Big 12: D'Vonta Derricott


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Previewing the 2014 season for the Kansas State Wildcats:

Key returners: QB Jake Waters, WR Tyler Lockett, C BJ Finney, DE Ryan Mueller

Key losses: RB John Hubert, WR Tramaine Thompson, OT Cornelius Lucas, SS Ty Zimmerman

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 18 versus Auburn; Oct. 18 at Oklahoma; Oct. 25 versus Texas; Dec. 6 at Baylor

Projected win percentage: 50.7 percent.

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsJake Waters is looking forward to playing for the first time at the Division I level in his home state.
Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: DT Terrell Clinkscales, LB D'Vonta Derricott, CB Danzel McDaniel. All three players were part of Bill Snyder’s prized junior college signing class. McDaniel will have the best chance to start because he was with the team in the spring. But all three newcomers have a chance to impact the K-State defense.

High point from 2013: The Wildcats capped off their hot finish by blasting Michigan 31-14 in the Buffalo Wild Wings. Lockett caught three first-half touchdown passes and the K-State defense held the Wolverines touchdown-less until the final 2 minutes of the game.

Low point from 2013: The season ended well. But it did not start that way. FCS opponent North Dakota State went on an 18-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up 8½ minutes and ended with a touchdown plunge that gave the Bison a stunning 24-21 win in Manhattan.

Best-case scenario for 2014: The Waters-Lockett passing connection becomes one of the best in the country, and the juco additions pan out. The Wildcats ride the momentum from last year and topple Auburn in a home nonconference tilt to set the tone for the rest of the season. K-State goes on to knock off both Oklahoma and Baylor on the road to win the Big 12 title and force the College Football Playoff selection committee to think hard and long about including the Wildcats.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The jucos don’t live up to their billing, leaving K-State with several holes on either side of the ball. Without a good option at running back, the Wildcats are forced to air it out, which gives Snyder indigestion all season. Auburn proves K-State isn’t equipped to hang with the big boys, smashing the Wildcats in Manhattan. K-State struggles along the rest of the season and has to slug out a 6-6 season just to become bowl eligible.

They said it: “My degree of optimism is negotiated daily, I think, and the mantra of our program has always been centered around that daily improvement. And when we make daily improvement, then I become a little more optimistic.” – K-State coach Bill Snyder
This week, we’ve been running dream and nightmare scenarios for teams in the Big 12. In other words, what a season would look like if every single imaginable domino fell into place. And conversely, if everything that could go wrong, well, did.

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

BEST CASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORST CASE

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

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

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

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

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

Previous posts

June 16: Baylor
June 17: Iowa State
June 18: Kansas
Days after last season ended, we released a Way-Too-Early 2014 Big 12 power poll. Following the many developments of signing day and spring practice, we’ve updated the poll:

1. Oklahoma Sooners (previous rank – 1): With the bulk of its defense coming back and the league’s most experienced offensive line, Oklahoma gets the top spot. Yet despite the preseason hype coming off the trouncing of Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, this is not a team without questions. No returning running back had more than 23 carries last year. No returning receiver (outside Sterling Shepard) had more than 13 catches. And though he torched the Crimson Tide, quarterback Trevor Knight has only five career starts and has been prone to getting nicked. That said, there’s plenty of young talent at the skill positions. If a few of those players emerge, and Knight builds off his Sugar Bowl performance, this could be a team that contends for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor Bears (2): Baylor won the 2013 Big 12 title without a player selected in the first four rounds of the NFL draft over the weekend. That speaks to the talent the Bears have back in quarterback Bryce Petty, wideout Antwan Goodley and left tackle Spencer Drango. It’s also not unthinkable that Baylor could lead the nation in scoring again. Petty should be even sharper in his second season as the starter. And running back Johnny Jefferson and receiver Corey Coleman seem primed to make an impact as the next wave of prolific Baylor playmakers. The defense will ultimately determine whether the Bears can defend their crown. The back seven is a work in progress. But Art Briles believes he will have a dominating defensive line. If so, Baylor could become the league’s first repeat champ since 2008.

3. Kansas State Wildcats (3): After rebounding to win six of its final seven games to end last season -- including destroying Michigan in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, K-State carried plenty of momentum into the offseason. With only 10 returning starters, there are some holes that need to be filled. But the Wildcats feature some of the best returning standouts in the league in quarterback Jake Waters, wideout Tyler Lockett and defensive end Ryan Mueller. If highly touted juco transfers Terrell Clinkscales, D'Vonta Derricott and Danzel McDaniel successfully step into some of those voids defensively, and an adequate successor to outgoing running back John Hubert surfaces, the Wildcats will have a say in the conference race.

4. Texas Longhorns (4): Discerning what team to rank fourth was the most difficult part of putting this list together. A case could be made here for Texas Tech, Oklahoma State or even TCU with its returning defense. But I couldn’t shake the memory of Texas obliterating both the Red Raiders and Horned Frogs last year while starting Case McCoy at quarterback. Given all the turnover Oklahoma State has, the Longhorns ultimately got the slight nod at fourth. With veterans littering the roster, Texas is solid pretty much everywhere -- well, everywhere except quarterback. But if the Longhorns can get anything out of the position -- David Ash? Max Wittek? Jerrod Heard? -- they could be a load in Charlie Strong’s debut season.

5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (6): The Red Raiders climbed a spot thanks to the rapid development of sophomore quarterback Davis Webb. Including the National University Holiday Bowl and Tech’s three open spring scrimmages, Webb tossed 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. With added weight and swelling confidence, Webb has been performing like an all-conference-caliber quarterback since the bowl game. Webb will have plenty of big-play weapons to operate with and his protection should be better, as well, with 75 career starts returning along the offensive line. Whether Tech truly emerges as a dark-horse contender, though, hinges on whether its four juco defensive linemen can remedy an ailing run defense that ranked ninth in the league last year.

6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (5): After getting picked in 2010 by some to finish last in the Big 12 South, Oklahoma State reeled off 11 wins. Two years ago, the Cowboys got no love in the preseason again, and won eight games with three different quarterbacks. The recent track record in Stillwater suggests this is not a team to overlook in 2014. But if the Cowboys are going to surprise again, they’ll have to do so with a host of new faces. One reason for optimism is junior quarterback J.W. Walsh, who this spring rekindled his freshman form, when he led the entire Big 12 in Adjusted QBR. The Cowboys love Walsh’s toughness and leadership. If he can recapture the throwing accuracy that escaped him last season, Oklahoma State could be a factor.

7. TCU Horned Frogs (7): The biggest development for the Horned Frogs this offseason occurred after the spring when they added Matt Joeckel. The Texas A&M quarterback transfer, who will be eligible this season, is familiar with the offense new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie installed this spring, and could give TCU just the jolt it needs at quarterback. The other big development this spring was the reemergence of 2012 AP Big 12 Defensive Player of Year Devonte Fields, who had a nightmare 2013 season. If Fields returns to wreaking havoc off the edge defensively, and Joeckel gives the offense above average quarterback play, TCU could finally be a force in its third year in the Big 12.

8. West Virginia Mountaineers (9): Dana Holgorsen is not lacking offensive firepower, with the league’s deepest running back stable and the entire receiving corps returning. With seven starters back on the other side, the defense has a chance to be much improved in the new Tony Gibson/Tom Bradley regime, too. West Virginia, however, gained little clarity about the quarterback position this spring, with Clint Trickett recovering from shoulder surgery and the other contenders failing to make a move up the depth chart. To challenge to finish in the top half of the Big 12, the Mountaineers will have to get more out of their quarterback than they did last year -- regardless of the other pieces.

9. Iowa State Cyclones (8): Buoyed by a new play-caller and 10 returning starters, Iowa State could boast its best offense since Seneca Wallace was behind center over a decade ago. Mark Mangino has a proven track record as a coordinator, and plenty of weapons to utilize in running back Aaron Wimberly, wideout Quenton Bundrage and tight end E.J. Bibbs. The offensive line is seasoned, and sophomore Grant Rohach might finally be Iowa State’s long-term answer at quarterback following a strong spring. The defense, however, is an even bigger question mark coming out of the spring. Projected starting linemen Rodney Coe and David Irving were dismissed and safety Devron Moore left after getting homesick. The Cyclones had been stout defensively under Paul Rhoads and coordinator Wally Burnham up until last season, when they ranked last in the league.

10. Kansas Jayhawks (10): Coming out of the spring, the Jayhawks have some definite strengths they can point to, notably linebacker Ben Heeney and cornerback Dexter McDonald. Elsewhere, Kansas still has catching up to do before breaking out of the cellar. At least now the Jayhawks have a long-term quarterback to build around in sophomore Montell Cozart, who was named the starter after shining in the spring game.

2014 Big 12 recruiting draft: Round 3

May, 8, 2014
May 8
4:00
PM ET
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.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): While the future of inside linebacker Frank Shannon remains unclear, the Sooners have a tailor-made replacement in Jordan Evans ready to go. Shannon was OU’s leading tackler a year ago, but Evans was the defensive MVP of the spring game in his place. Blitzing outside linebacker Eric Striker had a huge spring coming off his three-sack performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners had another blitzing linebacker in juco transfer Devante Bond emerge in March, which could give them flexibility to move Striker around. Dominique Alexander, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, solidifies OU’s perch atop this positional ranking, even with Shannon’s future in limbo.

2. Texas (2): Steve Edmond sparked controversy with his Baylor comments, but he also impressed coach Charlie Strong this spring with his knack for making tackles. Edmond and Dalton Santos team up to give the Longhorns a reliable combination on the inside. Athletic sophomore Timothy Cole took advantage of his opportunities with the first-team defense during the spring but should fall back into a spot role once Jordan Hicks returns this summer from a second consecutive season-ending injury. This will be a good group of linebackers, but Hicks playing up to his five-star potential is what could make it great.

3. West Virginia (3): After struggling at the “Spur” linebacker spot in 2013, Isaiah Bruce moved back inside this spring, where he starred as a freshman All-American two years ago. Bruce said he didn’t feel as comfortable playing outside and that showed, as he didn’t record a sack last season despite playing off the edge. Taking over in the Spur is converted safety K.J. Dillon, who was as impressive as any West Virginia defender this spring. With the ability to drop back in coverage, attack the run and rush the quarterback, Dillon seems to be a much better fit at the Spur. If he continues to progress at his new spot and Bruce gets back to his old self playing alongside tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski inside, the Mountaineers will be stout at the second level.

4. Kansas (5): If the Jayhawks finally climb out of the Big 12 cellar for the first time in six years, it will be on the back of Ben Heeney and a Kansas defense that returns nine starters. One of those nine returners is Heeney’s linebacker wingman, Jake Love, who delivered a strong spring game with a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. The Jayhawks have several weaknesses, but the tackling of their linebackers is not one of them.

5. TCU (6): They get overshadowed by the units in front of and behind them, but linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet simply fulfill what’s asked of them. The Horned Frogs were surprisingly solid at linebacker last year. They should be even better in 2014.

6. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders received a huge boost in the spring from Kenny Williams, who made a seamless -- and voluntary -- position switch from running back to the “Raider” linebacker position. With honorable mention All-Big 12 pick Pete Robertson on the other outside spot and veterans Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe and Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko manning the middle, the Red Raiders have a solid foundation. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who attended Tech’s spring game, could give the unit another boost in the summer. He was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and could be eligible immediately at his next school.

7. Kansas State (8): Coach Bill Snyder seemed to be reasonably pleased with returners Jonathan Truman and Will Davis, who have locked up two of the linebacker spots. If D'Vonta Derricott, who was in the ESPN Junior College 50 and had offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Big 12 programs, can make an impact at the third linebacker spot, the Wildcats could quickly solidify their biggest question spot defensively.

8. Baylor (4): Middle linebacker Bryce Hager will be fine once he finally recovers from a groin injury. That means Aiavion Edwards, who exited spring as the starter on the weak side, will be the key as the Bears attempt to overcome the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Eddie Lackey. Baylor, though, still has big expectations for juco transfer Grant Campbell, even though he finished spring as a backup on the depth chart. After a shaky first few practices, Campbell began to come on late in spring drills.

9. Oklahoma State (9): The Cowboys picked up a valuable transfer during the spring in former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who will be eligible immediately after getting his degree. Furman isn’t a star, but he has plenty of experience and could be a real asset teamed with juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine at Oklahoma State’s “Star” linebacker spot. On the weak side, fellow juco transfer Devante Averette really shined before suffering some mild injuries at the end of spring ball. The Cowboys will be even better there if 2012 four-star signee Seth Jacobs emerges.

10. Iowa State (10): The Cyclones remain in transition mode at linebacker while working to replace the production of departed All-Big 12 performer Jeremiah George. Redshirt freshman and former QB Alton Meeks was one of the defensive surprises of the spring; he currently sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. The other big defensive surprise was walk-on senior Drake Ferch, who beat out returning starter Jared Brackens on the strong side. Jevohn Miller is the third starting linebacker, but he figures to be a placeholder on the weak side until Luke Knott returns from last year’s season-ending hip injury.

Kansas State spring wrap

May, 1, 2014
May 1
9:30
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the Kansas State Wildcats

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

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

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

Three questions for the fall

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

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

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

One way-too-early prediction

Warmack, who rushed for 4,500 yards and 70 touchdowns and averaged 9 yards per carry his final two seasons at Blue Springs (Mo.) High School, will take over as K-State’s primary running back before October.
Kansas State will conclude spring ball in the Big 12 with its spring game Saturday.

Here’s a closer look:

When: 1:10 p.m. CT Saturday

Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kan.

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

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best chance of jumping up and challenging Big 12 favorites Baylor and Oklahoma for the conference crown?

Take 1: Max Olson -- Texas

Oklahoma and Baylor should both be considered top-10 squads in 2014, there’s no dispute about that. They’re in terrific shape going forward. But the way this league is set up, it’s hard to see either emerging undefeated by December.

The team best built to challenge them is Texas, at least on paper. Remember, for all its flaws in 2013, the Longhorns were two quarters away from winning the Big 12 despite major injuries and inconsistent quarterback play. They lose key pieces, but could come back better than expected.

That’s because there’s a new sheriff in town. Charlie Strong is dedicated to changing the mentality of this program and bringing back the toughness and accountability that went missing in recent years. He put together an impressive staff and brought in a revered strength coach. This program is undergoing big changes.

And there’s enough talent on board to sustain another run at a conference title. Joe Wickline and Shawn Watson will build an offense around the run game trio of Malcolm Brown, Johnathan Gray and Joe Bergeron, and there’s good depth at receiver and on the line. What Texas needs most is a full year from David Ash, but Max Wittek seems likely to become the insurance option there.

If Texas is going to challenge the league favorites, it’ll be with a defense that brings back leaders at all three levels (Cedric Reed, Steve Edmond, Quandre Diggs) and is full of experienced talent. This is a unit that will line up a bunch of different ways and cause a lot of problems.

Revamping this Texas program will take time, but the Longhorns could have enough to make another run in 2014.

Take 2: Jake Trotter -- Kansas State

[+] EnlargeJake Waters
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesJake Waters was one of the nation's most effective quarterbacks during the second half of last season.
The Longhorns certainly have the talent and supporting cast to seriously compete for a Big 12 title. But until they find the answer at quarterback -- and I’m dubious they will in Strong’s first season – it’s hard to see them doing so.

The Kansas State Wildcats have no such issues. And they too have the surrounding cast to make a run at the Bears and Sooners for the league championship.

After struggling early, Jake Waters settled in at quarterback the last half of the season and cut talented playmaker Daniel Sams out of the rotation. From Oct. 26 on, Waters produced the 13th-best Adjusted QBR in the country, according to ESPN Stats & Info, while leading the Wildcats to wins in six of their final seven games (he threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns in the lone loss, too).

Besides Waters, K-State also boasts one of the top wide receivers in the nation in the uncoverable Tyler Lockett, who had the third-most receiving yards in college football during the same Oct. 26-on stretch.

On the other side, Bill Snyder replenished his defense with a trio of ESPN JC 50 signees in defensive tackle Terrell Clinkscales, outside linebacker D'Vonta Derricott and cornerback Danzel McDaniel, who should fill the slots in the lineup where the Wildcats have holes.

K-State will have to earn its way into the conference title chase, with road trips to both Baylor and Oklahoma. But K-State gets the Longhorns in the Little Apple, where it hasn’t lost to Texas since 2002.

The Wildcats also get defending national runner-up Auburn in Manhattan, Kan., earlier in September. If they topple the Tigers in that Thursday night clash, the rest of the Big 12 will quickly realize that K-State is a legitimate contender.
Kansas State will be the last Big 12 team to open spring drills, with its first practice not coming until April 2. We cap our Big 12 spring primers by previewing what to look for from the Wildcats when they kick off spring ball:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: LBs

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As we await the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team in the Big 12, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the linebacking corps going into the spring:

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
William Purnell/Icon SMIDominique Alexander was a star as a true freshman and leads a loaded Oklahoma linebacking corps.
1. Oklahoma: After a couple of lean years, the Sooners are loaded at linebacker again. Dominique Alexander was the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, Frank Shannon led the defense in tackles as a sophomore, and Eric Striker is budding into the most ferocious blitzing linebacker in the country (just ask Alabama). Jordan Evans played extensively as a true freshman, too. This is an athletic group that can cover, stop the run and get to the quarterback.

2. Texas: This will be as deep as any linebacking corps in the league, with starters Peter Jinkens, Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond all returning off a unit that improved dramatically after the rocky nonconference start. After allowing a school-record 550 yards rushing to BYU, Texas had the Big 12’s fourth-best rush defense in conference games. Whether this group can take another step up will depend on what happens with Jordan Hicks, who enters his fifth year in the program after suffering season-ending injuries in back-to-back years. Hicks was the No. 1 linebacker in the country coming out of high school and has played well when healthy.

3. West Virginia: This will be the strength of the defense, as Brandon Golson, Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and Nick Kwiatkoski all return with significant starting experience. Kwiatkoski was West Virginia’s leading tackler last season, and Bruce was a freshman All-American the season before. Wes Tonkery and Jewone Snow also have starting experience, and Shaq Petteway, who missed last season with a knee injury, was a key rotation player the previous year. This level of experience and production with give the new defensive regime of Tony Gibson and Tom Bradley a foundation to build around.

4. Baylor: Bryce Hager is one of the best returning linebackers in the league. He was a second-team all-conference pick two years ago and would have earned similar honors last season had he not missed the final three games of the regular season with a groin injury. Grant Campbell, a three-star juco signee, is already on campus and will vie for the vacancy of departing All-Big 12 linebacker Eddie Lackey. Kendall Ehrlich and Aiavion Edwards are the only other players at the position with any meaningful experience, but Raaquan Davis, a former four-star recruit who redshirted last season, could be a factor.

5. Kansas: Middle linebacker Ben Heeney was a second-team All-Big 12 selection after finishing fourth in the league in tackles per game. His wingman, Jake Love, got beat out by juco transfer Samson Faifili during the preseason but took over when Faifili suffered an injury and was solid. As long as Heeney remains healthy, the Jayhawks will be solid here.

6. TCU: Projected to be the Achilles’ heel of the TCU defense last season, Paul Dawson, Marcus Mallet and Jonathan Anderson actually gave the position stability. Dawson led the Horned Frogs with 91 tackles, Mallet was third with 70 and Anderson was fourth with 66. All three will be seniors in 2014 and should give the Horned Frogs a solid, reliable linebacking unit again.

7. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders and their 3-4 scheme graduate two very productive players in Will Smith and Terrance Bullitt. Smith was second in the Big 12 in tackles, and Bullitt led all Big 12 linebackers in pass breakups. Austin Stewart and Micah Awe go into the spring as the favorites to replace Bullitt and Smith, respectively. Two starters do return in Sam Eguavoen and Pete Robertson, who was honorable mention All-Big 12 thanks to his impact off the edge. Tech also has several intriguing young players, including Jacarthy Mack, Malik Jenkins and Kahlee Woods, who will all be second-year players.

8. Kansas State: The Wildcats lose two stalwarts to graduation in captains Blake Slaughter and Tre Walker. The only returner is former walk-on Jonathan Truman, who was second on the team in tackles from the weak side. The Wildcats will be hoping for big things from D'Vonta Derricott, an ESPN JC 50 signee who had offers from Miami and Wisconsin, among many others. Will Davis, who was Slaughter’s backup as a freshman last season, could thrive if he secures the starting role in the middle.

9. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are somewhat decimated here with the graduations of all-conference veterans Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey. The only returning starter, Ryan Simmons, could move inside, which would open the door for hard-hitting jucos D'Nerius Antoine and Devante Averette to start on either side of him. Seth Jacobs, who was a four-star recruit two years ago, should jump into the rotation, and the Cowboys could get an instant boost from freshman Gyasi Akem, who was an ESPN 300 signee. The potential ascension of this group, though, hinges on what Antonie and Averette accomplish.

10. Iowa State: The Cyclones graduate their defensive cornerstone in Jeremiah George, who was a first-team all-conference performer after leading the Big 12 with 133 tackles. Replacing George won’t come easy. But there’s reason to believe that Luke Knott can become Iowa State’s next cornerstone at the position. The younger brother of Cyclone LB great Jake Knott, Luke Knott started five games as a freshman and quickly racked up 45 tackles before suffering a season-ending hip injury, which required surgery. If he makes a full recovery, Knott has the talent to become the next in a growing line of All-Big 12 Iowa State linebackers. Seniors Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens, who combined for 19 starts last season, flank Knott with experience.
Today will be the busiest of the year for fax machines. That’s because it’s national signing day, and recruits across the country will be faxing in their letters of intent.

It’s always an exciting day for college football fans. And there’s plenty to be excited about in the Big 12.

Below is a breakdown of the most exciting element from each of the 10 Big 12 recruiting classes:

Baylor

What to get excited about: The wide receivers

The players: K.D. Cannon (Mount Pleasant, Texas/Mount Pleasant), Davion Hall (Texarkana, Texas/Liberty-Eylau), Ishmael Zamora (Houston/Alief Elsik), Chris Platt (Willis, Texas/Willis)

The skinny: The Bears have one of the best WR classes in the country, with four players ranked in the ESPN 300. With Antwan Goodley also back in Waco, QB Bryce Petty should have a big, signing day smile on his face.

Iowa State

What to get excited about: A blue-chip wideout

The player: Allen Lazard (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale)

The skinny: Elite skill talent has come at premium in Ames the last few years. But that’s exactly what Iowa State is getting in Lazard, an ESPN 300 prospect who had offers from Notre Dame, Nebraska and Stanford. If Lazard comes ready to play, new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino will have a dynamic complement to pair with No. 1 wideout Quenton Bundrage.

Kansas

What to get excited about: The replacements for RB James Sims

The players: Traevohn Wrench (Gardner, Kan./Gardner Edgerton), Corey Avery (Dallas/Carter)

The skinny: The Jayhawks graduated their only All-Big 12 performer this past season in Sims. But they prevailed in a pair of hard-fought recruiting battles to land four-star running backs Wrench and Avery. Wrench was the first commit in the class, and gave coach Charlie Weis a player to build the rest of the class around. Then this week, Weis beat out Nebraska, Ohio State and LSU, among others, to reel in Avery. The one-two combination of Wrench and Avery is reason to be optimistic about the future of the KU offense, even without Sims.

Kansas State

What to get excited about: Junior-college impact

The players: Terrell Clinkscales (Dodge City, Kansas), Andre Davis (Santa Rosa, Calif./Santa Rosa), D’Vonta Derricott (Garden City, Kan./Garden City), Danzel McDaniel (Dodge City, Kan.)

The skinny: The Wildcats have a returning core capable of contending for the Big 12 title. In this recruiting class, they’ll be adding four players in the ESPN Junior College 50 to aid that cause. K-State swiped Clinkscales from Nebraska, and he could team with Travis Britz to form a stout one-two punch at DT. Davis could be the perfect complement opposite wideout Tyler Lockett. Derricott (OLB) and McDaniel (CB) should help the defense.

Oklahoma

What to get excited about: Backfield firepower

The player: Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom)

The skinny: The Sooners closed as strong as any program in the country, and that included plucking the No. 53 overall recruit away from the West Coast powers. Mixon, together with last year’s No. 3 RB Keith Ford and budding dual-threat QB Trevor Knight, could be a devastating rushing force in the Big 12 for years to come.

Oklahoma State

What to get excited about: The linebackers

The players: Gyasi Akem (Broken Arrow, Okla./Broken Arrow), Josh Mabin (Spring, Texas/Klein Oak), Kirk Tucker (Tucker, Ga./Tucker), Devante Averette (Melvindale, Mich./Ellsworth Community College), Justin Phillips (Pearland, Texas/Pearland)

The skinny: The Cowboys graduated a pair of all-conference linebackers in Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, who played big parts in Oklahoma State’s defensive turnaround. But impressive help is on the way. Akem is a ESPN 300 prospect, and Tucker, the other outside linebacker in the class, ended up at Oklahoma State after failing to gain admission to Stanford. Averette should provide instant impact on the inside, and Mabin is a four-star recruit.

TCU

What to get excited about: The offensive skill talent

The players: Foster Sawyer (Fort Worth, Texas/All Saints Episcopal), Grayson Muehlstein (Decatur, Texas/Decatur), Shaun Nixon (Austin, Texas/Lake Travis), Corey McBride (Geismar, La.,/Dutchtown), Emanuel Porter (Dallas/Lincoln)

The skinny: The top five players in TCU’s class are offensive skill players, providing help where the Horned Frogs really need it. Sawyer and Muehlstein could battle for the starting QB job right away. The opportunity for playing time is there for receivers McBridge and Porter, too. TCU also pulled off a coup Tuesday by flipping Nixon, a four-star RB, from Texas A&M.

Texas

What to get excited about: Possible QB of the future

The player: Jerrod Heard (Denton, Texas/Guyer)

The skinny: Charlie Strong’s quickest path to putting Texas back on top is finding a solution at QB that eluded Mack Brown the last four years. Heard, an ESPN 300 quarterback who won two state titles in high school, could very well emerge as the answer.

Texas Tech

What to get excited about: A shutdown corner

The player: Nigel Bethel II (Miami, Fla./Booker T. Washington)

The skinny: The Red Raiders lose three starters from their secondary, but they have a player who can come in and help right away in Bethel. The ESPN 300 prospect is one of the better pure coverage corners in the country. To win in the Big 12, you have to defend the pass. And Bethel can defend the pass.

West Virginia

What to get excited about: The quarterbacks

The players: Skyler Howard (White Settlement, Texas/Riverside Community College), William Crest (Baltimore/Dunbar)

The skinny: Coach Dana Holgorsen struggled to replace Geno Smith last year, using three quarterbacks to limited success. But Holgorsen is bringing in a pair of talented players at the position who could be immediate factors. Howard was the No. 3 dual-threat juco QB in the country and is already enrolled for spring ball. Crest is the No. 11 high school dual-threat QB nationally.

Big 12 recruiting storylines: Dec. 19 

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With the first day of the mid-year transfer signing period in the books, Big 12 schools managed to pick up some quality players. Twenty-nine junior college players signed letters of intent to nine of the 10 schools in the conference.

Texas Tech scored the most signees with five. Josh Keys (Seminary, Miss./Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) was one of the bigger names to sign, as he’s the No. 4 juco safety in the country. Other new Red Raiders include offensive tackle Dontae Levingston (Harbor City, Calif./Santa Monica College), wide receiver Devin Lauderdale (Corsicana, Texas/Navarro College) and defensive tackles Keland McElrath (Clarksdale, Miss./Coahoma Community College) and Marcus Smith (Highland, Kan./Highland Community College).

Here are some of the more intriguing storylines involving teams and players -- new and future -- in the conference:

K-State’s juco reputation lives on

The last thing Kansas State’s reputation did on Wednesday was take a hit.

Big 12 top juco targets 

December, 3, 2013
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Several programs in the Big 12 have long searched the junior college ranks for quick fixes for their football program. Others are just warming up the idea. Here is a look at the top five junior college players in the ESPN JC 50 that Big 12 programs are going after for 2014:

Tyreek Hill
Jeremy Crabtree/ESPNTyreek Hill, who came to Oklahoma State from Garden City (Kan.) CC, might be a track star, but he'll admit football is his first love.
ATH Tyreek Hill (Garden City Community College): Oklahoma State’s future at running back is set with the commitment of Hill, who gave his verbal pledge to the Cowboys on Sept. 30. Mike Gundy and his coaching staff have to feel really good about landing Hill, as they fended off several top programs, including Alabama, Florida State, Arizona State, Baylor, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and USC. Hill was a Georgia high school sprinting champion, who, as a senior at Coffee High School in Douglas, Ga., won the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the Georgia 5A state meet.


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Big 12 class ranking analysis 

November, 13, 2013
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Not much has changed since the last RecruitingNation class rankings were updated as far as Big 12 programs are concerned. Texas, as it has been from the beginning, remains the top-ranked conference team at No. 8. The Bears check in at No. 16 followed by Oklahoma at No. 22, Oklahoma State at No. 27 and Texas Tech at No. 35.

The rest of the conference, according to our Big 12 rankings, has West Virginia with the sixth-best class, followed by Kansas, TCU, Iowa State and Kansas State.

Here is a closer look at the Big 12 class rankings:


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Big 12 2014 recruiting scenarios 

October, 8, 2013
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Even for schools like Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas, who all have recruiting classes ranked in the top 40, there is still a lot of work to be done for the Class of 2014. Here is a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for every school in the Big 12.

Baylor
Best-case scenario: The Bears continue to put up gaudy numbers on offense, which allows them to round out one of their best-ever classes with a few more gems. One recruit they would love to add is Randall Cunningham II (Las Vegas/Bishop Gorman). On defense, one of Baylor’s top targets is ESPN 300 cornerback Nick Watkins (Dallas/Bishop Dunne). Texas struggling this season sure does help BU's recruiting.


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