitude. But that’s not anything I would not have expected from the young guys in our program.”

The young guys in Snyder's program just keep getting better.

Last weekend, the Wildcats demolished then-No. 25 Texas Tech in Lubbock. K-State scored touchdowns on its first five possessions to jump to a 35-10 lead, before coasting to the 49-26 victory.

“The momentum is high,” said linebacker Jonathan Truman. “We had some bumps in the road at the beginning of the year. But I feel we’ve recovered, and we’ve been taking steps in the right direction to get better.”

Thanks to those steps, the Wildcats (5-4, 3-3 Big 12) are now just one win away from becoming bowl eligible heading into this weekend’s matchup with TCU. However, they have goals bigger than just getting to a bowl.

"We wanna win out and finish the season strong," said safety Dante Barnett.

The way the Wildcats have been playing lately, that’s not so lofty a goal.

“As usual, Coach Snyder’s team has grown in confidence,” said Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson. “There’s more of a confidence level, and they’re staying healthy and getting a lot stronger.”

A month ago, it was unclear whether the defending Big 12 champs would even make a bowl.

In a disastrous opener, K-State surrendered an 18-play, game-winning drive in the fourth quarter to North Dakota State, which knocked off the Wildcats with a touchdown plunge in the final seconds.

The season didn’t get any better in Big 12 play, as K-State it dropped games at Texas and Oklahoma State, before coming up short at home against Baylor.

But the loss to the Bears proved to be a turning point. Without starting wideouts Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, K-State had little in the passing game. But quarterback Daniel Sams led a monster performance on the ground with 199 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and the Wildcats had the ball with a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

“Even though it was a loss, it showed what we were capable of,” said center B.J. Finney. “It wasn’t a perfect game. But we realized if we didn’t beat ourselves with turnovers and penalties, we could play with anybody.”

K-State has been a different team ever since.

With Lockett and Thompson back in the lineup, the Wildcats exploded in the fourth quarter to hammer West Virginia, 35-12, on Oct. 26. K-State then destroyed Iowa State 41-7 before handling the Red Raiders last week.

 


As usual, Coach [Bill] Snyder’s team has grown in confidence. There’s more of a confidence level, and they’re staying healthy and getting a lot stronger.”


-- TCU coach Gary Patterson

 

During its three-game winning streak, the K-State offense has been a model of efficiency.

From the third quarter of the West Virginia game to halftime at Texas Tech, the Wildcats scored touchdowns on 14 of 22 possessions, not counting kneel downs.

Not only has it been efficient, the offense has been remarkably balanced, too. In the past three games, the Wildcats have averaged 198 yards through the air and 225 on the ground.

At the foundation of the Wildcats' offensive surge has been their success in utilizing a two-quarterback system. Sams and Jake Waters, who think of themselves as tag-team wrestlers playing quarterback, have been lethal of late.

Since the Baylor game, they’ve completed 73 percent of their passes with six touchdown passes and no interceptions. Last week against Tech, they produced the two-highest Big 12 Adjusted QBRs for the week (98.4 and 94.9).

“I’ve never been a big fan attempting to utilize two quarterbacks on a somewhat equal basis,” Snyder said. “But I think Daniel and Jake have really embraced each other. Really helped each other. Really encouraged each other. They’re both also well received by their teammates. Their teammates pull for each of them, and [they] have been very comfortable with either one.”

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Ryan Mueller has set the tone both in practice and in games. He has also surfaced as a viable Big 12 defensive-player-of-the-year candidate, leading the conference with eight sacks, including four in the past two weeks.

“He practices how he plays,” linebacker Charmeachealle Moore said of Mueller.

True to the Snyder blueprint for success, the Wildcats are limiting penalties and turnovers, too. They now lead the Big 12 in fewest penalties committed and fewest penalty yardage.

And since turning the ball over five times in a 33-29 loss at Oklahoma State, the Wildcats have given up the ball just four times in four games.

“We went back and looked at the past successes of this program and focused on eliminating the little things that had been beating us,” Lockett said. “Coach Snyder kept telling us, if we kept working in practice, it was gonna pay off one day.”

“Well, it’s paying off.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 11 in the Big 12:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dixon led Baylor's shutdown effort of the Sooners. He had a team-high 8 tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, as Oklahoma failed to score a touchdown until late in the third quarter.

Zimmerman gutted out a shoulder injury to lead the Wildcats defensively. He had a couple of big hits, and a 43-yard interception return to provide the exclamation point in Lubbock.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the week: "We're not a tradition. But we're going to be here awhile, the way this thing is going." -- Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, after the Bears' 41-12 win over Oklahoma
Going into the season, Kansas State and Iowa State each held lofty goals.

The Wildcats wanted to challenge again for the Big 12 title, despite losing conference players of the year Collin Klein and Arthur Brown.

After two straight bowl appearances, the Cyclones hoped to finish in the top half of the conference for the first time under Paul Rhoads.

[+] EnlargeBrock Jensen
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesLosing to reigning FCS champ North Dakota State won't derail all of Kansas State's 2013 goals.
While those goals remain intact for both, Week 1 was something of a nightmare for both teams.

Kansas State, the defending champion in the Big 12, fell Friday to two-time defending FCS champ North Dakota State. The following night, fellow FCS powerhouse Northern Iowa toppled the Cyclones in Ames. Before either Kansas State or Iowa State can attempt to get back on track, they must first pick up the pieces from a disastrous opening weekend.

“We know we can win games,” Cyclones quarterback Sam Richardson said. “But we have to get our confidence back.”

It’s understandable why the confidence of either team would be shaken.

To win in Manhattan, North Dakota State went on an 18-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ate up almost nine minutes and left just a few seconds remaining. Iowa State, meanwhile never led against Northern Iowa, which racked up 228 yards on the ground and averaged almost 7 yards a carry.

“Everybody is hurt to begin with, whether it is disappointment or embarrassment or just emotional pain from it,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said Tuesday. “I think at some point in time that turns into anger, and they get angry about the situation and what took place. And then maybe the next emotion is probably determination to rectify whatever the mistakes happened to be and to rectify the situation. Everybody that cares goes through that, and I think most of our guys care.”

Pinpointing what exactly went tangibly went wrong for either team isn’t easy. Kansas State center B.J. Finney said the Wildcats tried too hard to make plays, and ended up making mistakes instead. Richardson said the Cyclones didn’t work hard enough to make plays.

Whatever the case, both players agree that their teams strangely failed to play with much emotion in their openers.

“We kind of lacked spirit and enthusiasm out there,” Finney said. “Guys weren’t getting excited when we made big plays. When you don’t play with enthusiasm -- football is an emotional game -- that tends to wear you down. Gets you tired.”

The Wildcats looked like a tired team late in their game. So did Iowa State, which failed to scrape a drive together of more than 22 yards in the fourth quarter.

“It didn’t feel like a Cyclone atmosphere that day in our locker room,” Richardson said. “That’s definitely something we have to get going.”

The good news is that both teams are already showing signs this week of snapping out of their funks. Richardson said his teammates have already begun to get excited about their rivalry game with Iowa next weekend. Snyder said his squad had its best practice of the season Monday.

“Some of us were pretty angry with the outcome on Friday and we wanted to change that,” Finney said of the workout. “It definitely showed that people wanted to change and truly want to have something special here.”

No matter how mad they get, neither team will be going undefeated. The way they looked in their openers, they both have a way to go before doing anything special.

But the Cyclones and Wildcats still have many of their preseason goals in front of them. Which means the season is not a disaster yet. Even if the first week was.

“We’ll remember that one for a while,” Richardson said. “It’s frustrating, for sure.

“But we can definitely rebound.”

Kansas State season preview

August, 15, 2013
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Today, we break down Kansas State -- the Big 12’s defending champs:

KANSAS STATE WILDCATS

Coach: Bill Snyder (170-85-1 overall, 21 seasons; 170-85-1 at Kansas State, 21 seasons)

2012 record: 11-2 (8-1 Big 12)

Key losses: QB Collin Klein, WR Chris Harper, TE Travis Tannahill, DE Meshak Williams, DE Adam Davis, DT Vai Lutui, LB Arthur Brown, K Anthony Cantele

Key returnees: RB John Hubert, WR Tyler Lockett, WR Tramaine Thompson, OT Cornelius Lucas, C B.J. Finney, LB Tre Walker, SS Ty Zimmerman

Newcomer to watch: Snyder built Kansas State up with the help of junior college players, and quarterback Jake Waters could be next in a long line of transfers to enjoy success in Manhattan. Waters, the No. 1 junior college quarterback recruit in the country, is battling Daniel Sams to succeed Heisman Trophy finalist Klein.

Biggest games in 2013: The Wildcats have won five in a row against Texas, and if they make it six on Sept. 21 in Austin, they’ll be a dark horse contender (again) for the Big 12 title. If K-State sticks in the conference race, a Nov. 23 clash with Oklahoma will loom large.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: While seemingly everyone in the Big 12 has tried to win by outscoring the opposition, K-State has gotten things done lately by playing tough defense, especially in the trenches. The Wildcats, however, don’t have a single full-time returning starter on the defensive line or linebacker. Replacing key parts like defensive end Meshak Williams and linebacker Arthur Brown won’t be a easy.

Snyder will attempt to rebuild his front seven around linebacker Tre Walker, who played only eight games last season because of a knee injury, but has been solid when healthy.

Snyder-coached defenses are always going to be sound. But whether the Wildcats are anything more depends on if enough other guys emerge up front.

Forecast: Yes, Kansas State must replace the Big 12’s offensive and defensive players of the year in Klein and Brown. Yes, only two starters return defensively. And yes, on paper, several other Big 12 teams look like they’ll be better than the Wildcats.

But anyone discounting Snyder’s bunch deserves a history lesson. The Wildcats were picked to finish sixth in the preseason last year and won the league. They were picked eighth the year before and finished 10-3. So K-State should feel right at home being picked sixth this preseason.

Even without Klein, the offense has a chance to be more productive. The Wildcats return four offensive linemen, including All-Big 12 tackle Lucas. Leading rusher Hubert is also back, as are diminutive playmaking receiver-returners Locket and Thompson.

Quarterback, of course, will be the key. Klein was the difference-maker last season, propelling K-State to its upset at Oklahoma early in the season and into the driver’s seat of the Big 12 title race. To remain a Big 12 contender, the Wildcats will need another difference-making quarterback, especially with the defense in full rebuilding mode.

Sams backed up Klein last year and has an intriguing skill set with his ability to scramble. When Klein got injured against Oklahoma State, Sams played well in relief, completing five of six passes while rushing for 20 yards.

Sams’ ability to pass consistently, however, is in question; Waters’ is not.

The reigning NJCAA Offensive Player of the Year, Waters set a junior college record last season with a 73.3 completion percentage. He also threw 39 touchdowns to just three interceptions, including none the final seven games. Waters is a winner, too, having captured two Iowa high school state championships before quarterbacking Iowa Western to the NJCAA national title. The only real red flag is that he hasn't played a game at the FBS level.

"A young guy down in College Station came on the scene, and nobody had a clue that he was going to get himself on the field,” Snyder said, referring to Johnny Manziel. “And ended up winning a Heisman. You just never really know."

Chances of Waters -- or Sams -- becoming the next Manziel are beyond slim. But if Snyder finds another winner at quarterback, the Wildcats could surprise -- yet again.
I've got a big, ol' soft spot for the Lombardi Award. It's not only my favorite college football trophy (I like to imagine I'll one day get the Lombardi Award rock covering my kitchen counters), it's got by far my favorite description when you read the qualifications.
Eligibility for the Rotary Lombardi Award is limited to down linemen, end-to-end, either on offense or defense, who set up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball, or linebackers who set up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage.

Nothing like a little clarity. I've always loved it. Anyway, 12 Big 12 players made the award's 2013 preseason watch list, released on Monday morning.
Solid list of the Big 12's top talents in the trenches there.

Notre Dame's Manti Te'o won the award last season, and Ndamukong Suh (2009) was the last Big 12 player to win it. He won it a season after Texas' Brian Orakpo in 2008.
Ten Big 12 players made the watch list for the Outland Trophy, given annually to college football's best interior lineman. Both offensive and defensive players are eligible.
Good list there. The Big 12's 10 candidates are fifth-most of all conferences on the 75-man list. The SEC led the way with 16 candidates. Defensive ends aren't eligible for the award, which is why you won't see Jackson Jeffcoat or Devonte Fields on this list.

Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh (2009) was the last Big 12 player to win the award. The Huskers' nine winners since the award's start in 1946 are four more than the No. 2 team, Oklahoma.

The Sooners' Jammal Brown (2004) was the last player from a current Big 12 team to win the award.
Three Big 12 centers are on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, given annually to college football's top centers.
Good list there. All three have tons of experience and are basically the who's who of the position in the Big 12. Ikard was forced to play center last season after Ben Habern's injury, and did well in that spot, earning himself a Rimington nod this season.

Nebraska's Dominic Raiola (2000) is the only player to win the trophy as a Big 12 member. TCU's Jake Kirkpatrick won the award in 2010 and West Virginia's Dan Mozes won it back in 2006. Alabama's Barrett Jones won the trophy last season.
Big 12 media days are less than three weeks away, set for July 22-23 at the Omni Hotel in Dallas. The two-day event will host half the league on Day 1 before the second half checks in for Day 2.

Teams can bring a few players to represent the program to media, and Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has the lineup for who's coming to Dallas:

Monday, July 22

Oklahoma State

Kansas State

TCU

Kansas

Texas Tech

Tuesday, July 23

Oklahoma

Texas

West Virginia

Baylor

Iowa State

A few thoughts:
  • Most notable: Only two quarterbacks will be making the trip. Texas' Ash and Kansas' Heaps will be coming to Dallas. There's not many household names at QB and not many people the media will be clamoring to talk to, but both of those guys are interesting and will have major impacts on their teams building on 2012. That said, I'm a little surprised Baylor's leaving Bryce Petty behind. TCU leaving Casey Pachall at home is an obvious decision that would likely be a major distraction from the team as a whole at media days. Oklahoma State doesn't want to talk about its quarterback decision, so it's not too surprising to see it not bringing Clint Chelf.
  • The biggest attraction will certainly be Seastrunk. For one, he's shown he's not afraid to speak his mind and provide a memorable quote, but he's also the biggest returning star in the league on offense in a league mostly devoid of offensive star power.
  • Kansas officials were fawning over Sendish to me earlier this offseason, so it's no surprise to see the new cornerback in KU's travel party. I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.
  • Glad to see K-State is bringing Walker back to media days. He was great last season and missed the second half of 2012 after a knee injury. His road back from it hasn't been easy, but he's one of the more emotional leaders of an inexperienced defense. He'll be a great interview this August.
  • My pick to steal the media day show? Last year, it was West Virginia's Joe Madsen (and the Mountaineer, who provided this golden photo). This year, I'm going with Oklahoma's Ikard.
Three Big 12 centers are up for the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center. The trophy committee released its award watch list on Tuesday morning. Here are the players in the mix from the Big 12.
Good set of centers there. I'm a little surprised Iowa State's Tom Farniok did not get some love, but players not on the preseason watch list are still eligible to win the award.

Ikard definitely has the best chance of that bunch to win the trophy, but he's so versatile, an injury or two might mean a position change. Ikard has played all over the place for the Sooners.

No Big 12 player has won the award since another Dominic, Nebraska's Dominic Raiola, won the inaugural award back in 2000.

TCU's Jake Kirkpatrick won the award in 2010, and West Virginia's Dan Mozes won it in 2006.
2012 record: 11-2
2012 Big 12 record: 8-1
Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 1; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners: RB John Hubert, LB Tre Walker, S Ty Zimmerman, WR Tyler Lockett, OL B.J. Finney, WR Tramaine Thompson, OL Cornelius Lucas

Key losses: QB Collin Klein, LB Arthur Brown, WR Chris Harper, DE Meshak Williams, LB Justin Tuggle, CB Nigel Malone, CB Allen Chapman, DE Adam Davis

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Collin Klein (2,641 yards)
Rushing: John Hubert* (947 yards)
Receiving: Chris Harper (857 yards)
Tackles: Arthur Brown (100)
Sacks: Meshak Williams (10.5)
Interceptions: Ty Zimmerman*, Nigel Malone, Allen Chapman (5)

Spring answers

1. Emerging talents up front. K-State's defense lost all four starters from its defensive line last year, but don't be surprised if the dropoff is minimal next season. Travis Britz, Chaquil Reed, Matt Seiwert and Demonte Hood all stood out with nice springs for the Cats. Stopping the run and a good pass rush is a great start to developing a great defense.

2. The new QBs can definitely play. Neither Jake Waters or Daniel Sams are Collin Klein, but they both look capable of being very good quarterbacks in Big 12 play. You can't take much from their eye-popping stats against second-teamers in K-State's spring game, the lone open practice for fans and media in Manhattan, but you can buy into Bill Snyder's encouraging reports on the duo and how they looked while shredding those defenses.

3. Receivers ready to step up. Chris Harper is gone, but K-State's receiving corps is in good hands. Tramaine Thompson and Tyler Lockett impressive this spring, and Lockett even earned the distinction of being a team captain. They've both been productive with limited opportunity in K-State's run-heavy offense, but both guys are capable of being serviceable No. 1 receivers in the Big 12.

Fall questions

1. Who's the quarterback? Sams and Waters can both play, but which will actually do the playing? Is a two-quarterback system still a possibility? Waters can move, but he can't move like Sams, who's first step into a hole is lightning quick and good enough to give any defenses some major issues. The spring ended with this race tied, but Snyder has to pick one of them eventually.

2. Can K-State sustain its success? Is there still magic in Manhattan? On paper, the returning talent in Manhattan isn't title-worthy, and there will be tons of inexperience, but simply looking like a Top 25 team or finishing in the top half of the Big 12 would be a big-time accomplishment for a team that returns fewer starters than only a handful of teams in college football. Oklahoma State won its first Big 12 title and bounced back with eight wins. Can K-State do something similar this year?

3. Will the defense bounce back? Just two starters return from one of the Big 12's best defenses. The defensive line had some standouts, but replacing guys like linebacker Arthur Brown and both cornerbacks Nigel Malone and Allen Chapman won't be easy. Juco transfer Nate Jackson should earn a starting spot, but the entire unit has a ton to prove in 2013. Inexperience is always hard to overcome in a Big 12 constantly full of high-powered offenses.
Turnover is an annual tradition in college football, but with that, teams' strengths and weaknesses constantly shift, too. Today, we'll continue our look at the biggest strengths and weaknesses for each Big 12 team.

Next up: Kansas State.

Strongest position: Offensive line.

K-State already had one of the best offensive lines in the Big 12 last season, posting 42 rushing touchdowns, the most in the Big 12. It also had the fourth-most rushing yards in the league and the fourth highest yards per carry average while giving up just 14 sacks, second-fewest in the Big 12.

I've got bad news for the rest of the Big 12: Just one player from K-State's two-deep on the 2012 offensive line will be gone. Starters B.J. Finney and Cornelius Lucas return to headline the unit, flanked by Cody Whitehair, Keenan Taylor and Tavon Rooks. Boston Stiverson provided additional depth, but only reserve left guard Nick Puetz won't return from the 2012 Big 12 title team.

K-State loses quarterback Collin Klein, but the strong play up front should make life easier for running back John Hubert, who topped 900 yards rushing in each of the past two seasons, helping K-State win 22 games over that span. New quarterback Daniel Sams or Jake Waters will certainly look a little better behind these big guys up front with a lot of experience and even more talent.

Weakest position: Linebacker

On the flip side, no position has been hit harder by the losses from last year's team than linebacker. K-State returns just two starters on defense and no position was hit harder than linebacker. Tre Walker will return from a knee injury and should be a leader for the unit, but only one player on the season-ending two deep at all three linebacker positions returns: Junior Jonathan Truman, who was 10th on the team with 25 tackles. Walker's a solid player and was playing well before going down in the middle of the season, but you never really know how guys will look when they come back from knee injuries, especially a position like linebacker that depends so heavily on explosion and change of direction.

K-State will have to fill a whole lot of spots this spring once practice opens next month, and it's clear the task ahead won't be easy for defensive coordinator Tom Hayes and linebackers coach Mike Cox. Guys like Arthur Brown don't come around very often, and even replacing solid talents like Justin Tuggle and Jarell Childs is tougher than you'd think. We'll see how K-State matches up this fall. It's all about finding guys ready to step up and assume a much bigger role on the defense.

More Weak and Strong.

Media names its All-Big 12 teams

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
1:46
PM ET
You already saw how the coaches voted earlier today on the Big 12 Awards and teams. Here's how the media voted. It's voted on by a panel of 18 local writers who regularly cover the league.

OFFENSE

QB: Collin Klein, Kansas State
RB: Joseph Randle, Oklahoma State
All-purpose: Tavon Austin, West Virginia
FB: Trey Millard, Oklahoma
WR: Stedman Bailey, West Virginia
WR: Terrance Williams, Baylor (unanimous selection)
WR: Josh Stewart, Oklahoma State
TE: Travis Tannahill, Kansas State
OL: BJ Finney, Kansas State
OL: Cyril Richardson, Baylor
C: Gabe Ikard, Oklahoma
OL: Lane Taylor, Oklahoma State
OL: LaAdrian Waddle, Texas Tech

DEFENSE

DL: Kerry Hyder, Texas Tech
DL: Meshak Williams, Kansas State (unanimous selection)
DL: Devonte Fields, TCU (unanimous selection)
DL: Alex Okafor, Texas
LB: A.J. Klein, Iowa State (unanimous selection)
LB: Arthur Brown, Kansas State (unanimous selection)
LB: Jake Knott, Iowa State
LB: Kenny Cain, TCU
DB: Aaron Colvin, Oklahoma
DB: Jason Verrett, TCU
DB: Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
DB: Ty Zimmerman, Kansas State

SPECIALISTS:

PK: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State
P: Quinn Sharp, Oklahoma State

Video: Kansas State center B.J. Finney

November, 11, 2012
11/11/12
12:00
AM ET

Kansas State center B.J. Finney talks about Collin Klein's performance and health and Kansas State's title hopes after a 23-10 win over TCU

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