Big 12: Desmine Hilliard

WACO, Texas -- Two years ago, Baylor’s backup quarterback rounded up the starting offensive linemen in the preseason and took them to Chuy’s for a Mexican feast on his dime. He wasn’t playing in 2012, but he understood the importance of keeping the big boys well fed.

Last August, Bryce Petty took the gang to Olive Garden. This time he brought six linemen. They capitalized on his kindness.

“They had appetizers and salads and two entrees -- one to take home, which was ridiculous,” Petty said. “I didn’t think they needed that, but I couldn’t really tell them no.”

[+] EnlargeSpencer Drango
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezJunior tackle Spencer Drango is one of the leaders of the Baylor offensive line.
The final bill? More than $120. Petty would love to make these lineman dinners a weekly staple in 2014, but as he put it, “The budget doesn’t really call for that all the time.”

Tackle Troy Baker got the Olive Garden invite despite being out with a torn ACL, so he was especially appreciative. The love Petty has always shown his linemen, even before he was a starter or Big 12 Player of the Year, isn’t lost on them.

“He’s going to take care of his big guys. He knows we’ll get beat up and we’ll work for him,” Baker said. “He knows what we mean to him. We know how important he is to us.”

But Petty still has to tread lightly among his linemen in the locker room. Baylor’s offensive line room is full of athletic freaks, blue-collar grinders and loudmouths, plus a Brit and two Aussies. And they can be merciless, even to QB1.

“Sometimes he’ll come in wearing his decked-out Nike stuff, looking like Tiger, or he’ll be wearing neon yellow Nike stuff head to toe,” Baker said. “We’ll give him some crap about that.”

Petty doesn’t get it as bad as Jason Osei, the 27-year-old sophomore from London with a martial arts and rugby background. He gets called “Pickle” on the days he’s wearing his green skull cap, shirt, shorts and shoes.

“He’s a character, man,” tackle Spencer Drango said. “All the girls love him for his accent. It’s pretty thick. We have a joke about who won the Revolutionary War. He says it was a tie.”

Then you have brothers Blake Muir and Sean Muir, who arrived in Waco last year. Blake started 12 games at Hawaii in 2012 before transferring. Sean had never played football before joining the Bears. Their accents are just as beloved.

Blake is competing for the left guard job with LaQuan McGowan, a young man who might be from the future.

“LaQuan is legitimately 6-foot-8, 400 pounds,” Baker said. “He’s strong as can be. Coach [Art] Briles always says he’s 20 years out of his time. It’s unbelievable physically what he can do.

“You can’t do anything to him. You literally can’t. He can cut you in line and, even as another offensive lineman, you’re like, ‘Go ahead, buddy. It’s yours. All you.’”

Drango jokes that the first time he shook hands with McGowan, his freshman-year roommate, he almost lost his.

“I have big hands,” Drango said. “He completely dwarfed my hand and almost crushed it.”

McGowan or Muir will line up to the right of Drango, an All-Big 12 tackle and NFL prospect who’s fully recovered from the back injury that ended his 2013 season early. His backup, Pat Colbert, is known as “Sinbad” in the locker room. Look up his mug shot and it’s easy to see why.

At center, there’s Kyle Fuller, a redshirt sophomore who’s described as no-nonsense and “very blue-collar” by teammates. Desmine Hilliard is the starting right guard and also an All-American at throwing the discus; he set school records at the NCAA track and field championships last year.

The backup at right tackle, Tyler Edwards, gets called “The Undertaker” for his hair. And then you have Baker, who’s back from the torn ACL and can’t wait to see what this group does at full strength.

[+] EnlargePetty
AP Photo/LM OteroBryce Petty knows his success is tied to staying upright, and he has a top-notch offensive line upon whom to rely.
As one of the old guys in the line room, Baker says he has witnessed an evolution in the past four years. The Waco native swears he wouldn’t have been recruited by BU if he were a high schooler today. He wouldn't have been good enough.

“To be honest, I don’t think I would,” the former three-star recruit said. “They don’t have to. They can recruit the studs, and the studs come after them now.”

Randy Clements, Baylor’s line coach, has been working alongside Briles since 1989. He oversaw linemen and power lifting back in their Stephenville High days. His linemen say he’s brilliant, a coach capable of developing anybody. At Baylor, he’s produced an NFL draft pick in six straight years.

The line began breaking through, in Baker's estimation, late in the 2012 season. Injuries hit the group hard last year during the stretch run, but they plugged in new starters and survived. Having All-American left guard Cyril Richardson to learn from no doubt helped.

“We had a perfect example,” Baker said. “His technique was flawless and that’s why he was so successful. He was able to do everything Coach Clem asked.”

As Clements’ linemen describe it, fall camp can be brutal. This 19-man line group averages 6-5 and 305 pounds. In practice, they run just as hard as everyone else to prep for hustling to the line of scrimmage. You can’t sustain a four-plays-per-minute tempo without practicing faster than you play.

And while Petty, his trio of running backs and his endless supply of receivers get all the attention, his offensive linemen will be busy doing the dirty work.

Drango and Baker, the leaders of the gang, were stuck on the sidelines when Baylor’s undefeated season fell apart at Oklahoma State. They know the run game faltered late, averaging 168 yards per game and 3.7 per carry in the final four games after putting up 300 a game and 6.0 per carry in the first nine. The seniors vow it can’t happen again.

“We go as they go. I’ve always said that,” Petty said. “I’m just praying those guys stay healthy.”

His linemen are practicing and conditioning this month with December on their minds. Sure, they love to mess with each other and tease their quarterback in their spare time. But when it comes to title talk, they’re not joking around.

“As we get closer to November,” Baker said, “we plan on being in contention for the playoff."
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. We start with Baylor, which released an official two-deep shortly after concluding spring ball in early April.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCan Bryce Petty be even better this season?
QB: Bryce Petty (Sr.), Seth Russell (So.)

The Bears have one of the top returning quarterbacks in college football in Petty, who was phenomenal last year in his first season as a starter. With a year of experience under his belt, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be better in 2014. Russell performed well in limited duty last year, suggesting the Bears could survive at least a minor injury to Petty.

RB: Shock Linwood (So.) or Devin Chafin (So.), Johnny Jefferson (RFr.), Terence Williams (Fr.)

The Bears boast four potentially outstanding runners who all have at least three seasons of eligibility remaining. Linwood finished sixth in the Big 12 in rushing last season, despite backing up Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. Jefferson, however, was the back who created the most buzz during the spring. The 5-foot-11, 200-pounder looks poised to give the Bears a dynamic home-run threat to complement the rest of the backfield. It’s not often a program can lose two talents like Seastrunk and Martin and remain loaded.

WR: Antwan Goodley (Sr.), Davion Hall (Fr.)

WR: Jay Lee (Jr.) or Robbie Rhodes (So.), Quan Jones (RFr.)

IR: Corey Coleman (So.) or Clay Fuller (Sr.), Cal Spangler (Jr.)

IR: Levi Norwood (Sr.), Lynx Hawthorne (So.)

TE: Tre’von Armstead (So.) or Gus Penning (Jr.), Jordan Feuerbacher (Fr.)

Despite graduating all-conference performer Tevin Reese, the Bears should easily have the deepest collection of pass-catchers in the Big 12. Coleman was tremendous all spring, capped by a 47-yard receiving effort in the spring game. He and Rhodes could have breakout campaigns in their second years in the rotation. Goodley is one of the two best wideouts in the league along with Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, and Lee, Fuller and Norwood are all proven commodities. More firepower is on the way this summer, including hotshot freshman K.D. Cannon, who looks like a virtual lock to crack the rotation somewhere.

LT: Spencer Drango (Jr.), Pat Colbert (Jr.)

LG: LaQuan McGowan (Jr.) or Blake Muir (Jr.)

C: Kyle Fuller (So.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)

RG: Desmine Hilliard (Jr.), Jarell Broxton (Jr.)

RT: Troy Baker (Sr.), Tyler Edwards (Sr.)

The Bears lose unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson, but will get a huge boost if Drango makes a full recovery from a back injury he suffered late last season. With Drango out, Baylor’s blindside pass protection also suffered the final month of the season. When healthy, Drango is one of the best pass-protecting left tackles in the country. Baker, who started as a sophomore, returned late last season after tearing his ACL last spring to reclaim his starting job, which he held through the spring. With Hilliard returning at guard, Fuller locking down the starting job at center and other quality depth inside, the Bears should be very solid on the offensive line -- provided Drango can get healthy and Baker can stay healthy at the bookends.

DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShawn Oakman has elevated his game.
RE: Shawn Oakman (Jr.), K.J. Smith (RFr.)

NT: Andrew Billings (So.), Suleiman Masumbuko (Jr.)

DT: Beau Blackshear (Jr.) or Javonte Magee (So.), Byron Bonds (So.)

LE: Jamal Palmer (Jr.), Sam Ukwuachu (Jr.)

Last week, Baylor coach Art Briles said he’d put his top-seven defensive linemen against any other top seven in college football. The unit still has a lot to prove to reach that level, but there’s no denying the potential. Oakman elevated his game to another level this spring, and was basically unblockable. He’s a candidate to be an All-Big 12 performer even in a league that’s stocked at defensive end. The fact that Magee is listed as a co-starter with Blackshear -- a starter last season -- underscores what the coaching staff thinks of Magee, who before taking last year off due to personal matters was among the most highly touted recruits Briles had ever signed. This group is high on ability, and has the capability to prove their coach right in the fall.

WLB: Aiavion Edwards (So.), Taylor Young (RFr.) or Raaquan Davis(RFr.)

MLB: Bryce Hager (Sr.), Grant Campbell (Jr.) or Kendall Ehrlich (So.)

Hager missed the final four games of last season due to a groin injury, which also kept him out this spring. But Hager is about as reliable as it gets in the Big 12, having earned second-team all-conference honors the last two years. Edwards is the one to watch. He was given the first nod on the weak side, after playing in the middle last season and in the spring in place of Hager. But he’ll have to perform to fend off the competition, including Young, who impressed defensive coordinator Phil Bennett during the spring with his nose for the ball.

NB: Collin Brence (Sr.), Pat Levels (So.)

CB: Terrence Singleton (So.), Ryan Reid (So.)

CB: Xavien Howard (So.) or Chris Sanders (Jr.)

DS: Orion Stewart (So.), Alfred Pullom (RFr.)

CS: Terrell Burt (Jr.), Taion Sells (So.)

This unit comprises by far the biggest question mark on the team. The Bears should be in good shape at safety. Burt, the only returning starter in the group, will be back shortly from offseason shoulder surgery that kept him out of a spring ball. Briles also singled out Stewart for having a very promising spring as the replacement for All-American Ahmad Dixon. After a series of injury setbacks early in his career, Singleton returned to win a starting job at corner, at least for now. Howard also showed a ton of promise during the spring, but he’ll have competition from Sanders, one of the top juco corners in the country, who had a shoulder injury this spring. Brence, a walk-on, was the biggest surprise in the secondary, and is listed as the starter at nickelback. How this untested unit comes together could ultimately determine whether the Bears repeat as Big 12 champs.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: OL

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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).

Hidden gems key to Baylor's rise

December, 26, 2013
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Baylor’s rise from the bottom of the Big 12 to the top of the conference standings can be attributed to a lot of different things. Coach Art Briles’ confidence, an exciting offensive system that attracts playmakers and a clear plan to build the program have been key.

Recruiting plays a major role as well, but the most overshadowed characteristic of the rise has been the Bears’ ability to evaluate prospects. Year after year the Bears seem to have playmakers emerge who were overlooked during their prep days.

Here are five key contributors to Baylor’s first conference championship who represent BU’s ability to evaluate prep prospects.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsShock Linwood has 800-plus rushing yards, not bad for No. 3 on the depth chart at running back.
Running back Shock Linwood, redshirt freshman

Then: A two-star recruit in the Class of 2012, Linwood had offers from Arkansas State, North Texas, UTSA and TCU. He was committed to the Horned Frogs before a late switch to Baylor.

Now: Linwood started several games with Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin battling injuries. He finished with 125 carries for 862 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry, with eight touchdowns. His quickness and slashing style created problems for Big 12 defenses. He had four 100-yard rushing games including in wins over Oklahoma and Texas Tech.

Linebacker Eddie Lackey, senior

Then: A junior college signee, Lackey had offers from Hawaii and New Mexico State when he signed with Baylor in the Class of 2012.

Now: Lackey was the anchor of Baylor’s defense, which finished atop the Big 12 in several categories. He led the team with 97 tackles, 26 more than any other Bear. He added a team-high 13 tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He played as well as any defender in the Big 12 and didn’t miss a game while being a driving force behind BU’s 11-1 regular-season record.

Receiver Antwan Goodley, junior

Then: A three-star signee in the Class of 2010, Goodley had offers from Arizona and Texas A&M.

Now: Goodley was the Big 12’s most productive receiver, giving defenses fits with his size, speed and big-play ability. He finished with 67 receptions for 1,319 yards, averaging 19.69 per catch, and 13 touchdowns to finish among the top five receivers in every Big 12 category.

Defensive tackle Beau Blackshear, sophomore

Then: A three-star defensive end prospect in the Class of 2011, Blackshear had offers from Houston and TCU.

Now: Blackshear was a quiet, consistent presence in the middle of the Bears' defensive line. He started 11 games, finishing with 31 tackles including five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He’s one reason Lackey and fellow linebacker Bryce Hager were able to finish 1-2 in tackles as he helped keep blockers off the Bears’ tackling duo.

Guard Desmine Hilliard, sophomore

Then: A two-star prospect in the Class of 2011, Hilliard had offers from Kansas and Kentucky.

Now: Hilliard worked his way into the starting lineup as a sophomore and looks poised be an anchor of the Baylor offensive front in the future. The Bears' offensive line was the foundation of the eye-popping success the Bears had on offense and was the reason BU led the league in rushing at 265.17 yards per game despite battling injuries at the running back position.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 6 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Baylor. This is starting to get ridiculous. Despite the uptick in opponent, the Bears scored more than 70 points for the third consecutive week, becoming the first FBS team to do so since 1930. The offense has overshadowed how well the defense has also been playing. Baylor, which gave up 70 in Morgantown last year, limited West Virginia to just two offensive touchdowns through three quarters. By that point, the Bears led 66-21. Can anyone stop these guys?

Disappointment of the week: West Virginia. Nobody really expected the Mountaineers would go to Waco and win as four-touchdown underdogs. But this was a litmus test for a defense that had been pretty solid through the first month of the season. Well, the West Virginia defense failed the test miserably, giving up a Big 12-record 864 yards of offense. Baylor had four turnovers and committed 100 yards' worth of penalties. And the Bears still scored 73 points.

[+] EnlargeLache Seastrunk
AP Photo/Jose YauBaylor's Lache Seastrunk contributed 172 of Baylor's whopping 468 rushing yards against West Virginia.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Baylor's offensive line. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said afterward he’d never seen a line establish the line of scrimmage the way the Bears did. Up front, Spencer Drango, Cyril Richardson, Stefan Huber, Desmine Hilliard and Kelvin Palmer paved the way for Baylor to rack up 468 yards on the ground against a defensive front that held Oklahoma State running back Jeremy Smith to just 1 yard on 15 carries a week ago. The Bears have been unstoppable so far, in large part because their offensive line has been paving lanes as well as any line in college football.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Shaun Lewis and Jason Verrett. The Oklahoma State linebacker and TCU cornerback showed over the weekend why they’re all-conference-caliber players. Lewis led the Cowboys with eight tackles, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass late in the fourth quarter. Lewis also chased down Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams with a shoestring tackle in the open field on the Wildcats’ final drive that kept the clock ticking. Verrett, meanwhile, was fabulous in a losing effort at Oklahoma. Verrett had six tackles and two pass breakups, and he basically blanketed any receiver that lined up on his side of the field. TCU's defense dominated the Sooners in the third quarter, which allowed the Horned Frogs to climb back into the game despite a 13-0 halftime deficit.

Special-teams players of the week: Travis Britz and Kip Daily. The Kansas State duo came up with a huge play at Oklahoma State with 2:45 to go in the first half. Britz jumped up and blocked Ben Grogan’s 43-yard field goal attempt, and Daily grabbed the deflection and raced 65 yards for the touchdown that gave the Wildcats a 14-10 lead (Oklahoma State won the game 33-29). Daily is having quite the season. Three weeks ago, he was the Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Week after picking off two passes against UMass. Placekickers Michael Hunnicutt and Ryan Bustin get honorable-mention honors here. Hunnicutt set an Oklahoma record with his 49th career field goal. After missing a 32-yard field goal at Kansas, Bustin bounced back to connect on four field goals and six extra points as Texas Tech routed the Jayhawks 54-16.

Play of the week: After getting completely shut down in the second half, the Sooners' offense finally got the play to put TCU away. With OU holding on to a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter, running back Brennan Clay got a carry to the left and then cut it back right 76 yards for a touchdown to basically put the game away with 4:37 to play. "We set it up the whole day," Clay said. "The [linebackers] were going over the top and the O-line did a great job just pressing the play, and I was fortunate enough to make the cut backdoor and the safety was a little flat-footed. I made a stutter step and just took it to the crib."

Stat of the week: After six weeks, Baylor QB Bryce Petty leads the nation in opponent-adjusted Total QBR, which takes into account the strength of the opposing defenses faced. Petty has a score of 97.7 (0-100 scale, 50 is average). Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is second (96.8) followed by Georgia’s Aaron Murray (95.6).

Quote of the week: “70 points, I guess, isn’t enough.” – Petty, on those who still doubt the Bears' offense

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