Big 12: Donte Thomas-Williams

The last two weeks, we’ve been examining the strongest and weakest positions for each team in the Big 12 heading into the fall.

On Friday, we continue the series with West Virginia.

[+] EnlargeDreamius Smith
Dan Friend/USA TODAY SportsDreamius Smith is just one of many accomplished WVU RBs fighting for carries.
Strongest position: Running back

The Mountaineers running back corps is quite possibly the best position group in the entire conference. WVU features five different running backs who could win the starting job and/or handle the load as the main ball carrier this fall, including two running backs who have led the Mountaineers in rushing during their careers yet aren't considered favorites to start.

Sophomore Wendell Smallwood was the star of the spring, and his versatility ensures he will be a key part of the Mountaineers offense in 2014. He has the ability to play a similar role to Charles Sims with his running and receiving skills.

Senior Dreamius Smith returns after rushing for 494 yards and five touchdowns as a junior. Rushel Shell, a transfer from Pittsburgh, has terrific upside and size (6-foot-1, 210 pounds). Andrew Buie had 851 rushing yards in 2012, a team high, and returns after missing the 2013 season. Dustin Garrison, who led the squad with 742 rushing yards in 2011, also returns after a injury-riddled 2013 season.

And freshman Donte Thomas-Williams, the No. 138 player in the 2014 ESPN 300, joins the mix in the summer.

The competition for carries should be intense but WVU’s offense will be the beneficiary, as there will be minimal dropoff when the Mountaineers look to the the sideline for fresh legs in the backfield.

Weakest position: Defensive line

The Mountaineers need several players to step up along the defensive front.

Kyle Rose is the most productive returnee and is slated to move inside to defensive tackle after starting six games at defensive end as a sophomore. He had 49 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss, last season.

Dontrill Hyman and Christian Brown finished the spring alongside Rose atop the depth chart but have combined to start only two games during their WVU careers. The Mountaineers should get a boost from former Gardner-Webb standout defensive end Shaquille Riddick, who decided to finish his career in Morgantown, W. Va., earlier this week.

The Mountaineers have some potential contributors along the defensive line but very little experience or proven playmakers. If WVU hopes to return to a bowl game, its defensive line unit will have to go from unproven to disruptive this fall.

2014 Big 12 recruiting draft: Round 3

May, 8, 2014
May 8
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Our 2014 Big 12 recruiting draft concludes with Round 3. Earlier this afternoon we posted Round 1 and Round 2.

1. Kansas -- RB Donte Thomas-Williams
Signed with: West Virginia
Brandon Chatmon: I was tempted to go with WR Allen Lazard here but Thomas-Williams is just too tempting to pass up, particularly for a Jayhawks squad that is losing James Sims, a four-year mainstay at running back. His combination of speed and power would fit well alongside Heard in the backfield and also set up open-field opportunities for Tony Pierson and Nick Harwell.

2. Iowa State -- WR Allen Lazard
Signed with: Iowa State
Jake Trotter: The Cyclones still get their No. 1 WR of the future.

3. West Virginia -- C Jacob Bragg
Signed with: Kansas
Chatmon: The Mountaineers lost Pat Eger, who started 27 games during his career, and Bragg seems like the perfect replacement. The Under Armour All-American is talented enough to make an immediate impact on an offensive line that needs quality depth and additional bodies to help coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense get back on the road to success.

4. TCU -- WR Emanuel Porter
Signed with: TCU
Max Olson: The Horned Frogs would take Porter every day of the week and especially on Saturdays. The 6-foot-3 wideout is a big target with a basketball background and serious upside. He flipped from TCU to Texas and then back to TCU last year and should see the field plenty in 2014. The Frogs love his potential and wouldn't pass on him.

5. Texas Tech -- TE Mark Andrews
Signed with: Oklahoma
Trotter: You saw how the Red Raiders utilized Jace Amaro last season. Well, Andrews, who is 6-6 and 220 pounds, is the closest thing to Amaro coming into the league as a big, physical receiving tight end. Kliff Kingsbury knew how to unleash Amaro in the slot, and he would know how to unleash Andrews too.

6. Kansas State — S T'Kevian Rockwell
Signed with: Baylor
Chatmon: Dante Barnett needs a running mate at the safety spot with Ty Zimmerman headed to the NFL. Rockwell seems to fit the bill with his aggressive nature and he clocked a 10.63 in 100-meter dash during spring track, proving his legit track speed. Rockwell and Watson would immediately upgrade the speed and playmaking on KSU’s defense.

7. Texas -- S Kenny Iloka
Signed with: TCU
Olson: Texas came very close to landing Iloka, but his official visit and decision came in the middle of the coaching change. The Horns have two veteran safeties who haven't been consistent and Iloka would've made that group much better. He's an instant-impact transfer who could've enrolled early, learned the defense and perhaps emerged as a starter.

8. Oklahoma State -- OLB D'Vonta Derricott
Signed with: Kansas State
Trotter: With All-Big 12 performer Shaun Lewis gone, Oklahoma State needs immediate help at outside linebacker. Derricott, one of the top juco OLBs in the country whom the Cowboys originally offered, could fill that spot with his ability to cover and chase opposing ball carriers to the ground.

9. Oklahoma -- LB Davonte James
Signed with: West Virginia
Chatmon: This is not a need pick by any stretch of the imagination but Oklahoma is in a position to take the best available prospect. And James is that guy. The Ohio native has terrific potential and could slide right into the versatile defense the Sooners are trying to build under Mike Stoops. He’s tough and athletic making him a perfect addition to the defense.

10. Baylor -- S John Bonney
Signed with: Texas
Olson: Don't be deceived by the fact Bonney was ranked outside of the final ESPN 300. Baylor considered him one of the best DBs in the state, in a particularly good year for DBs, and nearly managed to get him to switch at the last second. With Ahmad Dixon gone, the Bears could use the help at safety and they get a steal here with the final pick of our draft.
For the past two weeks, we’ve been ranking the best units in the Big 12 by position.

Now, in our weekly poll, we’re asking for your opinion: Who has the league’s best offensive unit regardless of position?

We’re going to exclude the quarterback position, since that’s more about one player than the collective strength of an entire unit.

Sorry, Bryce Petty.

SportsNation

Who has the Big 12's best overall offensive positional unit?

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    19%
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    24%
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    16%
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    19%
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    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,751)

Petty’s receivers at Baylor, though, have a strong claim as the best offensive unit in the league. The Bears return four players who finished with at least 30 receptions last season, including Antwan Goodley, who produced 71 catches for 1,339 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Baylor will also be adding arguably the deepest and most talented signing class at the position in the country, headlined by ESPN 300 receiver K.D. Cannon.

The Bears, however, aren’t the only ones loaded at receiver.

Texas Tech features the dynamic receiving trio of Jakeem Grant, Bradley Marquez and Reginald Davis, who combined for four touchdowns in the National University Holiday Bowl win over Arizona State. D.J. Polite-Bray emerged over the spring as a downfield burner on the outside. The Red Raiders have also added their top overall recruit from last year to the rotation in Devin Lauderdale, who was forced to attend junior college for a year after failing to initially qualify. Four-star slot receivers Byron Daniels and Ian Sadler will be joining the squad in the summer.

As deep as the Bears and Red Raiders are at receiver, there might not be a positional group in the Big 12 as deep as West Virginia’s running backs.

In their backfield, the Mountaineers have Dreamius Smith (the No. 1 juco back in 2013), Wendell Smallwood (who played as a true freshman), Rushel Shell (who before transferring in from Pitt, set Pennsylvania’s state high school career rushing record), Andrew Buie (the team’s leading rusher from 2012) and Dustin Garrison, the team’s leading rusher from 2011 who had a tremendous spring following a string of injuries the previous three seasons. If that weren’t enough, four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams will be arriving in Morgantown this summer.

While not as deep, Texas’ three-headed monster in the backfield is more proven than West Virginia’s, though not without questions. Johnathan Gray is coming off an Achilles injury, and Joe Bergeron was barred from the team during the spring due to academics. But when together and healthy, the threesome of Malcolm Brown, Gray (both All-Big 12-caliber runners) and Bergeron is as fearsome as any in the country.

Last fall, the Texas backs ran behind the most experienced offensive line in the Big 12. This season, that distinction belongs to the Sooners, whose offensive line unit caps the poll.

All told, Oklahoma boasts 107 career starts along its offensive line, headlined by senior tackle Daryl Williams and guard Adam Shead, who have been starting since their redshirt freshman seasons. Guard/center Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson are also returning starters on an offense that placed second in the Big 12 in rushing last season.

So who does have the best offensive unit in the Big 12?

Baylor's or Texas Tech’s wide receivers? West Virginia's or Texas’ running backs? Or Oklahoma’s offensive line?
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.
West Virginia capped its spring drills with the Gold-Blue game on Saturday. Here’s a recap of what happened:

Best offensive performance: The other quarterbacks had their moments, but veteran Paul Millard was the steadiest, completing 14 of 19 passes for 129 yards with no turnovers. Millard also threw a pair of 6-yard touchdown passes, the first to Kevin White, the second to Daikiel Shorts. The West Virginia quarterback derby is far from over. Junior-college transfer Skyler Howard is still grasping the offense and will only get more comfortable. Clint Trickett, the favorite to win the job, will be back shortly after undergoing offseason surgery. Hotshot freshman William Crest will also be joining the team in the summer. But after a shaky 2013 campaign, Millard has plenty to build off from his spring game performance.

Best defensive performance: By all accounts, cornerback Daryl Worley has been tremendous all spring, and Saturday was no different. As he has been in practice, Worley shut down wideout Mario Alford in the spring game, holding him to just two catches for 12 yards. “Daryl Worley has had a phenomenal spring,” coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Mario’s confidence is a little down right now because he has had to go against him so much.” With Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett and Aaron Colvin all gone, Worley could be a contender to earn All-Big 12 honors in his sophomore season.

Best debut: Last year, Logan Moore toiled as a reserve walk-on wide receiver after transferring in from Fairmont State in 2012. But this spring, Moore was moved back to quarterback, the position he played at Fairmont, and in the spring game, he generated some buzz with his athleticism. Moore completed 10 of 21 attempts for 109 yards, and rushed the ball three times for 38 yards with all the quarterbacks stripped of their no-contact jerseys. Moore still remains a long shot to gain playing time in the fall. But he also turned some heads Saturday.

Notable play: Alford took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown with a couple of gorgeous cutbacks. "I just saw an opening and took it," Alford said. "We have been working real hard this spring on hitting the gaps.” Alford’s return was a promising sign for the Mountaineers, who ranked last in the Big 12 last year in both kickoff and punt returns.

Developing storyline: West Virginia has long been known as a high-scoring program. But the Mountaineers have rapidly progressed defensively this spring under new coordinator Tony Gibson and first-year assistant Tom Bradley. The defense forced the offense to punt on the first four possessions and was assignment sound throughout the scrimmage. The linebacking corps is deep and experienced, Worley is turning into a star, and safeties K.J. Dillon and Karl Joseph are coming into their own. If the defensive line holds up, which remains the biggest question, the Mountaineers could field their best defense in years.

Biggest question answered: Who knows at this point how exactly carries will be divided among West Virginia’s running backs? But this has become clear -- the Mountaineers figure to feature the deepest stable of running backs in the Big 12. Finally healthy again, Dustin Garrison, West Virginia’s leading rusher all the way back in 2011, has enjoyed a renaissance this offseason and rushed for 47 yards in the spring game. Wendell Smallwood, who had 45 yards Saturday, gives the backfield a heavy dose of versatility. Rushel Shell ran for 37 yards in the spring game and has one of the highest ceilings of any back in the league. And none of the above includes Dreamius Smith, who sat out the spring game, but is the front-runner to start. The Mountaineers also welcomed back 2012 leading rusher Andrew Buie during the winter and will welcome in four-star freshman Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Don’t forget about Cody Clay, who is one of the best run-blocking fullbacks in the league. West Virginia still has several questions coming out of the spring. Running back depth is not one of them.

Quotable: “The first-team defense played excellent. Once we started taking those guys out, that’s when we started moving the ball a little bit. As a head coach, that’s what you want to see.” -- Holgorsen
With spring practice off and rolling, plenty of questions surround the league’s programs. And while many of those won’t be fully answered until the season begins in the fall, here are some of the biggest ones Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech and West Virginia will face this spring:

Can freshman impact OSU's QB race?

Junior quarterback J.W. Walsh has made eight starts for the Cowboys over the last two seasons. But even with Clint Chelf now gone, Walsh still will have to fight for a job with freshman Mason Rudolph already on campus. Rudolph, who enrolled early to participate in spring ball, threw for more than 4,300 yards and 64 touchdowns his final year of high school and is one of the most highly-touted quarterback recruits ever to sign with the Cowboys. In high school, Rudolph played in an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s, which is what first interested him in the Cowboys. That should ease his transition to the college level. Of course for now, the job is Walsh’s to lose. But Rudolph has the talent and the skill set to begin applying pressure on Walsh as soon as this spring.

How will TCU adapt to the offensive overhaul?

TCU conducted its first spring practice over the weekend, and the exit polls suggested the Horned Frogs went through offensive drills fast. Like really fast. Tired of ranking near the bottom of the Big 12 in offense, Gary Patterson shook up his coaching staff and brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to install an up-tempo offensive system that resembled those of Texas Tech (Cumbie) and Oklahoma State (Meacham). As Patterson admitted after the first practice, there will be a learning curve for his players to picking up this new offensive style. But the quicker quarterback Trevone Boykin can adapt, the better off TCU will be going into 2014.

How will Texas look different under Strong?

The last time Texas had a coach other than Mack Brown running a spring practice, Bill Clinton was still president. The Charlie Strong era will begin in earnest with the start of spring practice in Austin. How will the players adjust to the new schemes of assistants Shawn Watson, Joe Wickline and Vance Bedford? How will the veterans react to their new position coaches? Who will thrive with the new staff? Who will falter? Those pivotal questions will begin to be answered this spring.

Can Texas Tech get by with only one scholarship QB?

With starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry getting an extra year of eligibility over the weekend, the Red Raiders seem to be in good shape across the board offensively. Of course, that could change real quick should QB Davis Webb incur any kind of injury this spring. With Baker Mayfield at Oklahoma and Michael Brewer headed to Virginia Tech, the Red Raiders will be down to just one scholarship quarterback until Patrick Mahomes arrives in the summer. Though coach Kliff Kingsbury has said that Tech has a couple of capable walk-ons, an injury to Webb would hamper the spring development of an offense that will have big goals in the fall. Coming off a breakout performance in the bowl game, Webb also needs to continue developing this spring. But he also needs to remain healthy for the betterment of himself and the team.

Who will get carries for West Virginia?

Even with Charles Sims gone, the Mountaineers still enjoy a stable of capable of running backs. But where will Sims’ carries go? After rushing for 494 yards last season, Dreamius Smith is starting out the spring atop the depth chart. But he’ll have to fend off several comers to remain there. Wendell Smallwood came on strong late during his freshman season and finished the year averaging 5.7 yards per carry. Rushel Shell also joins the fray this spring after transferring over from Pittsburgh. Shell, who set a Pennsylvania high school rushing record, was formerly the No. 26 overall recruit in the 2012 recruiting class. There are still others. Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie are still around after leading the Mountaineers’ in rushing in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Oh yeah, West Virginia will also add four-star signee Donte Thomas-Williams in the summer. Good luck to the running back who dares to take a play off in this crammed competition.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: RBs

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
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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.

All-Big 12 team: recruiting edition

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
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Ranking recruits is an unscientific process. If it were, it would be easy to predict future all-conference teams. As an exercise, I’ve cobbled together what an All-Big 12 team would look like based exclusively on ESPN’s freshman recruiting rankings -- though chances are, actual All-Big 12 teams down the road will have a very different look.

Offense

QB: Justice Hansen, Oklahoma (Edmond, Okla./Santa Fe)
RB: Joe Mixon, Oklahoma (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)
RB: Donte Thomas-Williams, West Virginia (Durham, N.C./Hillside)
WR: K.D. Cannon, Baylor (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant)
WR: Armanti Foreman, Texas (Texas City, Texas/Texas City)
WR: Allen Lazard, Iowa State (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale)
TE: Carson Meier, Oklahoma (Tulsa, Okla./Union)
OT: Alec Ruth, Kansas State (Highlands Ranch, Colo./Valor Christian)
OT: Kenyon Frison, Oklahoma (West Valley City, Utah/Granger)
OG: Natrell Curtis, Oklahoma (Phoenix/Mountain Pointe)
OG: Dontae Angus, West Virginia (Philadelphia/Martin Luther King)
C: Jacob Bragg, Kansas (Nacogdoches, Texas/ Nacogdoches)
AP: Davion Hall, Baylor (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau)

Defense

DE: Derick Roberson, Texas (San Antonio/William J. Brennan)
DE: Jordan Brailford, Oklahoma State (Tulsa, Okla./Booker T. Washington)
DT: Poona Ford, Texas (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head)
DT: Courtney Garnett, Oklahoma (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
LB: Edwin Freeman, Texas (Arlington, Texas/Bowie)
LB: Kyron Watson, Kansas (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis)
LB: Gyasi Akem, Oklahoma State (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow)
CB: Nigel Bethel II, Texas Tech (Miami/Booker T. Washington)
CB: Jermaine Roberts, Texas (New Orleans/St. Augustine)
S: Steven Parker II, Oklahoma (Jenks, Okla./Jenks)
S: John Bonney, Texas (Houston/Lamar)

A few observations on this team:
  • Oklahoma leads the way with seven players. Underscoring their strong close, the Sooners landed four of those players after their Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Alabama. In December, Oklahoma’s class ranked 24th. But it finished ranked at the top of the Big 12 and 13th nationally.
  • The Big 12 didn’t have a class ranked outside the top 60 nationally, and this list highlights that with nine teams represented.
  • TCU is the only school without a player here, though running back Shaun Nixon (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis) was slotted only five running back spots behind Thomas-Williams, whom the Mountaineers snagged on signing day. Nixon, who flipped from Texas A&M, was a huge get for the Horned Frogs.
  • Charlie Weis and his staff really delivered a solid recruiting class, despite a lack of success on the field. The Jayhawks had two players on this team, and that doesn’t even include four-star running backs Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton) and Corey Avery (Dallas/Carter).
  • Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, known for their high-powered offenses, didn’t have an offensive player make the team. They did, however, comprise three of the defensive spots with Brailford, Akem and Bethel II.
Best players at each position who didn’t make the list:

QB: Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer), Texas
RB: Devon Thomas (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow), Oklahoma State
WR: Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington), West Virginia
TE: Mark Andrews (Scottsdale, Ariz./Desert Mountain), Oklahoma
OT: Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge), Oklahoma
OG: Joseph Paul (New Orlean/St. Augustine), Oklahoma
C: Terrell Cuney (Jasper, Texas/Jasper), Texas
DE: Trey Carter (Dallas/Pinkston), Oklahoma State
DT: D.J. Williams (Lufkin, Texas/Lufkin), Kansas
LB: Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield), West Virginia
CB: Chris Hardeman (Houston/Alief Taylor), Oklahoma State
S: Payton Hendrix (Dallas/Bishop Dunne), Texas Tech
AP: Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East), Oklahoma
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen will be under immense pressure to win next season. And now, he'll have to win without his defensive coordinator.

Thursday, the school confirmed that Keith Patterson had "voluntarily left the program," and Friday, Arizona State announced it had hired Patterson.

Patterson served as Sun Devils coach Todd Graham's defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh before taking the job at West Virginia.

“I want to thank Keith for his two years that he spent coaching in our program,” Holgorsen said in a statement. “He was a valuable member of our staff, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Holgorsen is right. Patterson indeed was a valuable member of the West Virginia staff.

Patterson arrived in Morgantown in 2012 as the co-defensive coordinator under Joe DeForest. After a disastrous season in which the Mountaineers ranked 114th nationally in points allowed, Holgorsen demoted DeForest and made Patterson the lone coordinator.

Patterson didn't exactly turn West Virginia into the '85 Chicago Bears. But the Mountaineers showed improvement, especially early in the season, despite being put in tough situations by a mediocre offense that didn't come alive until the final month of the season. Unfortunately, mild improvement wasn't enough to push West Virginia into a bowl game, as the Mountaineers finished out the season losing six of seven games.

West Virginia already was going to have to replace its two best defensive players in safety Darwin Cook and defensive end Will Clarke. With Patterson gone now, too, Holgorsen faces a monumental task of turning the Mountaineers around in 2014 despite facing major questions at quarterback, a brutal schedule, and, now, a lack of continuity on the defensive staff. West Virginia will have a fourth different defensive coordinator in as many years, unless Holgorsen promotes DeForest back to coordinator, which, after the 2012 debacle, is unlikely.

The degree of difficulty was already going to be significant for West Virginia. The Mountaineers open next season with Alabama. They also have to go to Maryland, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. The projected top two teams in the league, Oklahoma and Baylor, go to Morgantown, where the Mountaineers will also likely be underdogs. Yet at the very least, West Virginia will have to win one of those seven games just to get bowl eligible.

Meanwhile, quarterback Clint Trickett is still trying to heal from the battering he took last season. Paul Millard is playing baseball. Ford Childress has reportedly left school for good. And junior-college transfer Skyler Howard, while promising, is unproven.

Even with All-Big 12 running back Charles Sims out of eligibility, the Mountaineers still have skill talent. West Virginia also recruited well there this year, even landing ESPN 300 running back Donte Thomas-Williams over Florida on signing day. Yet unless the Mountaineers get better and more consistent quarterback play, all that skill will amount to little in the win-loss column.

Even with the quarterback and schedule issues, West Virginia's defensive trajectory under Patterson was one reason why West Virginia fans were hopeful the Mountaineers could overcome these obstacles next season.

Now, in his make-or-break season, Holgorsen will have to overcome losing Patterson, too.

Signing day: Big 12 wrapup

February, 5, 2014
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As hectic of a day as it was, national signing day was a success for all Big 12 programs. Coaches were up early manning their fax machines and showing excitement with every national letter of intent submitted via fax.

Nearly 250 football players signed letters of intent to play Big 12 football on Wednesday. Here are five of the biggest storylines -- and a bonus storyline that could have an ending Thursday -- from the conference.

Oklahoma takes over top spot in Big 12

In the past 48 hours, everything seemed to go Oklahoma’s way.

[+] EnlargeMichiah Quick
Courtesy of Nike ESPN 300 ATH Michiah Quick was a big part of Oklahoma's final rush, a rush that gave the Sooners the top class in the Big 12.
After getting a Tuesday commitment from ESPN 300 safety Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla./Jenks), the Sooners got Wednesday pledges from ESPN 300 athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East) and high three-star offensive tackles Kenyon Frison (West Valley City, Utah/Granger) and Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge).

All four players were a part of Oklahoma’s signing class of 26 on Wednesday -- helping the Sooners take over the top spot in the Big 12 class rankings. Oklahoma’s class is No. 13 nationally, three spots better than previous top dog Texas.

Oklahoma in previous years has been very good at finishing strong in recruiting. It managed to sign Frison, who committed to Utah last February before decommitting last month, as well as Brown, who had been committed to Tennessee since May before making an 11th-hour change.

Strong, Longhorns get their DTs

New Texas coach Charlie Strong wanted two players he recruited to play at Louisville, and by Wednesday afternoon, he had them.

ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford (Hilton Head, S.C./Hilton Head) and three-star defensive tackle Chris Nelson (Lakeland, Fla./Victory Christian Academy) signed with the Longhorns and were two of 23 to submit national letters of intent. They also helped erase the sting of the Longhorns losing three four-star defensive tackle commitments in LSU signee Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio/Warren), Oklahoma signee Courtney Garnett (New Orleans/St. Augustine) and Texas A&M signee Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas/Longview) last month.

Collectively, Ford and Nelson recorded 235 tackles, 9.5 sacks, 35 quarterback pressures and four forced fumbles. The duo also had 37.5 tackles for loss.

Receivers ‘No. 1’ to Baylor coach

Baylor coach Art Briles made a bold statement about his new wide receivers -- one that might be challenged by some but co-signed by others.

“The thing that we feel really good about,” Briles said, “is that we've signed the No. 1 receiving class in America -- I don't think that's up for debate.”

Briles has an argument with four ESPN 300 receivers in K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik) and Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis). The quartet helped to give Baylor a top-25 national recruiting class.

Rhoads fired up about lone in-state signee

To say Paul Rhoads is excited about his top-ranked signee, ESPN 300 wide receiver Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale) is an understatement.

While Rhoads is pumped about the entire class, there’s something special about Lazard, as he is this year’s only in-state signee. Lazard, No. 148 in the ESPN 300, had opportunities to sign with other programs, but he chose to honor his original commitment and also follow the footsteps of his father Kevin Lazard, who played in the secondary for the Cyclones in the early 1990s.

“This is a young man who has gotten phenomenal national attention and was recruited by the traditional historical programs in college football and kept on turning them away to stay true to his word to be an Iowa State Cyclone,” Rhoads said in a statement of Lazard, the No. 2 prospect out of the state of Iowa behind Alabama offensive lineman signee Ross Pierschbacher (Cedar Falls, Iowa/Cedar Falls).

West Virginia adds depth in class

Adding depth was the objective for West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, as he signed 22 players on Wednesday. Holgorsen was fortunate to add depth from coast to coast.

Of the 22 commits, only one -- three-star offensive tackle Amanii Brown (Morgantown, W.Va./Morgantown) -- is an in-state signee. The Mountaineers hit points all over the Lower 48, from California to Texas to Florida, to get players who can be contributors early and help the program return to star status.

West Virginia’s class is led by five ESPN 300 players. Running back Donte Thomas-Williams (Durham, N.C./Hillside), the class’ top-ranked player, was the last to commit early Wednesday afternoon. He joins defensive back Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), linebacker Davonte James (Springfield, Ohio/Springfield) and receivers Lamar Parker (Miami/Booker T. Washington) and Jake McCrary (Miami/Coral Reef) in the class.

Bonus: Could the Sooners add one more?

LSU signed 22 players on Wednesday. The Tigers were hoping to sign 23.

Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) has been verbally committed to LSU since July, but the ESPN 300 defensive end also has high interest in Oklahoma. There were conflicting reports on Wednesday regarding whether Clark actually signed and submitted his letter of intent to LSU.

ESPN’s David Ching said an LSU spokesperson confirmed the letter of intent was at LSU and cleared compliance. Outside reports, however, say Clark did not submit the letter of intent, and a tweet from Clark's Twitter account said that “nothing is final.” His mother Dorshell also told The Oklahoman that her son “has not signed with LSU.”

Oklahoma City schools were closed on Wednesday because of bad weather, so Clark didn’t fax anything by way of Douglass High School. He is expected to announce his final decision on Thursday.

If it's true that Clark has not signed with LSU, look for Oklahoma to be a key player in his final decision. Ranked No. 273 in the ESPN 300, Clark has built a great relationship with the Sooners' coaching staff, particularly defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery.

Bold predictions: Big 12 

February, 4, 2014
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One of the best things about national signing day is that, every year, it provides a last-minute surprise. Whether it involves a solid commit with an 11th-hour flip or an uncommitted player choosing a school to shock the masses, the day is good for full-fledged entertainment.

As we prepare for Wednesday, here are five bold predictions that we might see happen within the Big 12:

Big 12 class rankings analysis 

January, 29, 2014
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With a week left until national signing day, Texas Tech climbed one spot, and Texas and West Virginia each fell a spot in the latest ESPN class rankings.

Clemson and Texas flipped spots, putting the Tigers at No. 13 and the Longhorns at No. 14. Oklahoma remained at No. 16, Baylor stayed at No. 18 and Oklahoma State remained at No. 26.

Texas Tech switched places with Northwestern, moving up a spot to No. 34. West Virginia, however, traded with North Carolina State and moved down to No. 38. Here is an in-depth look at the Big 12 class rankings:


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Most important targets: Big 12 

January, 28, 2014
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In eight days, many of the nation’s top athletes will seal their college futures with a signature. Between now and Feb. 5, college programs will look to do one of two things, either use a final official visit to sway an uncommitted target or do all it can to flip an already-committed player.

In the last week of recruiting, here is a look at some of the most important remaining targets who could find a home in the Big 12.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big 12 

January, 27, 2014
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As expected, this was one of the busiest weeks in the Big 12 from a recruiting standpoint. Teams were looking to fill in last-minute vacancies, and players were looking to finalize their college plans. TCU proved to be the big winner in the conference, landing six 2014 commits and two more commits from the 2015 class. Kansas wasn’t far behind, as the Jayhawks got verbal commitments from five three-star players for the 2014 class.

Here are some of this past week’s highlights:


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National signing day is in 15 days, and while many athletes have finalized their college plans, several questions remain. Will the committed players stay committed? Will the Big 12 programs steal away some of the top players? Will the world be surprised by last-minute changes?

There will be several storylines to watch from now until signing day, but here are five to definitely keep your eyes on:


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