Big 12: Hatari Byrd

This week we've highlighted the key position battles for every program in the Big 12. We conclude the series with Oklahoma’s safety battle.

Here's where the battle stands:

Contenders: sophomore Ahmad Thomas, sophomore Hatari Byrd, freshman Steven Parker.

What happened last season: Returning starter Quentin Hayes and departed starter Gabe Lynn were a solid safety duo for the Sooners in 2013. They combined for 133 tackles and six interceptions. Hayes' versatility was an asset during his first season as a starter, and Lynn provided a veteran presence during his first and only season at safety.

Byrd saw limited duty as a true freshman but was solid in his lone extended action against Tulsa after an injury forced Lynn out of that early-season contest.

Thomas got better and better as the season went along. He was a core member of OU’s special teams and worked himself into the defensive rotation late in the season.

Parker arrived on campus this summer as the No. 139 player in the ESPN 300 for the Class of 2014.

Replacing Lynn has been a focus for the Sooners this offseason. Lynn and cornerback Aaron Colvin are the lone starters OU’s defense must replace heading into this season.

What they offer: It’s quite possible the Sooners’ safeties will be even better this fall, as all three contenders for playing time at the position appear to be securing themselves roles in the defense.

Thomas and Byrd have been so good that Hayes has migrated into the nickelback slot vacated by Julian Wilson, who has moved to cornerback to replace Colvin. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Thomas and Byrd alongside each other at safety this season, with Parker battling to earn time with the first team while providing a quality backup option.

Byrd is a fierce hitter with leadership traits that should allow him to develop into an important voice in the secondary. He’s made a clear jump from his freshman to sophomore season.

Thomas appears to be on the road to stardom. He can do it all in the secondary with good range, instincts and playmaking ability from his safety spot.

OU coaches have praised Parker as one of the most prepared freshmen they’ve seen, and he could force his way onto the field with his versatility and coverage skills.

Prediction: The Sooners will not only replace Lynn, they will use three safeties on the field at the same time quite a bit this fall. The emergence of the young safeties have made it easier to replace Colvin with Wilson’s move from nickelback to cornerback and Hayes' move from safety to nickelback. It’s all been done with an effort to get the Sooners' best 11 players on the field. OU’s safeties could be both younger and better in 2014 than they were in 2013.
With spring ball done, we’ve been re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team. Wednesday, we finish up with defensive backs. Once again, these outlooks could look different in August. But this is how we see them post-spring:

1. TCU (pre-spring ranking: 1): Juco safety Kenny Iloka was one of the storylines of the spring in Fort Worth, augmenting an already loaded secondary. In TCU’s spring game, Iloka scored a touchdown off a fumble return and picked off a pass, underscoring pretty much how he performed all spring. Iloka could probably start for the majority of teams in the Big 12. At TCU, he’s a backup. Coach Gary Patterson seemingly praised Ranthony Texada more than anyone else on his roster this spring, and the redshirt freshman cornerback looks poised to step into the starting role vacated by All-American Jason Verrett. At 5-foot-9, Texada isn’t big. Then again, neither was Verrett. Safeties Sam Carter and Chris Hackett and cornerback Kevin White could play for anyone in the conference. In other words, this TCU secondary is stacked.

2. Texas (2): Texas is one of the few teams in the Big 12 without really any position battle in its secondary coming out of the spring. Senior safeties Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner have been up and down throughout their careers, but they really buttoned up their play in the spring. Thompson delivered a pick-six in the Orange-White game. Turner had the hit of the day and intercepted a pass. At cornerback, Quandre Diggs isn’t an All-American, but he’s developed into a solid veteran leader. Duke Thomas can really run at the other cornerback spot. This is a sound group.

3. Oklahoma (3): The Sooners return two proven players in cornerback Zack Sanchez and nickel back Julian Wilson. Sanchez was erratic at times last season, but he displayed mental toughness and usually came back with big plays of his own after getting burned. Wilson will be a three-year starter. Safety Quentin Hayes had a decent junior season, too. After that, things get murky, and that’s not necessarily a negative. Dakota Austin, who was an unheralded two-star signee last year, is probably the favorite coming out of the spring to start at cornerback opposite Sanchez and over more heralded classmate Stanvon Taylor. Sophomores Ahmad Thomas and Hatari Byrd are both talented young safeties, but they have yet to prove they’re every-down players. Steven Parker II will be the player to watch here. Insiders in Norman believe the incoming true freshman has the talent and the temperament to win a starting job by the opener the way Tony Jefferson did in 2010. If he does, that will allow coordinator Mike Stoops to utilize Byrd and Thomas in certain sub-packages where the scheme will be more simplified.

4. Kansas State (4): K-State already boasts one of the best nickel backs in the league in Randall Evans and an up-and-coming safety in Dante Barnett. The Wildcats had a productive spring elsewhere in their secondary, as Morgan Burns stepped up to essentially nail down a starting job at corner. Coveted juco transfer Danzel McDaniel progressed after arriving on campus and exited spring ball on the cusp of earning the other starting cornerback gig. Dylan Schellenberg, who started the two games Ty Zimmerman missed last season, will go into the fall as the favorite to start at safety alongside Barnett.

5. West Virginia (5): The Mountaineers might have the best underclassman cornerback in the league in sophomore Daryl Worley, who locked up Mario Alford in West Virginia’s spring game. Worley was fabulous all spring, and he brings a maturity and attitude that defies his age. Like Worley, Karl Joseph started as a true freshman, and he could be on the verge of turning into one of the best safeties in the Big 12 as a junior. It will be interesting to see if incoming blue-chip freshman Dravon Henry can break into the rotation at cornerback, which would only make this secondary better.

6. Kansas (6): Senior cornerback Dexter McDonald put in the work during the offseason, and it showed in Kansas’ spring game. He's become a technically-sound player. Fellow cornerback Kevin Short, a juco transfer forced by the NCAA to sit out last season, can fly. Safety Isaiah Johnson, who became the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year after picking off five passes last season, had another pick in the spring game. With four starters back from last fall, plus the addition of Short, Kansas’ secondary will be the team's strength next season.

7. Oklahoma State (7): The emergence of Ashton Lampkin was a positive development for the Cowboys. Lampkin had a pick-six in the “Orange Blitz” scrimmage, and after two seasons as a key backup, looks ready to take over as a starting cornerback opposite All-Big 12 hopeful Kevin Peterson. The Cowboys are completely inexperienced at safety, with second-year players Jordan Sterns, Deric Robertson, Jerel Morrow and Tre Flowers basically comprising the position. Only time will determine how effective the Cowboys can be at the back end.

8. Texas Tech (8): The Red Raiders have to feel good about their safeties coming out of the spring. Keenon Ward was the defensive MVP and brought the hammer all spring. J.J. Gaines will soon be completely back from a season-ending shoulder injury. He played extremely well through five games last season. Justis Nelson is oozing confidence after earning a starting job as a true freshman last fall. The biggest question is at the other cornerback spot. Sophomore La’Darius Newbold is currently the starter, but speedy true freshman Nigel Bethel II could make noise once he arrives this summer.

9. Baylor (9): The rebuild of a secondary that graduated four starters remains a work in progress. Sophomore Orion Stewart had the best spring of the young players and looks primed to take over the deep safety role held by All-American Ahmad Dixon. Sophomore cornerbacks Terrence Singleton and Xavien Howard also won starting jobs, but they’ll have to fend off juco transfer Chris Sanders in the preseason. Walk-on senior Collin Brence was the surprise of the spring and is listed as the starter at nickelback. This a group, though, that still has more questions to answer.

10: Iowa State (10): Nigel Tribune, who was the only true freshman to play at Iowa State in the past two seasons, is one of the best young cornerbacks in the league and a cornerstone defender for the Cyclones. The rest of the secondary is a big fat unknown. Juco transfer Devron Moore, whom Iowa State beat TCU, Texas Tech and West Virginia for, left school in the middle of spring ball with homesickness. He is dubious to return. That leaves juco transfer Qujuan Floyd, redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya and T.J. Mutcherson, who suffered an MCL injury in the spring game (he should be back in June), as Iowa State’s only remaining options at safety.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. On Tuesday, we continue the series with Oklahoma:

Offense (projected starters in bold)

QB: Trevor Knight (So.), Cody Thomas (RFr.), Justice Hansen (Fr.)

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAfter receiving only 23 carries last season as a freshman, OU's Keith Ford will likely be the starting tailback in 2014.
The Sooners feel great about putting the offense in the hands of Knight after his Allstate Sugar Bowl MVP performance against Alabama. The sophomore looked like a future star against the Crimson Tide while leading the Sooners to a 45-31 upset win. OU is inexperienced behind Knight with a pair of freshman in Thomas and Hansen. Former Texas Tech quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred to OU in January, would be the perfect fit behind Knight but won’t be eligible to play until 2015. If he plays consistent and remains healthy, Knight could lead his team to a College Football Playoff berth. If not, OU could flounder below expectations and look back upon the 2014 season as a missed opportunity.

RB: Keith Ford (So.), Alex Ross (So.), Daniel Brooks (So.)

Ford exits spring as the favorite to start in the backfield, but he didn’t take the job and hide during 15 spring practices. Ross was one of the stars of the spring as he continually made plays during scrimmages, and Brooks was one of the standouts during the spring game. OU has several talented options at running back and is poised to add two top freshman runners in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.

FB/TE: Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.), Dimitri Flowers (Fr.), Blake Bell (Sr.)

OU uses fullbacks and tight ends in similar ways as both positions spend their meeting time with tight ends coach Jay Boulware. Ripkowski is one of the unsung heroes on the entire roster. He played a critical role during the team's strong finish to the 2013 season. Flowers has stepped on campus ready to make an impact with his versatility and football IQ after enrolling in school early. Bell has moved over from quarterback and looks poised to make an impact as a pass catcher with his size and athleticism. It’s a talented and versatile group that is likely to get overlooked this fall but could be the foundation of any success the team has on offense.

WR: Sterling Shepard (Jr.), Derrick Woods (So.), Durron Neal (Jr.), K.J. Young (RFr.), Jordan Smallwood (RFr.), Austin Bennett (So.)

Shepard should be one of the Big 12’s top receivers if Knight continues to develop as a passer. OU badly needs someone to emerge alongside Shepard if it hopes to have a strong passing game to help make the 2014 version of the offense more balanced than the 2013 version. There’s talent on campus but nobody separated themselves during the spring, opening the door for a freshman like Michiah Quick to step on campus and into the lineup this fall.

C: Ty Darlington (Jr.)

G: Dionte Savage (Sr.), Nila Kasitati (Jr.), Tony Feo (Sr.), Adam Shead (Sr.), Tyler Evans (Sr.)

T: Tyrus Thompson (Sr.), Daryl Williams (Sr.), Josiah St. John (Sr.)

Darlington has been groomed to replace All-Big 12 center Gabe Ikard and could slide into the starting lineup with ease. Nonetheless, adding competition at this position would help the Sooners. OU is fairly deep at guard and tackle which should allow competition for playing time to help everyone improve. Williams is the anchor of the entire offensive line and should be one of the Big 12’s top tackles this fall. The Sooners should have one of the better offensive lines in the Big 12.

DEFENSE

DE: Charles Tapper (Jr.), Geneo Grissom (Sr.), Matt Dimon (So.)

DT: Jordan Phillips (Jr.) or Chuka Ndulue (Sr.), Jordan Wade (So.)

[+] EnlargeDominique Alexander
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsSooners linebacker Dominique Alexander emerged as a playmaker as a freshman.
OU’s defensive line could be one of the most disruptive and deepest in the nation. The Sooners should easily go six or seven deep along the defensive line, particularly if Phillips returns to his early 2013 form after suffering a back injury last season. Tapper and Grissom have the ability to be disruptive against anyone, and the overall depth on the roster should allow OU to come at offenses in waves with fresh bodies rotating throughout games. If OU makes a national title run, the defensive line will likely be the driving force.

LB: Dominique Alexander (So.), Frank Shannon (Jr.), Eric Striker (Jr.), Jordan Evans (So.), Devante Bond (Jr.)

Striker could be the Big 12’s best pass rusher, Alexander has the potential to be one of the Big 12’s best before his career is over, Evans could take a major step forward as a sophomore and Bond impressed as a junior college transfer this spring. If Shannon returns to good standing after missing part of spring due to personal issues, this is a good, experienced group. OU’s linebackers are one of the main reasons its defense could be the most athletic and versatile in the conference this fall.

CB: Zack Sanchez (So.), Julian Wilson (Sr.), Dakota Austin (So.), Stanvon Taylor (So.), Cortez Johnson (Jr.)

Here’s where things get interesting for the defense. Wilson returns as the starting nickelback and a productive veteran in the secondary. Sanchez is solid and took his game to another level this spring as he strives to be the type of coverage cornerback that teams don’t want to test. But the Sooners need someone to step up on the opposite side of the field with Austin ending the spring as a starter but remaining untested. No matter who wins the job, they will be picked on repeatedly until they prove they aren’t the weak link of the secondary. Defensive back is one of the few unsettled and unproven spots on the entire roster.

S: Quentin Hayes (Sr.), Hatari Byrd (So.), Ahmad Thomas (So.)

Hayes was quietly one of the better safeties in the Big 12 in 2013. He was productive with 75 tackles and solid in coverage. Byrd and Thomas have matured and started to develop as sophomores and should be key contributors this fall. Nonetheless, freshman Steven Parker has the talent to step in an earn a role this summer. If Parker is as good as advertised, OU will go two deep with talented options.

Big 12 spring stars, Part 1

April, 24, 2014
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Spring football is coming to a close in the Big 12, with several players making a move in their respective programs and securing or bettering their role on the team. During the next two days, we’ll review the Big 12’s stars of the spring by taking a closer look at their pre-spring roles, spring performance and potential roles this fall.

Defensive end Shawn Oakman, Baylor

Pre-spring role: Oakman looked like he could be a breakout star on Baylor’s defense after recording 12.5 tackles for loss in a backup role.

What he did this spring: Oakman cemented his spot in the starting lineup and boosted the belief that he could be one of the Big 12’s top defensive linemen this fall.

What his role could be this fall: A freakish athlete at 6-foot-9 and 270 pounds, Oakman has NFL ability and could show it as the key piece in Baylor’s stellar defensive line.

Quotable: “We can't block him. And I don't think anybody else will, either. It's what I've been saying all along: Our defensive line is as good as anyone's in America. He's just one of them out of six or seven that is going to be a dynamic player for us in the fall.” - Baylor coach Art Briles.

Receiver Brett Medders, Iowa State

Pre-spring role: The redshirt junior hadn’t really made an impact during his first three seasons, so not much was expected from him.

What he did this spring: Medders emerged as a legitimate option at receiver for a Cyclones offense searching for additional playmakers this spring. He had six receptions for 48 yards in the spring game. Coach Paul Rhoads praised Medders' performance during ISU’s spring practices.

What his role could be this fall: Even though ISU has several potential options at receiver, including true freshman Allen Lazard, Medders could have carved himself a role in Mark Mangino’s offense. He’s not a game-changing target, but could help force defenses to account for receiving threats other than Quenton Bundrage.

Receiver Nick Harwell, Kansas

Pre-spring role: The Jayhawks knew they had someone who could help them in Harwell, who was forced to sit out the 2013 season after transferring from Miami (Ohio).

What he did this spring: Harwell emerged as arguably the Jayhawks’ go-to playmaker. He’s a shifty receiver who can excel in the open field. KU repeatedly tried to put the ball in his hands during its spring game, so expect that to continue this fall. The Jayhawks wanted to identify playmakers during the spring and Harwell stepped up to fill that void.

What his role could be this fall: Harwell will be Montell Cozart’s main target and should join running back Tony Pierson as KU’s top playmakers in John Reagan’s new offense.

Quotable: “You try not to get too excited because he is so competitive and he runs good routes and he catches the ball. He doesn't like getting beat in drills. He wants to go against the best guy every single time. He is the type of competitor I am used to playing with. If he comes even close to the expectation I have for him, then I think we will be pretty happy.” - KU coach Charlie Weis

Cornerback Morgan Burns, Kansas State

Pre-spring role: Burns was poised to battle for a spot in the secondary after two seasons in a backup role.

What he did this spring: While the Wildcats' spring is not over yet, Burns has worked himself into a key role while separating himself among the Wildcats’ cornerbacks, who are competing for two starting positions.

What his role could be this fall: He appears poised to be KSU’s No. 1 option at cornerback unless he takes a step backward during the four months before the season kicks off.

Safety Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma

Pre-spring role: He was very solid as a freshman, playing a role on special teams while getting spot duty on defense. Thomas was expected to battle fellow sophomore Hatari Byrd to replace Gabe Lynn at safety.

What he did this spring: Thomas showed he’s going to be on the field one way or the other with a strong spring, which he capped with several plays in the spring game. He showed the ability to line up at multiple positions in the Sooners defense, allowing OU to use him in several roles.

What his role could be this fall: Byrd had a solid spring as well, so Thomas didn’t run away with the job at safety. But it would be a surprise if Thomas is not a key contributor on OU’s defense in 2014.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: DBs

February, 26, 2014
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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 Wednesday with defensive backs. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the defensive back groups going into the spring:

1. TCU: TCU has been tenacious defending the pass since joining the league, and even without potential first-round pick Jason Verrett, that shouldn’t change in 2014. Sam Carter was the only non-senior to earn first-team or second-team All-Big 12 honors in the secondary last season, and Chris Hackett was one of the best underclassman defensive backs in the league last year. Derrick Kindred is primed to step into TCU’s third safety spot after playing a key role in the rotation. The Horned Frogs also add the nation’s No. 3 juco safety in Kenny Iloka. Throw in senior Geoff Hooker, and the Horned Frogs have an impressive five-man rotation at safety. At corner, Kevin White was honorable mention All-Big 12 last year, and will take over for Verrett as the primary corner. The Horned Frogs have several options at the other corner, including incoming three-star recruit Nick Foster.

2. Texas: After playing the nickel role last year, Quandre Diggs will settle back at cornerback in place of Carrington Byndom. Opposite Diggs will be the ultra-athletic Duke Thomas, who was so good in spring ball last year, he forced the coaches to move Diggs to nickelback. Together, Diggs and Thomas could give the Longhorns the best cornerback tandem in the league. Antwuan Davis, who redshirted in his first year, was an ESPN 300 signee and figures to play a big role somewhere in the secondary. Josh Turner (37 appearances) and Mykkele Thompson (12 starts in 2013) each bring a lot of experience at safety.

3. Oklahoma: Oklahoma graduates the heart and soul of the secondary in cornerback Aaron Colvin, who gutted his way through an array of injuries last year. But if the Sooners can find an adequate replacement for him, the Big 12’s best pass defense statistically in 2013 should be stout again. Julian Wilson (nickelback), Zack Sanchez (cornerback) and Quentin Hayes (strong safety) all return as starters, though Hayes could be pushed by Ahmad Thomas and incoming freshman Steven Parker for time. Hatari Byrd, an ESPN 300 signee last year, should step into the vacant spot at free safety. Cortez Johnson will try to fend off Stanvon Taylor, who played as a true freshman, for Colvin’s spot in the only real uncertain area of this secondary.

4. Kansas State: The Wildcats will miss All-Big 12 performer Ty Zimmerman, but his cohort, Dante Barnett, was one of the best young safeties in the league last year. Barnett was third on the team with 75 tackles and first with four interceptions. Randall Evans also returns after leading the team in pass breakups and gives the Wildcats a versatile defensive back. As usual, Bill Snyder will also be looking for some juco impact. He should get it in Danzel McDaniel, who was the No. 4 juco CB recruit in the country. Cornerback Jesse Mack also could prove to be a key juco signee. If both players pan out, this could become one of the better defensive backfields in the league.

5. West Virginia: The bad news is the Mountaineers had the Big 12’s worst pass defense last year. The good news is they bring back three starters. Karl Joseph has started the last two seasons at free safety, though he could slide to the strong side with Darwin Cook gone. Joseph has All-Big 12 potential, and he needs to elevate his game for the West Virginia defense to take another step forward. Veteran K.J. Dillon could be the front-runner for the job alongside Joseph, though Jeremy Tyler and Jarrod Harper will also be in the mix. West Virginia also brings back both starting cornerbacks in senior Ishmael Banks and Daryl Worley, who started as a freshman. The Mountaineers also signed Keishawn Richardson, the No. 8 juco CB, and Jaylon Myers, the No. 9 juco safety, for depth. Cornerback Dravon Henry, an ESPN 300 signee who had offers from Alabama, Florida State and Ohio State, could play immediately if one of West Virginia’s veterans struggle.

6. Kansas: The Jayhawks return all five starters from their secondary, including last year’s Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, strong safety Isaiah Johnson. Returning cornerbacks Dexter McDonald and JaCorey Shepherd, a converted wide receiver, were both honorable mention All-Big 12 selections and give the Jayhawks one of the better corner duos in the league. Free safety Cassius Sendish started every game and had 12 tackles in Kansas’ only Big 12 victory in 2013, over West Virginia. Nickelback Courtney Arnick started in six games as a redshirt freshman. If this group collectively improves, Kansas could field a solid defense in 2014.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys lose All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, who might be selected high in the first round of the NFL draft after a stellar combine performance. The Cowboys welcome back one of the best young corners in the league in Kevin Peterson, who was terrific as a sophomore in coverage opposite Gilbert. Ashton Lampkin has experience, and he will likely fill the other corner spot unless someone else emerges. Lyndell Johnson, who made a transition from linebacker to safety last season, will take over full time at strong safety. The Cowboys will need someone else to emerge at the other safety in place of departed veteran starter Daytawion Lowe. Deric Robertson, Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry, all from the 2013 recruiting class, are possibilities.

8. Texas Tech: How the Red Raiders retool here will be on one of the bigger spring storylines in Lubbock. Keenon Ward and Justis Nelson were thrown in the fire as freshmen last year, and they will be counted on to fill bigger roles. The gem of the incoming recruiting class, four-star cornerback Nigel Bethel II, could be asked – and has the capability – to play right away. The Red Raiders have to replace both starting safeties, including freshman Tanner Jacobson, who is going on a Mormon mission. To compensate, Tech signed six safeties, including Josh Keys, the No. 5 juco safety in the country, who had offers from Auburn, Georgia and Oklahoma State. Getting strong safety J.J. Gaines back from a season-ending injury will be a boost, too.

9. Baylor: The Bears are one of several teams in the league that were decimated in the secondary by graduation. Baylor loses four of its five starters, including All-American safety Ahmad Dixon. Safety Terrell Burt is the only returning starter, leaving the other four spots up for grabs. The Bears signed juco corners Tion Wright and Chris Sanders to help fill the void. Both are already on campus and will be battling Xavien Howard, Ryan Reid and Tyler Stephenson for a starting job. Orion Stewart, who backed up Dixon as a redshirt freshman, will likely step in his role, and fellow sophomore Kiante’ Griffin will be the favorite to take over at the nickel.

10. Iowa State: Cornerback Nigel Tribune was the only true freshman to play for the Cyclones last year, and he received votes as Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Tribune, however, is the only returning starter. Veteran safety mainstays Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield are gone. In response, the Cyclones will look for Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd, the Nos. 6 and 7 juco safety recruits, respectively, to step in immediately.

Big 12 mailbag

November, 22, 2013
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In today’s mailbag, Baylor’s schedule is compared to Ohio State’s, Iowa State fans yearn for the second coming of Bill Snyder and Texas fans want a louder stadium, Tyrone Swoopes at QB and a certain coach to be fired.

To the ‘bag:

[+] EnlargeBryce Petty
AP Photo/LM OteroOklahoma State will need to force some turnovers, but Baylor QB Bryce Petty has thrown just one interception all year.
Brenna in Stillwater, Okla., writes: It doesn’t seem like anyone is giving Oklahoma State a chance against Baylor. I know you predicted Baylor would win, but do you think the Pokes have a legitimate chance to get the win in convincing fashion?

Jake Trotter: The win, yes. But in convincing fashion? That’s asking a lot. That would require Oklahoma State forcing a bunch of turnovers, which the Cowboys have been terrific at. Problem is, Baylor doesn’t turn the ball over. Bryce Petty has thrown just one interception all year. The Cowboys are more than capable of winning this game. I almost picked them. But I don’t see a scenario in which Baylor gets blown out. That offense is just too good to let that happen.

Isaac in Waukee, Iowa, writes: Aside from hiring their own “Wizard” what needs to happen at Iowa State to reach Kansas State's level of consistent success? They seem to be similar schools with agricultural roots, true college towns, isolated from bigger TV markets.

Trotter: Bill Snyder didn’t build K-State in a day. The Wildcats had only one winning season in Snyder’s first four years. Yes, the Cyclones have taken a step back this year. But Paul Rhoads has proven to be a solid coach, underscored by the fact he took the Cyclones to bowls in three of his four years. Iowa State needs to give him more time. Way more time. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither was Manhattan. Neither will Ames.

Josh Brown in Dallas writes: In all these hypothetical debates about Baylor and Ohio State, I hear a lot about both teams playing a weak schedule. But I never hear about the one team they played in common, Buffalo. Ohio State won 40-20, while Baylor was up 56-13 at HALF! Any reason this doesn't get more attention as it is the obvious best point of comparison?

Trotter: I think a more powerful argument favoring Baylor is this: Ohio State has four road wins over teams (Cal, Illinois, Northwestern, and Purdue) who are a combined 0-26 in league play. Contrast that with a potential road win for Baylor at No. 10 Oklahoma State, and the case would be closed, in my opinion. Of course, the Bears have to win that game first.

James Fulton in El Paso, Texas, writes: Jake, with only two games plus a bowl game left, do you see David Ash sitting out the rest of the season? I assume he is eligible for a redshirt, and can come back as a junior next year.

Trotter: Ash would only be eligible for a medical redshirt if doctors didn’t clear him the rest of the season (sitting him while he’s cleared doesn’t count). But assuming he’s not cleared, which is doesn’t look like he will be, then yes, a medical redshirt is a very good possibility.

David in Richmond, Va., writes: During the Kansas-West Virginia game, the announcers kept talking about how many West Virginia players were injured. So I have to wonder, how many players are out for each team in the Big 12?

Trotter: I don’t have enough space here to list every injury for every team. But just about every team in the Big 12 has been hit with major injuries. Texas lost Johnathan Gray, David Ash and Chris Whaley. TCU lost Devonte Fields for the year and Casey Pachall for several games. Oklahoma lost Corey Nelson, Jordan Phillips and Trey Millard. Baylor lost Tevin Reese and now Spencer Drango. Oklahoma State lost Devin Davis during the preseason and has been without Josh Stewart. Texas Tech is missing several key defensive players. Iowa State has been beat up offensively pretty much all year. Injuries are part of football, and West Virginia is hardly exclusive to them.

James in Overland Park, Kan., writes: Will Tyrone Swoopes start for Texas against Texas Tech? Also will Mack Brown be fired after the Baylor game?

Trotter: Swoopes could play more, but McCoy is going to get the start. It’s possible that Brown resigns after the Baylor game, but he’s not going to be fired Lane Kiffin style.

Scott in Edgewater, Md., writes: What does Dana Holgorsen have to do to right the ship? Better recruits? More experience? Better coaches? I understand that the Big 12 is not the Big East, and that we have lost Stedman Bailey, Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. But this is getting unacceptable to me. At what point does Holgorsen have to worry about his job?

Trotter: I don’t think Holgorsen is in danger yet, even after that disappointing performance in Lawrence. The man who hired him (Oliver Luck) is still there, and this was always going to be a rebuilding year. But the Mountaineers better show improvement in 2014, or things could get tense real fast in Morgantown.

 

Freshmen impact in the Big 12

September, 25, 2013
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Having a highly ranked recruiting class and a bunch of four-star signees sounds good in the spring and summer, but it's a different story when the season begins. The freshmen who are game-ready are the ones who get the playing time, no matter their star rating. Here's a look at the five Big 12 schools getting the most from their true freshmen:

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman Texas Tech signal-caller Baker Mayfield, a walk-on, has been the surprise of the Big 12 thus far.
1. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders practically earn this top spot by default by relying on two true freshmen at quarterback. Baker Mayfield made a big first impression, but it seems the battle is opening back up after two solid games from freshman Davis Webb, and the imminent return of Michael Brewer. Still, going 4-0 with two rookies behind center makes coach Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch a worthy No. 1 on this list.

Tech has played eight other true freshmen in 2013, and a few are making solid contributions. Receiver Dylan Cantrell has six catches for 56 yards, linebacker Malik Jenkins has recorded five tackles and a pass breakup and receiver Carlos Thompson already has a 73-yard kick return and 35-yard punt return.

2. Oklahoma: Is it possible Oklahoma’s best running back is its fourth-string freshman? Keith Ford, the gem of the Sooners’ class, has rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and wowed in OU’s last game against Tulsa.

Fellow freshman Stanvon Taylor earned his first career start against Tulsa, and he’s one of several newcomers contributing in the secondary along with Hatari Byrd, Ahmad Thomas, L.J. Moore and Dakota Austin. Linebacker Dominique Alexander has also chipped in six tackles through three games.

3. West Virginia: Of all the new skill players who joined West Virginia’s offense this year, who would’ve expected Daikiel Shorts would be the Mountaineers’ leading receiver and Wendell Smallwood would be their No. 2 back? Shorts has 12 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, and Smallwood has 139 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries thus far.

A total of seven true freshmen have played for WVU this season, and four of them are defensive backs. Corner Daryl Worley is off to a nice start with six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup.

4. Oklahoma State: Many expected Ra’Shaad Samples to be OSU’s breakout true freshman receiver, but so far that distinction belongs to Marcell Ateman. He has hauled in eight passes for 92 yards, good for fourth-best on the team.

Freshman kicker Ben Grogan has hit all 19 of his extra-point attempts and is 1-for-2 on field goals, and defensive backs Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson have combined for eight tackles this season.

5. Baylor: Baylor might have two of the conference’s most talented true freshmen in receiver Robbie Rhodes and defensive tackle Andrew Billings, but they haven’t had to do much so far. Rhodes has 65 receiving yards and Billings has recorded three tackles, including one tackle for loss. Kiante’ Griffin is also contributing at linebacker with three tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

TCU can also make a case for the No. 5 spot. The Frogs don’t have a Devonte Fields-caliber breakout star yet, but receiver Ty Slanina has two reception and is currently listed as a starter, and former ESPN 300 prospect Tevin Lawson is breaking into the rotation at defensive tackle with two stops already.
The lights are about to get bright. Game 1 is fast approaching, and the touted true freshmen of the Big 12 are about to get a dose of reality.

Their recruiting hype doesn’t matter anymore. Some will play right away, and many others won’t. We’ll soon know which ones are difference-makers, and which ones are better off spending a year on the sidelines.

Several rookies are already establishing themselves as the cream of the crop through nearly three weeks of fall practices, but there are a lot of good ones ready to crack this list after they make their debuts. Here’s a look at five true freshman who are earning buzz coming out of fall camp, plus several more who could garner attention soon.

WR Robbie Rhodes, Baylor

The hype just keeps building. Rhodes enjoyed another breakout performance in Baylor’s second scrimmage, going for 112 yards on four catches. He was the No. 4 ranked receiver in the country coming out of Fort Worth (Texas) Southwest and brings elite speed and size to the position. He chose Baylor because he knew he could play any receiver spot for the Bears and get on the field right away. He was right. “He’s just a talented guy. He’s good, and that’s why he’s here,” Baylor coach Art Briles said after his second scrimmage. “We’re a good place for receivers to go, without any question.”

S Hatari Byrd, Oklahoma

The strong majority of Oklahoma’s 2013 signees have a chance to play in their first year, and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has acknowledged Byrd is the one “we’ll probably lean on the heaviest.” He’s worked out at multiple positions in the secondary during camp and has a legitimate chance to establish himself in the lineup early in his Sooner career. A 6-foot-1, 198-pound ESPN 300 signee from Fresno, Calif., Byrd was told throughout his recruitment he’d start right away in Norman.

QB Davis Webb, Texas Tech

The prosper Prosper (Texas) arrived early in the spring and is now in position to start the season opener vs. SMU with Michael Brewer sidelined. A 6-foot-4, 195-pound gunslinger, he threw for 224 yards in the Tech spring game and seriously pushed Brewer, the projected starter. Now he’s competing with walk-on Baker Mayfield, and having that extra semester under his belt could make the difference.

WR Marcell Ateman, Oklahoma State

There’s no Justin Blackmon or Dez Bryant on this Oklahoma State team, just a handful of potentially really good ones. Ateman has flown under the radar a bit compared to the more touted Ra'Shaad Samples, but he’s got a big frame at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds and has impressed the OSU staff in fall camp. Don’t be surprised if he contributes early.

DT Andrew Billings, Baylor

Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has already come right out and said it: Billings is competing for a starting job right now. He’s 6-foot and 305 pounds, and you won’t find a more powerful freshman in the country. The Waco native broke Texas state powerlifting records last year and can squad 805 pounds and bench press 500. Billings matches that strength with surprising quickness and could become a menace up the middle right away for the Bears. “We knew he was strong and we knew he was passionate,” Briles told the Waco Tribune last week. “I just didn’t know he was that agile and dedicated. He’s a guy that wants to be great.”

Keep an eye on: CB Ranthony Texada, TCU; S Ahmad Thomas, Oklahoma; QB Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech; WR Daikiel Shorts, West Virginia; WR D.J. Polite-Bray, Texas Tech; WR Tre' Parmalee, Kansas; DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma; RB Keith Ford, Oklahoma; DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State; LB Alton Meeks, Iowa State; WR Jacorey Warrick, Texas; LB Al-Rasheed Benton, West Virginia; OL Patrick Morris, TCU; RB Rennie Childs, Oklahoma State; QB Tyrone Swoopes, Texas

Oklahoma season preview

August, 14, 2013
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Today we take a closer look at Oklahoma, which enters the season looking to win its ninth Big 12 title under Bob Stoops.

OKLAHOMA SOONERS

Coach: Bob Stoops (149-37 overall record, 14 seasons; 149-37 at OU, 14 seasons)

2012 record: 10-3 (8-1 in Big 12, co-champions)

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireBlake Bell, who has rushed for 24 touchdowns in his career, is the favorite to start at quarterback for the Sooners in 2013.
Key losses: QB Landry Jones, LT Lane Johnson, WR Kenny Stills, S Tony Jefferson, CB Demontre Hurst, S Javon Harris

Key returnees: WR Jalen Saunders, CB Aaron Colvin, RB Damien Williams, C Gabe Ikard, RT Daryl Williams, DT Chuka Ndulue, LB Corey Nelson.

Newcomer to watch: S Hatari Byrd. The California native was so impressive early in camp that the Sooners played him at three different positions in three days, clearly looking to find a way to get the true freshman on the field this season.

Biggest games in 2013: A three-game stretch could define the Sooners' season as they travel to Notre Dame (Sept. 28) before hosting TCU (Oct. 5) and battling Texas in the Red River Rivalry (Oct. 12). Road games at Baylor (Nov. 7) and Oklahoma State (Dec. 7) are the biggest games down the stretch as OU plays three of its final four games away from Norman.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It’s easy to assume replacing Landry Jones is the No. 1 priority. But the Sooners have three quality candidates in Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, making the defensive line the biggest question mark at OU.

A lot of the Sooners’ defensive struggles in 2012 were rooted in their lack of a pass rush. OU doesn’t have proven playmakers at defensive tackle or defensive end but several youngsters like Jordan Phillips and Charles Tapper have plenty of upside.

Forecast: Watching OU's offense struggle to score touchdowns while Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ran circles around the defense in the Cotton Bowl didn’t sit well in Norman. Coach Bob Stoops replaced three assistant coaches, adding new faces in the trenches with offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery joining the program.

Bell is the favorite to start at quarterback and could bring a run-pass threat at the position that was absent during Jones’ tenure. A veteran offensive line and a bevy of talented ball carriers, led by Damien Williams, should provide a strong running game that makes the transition easier for whoever is named the starter at quarterback. And top receiver Jalen Saunders is one of the Big 12’s most explosive players.

Defensively, the Sooners will need several young players to grow up quickly with just four starters returning. All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin provides a foundation for the secondary and will be counted on to slow the Big 12’s top pass catchers. Linebacker Corey Nelson hopes to have a breakout senior season and junior Geneo Grissom could finally fulfill his potential at defensive end.

Poll: WVU's Gibson biggest impact frosh

February, 21, 2013
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Earlier this week, I asked you to vote for which incoming freshman you thought would have the biggest impact in 2013.

The fans spoke, and West Virginia receiver Shelton Gibson finished solidly in the No. 1 spot with 33 percent of the vote. He was well ahead of the No. 2 finisher, Baylor receiver Robbie Rhodes, who grabbed 23 percent of the vote.

I'd agree with those two having an immediate impact. I don't know if you can expect either to finish with 90 catches, but I'd be surprised if both Gibson and Rhodes didn't both make their presence known next fall. For freshmen, opportunity might be more important than skill itself. Both players obviously have the latter, but Baylor and West Virginia's offenses both provide opportunity. With a pair of receiving corps that are drained (more so West Virginia than Baylor), the pass-happy offenses will have to find targets. Rhodes is in the middle of the road when it comes to size, but Gibson's small and shifty frame could help him get open and get touches early in his career.

Oklahoma safety Hatari Byrd will have an opportunity with a pair of lost safeties from last year's team, and he edged out Ra'Shaad Samples with 18 percent, compared to Samples' 17 percent. Samples is entering a situation similar to Rhodes and Gibson, but Oklahoma State has a few more established weapons like Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and the expected return of Michael Harrison, as well as the late emergence of Austin Hays.

Incoming TCU running back Kyle Hicks grabbed just 9 percent of the vote. It sound like the other 91 percent of voters didn't believe he could fight through Aaron Green, B.J. Catalon and Waymon James to earn some touches in TCU's offense.

These guys will be fun to watch over their careers, and it's not all about the first season on campus.
Signing day is in the rear-view mirror, but a handful of freshmen will be on campus this spring before the rest take the field in the fall. Which ones do you think will have the biggest impact? Vote in our poll.

Robbie Rhodes, WR, Baylor: Rhodes was the nation's No. 3 receiver and joins Baylor's high-powered offense in need of pass-catchers. Everybody wanted the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Fort Worth, Texas, native, but Baylor got him and he'll have early opportunities to make an impact.

Hatari Byrd, S, Oklahoma: Oklahoma lost both safeties from last year's team, and Byrd was given indications from the coaches that a starting position is definitely within reach for the nation's No. 14 safety in the class. Mike Stoops knows secondaries, and the 6-foot-1, 192-pound Fresno, Calif., native will be fun to watch.

Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia: Like Baylor, West Virginia needs some help at receiver, and Gibson was the Mountaineers' highest-rated signee. The 5-foot-11, 173-pound Cleveland Heights, Ohio, native has 4.4 speed and received offers from a ton of schools as the nation's No. 26 receiver.

Ra'Shaad Samples, WR, Oklahoma State: The best skill-position players tend to lean toward the Big 12, and Samples is the latest to do so. Oklahoma State's top signee hails from Dallas, and the 5-foot-11, 170-pounder will try to make an impact in Oklahoma State's pass-first offense. There will be plenty of balls to go around, but we'll see if he can grab his share.

Kyle Hicks, RB, TCU: The Frogs flipped the running back from the Longhorns late in the recruiting process, and Hicks is part of TCU's influx of talent from the metroplex. Over half its recruiting class is from DFW and Hicks is the Frogs' highest-ranked recruit. The 5-foot-10, 190-pounder will have to fight through Waymon James and Nebraska transfer Aaron Green to grab some carries. Can he make it happen?

Which new guy will have the biggest impact? Get your votes in now.
Every year, a few hundred players sign letters of intent to play out their careers in the Big 12. Many of them have spectacular names, for one reason or another. Here are the best names of the 2013 recruiting season across the Big 12.

MVP: Stone Underwood, C, West Virginia: This is, quite simply, perfection. First off, you've got an offensive lineman named Stone. Where'd West Virginia find him? Let's just say you don't have to turn over too many logs to figure that out.

Co-MVP: Poet Thomas, DT, Texas Tech: True poetry in the Red Raiders' new defensive lineman here. Here's hoping he drops a soliloquy on us after he gets to Lubbock.

Dreamius Smith, RB, West Virginia: The one-time Kansas commit makes another appearance on our All-Name team, but he wasn't far from being an MVP, too.

Joseph Noteboom, OT, TCU: I really wish he was a linebacker, but any name with a "boom" in it gets an automatic invite to the All-Name team.

DeMarquis Polite-Bray, WR, Texas Tech: Three names, each more fabulous than the one that preceded it.

Johnny Jefferson, RB, Baylor: Some names just roll off the tongue. This is a key example, not unlike his future teammate, WR Robbie Rhodes.

Cassius Sendish, CB, Kansas: I feel bad for any of his big fans who also have to deal with lisps, but Cassius is a great name and KU would love for him to be a great player.

Hatari Byrd, S, Oklahoma: I'm not sure which name I like better here. And a safety with the name "Byrd" is nothing short of amazing.

Montrel Meander, S, Texas: Texas would love it if he didn't meander at his new position, but I'm a sucker for the double matching consonant names. Add the significance of a strong last name that's also a verb and you've got an easy All-Namer.

Ranthony Texada, CB, TCU: Just awesome for reasons I can't quite explain. Never seen either of these names any other place.

Naim Mustafaa, DE, Oklahoma State: When I see this, I think of one of my favorite basketball names of all-time, Mustafa Shakur, at Arizona. Can't forget Simba's father, either.

Kamari Cotton-Moya, ATH, Iowa State: Another classic example of three great names all outstanding in their own right. Kamari's just lucky enough to have all three.

Ahongalu Fusimalohi, G, Kansas: It takes a little verbal gymnastics to correctly pronounce some of the players' names with island ancestry, but I love the challenge and the uniqueness.

Judah Jones, WR, Kansas State: Another double consonant, another great name that rolls off the tongue.

Dakota Austin, CB, Oklahoma: Two names of geographical locations is always strong.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, DE, Oklahoma: The name brought up memories of the protagonist of the novel, Things Fall Apart, but ignore how that story ended. A bright future ahead of the Houston native.
Signing day has come and gone, but we'll have plenty of coverage looking at each Big 12 team's class. This morning, we'll look at how each team filled its needs.

BAYLOR

Needs filled: Prerogative No. 1 for Baylor is fixing its defense, and the Bears are getting some help at linebacker in prep transfer Brian Nance, Raaquan Davis (No. 28 outside linebacker) and Travon Blanchard (No. 37 OLB). Future defensive tackle Andrew Billings was a home-grown talent who should compliment Javonte Magee well up front in the years to come. The Bears also need to keep the offensive machine humming. They seem to have done that with their two top signees, Robbie Rhodes, the nation's No. 3 receiver, and Chris Johnson, the nation's No. 5 dual-threat passer who coach Art Briles raved about in his signing day presser.

Holes remaining: Debate their quality all you'd like, but the Bears lost players in the secondary like Chance Casey and Mike Hicks, and cornerback Joe Williams will be a senior. There's not a lot of strength at defensive back in this class, unless Taion Sells (No. 46 safety) and Alfred Pullom (No. 67 safety) can blossom in Waco.

IOWA STATE

Needs filled: Rodney Coe comes to Ames via junior college and will try and replace some losses along the defensive line, but the biggest need for the Cyclones has been offensive playmakers. Aaron Wimberly checks in via the juco ranks at running back, but can ISU develop Texas receivers Brandon Harris and Bryan Ajumobi into major weapons at the Big 12 level?

Holes remaining: The Cyclones lost a pair of starters at linebacker and signed just one linebacker in this class, Florida native Brian Mills. Besides that, Iowa State did a nice job of bringing in big bodies along the defensive line and filling some offensive line holes, too, headlined by in-state prospect Jake Campos, who Iowa State swiped from Mizzou.

KANSAS

Needs filled: I'll be honest here, KU could use a big talent upgrade at pretty much every position on the field, other than running back. It's all about the jucos for the Jayhawks. Marquel Combs could be a major player up front to help KU stop the run and collapse pockets, but KU got a pair of big-time playmakers at receiver, too, in Ishmael Hyman and Rodriguez Coleman. Chris Martin offers another solid option as a pass-rusher. The Jayhawks also added a pair of quarterbacks in Montell Cozart and Jordan Darling.

Holes remaining: Did KU get enough high-quality linemen to replace its three lost starters? Ahongalu Fusimalohi is a juco transfer and Joey Bloomfield is the nation's No. 118 offensive tackle, but replacing solid starters like Tanner Hawkinson and Trevor Marrongelli is no easy task.

KANSAS STATE

Needs filled: K-State basically lost its entire defense from last year, so any defenders will be greatly appreciated. Four of the classes' top five signees are defenders, highlighted by inside linebacker Nick Ramirez and juco corner Nate Jackson. Inside linebacker Tanner Wood and juco defensive end Devon Nash will also help fill the Wildcats' big losses defensively.

Holes remaining: The Wildcats are solid at running back this year, but it could be looking a bit thin in the future. John Hubert will be a senior this year and Bryce Brown didn't pan out, so K-State might have used a running back in this class. It didn't happen. K-State was shut out at the position.

OKLAHOMA

Needs filled: Defensive line was the biggest one, and the Sooners grabbed two pass-rushers in the ESPN 300, D.J. Ward and Matt Dimon. Those two should pay off big, and Ward has enrolled early. Hatari Byrd also gives the Sooners an answer in the secondary while the nation's No. 3 running back, Keith Ford, helps provide solid depth at running back.

Holes remaining: Oklahoma lost Tom Wort to the NFL draft and Corey Nelson will be a senior next year, but Oklahoma didn't stock this class with a single linebacker. The Sooners don't put many traditional linebackers on the field and has converted a lot of safeties into outside linebackers, but still.
Oklahoma's top commits have all signed their letters of intent and are locked in to becoming future Sooners. Here's who Oklahoma's bringing in from our ESPN 300, the list of the nation's top 300 prospects:
Not many surprises for the Sooners, though Dimon had some power issues at his high school and couldn't get his letter of intent to the Oklahoma coaches until 8:48 a.m. Oklahoma's class is at No. 20 in the ESPN class rankings, the same spot it began the day. Byrd also made headlines last month when word surfaced that coaches had told him he's likely going to be able to start at safety from the moment he gets on campus. Very interesting stuff. Oklahoma signed a lot of high-quality defensive talent in this class, as you can see, and Taylor is likely to play cornerback for the Sooners.

Mostly a drama-free day across the Big 12 on the recruiting trail.

Luke tops OU-Notre Dame 2013 battles 

October, 23, 2012
10/23/12
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It’s about 900 miles from South Bend, Ind., to Norman, Okla., but that doesn’t mean Notre Dame and Oklahoma don’t wage battles on the recruiting trail.

Even though OU has tried to make a bigger imprint in the Midwest, none of the intense competitions between the Irish and Sooners are with Midwest recruits for the class of 2013.

There are certainly some good battles, however, including one fierce one for a top Arizona defensive back. A closer look at the top recruiting battles for 2013:

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