Big 12: DeVondrick Nealy

Big 12 lunchtime links

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
12:00
PM ET
Charlie Weis is taking a much better vacation this summer than I will.
Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. Thursday, we continue with the Iowa State Cyclones, who released an official two-deep after finishing up spring ball last month:

QB: Grant Rohach (So.) OR Sam B. Richardson (Jr.) OR Joel Lanning (RFr.)

[+] EnlargeGrant Rohach
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesGrant Rohach has the edge in Iowa State's quarterback derby right now, but the competition is far from over.
Building off his strong close to the 2013 season, Rohach had the strongest spring of the three quarterbacks to take an edge in the competition into the summer. The Cyclones, however, are holding off on naming a starter until at least mid-August. That could give Lanning, who has impressed the new offensive regime with his arm strength and his toughness, time to narrow the gap with Rohach before the start of the season.

RB: Aaron Wimberly (Sr.), DeVondrick Nealy (Jr.)

The name of the game here is health. When healthy, Wimberly is one of the best running backs in the league. He was finally healthy again this spring and resembled the running back who rushed for more than 100 yards on Texas. Nealy's emergence gives the Cyclones the luxury of using more discretion when it comes to how many touches to give to Wimberly.

WR (X): Quenton Bundrage (Jr.), D'Vario Montgomery (So.)

WR (Z): P.J. Harris (So.), Tad Ecby (Jr.)

Slot (F): Jarvis West (Sr.), Damien Lawry (So.)

TE: E.J. Bibbs (Sr.), Ben Boesen (Jr.)

For the Cyclones to get to a bowl game and beyond, they really need Bundrage to be a gamebreaker week-to-week instead of every other game. Too many times Bundrage disappeared last season, and he did it again in the spring game, finishing the scrimmage without a catch. The QBs have played a part in Bundrage's inconsistency, but so has Bundrage. Elsewhere, the Cyclones had several receivers step up this spring, notably Harris, Brett Medders and Montgomery. More help is on the way in blue-chip freshman Allen Lazard. If Bundrage plays up to his potential game to game, this could be a very dangerous collection of pass-catchers, which includes Bibbs of course.

LT: Brock Dagel (Jr.), Jake Campos (RFr.)

LG: Oni Omoile (Jr.), Jamison Lalk (Jr.)

C: Tom Farniok (Sr.), Ben Loth (Sr.)

RG: Daniel Burton (So.), Ryan Glenn (Fr.)

RT: Jacob Gannon (Sr.), Jacob Dunning (So.)

The Cyclones actually have the second-most returning starters in the Big 12 up front, trailing only Oklahoma. That isn't just quantity, either. Farniok is a four-year starter who is finally healthy again after an injury-plagued junior season. Dagel suffered an infection after a cut during the spring, but he has the look of a cornerstone left tackle. The new offensive staff also was pleased with the intangibles Burton brought to the line, including toughness and a high football IQ. If the Cyclones can stay healthy up front, and Dagel continues to progress, this could be a top-half-of-the-league offensive line.

DEFENSE

DE: Mitchell Meyers (So.), Darius White (So.)

DT: Robby Garcia (RFr.), Pierre Aka (So.)

DT: Devlyn Cousin (So.), Vernell Trent (RFr.)

DE: Cory Morrissey (Sr.), Gabe Luna (Jr.)

Morrissey and Meyers dominated off the edge in the spring game, but the spring was not a positive for the rest of the D-line. The Cyclones booted tackles Rodney Coe and David Irving, leaving the inside thin and inexperienced. Iowa State did get 2013 starting nose guard Brandon Jensen back following spring ball after he originally quit the team in December. That will help.

[+] EnlargeNigel Tribune
David Purdy/Getty ImagesNigel Tribune is solid at cornerback, but the rest of the Cyclones' secondary is in flux.
SLB: Drake Ferch (Sr.), Jared Brackens (Sr.)

MLB: Alton Meeks (RFr.), Kane Seeley (So.)

WLB: Jevohn Miller (Sr.), Levi Peters (So.)

Transfer Jordan Harris led the juco ranks in tackles last year, but Meeks, a former QB, won the starting job out of spring in the middle. Brackens and nickelback Ferch, a walk-on who also surprised this spring, will rotate on the strong side according to down and distance. When Luke Knott returns from a hip injury, he will likely take over as the starter on the weak side after winning the job last year as a freshman.

CB: Nigel Tribune (So.), Matthew Thomas (Sr.)

CB: Sam E. Richardson (Jr.), Kenneth Lynn (Jr.)

SS: T.J. Mutcherson (So.), Darian Cotton (Jr.)

FS: Kamari Cotton-Moya (RFr.), Kamari Syrie (RFr.)

Iowa State has a very good prospect in Tribune surrounded by a whole bunch of questions marks in its secondary. Richardson and Lynn will probably rotate on the opposite side. After losing starters Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washington, safety is a complete unknown, especially after key juco transfer Devron Moore left in the middle of spring ball after getting homesick (it’s unknown if he’ll return). Instead, Iowa State will be relying on one young safety coming back from a torn Achilles (Cotton-Moya), and another who sprained his MCL in the spring game (Mutcherson). Safety is a position the Cyclones can ill-afford any more adversity at.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Friday with special teams. These outlooks will probably look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Horned Frogs’ coverage units were pretty lousy last year. If they can shore those up, this could be an elite special-teams unit with kicker Jaden Oberkrom, punter Ethan Perry and returners B.J. Catalon and Cameron Echols-Luper.

2. Kansas State (3): Freshman Judah Jones, who was one of the stars of the spring game with a 51-yard touchdown catch, fielded kickoffs, too. Cornerback Morgan Burns also added a 39-yard kickoff return. They could take some pressure off Tyler Lockett in the return game and also him to get a breather when needed.

3. Baylor (2): The return units are going to be spectacular, and Spencer Roth is one of the best punters in the nation. But field-goal kicking is an unknown. Freshman Chris Callahan has taken over for now as the team’s kicker, but missed one chip shot badly in the spring game. Callahan could be fine. But as Oklahoma State found out last year, rolling with a first-time kicker can be dicey.

[+] EnlargeMichael Hunnicutt
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsMichael Hunnicutt has the ability to become Oklahoma's first All-America kicker.
4. Oklahoma (5): Place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt (Moneycutt?) nailed field goals of 52 and 47 yards during a windy spring game. Amazingly, the Sooners have never had an All-America kicker. Hunnicutt has the potential to be the first.

5. West Virginia (7): Josh Lambert created plenty of buzz this spring, including his 53-yard field goal in the spring game. Mario Alford also took the opening kick in the spring game to the house. Punter Nick O’Toole is a proven commodity. If Lambert has a big sophomore year (he was really good as a freshman) and Alford’s TD is a sign of improvement in the return units, which ranked last in the Big 12 last year, this could become one of the league’s better special-teams units.

6. Texas Tech (4): The Red Raiders continued to have issues fielding punts during the spring, which is probably one reason why the return slots were left blank in the team’s post-spring depth chart. Incoming freshman Ian Sadler, who had six return touchdowns during his senior season of high school, could solidify that spot once he arrives on campus.

7. Iowa State (6): Sophomore kicker Cole Netten showed off his big leg in the spring game by making a 56-yard field goal. That came after coach Paul Rhoads gave him a shot at a 62-yard attempt. Netten, combined with the dynamic return trio of Jarvis West, DeVondrick Nealy and Aaron Wimberly, should translate into a strong special-teams unit. If incoming freshman Colin Downing can adequately step in at punter, the unit will be even stronger.

8. Texas (8): Nick Rose showed a strong leg on a missed 55-yard field goal try in the spring game and converted a 40-yarder. William Russ averaged 43.3 yards per punt in the spring game. Those were positive signs, but replacing All-American kicker/punter Anthony Fera will be one of the underrated storylines in Charlie Strong’s first season.

9: Oklahoma State (10): With so much turnover on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys need their special teams to be much better than last season. They just might be, though. With his speed, Tyreek Hill will be a major factor in the return game. Also, place-kicker Ben Grogan, after a shaky freshman season, drew praise for his improvement this spring from coach Mike Gundy.

10. Kansas (9): Special teams did not excel in Kansas’ spring game. Matthew Wyman made a 23-yard field goal but missed an extra point. The punting in the game was mediocre as well. The Jayhawks reportedly have preferred walk-on John Duvic enrolling this summer. After setting the Illinois state high school record with five field goals in a game, he could be a welcomed addition.
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.

Spring game review: Iowa State

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
1:30
PM ET
Iowa State held its annual Cyclone Gridiron Club spring football game on Saturday. A recap of what happened:

[+] EnlargeGrant Rohach
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesAfter a solid spring game, Grant Rohach will head into the summer with an edge in Iowa State's QB competition.
Best offensive performance: Quarterback Grant Rohach got the first turn with the first-team offense and he didn’t disappoint. The sophomore completed 22 of 38 passes for 171 yards and led the Cyclones on three of their six scoring drives. He capped one of those with an 8-yard touchdown run. The quarterback competition with Joel Lanning and Sam B. Richardson isn’t over yet. But Rohach will head into the summer with the edge.

Best defensive performance: In a surprising performance given how many key players were missing, the first-team defense forced seven three-and-outs to begin the game and finished with 12 sacks, even though a defender only had to touch the quarterback to be credited with one. Still, it was a dominating charge led by ends Cory Morrissey and Mitchell Meyers, who each totaled four sacks apiece and were constantly wreaking havoc in the offense’s backfield.

Best debut: With junior college transfer Devron Moore out because of homesickness and T.J. Mutcherson suffering an MCL injury, the Cyclones have taken some hits at safety, where they already faced the task of replacing starters Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield. But redshirt freshman Kamari Syrie had his moments on Saturday, including an interception off Rohach. Pending Moore’s return and Mutcherson’s recovery, Syrie could end up playing a big role in the Iowa State secondary in the fall.

Notable play: Receiver P.J. Harris flashed his playmaking potential on Saturday. He took a quick hitch from Richardson on the right side, made a couple of defenders miss at the line of scrimmage, then galloped left across the field for an impressive first down. “[Harris] had the longest run of the day,” coach Paul Rhoads said. “Eighty yards to gain 18, or whatever it was.”

Developing storyline: Eleven receivers caught at least one pass in the spring game. But Quenton Bundrage was not one of them. The Cyclones targeted Bundrage, who tied a single-season school record with nine touchdown catches last season, several times, but most of the attempts were badly overthrown. And the one that hit him in the hands, he dropped. The wind had something to do with the misfires. But there were times last season when Bundrage basically disappeared from the offense. Successfully getting him the ball down the field will be paramount for the Iowa State offense to meet its full potential in the fall.

Biggest question answered: Whoever the quarterback turns out to be, he’ll have the best array of weapons surrounding him that Iowa State has enjoyed in a long time. The 1-2 running back punch of Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy looked sharp on Saturday as they rushed for 71 yards with an average of 5.5 yards per carry. Versatile tight end E.J. Bibbs and slot receiver Jarvis West each caught eight passes. Even backup receivers Brett Medders and Harris had nice outings. The Cyclones still have to settle on a quarterback. But otherwise, they appear stocked with playmakers.

Quotable: “There comes a point that you really get concerned about timing and making sure the lead guy is getting the majority of those reps with those No. 1s. Whether I’ll announce that in April, when we get through practice Wednesday, or we’ll wait to see what happens in August. … you’ve got to remember, there’s a lot of things that could happen in May, June and July leading up to August that could change things.” -- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads on the QB competition
We’re almost done breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

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

Next up, the Iowa State Cyclones:

1. WR Quenton Bundrage: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads believes Bundrage can be an all-league wide receiver, something Iowa State hasn’t had since Todd Blythe in 2005. Bundrage, who finished third in the Big 12 last season with nine touchdown catches, has the talent. He just needs a little more game-to-game consistency.

2. TE E.J. Bibbs: With Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro gone, Bibbs is the best returning pass-catching tight end in the league. Despite the lack of stability at quarterback, Bibbs still finished 15th nationally among tight ends in receiving and second in the Big 12, behind only Amaro.

3. C Tom Farniok: With 35 career starts, Farniok is one of the most seasoned offensive linemen in the league. He struggled at times through injury last season, but is the undeniable leader of the offensive line and one of the better centers in the country when healthy.

4. RB Aaron Wimberly: As Texas found out firsthand, Wimberly can be electric when 100 percent. Unfortunately for the Cyclones he wasn’t at that level for a very long span, as an assortment of injuries slowed Wimberly for most of the season. If the speedy, though slight, Wimberly can stay healthy, he has the ability to be one of the five best running backs in the league.

[+] EnlargeEJ Bibbs
David K Purdy/Getty ImagesE.J. Bibbs is the Big 12's top returning tight end and could be primed for a big season.
5. DE Cory Morrissey: With Jeremiah George and Jacques Washington gone, Morrissey has taken on more of a leadership role defensively this spring. Morrissey was an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection last season, and a very solid defender off the edge.

6. CB Nigel Tribune: Tribune is the only Cyclone to play as a true freshman in either of the last two seasons. He got off to a rough start, but settled in the last half of the season. Tribune should give Iowa State a reliable primary cover corner for the next three seasons.

7. OT Jacob Gannon: This rising senior has been a key piece of the Iowa State offensive line since his redshirt freshman year, with 12 career starts scattered over three seasons.

8. OT Brock Dagel: Dagel's return is another big reason why the Cyclones are pumped about the potential of their offensive line. The 6-foot-8, 300-pound tackle won a starting job on the strong side as a sophomore and has a lot of potential. Teamed with Gannon, the Cyclones could wind up featuring one of the better bookend combos in the Big 12.

9. WR Jarvis West: West has 71 career catches out of the slot and could see his role expand in new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino’s no-huddle system. West also can be an dynamic return man. He produced Iowa State’s first non-onside kickoff return touchdown in 19 years last season against Texas Tech.

10. RB DeVondrick Nealy: Wimberly will be the featured running back but will have a competent wingman in Nealy, who rushed for 53 yards against Kansas State and 48 yards against Oklahoma late last season. Like West, Nealy is also dangerous on special teams. He was sixth in the Big 12 last year in kickoff returns, returning one for a touchdown in a narrow loss to TCU.

Q&A: Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
10:00
AM ET
Under coach Paul Rhoads, Iowa State has returned to respectability the last five years, as the Cyclones have made three bowl appearances. Now, armed with an offensive coordinator with a proven track record to go along with the deepest and most talented offensive roster Iowa State has had in years, Rhoads is hoping his program can break through to another level in 2014.

As spring practice began for the Cyclones this week, Rhoads took time to speak with ESPN.com about new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino, the significance of signing blue-chip wide receiver Allen Lazard and how the death of defensive line coach Curtis Bray in January has made an impact on himself and the program:

[+] EnlargeMark Mangino
Courtesy of Youngstown StateMark Mangino's attention to detail has Paul Rhoads excited about the future of Iowa State's offense.
How did you settle on bringing in Mark Mangino as your offensive coordinator, and did you guys have a relationship previously before that?

Rhoads: Our previous relationship was this: one conversation at the 50-yard line when we traveled to play the Jayhawks in 2009. So we had had one conversation physically in person. I had one year of competing against him, knowing what he had accomplished both as a head coach and an assistant. I felt like he was an ideal fit for us, and that put him at the top of list. We were able to start conversations and we were successful in our recruitment of him.

In those conversations, what was it that validated that he was the guy you wanted to bring in?

Rhoads: He had been at programs that had not been traditionally rich programs, and he had had success both as a position coach and a coordinator. In my opinion, he had a track record of doing more with less and overachieving. As a play-caller, he won a national championship at Oklahoma. And at Kansas, his teams were known for -- and I saw it first-hand -- their physical toughness and ability to play hard. I knew that going in. What I wanted to find out from those first conversations was his motivation to get that done at Iowa State. He had a detailed plan to why we could be successful. He was anxious for the challenge, and we’re excited we were able to get him in here in our system.

What has impressed you about him so far?

Rhoads: His organization and attention to detail. I have purposefully stayed out of his way. I’ve done that with coordinators throughout my time here. He’s got a new offense to put in. We have five new position coaches, four new on offense. He didn’t need me getting in his way. But I’ve had a close eye on what he’s been getting done, his itineraries, his installation plans, and it’s been a very smooth transition. He’s gotten a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. That was on display our first practice -- there were few busts as far as being lined up correctly or false starts. I got to see his attention to detail laid out on the field.

You obviously have several guys, notably Grant Rohach and Sam B. Richardson, vying for the starting quarterback job. What is going to be the determining factor in picking a starter?

Rhoads: The execution of the offense displayed by the mental capacity and control of what we’re trying to accomplish. Mark has said with us being a no-huddle team, the coaches are going to do the heavy lifting. But the quarterback still has to make decisions at the line of scrimmage. We’re looking for the guy that separates that way first. And tied along with those mental decisions is leadership. The other 10 guys [had] better respond to him with great enthusiasm and precision with movement. The second thing would be throwing accuracy. We want a guy that can make all of the throws with great accuracy. The difficult, longer throws he won’t make as often, but we want him making some of those, and then all of the throws underneath. Lastly, we’ll be looking at production with their feet. We’re going to have designed runs, designed option reads. And when the pocket breaks down, can he pick something up on his own? We want a guy that can do that with productivity as well.

How would you compare the offensive talent you have right now to other teams you’ve had at Iowa State?

Rhoads: I think it’s our most talented group of offensive players that we’ve had here. The question we just talked about needs to get answered. We need somebody to lead the team at the quarterback position. But we got invaluable experience on the offensive line last year due to way too many injuries. We started nine different offensive lines due to injury. But we’ve got a lot of guys back who’ve gotten playing time and bring experience, led by our seniors, (center) Tom Farniok and (tackle) Jacob Gannon. That should be a positive for us. We’ve also got a potential All-American in (tight end) E.J. Bibbs. A potential all-league player in (receiver) Quenton Bundrage. And we have two very talented running backs in Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy.

How big was landing four-star receiver Allen Lazard, not only because of what he brings to the table skill-wise, but psychologically the message it sent about where the program is and the direction it’s headed?

Rhoads: It was a great victory. My comments got lost on signing day. But my point on signing day was that we won. They had nothing to do with how other people (notably Notre Dame and Iowa) recruited him. It was that Iowa State had won the competition for one of the nation’s best players. Especially coming off a hiccup year, it showed where the program is at, how it’s perceived in the state, if not nationally. It was a great victory in recruiting, and that leads to on-field success.

You mentioned last year being a “hiccup” season. What do you think it said about your team and your program that, down 17 in the last quarter of the last game, your team fights back to win at West Virginia in triple overtime with nothing more really than pride on the line?

Rhoads: Quite a bit is what it said. We had lost seven straight (before beating Kansas the previous week). We had no opportunity for postseason play. We were playing for seniors, for pride, and most importantly for the future. The kids never quit. Never quit in preparation. Never quit in their work. Never quit in the game. To go on the road and overcome that, to me, speaks to the entirety of the program. It’s something that has generated great energy going into 2014.

[+] EnlargePaul Rhoads
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallPaul Rhoads has brought a fire to Iowa State that has made the Cyclones a dangerous team to overlook.
Other than last year, you guys have basically been a .500 team. You had the hiccup season in 2013 with all the youth and injures. But because of that you have way more depth and experience going into next season. What’s the key to breaking through to that next level as a program?

Rhoads: First, quarterback play. You can’t hide the importance of it. Then, some guys stepping up and playing at a level of accountability of productivity we haven’t seen in those five years of basically, .500-level play. It might be the development of that fourth- or fifth-year guy. It might be that younger, talented player. Whoever it is, we need a higher level from more guys like that than we’ve had in the past.

You mentioned quarterback play. You guys have gone through several different guys the last few years and really haven’t been able to find that guy. If you find that guy from this competition, that would seem to really give you leg up compared to what you’ve had to deal with the last few years, correct?

Rhoads: I don’t know if Grant (Rohach) will be our guy or not. I know this: We got arguably great quarterback play out of Grant our last two games. And because of that, we had team success. Whether he keeps that up or somebody plays better, getting that level of play out of the position is critical to being successful. It has been inconsistent for us over five years' time.

This last question is more of a difficult one. Losing Coach Bray so suddenly two months ago, how did that affect you, the program and the kids?

Rhoads: It impacts us every day still. You’re never prepared for that. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s for over 10 years. When her time came, you were ready. Quite honestly, she immediately was in a better place. This happened over a period of two hours, when he was struggling and then he was gone. You don’t get answers to that one, whether you’re 18, 19 or 47. And time doesn’t slow down for you. You’ve got to keep moving. The kids have persevered, and the coaches have dealt with it in their own ways and pushed on and led. I think of his family daily. His wife was just in here with mine, walking as they do on a weekly basis. If I told you I wasn’t angry that he’s gone, I’d be lying to you.
As we await the start of spring ball, we’ve been examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12. Thursday, we close this series out with special teams.

1. TCU: Honorable mention All-Big 12 place-kicker Jaden Oberkrom was 13 of 14 on field goals inside the 50 last season and drilled a 56-yarder late in the fourth quarter at Kansas State. B.J. Catalon was second in the league in kickoff returns and took one to the house in the opener against LSU. Freshman Cameron Echols-Luper took his first punt return 51 yards and had a 41-yarder in the season finale against Baylor. Brandon Carter has had moments in the return game in the past as well. Ethan Perry will be a three-year starter at punter, rounding out a formidable special teams unit.

2. Baylor: Corey Coleman led the league in kick returns, and Levi Norwood scored twice off punt returns. The Bears are loaded with potential game-breakers in the return game and welcome back All-Big 12 punter Spencer Roth. If Kyle Peterson proves to be a reliable replacement for departing kicker Aaron Jones, this special teams unit will have no weakness.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesAlong with being a top-flight wide receiver, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett can also provide big plays in the return game.
3. Kansas State: The Wildcats feature one of the best kickoff return men in the game in Tyler Lockett, who doubles as an All-American WR candidate. Jack Cantele, the younger brother of All-Big 12 K-State kicker Anthony Cantele, only missed two field goal attempts as a sophomore and nailed a 41-yarder as time expired to beat TCU. Defensive tackle Travis Britz also returns after leading the nation with four blocked kicks.

4. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders will feature a lethal one-two punch in the return game in Jakeem Grant and Reginald Davis, who took a kick back for a touchdown in the bowl game. Receiver Jordan Davis also has return experience. Kicker Ryan Bustin returns after garnering honorable mention All-Big 12 honors last year.

5. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose the most explosive return duo in the league in Jalen Saunders and Roy Finch. Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross could be among the players who replace them. Oklahoma boasts the league’s most efficient returning place-kicker in Michael Hunnicutt, who nailed 24 of 27 field goal tries last season. The Sooners have a secret weapon in Nick Hodgson, who led the league in touchback kickoffs last season. Jed Barnett, fifth in the Big 12 in punting average last season, returns as well.

6. Iowa State: The Cyclones had four players make first- or second-team All-Big 12 last season, and departing punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was one of them. Replacing his production won’t be easy, though incoming three-star freshman Colin Downing will try. DeVondrick Nealy, Jarvis West and Aaron Wimberly all had several dynamite moments returning kicks. Cole Netten was 13-of-18 on field goals as a freshman,

7. West Virginia: Nick O'Toole leads the Mountaineers on special teams. The “Boomstache” was 15th nationally in punting last season. The Mountaineers have all their returners back in Wendell Smallwood, Mario Alford and Jordan Thompson, though more big plays are needed from this group -- the Mountaineers ranked last in the league in both punt and kick returns in 2013. Josh Lambert comes back after making 17 of 23 field goals as a freshman. The Mountaineers also enjoy a luxury in Michael Molinari, who can do a little bit of everything.

8. Texas: The Longhorns lose their punter and their kicker in consensus All-American Anthony Fera. That hurts. Nick Jordan, who made nine of 15 field goals in 2012, could reclaim his job. Daje Johnson -- who returned a punt for a TD against Oklahoma -- Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, Marcus Johnson, Kendall Sanders and Jaxon Shipley all have experience returning.

9. Kansas: Return men Connor Embree (punts) and JaCorey Shepherd (kicks) both come back. The Jayhawks also return kicker Matthew Wyman, who connected on a game-winning 52-yard field goal to beat Louisiana Tech. The freshman, however, only made two field goals after that and eventually lost that job to departing senior Ron Doherty. Trevor Pardula was third in the Big 12 in punting as a junior and received votes for Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Year.

10. Oklahoma State: After enjoying All-Americans Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp the last few years, the Cowboys were finally mediocre in the kicking game last season. Ben Grogan struggled as a freshman, making just 11 of 18 field goals while missing two critical attempts in the early-season loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys were also last in the league in punting. Oklahoma State signed three-star kicker Zach Sinor with hopes of curing some of those ills. The Cowboys were still dynamic in the return game, but with Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart both gone, Oklahoma State could lean on juco transfer and track star Tyreek Hill for a jolt on returns.

Season report card: Iowa State

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Paul Rhoads’ team took punch after punch this season.

Yet Iowa State’s will to compete remained strong each week despite an injury-riddled season and the Cyclones finished the season playing their best football. A close-call loss against Texas will be the lasting memory of the 3-9 season but the Cyclones’ response to a seven-game losing streak to start Big 12 play should not go unnoticed. ISU rallied to win its final two games and head into the offseason with some hope.

Offense: D

ISU’s offense didn’t scare anyone, finishing among the bottom three in almost every offensive category. The Cyclones’ 24.8 points per game was ninth in the Big 12 and No. 89 nationally and their 4.82 yards per play was also ninth in the conference.

Receiver Quenton Bundrage was the lone big-play threat on offense with nine receiving touchdowns including a 97-yard catch-and-run against Texas. He finished with 48 receptions for 676 yards.

Freshman quarterback Grant Rohach provided hope for the future, starting the last four games. In those games, ISU’s offense averaged 28.2 points and 5.38 yards per play. His 66.5 adjusted QBR was sixth in the Big 12. He joins Bundrage as a good building block for the future.

Realistically, the offensive line was the root of a lot of ISU’s offensive problems as injuries forced the Cyclones to play musical chairs throughout much of the season.

Defense: F

The Cyclones finished last in the Big 12 in points allowed per game (36), total yards allowed (463.1), yards per play allowed (6.05), rushing yards allowed (224), total sacks (15) and yards per rush (5.35). In other words, they earned this F.

There were individual standouts on the unit, like linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, but the overall defense was really bad. A general lack of aggressive, active playmaking made this the conference’s worst unit. Yet there were a lot of inexperience players who got thrown into the fire so ISU can only hope 2013’s disappointment will spark success in 2014.

Special teams: B-

ISU’s special teams were solid but not exceptional. Punter Kirby Van Der Kamp was solid and Cole Netten hit 10 of 11 attempts inside 40 yards. Add two different players with kickoff returns for touchdowns (Jarvis West, DeVondrick Nealy) and ISU’s special teams held their own.

Overall: D+

The Cyclones escaped an lower grade with their strong finish to the season and Rohach’s strong play once he took over the starting role. Their 52-44 triple-overtime win at West Virginia in its season finale showed a lot of fight for a team that could have thrown in the towel during a seven-game losing streak in the middle of the season. Nonetheless, a three-win season was a disappointing result.

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

Big 12's unsung heroes: Week 10

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The Big 12’s unsung heroes for Week 10:

Linebacker Jake Love, Kansas: Playing alongside Ben Heeney, it’s easy to overlook Love, a sophomore. He tied Heeney for the team lead with nine tackles, including six solo stops, in the 35-13 loss to Texas. Love added one quarterback hurry and one pass breakup against the Longhorns.

Linebacker Jonathan Truman, Kansas State: Lining up alongside Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker, the junior has been overshadowed this season. He had seven tackles, including six solo stops, to tie for the team lead in KSU’s 41-7 win over Iowa State. It was the first time he recorded seven tackles after beginning the season with four consecutive games recording at least seven tackles.

[+] EnlargeDeVondrick Nealy
Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY SportsDeVondrick Nealy rushed for 53 yards and Iowa State's lone score against Kansas State.
Running back DeVondrick Nealy, Iowa State: There wasn’t much to be proud of for the Cyclones in their 41-7 loss to Kansas State, but Nealy was one bright spot for ISU. The sophomore was seldom used in Iowa State's first five games but has 24 of his 29 total carries in the past three weeks. He led ISU with 12 carries for 53 yards and one touchdown against the Wildcats and finished with 96 all-purpose yards to lead the squad. It’s been a disappointing season, but Nealy’s emergence could pay off in the future.

Cornerback Tyler Patmon, Oklahoma State: A Kansas transfer, Patmon stepped in and stepped up with starting cornerback Kevin Peterson out. Patmon had six tackles, all solo, including one tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. It was just his second multiple-tackle game of the season. Patmon’s performance is the reason the Cowboys were interested in bringing the senior to Stillwater to provide quality, veteran depth at cornerback.

Receiver Jaxon Shipley, Texas: Running back Malcolm Brown received all the headlines with his four-touchdown performance, but Shipley recorded his best game during the Longhorns’ five-game winning streak. He finished with six receptions for 77 yards, with four of his receptions coming on third down in Texas' 35-13 victory over Kansas. The junior is a quarterback’s best friend with his quickness, route-running and sure hands.

Receiver Josh Doctson, TCU: It’s probably fair to say more was expected from the Wyoming transfer heading into the season. However, the sophomore might have had a breakout performance against West Virginia with eight receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. He had five receptions for 33 yards and one touchdown on first-down plays. He entered the game with 12 total receptions.

Safety Keenon Ward, Texas Tech: Making his first career start, Ward finished with four tackles, including one tackle for loss and one interception. The redshirt freshman wasn’t perfect, but he showed he could become a playmaker on the Red Raiders' defense for the rest of the season and beyond.

West Virginia offensive line: Charles Sims was the clear standout with his 24 carries for 154 yards and one touchdown in WVU’s 30-27 victory over TCU. The Mountaineers’ offensive line deserves a lot of credit as they paved the way for Sims to average 6.42 yards per carry. WVU’s offensive front was particularly nasty on first down, paving the way for Sims’ 14 first-down carries for 98 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 8 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas Tech was on the brink of dropping its first game of the season, trailing West Virginia 27-16 in the third quarter. But then tight end Jace Amaro took over, QB Davis Webb made some clutch throws and the Tech defense allowed just one first down over five West Virginia possessions to end the game. Now Tech is ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, with a chance to surge even higher this weekend at Oklahoma.

[+] EnlargeJace Amaro
AP Photo/Chris JacksonTight end Jace Amaro caught nine passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns in the Red Raiders' win over West Virginia.
Disappointment of the week: TCU had to win in Stillwater to have any chance of factoring in the Big 12 race. But after another inept performance offensively, the Horned Frogs could be on the brink of missing out on a bowl game instead. Through three quarters, TCU did virtually nothing offensively in a 24-10 loss at Oklahoma State, as Trevone Boykin threw three more interceptions and had the lowest Big 12 Total QBR (5.9) and Adjusted QBR (27.4) of the week. TCU still needs three wins to get bowl-eligible, and as poor as the offense has looked, that might not be so easy.

Big (offensive) man on campus: For the second straight week, Webb broke the Texas Tech freshman single-game passing record with 462 yards through the air. More importantly, he quarterbacked the Red Raiders to their most impressive victory of the season yet, with two huge completions in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The first converted a third-and-6 on a 27-yard loft to Jordan Davis. The second converted a third-and-goal from the West Virginia 10-yard line into a touchdown, putting the Red Raiders up by two scores to clinch the victory. All told, Webb completed 36 of his 50 passing attempts, and avoided taking a sack or throwing an interception. If he had scored instead of fumbling at West Virginia 1-yard line on a quarterback draw, it would have been a flawless performance.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Linebacker Eddie Lackey spearheaded Baylor’s most impressive defensive performance of the season. Lackey led the Bears with a team-high eight tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery, as Baylor held Iowa State to just 41 yards rushing. Even though the game got out of hand early, Lackey & Co. nearly pitched a shutout. But the Cyclones finally got on the board with 47 seconds remaining on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Grant Rohach to DeVondrick Nealy. The Baylor offense gets all the headlines. But after eight weeks, the Bears also lead the Big 12 in scoring defense (No. 7 in the country).

Special-teams players of the week: Josh Stewart could not be corralled in Oklahoma State’s win over TCU. Basically a one-man show offensively with 10 catches for 141 yards, Stewart also delivered the highlight of the game, taking a punt return 95 yards for a touchdown that put the Cowboys on the scoreboard in the first quarter. Stewart later somehow hauled in a pass from fellow receiver Charlie Moore over three defenders, which set up the Cowboys’ game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. "We doubled him, we played over the top of him,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson, “and he still found ways to get there.”

Play of the week: Late in the second quarter with the Sooners still trailing Kansas, QB Blake Bell handed off to wide receiver Lacoltan Bester on an end around. Instead of continuing to run, Bester pulled up and floated a pass in stride to Sterling Shepard, who coasted into the end zone to give Oklahoma a 15-13 lead. The play energized the Sooners, who never trailed again. Had Bester not converted the trick pass, Oklahoma probably would have been in a fourth-quarter dogfight with the last-place Jayhawks.

Stat of the week: Over four Big 12 games, TCU is averaging 2.5 points per first half. The Horned Frogs have been shut out in first half already three times this season.

Quote of the week: “That’s great. I hope they keep saying it. I saw 'GameDay,' [Kirk] Herbstreit picked against us. That’s good. I hope they keep giving us that locker room material.” -- Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury, on those who say the Red Raiders’ 7-0 start is a bit of fool’s gold.

Iowa State Cyclones spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
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2012 record: 6-7
2012 Big 12 record: 3-6
Returning starters: offense: 5; defense: 4; special teams: 2.


Top returners: C Tom Farniok, RB James White, LB Jeremiah George, RB Shontrelle Johnson, S Jacques Washington, DE Willie Scott, P Kirby Van Der Kamp, QB Sam Richardson

Key losses: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, DL Jake McDonough, QB Steele Jantz, WR Josh Lenz, S Durrell Givens, WR Aaron Horne, CB Jeremy Reeves, DL Cleyon Laing

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Steele Jantz (1,603 yards)
Rushing: James White* (505 yards)
Receiving: Josh Lenz (459 yards)
Tackles: A.J. Klein (117)
Sacks: Cleyon Laing (3)
Interceptions: Durrell Givens, Jacques Washington* (3)

Spring answers

1. Leaders emerging. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein led vocally and by example for the past few years in Ames, and without that duo, somebody had to fill the void. Jeremiah George did some of that this spring, and Jacques Washington might be counted on for leadership from some of his experience, too. George is a heck of player who's got a good amount of playing time, too.

2. The offensive line is jelling. Four starters who closed the season for Iowa State return, and this should be the strongest position for the Cyclones, who need to find some big-play ability on offense. Center Tom Farniok headlines this unit, but Ethan Tuftee is an experienced senior and ISU should have some good depth there, too.

3. Iowa State's going to focus on the running game. Sam Richardson is still a green sophomore, but the running backs are deep and have tons of ability. James White and Shontrelle Johnson are shifty and productive, though Johnson is coming off an injury, and Jeff Woody is a solid power guy. Reserve Devondrick Nealy broke out in the spring game and juco transfer Aaron Wimberly provides even more depth. ISU will never be short for solid, fresh legs at running back.

Fall questions

1. Can the receivers step up? The Cyclones lost all three of their top receivers from last year's team, and three new starters have to step into bigger roles for a team that's struggled with inconsistency at quarterback. Tad Ecby, Quenton Bundrage and Jarvis West have to help Iowa State's passing game become a bigger threat that defenses must respect. Albert Gary has experience and should contribute, but ISU needs more than 459 yards from its top receiver. Coach Paul Rhoads called this the thinnest position on the Cyclones' team.

2. Is Sam Richardson really the long-term answer? After Jared Barnett's postseason transfer, it looked like the Richardson Era began, but when two of his three career starts ended with completion percentages below 50 percent, it's hard to have a ton of faith in him coming into fall. He' has promise and more accuracy than Steele Jantz and Barnett, but he's not far from being replaced by Grant Rohach if he struggles at some point in 2013.

3. Can Iowa State find a kicker? Three missed extra points is three too many, and Edwin Arceo's senior camp will be spent competing with freshman Cole Netten. Both missed a pair of kicks on a big stage in the spring game, but ISU has a penchant for getting locked into close games. It needs consistency from this spot.
We'll cap our coverage of Saturday's spring games with the Cyclones in Ames.

What happened:
  • Sam Richardson completed 9 of 12 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.
  • Running back DeVondrick Nealy carried the ball 18 times for 142 yards and two scores, and juco transfer Aaron Wimberly added 89 yards on 15 carries.
  • Attendance was 15,000.
  • Linebacker Jeremiah George and defensive back Darian Cotton led all defenders with 10 tackles.
  • Gold beat Cardinal, 41-27.
What we learned:
  • Holy offense, Batman. The biggest issue for Iowa State, even through an amazing first four seasons with Paul Rhoads, has been the offense, but Saturday looked solid. The defense is still adjusting to life after Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, but the big-play ability we saw was definitely something new. The offense turned up the tempo and ran for 535 yards and threw for 362. Nealy was fourth string last year, but Rhoads loved what he saw from the whole position all spring. "I had felt the running back position overall had the best spring,” Rhoads told reporters. "DeVondrick Nealy is running as he was capable. He is going into his third season and that is encouraging to see. James White is James White. He runs hard, smart, and knows everything about the offense. Aaron Wimberly showed why we are excited to have him and why we recruited him. Rob Standard is productive every time we play him." You can only put so much stock in a spring game, but Saturday was definitely a good sign. If you can put up points in the Big 12, you're going to win a whole bunch of games, and it's hard to see Iowa State's defense getting torched next season like it did for much of Saturday.
  • The defense is finding some new impact players. I was a little surprised to see coaches be so open about Willie Scott, a possible future star at defensive end who was arrested earlier this spring for possession of a controlled substance. He was maybe the biggest defensive star on Saturday with a whole bunch of tackles and an interception. "He’s a high-motor guy,” safety Jacques Washington told the Des Moines Register about Scott. "He’s a little undersized as a defensive end, but he’s athletic and closes on the ball well. He’s a guy you can always count on -- like everyone saw [Saturday].” Jeremiah George has a lot of experience, but I like what he showed on Saturday, too. Iowa State's defense centered around Knott and Klein, and though you can't replace guys like that easily, George looks solid.
  • The new offense is taking shape. You're going to see a lot more pistol with Richardson this year, which could mean good news for a decent running game, too. Richardson is a speedy guy, and the more the pistol works, the more you're going to see it. The misdirection that can come from the set is already paying off for the running game, and as that happens, life's going to get easier for Richardson in the passing game. Everybody wins.
  • The kicking competition is still a bit of a mess. Edwin Arceo made just 12 of 18 field goal attempts last season and missed three extra points, part of the reason the competition is open to Cole Netten this spring. Netten, a freshman, was just 2-of-4 on Saturday, but Arceo didn't take advantage, making just one of his own three attempts. The good news for Arceo? His only made kick of the day with a 53-yarder, and his last kick after beginning with two misses. Both of Netten's misses came from beyond 50 yards, but he made kicks from 29 and 45 yards. "I think that shows one, consistency, and it also shows two, we’ve got two guys very capable of playing winning football as kickers at this level," Rhoads told the Des Moines Register.
Here's the next in our look at the Big 12 rankings by position: Running backs.

Last year's class was one of the best in recent history, but this year's class? Unassuming to begin the season. There are a few possible stars looming, but very, very little talent returning. Cyrus Gray ranked seventh in rushing yards last year (thanks to an insane finish), but he's the only player returning to the Big 12 from the conferences' top 10 rushers in 2010.

That's nuts.

The Aggies are the only team with a truly elite backfield tandem, though I could see Oklahoma and/or Oklahoma State joining that group by the end of the year.

The rest of the league? Every team has at least a couple of players to get excited about, and teams 5-10 are all pretty close. No one is really understaffed at the position, but obviously, they're fit to be ranked.

Here's where I have them:

1. Texas A&M

[+] EnlargeTexas A&M's Cyrus Gray
AP Photo/Eric GayCyrus Gray had at least 100 yards rushing in each of A&M's final seven games last season.
I wouldn't have been surprised if Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael were the Big 12's top leading returning rushers this year, but a midseason injury from Michael prevented it from happening. Regardless, his return gives Texas A&M by far the best tandem in the Big 12, and arguably the best in the country. When Mister Jones isn't cranking the Counting Crows on his stereo, he's a pretty good reserve, alongside Ben Malena, who impressed me on my visit to College Station this spring.

2. Oklahoma

Oklahoma will try and replace do-everything forever (or whatever) back DeMarco Murray with a platoon likely led by shifty Florida native Roy Finch. True freshman Brandon Williams made a big impact in spring camp, and Brennan Clay will likely earn a few touches, too. Health concerns raise questions about a pair of other OU backs' knees (Jermie Calhoun, Jonathan Miller), but walk-on Dominique Whaley led the team in rushing in the spring game.

3. Oklahoma State

The Cowboys have a great pair in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, and a nice set of backs to spell them if needed, too. Kye Staley, once a top-flight recruit, returned this spring after quitting the team following a severe knee injury, and might earn a few touches this spring. Also, Abilene, Texas, native and 2011 ESPNU 150 signee Herschel Sims arrives this fall and may jockey for time and the opportunity to shed a redshirt.

4. Missouri

What the Tigers lack in a truly elite back, they have in depth. Missouri has four backs who are all capable of being very good in the Big 12, even though neither of the four topped 600 yards a year ago. A big reason for that was none of the four got more than 100 carries, but with the carries they did get, every back averaged more than five yards per carry. The platoon approach works for Missouri, but senior De'Vion Moore and junior Kendial Lawrence will lead the way with sophomores Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy not far behind.

5. Kansas

[+] EnlargeKansas' James Sims
John Rieger/US PRESSWIREJames Sims is the No. 2 returning rusher in the Big 12 this season.
Running back will be a strength for Kansas next year, who might have found a second back this spring that perfectly complements power runner James Sims, a rising sophomore who racked up 742 yards last year after not playing in the opener. Believe it or not, he's the Big 12's No. 2 returning rusher, behind A&M's Gray. Darrian Miller burst onto the scene this spring, and figures to be a big part of the team in the fall. I see him being the Jayhawks' biggest home-run threat. DeShaun Sands and Brandon Bourbon offer even more depth at the position.

6. Texas Tech

The Red Raiders lose backfield constant Baron Batch, but have a good group lined up for 2011. Tommy Tuberville's effort to establish a more efficient running game is a realistic possibility with Eric Stephens as the likely feature back, and Aaron Crawford, Ben McRoy and Harrison Jeffers in the mix. True freshman Ronnie Daniels' strong spring likely earned him some time, too, rather than a redshirt.

7. Baylor

Baylor loses a 1,200-yard rusher in Jay Finley, and figures to use a thunder-and-lightning approach with 6-foot, 240-pound bowling ball Terrance Ganaway and shifty, 5-foot-9, 205-pound Jarred Salubi. Glasco Martin, a more balanced back, may earn a few carries, too. Regardless of who has the ball, life is good for Baylor backs, who get a bit more room from defenses that are forced to respect Robert Griffin III's legs.

8. Kansas State

The Wildcats' top two rushers, including two-time league rushing champ Daniel Thomas, are gone. Hopes are high for Wichita native and former blue-chip back Bryce Brown, but he's still entrenched in a position battle with John Hubert and Robert Rose heading into fall camp.

9. Texas

Texas brings back a pair of seniors in Fozzy Whittaker and Cody Johnson, but if the Longhorns are going to climb up this ladder by year's end (and they might) it's likely to be on the back of hyped incoming freshman Malcolm Brown, who is on campus and set to begin fall camp. D.J. Monroe might be the fastest player in the Big 12, but he'll have to master the nuances of pass blocking to get more than a few touches every game. Jeremy Hills can offer some depth at the position, too, after Tre Newton was forced to quit the game because of concussions.

10. Iowa State

Shontrelle Johnson showed some flash last year, but he still brings just 35 career carries into his 2011 effort to replace Alexander Robinson. Jeff Woody and James White offer a bit more depth, too. Florida native DeVondrick Nealy might get into the mix if he can put together a strong fall camp.

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