Big 12: Dalvin Warmack

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

Here's where the battle stands:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: No single running back will follow in Hubert’s footsteps by eclipsing 1,000 rushing yards this fall. It wouldn’t be a major surprise to see all four Wildcats’ running backs get at least one carry in 2014 if nobody steps up and secures the job early in the season.
Dalvin Warmack is 5-foot-8 and 190 pounds. He says he's used to people questioning whether he's an every-down back. Size has never seemed to be an issue for Kansas State backs, though, and the Wildcats inked an impressive one in February.

The three-star recruit rushed for 2,223 yards and 29 TDs as a senior to help Blue Springs (Missouri) High School win its second straight state title. Before joining the K-State program this month, Warmack discussed how he can help its offense immediately, why he stuck with the Wildcats, and why they'll be a surprise team again in 2014.

Our summer series of weekly Q&As with the Big 12's best incoming freshmen continues with Warmack, one of the Kansas City area's best high school players in years.

I'm guessing a big part of K-State's sales pitch was that John Hubert was graduating. Did that come up a lot?

Dalvin Warmack: Definitely. They told me it was an open competition, and I saw that as an opportunity. I know there's three guys there right now, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to come in and compete. I'd like to try to get on the field somehow and see a little bit of time.

You were committed for more than a year, but did anyone try to get you to flip late?

DW: Yeah, Oklahoma State and Mizzou did. They were the main two, especially toward the end and trying to get me to switch. Coach Pinkel visited my school a few times and Oklahoma State, before they got their last back they were pretty hard after me and had a couple in-home visits and things like that.

Was Missouri's sales pitch all about the SEC? What'd you think of that?

DW: Oh yeah. The SEC is definitely one of the best, if not the best, conference in college football. After the success they were having this past year, they were really trying to get me to look at that. Plus being from Missouri, you go into a gym and everyone is telling you that you should reconsider and go to Mizzou.

Why did you stick with Kansas State?

DW: Most of all, they kept their word with me. They said they were only taking on back in the class and they did. You always have that comfort level where I felt like I made the best choice for me and have the best opportunity going there.

With Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett back, do you think this is one of the Big 12's best offenses?

DW: Yeah, I do, from what I've been hearing. I've met Jake a few times and I think he's going to be a really good football player and leader for the team this year. He played pretty well last year. He went in there and earned his spot and established himself. Lockett is one of the best, most explosive wide receivers in the game. The offensive line is shaping up pretty well, too.

Does this feel like another year where Kansas State will surprise a lot of people?

DW: Definitely. It seems like every year they're being rated sixth or fifth in the Big 12. I definitely think this is a year when they have an opportunity to prove some people wrong again. There wasn't a better way to end it than the Michigan game. Capping it off with a big win over a powerhouse football team, getting a 'W' against them is always good.

How would you describe your running style?

DW: I think my running style is all about just instincts and vision and my explosive quickness. Once I get through the hole, I'm not going to say I'm going to be a huge playmaker, but I can be one of those guys who will work hard enough to be a pretty good player these next few years. I can score from 40 or 50 out, not just 5 or 10 yards.

Hubert got nearly all the carries last year. Does this seem like more of a back-by-committee situation in 2014?

DW: No one, through spring ball, really established themselves as the starting back. I think they're probably going to look for a way to get everybody on the field and see who will do the best. I'm not going to go in there intimidated or scared. These guys are grown men, a lot of them are 20 or 21 or 22 and have kids and stuff. I'm definitely going to go in there with confidence.

How do the state titles in high school shape your expectations for winning at KSU?

DW: We won two state championships and lost four games in four years in my high school career. I'm used to being in the action, being a competitive guy, always being on the field. I know I might have to take a step back and not be The Guy anymore. But I'm definitely going to try to be a contributor.
This week, we’ve been running dream and nightmare scenarios for teams in the Big 12. In other words, what a season would look like if every single imaginable domino fell into place. And conversely, if everything that could go wrong, well, did.

Next up in the best- and worst-case scenario series: the Kansas State Wildcats:

BEST CASE

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesIf he gets some help, Tyler Lockett could be primed for a remarkable season.
From Michael Bishop to Darren Sproles, there have been some phenomenal playmakers in the Bill Snyder era. But Tyler Lockett becomes the greatest of them all, stringing together a series of games for the ages. Lockett warms up with two touchdown catches in an easy win in Farmageddon. Then, with a Thursday night national ESPN audience tuning in, Lockett crushes Auburn with more than 300 yards receiving, three touchdown catches and a kickoff return touchdown as K-State takes down the defending SEC champs to land the Big 12 its fist marquee victory of the playoff era.

The rest of the offense rounds into form, too. Jake Waters builds off his strong close to last season and comes out even sharper in 2014. He throws just five interceptions all season and fulfills his No. 1 obligation, which is putting the ball on the money to Lockett. True freshman Dalvin Warmack continues the K-State tradition of prolific diminutive rushers, and he quickly takes over as the Wildcats’ featured running back. BJ Finney and Cody Whitehair produce first-team All-Big 12 seasons up front, and juco transfer Andre Davis finally emerges in October as a competent complement at receiver opposite Lockett.

Defensively, Dante Barnett picks up where Ty Zimmerman left off. Ryan Mueller leads the nation with 18 sacks. Travis Britz plugs the middle. And coveted juco transfers D’Vonta Derricott and Terrell Clinkscales lived up to the hype and solidify the rest of the front seven.

On Oct. 18, the 5-0 Powercats head south and knock off Oklahoma in Norman for the second straight time to jump into the top 10 of the polls. The Lockett-train keeps rolling the following week, as he hauls in another three touchdowns in K-State’s 28-point plastering of Texas.

The Powercats take an 11-0 record into the regular-season finale. And this time they don’t falter in Waco, as K-State avenges the loss two years ago with a 44-41 victory over Baylor in a showdown that decides the Big 12 championship.

Still, all good things must come to an end, and the magic runs out in the first round of the inaugural playoff, as K-State can’t pull off the Yellowhammer sweep with a heartbreaking defeat to Alabama.

With 19 touchdowns, Lockett places third in the Heisman voting. Snyder signs the nation’s five-best juco recruits. Daniel Sams quarterbacks McNeese State to an upset of Nebraska in the opener. Kansas basketball gets bounced from the first round of the NCAA tournament.

WORST CASE

K-State can’t harness the momentum that it finished with last fall and opens the season sloppy again. Waters starts throwing interceptions, and with no Sams to turn to for a spark, the Wildcats lose in Farmageddon for just the first time since 2007. The Thursday night clash with Auburn offers an opportunity to get the season back on the track. But K-State is never in the game, and with no other receiver commanding attention, the Tigers limit Lockett to just two catches.

As a freshman, Warmack isn’t ready yet, and the rushing attack turns out to be a disaster. After Finney and Whitehair, the offensive line has three gaping holes. Derricott and Clinkscales fail to break into the starting lineup, and the Wildcats desperately miss Zimmerman’s calming presence at the back end.

After falling to Texas Tech and Oklahoma back-to-back, the Wildcats get off to another 2-4 start. But this time, they can’t rally the rest of the way. Texas overpowers the Wildcats with 300 yards on the ground, and two weeks later, TCU’s powerful defense shuts them out in Fort Worth.

The Wildcats hobble into Waco needing a win to become bowl-eligible. Instead, they end the season with a 40-point humiliation.

Snyder decides he’s done with coaching and retires. The Wildcats don’t sign a single top 50-juco player. Nebraska makes the playoffs. Kansas basketball goes back to the Final Four.

Previous posts

June 16: Baylor
June 17: Iowa State
June 18: Kansas
Keith Ford, DeMarcus RobinsonUSA TODAY Sports, Icon SMIBoth OU's Keith Ford and Kansas State's DeMarcus Robinson are unproven and at the forefront of two RB battles.

It's Take Two Tuesday, when we give our opinions on a topic related to the Big 12.

Today's topic: Which is the Big 12’s most compelling running back competition?

Take 1: Brandon Chatmon -- Oklahoma

It will be fun to watch the battle to get the bulk of the carries at Oklahoma.

The Sooners’ running backs room is full of talent, but it’s largely unproven. Sophomore Keith Ford has shown toughness and a physical running style, fellow sophomore Alex Ross has exceptional physical gifts and the Sooners added a pair of true freshmen, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, who will be right in the thick of the battle for playing time.

If someone steps up during preseason camp and locks down the job, that would be ideal for the Sooners, but the best-case scenario is two or more running backs forcing the coaches to find a role for them this fall. And that’s not out of the question because Mixon is extremely versatile, Perine brings terrific size, Ross brings size and speed and Ford looks like the most complete back of the group.

Yet, even with all the talent, the Sooners will enter the season with Ford as the most productive returnee after recording 4.6 percent of OU’s total rushing yards (134 rushing yards) as a true freshman. There are unknowns abound at the position from Ford’s fumble troubles to Ross’ inconsistency to the freshmen’s transition into college football.

It could be a boom-or-bust situation. I can’t wait to see it play out in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

Brandon opted to go with a running back competition loaded with intriguing options. I’ll go the other way.

The biggest hole on K-State’s roster going into the preseason is at running back. John Hubert manned the position for the Wildcats for the last three years, rushing for 2,965 yards and 28 touchdowns.

His departure has left K-State with virtually no experience returning at running back. DeMarcus Robinson, in fact, is the team’s most seasoned returning rusher with just 11 career carries for 45 yards.

During the spring, neither Robinson nor Jarvis Leverett showed they’re necessarily the answer at the position, making running back the position to watch in Manhattan this August. The rest of the offense appears to be in place. At quarterback, Jake Waters surged the end of last season and was sharp and confident again this spring. Tyler Lockett is one of the best receivers in the country and the offensive line should be stout with All-Big 12 performers BJ Finney and Cody Whitehair.

The Wildcats, however, likely won’t contend for a Big 12 title unless a playmaker emerges at running back.

Robinson and Leverett will get more chances to show what they can do. But so will incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged almost 9 yards per carry during his final two years in high school.

If the answer at running back emerges, this K-State offense will be complete. But until that happens, this competition will remain compelling.
This week we’ve been examining at the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big 12 team going into the fall.

We continue with the Kansas State Wildcats:

Strongest position: Special teams

I could have gone in several different directions, as the Wildcats are strong virtually across the board.

They have one of the best receivers in the country in Tyler Lockett, yet the overall group has questions. The offensive line has two big-time players in guard/tackle Cody Whitehair and center BJ Finney, but they are the only two full-time returning starters. The defensive line also has a pair of blue-chip performers in end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz; depth, however, is a concern. Quarterback Jake Waters was terrific late last season, except his sample size is fairly small.

[+] EnlargeJack Cantele
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsJack Cantele booted a 41-yard game-winner against TCU last season.
That’s why I went with special teams as K-State’s strongest unit. On top of being an uncoverable receiver, Lockett is a dynamic kick returner. He was fourth nationally two seasons ago in kick returns, and, despite the increased work at receiver, still ranked among the top 20 last year.

The Wildcats also feature one of the top place-kickers in the country in Jack Cantele, whose older brother Anthony Cantele was an All-Big 12 K-State kicker. The younger Cantele could vie for the same award after a terrific sophomore season in which he missed only two field goals. Against TCU, Cantele converted on all four of his field goal attempts and nailed a game-winning 41-yarder with three seconds remaining. The four field goals were the second-most in a game in school history, and the game-winner was K-State’s first in the final minute in 33 years.

The Wildcats also have a secret special teams weapon in Britz, who led the nation last year with four blocked kicks.

Special teams is K-State’s “X” factor.

Weakest position: Running back

With three-year starter John Hubert gone, running back is really the only weak spot on the roster. But a strong running game could be the difference in whether the Wildcats challenge Oklahoma and Baylor for the top spot in the league.

DeMarcus Robinson had five carries for 11 yards last season, and he’s the veteran of the group. During the spring, neither Robinson nor Jarvis Leverett nor Charles Jones separated from one another in the competition. Robinson sat out the spring game with a minor injury, while Leverett and Jones both failed to break a run for more than 11 yards in the scrimmage. With the competition still muddled, the door could be open for heralded incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack to be a factor once he arrives on campus.

Warmack rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged almost 9 yards per carry during his final two years in high school.
After previously being unranked, both Texas Tech and Kansas State appeared in Mark Schlabach's post-spring edition of his Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

Schlabach has the Red Raiders at No. 21 and K-State at No. 23.

Here's what he had wrote about Texas Tech:
"Which Red Raiders team will show up in 2014? The team that started 7-0 in coach Kliff Kingsbury's first season or the team that lost five consecutive games before upsetting Arizona State 37-23 in the National University Holiday Bowl? The Red Raiders still figure to be potent on offense, especially with quarterback Davis Webb coming back."

Schlabach is also high on the Wildcats coming out of the spring:
"If we've learned anything during Bill Snyder's previous 22 seasons at Kansas State, it's that the Wildcats will undoubtedly begin the season underrated. After winning a Big 12 title in 2012, the Wildcats slipped to 8-5 last season. But after losing four of its first six games, Kansas State rebounded to win six of its last seven."


Texas Tech and K-State weren't the only Big 12 teams in Schlabach's Top 25. Both Oklahoma and Baylor remained in his top 10, with the Sooners coming in at No. 3, followed by Baylor at No. 9.

Schlabach had Texas in his pre-spring Top 25, but after watching the Longhorns' spring game, elected to drop them out.

Kansas State spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
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Three things we learned in the spring about the Kansas State Wildcats

1. The defense will be better: On its way to claiming the 2012 Big 12 title, K-State boasted the top defense in the league. After some shaky moments last season, the Wildcats should be stout again defensively, led by all-conference defensive end Ryan Mueller.

2. Jake Waters is a confident QB: Waters’ first start at K-State ended in a loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State. Waters, however, improved rapidly throughout the season, leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games. Waters looked even more confident this spring, capped with a crisp spring game outing in which he didn’t even have favorite target Tyler Lockett.

3. The offensive line should be solid: K-State graduated both offensive tackles from last year’s line, but quickly solidified those holes this spring. All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair swung to left tackle, while juco transfer Luke Hayes immediately stepped in and took over right tackle. With B.J. Finney manning center for a fourth year in a row, the Wildcats could field one of the league’s top lines.

Three questions for the fall

1. Can Daniel Sams help as a WR? After watching the last few games last season from the sideline, the former QB requested a position change in the offseason. Sams had only 9 yards receiving in the spring game and remains a work in progress as a receiver. But if he settles into his new role, he could be a factor again offensively.

2. Who will be the featured running back? The Wildcats went into the spring hoping to uncover a replacement for three-year starter John Hubert. But Jarvis Leverett, Charles Jones and DeMarcus Robinson couldn't separate, leaving the competition cloudy heading into the fall – and the door open for highly touted incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack to make a run at the job.

3. Will the jucos produce? Bill Snyder has a track record of relying on juco signees, and this year is no different. Hayes and cornerback Danzel McDaniel both made an impression in the spring, and coveted defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales and linebacker D'Vonta Derricott will be arriving in the summer. To contend for the Big 12 title, K-State needs the bulk of its juco class to produce.

One way-too-early prediction

Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged 9 yards per carry his final two seasons at Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, will take over as K-State’s primary running back before October.
With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and reranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with running backs. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:


1. West Virginia (pre-spring ranking: 4): West Virginia running backs coach JaJuan Seider has one of the best and most difficult jobs in the Big 12. Seider has an embarrassment of riches at his position in Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played last year as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring from Pitt set the Pennsylvania state high school rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher in 2012) and Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher from 2011, who, finally healthy again, enjoyed a resurgent spring. The Mountaineers also will add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. The difficult part for Seider will be divvying up carries to so many capable backs. But if the Mountaineers can keep everyone happy and find the right combination, this could become a devastating and versatile running back stable.

2. Texas (1): Coach Charlie Strong delivered promising news on Monday in San Antonio, suggesting Johnathan Gray could be cleared from his Achilles injury by mid-June. Strong also said that Joe Bergeron will be rejoining the team shortly, too, after sitting out the spring to focus on academics. When healthy and eligible, the trio of Malcolm Brown, Gray and Bergeron is a formidable bunch and the backbone of the Texas offense.

3. Baylor (3): Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin exited spring as the co-starters, but Johnny Jefferson left the biggest impression in the spring game. The Bears have a track record of spreading carries around, which means Big 12 fans will become very acquainted with the talented redshirt freshman next season.

4. Oklahoma State (5): One of the biggest surprises of the spring was how much the Cowboys used Tyreek Hill at running back. Oklahoma State is planning to utilize the nation’s top juco playmaker the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two years ago. In other words, Hill could line up in the backfield one play then slot receiver the next. Either way, arguably the fastest player in college football gives the Cowboys a dynamic lightning component to complement the thunderous running of senior Desmond Roland, who led all Big 12 backs in touchdowns last season.

5. Oklahoma (3): There might not be a Big 12 backfield with more upside than Oklahoma’s. Of course, with that upside comes little experience. Sophomore Keith Ford has the potential to be a punishing inside runner, but he had fumbling issues last season as a freshman that re-emerged during the spring. If he can’t hang onto the ball, he won’t play, no matter how tough he runs between the tackles. After getting passed by Ford on the depth chart last year, Alex Ross bounced back with an impressive spring. Early enrollee Dimitri Flowers was a revelation this spring as a powerful run-blocking fullback in the mold of Trey Millard. If fellow incoming freshman Joe Mixon lives up to his recruiting hype, the Sooners could feature their most potent rushing attack in years.

6. Iowa State (8): The most underrated one-two punch at running back in the league resides in Ames. According to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy were sharp all spring and will spearhead an offense that could surprise in 2014. The key will be keeping the slight but explosive Wimberly relatively healthy, which he never really was before and after rushing for 137 and 117 yards back to back against Tulsa and Texas. Wimberly, however, was 100 percent all spring, and it showed, as he racked up 68 yards on just nine touches in the spring game.

7. TCU (7): TCU had to make do without its three top backs in the spring due to injuries. Aaron Green suffered a broken collarbone, Kyle Hicks had a shoulder bruise, and returning leading rusher B.J. Catalon dealt with a nagging hamstring injury. All three, however, should be fine for the fall, and could form a reliable rotation at running back. Four-star recruit Shaun Nixon could help out, too, once he arrives on campus.

8. Texas Tech (6): The Red Raiders dropped two spots, largely because returning starter Kenny Williams played outside linebacker all spring and could remain there for good. But even if Williams becomes a full-time linebacker, Tech still could be solid at running back with veteran DeAndre Washington, sophomore Quinton White and incoming four-star freshman Justin Stockton, whom the Texas Tech coaching staff is very high on. Head coach and offensive play-caller Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t have given Williams the go-ahead to move to defense if he didn’t feel optimistic about what remained in the backfield.

9. Kansas (9): Though they come in ninth here, running back could be a position of strength for the Jayhawks next season. Brandon Bourbon, the favorite to start, rushed for 96 yards on 12 carries in the spring game, but Taylor Cox (63 yards on 15 carries) and Darrian Miller (50 yards on seven carries) had nice outings, as well. The Jayhawks also will welcome De’Andre Mann, the nation’s fifth-best juco running back, in the summer, as well as four-star freshmen Traevohn Wrench and Corey Avery. Until they start winning more games, it’s difficult to give the Jayhawks the benefit of the doubt in these position rankings. But with this collection of runners, they might not miss All-Big 12 performer James Sims as much as first thought.

10. Kansas State (10): The spring brought little clarity about who John Hubert’s primary replacement will be. Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones both ran hard in K-State’s spring game, though neither broke a run for longer than 11 yards. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Robinson, who has the most experience of the three, sat out the scrimmage with an injury. As a result, incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost 9 yards per carry his final two years in high school, will have an opportunity to be a factor once he joins the team this summer.
Kansas State will conclude spring ball in the Big 12 with its spring game Saturday.

Here’s a closer look:

When: 1:10 p.m. CT Saturday

Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.

What to watch for:
  • QB Jake Waters: Waters finished out 2013 on fire after struggling in his first few career FBS starts. Now, Waters – and his teammates – say his confidence level is night and day from where it was last season. Saturday will provide a glimpse of just how far he’s come along.
  • Daniel Sams’ new spot: The former dual-threat quarterback requested and was granted the opportunity to try out at receiver this spring. So far the results have been positive, according to coach Bill Snyder. Sams can be dynamic with the ball in his hands and could give the K-State attack a major boost by finding a way back onto the field.
  • The running backs: This position group is biggest question on the roster, and it could gain a little clarity with a big performance. So far, neither Jarvis Leverett, Charles Jones nor DeMarcus Robinson has separated in the competition to replace three-year starter John Hubert. With blue-chip freshman Dalvin Warmack set to join the fray in the summer, the spring game will be a big chance for one of the backs to make his mark.
  • Juco impact: Once again, Snyder dipped heavily into the juco ranks to replenish his roster. Three of those players – receiver Andre Davis, offensive tackle Luke Hayes and cornerback Danzel McDaniel – signed early and will be on full display Saturday. Hayes has been particularly impressive and could be on the verge of locking down a starting role. Davis and McDaniel could eventually become starters, too.
  • Defensive newcomers: The Wildcats return four key players defensively in All-Big 12 end Ryan Mueller, second-team all-conference tackle Travis Britz, linebacker Jonathan Truman and safety and Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl defensive MVP Dante Barnett. But that leaves seven other spots for the taking. The Wildcats have some highly touted jucos joining the team in the summer, notably tackle Terrell Clinkscales and outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott. But the spring game will provide up-and-coming defenders such as cornerback Morgan Burns and linebacker Charmeachealle Moore to build confidence and show what they can do.

Q&A: Kansas State's Dana Dimel

April, 2, 2014
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Kansas State will be the final Big 12 school to begin spring ball when Wildcats hit the practice field today. The units at Baylor and Oklahoma will get more hype, but co-offensive coordinator Dana Dimel has reason to believe K-State can have one of the Big 12’s best offenses in 2014 after a strong finish to last season.

On Tuesday, Dimel chatted with ESPN.com about holes that must be filled in the lineup, what to expect from his offensive leaders this spring and fall and the big game on the nonconference calendar.

First off, are you ready to coach up your son, freshman Winston Dimel?

Dimel: Hey, yeah, I’m excited about Winnie. He’s going to play fullback for us and it’s a really good niche for him because he’s built for it, has really good lower body strength. He’s about 6-1, 230 right now and getting pretty big. He’s kind of custom-made for that position. Winston is kind of that fullback/H-back type and I’m excited about having him come in, he’ll add some good stuff to the offense.

How excited are you about where this offense is heading going into the spring?

Dimel: Obviously the big thing for us is trying to hit where we left off. We ended the season with some good momentum and now we want to hit this thing rolling and grow with it. Our biggest concerns are we lost our two starting tackles, both good players with starting experience, and then our second thing is to replace John Hubert at running back.

How do you feel about those two tackle spots entering spring ball?

Dimel: We feel like we’re really athletic and we have some guys, two JC transfers. One is a first-semester transfer from Butler, Luke Hayes, who’s been with us for the whole winter conditioning and he looks really, really good so far. We feel like he’ll grab ahold of one of those tackle spots. Then we’ve got Aaron Bennett, a JC guy who redshirt last year, and we really feel like he’s got a chance to be solid at that other spot. Then we’ve got A.J. Allen,another JC guy we signed out of San Diego, who’s coming in and will challenge for that position. We have more depth in the O-line since we’ve had when we got back (in 2009), even though we lost two starters.

Where do you stand at running back now in replacing Hubert?

[+] EnlargeDana Dimel
Scott Sewell/USA TODAY SportsDana Dimel hopes the Kansas State offense can keep the momentum built late last season.
Dimel: That’s an interesting position. I think, to an extent, because he’s been here so long and hasn’t seen the field, DeMarcus Robinson is kind of the guy that’s underrated right now. He was a very highly recruited kid out of Wichita, very good speed, prototypical K-State back. He’s not much taller than Darren Sproles, about 5-5½ or 5-6.

But the one thing I’ve gotten leery about with small backs is their pass protection skills. K-State has had successful smaller backs, but I don’t like the small backs who can’t pass protect. Nice thing about D-Mac is he’s 205, 210 pounds. He’s really got huge calves and very good breakaway speed. D-Mac is a guy that people have looked past, but he’s the guy who could have a surprising senior year.

Speaking of those backs, where do you see Dalvin Warmack fitting in when he gets to campus?

Dimel: We like Dalvin a lot. I think he’s got a great mixture of strength and speed and he’s a super good leader, and he’s been a winner. Taking all those things and putting them into one package with him, I think he’s going to be a guy that’s got a chance to get on the field quickly. That was the positive thing in recruiting for him, too. DeMarcus is going to be a senior, and then Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones are the only two scholarship running backs we’ll have. With Dalvin’s time frame, he’s going to accelerate pretty quickly and have a chance to get on the field early.

What’s the next step for Jake Waters and what will you ask of him this spring?

Dimel: I think what he did against Michigan, through the extra weeks of preparation for that ballgame, he really got more of a grasp of feeling secure about taking things that are in the system when they’re there. He’s really kind of expanded his game. That’s where we expect him to keep progressing, that ability Collin Klein had to be able to get us into the very, very best play at the very best time. He did a nice job of that in the bowl game.

After proving he was arguably the Big 12’s best receiver last fall, what are Tyler Lockett’s goals now?

Dimel: He’s a really good route runner, probably underrated a little bit there, and he’s an extremely hard worker. He stays after practice and works on his routes and timing with the quarterbacks. He’s real diligent on improving his skill set in the little things. With that being said, he’s a weapon for us whether he’s getting the ball or not getting the ball. With a guy like him, you force people to double-cover him and if they don’t, you attack the single coverage. He brings a lot as a go-to guy but also a lot as a bait and decoy.

When you went back and watched the film, how would you sum up Daniel Sams role in 2013 and where do you see his role going forward? Does that have to be a situational thing?

Dimel: I like what Daniel does at quarterback, I’d just like to see him keep progressing and competing. We have depth now. You have Daniel who you can always go to if something happens to Jake, but we also have a redshirt freshman named Jesse Ertz who we feel like is going to be really, really good. We kind of have an interesting situation, because we don’t want to take away from the progress of Jesse. He has the chance to be outstanding. We also want to be able to use Daniel as well and get him some playing time. We’ve got to manage all of that.

Lastly, how do you feel about playing Auburn this year? I’m sure that’s going to be a heck of a chess match.

Dimel: That’s going to be a great game and one that I know our fans are really excited about, an opportunity to get a team that played in the national championship game and had a great chance to win the national championship. To have them coming into your home stadium and playing, that’s going to be a good time and a good game seen by a lot of people across the country. Great opportunity for us but a really tough challenge. They have a quarterback [Nick Marshall] who played at the Kansas junior college level and a lot of guys coming back. It’s our chance to see if we can play at that level and get back to where we were a couple years ago.
The Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s captured three Super Bowls on the backs of their triplets. Running back Emmitt Smith churned out yardage between the tackles. Wide receiver Michael Irvin hauled in receptions downfield. And quarterback Troy Aikman captained the unstoppable attack.

Like with the Cowboys, big-time triplets usually translate to big-time offense. And the Big 12 over the years has showcased several notable ones. Oklahoma’s Jason White, Adrian Peterson and Mark Clayton in 2004. Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Joseph Randle and Justin Blackmon in 2011. West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in 2012. Even last season, Baylor boasted one of the best triplets in the country in Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley.

So which Big 12 teams will feature the most prolific offensive triplets in 2014? We rank them below:

1. Baylor

QB Bryce Petty, RB Shock Linwood, WR Antwan Goodley

The Bears remain atop this list, even with Seastrunk bolting early for the NFL draft. Despite being Baylor’s third-string running back last season, Linwood still finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing and shined as the featured back while Seastrunk and Glasco Martin were injured. After totaling 46 touchdowns throwing and rushing, Petty should be even better in his second season as a starter. Goodley is an All-American-caliber wideout.

2. Oklahoma

QB Trevor Knight, RB Keith Ford, WR Sterling Shepard

Knight finally live up to his preseason billing with a sparkling Sugar Bowl performance against Alabama. Knight has the talent and potential to be one of the best dual-threat QBs in the country. Ford was one of the top running back recruits in 2013, and would have played more as a freshman had the Sooners not also had four senior running backs on the roster. Shepard has been a dependable starter the last two seasons, and he already has 96 career receptions going into his junior season. He seems ready to take over for Jalen Saunders as the go-to receiver.

3. Texas Tech

QB Davis Webb, RB Kenny Williams, WR Jakeem Grant

Webb broke out with a tremendous performance in the National University Holiday Bowl, throwing for 403 yards and four touchdowns in an upset of Arizona State. He had his moments during the regular season, too, and could be in for a monster sophomore campaign in Kliff Kingsbury’s air-it-out offense. Williams is a solid pass-catching running back out of the backfield, and he led the Red Raiders with 497 rushing yards and eight touchdowns last season. Williams has been taking first-team snaps at outside linebacker this spring, so he could wind up deferring carries to DeAndre Washington, who has been a capable backup. Grant is electric with the ball, burning Arizona State with a pair of touchdown catches. Grant was sixth in the Big 12 last season in receiving, and with Jace Amaro and Eric Ward gone, should take on an expanded role offensively.

4. Texas

QB David Ash, RB Malcolm Brown, WR Jaxon Shipley

The possibilities of this threesome hinges heavily on the health of Ash, who missed virtually all of the 2013 season with concussion issues. Ash is back with the team this spring, and he has had moments before of performing at a high level. After Johnathan Gray’s Achilles injury, Brown took over as the starting running back and performed admirably, rushing for more than 100 yards in each of Texas’ final three games. Shipley has sure hands, is a precise route runner and is capable of catching 70-plus passes in the right quarterback situation.

5. Kansas State

QB Jake Waters, RB DeMarcus Robinson, WR Tyler Lockett

The Wildcats would be ranked second here if John Hubert had another season of eligibility. But running back is a major question, with no back on the roster holding much experience. Robinson might be the favorite to win the job, but he’ll have to fend off Jarvis Leverett and incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack. Lockett is the best receiver in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Waters improved dramatically in his first season as the starter in 2013. If a running back emerges, the Wildcats could surge up this list.

6. Iowa State

QB Grant Rohach, RB Aaron Wimberly, WR Quenton Bundrage

Rohach first must win the starting quarterback derby this spring over Sam B. Richardson. But he played well down the stretch while leading Iowa State to a pair of wins to finish last year. Wimberly was banged up for much of last season, but he can be dynamic when healthy. Bundrage was third in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns in 2013, and with a little more consistency, could be an all-league receiver. This could be the best triplet combination coach Paul Rhoads has enjoyed in Ames.

7. Oklahoma State

QB J.W. Walsh, RB Desmond Roland, WR Jhajuan Seales

Walsh was fifth in college football in Adjusted Total QBR as a redshirt freshman, but he took a step back as a sophomore and eventually lost the starting gig back to Clint Chelf. If he plays like he did as a freshman, Walsh could be one of the five-best QBs in the league. If he performs like his sophomore season, he could lose the job again. Roland is a touchdown machine and is as good as any back in the league in short-yardage situations. Seales could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way after starting as a freshman.

8. West Virginia

QB Clint Trickett, RB Dreamius Smith, WR Kevin White

The Mountaineers have plenty of weapons, but they will only score more points with more consistent QB play. Trickett tops the projected depth chart for now, but he’ll have to outperform Paul Millard, Skyler Howard and William Crest to stick there. Smith was very impressive at times last season backing up Charles Sims. He’ll get the first crack at starting, but Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell will be looming if Smith sputters. White gets the nod as the No. 1 wideout, but Daikiel Shorts and Mario Alford are not far behind as part of a deep and balanced wide receiving corps.

9. TCU

QB Trevone Boykin, RB B.J. Catalon, WR Josh Doctson

Boykin is back at quarterback again after splitting time at receiver the last two seasons. Boykin struggled as the starting QB last season but got little help from his offensive line or receivers. Reports are that he has been sharp this spring in the new Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie offense. Catalon is a solid cog at running back, and he averaged 5.3 yards per carry despite playing in an anemic attack last year. Brandon Carter was supposed to be the No. 1 receiver last season -- and still could be in 2014 -- but he wasn’t reliable on or off the field. In Carter’s stead, Doctson surfaced after transferring in from Wyoming, and led the Horned Frogs with 36 receptions and 440 receiving yards.

10. Kansas

QB Jake Heaps, RB Brandon Bourbon, WR Nick Harwell

Harwell should give Kansas what it hasn’t had in a long time -- a go-to receiver. Harwell was the nation’s second-leading receiver in 2011 at Miami (Ohio), and he should give the Kansas offense a much needed shot in the arm. Heaps lost time to freshman Montell Cozart last fall, but he has reasserted himself this spring amid a three-way competition with Cozart and UCLA transfer T.J. Millweard. Bourbon is battling Taylor Cox and Darrian Miller to see who replaces All-Big 12 running back James Sims.
The 2013 season featured the most improbable of Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year winners.

As a walk-on, Baker Mayfield won Texas Tech’s quarterback job during the preseason, then went 5-0 as a starter before injuring his knee.

A surprise candidate could always capture the award again next season. But the league also features several formidable front-runners -- starting with Baylor’s K.D. Cannon.

As the No. 4 wide receiver recruit in the country, Cannon had offers everywhere from Florida State to Notre Dame. But the Mount Pleasant, Texas, native elected to remain in-state, giving the Bears offense yet another dangerous weapon to operate with.

SportsNation

Which of these players will win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year?

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Discuss (Total votes: 5,783)

Cannon will have to earn his way into the rotation, as Baylor has several experienced and talented receivers coming back in Antwan Goodley, Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller, Jay Lee, Corey Coleman and Robbie Rhodes, who was a blue-chip signee in the previous class. But Cannon is a polished prospect who will be tough to keep off the field.

Iowa State’s Allen Lazard is another polished prospect who is capable of carving out a significant role on his offense. Lazard was the gem of the Cyclones’ signing class, and was hotly pursued by Notre Dame and Iowa up to signing day. The Cyclones bring back Quenton Bundrage, who was third in the league last year in touchdown receptions and South Florida transfer D'Vario Montgomery is also now eligible. But coach Paul Rhoads has already indicated Lazard will play right away.

It’s unclear at this point whether Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph will play right away. The Cowboys bring back J.W. Walsh, who has started eight games over the last two years. Walsh, however, struggled with his completion percentage and decision-making last season, which could crack the door for Rudolph to make a run at the starting job. Rudolph is perhaps the most highly touted quarterback recruit Oklahoma State has ever signed. As a senior, the four-star product threw for 64 touchdowns while leading his South Carolina high school to a state title.

Kansas State signee Dalvin Warmack also won a state title. Two in a row, in fact. Over his final two seasons for Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, Warmack rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns while averaging almost nine yards per carry. With John Hubert gone and no back with more than five carries last season returning, the Wildcats have a gaping void in their backfield. Warmack will have his chance in the fall to fill it.

Carries aren’t so readily available in Norman, Okla., where former blue-chip running backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross currently top the depth chart. But Joe Mixon, Oklahoma’s top incoming recruit, might be too explosive to redshirt or keep on the sidelines. The nation’s sixth-best running back recruit had offers from almost every major BCS program, but settled on Oklahoma because his idol, Adrian Peterson, also went there. Mixon racked up 1,704 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns his last year at Freedom (Calif.) High School, and by winning MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Game, he showed he’s ready to help the Sooners from Day 1.

Of course, there are others who could contend for Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year. Baylor signed three other blue-chip receivers in this year’s class. Oklahoma State running back Devon Thomas has already impressed this spring after enrolling early. The Sooners are bringing in several talented pass-catchers, including ESPN 300 slot man Michiah Quick.

Foster Sawyer or Grayson Muehlstein could potentially win TCU’s starting quarterback competition once they arrive on campus. Texas’ Jerrod Heard won’t be stepping into the most stable of quarterback situations in Austin, either. The same goes for West Virginia’s William Crest in Morgantown.

Of course, like Mayfield last year, the league’s Offensive Freshman of the Year could always emerge out of nowhere.

Now, we ask you to weigh in. Of the favorites -- Cannon, Lazard, Rudolph, Warmack and Mixon -- who is the best bet to win Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year?
Kansas State will be the last Big 12 team to open spring drills, with its first practice not coming until April 2. We cap our Big 12 spring primers by previewing what to look for from the Wildcats when they kick off spring ball:

[+] EnlargeDante Barnett
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsDante Barnett had four interceptions as a sophomore.
Offensive returner ready to take next step: Quarterback Jake Waters’ career at Kansas State got off to a rough start. The K-State offense sputtered in the junior college transfer’s first start, as FCS power North Dakota State toppled the Wildcats in Manhattan. By late October, however, Waters was a completely different player. He forced Bill Snyder to abandon the two-QB system with Daniel Sams, and led the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games. During that stretch, Waters threw 14 touchdown passes to just four interceptions. With a year of experience, he should only be better in 2014.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: The Wildcats lose one of the best safeties in the country in All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman. But they also have been grooming his heir, Dante Barnett, who broke into the starting lineup at safety as a sophomore last season. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles (one more than Zimmerman) and led the Wildcats with four interceptions. He has the talent to become K-State’s next cornerstone in the defensive backfield.

Redshirt freshman to watch: Nick Ramirez was the top signee from the 2013 recruiting class, but redshirted with seniors Tre Walker and Blake Slaughter manning two of the spots at linebacker. With Walker and Slaughter now gone, Ramirez will have a chance to jump into the rotation -- if not earn a starting spot.

Most significant position battle: The biggest unknown on the offense is who will replace three-year starter John Hubert at running back. No returning running back had more than five carries last season, leaving this battle wide open. DeMarcus Robinson and Jarvis Leverett will likely split carries this spring, but they’ll have to produce to avoid being mere placeholders for highly touted incoming freshman Dalvin Warmack, who will join the team in the summer.

Key midterm enrollee: With Tramaine Thompson gone, the Wildcats need a new wideout complement to All-American candidate Tyler Lockett. K-State might have found just that player in junior college transfer Andre Davis, who is already on campus. He was ranked the No. 36 overall juco recruit in the country. Davis has the kind of burst that allows him to blow by defenders downfield. With defenses sure to be keyed on Lockett next season, Davis could have plenty of opportunities against single coverage.

Question that could be answered: Spring ball will give the Wildcats the opportunity to experiment with Sams, who essentially fell out of the rotation at quarterback the last month of the season. Still, Sams has tremendous playmaking potential, underscored by his 199-rushing-yard, three-touchdown performance against Baylor. Sams could still be useful as a situational quarterback. But he is also too talented to spend the rest of games watching Waters on the sidelines. Sams could boost the K-State receiving corps. He could also command a few carries a game at running back. Whatever the case, the Wildcats should exit the spring knowing how they’ll be able to unleash Sams in 2014.

Question that won’t be answered until fall: Even though Davis, offensive tackle Luke Hayes and cornerback Danzel McDaniel will be with the team this spring, the Wildcats won’t know until the fall just how big the juco impact will be in 2014. It could be significant. Davis, Hayes and McDaniel could all turn into starters. But more starters from his juco class could be on the way. Defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales was a four-star recruit who flipped from Nebraska late in the recruiting process. Outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott was also one of top 50 juco recruits in the country. Both players could nail down starting spots and become impact performers. There are others who could help the team in 2014, too. This could prove to be one of the best juco classes Bill Snyder has ever signed. But that won’t be clear until after the entire class gets to campus.
Kansas State is still a month away from beginning spring practice, but now is as good a time as any to break down one of the biggest questions facing the Wildcats' offense in 2014: Who's the running back?

For the past three seasons, John Hubert was the workhorse. Now it's time for K-State to find a new one. Here’s a look at the battle to replace him:

Departed (2013 stats): Hubert finally surpassed the century mark as a senior, rushing for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns on 198 attempts along with 13 receptions for 129 yards and another score. His backup, the 5-foot-4 senior Robert Rose, rushed for 104 yards and two TDs.

Spring contenders: Senior DeMarcus Robinson, sophomore Jarvis Leverett, sophomore Charles Jones, redshirt freshman Ryan Mack

Summer contenders: True freshman Dalvin Warmack

The skinny: Kansas State really didn't have much need for running back depth during Hubert's three seasons as a starter. Having Collin Klein in the backfield in 2011 and 2012 essentially gave the offense two backs anyway, with Klein rushing for a combined 2,061 yards in his final two seasons. And Hubert was steady enough to carry the ball 587 times in these last three years.

He followed up his All-Big 12 junior season with a fine year as a senior, including career-bests in rushing yards and yards per carry. But Hubert didn't have a whole lot of help, from the diminutive Rose or any other of K-State's young running backs. That's what makes this position, at least to outsiders, a bit of a mystery entering 2014.

The most experienced of the returning backs is Robinson, who has carried 11 times for 45 yards in the past two years. He might be the heir apparent on paper, but he'll need to prove he deserves that title in spring practices.

Of the young backs behind him, don't sleep on Leverett. He did not record a carry last season as a redshirt freshman but was the program's top scout-team performers in 2012, and his scouting report out of high school suggests he can be the kind of slasher the Wildcats need to complement their passing attack.

Warmack, an incoming standout from the Kansas City area, rushed for 2,223 yards and 29 TDs as a senior and won back-to-back state titles. He'll face big expectations when he arrives in Manhattan, and while a redshirt might be preferable, he should get a chance to prove he's worth playing from Day 1.

Prediction: For Kansas State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel, answering questions along the offensive line might be the bigger immediate priority in spring ball. But there are enough talented backs in the mix here to create good competition, during those 15 practices and beyond, and the addition of Warmack will help. For now, though, an equal split of carries between Robinson and Leverett, until the best man emerges, might make the most sense.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 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 Wednesday with running backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how they compare at the moment:

1. Texas: The three-headed monster of Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron gives Texas the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. Whether this group goes from good to great hinges on a healthy return for Gray, who is coming back from an Achilles injury and will sit out spring drills. Either way, this will be the backbone of Charlie Strong’s first offense.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShock Linwood showed breakaway ability as a Baylor reserve in 2013.
2. Baylor: Shock Linwood takes over in the backfield after a dynamic freshman season in which he finished seventh in the league in rushing despite being a third-team running back. The competition for carries after Linwood will be interesting. Devin Chafin is the favorite to be Linwood’s wing man, but he could be pressed by Johnny Jefferson and/or incoming four-star freshman Terence Williams, who is already on campus.

3. Oklahoma: The potential of this running back crop has no bounds. But it will be young and inexperienced after seniors Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and Damien Williams (until he was kicked off the team) hoarded the carries last season. Keith Ford, who was the nation’s No. 3 running back recruit in the 2013 class, will take over the starting role. Joe Mixon, this year’s No. 6 RB recruit, won’t get to Norman until the summer, but he should supply the lightning to Ford’s thunder. Alex Ross, who was the nation’s No. 7 RB recruit in the 2012 class, rounds out a fearsome threesome with tremendous pedigree.

4. West Virginia: The Mountaineers lose All-Big 12 performer Charles Sims, but still claim a glut of capable rushers. Dreamius Smith and Wendell Smallwood thrived playing behind Sims last year. West Virginia also has Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie, its leading rushers from 2011 and 2012, respectively. (Buie is back after leaving school for a semester.) On top of all that, Pittsburgh transfer Rushel Shell figures to be in the mix. Shell was the No. 26 overall recruit in the country coming out of high school after becoming the all-time leading rusher in Pennsylvania high school history. If that weren’t enough, the gem of the incoming recruiting class, Donte Thomas-Williams, is also a running back. Suffice to say, the competition for carries will be fierce in the league’s deepest backfield.

5. Oklahoma State: Desmond Roland helped fuel Oklahoma State’s midseason turnaround after seizing a starting role. Roland was great in short yardage and led the Big 12 with 13 touchdowns, but he wasn’t a big-play runner, with an average of only 4.6 yards per carry (14th in the league). The Cowboys are banking that Rennie Childs can complement Roland as the breakaway back. Childs showed flashes as a true freshman. Roland and Childs can form a solid combo, but four-star freshman Devon Thomas, who is enrolled for the spring, should not be discounted, nor should Sione Palelei, who has the good hands that past Oklahoma State running backs also possessed.

6. Texas Tech: The returning duo of Kenny Williams and DeAndre Washington won’t do much damage between the tackles. Both, however, are excellent pass-catchers, making them supreme fits for Kliff Kingsbury’s spread attack. Together they combined for 64 receptions, and that number should go up in 2014 as quarterback Davis Webb settles in as a sophomore.

7. TCU: The Horned Frogs were a disaster offensively last year, but the potential at running back is a reason why TCU could be equipped for a bounce-back season. Aaron Green, Kyle Hicks and incoming freshman Shaun Nixon were all ESPN 300 recruits. That doesn’t include B.J. Catalon, either, who led the Frogs with 569 yards and six touchdowns last season. With a new regime making the play calls, there’s reason to believe this could become one of the better units in the league.

[+] EnlargeDalton Santos
David Purdy/Getty ImagesIf Aaron Wimberly can stay healthy, Iowa State has a potentially dynamic returning running back.
8. Iowa State: When healthy, Aaron Wimberly can be a game-breaker. He torched Texas for 137 yards as the Cyclones nearly pulled off a Thursday night upset. Wimberly, however, was never really healthy the rest of the season, and never had the same impact. After Wimberly, though, the Cyclones don’t have much returning firepower. Firepower, however, could be on the way. Oklahoma native Michael Warren went overlooked in recruiting, but he can fly; he rushed for more than 2,500 yards as a high school senior.

9. Kansas: The Jayhawks gradated their heart and soul in James Sims, who was an all-conference selection even though Kansas won only one Big 12 game. Tony Pierson returns as an electric playmaker, but he has never been a full-time running back, often flexing out as a receiver. It will be interesting to see who emerges in Sims’ shoes. Brandon Bourbon (191 yards) will have the first crack in the spring, but newcomers De'Andre Mann and Traevohn Wrench could vie for time once they arrive in the summer.

10. Kansas State: It’s difficult to believe K-State will be at the bottom here once the season starts, but running back is a major hole for the Wildcats going into the spring. That’s because longtime starter John Hubert is gone. Hubert, senior backup Robert Rose and QBs Jake Waters and Daniel Sams combined for 492 carries last season. Nobody else had more than five. Rising senior DeMarcus Robinson, who has only 11 career carries, will probably be atop the depth chart going into the spring. It’s also possible that Sams will get a look at running back with Waters having nailed down the full-time QB job. But the player to watch here is freshman Dalvin Warmack, who rushed for more than 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns his final two seasons in Blue Springs, Mo. Warmack isn’t big at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds. But his size fits the mold of past K-State running backs Hubert and Darren Sproles.

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